When I saw this book was coming up for review, I was really excited. I knew nothing about the film, but the concept of Christians interested in increasing dialogue and looking for middle ground excited me. Quite frankly, the concept of anyone interested in healing our huge national divide interests me. Most people I talk to are firmly on their party lines and playing for their team and that is all that matters to them. They demonize those with different beliefs (and yes both parties do this), ideas, and concerns.
At the end of the day, I truly think that no matter what political party you are in, you have the same concerns. Different ideas about how to handle things, yes, but the same underlying conerns. What ends up happening is strong language like George W. Bush is a devil and Barack Obama is a savior. John McCain is a hero and Bill Clinton was a philanderer. This doesn't help anyone.
I'm only a few chapters in the book so far but I am loving it! I saw another reviewer I normally respect completely trash this book, but I urge you read it with an open mind and an attitude of humility if you, like me, are interested in healing our national divide.
Here's a quote that I loved from the first chapted and then the whole first chapter follows.
"Yet amid all the diverse beliefs, we have been touched by the profound and nearly universal hunger for a new conversation. People are simply fed up with old scripts and predictable battle lines. They are no longer buying the divisiveness that the media keeps selling. We recogonize that the rancor has grown too personal, too passionate, too destructive. At the end of each screening (of their film) questions invariably arise about how we get along. Not in a simple or saccharine sort of way. We don't think our differences should be buried. But we dare to suggest that honest disagreements need not separate us. We find common ground in our hopes, our dreams, our disappointments. The humanity that unites us is greater than the beliefs that divide us."
It's the 15th, time for the Non~FIRST blog tour!(Non~FIRST will be merging with FIRST Wild Card Tours on January 1, 2009...if interested in joining, click HERE!)
Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2008)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Craig Detweiler (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is codirector of the Reel Spirituality Institute and associate professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has written scripts for numerous Hollywood films, and his comedic documentary, Purple State of Mind (www.purplestateofmind.com), debuted in 2008. He has been featured in the New York Times, on CNN, and on NPR and is the coauthor of A Matrix of Meanings. Barry Taylor (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary), adjunct professor of popular culture and theology at Fuller, is a professional musician, painter, and the leader of New Ground, an alternative worship gathering in Los Angeles.
List Price: 13.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2008)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
How did the culture war begin? Was there a clear winner? Or did it devolve into a long, costly stalemate? What can we learn from the battle? Perhaps we are not as polarized as we presume. Political parties and pundits strive to distinguish themselves from the competition in the starkest possible terms. We use rhetoric to rail against one another while our core positions may involve only a slight divergence. We may be hardly separated rather than deeply divided. Can we move from an adolescent mind-set, shouting across the religious and political divide, into something more thoughtful, productive, and mature?
As a witness to the sixties and seventies, I’ve seen how destructive we can be—even toward ourselves. I’ve also lived through the comparative comfort of the Reagan era in the eighties. He turned back the clock to a prosperous vision of America before the social upheavals of the sixties. Can we uphold the vigorous freedom of the sixties alongside the rigorous responsibility of the fifties?
A purple state of mind pushes past the either/or squabbles of an earlier era. It adopts a both/and approach to following God and interacting with the world. It builds bridges rather than burning them. It seeks common ground rather than points of division. A purple state of mind attains maturity by knowing when and where to apply biblical truths to our blind spots.
John: I think this should be a candid discussion.
Craig: I want it to be first and foremost an honest conversation. Straightforward. Tell the truth. Nothing held back.
Were you alive when President John F. Kennedy was shot? While the world wailed, I was warm in my mother’s womb. She was in the doctor’s office, awaiting a checkup on my status. I was born two months after Kennedy was assassinated. I arrived after the initial shockwave, the outpouring of grief, and the confusion as to why such tragedy happens. But we all continue to wrestle with the conflicts that erupted in the wake of Kennedy’s death.
I entered a world on fire. Throughout my childhood, there were riots in the streets, protests on campuses, scenes from Vietnam in the news. My parents attempted to shield me from much of the conflict, turning me on to Mr. Rogers rather than Walter Cronkite. Yet the palpable conflicts over civil rights, free speech, and the war draft spilled into newspapers, televisions, and casual conversations. The struggle for civil rights was more than a century in the making. Leaders like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were as patient as possible, given their long walk to freedom. Yet the positive steps created by the Civil Rights Act still moved too slowly for those trapped in the inner city. Riots in Watts and Detroit set cities ablaze. The mistakes of the Vietnam War constitute their own painful book. As images of the war filtered into our living rooms, resentment toward our leaders grew. Chaos reigned among protestors inside and outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
I knew my dad hated the protestors, but I didn’t know why. Something about their appearance bugged him. It may have been their long hair, their scanty clothes, and their flagrant disregard of authority. The hippies seemed equally frustrated by people like my father. They were complaining about the man, the system, anyone over 30. Why were the protestors so angry? What was all the shouting about? A generation gap emerged over the war in Vietnam. The students were ostensibly resisting the draft. They did not want to serve in an endless, misguided war in Southeast Asia.
