Hippie Music, Avoiding Burnout, Maintaining Joy and Hope

I visited a cafe last night and enjoyed music about the deep secrets of creeks and forests, about trees that speak, and magic dust that blows through the air. Do you remember your "good news," or has disappointment blunted your joy?

HOW We Get There Determines WHERE We Arrive

I have referenced Friar Richard Rohr's daily meditations several times in the last few months, and continue to enjoy them each day in my inbox.  I got an e-mail from Joelle, who works at Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation.  They are having a symposium in April on Emerging Christianity, with an impressive list of speakers.  If you're anywhere near Albuquerque, NM you should check it out: 

Join Diana Butler Bass, the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, Brian McLaren, and Fr.
Richard Rohr for three days of spiritual enrichmentchallenge and shared
exploration as we envision what the Christian community can be and do in this
generation and in generations to come.
When: April 9-11, 2010
Where: Hotel Albuquerque, Albuquerque, NM  (or online via webcast)
How: visit the Center for Action and Contemplation’s website for more
information and to register  for the conference
Come early to participate in  Action and Contemplation workshops with Shane
Claiborne and Fr. Richard Rohr, Thursday, April 8.

Why We're Broke (it ain't healthcare)

This morning, I heard a woman angrily exclaim: "we HAVE to get RID of all these ENTITLEMENTS!"

That's what's wrong with America. By entitlements, she of course means welfare, healthcare... Medicare? I suppose anything that protects people who haven't managed to grasp the "American Dream" of prosperity, security, and complete autonomy.

I don't think "entitlements" are the problem...

Hate & Health: A "Proud Day" for the Conservative Movement...

Reading the news? I got sick to my stomach today as I listened to NPR's coverage of the response to last night's health care passage. Huffington Post reports:

Abusive, derogatory and even racist behavior directed at House Democrats by Tea Party protesters on Saturday left several lawmakers in shock.

Preceding the president's speech to a gathering of House Democrats, thousands of protesters descended around the Capitol to protest the passage of health care reform. The gathering quickly turned into abusive heckling, as members of Congress passing through Longworth House office building were subjected to epithets and even mild physical abuse... Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a 'ni**er.' And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a "faggot," as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams... Clyburn was downright incredulous, saying he had not witnessed such treatment since he was leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s.

"It was absolutely shocking to me," Clyburn said... "Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday... I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins... And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus."


Asked if he wanted an apology from the group of Republican lawmakers who had addressed the crowd and, in many ways, played on their worst fears of health care legislation, the Democratic Party, and the president, Clyburn replied:

"A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this, much of this is not about health care a all. And I think a lot of those people today demonstrated that this is not about health care... it is about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful."

Click here to read more.

"It is about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful."

In my mind, everything that matters keeps coming back to the practicality and applicability of what we hold to be true.

God of the Oppressed, James Cone uses a Karl Marx quotation on philosophy to describe problems with the detachment and cultural privilege of theology: "Philosophy [and we could add theology] and the study of the actual world have the same relation to one another as masturbation and sexual love."

Cone elaborates:

"Since most professional theologians are the descendants of the advantaged class and thus often represent the consciousness of the class, it is difficult not to conclude that their theologies are in fact a bourgeois exercise in intellectual masturbation."

Marx's critique of religion (along with many liberation theologians) is that theological posturing keeps the masses from doing anything to change the actual world in which they live. Everything is cerebralized and spiritualized, and everyone "makes due" in the here-and-now out of hope for a rewarding afterlife.

So God-damn those liberals for trying to do something real.

Jesus' flesh-and-blood ministry challenged the economy of empire, and the culture of class isolation. But in America, most of us are still drunk on a dream of self-made-destiny and prosperity. We think we're entitled to something that never existed. We strive for it at the expense of the most vulnerable.

Liberal Snobbery: I know, I know...

I read this on www.Autoblog.com (yes, I dig cars) today:

You've probably heard the Toyota Prius referred to as the "Pious." The joke is that Prius owners feel driving a hybrid means they are holier than thou... If you ask Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, they'll say that environmentally conscious types are liars, cheats, thieves and just plain mean...

The Detroit Bureau reports that a Mazar and Zhong study published in
Psychological Science focused on the social behaviors of green consumers, and the results were surprising... Their results show that people who buy green products may amass a stock pile of moral capital that ultimately encourages deviant behavior like lying and stealing... The psychologists conclude that "acting upon one's values establishes moral credentials that can subsequently license deviating behavior." We think that means green buyers feel holier than thou.
Click here to read the whole article.

