My Issue With Caitlyn…Is Not Really About Her

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VF_JULY_COVER1433178010If you live under a rock, you most likely haven’t heard of Caitlyn Jenner. She has taken the media by storm following her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. I have read quite a few blog posts regarding her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Obviously, people want to be first with their response. Even posting this a week out, I feel like this may still be a bit too reactionary for me. So please, read the following with a grain of salt (I’ve never quite understood this saying…).

There have been some really thought-provoking posts about how she should be treated and why Christians should be setting down their stones. However, there are many who still seem eager to pick up their stones.

My issue with Caitlyn is not entirely with her…it’s more with us.

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to the transgender conversation, I am at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say…and so oftentimes, I’m silent. Yes, I agree that we should love her where she is (which, in my opinion means respecting her desire to be considered a female). And that is messy. But Jesus taught us that love was never going to be clean.

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus’s conversations with “the worst of sinners” would’ve been like. Would He have tried to persuade them to follow Him? Would He have asked them to leave their profession? Would He have asked them poignant questions about their choices in life?

The honest answer is, I don’t know.

It’s always been amusing to me that sexuality has always been the issue that Christians seem to wag their fingers at the most. We say things like, “do you not know that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Obviously, that would make them stop in their tracks and turn toward Jesus. We forget the context of what Paul was saying and just say those words to whomever we view as sexually immoral.

It wasn’t too long ago, however, that married people who had sex for other purposes than reproduction were considered sexually immoral.

Paul spoke quite heavily about sexual immorality in his first letter to the Corinthians. Obviously, Christians are quick to turn their when confronting those we deem sexually immoral. But what amuses me about that verse is that we often neglect the other things mentioned.

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6.9-10 NLT)

What do we say to the businessman who tithes regularly to the church but has practices that cheat others?

What do we say to those who continuously consume without giving to others?

What do we say about those who work for companies that steal from many?

What do we say about those verbally abusive preachers who go for the shock value each and every Sunday to get their point across?

We are silent.

Those who use the argument that Caitlyn is sexually immoral and deserves our judgment neglect to point out that the person who gives the most to the church might be running a company that takes the most from those less fortunate.

I am only saying that if we draw a line…then let’s draw a clear line and not one so ambiguous.

This much I know: we live in a world where things are not as they should be. For many of those who identify as transgender, they feel like their gender is not as it should be. Christians should be eager to converse with this. There is a common theme that things are not right. Yet we pick up those stones and take a few throws.

Gender is a deeper issue than sex. The unfortunate thing is that most will not see this. I have no idea what it feels like to go your whole life feeling like this body is not right. That something is terribly wrong. I empathize even though I don’t fully understand.

It is so easy for us to simply say, “be a man! You have a penis, now be a man!” But genitals do not determine gender (for more info on this, see Debra Hirsch’s book Redeeming Sex). This is a truth I am learning more and more.

There have been a lot of blogs about all of this. Part of me is saddened by how much we are analyzing her life…but she also is in the unfortunate position of being in the spotlight, and we idolize those in that spotlight (wait, didn’t Paul say something about those who worship idols not inheriting the Kingdom as well???). Sometimes I get tired of hearing how we need to treat things with more grace. I feel like it is just an excuse for not standing up for what you believe in. But I believe in grace…and not cheap grace. I want to stand up for grace.

I pray that God grants the same grace to Caitlyn that He grants to me. Whatever is going through her mind, whatever battles she is fighting, whatever issues she might have — I pray God grants her the same grace He grants me. Many times in my life, I could say that I was a sexually immoral, idol-worshipping, greedy, cheating, thief. God granted me so much grace in those moments…and He still does.

So before we shake our heads at what is going on, can we all just agree that this is more complicated than what it appears? And that life and love is messy? And that grace flows freely? And that we are in need of that same grace…even from our pedestal that we use to look down on our transgender brothers and sisters?

Church should never be the place where someone who is transgender feels even more out of place than he/she does in his/her body. Church should be the place where he/she feels like he/she is part of the body…and then moves toward redemption and restoration…whatever that looks like. God is pretty good at working those things out. So let’s leave it to Him.

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Wolf of Wall Street

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ImageI’ve been debating writing a review of Scorsese’s recent film, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It is a film that is filled with f-words, nudity, and drugs. That’s usually how Christians categorize it. Unfortunately, we neglect one of the most heinous of sins that it portrays…consumerism and greed. I love movies and I love Scorsese films. He never disappoints. This film, in my opinion, is a genius portrayal of what consumerism and greed does to our lives.

[Contains spoilers]

When I watch films like this, I try to base my judgment on character development. This film far exceeded my expectation (which is bizarre considering I’ve never been disappointed with a Scorsese/DiCaprio combination). The film is based upon the life of Jordan Belfort. He was a self-made man who ran penny stocks, one of the largest scams in the financial market. As a man driven to succeed, relationships and ethics were quickly thrown out the window in order to make as much money as possible.