Behind the political policies were distinct lifestyle choices. The hippies were celebrating free love, plentiful drugs, and raucous rock music. My father was wondering what happened to hard work, paying taxes, and civic responsibility. Teenagers embraced freedom while adults trumpeted responsibility. These dueling notions of the American identity exploded into a full-blown culture war that has been raging ever since. Reporter Ronald Brownstein calls this second civil war “the great sorting out.”
A purple state of mind appreciates the competing ideals that launched the culture war. It recognizes the patriotism that resides behind both visions. It remembers how much capital was created by responsible citizenship in the fifties. It also celebrates the ingenuity unleashed in the freedom-loving sixties. We learned valuable lessons from both eras. A purple state of mind borrows from both, combining freedom and responsibility.
The Fifties Versus the Sixties
I have lived my entire life in the shadow of the 1960s. I’ve heard the stirring speeches of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I’ve mourned the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in Dion’s song, “Abraham, Martin, and John.” I’ve been taken to the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now. How many television specials have I seen that retrace the upheavals of 1968? Rolling Stone magazine commemorates Woodstock or the Summer of Love every single year! Was it the best of times or the worst of times? Forty years on, we’re still locked in an adolescent debate. We see it in the childish name-calling of Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter on the right or MoveOn.org and Daily Kos on the left.
Every American presidential election since the sixties has essentially been a referendum on that painful era. There were no clear winners in Vietnam. Like Rambo, we’re still fighting. It is a dark era in American history most of us would rather not review (even though we must learn those lessons so we stop repeating them). The fissure generated in Vietnam lies behind our conflicted feelings over the war in Iraq. We can’t talk rationally as a nation about important issues because of deep-seated, unresolved family dynamics. If you prefer the comparative calm of the fifties, then you know how to vote. If you uphold the progressive hopes of the sixties, then it is clear which candidate represents you. The only problem with this pattern is that many of us missed the fifties and the sixties. We’re ready to move on, to live in this moment, to meet today’s challenges rather than to relive yesterday’s news.
Living with this conflict is comparable to listening to our parents argue. We’ve heard all the lines, all the rhetoric, and all the old grudges. We can recite them from memory, and we’ve been exhausted by the gridlock. We haven’t bothered to speak up because we know our parents were too busy arguing to listen. The shouting match showed no signs of abating, so we let the circus pass us by. Instead of joining the conversation, we elected to start our own companies, clubs, and churches. The creative brain drain from civic activities has been well documented. Those who were turned off by the partisan rancor eventually turned off the pundits on TV. We are on the Internet instead, arguing about the minutia that remains distinctly ours—music, movies, television, shopping. We don’t want to be superficial. But with no creative political options, we opt out. If we hope to engage the next generation in public life, then this culture war, rooted in bitter recriminations, must stop. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must call a cease-fire.
Those of us who’ve inherited this war have seen enough casualties. John Marks and I were born at the end of the baby boom and the beginning of Generation X. We understand the majority position and empathize with the minorities who’ve been sidelined by the sheer size of the opposition. Consider this book an effort to bridge the generation gap. I’m here to help those over fifty understand what is coming. I stand between the baby boomers and their children, brokering a truce. As a professor, I’ve invested heavily in Generation Y, hoping that they will enact enough changes to make room for my children—Generation Z!
Seek wisdom, not knowledge.
Knowledge is of the past; wisdom is of the future.
Native American PROVERB
I recount our recent history in an effort to fill in gaps in our understanding. We must comprehend where we’ve been if we hope to figure out where we’re going. I’ve seen the abuses of power represented by Watergate. The special prosecutor’s hearings interrupted hours of my favorite TV cartoons. (Did you realize that Hillary Clinton was part of the legal team investigating Nixon’s White House? Republicans have struggled with her for a looooong time!) I watched Nixon’s sad wave goodbye on the White House lawn. I also understand the faith embodied by the first “born again” president, Jimmy Carter. His Southern Baptist beliefs led him to broker peace in the Middle East. Yet I also endured the 444 days of the Iranian hostage crisis that accompanied his peaceful negotiations. After such international embarrassment, Americans desperately wanted to return to the fifties era of strength and power. Ronald Reagan played the part of forceful leader resisting the Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism was a victory for freedom around the world.
