I Like Halloween!

A friend of a friend on Facebook recently pointed out that my posts have been fairly negative, lately.  It's a fair criticism, and a needed one, since I often complain that Evangelicals define their faith more by what they're against than by what they're for.  I have a feeling that while positive energy is more powerful, affecting, and more lasting, negative energy is easier, more viral, and thus more likely to take root in folks (like me) who are lazy, scared, selfish, ignorant or angry.  It takes a massive effort to introduce something substantive and good into the world.  It takes relatively little effort at all to whine and complain and demonize.

While I'll continue to try to decry the dysfunctional accoutrements of contemporary Christianity and Western society (generally because I find myself and my own interests so enmeshed with them), I'm going to try to do a better job of writing about the things I'm excited about; things that are good; places I see God powerfully at work; places I see humanity responding to God; things to be hopeful about; things to be joyful over!

Today is Halloween, and while I grew up trick-or-treating (except for a few years in the 80s, during a razor blade scare) the churches we attended generally disapproved.  It's funny how much society influences the perception of a thing.  Though not the same holiday, Mexico's Day of the Dead seems such a meaningful spiritual and familial event.  In America we try to deny and hide from death (understandably) but in so many other cultures death is nothing less than a beautiful, necessary point on the continuum of life.  Painful: of course.  I'm not naive and I don't want to exoticize el Día de los Muertos because death is painful and mournful for everyone.  But there seems to be a refusal to hide from death in this Latin holiday - bravery to celebrate the people who have passed, and to engage in celebration with them.  
I guess our American Halloween has more in common with the Celtic/European celebration All Hallows Eve, when people believed evil spirits were more likely to cross into the land of the living.  To avoid these evil spirits, they disguised themselves as spirits themselves.

Yes, all three holidays carry pagan roots, but so do most Christian holidays (including Christmas and Easter).

So: HAPPY HALLOWEEN!  Try to have some fun!  Watch a scary movie, throw candy at small children (ha!), or take time to remember loved ones that have passed.  There are things this holiday can teach us... the only complaint I have about this holiday is when it's used as an excuse to wear slutty pseudo-costumes that sexualize even pre-teen girls.  Seriously, the local halloween store has "tween" costumes that are horrifying.  Let's all just agree to dress as the Super Mario Brothers...

Dear Billy Graham's Son: I'm Not Your Kind of Christian

I can't honestly say that Billy Graham is my kind of guy, theologically.  I have no doubt we would find all sorts of things to disagree about.  But one of the things I've always admired about Graham is the kindness he exudes, the grace he speaks, and his ability to go his entire life without any nasty controversies (this, I acknowledge, is partly due to his refusal to allow women into his circle of close friends and confidantes - a measured move to avoid scandal that inevitably marginalizes women and prevents them from empowered, horizontal relationships... but that's another article for another time).  He's even said some relatively nice things about Buddhists and homosexuals (comments that have gotten him in trouble with his fundamentalist base).

But FRANKLIN Graham?  He's a whole different story.  From his attacks on Islam in general, to his indictment of President Obama, to his attempts at undermining criminal efforts against the war criminal, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, to his problematic attitudes toward LGBT communities, Graham has not managed to achieve the public perception of grace his father maintained.

NOW Frank G. has launched a massive web campaign focused on getting Christians to PROCLAIM they are Christian... www.ibelieve.com - because if there's one thing that's wrong with Christian-America, it's that Christians aren't standing up and making sure, if there's any doubt, that they are indeed adherents to the Judeo-Christian religion.

His site proclaims:
That's what the world needs, now.  That's what'll fix America.  The video of Graham, featured at www.ibelieve.com is a brief bit of trite, nonsensical statements and religious catch phrases strung together as quickly as possible without time to take a breath:
"I am a Christian.  You know, for a lot of people, I can be honest with you: it doesn't mean a lot.  Because they think that to be Christian means to be like the culture.  NO, that's a lie.  That's wrong.  Don't you be like the culture!  That's what the Devil wants you to be."
I hate to sound unkind, but it's the sort of rhetoric that makes me want to NOT "proclaim" I'm a Christian at all, even though I generally have no problem doing so in the right context.  I don't want to align myself with this kind of desperate attempt at reviving 1950s-style revivalism.

Calling yourself a Christian doesn't mean much.  Telling the world that you're a Christian doesn't mean a whole lot, either.  And if we're in a culture where people are loudly proclaiming they are "good without God," maybe that has less to do with God, and more to do with Christians.  I know a LOT of people who are doing just fine without Christians.

Graham says that being a Christian means following Jesus Christ.  I'd like to see the American Evangelical church practically wrestle with what that might actually look like apart from the externalized culture wars and political entanglements it's come to mean.  What does it mean FOR THE CHURCH?  For starters, it won't involve filling out an online pseudo-petition, proclaiming your religious affiliation.  Christians say all the time that Christianity means living differently, but then we use that statement to justify being obnoxious, self-righteous assholes.  Wrong kind of "different."  We can do better.

