John the Apostle, Doctor Who, Han Solo, and Intergenerational Discipleship

I never knew my grandparents.

I am the youngest child of two youngest children (something I coincidentally share in common with my youngest son). All of my grandparents died before I could ever really get to know them. As I get older, that reality hits a little harder. I love that my sons get to grow up knowing their grandparents.

Why?

Because it connects them to the past. A relationship with their grandparents reminds them that the world was around before them and will be here after them.

Generations fascinate me. I think there is so much we could learn from each other if we would just take a second and listen. I wish I could have had the chance to ask my grandparents what it was like to grow up in the Great Depression. Or what it was like to live through World War II. Or what church was like in the South during the Civil Rights movements of the 50s and 60s. What was is like to hear the news that President Kennedy had been shot? How did people in church respond when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated? Did the moon landing rock your faith at all?

One day I hope my grandkids can ask me where I was on September 11, 2001, and how much the events of that day changed everything. I hope they can ask me about my first cell phone and smart phone, or about how the church responded to the LGBTQ revolution.

What does this have to do with anything?

In the end, all we have is our stories and our memories. Or as The Doctor used to say,

“We’re all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?”

I’ve heard it said recently that there are not really generations within the church. Each church is one generation of believers. I love that idea. The world wants to divide us up into generations. I’ve said it before, and I firmly believe it, that AGEISM is the most commonly accepted form of discrimination. Modern society is increasingly divided along generational lines.

It shouldn’t be that way in church. Those who are younger have much to teach us about how to be Christians in the current culture. Those who are older have much to teach us about remaining faithful to the God who never changes. Have we let the world dampen out ability to listen to each other and learn from each other?

When I read the writings of John, I hear the voice of an elderly Christian who is tenderly sharing his thoughts, experiences, and stories with his grandkids. I have no problem assuming that it was John the Apostle who composed the Gospel and Letters that bear his name along with the book of Revelation. And if that’s the case, we know from historic tradition that John was the oldest living apostle and the only one to die of old age.

So we have a letter (1 John) written by an elderly John (maybe in his 70s or 80s) and it opens like this:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
(1 John 1:1-4)

John is writing to the next generation of believers. These were not eye-witnesses of Jesus’ ministry like John was. They did not have first-hand experiences with Jesus like John did. It reminds me of the first encounter Rey and Finn have with Han Solo aboard the Millennium Falcon in The Force Awakens. Han tells them a little bit about what he knows and has experienced. They are in awe and disbelief. He reassures this younger generation of ragtag runaways and rebels that, “It’s true. All of it.”

That’s what John is doing. Most of the original apostles, disciples, and church planters have died off. It’s nearly 60 years later. Many stories have been lost. Much teaching has been muddled or misconstrued. John looks around and sees what is becoming of this church that Jesus founded and charged them with expanding “to the ends of the earth.” So much has happened over the last 60 years that people are beginning to doubt, details are being lost, truth is getting mixed up with legend.

John looks at this new generation of Christians and reassures them, “It’s true. All of it.” He wants them to remember that he was there. He hugged Jesus. He ate with Jesus. He fished and camped and traveled and goofed around with Jesus.

John knows what Jesus’ voice sounded like. John remembers how infectious Jesus’ laughter was. John remembers the heartbreak and sorrow as Jesus wept outside Lazarus’ tomb.

John can remember like it was yesterday the moment Jesus was hanging, bloody and beaten, from the cross. He was there with Jesus’ mother when Jesus looked at the two of them and created an inseparable bond. They were family now. Mary had long since gone to be reunited with her Son. I wonder what Mary’s funeral was like? John could tell us.

John can still feel the rush of adrenaline pump through his aging veins as he recalls outrunning Peter to the tomb that morning but being too hesitant to go in. John can tell you exactly what the scars and holes in Jesus’ resurrected body looked and felt like. It was both gross and awesome.

John was there when Jesus ascended into heaven, but don’t ask him to describe it to you. He doesn’t quite have the words to explain it – and this was the guy who wrote Revelation.

“I was there. It’s true. All of it.”

But the thing I appreciate most of all in John’s letter is that he doesn’t come across as the “Old Man Yells at Cloud” type. He never uses the phrase, “back in my day.” He doesn’t complain about the current state of affairs or bemoan the loss of “the good old days.”

