Some Thoughts

Perhaps you've heard about the Video Music Awards on MTV. They originally aired on Sunday night. I don't have that television channel at my house, so I didn't see them live. I did wake up Monday and watch Justin Timberlake's performance via YouTube. And I enjoyed it immensely. 

Then I noticed later Monday morning that the entire country seemed to be talking about Miley Cyrus. The keywords in the first wave of media feedback: outrage, offended, twerking, limited clothing, promiscuous. The second wave of commentary: sexual independence, race, objectification.

I found the various essays, open letters, and commentaries on Miley, Robin, the VMA culture, and pop music to be interesting. Some were especially true and thoughtful. 

Everyone was pouring out so much feedback! So many opinions! If we added up all the hours of brain power that Americans spent analyzing Miley, I have a feeling it would be an extremely high figure. Embarrassingly high. 

Eventually, I decided to watch the performance for myself online. However, in an already saturated pool of perspectives, I have limited commentary to add regarding my personal opinions on foam fingers, striped suits, and tongues. 

Instead, I have this Bible verse I can't get out of my head. 

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)

Jesus with his one-liners! How does he do it? He's always making my soul pause and think when it would be so much easier to buy a one-way ticket on the public opinion bandwagon. 

Here's the painful truth: it feels good to talk about other people's specks! Their foibles, flaws, and faux paus.  It's exhilarating. Enthralling. Disgustingly delightful. 

It makes us all feel interesting, brilliant, theologically and socially conscious, and clever. And it provides such a great distraction from thinking about the poor, the widows, the hungry, and the imprisoned. 

Who really wants to think about Egyptian refugees and Syrian citizens being chemically annihilated when we could think about twerking instead?

I'll tell you what. The last few days have reminded me that I have a plank lodged right in my eye. And it's burrowing down toward my soul. 

I am a speck-ulator. When conditions are right, I have no problem dwelling on, pointing out, and analyzing the specks in other people's eyes. 

But I don't want to be a person who uses my mind and heart this way. I don't want to spend my time, energy, or conversations pointing out or highlighting other people's brokenness.

People do weird, strange, hurtful, alarming, unjust, stupid things all the time. Seriously, every single second there is someone on this planet doing something that is bonkers. And plenty of those poor choices would make for great speck-ulating. Plenty of the opinions would be true. Maybe we'd all learn something from it.

So why does Jesus speak so frankly about the importance of avoiding making a commentary or 'learning moment' out of other people's lives, mistakes, and eye specks?

Because it's all just a distraction. A facade. A tool we use to escape from our own insecurities, vulnerabilities, and fears. 

Zeroing-in on someone else's specks and magnifying them to the millionth degree is a great way to avoid even beginning to chip away at giant oak tree in my own. 

I am not worried about Miley. Or her back-up dancers. Or Robin Thicke. (Though I am a mildly concerned about his dad, Alan Thicke. What would Dr. Jason Seaver say about all this?)

Instead, I am worried about us. I am worried about you and me. I am worried about how good it feels to be critical and hurtful and arrogant. I am worried about how frighteningly easy it is to ignore the large-scale human brokenness taking place in the world.

I am worried about how little confidence we have as a country in our ability to reshape a culture that is currently suffering from some kind of sickness in which passing judgement is the main symptom (with innumerable reality shows to prove it)

I am worried that if we all keep using our energy to highlight the specks in the eyes of everyone else, we will likely completely ignore all the giant planks that have yet to be addressed. 

I have a plank in my eye. Actually, it's more than one. There's likely a whole forest taking root. 

And while it would, perhaps, be temporarily enjoyable to think of something clever to write about dear Hannah Montana, It won't do much good in the long run. 

I won't get me any closer to the way I hope to see the world and its inhabitants....

With love. 
With forgiveness.
With grace. 
With peace.
With hope. 

Truth be told, we've all got some planks to address. 

God of possibility, please carve out the way. 


  1. Well put Pr. Emily:)

  2. Thank you for your simultaneously convicting and liberating word, Emily. I have been struggling to put into words my own thoughts regarding Miley this week. You've given voice to much of what I've been thinking.

    1. Dear Emily,
      Although I agree with the premise of your blog, I live under the crushing weight of the objectification of women of color. These stereotypes impact my life on a daily basis - both personally and professionally. I had trouble connecting to your words.
      Your friend and colleague,

    2. Hello Angela and Karl. Thanks for commenting.

      Angela, I think back to our Old Testament class with Klein at seminary all the time. That was the first time I really had to come face to face with white privilege and power. And no doubt, my commentary here misses the mark in plenty of ways.