Franklin, you've diagnosed a problem for Christians in America, but your prescription is all wrong.

Lesbian Eco-Feminist vs. Fundamentalist Western Seminary!

Last night I attended a debate at Oregon State University, sponsored by OSU's Socratic Club.  The debate was between Dr. Todd Miles of Western Seminary, and Dr. Frodo Okulam of Portland State University.  The question was: ARE THERE MANY PATHS TO GOD?

Dr. Miles' argument read more like a typical Sunday morning altar call at your local Conservative Baptist Church.  I was reminded again that I visited Western Seminary 6 years ago, before I explored and eventually enrolled at George Fox Seminary (the folks at Western were nice enough, but their dean cautioned me during my visit: "your questions are interesting, but probably wouldn't be appropriate in the classroom.  I'm sure our professors would be happy to talk with you... behind closed doors...").

In a debate between a concrete modernist and an existential postmodernist, the format of formal debate will ALWAYS favor the former - last night was no exception.  Dr. Okulam's pluralist, paradoxical spiritual views couldn't be reduced to a three-point sermon for maximum rhetorical impact.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of Dr. Okulam, a local ecofeminist from Portland and an author of a book on the incredible mystic Julian of Norwich.
Frodo Okulam obtained her Doctorate in Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary/Marylhurst University, an M.A. in Theology from Mount Angel Seminary and has been an Assistant Professor with the Women's Studies Department since 2000. Frodo's teaching and research interests include Eco-Feminist and Eco-Justice Spirituality; Earth-Centered Spiritual Traditions; Spirtuality and Activism; and Wisdom Traditions. These interests are reflected throughout the courses she teaches. Some of the courses that Frodo has created and taught are Women's Spirituality, Ritual in Culture and Daily Life, paganisms Past and Present, Goddess Pre & Early history, Feminist Biblical Interpretation, and many more. In addition to authorship of several publications, she has also been the Coordinator of an eclectic women's spirituality group called SisterSpirit since 1985.
During the Q&A session at the end of the debate, no one in the audience really cared about questions.  Everyone had a statement to make.  There were angry folks on both sides of the aisle.  Some angry conservative Evangelicals spouting literally-interpreted verses from Revelation.  Some pissed off liberals, calling the Church homophobic and exclusivist.

Ultimately, I don't think these sorts of things are very helpful in terms of actually changing anyone's opinion.  Fundamentalists get more fundamentalist.  Liberals get more liberal.   Everyone shouts louder.  I was just stressed out by all the hostility.

The one thing I enjoyed was hearing a little bit of the personal story of Dr. Frodo Okulam, who seems a genuinely gentle, joyful human being.

Video: You don't have to pray anymore!

Props to my friend Reid for sending me this video.  At first I thought it was going to just be another slightly funny Christianized commercial, but this guy REALLY sells it... (you'll have to forgive the overt racism in parts)

"It done been blessed!"

“The damn Body of Christ will make me poop!”

That’s what my wife said after participating in the Eucharist yesterday. She’s gluten intolerant, and although she planned on discreetly palming the wafer of Christ’s flesh while the priest wasn’t looking, she got intimidated, lost focus, and popped the tiny flour wafer before the wine quickly followed.

We visited Trinity Episcopal in Portland. It was a good experience, other than the impending gluten doom-to-come…

If only we believed in transubstantiation, she may have been safe.

Libido, Church, Equality, Relations, "RELATIONS" and Friendship!

A post at www.OfftheMap.com reads:

More on Male Female non Romantic Friendships      
This Slate Magazine article explores the history of male/female friendships. By way of being provocative  I wonder why these more interesting views/insights and frankly honesty usually have to emerge from outside the realm of what is normally called Christian thought.  Given that the founder of our movement provided more than enough evidence to his ideological enemies to indict him of being a radical feminist why are his (so-called ) followers today so timid on the topic?

I think it’s INCREDIBLE that my secular day-job has a higher view of human capacity to cultivate and maintain dynamic, growing, intimate, ongoing relationships between members of the opposite sex than the church does.

Our Evangelical world is so terrified of the “appearance” of sin or of providing a “dangerous” scenario that leads to temptation, that it undermines Christ and makes us all a bunch of scared little adolescents  apparently all on the brink of orgy! And sadly, BECAUSE that’s how we treat ourselves and each other, that may be what’s more likely to occur when normal, real-world intimacy enters the unnatural cloister of Evangelical subculture: dontthinkaboutsexdontthinkaboutsexdontthinkaboutsexdontthinkaboutsexdont…  uh oh! 

How do you NOT obsess over the thing that’s beat over your head day in and day out? How do you NOT covet “the forbidden fruit” when the FRUIT is all anyone can talk about?! (that is, without ACTUALLY ever really talking about it… if that makes sense).

