Friday, May 24, 2019

Lifestyles and Other Death Traps

I see this quote shared approvingly all the time. It sounds reasonable, balanced, fair-minded. It is not.

In the state of Ohio, where I live, it is still legal to deny housing to LGBTQ people based on their sexual “orientation.” It is still legal to deny employment to LGBTQ people based on their sexual “orientation.” Five black trans women have been murdered in the first four+ months of 2019, two of them after being violently assaulted previously in 2019. LGBTQ individuals are 4.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. More than 1 in 4 gay teens are thrown out of their homes. LGBTQ homeless youths are seven times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be victims of a crime. Eight out of ten HIV diagnoses were among gay and bisexual men in 2018, and between 2000 and 2015 there was a 25% decrease in the number of schools required to provide instruction on HIV prevention.

Can we stop calling this a “lifestyle,” as if it’s something the LGBTQ community opts for like vegetarianism or downtown apartment living? No one in his or her right mind would opt for such a “lifestyle.” It can and will get you killed in Amerikkka.

Our culture, with the evangelical Christian culture leading the way, has accepted the huge lie that standing against these “lifestyle choices” is somehow a righteous response. It is not. It leads to people getting killed while pious people sit on their hands and do nothing. This is not a “lifestyle choice” I feel comfortable with morally, so I would encourage you to at least take baby steps and engage with some LGBTQ people in your life. And they are there. Talk to them. Get to know them. Listen to their stories. And ask yourself if you really, truly agree with Rick Warren. I double dog dare you.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Joshua and Hannah and Their Offspring

I suppose it's theoretically possible that there are people in the world who would identify themselves as "pro-abortion." If they exist, I've never met them, although I know a number of people who have been personally impacted by abortions. And by "impacted" I mean scarred, wounded, emotionally, spiritually, psychically damaged. Men and woman, although, probably not surprisingly, mostly women, because that's how this tends to work in our society. In the wondrous words of John Prine:

From a teenaged lover to an unwed mother
Kept undercover like some bad dream
While unwed fathers, they can't be bothered
They run like water through a mountain stream

Because of who I am, and because of my background, it shouldn't surprise you that these women are Christians, fully indoctrinated in the True Love Waits and purity ring sub-culture of evangelical Christianity. Except, of course, when the time was ripe true love didn't wait because that's a difficult deal. By that point little Joshua or Hannah were a-forming, and big Joshua and Hannah, all of 17 or 18 years old, were freaking out and did the only thing they knew how to do, and which they regret to this day. Some of them still show up in the same evangelical churches, where they are taught that people who have abortions are baby killers. Praise God.

The article linked below lays out a fairly clear, common-sense alternative. You want to reduce the number of abortions? You're not going to do it by outlawing abortion. But there is a way. It is a way that presumes that human beings - men and women, since that's the pairing that inevitably results in unsupportable pregnancies and abortions - are going to have sex. And there is some percentage of the population that will never accept that fact for various philosophical and theological reasons, even though there are few things in life that are more self-evident. That way involves preventing pregnancy through birth control.

Of course, another alternative is to keep on dreamin' the impossible dream, the one that has been dangled over the heads of conservative Christians for 46 years, It is currently championed by a presidential serial adulterer who was diddling porn stars while his third wife was home nursing the new infant. He runs like water through a mountain stream. Nevertheless, this is the vision that causes conservative Christians to salivate in Pavlovian fashion and press the red button.

Meanwhile, the same bunch would never support a sensible measure that would actually prevent pregnancies in the first place. That would be immoral.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Very Stable Genius Robot

How is it that the rest of the world can clearly see what everyone but the 30% of Americans who comprise The Cult cannot see?

"Ahead of Donald Trump's controversial state visit to the UK next month, protesters are wasting no time in preparing the most imaginative means possible of ridiculing the US president.

"Dumping Trump" is an enormous robot rendering of the president astride a golden lavatory, smartphone in hand, trousers down and with his long red tie dangling into the bowl between his thighs.

The 4.9 metre (16 foot) high machine also has an audio function which reproduces some of Mr. Trump's most famous pronouncements, including "No collusion," "a witch-hunt," "you are fake news," and "I'm a very stable genius."

It also makes fart noises."

