Happy New Year!

Happy New Year - from me, to you.

Whether you read this blog with disgust, distraction, or delight (I read myself with all three!), I hope 2008 has treated you reasonably well (considering) and that 2009 holds wonderful, exciting things in store!

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, "The LORD be exalted!"

Psalm 40:16

On 2Pac's Relevance...

Some of you who have e-mailed with me have probably noticed my e-mail address is tupetewalker@hotmail.com (now, more easily: peter@emergingchristian.com). My friend Adele (www.ExistentialPunk.com) recently asked me, “What’s with the tupete name?”

Well, it’s a little silly (probably a lot silly), but I’ve had a nearly-lifelong affinity for rap & hip hop culture. So much so, that a few college buddies called me 2Pete as an ill-deserved homage to 2Pac. No, I never tried to alter my speech or pretend to be anything but a white kid from the suburbs. But I loved the music.

Hip hop was only a listening preference for me until I began listening to Tupac Shakur in the mid-90s. It wasn’t the media-stereotyped “ho-pimping” or “money-grabbing” that caught my attention (though they were there); Shakur rapped about injustice, poverty, abuse of women, violence, hope, faith & fear. His music spoke to whatever dormant Christian sensibilities were in me, & I began to realize something was wrong in my microcosm: Maybe "equal opportunity" was a misnomer, if opportunity changed depending on where you happened to be born. Maybe "the American Dream" wasn't egalitarian, if the majority of prison inmates were black males.

Shakur once said, "They didn’t even want to stop the Vietnam War until people saw the pictures of how horrible it really was. So I said to myself, that’s what I’m gonna do with my lyrics: I’m going to paint a picture of the horrible aspects of life, & maybe then they will try to stop it."

Shakur still resonates with me, 12 years after his death. The injustice he spoke to still exists. And there are stories in the church that need still telling. The sexual sins of the Catholic Church have begun to be told. But I know stories that go beyond the satellites of Rome. So do you, I’m sure. So maybe by telling them, we can stop the soul-sucking machine of corporate religion.

Don’t worry, I won’t start rapping.

As a growing subset of Christendom begins to see the blood on its hands (our hands), tension arises. Our paradigm teaches us subservience to the Christian institution. Like Star Trek’s Borg, we were raised into assimilation. “Obey the church. Don’t question the Word of God.”

And maybe that’s karma: we brought this system on ourselves by building the kinds of empires we were supposed to help destroy.

Tupac said, “I am society’s child. This is how they made me, & now I’m saying what's on my mind & they don’t want that. This is what you made me, America.”

So with less hubris but as much conviction, I guess I see myself as Christendom’s child. And I'm certainly not alone. Our little personal rebellion against a culturally-constricted worldview is the Church’s bitter offspring. Oh, some of it may still be youthful exuberance – but I’m almost 30. I can’t use that excuse for long.

I don’t listen to Shakur as much as I used to, but his words still remind me that there are issues worth being angry about. And there are injustices worth shouting & swearing & spitting about (Shakur was a real “media darling,” regularly spitting on paparazzi). I don’t plan on spitting on anyone, but I’ve taken plenty of criticism for being impious &/or disrespectful. And such criticism is probably well-deserved. But peaceful protest is better than the alternatives. Martin Luther wrote, “Blood alone moves the wheels of history,” but I pray that isn’t true. We must learn how to move these wheels without blood. Or leave the wheels behind, & go it on foot…

I think I’m trying to leave those wheels behind, but my footing is still wobbly.

Alone Again - For A Short While...

Jen is out of town, visiting her family. We originally planned on spending Christmas with them, but weather conditions kept us close to home.

I have been married only three years now, but each time we are apart for more than a few days, I find myself needing to re-learn solitude. It isn't easy.

(I found this poster through 101reasonstostopwriting.com)
Henri Nouwen says that without “solitude of the heart,” we are not even capable of loving people in the way they deserve to be loved.

I learned a long time ago that the times of greatest singular loneliness were the times where God’s hands held most tightly to me. But the reminder of this truth is painful, every time.

Laura Bush Doesn't Think It's Funny; Neither Do I

I read on CNN.com today:

First Lady Laura Bush said that although she “wasn’t amused” when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at her husband, she sees the incident as a sign that “Iraqis feel a lot freer to express themselves... It was an assault. And that's what it is,” the first lady said in an interview that aired Sunday on Fox News. “And the president laughed it off. He wasn't hurt. He's very quick. As you know, he's a natural athlete. And that's it. But on the other hand, it is an assault, and I think it should be treated that way,” she said.

Hmmm... well, I was tracking with Ms. Bush at the beginning: I wasn't amused either. But I think it's despicable for the president or the American people to "laugh it off." However disrespectful and indignant the shoe-throwing was (and it certainly was) the humor and ambivalence communicated by Bush and the West demonstrated a profound lack of cultural understanding or sensitivity.

This man, an educated and accomplished journalist, was so desperately angry and indignant at the injustices he perceived by the United States, that he risked his own life to make a political statement. And the shoe-throwing is no small insult in the Arab world. That isn't something to be laughed at, or shrugged off. It is an obvious and direct result of suffering, whatever one's opinion or position on the matter. In essence, our laughter - however directed - resonates back at the impoverished civilians who have died or lost loved ones in the chaos of war. Even if I supported the war in Iraq (which I don't) I would vehemently disapprove of this sort of careless disrespect for the suffering "least of these."

