Monday, April 22, 2019

A Distinct Sense of Place

Times change. I know that. So take this as an Old Guy “Keep off my lawn” rant if it makes you feel better. But much of the six miles between my house and downtown Columbus is rapidly turning into a Disney Hometown Street, Anytown, USA. You’ll have to pardon me if I want to flee the antiseptic proceedings.

Yeah, yeah, I know. The Ohio State University, home to 63,000 students, is what looms between my house and downtown, and mom and pop are getting increasingly concerned that little Ashley and Josh might encounter something other than the comforting realities of the suburban mall once they head off to the big city. The university needed to do something about all those weird, idiosyncratic establishments where people sat around and played chess and bearded fellows declaimed poetry in darkened corners and shady record store owners raised their eyebrows and shook their heads disapprovingly whenever someone dared to bring a Justin Bieber album to the counter. Ashley and Josh were becoming increasingly uncomfortable, and we can’t have that.

So I get it. One must have Disneyland, Ohio. Most of this is the work of Campus Partners, the Official Gentrification Arm of the university, which takes as its ironic slogan “A Distinct Sense of Place.” Because another Starbucks or Chipotle certainly shouts “Columbus, Ohio!,” as opposed to, I don’t know, Waco or Sioux Falls or Charlotte or Salt Lake City. And sure, all those five-story, identikit apartment buildings that charge $2,500 per month probably do look marginally better than all the decrepit, rat- and cockroach-infested fratboy houses previously owned by slumlords. And, you bet, who doesn’t want a Target and four phone stores mere steps away from the identikit apartment buildings? Mom and pop will be pleased.

I, of course, mourn the old mom and pop operations that were around before the current crop of moms and pops became so concerned. I miss those places. I miss the old Greek guy who used to sling gyros at Souvlaki Palace. I miss Larry’s Bar, home of the aforementioned chess players and poets, not to mention roaming dogs and a jukebox that played Beethoven and Chuck Berry. I miss Bernie’s Bagels, home of the best basement punk shows on the planet, and where the overhead pipes dripped toxic green liquid. I miss Schoolkids Records, where the owners really were the arbiters of musical taste for countless undergrads and would-be music critics. Ohio State, like many other campuses and near off-campuses, used to offer a strange, eclectic mix of thrilling adventure and the most idiosyncratic people in the city. Now it offers another Starbucks and Chipotle. Target too. Now it’s a much more comfortable, boring place. Ashley and Josh will never know what they missed. It feels just like home.

Friday, April 19, 2019


We got the dirt yesterday. I got it on multiple fronts.

All of us had the opportunity to absorb the full impact of the Mueller Report. Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General William Barr described this process a few week ago as a complete exoneration of the President. After having perused Mueller’s actual report and noted that there are still 20 ongoing, active investigations, I think it’s safe to say that this is an exoneration in the same way that the Nuremberg Trials were an exoneration of the Nazi regime.

I saw a theoretically well-intentioned Christian pastor and Trump supporter write this off yesterday as an attack of Satan, who wants to distract us from all the good stuff of Holy Week, as if betrayal and the projection of a false public image (Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss) weren’t at the very heart of Holy Week.

On the work front, I’ve been asked to present a nicely and falsely scrubbed image as well. I write for my daily bread, and I’ve been asked to write about monetary and tax implications of certain events that, shall we say, stretch reality. In short, I’ve been asked to lie. I’m not going to do it. We all have these choices to make, and we all face the consequences of what we do or fail to do.

Meanwhile, this unholy week proceeds apace. Last night at church we washed each other’s feet. For real. There was nothing symbolic about it. There were no false images.  Just dirty, smelly feet, probably a bit like the ones Jesus encountered at the Last Supper, although arguably a little cleaner because the participants came into the proceedings wearing Oxfords and Michael Jordan sneakers. It was distasteful, menial work, just as it was 2,000 years ago; the kind of thing relegated to servants and underlings back in the day.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.””

So call me blessed. Truly. The feet I washed happened to be attached to my wife. I’ve played with them before, as one does, I suppose. But I’ve never washed them before. And something holy was going on. I am called to love and serve God, but above all else this is the human being I am called to love and serve. Remember. Remember. And so I did. I remembered my marriage vows, and I remembered that I live in a stolen, deeply compromised land, and I remembered that compromise is ever-present. You have to choose what and whom you will serve. It was a good and holy and hard time. To quote the ancient sage Paul Simon, it’s all right, it’s all right; I’m just weary to my bones.

Here I stand, on my dirty feet. Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Mueller Time

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."

You can read all 448 pages if you like. Really, all you need to know is right there. 

