Saturday, March 23, 2019

True, Kind, Necessary

Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?

Three questions I'm told I should ask myself before I speak, and certainly before I post anything online.

And so I ask them.

Is it true? Well, there it is. A tweet. One of thousands, put out there for public consumption by the President of the United States. It is true. He wrote it, or at least allowed his name and likeness to be associated with the words. To the extent that anything is true these days, this is true.

Is it kind? Obviously, the sentiments expressed are not kind. They are the equivalent of the fourth-grade bully you perhaps encountered on the playground. Who's a butthead? YOU'RE a butthead. Is it kind for me to bring this up? I don't know. I struggle with this. I'm told I should just ignore it, get on with my life, just accept the constant drip, drip, drip of inane, lobotomized incivility and not stop to wonder what this is doing to our society, to me. Who's a butthead? Feel free to think of me as one if it will help you sleep at night.

Is it necessary? No, it's not necessary. None of this is necessary. The tweet isn't necessary. My response to it isn't necessary. But I can't turn it off and pretend that it's not there, that it isn't happening. I can't turn off the notion that the President's job offer to George Conway is a matter of public record, as is George Conway's very public decline of that job offer. You can, as they say, look them up. They're easy to find.

This is still known in some circles as lying. I can't help it. I remember the notions of human decency and objective truth, hearkening back fondly to times when they used to matter, and I still lament the roaring silence of much of what passes for the Christian Church in America, the great cosmic shushing of conscience. Mine has a hard time staying quiet. Shhhh!

But it's hard to remain silent. I struggle with this all the time, almost every hour. Forgive my lack of kindness, the unnecessary intrusion into your pleasant day. Ironic, isn't it?

Friday, March 22, 2019

One and Done

Once upon a time, colleges focused on education. The student-athletes (note the order) played sports, but were expected to attend classes and work toward graduation.

All of that changed a couple decades back when the universities, the NCAA,(the governing body of college sports) and the NBA colluded to make a mockery of the ol' alma mater. The biggest perpetrator was one John Calipari, coach of, first, the University of Memphis, and later the University of Kentucky, who started recruiting the best basketball players in the U.S. to play precisely one year. And so they did, winning a lot of games and some college basketball championships along the way before they abruptly departed for the NBA. If there was a silver lining, it was that this academic mockery occurred at the University of Memphis and the University of Kentucky, not exactly known for churning out Rhodes Scholars.

In 2019, the "finest" proponent of gaming the system is one Mike Krzyzewski, the head coach of Duke University's basketball team. Duke, you may recall, is one of the finest academic institutions in the land. This year Duke's team features not one, not two, not three, but four freshman players who will bid a fond farewell to the hallowed halls in May to take their chances in the NBA lottery draft. They may or may not have completed their freshman requirements. Who cares? It's a joke.

I don't blame the kids. They're doing what any 18-year-old with an opportunity to earn millions of dollars would do. But something is rotten in the state of North Carolina. And Kentucky. And most states. The rent-a-player stakes could not be higher, and it's very likely that Duke will win this year's college basketball championship. Meanwhile, the administration of Duke, and Kentucky, and God knows how many other schools, will still have to wake up and look themselves in the mirror and convince themselves that it's all about higher education.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Rorschach Jesus Redux

In the last extended time Jesus spends with his disciples, He prays this prayer: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17) 

This seems to indicate that the idea of "oneness" is a big deal; so much so that the witness of the Christian Church, as a whole, is contingent on the notion of unity. The way this is often interpreted in the modern ecclesiastical world is this: “You (the other 8,632,970 flavors that are not mine) are welcome to conform to my flavor. Then we’ll truly be one and look like Jesus.” I think this way too, by the way. Feel free to conform to me. It will go better for you in my world, and in God’s, if you do. I believe I have it right, based on extensive study, prayer, and application of hermeneutical principles interpreted in the light of contemporary sociological and political events, as well as a direct pipeline from God to my soul. In Enneagram terms, this is classic Type 1 (Reformer) thinking. It is somewhat balanced by my Enneagram wings, which are Type 9 (Fuck it; leave me alone) and Type 2 (Why don’t you like me?). You think I’m joking? You must not know me well. I’m not kidding. Join me in the Truth, which is not Flavor #8,632,971, but a return to the original, Jesus-lovin’ deal.

God help me, I do think this way. This is a core part of my personality.