- The Guardian, May 15, 2019

Friday, May 17, 2019

Soul Searching

I’m thankful for soul-searching, for attempts to dig deep. So I’ll give some credit to Mark Galli, Editor in Chief of Christianity Today, the best-known evangelical magazine, for giving it the ol’ post-Wheaton try. I would encourage you to read the linked article because it’s a mostly good-faith effort to grapple with the profound issues currently facing the evangelical church, written by someone still living within the confines of the evangelical church.
Here’s Galli’s big revelation: those profound issues stem from the notion that much of the evangelical church, and indeed much of the Christian Church in America as a whole, has forgotten God. Evangelicals have forgotten God. People fleeing the evangelical church have forgotten God. It’s one big exercise in abdication and collective amnesia.
Well, not exactly. In many cases, no.
Let me begin with the usual disclaimers. Not all evangelicals are the same. Not all evangelical churches are the same. My comments here pertain to the evangelical movement as a whole, not to individuals or to outposts along the edges of the frontier. They have to do with majorities, with cultural and ecclesiastical trends, with the heart that is deep within the heart of evangelicalism.
I’m not an evangelical. I’m not a post-evangelical. Been there, done that, for forty years. I’m a Catholic, and the reasons for that are many, but the biggest one is because I recognize that there’s a 2,000-year witness there that is remarkably consistent as it pertains to many societal issues that have been largely abandoned by evangelical Christianity. These issues do not constitute “the Social Gospel.” They constitute the Gospel as it has been understood for two millennia. They are not the domain of social justice warriors. They are the domain of Christians and Christianity, and those who have abandoned those emphases have done so in spite of the consistent witness of the Law, the Prophets, Jesus, the Apostle Paul (to name some biblical touchstones) and the 2,000-year-old Christian Church.
So you’ll have to pardon me if I question the basic assumptions of this article. It’s not that what Mark Galli writes might not be true. I’m sure those arguments are true for some people. But they are not the whole story, and there are big pieces that are entirely missing simply because, when seen through evangelical lenses, they simply are not visible. Nevertheless, they are real.
Here’s what’s missing: Many will leave evangelicalism not because they have forgotten God, but because they remember God. Many will leave because they desire to remain faithful to Jesus. Many will leave because they recall that Jesus said that the distinctive mark of His disciples, the evidence of His reality before a watching world, is love, and because they see precious little of it in the evangelical world, which currently supports policies that seek to actively harm people already born.
I do wish those pieces were a part of the soul-searching process. The process might lead to more accurate conclusions if they were.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Joe Henry

This is sad and sobering news about one of my favorite human beings.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Joe Henry is the finest songwriter working today, and has been for a long time. He's also a wise, kind and compassionate man. If anyone can create a wondrously creative, heartfelt, and true spin on Stage 4 prostate cancer, it is Joe Henry. But oh, those dues break my heart.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

“Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.”
- Ecclesiasticus 44:1

Incredibly, Bruce Springsteen will be 70 years old in a few months, far past the age when rock-star moves are seemly or appropriate. I’ve been hanging with him (virtually, of course), for 45 of those years, which makes me little more than an old fart. Still, I would have to say that I’m a loyal old fart. I’ve hung with him through some of the greatest music of the past half century, and, occasionally, some of the most banal and derivative, particularly when Springsteen could do little more than offer painful Bruce Springsteen imitations.

But here’s the point where I knew he was destined for greatness. Bruce Springsteen was 23 years old when he wrote this song and the others that appeared on his second album “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle.” By 1973 he had graduated from the bars on the Jersey Shore to places like Max’s Kansas City in Greenwich Village and My Father’s Place on Long Island, and he fancied himself as the quintessential boho poet. The early comparisons to Bob Dylan were surely no accident.

Still, nobody was really buying his records. It would be a couple more years before rock critic Jon Landau pronounced him the future of rock ‘n roll and Time and Newsweek both featured him on their covers during the same October week in 1975. At that point he would be unstoppable.

But here he is; the genius in full flower in 1973. He’s still a Jersey kid and a transplanted New Yorker at this point, but he wants to get out of Jersey and New York because they’re too small for him. And he’s already saying his farewells. “For me, this boardwalk life is through,” he confesses on one of the tunes, and on this one he sums it all up, the glory and the mess, in a wildly eccentric and eclectic elegy. You want blues, jazz, folk, gospel, a little Wagnerian sturm und drang? You get all that in “New York City Serenade.” Oh, the band is pretty great, too, and although Bruce would swap out a few of these folks before he settled on the classic E Street Band lineup, I’m not sure that he ever had a more sympathetic group of players than he had here.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Princes and Principles

"A prince is nothing in the presence of a principle."
- Victor Hugo, "Les Miserables"

Certain Christian traditions are fond of quoting verses from Romans 13, which begins "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established." This is an argument that is frequently used to support whatever shite that happens to be dumped upon one's holy head by the powers that be, particularly when the powers that be represent a party or a political position you support. You don't like it? Tough. Be a good Christian and shut yer mouth.