So this sort of validates a lot of insults I hear hurled at liberals: arrogant, pseudo-intellectual snobs who don't care about people, only causes. Those are the sort of insults I used to hurl at liberals. And to be honest with you (I hate to say this) a lot of it rings true. This article bears credence. Idealism does not automatically equate to goodness in any meaningful, substantive way.

But doesn't that come right back at a lot of other groups too? I mean, you want to talk about "acting upon one's values" to "license deviating behavior"?! The same article could be written about Evangelicals (a group I still identify myself with): arrogant, self-righteous exclusivists who don't care about the world, only about self-justification. Or something like that.

There's a theological term I keep reading about called "kenosis." It means "emptying" or "empty" in Greek. It's the idea that we must constantly strive to empty ourselves of all those things people cling to for identity: ideology, material things, money, power, ego, success, whatever... by remaining empty, we may be filled with God. Or with goodness or love or transcendent awareness. The model really does hold up outside of a Christian context because all of us - regardless of religious status - fall into the trap of being "filled" by something else. I like the model of Jesus not only because I'm a Christian, but because Jesus' life typified kenosis. He emptied himself to the point of death. It wasn't self-mortification. He had good friends, he ate and he drank and he lived a human life. But ultimately, he died - and not only for the sake of his friends, but I would argue he allowed himself to be martyred out of love for his enemies. He emptied himself.

I don't know many liberals willing to empty themselves or sacrifice themselves for the sake of gas-guzzlers and fundamentalists.

I don't know many Evangelicals willing to empty themselves or sacrifice themselves for the sake of unbelievers, atheists or Muslims.

We all have agendas. We all have some "tipping point" where we say, "enough is enough. I shouldn't have to do more than..." or "I should be able to get away with..."

So snobbery is the condition of being filled with sh... all the stuff we care about. Kenosis is the process of being emptied of all that shit.

There was a prince named Siddhārtha Gautama who did something like this too. His life was characterized by compassion and asceticism, and he found something called "enlightenment." That's better than 55 miles per gallon...

Ebert: On Glenn Beck

"Jesus was a Nazi. So's your preacher"

Have I mentioned how MUCH I enjoy Roger Ebert's blog? The man lost his capacity to speak, and it's ignited writing endeavors more prolific than ever.

On Sunday, Ebert wrote a post about Glenn Beck's recent - ridiculous - tirades against social justice:

Pretty near everything Glenn Beck says strikes me as absurd, but he scored a perfect 10 when he warned his viewers against the dangers of Christianity. You already know all about it. Well, maybe not, because the usual defenders of Christianity, like James Dobson and Pat Robertson, were very quiet on the topic. Not even a peep from Pat about this man who showed every sign of having hired the best lawyers to draft his pact with Satan.

Many other Christians were not so silent Dr. David P. Gushee, Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, wrote: "He managed to do something few have been able to do... he has united Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals and mainliners, Christian progressives and moderates and conservatives."

What were Beck's unifying words? "I beg you, look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church web site," he told his audience. "If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, 'Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?' If it's my church, I'm alerting the church authorities: 'Excuse me, what's this social justice thing?' And if they say, 'yeah, we're all in that social justice thing'--I'm in the wrong place."

Ebert continues and concludes:

Beck has strayed way, way off beyond conservatism, to a land where reason itself is an evil conspiracy. This is a growing trend. In Texas... "A prominent insider has told Infowars that Texas Governor Rick Perry and other establishment neo-cons have decided to deliberately target grass roots constitutionalists with dirty tricks campaigns in an effort to derail and hijack the growing liberty movement whose influence is threatening to blow the Texas gubernatorial race wide open." Yes. Rick Perry, indistinguishable from Democrats, mainstream Republicans, liberals, socialists, Nazis, elitists and believers in social justice.

This whole argument is described by a term widely familiar on the internet, the reductio ad Hitlerum. It is also known, Wikipedia explains, as playing the Nazi card. Anyone using this argumentum, it is believed, is signaling that his logical facility has jumped the rails. It is frequently used in a reflexive sense, as when your opponent accuses you of doing the same thing: "You guys called Bush a Nazi, so it's all right for the Tea Partiers to call Obama a Nazi." To the extent that this is accurate, it is an appeal to -- why, one's sense of social justice, actually.

I am writing this because I have a blog and I needed to vent. I am told repeatedly that Fox News is fair and balanced, that it has the largest share of the (actually rather small) cable news audience, and that it speaks for ordinary Americans. To the degree that this is true, Beck has left them all behind, watching his figure shrink on the far horizon of fanaticism. He has finally, definitively, said something that is completely Wrong from every viewpoint.