Unresolved tensions about Vietnam, drugs, and the sixties fueled the vitriol hurled at the Clintons and the Bushes. Bill Clinton strapped on the mantle of President Kennedy, declaring himself “A Man from Hope.” His appearance playing saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show sent a clear signal that he embraced civil rights. As “entertainer in chief,” Clinton demonstrated a mastery of the electronic medium. His obfuscations about inhaling marijuana and dalliances with White House intern Monica Lewinsky also sparked latent fears of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. (Did you realize that Monica’s famous blue dress was found in her mother’s apartment—in the Watergate complex?) To his detractors, Clinton represented too much freedom and not enough presidential responsibility. The impeachment proceedings against him were a recapitulation and payback for the embarrassment borne by the Nixon administration.
George W. Bush represented a return to the fifties. He may have engaged in alcohol abuse or cocaine use, but Bush confessed his sins and seemed genuinely contrite. He experienced the dangers of too much personal freedom and welcomed the responsibility he found in his newfound faith. While Clinton parsed verbs, Bush offered plain-spoken surety. He distanced himself from his patrician upbringing, adopting a Texas rancher lifestyle as a populist alternative. To those tired of Clinton’s libertinism and excess, Bush offered a down-home throwback: cowboy boots and pickup trucks.
Yet all the tough talk in the world seemed insufficient in dealing with a nearly unseen enemy. How could a band of terrorists bring down the World Trade Center? They used our strengths against us, hijacking our own planes. They crashed into our most impressive symbols of financial prowess and military might. September 11, 2001, humbled and angered us. We marched into the Middle East with unprecedented firepower. Afghanistan fell almost without resistance. We submitted Iraq to “shock and awe.” Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda proved they could not only run but also hide. We attacked nations, but our enemies were individuals. American technology ended up undermined by insurgents with homemade bombs. We terrorized others with torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. We operated like a powerful empire but proved incapable of ferreting out an ideology. We desperately need leaders who can protect freedoms while serving as responsible world citizens. Such nuance has been lost in our prolonged and pointless culture war.
The next generation admires the civic responsibility of the fifties and the progressive art and music of the sixties. They have embraced a both/and view but have been alienated by either/or debates. A purple state of mind embraces freedom and responsibility. It takes the best of history but leaves the worst excesses (on both sides) behind. It blows away the purple haze hanging over our past. This chapter highlights key moments that got us into this mess. It will offer tangible proposals for moving on with maturity.
Nixon Versus Kennedy
For almost 50 years, we have been sorting out the choices represented by the first televised presidential debate, Republican Richard M. Nixon versus Democrat John F. Kennedy. On September 26, 1960, Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy squared off under the moderation of ABC’s Howard K. Smith. Over 80 million viewers tuned into the debate, which pitted Nixon’s experience (eight years as Eisenhower’s vice-president) against Kennedy’s comparative youth (one term as a U.S. senator). Both candidates offered hawkish opposition to the Communist threat represented by the Soviet Union. They debated issues of national debt, farm subsidies, welfare, and health care that continue to be unresolved. They drew distinctions about the role of government to stimulate economic growth. But Nixon and Kennedy diverged most significantly in style rather than substance.
Kennedy arrived at the debates looking tan, rested, and energetic. Nixon looked haggard, having recently fought off the flu. He refused to don makeup, figuring his forceful words would rule the day. Those who listened to the debate on the radio found Nixon the victor. Yet those watching the debate on tiny black-and-white televisions saw something else. They saw Nixon sweat while Kennedy smiled. Although Nixon was only five years older than Kennedy, his demeanor seemed comparatively ancient in outlook and energy. Nixon’s noticeable five-o’clock shadow didn’t help either.
Nixon learned the connections between style and substance too late in the campaign. Makeup covered his beard in three subsequent television debates. But Kennedy gained just enough confidence and votes to capture the closest general election of the twentieth century. Just one-tenth of 1 percent of votes separated Kennedy from Nixon. Americans have remained almost equally divided ever since.
The legacy of John F. Kennedy remains remarkably hopeful and progressive. Consider the optimism behind his war on poverty. Having watched the Russians beat Americans into orbit, Kennedy redefined the terms of the space race. How much chutzpah did it take to engage in a race to the moon? His version of American government looks almost absurdly hopeful in hindsight.