And as for the Iraqi people feeling "freer to express themselves," the Al Jazeera international news network reported that Al-Zaidi was indeed been "tortured" and "seriously injured."

Not something I can laugh at.

Confession: I've done 'IT' again...

No, I haven't done anything particularly scandalous or sexy. My sin is far subtler - and more insidious. I continually struggle between a relationship with God, and a solitude about God.

Some guys watch sports. Some dudes go hunting or fishing. Others write music or fix old cars...

I think about God... And write about God... And talk about God.
And when I'm not careful, a few weeks have gone by and I haven't thought in God. Or written to God. Or spoken with God.

I have made God my hobby.
This blog is only a stumbling block unless it draws me closer to the One who loves me and knows me and calls me by name.

Don't worry, I'm not sliding into some sort of self-loathing (or self-pitying) funk. That's tired and not very interesting. I just recognize when my focus has become skewed. Like now - time to wrestle a bit.

What do YOU do when you find you aren't where you thought you were, spiritually?

How do you treat yourself?

How do you approach God?

Shame and guilt, or excitement and drive to reapproach the Holy of Holies?

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone! It's been quite a year, personally and nationally, locally and globally! I am blessed - beyond my own deserving. I pray you all find joy, peace, hope, love, and deepening faith in the coming year!

Two thousand years ago, the God of Israel came to earth as a fragile, powerless infant. He grew and lived and died and lived (and lives) for his friends and for his enemies. We've created a mess of things, in his name, and outside it. But there is hope, because of the spirit of God is the same today, seeking to transform this world from what it is on its own, alone, into something both small and broken, and something big and beautiful.

I found this image online of a Japanese nativity. I believe 19th century. A reminder that Christ does not belong to the West, but to the world. And we to him.

Aaron Reminds Me to "Move Gracefully"...

It's been awhile since my posts stirred so much controversy. I guess I should go back to blogging about things no one cares about but me!

From time to time, you'll note a tone of frustration in my responses. Frankly, it's not even so much frustration as exasperation. I enjoy and appreciate respectful dialogue, and love it when people disagree with me. What gets under my feathers is stone-throwing, and use of Scripture to attack.

I will try to be less defensive. "If I don't have something nice to say..." but like I said, I'm out of practice so I'll have to work on it. Thanks for being gracious with me.

Meanwhile, I'd like to encourage readers and commentors (who are always welcome) to recognize the nature of most blogs: posts are not well-rounded treatises, but rather day-to-day "journaling" - at least for me and most of those blogs I frequent. You won't get a 10 page introduction, disclaimer and personal theological statement before each post, because that's not my purpose.

My purpose is also not to attack, so when I say something like, "I'm a vegetarian," I'm not saying "you're wrong if you're not." And when I say, "I care about homosexuals and am not ready to judge their experience from where I'm standing," I'm not saying, "You're wrong if you have a different theological bent."

All that being said, Aaron posted a comment on one of the strings here that I wanted to highlight. Very interesting (and much appreciated!). I would bet that Aaron and I disagree on a lot, but that's ok - and I particularly enjoy the humor, grace and even fun (yes, I actually enjoy wrestling with the Lord) in which he writes. Thanks Aaron (and thanks for the "grace" reminder, I'm trying)!

Wow, Peter, bless you! You are in deep! It gets sticky in here so keep moving gracefully and with great love and compassion. You are more than capable. You are demonstrative. Thank you for addressing these concerns. Ticking off the 28th year of life, I still live with these questions in a sphere close to my soul and it is (to say the least) excruciating. Like growing pains.

You can bet that anything homo on a Christian site is going to get a lot of hits. (I've the bruises to vouch for it) Being non-heterosexual and divinely inclined is a birthright few will look at without fear, disgust and fatal threats.

When a person is ostracized from a spiritual community while their heart is still in the service of God, it is a test greater than Bible Parrots could ever fathom or have the Divine Pleasure of transcending.

I have learned something in this short time. In order to properly apply spiritual concepts, we must know the spirit by which events occurred historically. We must ask "why" and, further, we must use heartful and prayerful discernment to assess if someone is in the heart of God or if they are merely twisting God through a crooked heart. Or have, perhaps, been lied to through an institution which suffers from such a dis-ease.

Here is some Truth. ADMITTEDLY, the Catholic Church compiled, edited, deleted, adjusted and altered the original ancient quotations, records, texts and words of not only the prophets but of Christ himself in order to serve the purpose of unifying church and state under a Grand Order beneath the Roman Government, a Militarist Empire. This had both it's noble and insidious elements but it did, however result in the Inquisition (shortly followed by the Crusades) which goal was to kill anything that would not say both Caesar (aka God among man) and Christ (aka God among man) were the boss and got to take home all the booty.

This Public Manipulation was mirrored in the Societies of the Pharisees and Sadducees whom Christ so openly condemned as a wicked and evil generation, hypocrites, and generally not-very-nice, power hungry, misogynist bastards. Except they did not claim they were God. They just acted like it... and very badly.