Does Glenn Beck speak for average Americans? His logic indicates they must be attending churches that preach Communism and Nazism from the pulpit every Sunday. Why are they so slow to catch on? Now that Beck has alerted them, where can they flee to worship? What will become of them? They have been cast out into the wilderness, where nothing makes sense anymore. The lonely, barren, ignorant wilderness, silent but for the gnashing of Glenn Beck.

Now you should read the whole thing - here.

I'm having conversations with some folks about the classroom dynamics at my seminary. I am wholeheartedly committed to relationships, dialogue and even fellowship with folks who I dramatically disagree with - and who think I'm a heretic. I'm not afraid of disagreement. I'm not angered by conservative values. Many of them make me better - and kinder. But what I have no patience for is the inane sort of hateful vomit Glenn Beck assails the airwaves with. It's not just wrong, it's crude, anti-intellectual and ignorant in the worst sorts of ways.

Jim Wallis challenges Glenn Beck; Falwell Jr. to the rescue!

On our friend Glenn Beck: a challenge from Jim Wallis, and support from [surprise!] Jerry Falwell Jr.

CNN.com reports:

"He's afraid of being challenged on his silly caricatures," Wallis says. "Glenn Beck talks a lot when he doesn't have someone to dialogue with. Is he willing to talk with someone who he doesn't agree with?"

Beck did not answer numerous requests for an interview.

But a prominent evangelical leader says he, too, is suspicious of churches that preach economic and social justice.

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, a Christian college in Virginia, says Jesus wasn't interested in politics. He says that those pastors who preach economic and social justice "are trying to twist the gospel to say the gospel supported socialism."

"Jesus taught that we should give to the poor and support widows, but he never said that we should elect a government that would take money from our neighbor's hand and give it to the poor," Falwell says.

Falwell says that Jesus believed that individuals, not governments, should help the poor.

"If we all did as Jesus did when he helped the poor, we wouldn't need the government," says Falwell, the son of the late evangelical leader, the Rev.
Jerry Falwell.

It would be funny, if it weren't so tragic, to hear a right-wing fundamentalist assert, "Jesus wasn't interested in politics."

Tell Glenn Beck: I'm a Social Justice Christian

Glenn Beck recently told his listeners to leave any church that teaches social justice, and to report its pastor to church authorities. 
Yeah, the guy's a dick.

Since I'm a Christian who believes in the biblical call to social justice, I invite you join me in "reporting" yourself to Glenn Beck, and letting him know that the biblical call to social justice is good news--not fodder for "code word" scare tactics.
Click here to report yourself!

"Outstanding Among the Apostles" - What's your choice?!

Some of us were discussing Romans 16 in class last weekend, as evidence that Paul's teaching on women was inconsistent at best, and probably downright contradictory.

Romans 16
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was…

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. 
 Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord's people who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 

I love this quotation from St. John Chrysostom:

Greet Andronicus and Junia . . . who are outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7): To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.

Of course, Paul isn't exactly subtle in Galatians, either:

Galatians 3
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

But Paul also made all sorts of comments, forbidding women from speaking in church, etc...

Yeah, he's sort of a problem.

So what do you do when someone makes contradictory statements? Conservative churches have traditionally taken the most patriarchal, oppressive stance. A surprising choice, given that Christianity is supposedly founded on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Nonetheless, it's important to recognize and admit that right or wrong, it IS a choice being made by Christians. There ARE opposing statements being made. We don't get to reconcile them (of course there are lots of valid "contextual" readings that do help soften some of the harshest language). Ultimately, either Paul is right when he says there is no male or female in Christ, and recognizes women as "apostles," or Paul is right when he says, "women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says." (really, Paul? You're suddenly back to the Law?)

Which do you choose? I mean, really! What's worth fighting for? "Keeping women in their place"? Or freedom?

I choose freedom.

I choose the same for my queer sisters and brothers, and friends of other ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, too. I choose it because I believe the Holy Spirit will guide me into all truth. (John 16:13) I believe the word of God (not a book, but a person) is living and active. (Hebrews 4:12) I also believe I'm generally an ignorant fool, so I constantly question, constantly try to listen, constantly deconstruct... but re-read that Matthew quotation in the header of this blog. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice..." We haven't even BEGUN to understand what's asked of us - what freedom looks like - have we?