When Richard Nixon campaigned for president in 1968 (and for reelection in 1972), he promised an alternative to the vexing Vietnam War. Nixon expanded the Cold War efforts to include Cambodia and Laos. He presented a stronger America that refused to be intimidated. At the same time, Nixon engaged in a remarkable array of diplomatic missions to China and the Soviet Union. He met his adversaries face-to-face, winning surprising concessions and forging unexpected alliances.
Behind their policies, presidents Kennedy and Nixon represented divergent attitudes toward profound social change within America. The Kennedy years brought glamour to the White House. Entertainers like Marilyn Monroe sang sultry birthday greetings to President Kennedy. An air of celebration could also be read as a reign of permissiveness. A Democratic administration presided over the explosion of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Progressive politics coincided with experimentation and unrest. The Nixon presidency offered a return to law and order. Freedom took a backseat to responsibility. In 1971, President Nixon identified drug abuse as public enemy number one in the United States. He created the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (it became the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973). We’ve been fighting America’s longest war, the war on drugs, ever since.
Jimi Hendrix’ song “Purple Haze” epitomizes the fuzzy grasp of reality that accompanied drug experimentation in the sixties. The title allegedly arose from a powerful batch of LSD served to Hendrix by Owsley Stanley. Some have also attributed it to a strain of purple marijuana. Hendrix said the inspiration arrived in a dream. Whatever the derivation, “Purple Haze” is rooted in altered states of consciousness. Released in 1967, “Purple Haze” served as the psychedelic anthem for San Francisco’s summer of love. The key to the song’s eerie sound is harmonic dissonance. Jimi’s guitar is tuned in B-flat, while Noel Redding’s bass plays E octaves. Such discordant sounds matched the era perfectly. A clash of cultures resulted in something jarring and new. Jimi didn’t just play rock music, he offered the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Consider the transcendent promises contained in his phrase, “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Some heard it as a sexual provocation, a pledge to kiss a guy. But the sound made it clear that his sights were set in the great beyond. At his seminal appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, Jimi transported the crowd to a higher state of consciousness. He demonstrated the otherworldly power of raw feedback, playing his guitar behind, above, and beyond himself. Hendrix stepped into the role of sexual shaman, licking, caressing, and stroking guttural sounds from his Stratocaster. In setting his guitar on fire during “Wild Thing,” Hendrix offered his gifts to the rock gods. It is an incantation, sacrificing his most precious possessions to the altar of altered states.
Unfortunately, Jimi’s life ended up in a similar state of self-immolation, falling to pieces just as suddenly and tragically. The Experience Music Project in Seattle serves as a permanent archive for all things Hendrix. EMP founder Paul Allen spent part of his Microsoft millions acquiring Hendrix memorabilia, bringing it back to Jimi’s hometown of Seattle. It is a memorial to a musical messiah. The hall dedicated to Jimi is fittingly called “Sky Church.”
To others, “Purple Haze” demonstrated a world utterly adrift. The idyllic visions of Woodstock were undercut by the horrific murder at Altamont. With Hell’s Angels serving as security, 1969’s other free concert (at Altamont Speedway in Northern California) ended in death rather than musical bliss. Every time Rolling Stone magazine presents another rosy retrospective of the sixties, I wonder why it refuses to acknowledge the dark side of psychedelia. How can it hold up Hendrix, Joplin, and Jim Morrison as departed saints, when they are also exhibits A, B, and C in the perils of drug abuse? They were amazing and stupid at the same time. Great talents squandered by excess. So when parents who lived through the worst of the sixties attempt to spare their children the same amount of destructive experimentation, I applaud. “Just say no” arose from painful, lived experience. It may have been simplistic, but it was preferable to self-destruction.
Recent films like Drugstore Cowboy, Trainspotting, and Requiem for a Dream capture both the allure and the demolition of drugs. They provide an audio-visual approximation of a drug trip. Their images are intoxicating and attractive—the ultimate music videos. Yet their message is clear: Despite the attraction, do not be deceived—drugs will kill you. They serve as cautionary tales for a stylish era. Today’s students have largely learned from the painful past. Rates of teenage pregnancies, drug use, and violence have hit 40-year lows. The parents from a turbulent era raised remarkably respectful, well-behaved kids. Demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss noted the surprising generational shift:
Boomers started out as the objects of loosening child standards in an era of conformist adults. Millennials are starting out as the objects of tightening child standards in an era of non-conformists adults. By the time the last Millennials come of age, they could become…the cleanest-cut young adults in living memory.
