Ummm... Google? This is Awkward...

Why are Christians so...
stupid?
mean?
ignorant?
hateful?
intolerant?
angry?
dumb?
crazy?
arrogant?
gullible?

Did you notice?  "Why are Christians so mean?" had 12,800,000 results, alone.  Almost three million for "why are Christians so hateful" and "intolerant" combined.

We have a problem.

Sort of makes you want to change your life, huh?

Are Men The Church's Primary Concern? What do YOU think?


My online friend Nate recently stopped by to challenge something I said that appeared anti-Catholic, which I immediately clarified in the post (in parentheses) because I have no desire to appear anti-Catholic.  On the other hand, it’s hard – given my general positions and observations – not to appear anti-church.  I’m not actually anti-church either, but I reserve my sharpest critiques for the powerful, and for those I most closely identify: I am a man; I am a Christian; I consider myself a member of the church.  My nitpicking follows…

Essentially, my argument in that post had been that more-often-than-not, the interests of men consistently occupy the church’s primary focus (not just the Catholic church, but Christianity in general).  Women and minorities follow secondarily.  I used the Pope’s recent statements about contraception “for male prostitutes” as an example: par for the course.

Nate referenced several articles.  Among them, Mary Eberstadt in "The Vindication of Humanae Vitae." 

I’ve come to respect Nate’s opinions immensely over the last few years.  We used to dialogue a lot here, and at his blog.  He’s not online much these days, so I’m looking forward to his thoughts on my response, and while we probably won’t end up agreeing, I’m expecting him to be able to pick apart some of my arguments here.  Which is good for me.  Hones my thought process.  I tend to digest at a gut level, which means my arguments aren’t often effectively structured.  I was never good at formal debate.

This is (most of) my response to Nate's critique, where he said (quite respectfully): "this does come off as anti-catholic. Namely the phrase "Interesting, once again, the only concern from the Church is for men:" is a clear indicator--as it is far from accurate--and if it is pure hyperbole, it is certainly incendiary."

*     *     *
Nate...
I believe that the Christian institution is first & foremost oriented toward the priorities of men, & this attitude is normalized in much of Christian religious culture.  
I appreciate Eberstadt's articulation of the issues at hand in "Vindication" because her priorities are clear & she's not inflammatory or defensive, but there is much I disagree with her on.
 


She mentions the result of widespread contraception leading to "a lessening of respect for women by men." I hardly think that 1950s social behavior toward women was better than current attitudes, although I'll grant attitudes are bad now, & potentially getting worse in post-feminist backlash. That's not birth-control's fault, that's (a) the growing pains of dramatic social change, & (b) retaliation from principalities & powers that are direct beneficiaries of male hegemony. That can be as localized as a threatened husband, or as nebulous as global patriarchy.  I'd challenge anyone to find an idealized situation where women were widely "respected" more than they are now (again, that's not a case for today being particularly good). The 1800s? Victorian America? In the past, women had doors held open for them, men stood up when they entered the room, yet they were "revered chattel," silent & powerless in polite society.



Even if contraception did contribute to greater disrespect of women (which I reject), that doesn't mean we take it away, as one of the few protections women have - particularly those sexually obligated in misogynistic, dominated relationships. We deal directly with the root of the problem, which is disrespect. 



I know she isn't saying this, but it makes me think of legitimizing "separate but equal" to avoid racist violence. It doesn't deal with the underlying social evil, it just avoids problematic situations. I know, maybe that's a stretch...

I agree with Eberstadt that the sexual revolution may have contributed to the weakening of family cohesion, but economics has a large hand in that as well: as the middle class dissolves, it becomes increasingly impossible for most families to survive on a single income. This keeps parents separate from their own children's upbringing - absent parents, even in married households.

Eberstadt also uses the contraception discussion to argue against the legitimization of homosexuality, which I have a problem with.



As far as I can see, church heirarchies - Catholic, Orthodox & Protestant alike - are still heavily dominated by masculine power. Culturally, they still isolate & (I believe) systematically delegitimize women, both corporately & in local parishes. This is not surprising, since our canon reflects the exact same vantage: a world of men, writing about the perspective & interests & actions of men. The "presence" of women does nothing to counter this.



Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Overtures to Biblical Theology)Phyllis Trible's 'Texts of Terror' demonstrates this emphatically. Until we learn to contextualize biblical gender roles, we're doomed to keep running in circles around this issue.



Nate, I like you a lot, dude, & we may have to agree to disagree, but I don't think I know more about this issue than you. Certainly not more about Roman Catholicism. I can only take responsibility for my own observation of the world, which I acknowledge is as problematic & stilted as anyone else's. 

But I honestly did not mean to come across as shocking or incendiary. The more I really look around myself - paying attention to interactions & behaviors - the more aware I am of how problematic our gender dynamics are. I cannot separate those observations from the influence of the church.

 And all that said, I believe the church has the capacity (& proven ability) to transcend this dysfunction, & to be a redemptive, equalizing entity in the world. I've seen that firsthand, too. I'm just not convinced that's the norm.
*     *     *

Tweet: "GOD, WHY YOU GOTTA PLAY ME LIKE THAT????!!!" LOL


I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO...
I have no comment.  This is just darned-enjoyable.  I'm not a sports fan, so I've only caught this second-hand, through other sources.  It's just fascinating how society and culture color our perceptions of what God does and does not do, and about what God cares about and is concerned with.

