Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Good Samaritans and Jail Cells

The headline is "Is it Christian or Illegal to Aid Migrants?" The reality, which is becoming increasingly clear, is that it is both Christian AND illegal.

On one hand, there is nothing new here. Christianity has a long and noble history of people of faith defying the ruling authorities (perhaps they never read Romans 13) in order to uphold a higher law and a higher authority. There have been times throughout history when the notions of higher law and higher authority were, in fact, the backbone, the uncontested truth, of the Christian faith. You might want to examine the lives and testimony of the apostle Peter, Thomas More, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, for example.

That was, of course, before 2016; sometimes many years before that, but perhaps we can realistically point to 2016 as the watershed year in which many American people who called themselves Christians, and certainly the vast majority of white evangelical Christians, managed to convince themselves that following Jesus meant doing precisely the opposite of what Jesus taught them to do.

There aren't many places in the New Testament where Jesus unequivocally contrasts the behaviors and attitudes of those who follow him and enter the Kingdom of God vs. those who do not follow him ("I never knew you," he tells them) and who do not enter the Kingdom of God. When he does - and he does in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew - he puts it in terms of feeding people who are hungry, giving drink to those who are thirsty, welcoming strangers (ironically, the same Greek word that can also be translated as "immigrants" and "aliens"), clothing the naked.

You know what happens when you try that these days? They arrest you.

81% of white evangelicals who call themselves Christians voted for these policies. Rorschach Jesus. You can see whatever you want to see and hear whatever you want to hear. Except, apparently, what he clearly taught.


Sunday, June 16, 2019


I had a father. I am a father. Everybody I know can claim one of those, and most of the men I know can claim both. And if you live for a while, those statements get complicated.

If you're like me, one of the reasons they get complicated is you. I don't think I've been a bad father. But there are times - days, weeks, months, years - when I've been a selfish father, too caught up in the Kingdom of Me to be of much worth to anyone. There are a thousand reasons and a thousand excuses. The burdens you bear simply by being born to the one you call "father" are not insignificant, either. We all carry the weight of inherited sorrow, incompetence, inadequacy, general fuckedupedness. And we are all carriers. We tend to pass it on.

Here is what is not complicated to me: I am so fortunate to be a father. To be married to the same woman for 37 years, the woman who helped me to become a father, is the best thing that ever happened to me. To see my daughters, now grown women, grow and blossom into the people they are intended to be is a source of incredible joy, two words that dour depressive types like me don't toss around lightly. In Christian terms, I am incredibly blessed.

Yesterday, roughly 500,000 people participated in the Pride parade in Columbus, Ohio. Not all of them were members of the LGBTQ community. I know people, some of them fathers, who have disowned their children because of their sexual orientation. It's not true of all or even most Christians I know who are living those realities. But it's true of some of them. My heart breaks for those children. My heart breaks for those fathers.

The best gift my wife and daughters and now my sons-in-law have ever given me is ongoing. They help me break out of the Kingdom of Me, to see the world through their eyes, to care with their hearts. I am so thankful for that. Everybody has a father. Not everyone is a father. But if you are a father, let me encourage you to be a father. Live who you are. Don't deny that part of your reality. You are complicated. Your children are complicated. They are also precious gifts. Please don't mess this up.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Yard Sale

We are having a yard sale today. It does not look like the one pictured, which looks like something out of Yard Sale Central Casting. Ours looks both more gritty and urban, with homeless guys dropping by and asking, "Can I have that can opener?" (Answer: "Yes") and more suburban, with bros driving by in a Lexus and asking, "Will you take $20 for that bed?" (Thought process: That's solid oak, cost about a grand when new, and you're driving a Lexus; actual words used: "No").

You hear people's life stories during yard sales, which is always a surprising thing to me. Complete strangers tell you about their health and job woes, the nice lawns that were attached to the homes they used to own, but which they no longer own, which explains why they're not interested in buying your weed whacker or leaf shredder, and where their grown-up kids are living now. I like that part of yard sales. Really, I do. I hate haggling over prices, which are ridiculously low to begin with, asshole, so don't ask me to knock off 50% from what is already a steal. I find it all an incredibly stressful way to make a hundred bucks or so.