      I thought about our seminary class yesterday as I read some excellent commentary on the Miley Cyrus/race/cultural appropriation discussion posted all over the Internet. There were a variety of articles I found moving, convicting, and true. Many that I forwarded onto others, especially this one: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/cultural-appropriation-is-a-bigger-problem-than-miley-cyrus/

      But as I read more and more, I realized that for me, the starting point of all these discussions needed to be the planks in my own eyes.

      Conversations about race/objectification/class/culture - these are all imperative. We can't not talk about wrongs and injustices. We can't avoid looking at the deep wrongs that face our country and world - especially as they relate to race - and especially today, on the anniversary of Dr. King's I Have A Dream speech.

      There are times when clearly the specks and planks in other people's eyes must be addressed. The specks and planks in our "cultural eyes" have to be addressed to.

      I hesitated to write anything because I know I live with the privileges of being white. Who am I to add anything to the discussion? But I also felt like the Holy Spirit really did put that verse on my heart about the specks and planks from Matthew.

      Maybe for many people (especially the white, middle-class, midwestern community) to even GET to the point where they are able to consider the objectification and cultural appropriation of the black community - they have to pause first and consider it to be one of the planks in their eyes?

      I know that's true for me. It's one of my planks. One of my huge, many-layered planks.

      As I read commentaries yesterday, it humbled and reminded me that instead of reading so much about the planks in Miley's eyes (and the eyes of her record producers, etc) - I needed to refocus on addressing my own.

      I meant for this posting to go deeper than I usually do online - because I am impossibly afraid of offending people/hurting people/being ignorant/etc.

      But I thought I'd just put it out there and take a risk. Knowing that maybe it could be a jumping-off point. Or the start of a deeper conversation.

      Thanks for taking the time to write. And for your honest words and commentary. I hope some of what I wrote makes sense.

      Your sister in Christ,

  3. Thank you Emily for your response. I certainly appreciate your journey. Most certainly the Holy Spirit was and is working through you. What I wanted to do was simply remind you that there are other voices, other people, like me- that's all. I so wanted to see a sentence or two that spoke to me as a WoC- more than a passing comment. Perhaps that was unfair to expect. Perhaps if I didn't already know you I wouldn't have given it a second thought. But I couldn't help but think to myself, "It must be nice to choose when to look at your own planks/specks". Perhaps it is because I find myself in Rural Ohio- with confederate flags and conceal carry permits. Or perhaps it is because I have so many of my own faults to deal with perceived and otherwise. Faults that were pointed out to me practically from the womb - black people are lazy, black women are angry, fat, slutty. I didn't work as hard for my MDiv as others because of affirmative action. The list goes on and on. I know you can't hear tone of voice from an email or FB but please hear me as tired. Rhonda used to say that it is hard to choose your battles when your whole life is a struggle. Emily, I don't wish to take anything away from your article- just wanting to add a little something from the margins.
    Still with love,

    1. Amen, Angela. Thank you for your voice, your input, and your leadership. And thank you for adding a perspective from the margins.


  4. I agree that we individuals need to do self introspection and fix our own faults, but we also need to work as a united collective to fix the big picture. In my humble opinion, the morale fabric of our society has been on a slippery downhill slide for decades. Several causes, but I feel the three main contributors are: deterioration of the family unit, a drifting away from God, and lack of true, honest and genuine leadership in all levels of private and public sectors. So many people (feeling "entitled") have adopted the strategy "if it feels good, it's OK to just do it". There seems to be a diminishing GOOD mindset that knows RIGHT from WRONG, especially when no negative repercussions arise from doing BAD. Everyone is hamstrung by litigation and political correctness hanging over their heads, that they feel paralyzed, can't take any action or say anything for fear of "offending someone". A very sad state of affairs.

    I personally feel we need to go back to basics. Treat everyone equally. Strengthen the family unit. Get rid of all the nonsensical litigation. Look out for and help one another, but not to the point where we are rewarding people for leading an irresponsible lifestyle (way too much of this happening today in the form of flagrant abuse in our Social Services programs). I have personally seen many cases of this while volunteering as a helper.

    Miley Cyrus did our society a disservice. We want to live in a God-loving, healthy environment. We can do our best as individuals to promote this, but also need to help guide others who either don't care or are focused more on money than God & quality of life. Children are our most naïve and vulnerable members. Having a children's ICON like Miley suddenly pull a 180 and become an advocate for behavior totally inappropriate for a young audience, steers them in the wrong direction and further contributes to our social deterioration. Our own actions influence everyone around us. In many cases, the "parental units" are not there to act as a safety net to teach right from wrong. I am (not a saint) thankful for my loving parents who were there to guide me, and also there to let me feel a little pain (rather than always stick up for me) when I was in the wrong.