We can downplay conversation with God that's peppered with exclamation points, question marks, and closed with a "THX THO," but it's worth thinking about the juvenile ways that we (I) regard God, and treat God, in our day to day drama.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson dropped a game-winning touchdown in the end zone Sunday in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Anyone who has ever tossed the pigskin around in the back yard dreams of that scenario - minus the drop, of course.  Johnson did not even have to work for the ball. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass was text-book perfect, landing squarely in Johnson's hands. (CNN)

Arson at Local Mosque: Response to Portland Terror Attempt

A local guy made a terrorist attempt in Portland over the holiday weekend.  According to the Washington PostMohamed Osman Mohamud attempted to explode a bomb and kill thousands at Portland's central square nighttime Christmas tree lighting. The arrest was the result of a sting effort by the FBI, whose agents worked extensively with the man who assembled the fake bomb and twice tried to detonate Friday evening.  Mohamud was formerly a Corvallis, Oregon native.   Tragically, retaliation began against Corvallis' local mosque early this morning:
The damage from a fire at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center early Sunday did not amount to much in material loss. A chair and computer were destroyed in the blaze, which was contained to a single room in the two-floor structure. There were no injuries.  But the symbolic wound went far deeper. A place of worship had apparently been deliberately damaged just a day after one of its on-again, off-again members had been arrested in connection with the attempted bombing Friday night at the annual Christmas tree lighting in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, the government alleges. And Sunday morning, the charred pages of Islam's holy book, the Quran, sat side by side with the chair, the computer and the rest of the charred detritus...  
U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton not only visited the scene of the fire but also delivered a message of support and tolerance to the Islamic center's leaders and members.  
"Religious freedom is one of the pillars of American society," Holton said.  
... 
A day before Sunday's fire, leaders at the Corvallis mosque had released a statement condemning the alleged bomb plot. 
"We denounce this horrible plot in the strongest terms and repudiate all those who commit such acts of mindless violence in the name of Islam," the statement said. "Islam is a religion of peace and these acts are not the legitimate acts of Muslims." 
Click here for the full story at OregonLive.com.

If secular society targeted Christians, every time Christians did something horrible, we'd probably have complete anarchy.  Islam is not our enemy.  Fear is our enemy, and it's one of the most powerful forces on earth.  But love is more powerful, still.

No More "Man-Cave," "Manswers," or "Man-love"...

Seriously.  What's with the "man" prefixes?  Is it just because it's so darn funny?  Because men are somehow NOT represented in dominant culture, and need to compensate?  Or is it just latent homophobia? "It's man-time!"  So let's play some "man-games!"  Then we'll drink some "man-drinks!"

But be careful: men can't "love" each other or show affection, unless they call it "man-love."  Then it somehow connotes cavemen hitting each other affectionately with wooden clubs before dragging their females into the "man-cave" for heterosexual mating.


Kierkegaard: "Truth ALWAYS Rests With the Minority!"

I just freaking love this:

"Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion -- and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion... while truth again reverts to a new minority. In regard to Truth, this troublesome monster, the majority, the public, etc... fares in the same way as we say of someone who is traveling to regain his health: he is always one station behind.” 
(Kierkegaard's Diary)


Until the voices of the marginalized (the “other”) are given affirmation and equality, God’s voice literally cannot be heard. That's why feminist, queer and other postcolonial theologies have become so important to me. They are attempts at opening doors for the people I love most.

In contemporary Christianity, perceptions have been sadly and purposefully warped through the demonization and delegitimization of fringe/marginal/postcolonial/"MINORITY" movements and perspectives. As Phyllis Bird eloquently argues: "The authority of the Bible does not rest in the infallibility of its statements, but in the truth of its witness to a creating and redeeming power, which can and must be known as a present reality."




Kierkegaard is perceptive here, recognizing that Christianity is always a diaspora religion - only truly "true" at its own fringes where it is marginalized - the minority.  So the truth is constantly changing, refusing to be represented or affirmed by the majority or the powerful.

The Thing I'm Thankful For: Messy, Broken Relationships!

Family relationships are complicated, messy, and often painful. While I consider myself pretty well-adjusted, no household is without it's pain and drama/trauma. Probably because of my personality more than my actual environment, I have spent a lot of my young adulthood wrestling through wounds, hurt feelings, and what was probably an excessive amount of bitterness. Bits and pieces of that carried through to recent years - I suppose no one ever really "gets over" big injuries caused by loved ones. But I'm hardly blameless - I know I've hurt them too...

Yesterday we spent Thanksgiving with my parents for the first time in a couple of years. Just a year ago, we spent a lot of time deliberately processing through a lot of emotional shit. Painful, face-to-face, venting, explaining, apologizing, reconciling, sharing responsibility… and finally, commitment: not to let our relationships disintegrate to that point, again. We said out loud (something to the effect of…) "I know we're going to hurt each other again, and some of us are going to get offended, and we're going to misspeak and misunderstand and disappoint each other…" (all of this, in fragments spoken by different people) "but we are going to remind ourselves, and each other, to believe in the better intentions of each of us. We're going to fight the urge to presume the worst. We're going to choose to love each other for who we are, not for the way we wish they were." And there were lots of tears, and after a few weeks of that, we drove to the Portland Grotto to look at the Christmas lights (www.thegrotto.org/christmas), and we all felt lighter and closer than we had in a long time.