If Christians really take equality seriously, we have to do a better job of cultivating horizontal relationships between men and women who are not romantically involved. And then we have to leave them the hell alone  not eye them like hawks, waiting for signs it isn’t working.

It’s atrocious that attractive women in particular have no place in equalized relationships.  A commenter on the Off The Map blog joked that his wife allows him to have friendships with women - as long as they're "fat or ugly."  Really nice.  A good friend of mine (an attractive female) had a pastor tell her, somewhat apologetically: “the men here aren’t going to be your friend because you’re too attractive and they’ll be worried about stumbling.” 
That is not a compliment, it’s oppressive and it's shaming.
For the church to actually change its direction and make a difference in equalized male-female relationships, it’s going to have to accept collateral damage in the beginning. It’s an unfortunate inevitability, given the normative dysfunction of Evangelicial culture: relationships that are perfectly appropriate and acceptable in the secular/business world ARE going to cause SOME men and women to "slip up" and experience some sort of moral failure... we just can’t handle the eroticism of eye contact with someone we’re not married to (like seeing an ankle in Iran).
I would propose that this potential (likely) moral failure is worth the end result. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus exhorts, "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."  We've rejected the shrewdness of snakes and made ourselves a bunch of scared little birds. We don’t become strong or wise or FREE in obsessive, sterilized environments. And we certainly can’t witness, experience or PERPETUATE the redemptive, healing, equalizing power of Christ if we’re hiding from ourselves and from each other.
Sometimes you have to amputate a gangrenous limb to save a life. Our gender dynamics in the Evangelical church are gangrene, and it’s killing us. It’ll hurt to cut it out, and some relationships will get infected, but if we’re brave enough, we just might survive.

Rand Paul "Never Said Anything Un-Christian" (except when he did)

The son of racist former presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul is declaring that he has never-in-his-life "said or written anything un-Christian..."  Wow!  Quite a bold statement.  I mean, by modern Evangelical standards, Jesus Christ probably said quite a few "un-Christian things" (he was sort of pro-welfare, for one).  Billy Graham, George W. Bush, Joel Osteen, and your grandmother are all there, too.  I certainly make a regular habit of saying un-Christian things.
Louisville, KY (CNN) - Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Dr. Rand Paul defended his Christian faith and sharply criticized his Democratic rival, Jack Conway in response to the now infamous "aquabuddha ad." Conway's TV attack ad accuses Paul of once belonging to an organization that mocked Christianity while the GOP contender was a student at Baylor University.
"In my entire live, I've written and said a lot of things. I've never said or written anything un-Christian in my life," Paul said.
Click here to read more.

All right.  I'm not really interested in defending or criticizing the "aquabuddha" stuff (although it makes me think two things: (a) that could make for a pretty cool super-hero-type religion, and (b) remember that band The Aquabats? ...) but I have a pretty big beef with Rand Paul declaring such self-righteousness.

If you haven't been reading the paper or watching the news, here's one of many accounts and commentaries on Paul's troubling racial attitudes: 
The editorial board of Louisville's Courier-Journal didn't mince words following its sit-down with Rand Paul last month. Much of what the Republican Senate candidate supports, it wrote, "is repulsive to people in the mainstream," including "an unacceptable view of civil rights."
And yet Paul's view that the federal government should not have the power to force integration on private businesses — part of 1964's landmark Civil Rights Act — didn't get the attention of the national press until Wednesday, following interviews with NPR's Robert Siegel and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. (Paul subsequently changed his position Thursday, after an intense 24 hours of media fallout.)
Click here for the full article.
Somehow, this outrageous attitude hasn't translated into a significant hit in the polls.  Despite believing that the Civil Rights Act was a mistake (he doesn't think restaurant owners should be forced accept blacks as patrons, and he  also doesn't believe businesses should be required to provide access for the handicapped) Paul is still ahead in the polls and forecasted by most to win the election.  Yeah, I guess he is just like his father: "a good Christian."  A good white Christian.  Another good white Christian who doesn't care for folks who aren't...

I call that "un-Christian," Rand Paul!  And I'm in the same boat as you - I'm a real asshole sometimes.  But I'm not a racist.  I don't oppose legislation that keeps people under the thumb of oppression, and the tyranny of the majority.  Or the tyranny of corporate profits.  I don't use my Christian faith as a political badge of honor.  Nobody's impressed.  Oh, also, my dad is a pretty kind and compassionate man.  So we defer on those last few points...

Stop the Colonization and Gentrification of Household Pets!

Everyone knows that dogs are predominantly Hindu, so it really ruffles my feathers to witness a human master forcing Christianity on his poor dog...

...Okay, actually, this is pretty darn cute.  Enjoy!

Buffett: Taxing the Rich Not Fiscal Policy - it's Social Justice!

