Perhaps the central theme of Inappropriate Conversations in recent years has been this: we can do better and we must do better.

The meme I’m sharing solely to support this commentary says, “Here is 10,000 M&M’s…10 of them are poisoned. Who wants to eat a handful? Now do you see the problem?”
I see many problems, as a matter of fact.

Americans aren’t that good at grammar and punctuation, especially when it comes to social media. Twitter forces the issue with a 140-character limitation. Meme management is just as bad or worse.

Americans aren’t that good at math. What if I told you that we actually have more than 750k of these candies and none of them had been poisoned? With that in mind, why the scare tactics? You don’t need to hear about this from me. Online friends have already explained this to any with ears to hear or eyes to read.

Americans aren’t that good at vocabulary. I’m sure we’ve already heard from people who cannot make the legal distinction between the words “asylum” and “refugee.”

American’s aren’t that good at geography and history. Franklin Graham, for example, can’t decide if Russians are our enemies (communism, socialism and totalitarianism are bad) or the example we must follow (Putin, after all, is strongly committed to Graham’s “Christian value” of rounding up all the gays). Don’t get me wrong. Middle East politics and history are challenging. That’s why we shouldn’t impose a Western genre storyboard on current events and insist on costuming all the players with either white or black cowboy hats.

We can do better. We must do better.
The area of greatest opportunity, though, might be that a large number of Christians in this Christian nation aren’t that good at Christianity.

I acknowledge that these sound like hard words. If so, consider this a “get behind me, Satan” moment (Mark 8). You see, I’m not talking about an understanding of Christianity that comes from years of seminary study. This isn’t even what I’ve called “Christianity 201.”  No, this should be so obvious to the faithful that it’s almost a cliché.

I’ll explain what I mean next, but the concepts go back to Jesus himself: redemption, forgiveness, love, faith, atonement. We’re talking about Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and becoming Paul as a result. It’s in our jargon about God not “calling the qualified” but “qualifying the called.” We shed legitimate tears of joy – and often, because of some charlatans, get accused of faking it with the theatricality of snake oil salespersons – when someone shares her or his testimony about God reaching into lives and touching hearts. So often this comes from unexpected intervention, where the Holy Spirit uses the faith of one believer to overcome fear of foreign things and people to share agape.

In John 1, the first epistle of John, the writer makes a comparison between a faith that overcomes all fear and brings love into the world with something he refers to as anti-Christ. This anti-Christ is not a person, so much as an attitude. Often out of fear, it rejects things like redemption, forgiveness, love. It lacks empathy to such a degree that an anti-Christ worldview rejects atonement, even to the extent of denying that there is a Holy Spirit or that God really has the power to convert.

This is apostasy. It is a renunciation of Biblical Christianity. It rejects not just the words but even the mission of Jesus Christ. By embracing fear over faith, it puts a seriously flawed human solution (represented by an equally flawed confectionary analogy) over everything Jesus commanded in Matthew 28 and warned us against in Matthew 25.

So, let’s walk through this meme.

False assumption 1: the poisoned M&M comes into factory that way rather than perhaps being contaminated after the fact.

False assumption 2: contamination is permanent and neither time nor elements of packaging and preparation have any hope of mitigation.

False assumption 3: toxins are all-powerful and immune systems are either non-existent or pathetically weak.

Note that I’m addressing this from an Inappropriate Conversations perspective. I am not, in other words, telling people that it is OK to eat tainted food or handle poisonous snakes. No.
Politically, I am a radical moderate. I reject the two major political parties for their corruption, which is both shared and competing.
Religiously, I am a Protestant Christian. I used to be part of a denomination that was a reform of a reform of Catholicism that itself could only barely be aligned with the Protestant Reformation. I now attend a church that sees even less reason to play any of those “church doctrine” games.
Socially, I strive (and fail from time to time) to view and treat people with something I’ve heard called unconditional positive regard. I cover that concept in more detail in Walk The Earth 32, recently released.

Above all, though, I consider myself a Christ Follower. I still would if there were no available religious or political affiliations. I reject “group think” because my faith is mine. It’s built upon the command of Jesus to love God with all of my mind, not merely my heart and soul.

Disclaimers aside, the message is two-sided. Don’t play with poison. Don’t assume everything you don’t fully comprehend is poison. 

Rely to assumption 1: we know that a high majority of radicalization within the U.S. happens after people live here for a significant amount of time, not before. This may say something about a screening process that is already in place, clearly effective, and in no need of either abandonment or fortification.  Our goal needs to be treating people with sufficient dignity and respect so they don’t develop a strong desire to retaliate. Second-class citizens tend to behave with less regard for the welfare of first-class citizens. We solve this by doing all we can to eliminate discrimination, segregation, and pungent forms of majority-rule privilege that hold our society back by coddling a small group of people with a “my country” rather than an “our country” perspective.

Reply to assumption 2: Jesus. I’m tempted to stop right there. If you don’t see the problem behind this assumption, then you don’t know Jesus. The good news is that this isn’t a permanent problem. The Gospel is meant to be shared. I strongly believe that it should be understood by all, including people who have and will continue to reject its claims. I also think we should strive to understand a variety of other things for similar reasons, including Islam, socialism, human sexuality, physics, etc.

Reply to assumption 3: OK, I’ll use this reply to cover more of both 2 & 3 for any who are slow to understand. Not everyone who reads or listens to Inappropriate Conversations and Walk The Earth posts are Christians. Fair enough, because not all Christians understand what Jesus is said to have taught in the Bible either.