Horrifically, trends are looking the same today. In other words, people are using God to say and do awful things that God is now very busy balancing and repairing. Like crashing into notable financial and military institutions, seeking world and religious dominance, spreading bigotry, killing fags and pretending they are more worthy to life and its riches than everyone else. All of us are guilty (before the fingers start pointing.)

I know we would like to believe that the Bible is a pure source of Holy Knowledge but I must impress that it is not. We have been divorced from the source of our connection with God through a number of devious and tactful illusions instilled by (and I bet you think I'm going to say Satan, here) OTHER HUMAN BEINGS.

The throne of God is in the Heart. Between mind and sex is the power to feel and pray. She is the mediator. Put the book down and TALK to your God. God will tell you to chill the fuck out and repair yourself before you drive yourself into misery instead of grace. Largely, I feel that the deduction one might make from these illuminations are a moot point. If you are arguing that you are better and others must be condemned and you must be glorified cause you are "right" you are missing Christ's message fully. He didn't say believe what I say and leave all the dirty work to me while you perpetuate your pathetic ego. What he was saying was BE LIKE ME.

I do recall record that he married the whore by the well who actually tantricly contributed to his ministry. (He could not have been Rabbi without that marriage) He blessed the homo Roman Soldier and healed his effete lover who waited for him at home. And he studied the mysteries of Eastern Religions to reform the tyrannies of the corrupt dominant paradigm. (The three kings of Orient had their bid in with gold frankincense and myrrh)

So, please, unleash your judgments so they might run away and become wild again and undomesticated. And take some time out to really listen to what God has to say to you. You won't find it outside until you expose your own heart.

Lastly, I would like to address that anonymous posting brings the questions to mind, "Is this person avoiding accountability for their statements, utilizing the secretive nature of their identity to feign safety, hiding from their own fear of judgment as they judge others, or just a douche-sparkle?"

Jesus didn't say that... but there weren't computers around back then.

Aaron "Phoenix"

Aaron, like I said, I don't agree with everything here, (I don't, for instance, believe Jesus married or procreated, but I'm intrigued by calling the Roman soldier a "homo" - had never thought of that..) however, I am now a big fan of the term "douche-sparkle" and hope to use it often.


Adolescent @ 30? Still slow to change...

I'm kind of a late bloomer:

  • I started public school (after homeschool) in 8th Grade.
  • My voice didn't begin changing till I was 17.
  • I remember arguing as a teen, that racism didn't really exist in America anymore (easy to say when your entire community is white).
  • I didn't get my driver's license till my senior year of high school.
  • My first kiss was at 18...
  • Didn't need to shave till my freshman year of college...
  • First serious girlfriend at 20...
  • I didn't realize Christians could be Democrats until I was 24 (that's when I began learning that life is painted in a lot of shades of gray).

5 years later - at 29 - I'm wrestling with vegetarianism. Am I late to the game, again? My friend Becca became a vegetarian at 16, and continued for 17 years. While she eats some meat (humane, free range) now, she certainly "got it" early on.

My good friend Scott, an evangelical along with me, identified himself as a Democrat in high school - and I was so disappointed in him. I thought he had rejected the "truth" of both our families of origin, merely for the sake of being rebellious. I didn't question what I was raised with, because it sat quite comfortably with me. I could demonize "the other."

I don't want to infer that I am inferior to Scott or to Becca because I didn't "come around" as soon as they did. More importantly, I don't want to infer that you are inferior to any of us for having different beliefs or worldviews. All of us are on our own journeys.

The point I want to make is that stubborn tardiness seems to run in my blood. I've been convicted of plenty of things in my life, that I chose to ignore for years and years. Right now, my issue-at-hand is animal cruelty - an issue I've been aware of for a long time. Four or five years ago, I was confronted with my own homophobia and began to dissect and work through that.

We're all in process. We've all got an awful lot to get through. I'm not self-loathing or anything. I just seem to be late to the game, more often than not.

Wait up! I'm coming...

"O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes... then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance."
Exodus 34:9

I'm Converting - Becoming a Vegetarian... (?)

Several years ago I was sitting in a Shari's restaurant at midnight with my actor-friend Chris Murray. He was laying a guilt trip on me for eating meat:

"Walker, there are only two reasons people eat meat: ignorance, or cruelty. Which reason is yours?"

Chris was eating a piece of pie and I was cutting up my country-fried steak and eggs. I answered, "Ummm... deliciousness?"

"Deliciousness isn't an option, you dick," he said. "I've already told you all about the cruelty animals endure in factory farms. So you're not ignorant. You're cruel. Cruelty is your answer."

I held firm to my deliciousness position that night. Fast-forward to the present, and Chris Murray has entirely rejected his vegetarianism. Maybe he got too much into character playing "Hater Jesus" in a recent Everclear music video, but apparently "cruelty" or "deliciousness" won out for Chris (Chris, I still love you bro!).