"Don't Stereotype Asian American Men"

A friend of mine shared this video with me. Thought you might enjoy...


I came across this poem in my readings on images of Christ among Asian women.   
The poem is written by Gabriele Dietrich, a theologian in India.  
It is devastating, beautiful, and took my breath away by the end of the first stanza.

The Blood of a Woman Hiroshima Day  Gabriele Dietrich
I am a woman
and my blood
cries out:
Who are you
to deny life
to the life givers?
Each one of you
has come from the womb
but none of you
can bear woman
when she is strong
and joyful and competent
You want our tears
to clamour for protection.
Who are you
to protect us
from yourselves?

I am a woman
and my monthly bloodshed
makes me aware
that blood
is meant for life.
It is you
who have invented
those lethal machines
spreading death:
Three kilotonnes of explosives
for every human being
on earth.

I am a woman
and the blood
of my abortions
is crying out
I had to kill
my child
because of you
who deny work to me
so that I cannot feed it.
I had to kill my child
because I am unmarried
and you would harass me
to death
if I defy
your norms.

I am a woman
and the blood
of being raped
is crying out.
This is how you keep
your power intact,
how you make me tremble
when I go out at night.
This is how you keep
me in place
in my house where
you rape me again,
I am not taking this
any longer.
I am a woman
and the blood
of my operations
is crying out.
Even if I am a nun
you still use my body
to make money
by giving me historectomy
when I don't need it.
My body is in the clutches
of husbands, policemen,
doctors, pimps,
there is not end
to my alienation.

I am a woman
and the blood
of my struggles
is crying out.
Yes, my comrades,
you want us
in the forefront
because you have learnt
you cannot do without us.
You need us
in the class struggle
as you need us
in bed
and to cook
your grub
to bear
your children
to dress
your wounds.
You will celebrate
women's day
for our great supporters.
Where would we be
without our women?

I am a woman
and the blood
of my sacrifices
cries out to the sky
which you call heaven.
I am sick of you priests
who have never bled
and yet say:
This is my body
given up for you
and my blood
shed for you
drink it.
Whose blood
has been shed
for life
since eternity?
I am sick of you priests
who rule the garbagriha,
who adore the womb
as a source of life
and keep me shut out
because my blood
is polluting.

I am a woman
and I keep bleeding
from my womb
but also from my heart
because it is difficult
to learn to hate
and it might not help
if I hate you.
I still love
my little son
who bullies his sister
he has learnt it outside,
how do I stop him?
I still love
My children's father
because he was there
when I gave birth.
I still long
for my lovers touch
to break the spell
of perversion
which has grown
like a wall
between women and men.
I still love
my comrades in arms
because they care
for others who suffer
and there is hope
that they give their bodies
in the struggle for life
and not just for power.
But I have learned
to love my sisters.
We have learned
to love one another.
We have learned
even to respect

I am a woman
and my blood
cries out.
We are millions
and strong together.
You better hear us
or you may be doomed.

Bill Cosby Trumps Black Theology (because he's safe for whites)

In my post on Black Theology from late last night, I received an interesting comment:

pastormack said...

Who gets to decide what "black questions" are? One black theologian? In practice, African-American academics can have a narrower orthodoxy than the most stringent whities out there. Just ask Bill Cosby.

This is one problem with contextual theologies. Who gets to decide what "black" or "hispanic" or "queer" theology is? Seems like this will always tend toward a totalizing and therefore unjust and unrepresentative view of all blacks or hispanics or LGBTers.

I think we should all just do Christian theology, but I'm old fashioned I suppose. Anytime theology's starting point is anthropocentric, we're set up to fail.

I responded...

Pastormack, apparently one black theologian can't speak for black theology, but Bill Cosby can? Why? Because he's safe, and says things white
people are comfortable with?

"Who gets to ask what black questions are?" I'm not certain Pastormack, but I am quite certain it isn't you or me.

And there is no such thing as "just Christian theology." That's not "old fashioned," it's a redaction of theology's own historic pluralism. "Just-whatever" is whatever is normative. Cone does a fabulous job of demonstrating how whiteness presumes its own objectivity.