Jesus does not teach that some of us are inherently so good that we are close to perfect – delicious, if I may, to tie in with the M&M analogy. He also doesn’t teach that some of us are so bad we are beyond saving. I understand that some Calvinists tight-rope across a fine line here, but I would ask them to lean away from apostasy.
Instead, a Biblical theology teaches that none of us are as sweet as candy-coated chocolate. We all fall short of a standard called “holiness” in Christian jargon. Edibility, as a concept, doesn’t come from the raw ingredients. It doesn’t matter if those ingredients are grown locally or imported from Syria. Throughout theism, in fact, it is clearly taught that God is the chef.

This isn’t some small side issue. As Christians, our trust in the Lord can have a devastating impact on how we treat others. More, how we treat others can either bring them closer to God or push them further away. Some of the people we push away, if only because we treat them as hopeless outcasts unworthy of our thoughts much less our help, can become terrible enemies rather than wonderful brothers and sisters.

I use that phrase intentionally, as a Gentile who knows that I have brothers and sisters in Christ because I’m one with them in Christ. Paul committed his life’s work to ensuring that we would all know this. There is no Jew or Gentile at the foot of the cross. If we believe what we say and sing, that every knee will bow, then there is no "formerly Muslim" or "always been Christian" at the foot of the cross either.

Let’s talk about Paul for a moment. If this M&M analogy is anything more than borderline blasphemy from a New Testament perspective, then we would insist that Saul the Christian Hunter could never ever become Paul the Evangelist to the world. Never. Once a tainted candy, always a tainted candy.
The problem is far worse than that. Many politically-active Christians aren’t merely suggesting that Jesus would never intervene in the life of a man like that on the road to Damascus; more, we shouldn’t trust the words of people who suggest that our Lord might just work in mysterious ways.

In one of my favorite sermons since I started the Walk The Earth process that is documented in one of the two podcasts on this feed, the pastor referred to The Paul Problem.  Can we trust Jesus? Should we believe what Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit (John 14-17)? Is it possible that truly evil people can be transformed by Christ? Really?
I mentioned the answers to these questions early in this article with concepts like redemption, forgiveness, atonement and faith.  To deny the conversion of Saul to Paul (Acts 8-9) is to deny Christ.

You know, I’ve seen other memes recently that quote Jesus saying he will deny he knows us before his Heavenly Father if we deny him in our earthly walks. That isn’t about what I might call Christian branding, flying our denominational (or U.S.) flags, singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” or anything like that. We deny Christ before others when we say that a poisoned M&M will always be a poisoned M&M and will always pose a threat that no almighty God or human love could ever overcome. We deny Christ, proclaiming that we might say his name like some magic words but have no regard for what he taught, when we call concepts like redemption into question.

In that sermon more than a year ago, the pastor described the Paul Problem as the legitimate fear of early Christians about whether they could trust the conversion rumor they were hearing. Was it just a trick? This was, after all, the executioner. In Acts 9, the Paul Problem has an Ananias Answer.
This isn’t easy. Ananias was frightened. He had every reason to be frightened. But he didn’t let his fear overcome his faith, and neither should we. Christians must not tell the world, wittingly or unwittingly, that our Paul Problem is bigger than our Ananias Answer. That is where we are right now. American Christianity is, today, telling the world that the Holy Spirit either does not exist or cannot intervene. So many of us, too many of us, simply don’t believe that Jesus can turn tainted M&Ms into something we’d mix into our own candy bowls.

I’ve said before in past Inappropriate Conversations podcasts, including some long and detailed episodes, that I am conservative when it comes to scripture. That isn’t a political statement, and it certainly isn’t any form of alignment with denominational tradition. It means that I take scriptures seriously.

People look for shortcuts. It’s human nature. Most of what memes like this one get wrong are based on the desire to be brief, incisive. (Brief and incisive, clearly, are not my strength.) It’s just so easy to call a bad thing bad and make it go away. It’s just as easy, though, to pretend that nothing matters.

Let me repeat myself. I’m not suggesting that Americans drop their guard. We shouldn’t act as if the world isn’t a dangerous place. We just need to careful to avoid the other extreme. If we stop being the things that have made this country great, and more than just a bit unique at its inception, then what is it worth? Security, as a word, is all about securing and preserving. That’s the opposite of giving up the heart of this nation by scratching the words off the Statue Of Liberty or scrawling “Don’t” as graffiti over the line “send these” in that poem.

As a Christian, I’m also not making the mistake of saying that just because Jesus has the power to forgive any sin, that he therefore must forgive any sin. No, Jesus himself said there was one sin that would not be forgiven. From a Biblical perspective, it is just one.
“Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin,” Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 3:28).

Who is questioning God’s power in this current situation? Who is denying that there is a Holy Spirit or implying that there are some things we can’t trust our Lord to do? Who is denying Christ by refusing to swallow when he says, “Take, eat”?

Mistakes will be made here. Don’t doubt that. Some lives may be lost. Some destruction seems inevitable. We are fallible humans, and we are going to miss something.

All of that can be forgiven. What can’t be forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I would suggest that denying the redemptive power of Jesus crosses this line. 

I’ll paraphrase something I’ve heard ascribed in the past to David Winter: those who experience your love today will be much more interested in your faith tomorrow.

What about those who experience our hate today? What will happen with those who are told that they have to at least pretend to adopt our faith today (even against their will, in a life or death decision point) before we will extend even minimally decent courtesy, let alone love?

There are foul tasting M&Ms in our current candy bowl, probably from our own attempt to save a few bucks and knock-off the recipe. Let’s not pretend that our biggest problem, as Christians in this nation, will come from external threats. Some of us are betraying Christ. Compared to that, nothing else matters.

Inappropriate Conversations
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