On the other hand, I had an existential crisis of sorts this week. I'm not sure what it was that specifically triggered my conviction, but sometimes it takes thinking about issues from a slightly different angle to truly change one's mind. For me, I was visualizing the pain and torture committed against cows, chickens and pigs by the hundreds of thousands. It occured to me that a sort of moral vacuum of suffering must exist in our universe (I know, maybe this sounds a little dramatic... but maybe it is dramatic). Like a black hole, a vacuum must be filled or continue caving in on itself.

Our actions against creation itself cannot continue unanswered. Existence itself cannot continue at an unhindered pace while such suffering continues unabated.

Now, I'm not someone who wants to put animal lives over human lives. I realize that humans suffer and die from horrific causes, every second of the day. My conviction over atrocities against animals doesn't detract from outrage over human rights violations. If anything, these convictions compliment one another and derive from the same spirit of compassion and righteous outrage at what Len Sweet and Brian McLaren call "The Suicide Machine."

JesusVeg.com says:

Jesus' message is one of love and compassion, yet there is nothing loving or compassionate about factory farms and slaughterhouses, where billions of animals live miserable lives and die violent, bloody deaths. Jesus mandates kindness, mercy, compassion, and love for all God's creation. He would be appalled by the degree of suffering we inflict on animals to indulge our acquired taste for their flesh.Christians have a choice. When we sit down to eat, we can add to the level of violence, misery, and death in the world, or we can respect His creation with a vegetarian diet.

The Christian Vegetarian Association website reads:

The CVA respectfully addresses humans' relationship with animals from a comprehensive biblical perspective. We attempt therefore to actively participate in the "reconciliation of Creation" that promises to result in the "Peaceable Kingdom" foreshadowed by Scripture.

I'm not exactly sure how these rumblings in my spirit are going to turn out. Frankly, at this point I'm not-so-much bothered by the killing of animals as I am by the horrific and unconscionable treatment of them for our perverse, obese, gluttonous mass-consumption.

I'll be reading more and praying more about this. But the more I read, the more convicted I am. If you'd like to join me, please check out these websites too...

Rick Warren, Obama, & a Big Mess!

I'm a day late. Yesterday, my friend Adele (Existential Punk) posted an e-mail she sent to Parag Mehta, Barack Obama's Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) liaison, regarding the president-elect's recent announcement of inviting Rick Warren to give the prayer invocation at his inauguration.

Adele writes:

Dear Parag,
As an Obama supporter who donated time, money and energy to help him get elected, and a queer Christian woman, I am appalled by the choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration. It is one thing to pick people from the other team to build coalitions and bring reconciliation, but quite another to allow a homophobic man to participate in this historic event. Warren has been quoted saying only Christians should run for public office, marriage historically has been between a man and a woman, and why should we change laws to appease 2 percent of the population.

WTF is Obama thinking?

I am so very disturbed and disappointed in this decision.
Best regards,
Adele Sakler

I have some conflicting thoughts about it (which is easy, safe, and comfortable for me as a heterosexual). So I want to first-off acknowledge and affirm the frustration Adele and many from the gay community must be feeling over this recent announcement.

When I first heard the announcement, my initial response was: "Smart. Very smart. He's reaching out to the Evangelical base and showing them he cares and can relate to them." Then I thought, "Hmmm... Warren is pretty conservative, I wonder if that's going to piss anyone off." Then I thought, "You know, he is awfully progressive when it comes to AIDS and HIV issues, and Global Warming, maybe it will be ok..." and then I remembered: "Oh yeah, he was pretty much in favor of Proposition 8." And then I thought: "This is going to be a shit storm."

And so it goes.

I caught myself saying to Jen (my wife) when I first heard the news, "Well, he's conservative, but if conservative Christians in general were more like Rick Warren, there wouldn't be much of a problem with the American Christian Culture Wars of the past few decades." And Jen raised her eyebrows at me, which generally means: I might be wrong. And I was. Because supporting politics like Prop. 8, legislating morality, in my opinion, IS engaging in Culture Wars; the last thing the Christian church should be doing. Christianity was not meant to be a religion aligned with political (or military, for that matter) power. Forgive me for saying this: I have little personal interest in trying to change people's opinions about issues like homosexuality - I believe there will always be faithful Christians on both sides of that fence, who can be faithful on both sides of that fence. But I have a HUGE interest in changing people's opinions about how they should treat others. Missional Christianity (I don't use that term much, but I love it) is about the active outworking of the Kingdom of God. That is not a kingdom of rules, bullet-point-legality, or socio-political attacks - it is a Kindom of love, of justice, of freedom, of transcendence, good fruit and good news!

On one hand, I think Obama's pick was politically daring and even savvy. Perhaps he can prove himself to some of the naysayers calling him a "Secret Muslim." But do those paranoid folks deserve to be placated?

I also think Obama's pick is an important reflection of his own character: Obama doesn't see the world in black-and-white, and he is tirelessly committed to building bridges and finding common ground. I can always get behind that!

But I do understand why my friend Adele is hurt by this move. And so I am wounded with her. Warren's political stance on homosexuality (apart from his theological stance, which could be manifested much differently) is inappropriate for a so-called progressive, 21st Century evangelical who claims to care about human rights.

Let James Dobson and Pat Robertson fight their culture wars. I wish Warren had emerged as a clear alternative for conservative-leaning Christians, looking for a kinder way.