So I was heartened again by today's first reading in church, which came from Chapter 5 of the Book of Acts. The governing authorities called Peter and the disciples to task for preaching about the risen Christ. "Shut up," they told them. "You're going to get in big trouble if you continue to do this." Peter shrugs his burly fisherman's shoulders and says, "Whatever. Who are you, big boss man? We're going to obey God rather than mere human beings."

One of the things I appreciate about the Catholic Church is that there are regular roll calls of the saints. They're listed by name. And if you listen, and you know their histories, it's readily apparent that a whole passel of them didn't shut their mouths and act like good passive Christian boys and girls. The Church tends to call these folks "martyrs," because that's part of the package, too. If you act that way you can lose your life. Peter and his buddies didn't get away with it either. They were flogged in Acts 5. Most of them, including Peter, ended up being killed by the governing authorities.

The contemporary Christian Church is adept at sniffing out persecution, some of it involving holiday greetings and "pagan" coffee cups. That farce shouldn't detract from the fact that there are places in the world where Christian lives are genuinely threatened. It is to detract from such a circumstance occurring in God's own U.S. of A., where some 72% of the population still claims to be Christian, and where the Christianists currently wield power in outsized ways.

Still, it was good to be reminded of some basic truths. Principles over princes. Every time. I hope I have the courage to live that way.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Rachel Held Evans

Several years ago the Christianity I had known became unrecognizable to me. At the time, I recalled an old inspirational poster that was hanging on more than a few walls back in the day. It said, "If you feel far from God, guess who moved?" Actually, it wasn't that inspirational. It was designed to inspire guilt. But I wasn't buying it then, and I'm not buying it now. I don't think I moved. I think much of the Christian Church in America moved. Me? I was still hanging out right where I had always been.

One of the people who helped keep me sane during a time of great personal and cultural upheaval was a woman named Rachel Held Evans. I never met her, but I frequently read her words. Rachel was a writer, a Christian, and a former evangelical Christian. Although our post-evangelical worlds took slightly different paths, she showed me that it was possible to hold on to one's mind and one's soul and still retain something that looked a lot like historical Christianity.

There were people who hated her. They called her a Progressive and a Liberal, two terms that were curse words in conservative Christian circles. She was vilified in unbelievably hateful ways by, yep, the Christian Church. Through it all, she wrote with wisdom and humor. I didn't agree with everything she wrote. But I agreed with most of it, and I particularly appreciated that she held out for love and inclusion. There were Christians who continually wanted to twist that and redefine it, but she would have none of it. I wanted to be like her when I grew up, which was more than I could say for the very public face of most of the American Christian Church.

Rachel died today; 37 years old. She leaves behind a grieving husband and a couple of young children. This kind of stuff can lead to crises of faith of a different kind, but no less real. It's awful. So I'm going to grieve with them in my small, diminished way, and be very thankful for a life and a witness. She made a difference to me, and to many others.

Sunday, April 28, 2019


Kate and I are on vacation next week. This one will be primarily a staycation, punctuated by a day-trip to Cleveland for the Art Museum, and a series of dubious activities that are part of the HoneyDo list.

But we do have these movie tickets. We need to use them. They are for a particular theater chain, one that has 16-screen multiplexes sprinkled throughout the Columbus area. This should not be that hard. But I have surveyed the movies on offer, and honestly, there’s nothing I want to see. Some animated stuff, at least half a dozen superhero films, a few horror films, and a film about a middle-aged cricket player attempting to make a comeback. It is a sad state of affairs when the cricket movie looks like it may be the best of the bunch.