I'm not much of a Ben Stein fan - his politics are conservative and his allegiances are to the wealthy - but he's got a wry sense of humor that can be entertaining when it's not sanctimonious (his Expelled documentary on Intelligent Design was atrocious but I loved him on The Wonder Years).  He recently wrote an article for Fortune magazine, covering an interview with investing godfather (and social progressive) Warren Buffett.
"[The housing] recovery is still a long way off. That market got way out of equilibrium, and it's going to take a long while for it to get fixed."  [says Buffet]
. . .
What about taxes? Buffett thinks that taxes should be raised on really rich Americans -- ones making $5 million a year, say, and especially ones making $1 billion a year.

"Why would we want to do that" I ask, "if we have a fiscal policy that is explicitly about running large deficits?"

The three of us -- Buffett, my colleague Phil deMuth,and I -- talked for a long time about the size of the deficits relative to "normal peacetime" and World War II, when they were far higher than they are even now. Then Buffett sums up his feelings about it, saying his wish to raise taxes on the very rich is really about social justice more than about fiscal policy.

"I would give anyone an exemption from the higher rates if he had a son or grandson in Afghanistan," he said. "I meet a lot of people at these conferences of rich people, of billionaires," he said. "None of them have anyone in their family in combat."
 Click here for the full article.
The truth is, people like Buffett, Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates are easy tokens for guys like me: we use their wonderful example as validation that "GOOD rich people should WANT to take more responsibility for society at large."  And I think they should.  But the truth is, despite these wealthiest of the wealthy, most wealthy people in America do not care enough about the general welfare of society.  Ok, maybe a little - there's a lot of philanthropy here in the states.  But not enough to lead the wealthiest Americans (and the corporations they own and operate) to support tax policies or social agendas that might cramp their style.  Look at the current fundraising being done by the RNC and its candidates this year.  There's a reason massive corporate donations to Republicans are dwarfing contributions to Democrats.  Corporate America and its leadership continue to largely favor a laissez faire brand of capitalism that asserts the benevolence of the free market in the midst of a literal middle class extinction in-process.  We're watching it happen.

And maybe it's not all the fault of individual rich people.  Most believers in trickle-down economics genuinely believe that trickle-down economics works.  Their parents told them.  Their parents' parents told them.  Everyone around them keeps singing that tune.  But it's a fantasy.  Or an outright lie.  But sadly, it's a fantasy and a lie that even America's lower-middle class has bought into, as their Tea Party fury against taxation and corporate accountability would suggest.  Their outrage is understandable and certainly justifiable.  But they've been taught to identify the wrong enemy.  They've been fed a lie.  The lie says: the only way you can hope to live the American Dream is if you let the richest Americans get even richer by walking all over you.  Then you can eat the crumbs they leave behind, and if you get work hard and obey the rules ("even though we don't"), you might get rich like them, and do the same to your former-neighbors.  But the second part doesn't happen.  Hard work doesn't take a part time Wal Mart employee (because they're not allowed full time) from food stamps to penthouse suites.  And issues like gay marriage and American patriotism get sprinkled in to ensure they don't lean left without fear of compromising their status as Christian Americans. 

A recent NPR segment discussed America's declining class mobility.  The US, the country that was once DEFINED by the "Anyone can achieve ANYTHING" Dream-mantra is now a less economically mobile society than European countries like France and Germany.

Whew, I got long-winded and preachy there.  How unusual.  I really just meant to point out Buffett's fabulous commentary, that his "wish to raise taxes on the very rich is really about social justice more than about fiscal policy."  I like that man.


Rohr on Being a Mentor

A few days ago, Friar Rohr's Daily Meditation e-mail was on mentorship:

“Mentor” was the name of the man that Odysseus placed in charge of his son, Telemachus, when he went off to fight the Trojan wars.  The very fact that he saw such a need created the role and the name.
A mentor has a mature sense of himself or herself.  A true mentor has inner authority that gives confidence to others.  She or he possesses a certain “magnanimity” of soul—a generosity of heart that makes others know they will not be abandoned.  Basically, they must have the care and the capacity for simple friendship, not domination or merely supervision.
If a mentor is not free to talk about going “down” as well as going up they are not a true mentor.  They must have the courage to tell you that you must be in the cellar for a while, and they will show you how you can stay there and not die! 

I've had a lot of wonderful women and men in my life who have contributed to my development and maturation.  Many have been good friends to me, and I learned something from all of them.  I'm deeply grateful for that.

But something I have only rarely gotten a glance of is true mentorship.   Not very many people - even so-called grown ups - have a real "mature sense of himself or herself."  Sadly, even more rare is that "generosity of heart that makes others know they will not be abandoned."  I don't want to dramatize, or make myself into a victim.  I've said before, few bad things have ever really happened to me.  But I haven't known  very many people who had that generosity of heart.  I have felt abandoned on more than one occasion, by more than one person I had fancied a "mentor."  Most people - in fairness I should say most of "us" - are too insecure to give ourselves entirely without the selfish need for personal gain.  Life is too busy, too hard, and perhaps too short for us to truly give ourselves unselfishly to someone else who covets our time, our attention, our experience or wisdom.  Well, that is: life is too busy/hard/short to do it easily.