30% of Amerikkkans will back the evil oaf regardless of what he does, including transparent, blatant attempts to circumvent the Rule of Law. This, more than the oaf himself, is what makes me despair for the future of this country. 30% of Amerikkkans simply don't care that the most sacrosanct principles upon which this country was founded have been shredded and tossed aside by this administration. Another 10% - 15% or so will wince a bit, but ask "Whuddabout her emails?" or mumble "Benghazi" or some other sacred shibboleth, and pretend that it's just politics, the way it's always been.

It's not. Not even remotely close. 

He'll probably win again in 2020. Because Amerikkka. I want a new country. And only partly because of the kleptocrat in charge. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Null and Void

Imagine a scenario in which a young man and a young woman get married. It’s a mess from the start. He’s immature. She’s immature. They both have major addiction issues, and they feed off of one another. He’s addicted to various legal and illegal substances, and co-dependent on her. She’s addicted to various legal and illegal substances, and co-dependent on him. It ends, in relatively short order, in bitterness and rancor. He wants a divorce. She wants a divorce. They get divorced.

Years go by. The young man, now not quite so young, meets a youngish Catholic woman. They date for a while. He works through his addiction issues. Now he’s clean and sober. Eventually they get married, have a few kids. They live life. Thirty-five years go by, and slowly, cautiously, he tiptoes toward the Catholic Church after witnessing several decades of faithful love and service on the part of his wife. Eventually, he decides that he wants to join the Church. What do you think happens?

If you guessed that he encounters a bright, flashing sign reading “Do not get baptized. Do not take Communion. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. In fact, spend far more than $200 to let us figure out whether your first marriage can be ecclesiastically annulled,” then you guessed correctly.

True story, mid-April 2019.

I love the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church drives me absolutely batshit crazy. Both statements are true. That’s not my story. It’s the story of my friend, who I’ve been hanging out with on a regular basis for the past six months or so. I know why this has happened. I understand the theory, the sacramental, high value of marriage that is being upheld, all of it. And I could not disagree with it more. It’s deeply wrong, and it does a grave injustice to my friend, who WANTS TO PLAY BY THE RULES, for God’s sake. Really, for God’s sake.

So he will play by the rules. He will have tiptoed right up to the line, showed up faithfully for week after week after week, done everything he was supposed to do except be a wise human being when he was twenty years old. And he will be turned away. Wait. Maybe eventually. Not now.

He is, by the way, 67 years old.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Color of Compromise