Instead, this is becoming the wrong kind of political fodder, at a time when American needs hope, unity and grace the most.

Digital TV Transition: If Only It MATTERED!

Friends, did you know that...
On February 17, 2009 all full-power broadcast television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital. If you are using an antenna to watch television on a non-digital set, your TV will no longer work...


Good God-Almighty! You'd think there was a coming pandemic of SARS or Bird-Flu or giant stampeding Guinea Pigs (ahem, a South Park reference, sorry...). I am so sick and tired of the television and radio Public Service Ads about this. Since when has the stability of public entertainment sources been cause for so much attention? Probably longer than we realize, as an entertainment-addicted culture of consumption (me, guilty as charged, but not proud of it).

I am hoping for a shout-out or "amen" from my friend Adele (Existential Punk) when I say, there are issues FAR more important in our world, and even our nation, that are getting little if any attention. Adele, you've taught me a lot about the unacknowledged issues of Lyme Disease and the inaction of our medical community. That's just one example, where lives are literally on the line. But we don't hear about it. We hear about the switch from analog to digital TV.

Because if America suddently doesn't get its TV on February 17th, 2009, I'll hell is going to break loose. Panic in the streets. With our TV, it's less dangerous - "Here we are now, entertain us!"

I'm constantly amazed when I listen to the BBC World News on Public Radio, how many headline news stories (often human rights issues in Africa) are entirely absent from US news sources? Even CNN would rather play funny viral videos than show us international carnage.

So make sure you've got your TVs ready with a converter box, or an entirely new digital set, because come-February 17th, you'll otherwise have to listen to the deafening thunder of silence. Silence, my friends, is only necessary for monks and crazies.

Liberal Salvation? What's THAT?

Friday night I wrote:
I would argue there is something wrong with too little distinction between these two groups (liberal Christians, and liberal non-Christians). I would argue that Christians should stand out in certain ways, and that the liberal Christian church in America has lost one of the core messages inherent in the Scriptures: we need a Savior; we are not enough.

So I think it's interesting to look at the question of salvation in the context of the liberal church in America. What does salvation mean in those traditions? What does sin mean?

There's a lot of baggage when discussing sin. All sorts of Catholic and fundamentalist imagery comes to mind, especially regarding guilt and shame - makes me feel like a little self-flagellation (whether literal or emotional). "Original sin" suggests we are, in our natural state, sinful. "Total depravity" implies there is nothing good that comes from us or through us, apart from Christ.

And there is probably truth in those, because I believe God is goodness, and that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17) We do not always recognize Perfect Goodness for who it is, but that doesn't take away from the truth of its source.

Sin then, is whatever is other than good. Sin certainly, at times, is equivalent with common notions of evil. I do believe there is evil in the world - true evil - and that it is in direct opposition to God and to goodness. I may be treading on thin theology here, but I don't believe all sin is evil (in the common, present usage of the word). The Catholic Encyclopedia identifies evil merely as "what ought not to exist," and Wikipedia identifies the word "sinned" in Hebrew as chata, which means, "missed the mark." I say, some sin is no sexier than unhealthiness. And I think God wants us healthy.

I have a hunch that many liberal Mainline churches (one of which, I attend) have drifted away from talking about personal sin and even personal salvation because those concepts suggest a level of personal "evil" that is offensive to contemporary, educated, socially active, ecologically conscious, "good citizen" Christians. And maybe that's arrogance and self-righteousness. But perhaps we shouldn't be required to despise our humanity, or degrade our inherent nature, to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. I know I'm an asshole, I know I'm selfish and inconsistent, and I know I need Christ, but if I told you I believed I was truly evil apart from Christ... I'm not sure if I'd be telling the truth. You can disapprove, but would you be telling the truth? It reminds me of Jim Henderson (Off The Map) discussing people's "secret beliefs." His example: many faithful, traditional Christians have a hard time believing - in private - that their wonderful non-Christian friends are really doomed to hell. So privately, I don't think a lot of Christians would equate themselves with serial killers or terrorists or other predators. We have a cognitive distinction.

So what, then, do we need to recognize?

Liberal churches seem to focus more on systems of injustice and evil - "principalities and powers" - in their discussion of sin. Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change deals in-depth with what he (and Len Sweet) call the "Suicide Machine" of human governments, cultures, systems and societies.

I won't complain about that focus, because we need to be looking at these systems. But systems are made up of individuals, and if individuals can't acknowledge or accept personal transformation, then the systems built by individuals will likely never be transformed from the inside - only fought head-on, by what eventually become mirror principalities and powers: opposite in agenda but identical in maneuver.

Wellman's book, Evangelical vs. Liberal, wrestles with why liberal churches have done such a poor job recruiting new members. It is in terms of this "Gospel message." Maybe at their core, many non-Christians are looking for a story of personal redemption, a source of strength and hope beyond human limitations. Maybe liberal churches underestimate that perceived need for salvation from sin - from unhealthiness - from dysfunction - from selfishness - and yes, perhaps even from evil.