True mentorship is not easy because it asks so much of the mentor.  Maybe this is why I've had such a difficult time finding one.  Or maybe I'm simply ungrateful, and don't recognize the blessing I have already had in relationships.  Either way, I hope I have the opportunity (someday, not  now, I'm not mature or qualified) to contribute to breaking the cycle, and offering genuine, committed, selfless mentorship.

Don't Follow Me, I Haven't Planned This Out!

Six years ago I had my Myers Briggs personality type assessed, and my wife is taking a class on Myers Briggs now.  I am an ENFP (Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving).

Some particulars of ENFP's at their BEST:

  • Responding appreciatively to different viewpoints.
  • Striving for diversity and fostering cooperation and fun.
  • Providing creativity and warmth.
  • Democratically soliciting everyone's opinions and negotiating differences.
  • Acting as a spokesperson for new ideas that relate to people.
  • Joyfully embracing the novel and untried.
  • Supplying energy to initiate a new course of action.
  • Seeing the need to include people in the decision-making process.
  • Injecting fun and spontaneity.  
And at their WORST, ENFP's:
  • Talk too much or randomly interject ideas.
  • Persuade others to follow a plan without a thorough investigation of facts and specifics.
  • Are too flighty, flitting from cause to cause.
  • Expect others to be comfortable with a free-flowing, open-ended approach.
  • Promise more than is reasonable or possible.
  • Encourage change for change's sake.
  • Lose track of the details in their enthusiasm for the big picture.
  • Are overly optimistic.
Well, I may be some of the first set, but I know I'm guilty of all of the second set.  It's important to be self aware.  At least as much as possible (an ongoing venture).  Do you know who you are?  What your tendencies are?  Your cycles and patterns?  

Klingon Christianity

This morning I visited a particular church in Portland for the first time.  It was cool - raw and authentic, with lots of drums and guitars (it's been a long time since I've been to anything non-liturgical).

After worship, there was some discussion, teaching, and time for sharing.

One young man (sporting a Star Trek t-shirt) got up to offer his testimony.  "Do it in Klingon!"  Someone yelled from the seats.

And so he did - not just for a moment, but for at least a full minute.  That's a long time in Klingon.  The nerds from The Big Bang Theory would have been proud.

White Rage: "Don't Tax Our TANS, OBAMA!"

Today a woman said to me, "I'm so angry at that Obama.  Do you know he's taxing tanning beds now?!"

"Really?" I asked with disinterest.

"That's racist!"  She said.  "Only white people tan.  That's prejudice against white people."

I smiled (eyebrows slightly raised).

She said, "Do you realize what would happen if all the white people rose up and said we're not gonna take this?!  Do you realize what that would do?!"

That's right.  It's about time white people rose up and finally said "ENOUGH" with the injustice and bigotry.  We've really had a raw deal for the last few thousand years. 

(we didn't survive the atrocities of 80s fashion, and the demeaning racial caricatures of Full House and Step By Step in the 90s just so we could lay down and take this taxation on our God-given right to cancerous orange skin)

Dinosaurs Survived the Flood: Jesus Rode 'Em!

We don't know for sure...
But he probably did.

Synchroblog: Same Sex Marriage

Monday of this week was National Coming Out Day.

This is my contribution to another timely synchroblog.  The invitation read:
For more than a decade, the issue of same-sex marriage has been a hot button issue; resulting in legislation, lawsuits and ballot initiatives attempting to either legalize or ban the practice. Division among religious groups have also resulted over the decision to recognize same-sex marriage or condemn it.
It's amazing how fast things change.  I realize it has not been fast enough - I have the luxury that none of my own skin is in this game (as with many other games, like the women's movement, and the fight for racial equality).  But I remember the local political fight in Oregon, back in the early '90s.  I’ve told this story before: when I was 12 or 13 my parents were card-carrying members of the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance (OCA), a radical conservative Christian group focused on “No Special Rights” for homosexuals.

Wanting to be a dutiful young Republican (and Evangelical) I strapped on my pink-and-white roller blades (the most heterosexual mode of transportation available to me) one Saturday and skated house-to-house, knocking on doors and delivering anti-gay-marriage literature. The forces of darkness and liberalism trembled in my wake!

A lot has changed in me. During the last decade, I have wrestled with the issue of homosexuality. I wanted to be loving and gracious without giving up my literal reading of Scripture. I wanted to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” I tried for a long time, changing my language, getting wishy-washy… I even went through a stage of calling myself a “Conscientious Objector” – not to homosexuality, but to the very question of homosexuality. I thought that I could extract myself from the debate, love people on both sides, and avoid taking a personal stance for the same reason countless pacifist Christians refused to go to Vietnam: the war was not worth the cost.