[and my own normative white experience attests to that truth]

Cone writes:

There is a need to respond to a certain kind of critical dismissal of Black Theology, typified by the statement of one distinguished theologian that blacks "are not free to violate the canon of exact reflection, careful weighing of evidence, and apt argument, if they want to make a case for other intellectually responsible listeners." Because theological discourse is universal, I am constrained to reply to this comment, serious despite its patronizing mood, by a fellow theologian. Because theology is also particular, my reply is (in brief) that he is wrong, and that he is wrong because his theological perspective is determined by his whiteness. He is saying nothing other than, "Unless you black people learn to think like us white folks, using our rules, then we will not listen to you." And that is bad theology. (7-8)

Besides, all of the black, queer and feminist theologians I have ever read eagerly acknowledge that their field is not monolithic, but dynamic, diverse and evolving. I haven't discovered any dissident, marginalized echo-chambers. Cultural bunkers? Maybe (a lot of bombs get dropped on refugees). But it's not the way CBN, TBN and Focus on the Family have dominated the Evangelical airwaves in whitewashed unison.

I think it's interesting how casually those of us in dominant culture (I'll include myself here, because it's true for me as well) can belittle alternative worldviews and epistemologies. We have nothing to lose in questioning. In many ways, this is because we have nothing to lose in being questioned.

pastormack responded...

Point of fact, J. Kameron was my theology teacher, and one of the reasons I liked him is that he really had a foot in both the black church tradition and the orthodoxy of someone like Barth.

There is not just one "dominant narrative." Different schools of thought and circles have their own. There is certainly one in black and feminist theologies. I didn't suggest Cosby got to determine the questions because he "agreed" with white people (certainly not with white liberals, mind you). I simply implied that his views don't fit within the African-American paradigm as told by people like Cone and Dyson.

There is also a dominant narrative in feminist theology. Similar to black theology, it revolves around victimhood, but also has a lot to do with gender theory and the belief that naming gender as a sociological phenomenon is reason enough to believe one can either undo or transcend it.

Same story with queer theory (which I know next to nothing about). If it has anything in common with other contextual theologies, it has some seriously Marxist presuppositions. How would conservative, Republican homosexuals fit into that picture? (Yes, they exist)

See the point?

I also think that the view among some of the contextualists that there has never been a non-white, non-male voice in theology is far overplayed. Think about the women mystics. Augustine and Athanasius. Thecla.

Of course it is good that there is an increasingly representative number of theologians from across the globe. I simply think the starting point for theology should be God, in particular God in Christ who reconciles the world to himself. Starting anthropocentrically is to build a foundation of sand - the house can't stand. You start with the James Cone, but the logical endpoint is someone like Anthony Pinn.

And if it is not the outsider's role to critique the beliefs of others, then why, in your words, is OK that "Many contextual theologies purpose to exist specifically as critiques and counterbalances to the dominant narrative"?

While we are on the subject, Jonah was not an insider when the called on the Ninevites to repent.

Am I wrong, or are you saying it is perfectly OK for contextualists to rage against "the dominant narrative" but not OK to criticize how they go about it?

God of the Oppressed: White Context

I skip around a lot. If you wonder how I manage to read so much, then I've fooled you. I skip and skim and flip and co-opt (to my own agendas) every title and text that catches my eye. The only books I actually finish [mostly finish] are those I'm assigned to for classes.

This term, I have some self-directed reading for my Biblical Theology class. There are so many TYPES of biblical theology (yes that's right: there is not a singular biblical theology) that they can't all be covered in any number of semesters - so I have to pick-and-choose.

This term I've chosen readings from Black Theology, and Queer Theology.

Tonight I read:
I do not want to minimize or detract from the significance of Athanasius' assertion for faith one iota. But the homoousia question [for example] is not a black question. Blacks do not ask whether Jesus is one with the Father or divine and human, though the orthodox formulations are implied in their language. They ask whether Jesus is walking with them, whether they can call him up on the "telephone of prayer" and tell him all about their troubles... we must not forget that Athanasius' question about the Son's status in relation to the Father did not arise in the historical context of the slave codes and the slave drivers. And if he had been a black slave in America, I am sure he would have asked a different set of questions. He might have asked about the status of the Son in relation to slaveholders...

Unfortunately, not only white seminary professors but some blacks as well have convinced themselves that only the white experience provides the appropriate context for questions and answers concerning things divine. They do not recognize the narrowness of their experience and the particularity of their theological expressions. They like to think of themselves as universal people. That is why most seminaries emphasize the need for appropriate tools in dong theology, which always means white tools, i.e., knowledge of the language and thought of white people. They fail to recognize that other people also have thought about God and have something significant to say about Jesus' presence in the world.

My point is that one's social and historical context decides not only the questions we address to God but also the mode or form of the answers given to the questions...
God of the Oppressed - James Cone (Introduction, p. 14-15)

I hope you'll be inspired to explore what's out there!

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