If we can begin to repaint the narrative of salvation through Jesus Christ in terms of responding to hope for personal completion rather than guilt over personal badness, perhaps the message can get through. It's not a new message, it's a very very old one: I need help getting through this life. I'm not powerful enough to save myself. I am messy, limited, and I am scared.

In Jesus' name, may we all be saved from the dispair pumping thickly through this afflicted ecosystem.


Saturday Night...

Rats. I got stuck watching When Harry Met Sally. And drinking Malbec.

Will blog more tomorrow...

Posting tonight...

I haven't forgotten. I promised to post tonight. I'm stuck writing Christmas cards. I'll get to it soon...

Pacific Northwest: Liberal v. Conservative

A recent article in The Christian Century reviewed a new book called Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest (James K. Wellman Jr.). Being a lifelong Northwesterner, I was captivated.

Plenty has already been written about "post-Christendom," which seems to be the overarching framework in which Wellman's book is constructed. Stuart Murray wrote a wonderful book entitled Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World which you must read, if you haven't.

Evangelical vs. Liberal makes a case that the Pacific Northwest might be a window into the future of Protestantism in the country as a whole. Murray makes this same observation in his own book, although it's a much smaller part of his broader argument of post-Christendom throughout the Western world.

Here are a few insights I found particularly compelling in the article, and have witnessed firsthand:

Wellman expected to discover that the Northwest's progressive social ethos and politics would be fertile ground for liberal Protestant churches. Instead he found the contrary. While it has strong liberal congregations, Wellman discovered that in general the region is not hospitable to progressive Christianity...
Wellman's other conclusion is that members of liberal churches are experiencing an identity crisis. Too often, he observes, liberal Protestants in the Northwest struggle to develop an identity that is distinct from the broader culture. "To a large extent liberal churches mimic or mirror many of the elite liberal cultural attributes of the PNW culture, such as the belief in the power of the individual to take care of oneself and to make the world a better place." Ironically, he concludes, "liberal churches fail to attract the unchurched in part because they share so much in common." Evangelicals, on the other hand, seem more certain of their identity and thus more confident in the ways they engage and critique the prevailing middle-class ethos of the Northwest—or in some cases create an alternative Christian culture.
(click here to read more)

"Liberal Christians share so much in common with liberal non-Christians." It's an interesting idea, and one that seems to resonate within the idealism of my own left-leaning politics, apart from my personal faith identity in Jesus Christ. Garrison Keillor, in the first chapter of his book Homegrown Democrat, lists many of Jesus' beatitudes as foundations for being a Democrat. Barack Obama continually invoked Genesis with his, "I am my brother's keeper" remarks. Christian values are foundational to the Democratic platform, even if they remain less touted as such, than by Republicans.

Is there something wrong with finding little difference between Christian liberals and non-Christian liberals? An argument could certainly be made, in a much broader way, that Christians in general demonstrate little real difference from non-Christians, at least in America. Divorce rates, teen pregnancy rates, rampant consumer debt...

But I would argue there is something wrong with too little distinction between these two groups. I would argue that Christians should stand out in certain ways, and that the liberal Christian church in America has lost one of the core messages inherent in the Scriptures: we need a Savior. We are not enough...

I'll be blogging about this more, tomorrow.

Merton's Last Words...

Thomas Merton died on December 10th, 1968 at only 53 years old. He was in Bangkok and touched a fan with poorly grounded wiring while stepping out of the bathtub. He was electrocuted.

Only a few hours before his death, Merton wrote:

Christianity and Buddhism agree that the root of man's problems is that his consciousness is fouled up and does not apprehend reality as it fully is... Christianity and Buddhism alike, then, seek to bring about a transformation of man's consciousness... [and] to transform and liberate the truth in each person, with the idea that it will communicate itself to others. Of course, the man par excellence to whom this task is deputed is the monk. And the Christian monk and the Buddhist monk - in their sort of ideal setting and ideal way of looking at them - fulfill this role in society... The whole purpose of the monastic life is to teach men to live by love.

This seems, to me, the core of the human condition in a context of postmodernity: we are limited, broken creatures. Depeche Mode sings, "we're damaged people - praying for something - that doesn't come from somewhere deep inside us..."

We seek the Other and are "liberated" only by the truth beyond us that we cannot fully comprehend, but recognize - most importantly - as love.

David's Response: "Modern Day Holocaust"

David said: in last week's post: "Modern Day Holocaust"...

[my emphases added at points I found particularly impactful - thanks David!]

You actually hit on the note of controversy that comes with calling the Nazi genocide of the Jews, The Holocaust. Most Europeans actually call it the Shoah, which means disaster or conflagration. That is another conversation, though. Your objection, though, actually proves my point further about the inappropriateness of "abortion as Holocaust." To whom are these "abortions" being offered to? Also, it wasn't a definition I offered, but the actual meaning of the actual word Holocaust, not the connotation it now unfortunately carries of mass slaughter.

"Holocaust" might have come to mean what Dictionary.com says it does, but that doesn't make it necessarily correct, right, just, or ethical. There are many Jewish scholars who are angered by the appropriation of a unique, unprecedented (horrible) experience to every injustice in the world. If you want to talk about language, perhaps we should talk about the overuse of the trope rather than its appropriateness.