But maybe there are some fights worth having…

In the last couple of years, two of my closest friends have come out – both of them Christian. Suddenly, it wasn't a distant “them” I was talking about. They were now us. These are my friends. They are a part of me.  So I'm going to advocate on their behalf, not just to the world around me, but to God.  I want to make sure God knows that I have grace for them, because in Matthew 16:19 Jesus says, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  

God, are you getting this?  You've got promises to keep, because if we have the keys, we are given power as instruments of YOUR blessing and YOUR grace. 
We are the Body of Christ.  Will we bless, or curse?  Will we bind, or free?  If Jesus is telling the truth, then I choose to LOOSE my friends and neighbors in heaven AND on earth.  God, I just want to make sure you hear me weigh in on this, because I think it matters to you. 

Liberal as I may be, I'm no modernist.  I see little that is absolute beyond love (exemplified in Christ) and the inherent virtue of the fruits of the Spirit.  So as a passionate but wishy-washy postmodernist, I have to acknowledge that I believe there is sin and virtue in all sorts of contradictions, paradoxes and shades of gray.  Another one of my close friends leads a ministry for people with "unwanted same sex attraction."  I love him, he is not the enemy of equality, respect or reconciliation.  His is humble, personal spiritual conviction, and I honor that.

Now, I could take a side there, but which friends to I choose?  Flip a coin?  I believe our relationships with God are personal and existential - and sexuality in particular is far too complicated to reduce to the hanging chad on another ballot measure.  So I affirm all of my friends who are seeking Christ in humility and reverence.  I refuse to condemn, and most importantly, I refuse to pronounce my messy, imperfect judgment.  Yes, I'll take a side when it comes down to supporting and empowering the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the abused - "the least of these."  I support same sex marriage, LGBT integration and queer ordination in our churches.  But I also pray that those churches that will not bend or redefine their theological stances will learn the grace to engage and affirm the Christianity - the shared spirit - the shared humanity - of those of us who have chosen a different way.  And for those of us on the liberal end: I pray we find a constructive way to love and engage our conservative sisters and brothers without demanding ideological homogeny.

But demand equality in society?  Absolutely.  We must demand this.  Join me in supporting same sex marriage.

"If you knew what these words meant, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent."

 - Jesus Christ

As submissions to this Synchroblog come in, they'll be listed here:

Emotionalism: All Bad?

I was thinking about this on the drive to seminary class tonight: is emotionalism always bad?

Emotions are an easy target for cynics, atheists and liberals.  People do silly things when they're high on the ecstasy of emotion and the consuming pressures of groupthink.  Pentecostal worship services seem reliant on mob mentality to keep their frenzied momentum (that's not as much of a criticism as it sounds).

And it's absolutely true: God is not our emotions.  Our emotions are not the qualitative movement of the Holy Spirit.  We can't rely on FEELINGS to FEEL God.  Or to HEAR God.  Or to KNOW God. 

All too often, feelings really cause problems.  When we feel really GOOD, we tend to think it's a result of the rightness of our theology or our ecclesial practices.  So some really BAD habits and some really DANGEROUS beliefs get validated because the feelings that went with them felt sooo goooood.

We need to be thoughtful enough - self-controlled enough - to recognize when emotions are speaking to us.  Otherwise, God is speaking through the Hallmark commercial or the Thomas Kinkade painting.  That's not a good reflection of spiritual depth.

But the flip side is, emotions are important!  Feeling things is important!  Cold cynicism, though understandable, is a harsh way to live.  We should be capable of being emotionally moved by God - by Creation, for that matter.  And that should be no matter how liberal we are, scientifically minded we think, or how much we want to distance ourselves from XYZ Church.

Are you too cynical to be moved by something beautiful?  I hope not.

"I'm so tired of hearing the name Jesus Christ!"

Some time ago (I was in my teens), during the last few years of my great grandmother's life, she lived in a nursing home in Portland.  The place wasn't awful, but it smelled like urine in the halls, so it can't have been great.  Someone once told me that the smell of urine in a nursing home meant it was bad news and should be avoided.  As a homeschooler, my mom used to take us to nursing homes all over town to visit the elderly.  They all smelled like urine.

I remember visiting my great grandmother - we called her "Nanny" - shortly after she moved into that home.  We all sort of shuffled in awkwardly, past Nanny's roommate who quietly sat in her bed watching televangelists with the volume way too high.  The roommate nodded and smiled at each of us as our family-train passed her bed.  The room was separated in two by a sliding curtain, offering a poor attempt at privacy.

I remember my mother saying, "Nan, your roommate's TV is sure loud."

And this is the part that really sticks with me!  Nanny answered (loudly): 

A part of me thought it was deliciously funny that she would be so blunt.  Another part of me was horrified that someone so close to death (in my callous assumption) would be so religiously irresponsible.  I mean, 90 years old is hardly the time to BEGIN serious blasphemy.  That's behavior that should be reserved for young people who expect to live forever.  At that point in my own life (at that point in my understanding of faith and salvation) if I had been in Nanny's shoes (slippers) I would have been spending every lonely moment praying for forgiveness for a lifetime of sin.