"Like many of you, perhaps, I have spent the last several years thinking quite a bit about the intersections of gospel, justice, race, oppression, and the biblical traditions on which I was raised. Does the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as transmitted through the quivering vessel of (White? Evangelical? Conservative?) American Protestantism present a solution to America’s original sin—or only further stumbling blocks?
This is a question that’s caused some tension in my own denomination, and it’s bubbled to the surface yet again following the recent Sparrow Conference/ Ekemini Uwan controversy. (I’ll post a recap in the comments, for those unfamiliar with the incident in question.)
I offer a brief synthesis of my own evolving thoughts and reflections, in the hopes that some here may find them illuminating. God have mercy on me if any of this comes across as “whitesplaining,” when all I really aim to do is “work out my salvation with fear and trembling.”
1. If we’re going to talk about racism and injustice, it’s helpful for us to use words from the Bible—I’m thinking especially of the word “sin,” which helps us remember that injustice is the natural byproduct of the Curse of Adam/Mark of Cain. With that said, I don’t think it’s enough to say that racism is a “sin problem” and leave it at that. (The same tidy explanation could be given for murder, abortion, or cancer.) Rather, I think there is value in naming specific sins and elucidating the ways in which we have institutionlized, formalized, legitimized, and accommodated them in our lives, schools, churches, homes, and halls of government.
2. Likewise, if we are going to talk about solutions, it’s important to root them in what the Bible says—to wit, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which I will define here as a proclamation of historic fact: The Son of God died to reverse the curse of sin in our world and to set the cosmos to right. This is not just relevant to race/justice conversations but paramount, because it reminds us that oppression and injustice have an end date; as Julian of Norwich says, all manner of things shall be made well. The Gospel proclamation is essential for any Christian response to social ill.
3. Whatever your ultimate allegiances are—the Gospel, a political party, an ideology or value proposition of any kind—your actions will ultimately reveal and ratify them. (This is called “religion,” and we all have one; see David Dark’s book, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious.) The upshot here is that, if we internalize that Gospel proclamation, it has necessary overflow into our discipleship, our love for neighbor, and yes, our politics. The Lord Jesus described it in terms of “bearing fruit”—your life and your choices naturally bear witness to whatever gospel you believe. I think most evangelical Christians understand this on some level, but many choose to forget it where issues of racial justice are concerned, believing that the pursuit of justice/neighborly love can somehow be pitched AGAINST gospel faith. There doesn’t have to be conflict between believing the gospel and living your life against injustice; the relationship here is one of cause and effect. (Faith without works, etc.) I do not think the Church can grow in grace or in gospel power so long as we get hung up on this basic relationship between theological belief and practical implication.
4. I would define racism by using a common, classic definition—prejudice plus power. Racism, as formally defined, has a lot to do with systematic injustice and oppression. Thus, white people can certainly be on the receiving end of prejudice or bigotry, but I would not use capital-r racism to describe these instances. White people have long enjoyed power and privilege in this country, which makes it impossible for them to be recipients of systematic oppression.
5. I have no reason to question the existence of white supremacy, as I see its power summoned and its troops rallied on TV and on Twitter every single day. (“As if we need any more proof of the existence of Satan in the modern world,” Flannery O’Connor said; I may be paraphrasing slightly.) As such, I do not have any particular problem with the framing of “whiteness” as a power structure from which we must all divest, as per Uwan and also James Baldwin.
6. When it comes to supporting a president and a political agenda that enshrines and empowers white supremacy—for whatever reason (abortion, Supreme Court, “small government”)—I think the question to ask is simply: To what gospel are we bearing witness? To what evangelicalism do we testify?
7. While I do not believe everyone who identifies as a white/conservative/evangelical is a white supremacist, I do think there are scary ways in which white/conservative/evangelicalism, as an institution, has long protected white supremacy. I would commend to you Jemar Tisby’s book, The Color of Compromise, for a much fuller historic reckoning than anything I could provide.
8. I reject the notion that the church has a “spiritual mission,” but only because I do not see any way to distinguish between the “spiritual” and the bodily/physical/incarnate/”secular.” (The Gnostics tried this, and it would seem they still exert some impact on Western Christianity.) I would find common ground with anyone who says the primary goal of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel, but I would differ with anyone who denies the earthly overflow of this proclamation.
8b. In keeping with the last point, I do not affirm the doctrine commonly known as “the spirituality of the church,” which is invoked to dampen enthusiasm for racial justice concerns but somehow never comes up when conservative political projects (abortion, gay marriage) are on the table. This “doctrine” was conceived as justification for churches to remain silent on the question of slavery, which is really all you need to know about it.
9. It is impossible for me to understand how it is charitable, gracious, or constructive to demean a Christian brother or sister as a “Social Justice Warrior” simply for showing a good-faith concern for “the least of these.” My simple suggestion for anyone who uses SJW as a convenient pejorative: Stop immediately jumping to labels when you could/should be actually engaging with the complexity of a fellow image- bearer. (Not trying to sound preachy, as I do this myself sometimes.)
10. There are no neutral positions when it comes to justice; dismissing it as “not my concern,” “not the church’s business,” or “not within the scope of Gospel witness” is taking a side, and not the right one. In fact, I would describe it as antichrist.
11. It is my honest conviction that the reason these conversations rankle so many is because they call for an intentional dismantling of some of white/conservative evangelicalism’s most cherished idols—to wit, Republicanism, nationalism, and yes, as Uwan’s righteous word reminds us… whiteness. It’s often said that if we don’t kill our idols, we can be sure they’re killing us. I believe it.
12. The attitude I see a lot in my circles is that historic racism/injustice was definitely bad, but haven’t we all apologized/atoned for it by now? Can’t we just move on? And yet, when present-day instances of racial trauma are raised, the first instinct is always to deny, deflect, or negate them. There is a posture of defensiveness, a refusal to sit with the suffering of other human beings or to admit that we might be culpable in it, that strikes me as contrary to the spirit of repentance. So to the question of whether we’ve “done enough” to repent/atone, I think the answer is very clearly no.
13. I believe in the power of the Gospel to transform lives, kill idols, set captives free, and end the reign of sin. In fact, I believe it’s already happened/is happening/will happen. I pray that I might bear fruit accordingly.
14. I also believe Ekemini Uwan."
- Josh Hurst

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Collision of Worldviews

A worldview is an interpretational grid, consisting of overt beliefs and underlying assumptions, through which one sees and understands one's life and the world in which one finds oneself. A worldview answers the big philosophical and theological questions: What is prime reality - the really real? What is the nature of external reality; that is, the world around us? What is a human being? What happens to a person at death? Why and how is it possible to know anything at all? How do we know what is right and wrong? What is the meaning of human history? What personal, life-orienting core commitments follow from the answers to the previous questions?