An alien anthropologist, tasked with chronicling the many varieties of Christianity currently found in America, would have a difficult time finding much in common in the 8,632,971 different flavors of Christian Church he/she/it would encounter. In one church, a man in an ornate purple and gold robe might be found chanting 3rd-century theology while slinging incense toward an altar. In another church, a hundred people might be found sitting around in a circle, sitting in silence that was only broken up by periodic a capella songs. In still another church, a rock band might be found strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage, leading fervent hootenannies expressing Jesus Is My Girlfriend sentiments. This is the American Christian Church – or actually just a tiny snapshot of it – circa 2019.

This is hardly a startling revelation. The Christian Church is nothing like the Christian Church. Really. Verily, even. It’s okay. Jesus – the Jesus the gospel writers wrote about – is now 2,000 years removed from leaving footprints in the sand except in the most metaphorical of senses. And like the telephone game in which a message is passed from one addled hearer to another, on and on down the line, the message in 2019 often bears little resemblance to the message that simple Galilean fishermen heard in the first century.

The standard response to this conundrum is that Christians are united by our belief in Jesus. Sure, the forms and the styles and yes, even the doctrines vary from group to group. But we’re all one in Jesus. We are family. All my brothers and sisters and me. We are family. Get up everybody and sing.

I like this sentiment. It’s catchy. My experience in living it has been less than ideal, both on the giving and receiving end, but it’s a nice theory. The problem is, and always has been, which Jesus we accept as the source of unity. And in the age of Rorschach Jesus, all 8,632,971 different flavors of Him, the issue is more confused, and the various Jesus Follower camps are as divergent and as diametrically opposed as they have ever been. Again, there’s nothing new under the sun. In Germany in the 15th century, Catholics slaughtered Lutherans, and Lutherans slaughtered Catholics, and Catholics and Lutherans together slaughtered Calvinists, and the poor, peace-loving Anabaptists, the forerunners of the Mennonites and Amish and Brethren, never stood a chance. They were wiped out by everybody. Praise God. This is how it tends to go, and how it has always gone. And this is the way it’s going in 2019 as well. Christians not only disagree with one another; they believe things that directly contradict one another and are diametrically opposed to one another.

United in Jesus means beating your swords into plowshares and toting your AK-47 into the sanctuary. It means loving and serving immigrants with the special love God has for them and caging immigrant toddlers at the border. It means believing that personal character and ethics matter and that it’s no big deal to carry on an affair with a porn star while your wife sits at home caring for your infant son. It means being “pro-life” for babies in the womb and treating born people with brown skin, or different religious beliefs, with hatred and scorn. This is the American Church in 2019.

Rorschach Jesus. Which one(s) will you follow? What and where is the unity? I wish someone would let me know.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Don and Don

Not-so-veiled threats and old-fashioned thuggery not seen in a Don since Corleone:

"If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell ... I promise you I will pay for the legal fees."
- Donald J. Trump, February 1, 2016

"Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I'll defend you in court. Don't worry about it."
- Donald J. Trump, February 19, 2016

"If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people - maybe there is, I don't know."
- Donald J. Trump, August 9, 2016

"Law enforcement, military, construction workers, Bikers for Trump -- how about Bikers for Trump? They travel all over the country. They got Trump all over the place, and they’re great. They've been great. But these are tough people. These are great people. But they’re peaceful people, and Antifa and all -- they’d better hope they stay that way. I hope they stay that way. I hope they stay that way."
- Donald J. Trump, September 22, 2018

"Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my type!"
- Donald J. Trump, October 15, 2018, in reference to Rep. Greg Gianforte's attack on a reporter

"I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad."
- Donald J. Trump, March 14, 2019

"The President in no way, form, or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence."
- Grima Wormtongue, June 2017

This is the technique: Say the most outrageous shit imaginable, shit that would get you fired from any workplace in America. Tiptoe right up to the brink of assault and battery and murder threats. And then back away a step. Give yourself a semi-plausible out. I hope they stay that way. Then it would be very, very bad. Yoogely bad. Who, lil’ ol’ me? Why, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

This is an evil man. It boggles my mind that people who call themselves Christians support him. I want a new faith. This one isn't working very well. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Gospel According to Archie Bunker

In a few weeks I will celebrate/bemoan my 44th anniversary as a Christian.  That should tell you a couple things. First, it’s a big, conflicted deal. Second, I’m still a Christian.