Kate wants to do it again in the fall. She's on her own, but I may step out if people are sharing their life stories.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Going for the Juggler, and Other Worrying American Trends

I’m paid to write words. I’m thankful for that, and I don’t take it for granted. I’m also aware that I can use words incorrectly at times, and that my (more or less) correct use of words doesn’t preclude wrong thinking stated reasonably well.

But for the love of God, I’m worried. As arrogant as it might sound, I’m worried that people who can’t express themselves very well, which in my mind still means that their thinking might be unformed, illogical, and/or muddled, are in positions of power, making decisions that affect you and me. Every. Damn. Day. Pardon the swearing and the incomplete sentences.

Our president, for example, who is the best at everything, tweeted today about the Prince of Whales. He was referring to a man named Charles, but my mind conjured visions of Shamu. It really bothers me that he doesn’t know the difference between Wales and Whales. And yes, anybody can make a mistake. But these things happen … are you ready? Every. Damn. Day. There I go again.

One Mat Staver, who is founder and chairman of an organization called The Liberty Council, an evangelical non-profit that opposes gay rights, stated last week that he was adamantly opposed to a U.S. Senate bill that explicitly made lynching a federal crime. He was opposed because the anti-lynching bill specifically called out sexual orientation in addition to race, religion, national origin, gender, and disability. 

"This is a way to slip it in under a so-called anti-lynching bill," Staver noted, "and to then to sort of circle the wagon and then go for the juggler at some time in the future."

Words, words, words. Hamlet said that. You recall Hamlet? You can get that wonderful egg and pork dish down at Waffle House. And I will tell you that I’m a little concerned when people who want to exercise power, particularly over people who are not like them, start throwing terms around like “go for the juggler.” It’s just how my mind works, but it makes me think that they might not be the best people to make these kinds of decisions, or to even have any say about making such a decision. Words like “Liberty” (as in The Liberty Council) concern me in this context as well, because the last time I checked “liberty” doesn’t typically include the notion of taking away rights from other people, including the right not to be strung up with a noose and hung from a tree. It’s all very confusing.

It’s probably just prideful, wrong thinking on my part. Pardon me. You’ll have to do your own interpretationing on weather that’s rite.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Big Easy

There's an amazing, funky old amusement park outside of Pittsburgh called Kennywood. It's probably a tenth of the size of the various mouse-affiliated parks. The rides are rusting and rickety. They are not particularly big or tall or fast. But there's a ride there that makes me smile just thinking about it. It's a rollercoaster, and an old wooden one at that, but there's no big hill. It creeps along out of the chute, and you wonder if the old contraption is going to hold together one last time. Then it drops over the side of a cliff. It plunges down toward the Monongahela River, and the first time I encountered that I was scared out of my wits. The second time I smiled. And I haven't stopped smiling since.

Las Vegas is Disneyland; big, shiny, ostentatious. New Orleans is Kennywood; dark, old, ridiculously rickety and funky. I went to the former in January to see Van Morrison, and although I was quite happy to see Van, I was done with the Strip in about four minutes. I couldn't wait to get out of town and hike in the desert. I just booked a trip to New Orleans today. And I bought tickets to see a concert in the place shown above. It's in Treme, Back o' Town, the kind of place where you don't want to hang out after the sun goes down. I will, of course, be there after the sun goes down. The place wouldn't cut it on the Vegas Strip. But I'm willing to bet on which one will provide the more satisfying musical experience. I love New Orleans, in all of its dirtiness and messiness and earthy, soulful reality.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Labels and How to Use Them

Here’s a curious one: “Christian.”