The Grotto Lights
The year following hasn't been perfect, but it's been better. We haven't spent as much time together as I hoped, but it was more than previously. It was better.

Around the Thanksgiving table last night, we took turns saying what we were thankful for. Sort of cheesy, like a Hallmark commercial, or Folgers Coffee: a bunch of white people in sweaters, the Chihuahua sitting at the table in my mother's lap. But it was sweet, and reminded me again that I'm thankful for the way my family communicates out loud, even when it's really akward.  For better AND for worse, feelings get shared, and at times like these it's a gift.

These feelings don't undercut my ideological struggle with the history and meaning of Thanksgiving.  Some of my friends have been frustrated with observations I made here and on Facebook.  I get that.  It's easy to be an armchair ref (or judge) in the blogosphere.  But I'm not speaking from some dualistic vantage in this area, ignoring one perspective on the holiday - and on this country - while I feed the other perspective. Life is complicated, just like family. We love and mourn at the same time. Morality is complicated too. We do our best, day-to-day, while people suffer, and we hope to make the world better in our spheres of influence, but we prioritize the people in front of us, and there's always more we could have done. It's a cruel reality, but somehow, life can be lovely.  Maybe that's where dualism is unavoidable.

Thanksgiving: Richard Twiss on Native Oppression & Truth Commissions


I found this article printed at Brian McLaren’s blog. I’ve mentioned Richard Twiss here before, and you really must explore his books and website: www.wiconi.org!

Native American tells churches, 'It's time for a truth commission' 
By Stephen Brown
Ecumenical News 
International Daily News Service 
23 June 2010
A Native American leader has challenged a global Protestant body to create a truth and reconciliation commission to redress the injustice of Church involvement in cultural assimilation against indigenous peoples. Richard Twiss (www.wiconi.org), a member of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux Tribe, said the Church had been, "a willing partner", in the oppression of Native Americans. He spoke at the founding meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Native Americans had numbered 50 million in 1400 but by 1895 accounted for barely 230,000, as a results of war and disease, Twiss said.
"Here in the United States our goal is to rescue theology from the cowboys. The cowboys have controlled the language of heaven for a very long time," he said. Native Americans and indigenous peoples, "are not co-equal participants in the life, work and mission of the Church in North America," asserted Twiss. "We have never been encouraged to contextualize the Gospel story." Twiss said a truth and reconciliation committee was necessary to provide redress for the misappropriation of Scripture and the co-opting of the Bible as a tool of colonialism and imperialism. He said that white settlers’ takeover of North American land had been underpinned by the biblical narrative of the Israelites conquering the "Promised Land".
Twiss pointed to a boarding and residential school system in North America designed to promote the assimilation of Native Americans. "Our children were forcibly removed from our homes and forcibly sent to boarding schools, mostly run by Christian denominations. On my reservation it was Catholicism," said Twiss. "They were physically abused, mentally abused and, worst of all, sexually abused. "We were made to feel ashamed, we were made to fell inferior … in the name of the Bible and U.S. and Canadian nationalism," he said. "Although it was done in the name of evangelism and mission … the end result was that today our native people are still struggling with what it means to be human beings."
South Africa introduced a Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of white minority rule to deal with gross human rights violations committed under apartheid. A similarly named commission was established in Canada in 2008 as part of a settlement between the federal government, aboriginal organizations and churches, over abuse in church-run residential schools for First Nations peoples
(c) Ecumenical News 
International Ecumenical News International Switzerland

Click here for the full story.

Thanksgiving: A Native American View

It’s hard for me to think about Thanksgiving without thinking of what happened on this continent to bring us to today. It’s a sad story that has been repeated too little, yet most European-Americans are already tired of hearing it.


Thanksgiving, for the last three or four years, has been a time for me when I very deliberately think about the First Nations - native peoples who had this continent taken from them. Native Americans remain the most impoverished group, per capita, in the United States. Tomorrow is a day of repentance for me, so I try to think in generational terms: that I can still take ownership of the things done by my ancestors, and repent of them. I make it a point each year to find articles written by Native Americans, about this holiday, to keep some perspective.

A native friend told me today, “I wish you peace and love for your household and your family, tomorrow.” But I didn’t tell her “Happy Thanksgiving.” Those words hold different meaning for her.

All that said, there's nowhere in the world I'd rather live, so I am humbled and I am grateful.

Thanksgiving: A Native American View

by Jacqueline Keeler

I celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. This may surprise those people who wonder what Native Americans think of this official U.S. celebration of the survival of early arrivals in a European invasion that culminated in the death of 10 to 30 million native people.
More after the jump below...

The Pope, Condoms, Prostitutes, and [insert joke here]

When news of the Pope's recent statements on condoms and AIDS recently hit the headlines, my first response was: Interesting, once again, the only concern from the Church (all of it, not just Catholic) is for men:  

“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”
Not that there should be a hierarchy of any kind, but even gay prostitutes seem to take priority over women.  And let's not forget comments from a couple of years ago, when this Pope suggested that saving the world from queers was as important as saving the environment.