But there she was, defying all the powers of Mass-Media-Jesus, and defying all of the blessings promised by his made-for-TV cronies.

Last week I watched the latest episode of Glee.  An image of Jesus Christ that appeared on a grilled cheese sandwich ("Grilled Cheesus") inspired a brief fad of hyper-spirituality among the glee club.  They sang all sorts of religious and religious-inspired songs throughout the episode, praying to Jesus, talking about God... it was all sort of funny and there were more than a few witty lines, but by the end of the show I felt the same way I feel when Christian radio is on for more than a few minutes - the same way my great-grandmother felt when her heavenly-minded roommate blasted TBN: "I'M SO TIRED OF HEARING THE NAME JESUS CHRIST!"

That may sound impious.  Cynical.  Disrespectful?  But let's get real: that's the way our non-Christian friends feel when we go into evangelism-mode.  It can be nauseating.  If we have the self-awareness to step out of our own skin for a moment, and take a look at what we're doing, we might just make ourselves a little sick...

I love Jesus.  I really do.  But I love a lot of people, too, and if I talked to them and about them the way Evangelicals talk about Jesus, those people would probably stop talking to me.  There have been times when I treated Jesus like a middle-school crush.  I'm not saying Jesus doesn't appreciate our affections.  But I'd bet that Jesus has been around the block a few times.  I have a hard time thinking he's so easily wooed.

Let's have a little less Jesusy-talk.  The only folks we're likely impressing are each other.


Friends, I know I go on political diatribes from time to time, and you're generally very tolerant of me.  I know that for a lot of us who were tattooing "Obama-Biden 2008" on our assess a few years ago, the last couple of years have been a little disappointing.  I'm with you.  The change we wanted hasn't magically happened.  Was it supposed to?  Probably not, but I was high on groupthink and charisma.

(I also know that those of you who lean conservative, and think Obama is the scariest president in contemporary memory, have no clue how much more liberal the Democratic base is than its D.C. leadership... )

Today, my expectations are measured.  I don't think the world is going to change dramatically because of this president.  I don't think one administration can repair the damage that's been done domestically and globally by American imperialism, rampant corporate capitalism, and the military industrial complex.  But like Bill Maher recently said: "There's a difference between a disappointing friend and a deadly enemy."
You may be underwhelmed.  I am.  But there is a deadly enemy, and it's not about the label "(R)EPUBLICAN."  It's about whether or not corporations should be allowed to control our politics and inevitably our lives (that's called fascism by the way, and the result society is called a PLUTOCRACY) and it's about whether or not fear should be the driving motivator of American culture.

I donated ten bucks today.  President Obama sent an e-mail, and even though I know it went to hundreds of thousands of people, I took the time to read it.  He admits that things haven't gone the way he had hoped.  Maybe that's enough for me.  Maybe he wasn't supposed to make the necessary changes.  Maybe we were.  Maybe you'll think about it, too...

*     *     *
Peter --

I come into this election with clear eyes.

I am proud of all we have achieved together, but I am mindful of all that remains to be done.

I know some out there are frustrated by the pace of our progress. I want you to know I'm frustrated, too.

But with so much riding on the outcome of this election, I need everyone to get in this game.

Neither one of us is here because we thought it would be easy. Making change is hard. It's what we've said from the beginning. And we've got the lumps to show for it.

The fight this fall is as critical as any this movement has taken on together. And if we are serious about change, we need to fight as hard as we ever have.

The very special interests who have stood in the way of change at every turn want to put their conservative allies in control of Congress. And they're doing it with the help of billionaires and corporate special interests underwriting shadowy campaign ads.

If they succeed, they will not stop at making our work more difficult -- they will do their best to undo what you and I fought so hard to achieve.

There is no better time for you to start fighting back -- a fellow grassroots supporter has promised to match, dollar for dollar, whatever you can chip in today.
Please donate $10 -- and see who wants you to re-commit to this movement.

I know that sometimes it feels like we've come a long way from the hope and excitement of the inauguration, with its "Hope" posters and historic crowds on the National Mall.

I will never forget it. But it was never why we picked up this fight.

I didn't run for president because I wanted to do what would make me popular. And you didn't help elect me so I could read the polls and calculate how to keep myself in office.

You and I are in this because we believe in a simple idea -- that each and every one of us, working together, has the power to move this country forward. We believed that this was the moment to solve the challenges that the country had ignored for far too long.

That change happens only from the bottom up. That change happens only because of you.

So I need you to fight for it over the next 26 days. I need your time. I need your commitment. And I need your help to get your friends and neighbors involved.

If you bring in a new donor today, your $10 donation will become $20. And our Vote 2010 campaign will have twice the resources to make important investments like putting staff on the ground, providing materials for volunteers, and turning out millions of voters come Election Day.
Please donate $10 -- and renew your commitment today:

If we meet this test -- if you, like me, believe that change is not a spectator sport -- we will not just win this election. In the years that come, we can realize the change we are seeking -- and reclaim the American dream for this generation.