To a large degree, Generation Y has embraced the family values of the 1950s. But its rebellion remains wrapped in the profane packages of the 1960s.
Consider the violent, R-rated film Fight Club (1999). It is a scathing critique of consumer culture and middle-class values. We follow Jack, the bored protagonist, on a brutal slide into an underworld of macho self-abuse. Jack longs for genuine feeling, even if he must shed blood to achieve it. So while Jack may be a mild-mannered bureaucrat by day, he rallies his friends for bare-knuckled bar fights at night. Fight Club unleashes the fragile postmodern male id with frightening results. What begins as an invigorating alternative devolves into Project Mayhem, a prescient precursor to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Schizophrenia leads to destructive nihilism.
This is contrasted by the diagnosis offered by the toughest puncher in the club, Tyler Durden. He summarizes the isolation of a generation raised in affluence rather than upheaval:
Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s— we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very p— off.
When I showed Fight Club to a class of undergraduate students, they nodded in recognition. They connected with Tyler’s frustration. During a class discussion afterward, a student announced, “We’re rebels.” When I asked what they were rebelling against, he said, “Our parents.” is all sounded more than vaguely familiar, so I pushed further. “What does that look like?” The students answered, “We don’t want to be like our parents. Drinking. Doing drugs. Getting lots of divorces…we’re rebels!” e most rebellious behavior imaginable? Abstinence!
While baby boomers harrumph about presidential candidates’ ancient drug use, their children are begging for them to grow up. Parents complain to MTV about Britney Spears’ kiss with Madonna. Switchboards light up from viewers shocked by Janet Jackson’s nipple slip during the Super Bowl halftime show. Yet the next generation lets out a collective yawn. They’ve already seen it, done it, or dismissed it. They identify with the band Weezer, which recorded a song titled “Tired of Sex.” They are ready to move on, past the provocation to more substantive issues. Rivers Cuomo of Weezer asks, “Oh, why can’t I be making love come true?”
A New Conversation
Craig: My introduction to what it meant to follow Jesus was to be a laughingstock. It meant bad hair, bad makeup, and bad TV. Is this what I signed up for? This whole tension of red state and blue state, this is the tension that I live with—how do I own my own people who so make me cringe on a regular basis? This nomenclature of left and right, red and blue is not helpful right now.
John: It’s not meant to be helpful. It’s meant to do exactly what it does. I’m not happy with what people on the traditional left, or Democrats, say is their worldview. I honestly don’t know if they have one. I’m as weary as anybody in this country of the politically correct dialogue, which basically says, “I’m a victim and you’re not. No, I’m a victim and you’re not.” It’s useless. It’s done. It’s dead. Postmodernism is dead. All those answers on the secular side are basically dead.
John Marks and I stand between generations. We are old enough to understand the boomers’ intra-generational issues, yet we’re still young enough to identify with the discontent of those who followed. We embarked on a purple state of mind because we’re desperate for a new paradigm, hungering for a different set of talking points. We each risked alienating our constituencies. Coming from evangelical Christianity, I am part of the fifties tribe, which is struggling to protect home and hearth. As a journalist, John Marks identifies with the political left and their tattered ideals. We both find ourselves embarrassed by those we represent. I ask how God’s people could have turned Jesus into a hater. John questions why allegedly free-thinking people are so close-minded when it comes to religion. A purple state of mind tries the patience of both sides. It runs the risk of disloyalty for the sake of a larger goal.
We must put the past behind us. We can no longer afford to be divided over issues of sexuality and drug use when global crises demand our attention. To lead the world, we must get past our adolescent fixation on who did what to whom. The rumor mills that trumped up charges against the Clintons in Whitewater or George W. Bush with evasion of the Vietnam War have done nothing but distract us. How much negative energy has been expended on investigations that went nowhere? We’ve been busy digging up dirt when we should have been building roads and schools. We tore down a government in Iraq rather than solidifying our own ability to lead by example. Shame on us for obsessing over the past instead of investing in the future. No wonder voters in 2008 longed for change.