Now, the Pope's spokespersons seem to be adding women into the mix as well in later clarifications.  A nice afterthought - the PR machine doesn't sleep for any giant, multinational institutions.

But while AIDS activists praise the Pope's statements as a "shift" and "a significant step forward," an interview on NPR tonight with the head of Ignatius Press - publisher of the Pope's book - practically fell over himself to downplay the significance of the comments, and assert that they are no different than any prior teaching or comments.

I'm not anti-Catholic by any means, but the public is far too eager to find something praiseworthy.  I don't cheer for "bare minimum," and I certainly don't praise "less bad" over "bad."  The Church - Catholic and Evangelical - MUST stop treating women as an afterthought.  And dealing practically with issues like AIDS wouldn't hurt, either...

The Truth Is: I probably won't change my views on truth...

A visitor recently e-mailed me about my blog and my beliefs. He was respectful, articulate, and had a very different worldview from my own. One of our clearest dissimilarities had to do with truth. He viewed it as something to be “reached.” An “end,” if you will.
I have no problem with that. I think it’s a very understandable – and probably orthodox – vantage to practice Christianity from: Scripture is Truth; Jesus Christ is Truth. Getting to that confessional point is THE point.

And from a personal standpoint, I don’t even have much to argue with. I’ve affirmed my own belief in Jesus Christ as embodied truth, before. I think I’d be more comfortable saying that Scripture is truthful, because I don’t have faith that it is inherently “correct.” There is truth in Scripture, as there is also context, opinion, poetry, emotion, love, hate, atrocity, misunderstanding, redaction, deception, and a great story at the end about robots and computers and bar codes and atomic war and a UN Chairman who can bend time... Just kidding about that last part, none of that is in Revelation.

There was a point, several years ago, when I would spend a lot of time arguing my “case” over e-mail. Some of it made for pretty fruitful posts (in my opinion) but that’s all already on the blog. At this point, I don’t feel a strong need to defend myself, although I certainly spend lots of time advocating for ideas. And most of these posts are nothing more than my own working out and wrestling. Sometimes I get e-mails from folks who genuinely think it’s just a matter of me NOT KNOWING the CORRECT doctrine or interpretation. Their thinking seems to be: “if he can simply be made AWARE of his erroneous theological conclusions, he will then right his spiritual and theological course (and save his soul).” I’m not a scholar or a theologian. I’m not really academically-minded. I’m a lowly M.Div student and a lifelong Evangelical. I don’t presume to carry much depth of knowledge in any particular theological subset. But having been in the church for 31 years, and attended seminary for the last five years, I’m not wholly ignorant either, and it’s been several years since I’ve been “surprised” by a theological concept I was previously unaware of. You’re certainly welcome to prove me wrong and I don’t feel arrogant or proud saying any of that.

The reason I advocate for ongoing deconstruction, even as I attempt to construct something new and workable for myself, is that I don’t trust my own constructs any more than I trust your constructs or Paul’s or Irenaeus’. Kierkegaard wrote, “Concepts, like individuals, have their histories and are just as incapable of withstanding the ravages of time as are individuals.” The truth changes as we change and the world changes. As I said recently, whatever we can articulate as “the thing” stops being “the thing” at that moment. As the Tao Te Ching eloquently puts it, “The Way that can be experienced is not true; the world that can be constructed is not real.” I think we have a tendency, as soon as something becomes true for us, or real for us, to grab it and hold it fast – preventing it from changing, growing, or living! Static things are not alive, and I believe truth must be a living thing. That’s why Scripture, doctrine and theological systems (however helpful they may be) can be unhelpful when they place restraints or limitations on God.

All that said, my readers and online friends have had an IMMENSE impact on my personal faith and beliefs.  I have certainly changed because of feedback, comments and questions, so keep them coming! 
(just don't expect a quick "conversion" on my part... I'm dense and stubborn and far too convinced of Divine Grace to feel a lot of urgency to sort this stuff out in a timely manner)

Review: 'Missing Persons & Mistaken Identities' - Phyllis Bird

I realize blog format is far from ideal for any lengthy papers, but from time to time I've included assignments from seminary that I have thought you might appreciate.  I just finished reading Phyllis Bird's Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities, a feminist analysis and critique of the Hebrew Bible.  I really enjoyed it, and thought I'd share.  Don't feel bad for skimming or not finishing!

BTW, this comes under the "stuff I like" category!

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Phyllis Bird's Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities opens with a list of diverse images depicting female character and action, contrasting with traditional “default” imagery of Eve in Genesis. While recognizing that these women "appear for the most part simply as adjuncts of men, significant only in the context of men's activities," Bird makes a point to note their exceptionality and, in some cases, their prominence. Women’s roles are more diverse and prevalent in the Hebrew Bible text than conventional wisdom commonly acknowledges. (13) With this recognition, Missing Persons seems to carry with it an ideological pragmatism from the start: fearlessly identifying gendered sins and sins of omission in the Hebrew Bible, while choosing to celebrate those occurrences that atypically observe or affirm feminine players.