If everything bad is a holocaust, then it makes us truly forget the unspeakable evil that was The Holocaust. What is it that they say about people who forget (or water down) history?

People who refer to abortion as a holocaust are directly trying to link abortion to the slaughter of the Jews by the Nazis, as a way of maximizing the issue as one of unspeakable horror. They aren't speaking of holocaust in a general way, but in a very specific way, that is false and inaccurate.

My point is that it isn't a valid comparison; it's an invidious comparison that totalizes and appropriates the suffering of a distinct people during a distinct period of time.

Noting that different words carry different meanings isn't the same thing as confronting the misuse, dangerous and unjust the meaning of words. Unfortunately, the language of justice sometimes requires us to make our own judgments, and this - I think - is one of those.

To speak about abortion as a holocaust is about as far as one can get from the "language of justice concerning human life." This is what it look likes to consider perspectives outside of white, Christian-centric America, as you implore us to. Sometimes, it involves making a judgment call and not hedging.

Click here to read the post and discussion string David is commenting on.

Bush: Bible "probably not" true...

Wow. I've read plenty about the public face of the "faith-based" Bush Whitehouse, vs. the private face, far more cynical, pragmatic and manipulative. Religion shamelessly used as a tool for political ends. This story is either proof of that manipulation and cynicism, or evidence that George W. Bush is far more balanced and thoughtful than we may have suspected...

I'll let you be the judge.

Meanwhile, this little interchange should serve as a warning to those so quick to give themselves to a platform. "What exactly did you manage to gain by selling your Christianity to the GOP?" I ask.

Bush: Bible 'probably not' literally true
Agence France-Presse
Published: Monday December 8, 2008

US President George W. Bush said in an interview Monday that the Bible is "probably not" literally true and that a belief that God created the world is compatible with the theory of evolution.

"I think you can have both," Bush, who leaves office January 20, told ABC television, adding "You're getting me way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president." But "evolution is an interesting subject. I happen to believe that evolution doesn't fully explain the mystery of life," said the president, an outspoken Christian who often invokes God in his speeches.

"I think that God created the Earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution," he told ABC television.Asked whether the Bible was literally true, Bush replied: "Probably not. No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it."

Click here to

Iron & Wine: Enjoying Good Music...

I just got a new album by Iron & Wine. If you haven't heard them, you've got to give it a try. Great band. Sort of neo-folk with some unexpected international (Eastern) undertones.

I used to post lots of things regarding wisdom or spiritual messages in secular music at another blog I used to keep: www.essenceproject.blogspot.com/. It got to be too much trouble (and time) to keep up two blogs, so you won't see me posting there much anymore (but I think I've got some interesting old posts, if you care to look).

Meanwhile, here are some lyrics. Evokes some pretty strong imagery. I've tried linking to the free mp3 player through Napster.com - give it a click! (give it a second, the MP3 Player comes in a popup from Napster)

* * *

Cain got a milk-eyed mule from the auction
Abel got a telephone
And even the last of the blue-eyed babies know:
That the Burning Man is the color of the End of Days
And how every tongue that gets bit
always has another word to say

Cain bought a blade from some witch at the window
Abel bought a bag of weed
And the even the last of the brown-eyed babies see:
That the cartoon king has a tattoo of a bleeding heart
There ain't a penthouse Christian that wants the pain or the scab,
but they all want the scar

How every mouth sings of what it's without
so we all sing of love
And how it ain't one dog who's good at fucking
and denying who he's thinking of

Cain heard the captive boy leap off the rooftop
Abel heard his papa pray
And even the last of the black-eyed babies say:
That every saint has a chair you can borrow
in a church to sit on
That the wind blows cold across the back of a master
and the kitchen help
There's a big pile of innocent bones still holding up the garden wall
And it was always the broken hand we
learned to lean on after all
How God knows if Christ came back he'd find us in a poker game
After finding out the drinks were all free
but they won't let you out the door again.

* * *

Aside from provocative lyrics, it's really great music!
Tell me what you think.

"Debunked?" Even More Abortion Thoughts... ('cuz you can't get enough!)

I got an e-mail from my flesh-and-blood friend James recently - he's a student at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. James wrote:

For a number of years I have used the line that abortions increased under Bush but decreased under Clinton... Someone challenged me on my sources, and I realized I did not know where this came from. I got curious and found it originated at Fuller... from an ethicist on staff named Glen Stassen, who came to the conclusion that abortions increased under Bush 2. In the years following this study a number of groups have disproved this statement and now the idea floats around as a kind of "urban legend." Stassen himself has even said that his statement was not right.

A study by the Guttmacher Institute (not a conservative group; named after the founder of Planned Parenthood) found that after a highpoint in 1990, there has been a steady decline in the abortion rate. That decline was the greatest in the Clinton years but has continually declined ever since. In fact the abortion rate dropped steadily each for the first 7 of 8 years that Reagan was in office it went down a total of 2.5 percent ...Since 1980 the rate has been in constant decline except in 1988 and 1990 when it went up.

Anyway, I just thought that this was kind of interesting. The biggest spike in the abortion rate happened in the 70s under both a Democrat and a Republican.