Thank you for being a part of it,

President Barack Obama

*     *     *

REVIEW: Jesus Died For THIS? - Becky Garrison

This is a review long overdue.  I've been reading Becky Garrison's Jesus Died For THIS? for the last two months.  Homework, and a strange and short-lived reversion back to my teenage science fiction reading habits (David Brin, for starters), kept me from really seeing it through.  It's a fabulous read, though, so here goes:

 - Becky Garrison

There are few voices in the Christian literary world as distinct as Becky Garrison's.  That's probably because the sub-genre of Christian-satire is decidedly small (too few of us have a very good sense of humor about ourselves) and because few Christian writers speak with Garrison's clear honesty.

But there's more to Garrison's writing than biting satire and quick wit.  What makes her so unique is her ability to remain somehow respectful, even pious, in the midst of sharp criticism and genuine cynicism.

Jesus Died For This? begins with Garrison's visit to the Holy Land: an adventure rife with both the ridiculous and the sacred.  "No trip to Christ's crib would be complete without a visit to Nazareth Village, a community theatre-styled production depicting life as it 'might have been' when Jesus walked on this earth... I refrained from any Lamb of God lampoons, camel cracks, or sheep 'n' goat gaffes at the risk of offending our hosts, but this was getting way too Disneyfied for my tastes." (18)  Nearing her journey's end, she reflects on a direct and intimate allusion to the Gospels: "During my last day in Israel, while the sun rose over Jerusalem, a rooster crowed in the background.  At that moment, I had a flashback to Peter's rooster revelation (Luke 22:34).  The presence of God's saving grace throughout history hit me in a visceral way, as though some theological two-by-four had whopped me upside the head." (35)

In the next chapter Garrison leads us along the silly and sometimes-seedy underbelly of Christian writers' conferences - riddled with kitsch, self-promotion and sweet, sweet capitalism (ever the good friend, she quotes me in this chapter with a shoutout to this blog - thanks for the ego stroke, Becky!!).

Throughout the book, Garrison consistently surprises with her ability to critique both extremes of the theological spectrum.  Publisher's Weekly writes: "The author’s irreverent style is charming, but she does not use humor as a crutch; she clearly comprehends the Christian tradition and calls both progressive and conservative believers to task for misrepresenting the faith. The gospel, she contends, should not be twisted to fit personal agendas."

It may be Garrison's observations about emerging church folks that resonated most to me, and hit closest to home.  She repeatedly points out the sad inequity of emerging/Emergent circles - inequities I've often complained about (and repented of) here in this blog: where are the women?  Where are the minorities?  At an emerging conference in the Bronx, Garrison laments:
...the "emergent" video shown consisted mostly of white males "talking" about "doing" church... I'm tired.  Sick and tired of people preaching about ushering in this new kingdom of God, when their programs attract mostly well-educated males with only a smattering of minorities.  Once in a blue moon, one can find a gathering that's more female friendly.  These women's gatherings tend to remind me of my debutante and Junior League days, where the women get to be displayed on center stage.  But do the math, and it's pretty clear that in this game, women are just the players - the men still own the chessboard.  (138)
I don't talk about "doing church" much anymore because I'm not interested in programmatic kitsch.  But still: ouch.  Becky, you cut right to the core!  I'm not afraid to have my own complicity and participation in "principalities and powers" called out, however.  I need to be reminded.  I need to be rebuked and pushed to be better - to share power and platform.

I hope you'll make space on your reading list for Jesus Died For THIS?.  Becky Garrison's is a voice we need in the vulgar clamor of American Christianity today.  It's medicine, but it's not bitter - it's a lot of fun along the way!

Dissent: An Act of Purposeful Love

I got a great email from an online friend.  We've been talking about various issues - evolving faith and worldview, similar backgrounds, etc... I thought you would enjoy this:

Hi Peter, just a note to say I've just witnessed something pretty life-changing today.  It makes me wish I was at a point of writing more publicly about these kinds of things or at least discussing them with my friends and family on the right, but this kind of experience is moving me rapidly in that direction.
My Methodist church came together for a special vote today, after months of reflection, on whether to conduct same-sex marriages, despite all the risks under UMC governance.  I was inspired by the attitude shown by the time of worship leading up to the vote with so many older, conservative-looking members singing their hearts out, and hearing the arguments in favor from a diverse cross-section of the congregation.  The vote for marriage equality passed overwhelmingly, and I've never heard a little old church lady whoop for joy like the one sitting next to me.
This doesn't diminish the sorrow I feel for the divisions in our denominations, or how so many people (like me until recently) feel threatened by change.  But seeing a congregation unify to take on these challenges with joy and faith gives me a lot of hope that dissent in the church can be an act of purposeful love rather than power politics.

Beautifully said.  "Dissent in the church can be an act of purposeful love, rather than power politics."  I hope we can better learn the purposeful power of dissenting love.

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