In the first chapter Bird provides a list of verses demonstrating "the variety of viewpoints and expression represented" in the Old Testament, regarding women. (14) In Micah 6:4, Miriam is named alongside Moses and Aaron, with what appears to be a horizontal or equalized stature: "I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." In 1 Kings 2:9 King Solomon rises to meet Bathsheba, bows down to her, and seats her at his right hand. Such deference to femininity is worth noting for Bird, not because it is normative, or indicative of the broader arch of Biblical testimony toward women, but because of its divergence from the general tone of the canon.
The picture of woman obtained from the Old Testament laws can be summarized in the first instance as that of a legal nonperson; where she does become visible it is as a dependent, and usually an inferior, in a male-centered and male-dominated society. The laws, by and large, do not address her; most do not even acknowledge her existence. (30)

More after the jump below!

Shameful Christianity: Letting the House Burn...

My friend Becca sent me this link a few days ago.  It's just the sort of rationalization and justification the church too often goes out of its way to shock the world with... as if Christians needed to give the world more reasons to be disgusted:
The fire department was called when Gene Cranick’s grandson accidentally set his property on fire, but made no attempt to extinguish the flames, for the simple reason that they had no legal or moral authority or responsibility to do so. When the fire endangered the property of Cranick’s neighbor, who had paid the $75 fee, the fire department swung into action and put out the fire on the neighbor’s property. Cranick’s home meanwhile, burned to the ground after his family had fled for safety.  
...
The fire department did the right and Christian thing. The right thing, by the way, is also the Christian thing, because there can be no difference between the two. The right thing to do will always be the Christian thing to do, and the Christian thing to do will always be the right thing to do.
...
So Jesus died because he loved people who didn't deserve it. People who didn't take responsibility for themselves, or for anyone else. That's a hard banner to rally under.  Even Peter ran and hid when the shit got too real. So what exactly does "the Christian thing" mean?

Thanks for Continuing to Read at EmergingChristian.com!

I've been writing here since late 2004.  Back then, I was unmarried, not enrolled in seminary, and I had JUST changed party affiliation on my voter registration.

I wrote pretty sporadically back then - only a few posts each month.  Everything was so ambiguous to me at that time that I felt I was stumbling through the dark.  Or whistling (except that I can't whistle).  I still remember laying on my bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering if my questions would end in apostasy or atheism.  I cried about that, scared to lose the thing that was so precious to me - faith - but also just as scared to lose the semblance of comfort and belonging I still felt so strongly in the Evangelical world.  There was a part of me fighting to ignore the doubts and questions and disillusion, if only to retain that comfort.

Eventually, I lost that comfort, but I never lost my faith.

It wasn't until 2008 that I got really serious about blogging here.  I had a painful experience with a would-be mentor that woke me up to cold reality, but up till then I thought getting a book deal was going to be relatively easy.  Naive, to be sure, but until then momentum had been going in my favor.  That "momentum" ended almost as quickly as it had begun, and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.  I was bored and tired of my manuscript, but I didn't want to give up on writing...

For the last couple of weeks, EmergingChristian.com has maintained an average daily visitor count that I'm quite excited about - it's taken several years, but I have loved the conversations and friendships I have found along the way.

A lot of people tell me, "I read your blog, but I never have anything to add to the conversation, so I don't comment."  That's fine, but I always encourage them (and YOU) that conversations are what this blog is about.  Conversations are what started my own spiritual evolution (or devolution, depending on your vantage) and there's a layer of richness and depth that's added here when YOU speak up.

Either way, the fact that you visit here - that you read my sometimes nonsensical rants - means a lot to me, and your participation in these conversations deeply affects my own faith journey.  Thank you.

Humbly,
Peter

XtraNormal: A Test of Christian Orthodoxy

When someone says they're a Christian, do you need them to PROVE it? Do you need them to be YOUR kind of Christian? And what exactly does "Christian" even mean? For some people, the answer is spiritual. For others, it's theological. Still, for too many, it's often simply a matter of a few bullet points from talk radio...



Is America Supposed to be a Christian Nation?

I found this great list of quotations from Oregon progressive blogger and radio host Carl Wolfson:


If you have Tea Party friends who claim that America is a “Christian nation” or that the founders didn’t specifically call for a separation of church and state, send them the following quotes.

George Washington:


“The United States should have a foundation free from the influence of clergy.”


Thomas Jefferson:


In his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut:


“State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Erecting the wall of separation between church and state, therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”


James Madison:


On February 21, 1811, President Madison issued his first veto, rejecting a bill that would have allowed an Episcopal church to use government funds to provide education for the poor. He wrote:


“The appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies is contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.’”
Frankly, I can't understand why America being an overtly "Christian" nation matters so much.  I care more about policies that protect Christian interests (see: economics, liberation, justice, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, etc...).  A nation that protects Christians, specifically, is the name of the game these days.  That's nothing less than obsessive self-interest.

"You're a Nazi, He's a Nazi, She's a Nazi - IF YOU DISAGREE WITH ME!"