These are the most helpful sources that I found... Check them out and tell me what you think:

I apologize if I have been quoting information that has been, itself, a misquote. But I have some thoughts about James' e-mail, and the information he points to.

First, of course abortion rates were highest in the 1970s, shortly after legalization. The floodgates were opened! So I think that has little bearing, particularly on who was president at the time.

As years have gone by, it's interesting to note that abortion rates have continually decreased (yes, contrary to my originally-mentioned statistic). Here's a graph from the Guttmacher group:

Number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, by year

The Guttmacher website goes on to say:

The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level
($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). This is partly because the rate of unintended pregnancies among poor women (below 100% of poverty) is nearly four times that of women above 200% of poverty (112 vs. 29 per 1,000 women).

The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child...

Even if the Clinton Presidency wasn't a "magic pill" for slowing abortion rates (I never quite suggested that) it seems quite obvious from such statistics that Evangelical politics regarding abortion are entirely backward. The priorities are all wrong - reducing abortions starts with taking care of people - particularly at-risk and low-income women.

Hmmm... that almost sounds Biblical... taking care of "the least of these, caring for "widows and orphans." How surprising!

http://www.factcheck.org/ summarizes:

Politicians from Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to Howard Dean have recently contended that abortions have increased since George W. Bush took office in 2001. This claim is false. It's based on an an opinion piece that used data from only 16 states. A study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute of 43 states found that abortions have actually decreased. Update, May 26: The author of the original claim now concedes that the Guttmacher study is "significantly better" than his own.

So as I read through this information, what can I conclude? Well, it seems to me that while abortion rates may not have increased during George W. Bush's administration, the downward trend certainly slowed. In fact, the Clinton years still seem to demonstrate the most rapid decline in abortion rates in decades.

This at least suggests that Pro-Choice presidencies do not necessarily result in more abortions. And it certainly follows that Pro-Life presidencies do not tend to decrease abortion rates any more rapidly than their opposing counterparts.

All of this frankly brings me back to where I started: abortion does not seem to be impacted much by ideological stances concerning itself. If Christians want to make a meaningful impact for the cause of a viable, intellectually honest human life ethic, they must begin looking for the causes of unwanted pregnancies and their terminations: things like desperation, hopelessness and fear. The love of Christ, working through us, can have an impact on these things. But let's be honest, some folks feel more validated as political "warriors" - it gets them on evening news, picket signs in hand. It allows for an emotional catharsis. And it keeps the world black-and-white; good-and-evil. Simple and compartmentalized.

James, I love you man! Looking forward to a Christmas bear-hug when you come up this month! Thanks for doing the fact-checking... not really my tendency!

Modern-Day Holocaust...

A friend recently commented here, that abortion is a modern day holocaust. And that may or may not be true. But it's pretty America-centric to suggest something like that is the modern day holocaust... there's a whole, big, scary, broken world outside:

(CNN) -- "I'm angry at having presided over the first genocide of the 21st century," said Mukesh Kapila, a British doctor and former U.N. official.

Mukesh Kapila said atrocities in Darfur could have been prevented if the world had taken action sooner.

He was referring to what he considers the world's ineffective response to mass atrocities in Darfur, Sudan's western region.

"What happened in Darfur would be classified as obscene," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "It's a combination of a horror movie and a snuff movie."

Kapila was the United Nations' top official in Sudan. He took up his post as resident and humanitarian coordinator in 2003, just a few months after rebels from Darfur's African tribes attacked outposts of Sudan's government, which is led by Arabs.

The government's retaliation was so harsh that a U.N. human rights monitor issued a prophetic warning. His March 2003 report said that in the "escalating conflict," Sudan's government may be "engaged in ... ethnic cleansing aimed at eliminating African tribes from Darfur."

Unfortunately, Kapila says, the report "disappeared into a big hole" because the world's attention was on Iraq, where a U.S.-led coalition had gone to war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime...

Perhaps we need a broader, less-volatile way of speaking about injustices or outrages in our own neighborhood. When (if) the rest of the world is watching, we may look pretty sheltered if we think ours is the only worldview. I think it's important that the American church stop looking at itself as AMERICAN, and begin recognizing itself as Christian. This will take discipline, as we naturally look to the things closest to us. But nothing is more irrelevant than tunnel-vision religious focus that ignores the world for the backyard fence.

Click to read more.

Prop 8: The Musical...

I know my posts have been a little "lite" this week, but wow: this is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. I think Jack Black is my new favorite Hollywood Jesus...

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

I've Just Joined CCBlogs.org!

Some of you may have noticed a new logo near the top of my blog...

I'm excited to have joined the Christian Century's Christian bloggers' network. There are a lot of great sites listed in the network.

One of them I've been enjoying recently: unorthodoxology. Fun, provocative stuff.

Brian McLaren just joined the network, too! Very cool - check it out...

"Starbucks" Church Marketing...

My friend Al sent me this link the other day. Perhaps an homage to Len Sweet's Gospel According to Starbucks (which I helped edit, by the way)?

If this resonates with you, and you haven't seen the movie Saved! starring Mandy Moore, please do yourself a favor and check it out: it's a lot of fun to watch. But we really are a cheeseball subculture!

Thanks Al! Enjoy...

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