But I have read many positive statements about the latest Avengers movie, “Avengers: To the End of Infinity, and Beyond!”  I don’t know these Avengers at all. I know the Avengers pictured above, and will confess to a lifelong crush on Emma Peel.  The Avengers currently featured appear to be superheroes in tight-fitting outfits. One Avenger is a hulking being with a deeply creased forehead. I’m worried, too. I have no idea who these beings are, but I do know that there have been some Avengers movies that have come before. So my question is this: would a person who knows nothing about the neo-Avengers and the universe they inhabit be able to appreciate “Avengers: To the End of Infinity, and Beyond!”? Would I be totally lost? And does Emma Peel sneak in, at least in a cameo role? Thank you for your advice. It’s either the neo-Avengers or the cricket movie. Help me out here.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

This Present Darkness

As my wife frequently points out as she attempts to talk me down from the ledge, This Present Darkness in the history/debasement of the Christian Church is nothing new. Sir/St. Thomas More, patron saint of my parish, lost his life precisely because a large and vocal contingent of the Christian Church sold its soul to the governing authorities. Kicking it way back, Jesus himself was martyred when the religious leaders of his day made an unholy alliance with the empire du jour. And, as my combative but friendly neighbor is fond of reminding me, more people have been killed in religious wars – theologies aligned with flags and armaments - than for any other cause. He’s wrong, and conveniently overlooks, oh, World War I and World War II, but I take his point, and don’t fundamentally disagree with him. And have I mentioned colonialism, the defense of slavery and the near-genocide of Native Americans, the ongoing hatred and persecution of the LGBTQ community, all vigorously defended by the Christian Church at one time or another, including today? It’s a sad and sorry history, punctuated occasionally by a billion points of light involving the founding of orphanages and hospitals, the defense of the oppressed, care for the untouchables and lepers, etc. The Christian Church is all those things. But I won’t argue too strenuously with you if you insist that it’s time to take the mixed bag to the curb and leave it for the latest trash pickup, particularly the way the bag has been stinking it up of late.

Still, you’ll have to pardon me, and God knows my wife will have to pardon me, if I insist that it’s not supposed to be this way. The failures of the past don’t excuse the failures of the present, nor do they make the failures of the present something other than failures. The Christian Church is capable of reform. Ask Francis of Assisi. Ask Martin Luther. Ask Martin Luther King. Who’s next? Whoever he or she might be, whoever might have the voice and the authority to speak to the sycophants and the holy nationalistic masses, let me note: it’s time. It’s past time.

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

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Les Miserables

Blasphemy? Oh well.

"As far as Andrew Davies is concerned, adapting Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” to the screen independent of Alain Boubil, Jean-Marc Natel, and Herbert Kretzmer’s juggernaut musical was nothing short of an overdue necessity. “I hated the musical,” the writer stated outright at the Television Critics Assn.’s winter press tour in February. “I just wanted to rescue this great book from [that] pathetic virago.”"

For what it's worth, I didn't HATE the musical, and that's saying something, because I can't stand musicals. But this is about eight hours of more or less straightforward Victor Hugo, and that's very fine indeed as far as I'm concerned. Because Andrew Davies is right: this is a great book that deserves a reverent, non-musical treatment on screen. We get just that starting Sunday evening on PBS. 


Sunday, April 07, 2019

Pagan Friends

"I'll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy."
- Herman Melville, "Moby Dick"

Anecdotal evidence, based on the conclusions of one person surveying a list of friends and acquaintances, suggests that there is no difference in the individual moral lives of Christians and non-Christians. For what it's worth, I don't think of the non-Christians as "pagans," to borrow a term from Herman Melville. The term is, in itself, judgmental and offensive, certainly to non-Christians. So I just think of them as non-Christians; people who look to a different worldview and a different interpretational grid through which to understand the beautiful, tragic, mysterious world in which we live.

And on an individual level, I see virtually no differences. Most of the non-Christians I know are somewhat moral, well-intentioned, frequently kind people who love their spouses and kids and extended family members and friends, do their work with diligence and excellence, and try as best they can to cope with the inexplicable crap that happens to everyone. And most of the Christians I know do the same. Each group - Christians and non-Christians - is also characterized by a significant minority of people who simply don't cope well at all; who struggle with various addictions, legal and illegal, who covet their neighbor's ass, indeed his or her entire body, and who make astoundingly stupid choices based on raging hormones and the endless pursuit of narcissistic pleasure. One might think, given the very public emphases of Christianity, that Christians might have an edge here. One might think wrongly. By the way, there's no intent to cast blame. I have been in that latter group, and I have made my appearance there as a Christian. I'm simply noting that the vaunted moral superiority that many Christians assume is non-existent from my vantage point. And yes, I'm looking outside myself.