I haven’t exactly been around for a long time. I’m 31 years old, and have lived a relatively sheltered life. I used to swing Right. Now I swing Left. Neither position has cost much personal sacrifice to me, except the embarrassment of having to say: “I’ve been a real asshole.” Which has less to do with my politics and more to do with my own bad behavior.

But you know all this.

My question for those of you more “experienced” than I, is: when did “Hitler” and “Nazi” become insults and accusations levied AT everyone, BY everyone, at the flick of the wrist? I mean, when did EVERYONE who disagrees with us – about anything – become Nazis? It’s melodrama taken to the thousandth degree.

Fox News chief Roger Ailes said in an interview yesterday:

"They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude," Ailes said of NPR. "They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don't want any other point of view. They don't even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda. They are basically Air America with government funding to keep them alive."
Incredible. But Ailes is hardly alone in his flippant remarks about the Third Reich. Liberal talk radio hosts Norman Goldman and Mike Malloy daily call Republicans Nazis, equating conservative personalities to Hitler. C’mon.

While “socialist” might be downright true for liberals like me, and “fascist” seems accurate (to me) of the far right, “Nazi” is not a name that should be casually levied against our opponents. It’s unfair. It’s inaccurate. And it shows serious disrespect toward the victims of ACTUAL Nazism and the REAL Adolph Hitler.

Equal Pay For Women: Hello Again, 1963!

Pretty amazing that this is still an issue.

Of course every time I articulate "surprise" or "amazement" over continued gender inequity in the United States, one of my wife's eyebrows raises slightly, she sighs, and wryly says: "Really Peter?  You're surprised?"

Hell, I've already confessed that I thought feminists were the problem until I was 21 years old (when I took my first Women's Studies undergrad course, which helped destroy my worldview, thank God).  Of course I'm surprised.  I'm ignorant down to my genetics!
CNNMoney.com reports:

It has been nearly half a century since Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963. But thatpesky pay gap between men and women persists — and now there's actually something you can do about it.
This Wednesday, the Senate is scheduled to hold a preliminary vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that could put some teeth into the old Equal Pay Act by strengthening and updating many of its provisions.
"Many people think that equal pay for equal work was something that was solved back in the '60s," says Deborah Vagins, legislative counsel for the ACLU's legislative office. "But what we've seen is that because of loopholes and weak remedies, it's been less effective in combating wage discrimination than everyone had hoped."
This isn't some shaggy old feminist cause rearing its head. This is a live issue for American families, given that in nearly a third of households today, women are the primary breadwinners. And according to a nationwide survey of registered voters, more than 75% of Republicans, Democrats, men and women all said they supported the measure.
The new bill has already passed the House, and if it gets the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster this week, it could, possibly, pass the Senate and become law — giving women stronger legal recourse when facing discriminatory pay.
Click here to read more.

XtraNormal: "I'm not comfortable with your lifestyle!"

Some people see Christianity as a source of moral certainty. Others see it as a source of peace, hope and love. What are your motivations? 


Fear? Comfort? 


Or making the world a better place? There are a lot of people still marginalized, still praying and fighting for equality...


"Feminist Theology Is Dead"... (?)

A few years ago Nas, one of my favorite rappers, produced an album called Hip Hop Is Dead.  It pissed off a lot of genre loyalists, and other artists who took personal offense.  The album was a statement on the way that hip hop music had been co-opted by cheap "bling" content, how it lost it's prophetic cultural voice, sold out to the almight dollar, and it was also an indictment of tacky Southern "crunk" rap.

No one wants to hear bad news. 

There's an article on CNN'S Belief Blog about the death of feminism.  I don't like it.  It upsets me - it actually stresses me out - to think about dissolving energies of Third-Wave Feminism.  I've heard a few women state that the Third-Wave never actually happened - that it's really nothing more than the dying cries of the Second-Wave.

I don't think that's entirely true.  There are so many incredible female voices still pushing forward in fresh ways, on new ground.  Naomi Wolf and Hillary Clinton are just a few women I deeply admire.  But while new ground is still being gained, old ground is rapidly being lost.  The attrition is faster than the growth.  That's bad news.

Stephen Prothero writes at CNN's Belief Blog:
Much has been written about how the right has successfully turned the term liberal into a dirty word. But the other f-word (feminist) has fared even worse, sullied by some combination of the Reagan Revolution, the culture wars, and the success of the feminist movement itself, which has left young women today feeling more empowered and less vulnerable than their more feminist-friendly forebears.  When I asked my students why they don’t want to call themselves feminists, they spoke of bra-burners man-haters and Femi-Nazis, which is to say that in the war of the words which was the feminist movement, feminists seem to have lost perhaps the most important battle: the battle over the meaning of the word feminism itself.
This is tragic.  And in my experience, very true.

Last week I met a young woman online - a friend of an old friend, who found my blog.  Over e-mail, she introduced herself as a "feminist" and I just about got out of my chair and shouted!  Because I can't remember the last time I met a 20-something woman who was so boldly willing to claim that title - even introducing herself as such!  A few of the women I know who are feminists sort of hang their heads in a slightly defeated way, sigh, and say, "But I'm not THAT kind of feminist..."

I'm not criticizing them.  Culture wars are tough - and much tougher on women and minorities.  I spent a lot of time apologizing for being a Christian.  Sigh... "But I'm not THAT kind of Christian..."  Maybe there's a lesson there - but it's one I'm too cynical to address today.