A worldview answers those questions. Until the fairly recent past, worldviews, and the ways they were understood, could be reasonably relied upon to differentiate very distinct ways of thinking and living. Thus, for example, it would have been inconceivable for a nation devoted to socialism to elect a free-market capitalist as its president/premier/prime minister. It would have been nonsensical for an organization devoted to the propagation of atheism to appoint a Southern Baptist minister as its chairperson. These are different and incompatible worldviews.

Insuperable problems arise when the same word is used to describe different and incompatible worldviews. Take the word "Christian," for example, which is now applied to people who are committed to breaking down racial barriers and to white supremacists, to people who are committed to telling the truth as one of the primary, nay, top 10 tenets of the faith and to people who lie indiscriminately, willy-nilly throughout the day, to people who deeply believe in the fundamental value and equality of women and to people who boast of grabbing women's genitalia, to people who desire to welcome, love and serve immigrants and to those who desire to keep immigrant children fenced off like animals in a zoo.

These are different worldviews masquerading under the same label. And the worldviews collide head-on when the current Vice President is invited to be the commencement speaker for an evangelical Christian college, which happened earlier today at Taylor University in Indiana.

Until they are acknowledged as different and incompatible worldviews, the same ridiculous charade will continue. Half the students and faculty will line up and salute, and wonder why half their neighbors are incredulous and inconsolable. And the other half of the students and faculty will be incredulous and inconsolable, arranging protests and marches and promising to stay away, while half their neighbors are shaking their heads in incomprehension and wondering what all the judgmental fuss is about. All of them call themselves Christians.

Who they are are people with different worldviews. They believe different and diametrically opposed things about basic ways to live and think. It might behoove Christians, as a whole, to go back and review what used to be considered the fundamental ethical tenets of the faith. This is why the old saw about finding unity in Jesus is so deceptive and wrongheaded, and why it now turns out to be no answer at all. Which Jesus? The one who welcomes strangers and immigrants or the one who supports caging their children? One cannot equivocate about this. These are diametrically opposed Jesuses. Pick a worldview, any worldview. You're going to have to choose, and you can't play it both ways. Just ask the students and faculty at Taylor University.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Marathon

Sunday starts the marathon. I might as well just set up a cot and sleep at church.

This year, as in previous years, Kate and I are sponsors for a program called RCIA - the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. What it means is that for the six months leading up to Easter, we have spent a lot of time with about twenty adults, ranging from their late teens to seventy or thereabouts, who are joining the Catholic Church. This coming week starts the culmination of that process, which involves a long service on Sunday, another long service on Thursday, another long service on Friday, and then a ridiculously long service Saturday night that stretches into very early Easter Sunday morning. In between, there is food to prepare for the early a.m. Sunday feast, robes (not for me; for the new kids on the block) to wash and iron, a couple rehearsals, and a six-hour retreat on Saturday morning and afternoon before the ridiculously long service Saturday evening. There is also work, which is still very much full time, and which is particularly crazy right now. Work tends to view these days in terms of Thursday, Friday, etc.

The Thursday/Friday/Saturday slugfest is known as the Triduum, Latin "tri" for three, "duum" for "Oh my God, forget about sleeping." They are my three favorite days of the year, and this remains a profound mystery akin to the full divinity and humanity of Christ and the popularity of Britney Spears. But it's true. I am so thankful for the richness and beauty of the liturgy, for the freshness and vitality of people, young and old(er), who willingly enter into this, who take on the sometimes burdensome obligations and still find joy in them. I am thankful for college students and grizzled, world-weary corporate executives who have decided to change course midway and sometimes a lot farther than midway through the race.

In the space of seven days, we will hear the old, old story, move from palm branches and celebratory acclamation to betrayal, rejection, crucifixion; eventually, after darkness and silence, resurrection. I am always shocked by the juxtapositions until I actually look at my own life, which has sometimes moved from celebratory acclamation to betrayal and rejection. On Palm Sunday various members of the congregation read the story of Christ's Passion aloud, and the murderous crowd is always played by us, the rabble in the pews/Samsonite chairs. "Crucify him!" we cry out; I cry out. I hate it, not because I could never cry out such murderous sentiments in real life, but because I could.

So I am all the more thankful for these new kids; 19 and 70 and everything in between. They remind me of the cost, and the joy, of attempting to live this way. It's a big deal. I'm grateful I get to play a part in it. And I'll be dog-tired at the end of the process, and very happy.

All the Diamonds