The entire film centers around excess. There is excessive language (over 500 f-words), nudity, sex, drugs, and money. The movie is excessively long (clocking in at about 3 hours). And through the excess, we see a genuine portrayal of the contemporary consumeristic mindset. We learn the hard truth that money truly can buy you almost everything in this country. It can even buy your way out of prison. And where we want to say “that shouldn’t happen,” we are left with the depraving fact that it is, unfortunately, the truth. 

Belfort is not painted as an individual we should aspire to be. He is obscene. He is vulgar. He is over the top. The film acts as a personification of those characteristics. Audience members are subjected to that lifestyle and they should know that going in to the film. It is far more than a biopic. It goes deeper than that. Scorsese appreciates art and that is seen, albeit obscenely, in this film.

I am by no means advocating the use of extensive sex, drugs, and language. Just like I don’t advocate the use of extensive violence (as seen in films like Saving Private Ryan, The Departed, Inglorious Basterds, or Django Unchained), a false view of romance (as seen in every single romantic film released to date), or consumerism (as seen in Wall Street, Hunger Games, or The Dark Knight trilogy). I don’t advocate much of what I see in contemporary film; but then again, just because something is portrayed in a film doesn’t mean it is acceptable. Too often, I fear Christians have the tendency to “christianize” sin so that it can be portrayed in film. We see this in many contemporary “Christian” films. What happens is we subject people to a false sense of sin. That’s the biggest complaint I have with Christian film (well, that and the fact that they have no idea how to develop characters). 

Christians long to see justice. I long to see justice. I want to see good characters thrive and evil characters suffer consequences for their actions. Of course, explored further, this is an errant thought of humanity. When we don’t see that in a film that has already subjected us to so much inappropriate material, we get upset. The same is true for The Wolf of Wall Street. We are subjected for 3 hours to Belfort’s and see no resolution, really. There is no payment for his wrongdoings. The closest thing we get for remorse is the scene when Belfort, who was extremely inebriated, tries to take his daughter away from his wife. He backs the car into a wall and we see a glimpse look in Belfort’s eyes that portrays remorse for what his life had become. That thought doesn’t last long This is frustrating to the viewer because he/she wants to see some form of redemption in his life.

Unfortunately, there was no redemption in his life. Belfort still lives promoting an agenda of greed and loose morals and ethics. His life is a representation of consumerism and Scorsese captures that beautifully in his film. The film begs a poignant question: is the pursuit of success worth all of this? Belfort loses family, friends, innocence, possessions, control, and much more for his pursuit of being on top. He is a man that regrets nothing because it is hard to regret things when your primary pursuit is something that is selfish. He buys into the mantra from Gordon Gecko that “greed is good.” And he doesn’t regret that thought. No matter what the loss, he considers his life successful because of all the temporary fame he achieved. 

The film led me to question my own stance on consumerism. Had I bought into that line of thought? It’s appealing at times. You can have your own helicopter, boat, lovers, vices, and anything that you could ever dream of. You can have it all. As long as you are willing to sacrifice it all for that dream. 

My problem with consumerism (outside of it being against Scripture) is that it blends in all too easily with American evangelicalism. From the days of the health and wealth gospel to the multi-million dollar church buildings to the church services that give most concerts a run for their money, consumerism blends in all too easily with American evangelicalism. Many have bought into the idea that bigger is better. Our services, sometimes, even echo that. And we justify it by saying that we will do whatever possible to bring people to Christ. But is that a good justification? Is that a right justification? Is that a Biblical justification? 

Do I condone the content in The Wolf of Wall Street? No, of course not. After watching the film, I immediately thought, “oh my gosh, I can’t believe that all of that was in an R-rated film.” Would I recommend the film to everyone? Of course not. There are several films that I think beautifully capture the state of humanity but shouldn’t be viewed by everyone. I see the artistic ability in being able to tell the story of a person not only inhis/her life and relationships with people but also in content and aspects of the film. It doesn’t mean I support that way of thinking. I wish that things were different…but they aren’t. Consumerism is still a problem that we are battling every day. And before we casta stone, we must first analyze our own lives.

Because the truth is:

I am Jordan Belfort. I want so much more. I have been tempted to sacrifice ethics for my own success. I have given up relationships if they stood in the way of my goals. I have done things I told myself I would never do. At times, I am no different than Jordan Belfort. Seeing The Wolf of Wall Street showed me that. Consumerism is something I struggle with every day. I constantly battle with the thoughts of “what do I need” versus “what do I want.” 

Most of us are Jordan Belfort. Seeing it portrayed in a film showed me that ugly truth. Being subjected to everything showed me the nature of evil and how it slowly hardens your heart to where you need more to operate. Not seeing resolution showed me the unfortunate truth of humanity. Not seeing justice made me long for the day when justice will come to fruition. I pray in that day, however, that God shows me grace for being such a worthless schmuck at times.

My review? Albeit an obscene film, it might be one of the best films when it comes to capturing how many of us operate…even those of us who proclaim Christ. I want to make myself clear: I do not condone the behavior in the film. But I also don’t condone that behavior anywhere and yet I see it all the time…in my life as well as in many other lives.