He’s writing this letter not simply to set the record straight, but to preserve unity and fellowship and love and joy. John doesn’t strike me as one constantly looking to the past, but as one eagerly anticipating a future filled with more believers, more faithful followers, more loving brothers and sisters, more grandkids in the faith. He doesn’t look to the future with fear and anxiety but with hope and excitement. Each day brings us closer to Christ, closer to each other, closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.

I think John is someone worth listening to. Even though he has been gone from this earth for nearly 2,000 years, his legacy lives on, and he has much to say to us next-generation disciples.

To Meme or not to Meme?

Let’s talk about memes.

I’m definitely no memetic expert (believe it or not, that’s a real thing that exists now because internet). But I am one of those darn Millennials who’s killing off all the good things your parents and grandparents tried to hard to build – like Applebee’s. So I think I can speak on the issue a little bit.

I love a good meme. A GIF or a still image with a clever joke, pun, or subtitle that gives you a quick LOL before you scroll further down on Reddit. I have friends who I count on sharing some quick chuckle memes every time I hop on the Face Books.

They make for some good “Haha! Look at this!” moments, and they can really give others a glimpse into your specific brand of humor.

Harmless. No big deal. Moving on.

Right?

Until…

2015/16 happened. As a digital native, I was flabbergasted by the sudden infiltration of political memes into my otherwise mostly peaceful habitat. My entire online ecosystem was overrun with memes about Trump or Hilary or Bernie or Pepe. I quickly and undelightedly learned which of my friends held which extreme political views.

I think there is something altogether different about political memes. Joke memes can be outrageous or over the top to spark a quick laugh. They’re created to get a gut-level emotional response. Memes seem to trigger a response that is quicker than logical thought. So if a meme has more than, say, 10 words total, you’ve lost me. Now I’m thinking too hard. Logic and reason simply get in the way of enjoying a good meme. The best memes are emotionally relatable at some level. They elicit this “it’s funny because it’s true” kind of response. And so we share them with the comment, “This is so MRN.” (me right now) And we move on IRL. (in real life)

Political memes seem to do the same thing – and that’s why they are so dangerous. If most regular memes exist to get a quick chuckle, political memes exist to get a quick outrage response. They are specifically designed to elicit an emotional response, but instead of relatable self-deprecating humor, they spark a sense of anger at some injustice or corruption or “I can’t believe what THOSE people do/say/believe.”

Political memes are, by and large, poorly photoshopped pieces of “art” created with an obvious bias that are meant to be easily disseminated and viewed on large-scale platforms for the sole purpose of increasing the US vs. THEM divide.

Another way to put it, political memes are “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

Which is actually the definition of PROPAGANDA.

Political memes are propaganda. Full stop.

It’s SO easy to click that “Share” button underneath a political meme you see in your timeline. And it’s a purely emotional reaction to do so. If you would give it half a moment’s thought along with a 30 second or less search on Snopes, you would probably realize that big, white block letters don’t make a statement true.

Sharing a picture with white writing on it to promote your political believes is lazy at best and dangerous at worst. All those “Pizzagate” memes lead to an actual murder!

Political memes are nothing more than propaganda, and propaganda has only ever served to deepen the divide between people. I see people sharing loads of propaganda on FB and then post about how sad it is that we’re so divided as a country. Want to start healing that rift between people? Then stop sharing that political propaganda bull crap.

[Side note: I’m not including articles, headlines, or even infographics. Those can be helpful and insightful. Memes? Not so much.]

When I see you post a political meme, I have no choice but to assume you agree 100%, not only with the message of the meme but also with the creator of the meme or the group that meme came from. Which, newsflash – a large percentage of the political memes people share come from other countries that don’t have our best interest at heart.

I’d be MUCH more interested in reading what you actually believe in your own words. If you disagree with someone/something, feel free to speak out. I’d like to hear your own thoughts, your own words, your own nuance.

Every political issue is more complex than can be accurately represented by a meme, anyway.

Finally, those of us who follow Christ should have an added interest in seeking and sharing the truth. And the truth is that Christians don’t fit into our two party system. We should represent a third way. Whenever the leaders of his day tried to suck Jesus into a political debate and get him to choose a side, he nearly always chose a third way that they never saw coming. He didn’t come to play those games. (And he didn’t always show the utmost respect for the office of the leaders, either. Remember that time he refused an audience with Herod and called him a “fox” in response?)

If political memes are only there to cause disunity and to spread misinformation, then I, as a US citizen but more importantly as a follower of Christ, want nothing to do with them.
…………………

What do you think about political memes? Are they harmful propaganda? Or are they harmless fun? Let me know in the comments, because that’s always a safe place for political discussion…