I know quite a few people who would call themselves ex-Christians. They would merely bemoan. And I understand that, too. It’s not particularly hard to fathom in God’s Own U.S. of A., circa 2019. I’m not Nostradamus, but nevertheless I don’t think it’s at all farfetched to think that the megachurches will be big, empty shells in 20 or 30 years, after the Boomers (yes, my generation) have died off with no younger generations to assume the mantles of leadership or Samsonite-chair sitters. From everything I see, the kids all took a good hard look at the proceedings and walked away. The hipster churches, which is where (at least in urban America) many of the kids landed will all have turned into mani-pedi spas or hair salons, possibly called Rockin’ Your Life! which will save money on having to change the sign out front. This is because the hipsters will have figured out that one guy with a goatee and one guitarist with a U2 obsession is as good as another, and that none of them are particularly worth getting out of bed for on a Sunday morning.  The Protestant mainline denominations will continue their slow descent into irrelevancy. The Catholic Church will lose people in droves because of its institutional inflexibility and its ongoing stonewalling over violations of the physical, mental, and spiritual health of its parishioners. The Eastern Orthodox Church will probably do okay if Anglo-Saxons can get past the fact that they are not, and never will be Russian, Greek, or Slovenian. All of them, to a greater or lesser extent, will be dead or dying of a self-inflicted wound.  The Christian Church in America, circa 2050, will be half as large as the current American Christian Church.

I believe that. This is not a shining era for the Christian Church in America. Some good, staunch Christians will explain this all away and tell you that it has ever been thus, and that spiritual rebellion will always lead to such consequences. They’re partly right, but they’re looking in the wrong direction. People are leaving for perfectly good reasons because churches are ridiculously, imperfectly bad. Horrible. When you’ve traded Jesus for an unfunny Archie Bunker, it’s not a good look. Ifso fatso, as Archie would say. When does it make more sense for those who wish to live a kind, moral, compassionate life to avoid Christian churches rather than be a part of them? 2019, the United States of America. That’s when. Who woulda thunk it, huh?

But in three weeks it will be the grand anniversary #44, the Born Again date, which is when everything theoretically became new. It didn’t work out that way. I am still thankful for that date, for the person I am becoming, for the person God made me to me. I am not that person many days. But some days I am, and that gives me hope. When I screw up, and I do, I try to engage in an ancient, mostly discredited Christian notion called repentance. That means saying to God, and to human beings I might have wronged, “I was wrong, and I was wrong in these specific ways. I’m sorry. I’m going to try not to do that – that specific thing that wronged you – ever again.” And I say it with a will. I put my heart and soul into it. This is Christianity 101, or so they used to tell me. It was a commonly understood truth. I wish the Christian Church in America still believed this. The bemoaning that will accompany the celebration will chiefly occur because I no longer think that the Christian Church in America has any standard of right and wrong, or any notion of repentance.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

An Important Civic Announcement

It has come to my attention that so, so many people I know - adults, at that - are deeply distraught over and aggrieved by a phenomenon that continues to rock contemporary society. No, nothing so mundane as kleptocracy in America, the disintegration of objective truth, the promotion of racist beliefs and practices, or the ever-escalating fear of the other, praise God.

I refer to the commonly held belief (and I've heard it expressed in exactly these words more than once today) that "the government is stealing an hour of my sleep." To these friends, I offer soothing words of understanding and compassion. It is too late to do anything about this today, but I remind you that this same phenomenon will reappear next March. That's your opportunity. Here it is: go to bed an hour earlier. Be big boys and girls. You've got this.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Prostate Woes

"A doctor a week keeps the vacation savings away."
- Me

Without getting too graphic, I would prefer if people left some orifices alone. Sadly, those are the orifices that have been poked, prodded, and entubed of late. Good times. I have a rapidly growing prostate gland. It's unlikely that I have cancer, which is wonderful news, of course, but I have SOMETHING going on down there. And in the last few weeks I've had an MRI, something called a cystoscopy, and an ultrasound to figure out what that might be. At this point nobody knows.

I'm doing okay. These kinds of things are a clarion call, if you allow them to be, to wake up and smell both the roses and the iodine-like stuff that they pump into your veins to get a closer look at the innards. I'm trying to concentrate on the roses.

Other than the ridiculous cost of these procedures, and the fact that my insurance company has decided not to cover them (why should a potentially life-threatening growth be considered a legitimate medical expense, eh?), I'm fairly upbeat. I am deeply loved, and I know it. I'll let you know more once I know more.

I'm still hoping that these medical procedures will make a vas deferens.