We have to reclaim words like "liberal" and "feminist."  We have to take them out of the gallows, out of the "Hall of Shame" the Right has methodically, aggressively constructed.  Burning bras doesn't threaten me.  It doesn't threaten you.  The fear of burning bras, or making any other public statement, threatens ALL of us.
 ...
Eventually, we'll have to reclaim words like "Christian" too.  But it isn't actually true to say that Christianity "isn't THAT way..." because Christianity is what it puts into practice, and as I've said a thousand times here, we're practicing some bad habits on a very grand scale.

Feminism is what it practices to: a radical philosophy that calls women people.

George Fox: Gerstenberger Lecture Q & A

One student asked:
"This way of looking at the Bible is beautiful, but it's different from the way I have been raised to look at it.  My fear is that when we make it so open and so broad, what about the groups that take a piece and run - using it against people?"

Gerstenberger: 
My experience is that we are inclined to take God as a captive - you know, for our own, little, limited interests.  That's the very great danger of theology.  And I think the only way to get out of this is to read the Bible really open minded.  And there are some very exclusive passages in the Bible.  In Deuteronomy 20, speaking about the conquest of Palestine by Israel: If you come to a city, what do you do?  The olive trees have to be saved.  That's very nice.  But if you come to a city on the list of enemies, which have no right to be there, then you have to annihilate this group.  And that's awful.  Uh,  can explain it only as an ideology of its time.  A mentality that tries to defend only its own interests.  Probably during a very dangerous time when Israel was threatened: "We will make them perish, rather than us."  Still, it's a very harsh and very difficult passage in the Bible.  Just like Phyllis Trible's Texts of Terror, which shows the Old Testament preaches violence agianst women.  We have to recognize that this is ancient mentality and it is wrong.  But we also have to recognize that there are so many outreaching passages in the Bible, not only in the New Testament...

Another student:
"Is there a significance that women are left out?"


>> More After the Break...



George Fox: Gerstenberger Lecture Notes 3

... Of course, if you use these texts in contemporary times, you find things we don't do today.  We don't use curses, the way they are used in the Psalms.  Psalm 109 is a terrible verse!  We don't do that!  We have to know that this was ancient practice and we can no longer use this Psalm in a normal situation.
...
Anyway, I wanted to point out the affinity of old texts.  They are not always usable and compatible.  But knowing that times and situations change, we can manage to relativize a little bit.

I want to go to the second part...
...
SECOND: those situations that are larger than family.  Like neighborhoods.  What happens when a neighborhood has to settle problems by itself, like manslaughter or theft?  Communities or states or ethnic groups, so on and so on...
...
I think, here, the problem may be even a little larger or more intense with the changing times, from three thousand years ago to today.  We have to keep that time lapse of about 3,000 years between us and the Biblical text.  We are experiencing today changes in our own lifetimes.  When I talk to children and people in their thirties, they already have different views - changes are going on ever more rapidly.


We're pausing briefly due to a battery problem with the mic.

Okay, we're back on!  Continuing:


Anyway, these groups experience their own revelations of God.  These different groups, we have to ask them, "what did you do about this?"  And they say, "Oh, we don't know about that.  We don't know about gene manipulation."  What do we do now?


>>More After the Break...

George Fox: Gerstenberger Lecture Notes 2


Not all of these notes are verbatim - typing as fast as I can... Gerstenberger Speaking:

.... What do we do, as pastors or future pastors with this dissolving the unity of the witness of Old Testament?  All of a sudden we have different voices from different places.  What does it do to our pastoral attitudes?

I was a pastor for 10 years in German, and I was very happy with what I found in the Old Testament, even if it ran counter to our normal expectations.  We assume: there is one God, one perception of God, everything must have unity, one piece fitting with the other... and I knew my congregation had this opinion.  Like most people.  But practicing my scholarly insight, my experience, with people, I found it was very helpful.
Theologies in the Old Testament
I will try to point it out in three areas, how wonderful it was to speak of the various and multiple voices and testimonies of the Old Testament.

One: if you start with the family situation - families are still today the vital place where most of us lead our lives.  Families are still as they were in ancient times, except they were much more tightly night back then.  We have many more centrifugal forces pulling contemporary families apart - we all have commitments, tearing us apart.  There was a study in German that married couples have 8 minutes per day to converse with each other.  But still, I think you will agree, that family is still the haven - the backbone - of our existence.  Those people that have absolutely no familial ties or support are really bad off, even today.  I think so.  It's a very sad kind of situation if you don't have anyone to whom you feel bound to...


>> More After the Break...

George Fox: Gerstenberger Lecture Notes 1

What does the plural mean?  "Theologies?"  There is no singular - that's false.  Unless we consider this "theology" we're looking for to be a construct of our own creation.

How do I know this?  Why do I talk about theologies of the Old Testament?  First of all, I was brought up in Germany and got to know the "German" way of thinking... in my time Karl Barth was the great hero.  In '59 when I left Germany for the first time, to stay at Yale, I all of the sudden felt that the American way of theology was quite different from the German way of thinking.  It was pastoral, focused on the church.  German theology was theoretical, philosophical... then I came to the Navajo reservation, and I found a different way, still, not only by the Navajo themselves, who are not only Christian, but by white people near them.  And then I went to Brazil, which was another way.