It’s always been notoriously slippery; prone to dispute and contention. Within a few decades of the death and resurrection of Jesus, one bunch was insisting on a close doctrinal and lifestyle relationship with Judaism, while another bunch was insisting on a radical reinvention. The first few centuries of the history of the Christian Church were characterized by doctrinal disagreement, and some seven Church Councils attempted to nail down definitive statements about the nature and substance of God the Father, God the Son (AKA Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit, and their relationship together, complete with mutual anathemas and excommunications, depending on which side one happened to land. Before the official Reformation, courtesy of Martin Luther, the eastern and western Christian Churches headed in very different directions, with very different emphases. Luther’s revolution in the Western Church, in turn, led to several Protestant splits, with at one time Lutherans pitched against Catholics and Reformed (as the Swiss defined it) Presbyterians, with all of them opposed to the poor, peace-loving Anabaptists, of whom Menno Simons (founder of the Mennonites) was a representative scapegoat. We haven’t even made it to the Russian communists or the (Im)Moral Majority/Minority or the televangelists at this point.

So it’s a mess. It’s always been a mess. The word “Christian,” since roughly Day 1, has always been in great dispute.

Currently, the Evangelicals are splitting from the other Evangelicals, and that’s a mess, too. But this is what happens when two groups are using the same label but they mean diametrically different and opposed things. Something has to give. I’m seeing this from a skewed perspective, one made up of people who at one time would have identified themselves as Evangelicals, but who never, ever meant that in the way that the term is now defined in the halls and the (k)naves of power. The people I know have given up the offending and offensive label. “You can have it,” they’ve basically told their MAGA-loving brethren. “But we get to keep Jesus.” This is either arrogance or spiritual clarity and discernment, your pick. Sometimes they don’t call themselves anything at all. Many of them have stopped going to church, but still claim to pray and desire to follow Jesus. Others, continuing more or less as before, continue to hang out and pray and worship together, but call themselves “Jesus Followers.” The concept of “church” is a little iffy for these folks, too, mainly because of how that label has been hijacked as well, but for all intents and purposes these folks still function as a church.

I don’t know how this is going to work out. Some days I find some hope in the notion that Boomers like me, of whom I hope I am a non-representative sample, will be dead in 20 years, and that the kid Jesus Followers, who have overwhelmingly rejected the halls and the (k)naves of power, will be left to carry on for, one hopes, Jesus. The Church – the real one, whether people want to identify with it or not – has faced all manner of shit before and carried on. I suspect it will do so again. If or when that happens, the kid Jesus Followers will need to come up with a label for themselves. Here’s one I like: “Christian.” Take it back and use it well.

Saturday, June 08, 2019


It's not what you think.

Michael Gerson writes, "In their day of prayer, Graham and other Trump evangelicals have used a sacred spiritual practice for profane purposes. They have subordinated religion to politics. They have elevated Trump as a symbol of divine purposes. And they are using Christian theology as a cover for their partisanship.

So: This is blasphemy, in service to ideology, leading to idolatry, justified by heresy. All in a Sunday's work."

Gerson is not some wild-eyed radical. He is an evangelical Christian, at least as that term was understood before, oh, 2015 or so. He was the head speechwriter during the George W. Bush administration. He is a staunch Republican; again, as that term was understood prior to 2015. And he is a graduate of Wheaton College, whose most famous alumnus is, wait for it, Billy Graham.

And he points out the hard choices that evangelicals - the real ones, not the ones who subscribe to fake theology - have to make. In this case, I am pro-choice. In the past two weeks I've had lunch with three friends, all of them former evangelicals, and all of them currently adrift. "I can't do it," one of them told me yesterday. "Maybe some day, when my son is a little older, I'll tentatively dip my toe back into the church waters. But that's a big Maybe. And I certainly can't do it right now. I can't stand the blatant hypocrisy. It's too much."

These are the fruits of the theological capitulation that has taken place in the Evangelical Christian Church in Amerikkka. Be very assured that people are already making choices. They are walking away in vast numbers. And it's because of the unholy alliance that Gerson articulates in this article. People aren't stupid, at least most of them, and they can detect the whiff of blatant hypocrisy in the air, and in the naves and on the altars of the evangelical churches they've left. 


Second Line

Chills. Second line for Dr. John, New Orleans, June 7, 2019