The Gospel According to Austin Powers
Our desperate need for freedom and responsibility rests in the seemingly contradictory letters of the apostle Paul. He applied his godly advice in a unique way for the audience he was addressing. To Corinthian Christians navigating a libertine culture, he preached caution. Corinth was noted for temples dedicated to Apollo and Aphrodite. Worship at these temples often included sex with temple prostitutes. They were thought to serve as conduits for the divine. An intimate sexual encounter on temple grounds was comparable to an experience with the gods. So imagine how confused early Corinthian Christians may have been about what constituted proper worship of Christ. Their understanding of Christian freedom knew no bounds. Paul urged the Corinthian church to exercise spiritual discipline, to get their house in order. He insisted they “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). To those who claimed, “Everything is permissible,” Paul responded with a chastening, “Everything is not beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
In Corinth, even eating meat could involve idolatrous activity. The local cults of Apollo and Aphrodite controlled so much of the public consciousness and economy that new believers were encouraged to examine the sources of their food supply. Food sacrificed to idols may not be contaminated physically, but Paul challenged the Corinthian to demonstrate sensitivity toward those who may have confused or conflated eating with idolatry. Paul urges the Corinthian believers to take responsibility for their Christian brothers and sisters. To a chaotic church, he preaches order, propriety, and maturity.
Yet to the uptight church in Galatia, Paul preaches freedom. The new believers clung too closely to their Jewish roots. Perhaps out of fear of persecution, the local church leaders insisted that new Christians adopt the rigorous (old) rules of Hebraic law. Gentile converts were expected to get circumcised according to Jewish ritual. Paul considers such attempts to bind people to ancient purity laws as a threat to the gospel of grace. He insists, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He begged the Galatian Christians to loosen up, to relax their standards in the name of Christ.
Was Paul contradicting himself? By no means! In each letter, he concludes with an appeal to love. To the legally minded Galatians, Paul summarizes the law in a single command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). To the battling Corinthians who confused sex with love, Paul spells out the attitudes and actions that constitute love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4). He preaches freedom to Galatia and responsibility to Corinth because they each need to apply the message in a unique way.
Unfortunately, we often fail to identify our particular blind spots. Legalistic churches will often reiterate the call to purity given to the Corinthians. Lax churches will return to Paul’s letter to the Galatians to justify more license. Those who need freedom cling to responsibility. Christians who need to learn responsibility insist upon the freedom Paul grants to Galatia. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery urges us toward maturity. In the comedic conclusion, Austin gets the drop on a surprised Dr. Evil. But Evil remains unflappable and punches Austin’s buttons: “We’re not so different, you and I. However, isn’t it ironic that the very things that you stand for—free love, swinging parties—are all now, in the nineties, considered to be evil?” Austin retorts, “No, man, what we swingers were rebelling against is uptight squares like you whose bag was money and world domination. We were innocent, man. If we’d known the consequences of our sexual liberation we would have done things differently, but the spirit would have remained the same. It’s freedom, baby, yeah!” Austin Powers connects wisdom, experience, and the spirit all in one interrelated package. Dr. Evil offers a challenge: “Face it—freedom failed.” With the sounds of the sixties anthem “What the World Needs Now Is Love” playing in the background, Austin concludes, “No man, freedom didn’t fail. Right now we’ve got freedom and responsibility. It’s a very groovy time.” Even sassy movie stars can capture profound truths.
It is not freedom versus responsibility. It is not the law and order of the Republican Party or the liberal policies of the Democratic Party. We need a strong military to defend our freedoms. We need unregulated markets to encourage innovation. We need social agencies to check our greed and support “the least of these.” We must find freedom and responsibility between the parties. We must learn to listen to Paul’s competing calls. Christian maturity incorporates the whole of scripture and applies it to an integrated life. We must be aware of our history. We must recognize how we’ve become so divided. We must grow up as a nation, moving on to freedom and responsibility rather than dragging each other into ancient history. The radical claims of Paul continue to challenge us. Libertines may need to give up some freedoms for the health of others. Conservatives may need to unwind enough for the Spirit to enter in.
Adolescence is an experiment in self-governance. It is about identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, learning to moderate. Sometimes we fall on our faces from too much excess. At other times, we shrink back from opportunities we should have seized. Highly responsible people may sprint to early success and wake up 20 years later, wondering what all the compliance wrought. They will long for freedom. Those raised in a borderless environment will have to find a roadmap that shows where the blind curves and dangerous precipices are located. Maturity arises when those maps have been internalized, when familiarity with biblical wisdom coincides with personal experience. We appreciate the gift of freedom, but we also recognize when enough is enough. Only with our house in order can we begin to focus outwardly. We do not merely play thought police, checking and correcting others. Rather, we take on the deeper challenge of walking beside others, inviting them to join us on the journey. It’s a very groovy time.