I conclude: THE Christian Theology does not exist... there are certain variations possible.  One Brazilian Bishop put it this way: the universal God speaks only dialect.  There is no universal language.

Theologies are different...


>>More After the Break...



George Fox: Erhard S. Gerstenberger Guest Lecture

Tonight I'm up at George Fox Seminary, regular day, regular time, for a guest lecture by esteemed German theologian Erhard S. GerstenbergerI own one of his books and haven't quite finished it: Yahweh: The Patriarch : Ancient Images of God and Feminist Theology:
In [Yahweh the Patriarch] Gerstenberger inquires methodically into the various questions associated with the masculine imaging of God in the Old Testament. Gerstenberger's approach is even-handed, clarifying and sympathetic to feminist concerns. He maintains that the roots of discrimination against women cannot simply be attributed to a few biblical texts, and that the feminist movements of our time must be understood as a complex phenomena.



So far, it's been a fabulous read.

I'll be posting my class notes here throughout the evening...

Texts of Terror: Biblical Problems...

In Judges, Chapter 19,  a Levite (a man of the priestly tribe of Israel) took a concubine.  She left him for unknown reasons, and fled to her father's house.  The Levite followed after her, made nice with her father, and began to take her home.  On the journey home, they stopped at an old man's home to stay for the night.
As they were enjoying themselves, suddenly certain men of the city, perverted men, surrounded the house and beat on the door. They spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came to your house, that we may know him carnally!” But the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brethren! I beg you, do not act so wickedly! Seeing this man has come into my house, do not commit this outrage. Look, here is my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine; let me bring them out now. Humble them, and do with them as you please; but to this man do not do such a vile thing!” But the men would not heed him. So the man took his concubine and brought her out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until morning; and when the day began to break, they let her go.  Then the woman came as the day was dawning, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, till it was light. When her master arose in the morning, and opened the doors of the house and went out to go his way, there was his concubine, fallen at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold. And he said to her, “Get up and let us be going.” But there was no answer. So the man lifted her onto the donkey; and the man got up and went to his place.  
When he entered his house he took a knife, laid hold of his concubine, and divided her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.  
 How do you feel about stories like this?

>> More After the Break...

"Lord, Show Us Where and How We Are the Oppressors. Amen."

An online friend of mine recently went on a spiritual pilgrimage, and journaled during his time away.  He shared one of his written prayers with me, from during a church service he endured.  I so deeply appreciate his openness to self-exploration and his desire for the church (the established, Western church in particular) to become more self-aware:

"Father, please help us not to stop at praying for the Christians who are persecuted! Please open our eyes and show us where we ourselves take part in oppressing structures. Please help us to see the world through your eyes and show us the people we should be in solidarity with in our own country. Help us to love Muslims, the marginalized, those who fell through our social structures and all the other people without a voice, with your perfect love that knows no boundaries. Please forgive us, that we traded your Kingdom for our own comfort. Please help us understand the reason that we are not persecuted."

I Like Quakers, Buddhists and Universalists (Oh My!)

Making sure I don't renege on my commitment to more positivity:

There's a blog that has (sadly) not been active since 2009 called The Quaker Buddhist.  It's a fascinating exploration of the parallels and convergences of Quaker and Buddhist spirituality.  I highly recommend it, although it can be somehow depressing or maybe empty-feeling to read a blog that's no longer "in service."

If the idea of convergence between Christian and eastern spiritualities is attractive to you, I'd recommend checking out the Quaker Universalist Fellowship.  Their website reads:

The Quaker Universalist Fellowship is a gathering of Friends who work to foster understanding among people from the diverse spiritual cultures which flourish in our globalized human community. The Fellowship draws inspiration for its work from such traditional and respected statements of Quaker faith as are represented by the following:
“Walk cheerfully over the earth answering to that of God in everyone.” – George Fox
“There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath different names: it is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no form of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity.” – John Woolman
“The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, and when death takes off the mask, they will know one another though the diverse liveries they wear here make them strangers.” – William Penn
The work of the Quaker Universalist Fellowship expresses Friends' belief that there is a spirit of universal love in every person, and that a compassion-centered life is therefore available to people of all faiths and backgrounds.

It's amazing how progressive, and in many delightful ways, heretical, the founders of Quakerism were.  They actually believed God was accessible outside of religious structures!  They actually believed there was an inherently good spirit, accessible to all people.

I wrote this brief post on Buddhist Quakers back in 2008.

Recently, I've become online friends with Michael Hawkins, a jhana yogi, practicing Buddhist,  spiritual ecstatic, and former Protestant and Pentecostal.  He's a gracious, energetic, captivating guy to dialogue and I think you'll love his blog!  Like so many of us, Michael is both cynical of and wounded by the Christian church, but simultaneously compassionate, gracious and compelled to interact with it on some level.

I like exploration!

I like blurred boundaries!

I like openness and grace and fearless spiritual desire!

I like rejecting fear of hell and condemnation, and living as if I was actually, truly, literally, unconditionally loved, known and accepted.

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