There is, of course, more to this story than a tally of moral or immoral attitudes and behaviors. I'm a Christian because I believe the gospel message is true. I'm also a Christian because I'm quite taken with the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Man and Son of God, and although I recognize that many days I don't think or live like him, there's still a desire in me to think and live like him. I assume that this is true of Christians in general, and perhaps even a few non-Christians.

The sea change I've witnessed over the last few decades in general, and quite specifically over the past few years, has to do with Christianity in the aggregate; the big picture. I'm not going to argue with the notion that most individual Christians make some attempt, often a noble one, to follow Jesus. But what has been incredibly demoralizing and dismaying is the public witness of the Christian Church, as a whole, in America. I am not lying when I state, as a Christian, that I believe I'm far more likely to find compassion and empathy among my non-Christian friends than I am among my Christian friends. I am not lying when I state that the Christian vision for America, as understood by roughly 70% - 80% of its adherents, bears little to no resemblance to the vision articulated by Jesus of Nazareth.

I'm a Christian. I'm a member of a local church. Like every other Christian, I've tried to seek out a local church that is an instantiation of the beliefs and behaviors of Jesus of Nazareth. The problem is that I used to see that vision in very broad terms. I may not have agreed with the specific doctrines and practices of some denominations. But I recognized Jesus in their midst. I now see and understand the vision much more narrowly. That's either the fault of my own narrowing thinking or the wholesale abandonment of historic Christianity. On the whole, I'd rather hang out with the pagans. They tend to think and live more like Jesus.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Pass the Creamer

"These aren't people; these are animals."
- Donald Trump, April 5, 2019, describing people asking for asylum at the U.S./Mexican border

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me"
- Emma Lazarus, Words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty

About once a week I encounter a Christian friend who tells me I am being too harsh; that all of the animosity would melt away if we just sat down over a cup of coffee or a meal. I've also encountered several "Just Chill" books of late, all written from the perspective of finding common ground. The latest is "Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt," by Arthur C. Brooks, the gist of which is that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

It's a noble goal. I like food. I like coffee. I enjoy hanging out with other human beings. And sure, let's be civil with one another. Can we perhaps start with the President of the United States?

This is not the first time Donald Trump has described immigrants as animals. He also did so in May of 2018 in a speech in which he also described the arrival of immigrants in this country as an "infestation," a term normally reserved for termites and cockroaches. I'll leave it as an exercise for you, dear reader, to research when in history the same terms have been used to describe human beings.

It seems to me that it should not be particularly morally complicated to state that the President's terminology, and his view of people with brown skin, is deeply abhorrent. If you're a Darwinian Survival of the Fittest devotee or otherwise a white supremacist, I can see where it might sound fine. But if you adhere to the ideals on which this country was founded, have at one time or another believed the advertising we've offered to incoming strangers for the past 140 years, or consider yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, then let's not agree to disagree. Let's agree to agree instead. Let's agree that the President's thinking is deeply anti-Christian and deeply anti-American.

Okay? And I'll be happy to sit down with you over dinner or a cup of coffee and agree with your agreement. If you disagree, then it's highly likely that I'm going to have a problem with you. I'll try to persuade you to follow the ideals and beliefs that you theoretically espouse. But there's no way in hell I'm going to view this as some sort of harmless disagreement and pass the creamer.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

President Pete

The first time I was able to vote for President I voted primarily because I believed my candidate was a good man. That was 1976, and the man (there were only men under consideration at that point) was Jimmy Carter. Jimmy didn't have much political experience, and he was basically a peanut farmer, but I believed in his fundamental decency, as well as in his (then Evangelical, as it was understood; the times have changed juuuuust a bit since then) Christian faith.

I don't know if he was a great President. There are people who tell me he was not, although I tend to view his "problems" as outside of his control, and his downfall as the fault of the then-emerging Christian right that has fucked with both the country and Christianity ever since. At any rate, he has proven himself in the intervening 45 years to be very much a good man, perhaps the last of his breed, but perhaps not. He's still the only President in my lifetime that I would unequivocally trust as a human being.

This week I watched several interviews with Pete Buttigieg, 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and was reminded of my initial impression of Jimmy Carter. Buttigieg is smart, articulate, and multi-talented. As a Democrat, he polled 80% of the votes in a red city in a very red state. Beyond that, though, I listened to him speak off the cuff about a variety of issues and believed him to be a good man, someone I would actually want as my neighbor, for example, or someone I wouldn't feel deeply disturbed by if they hung out with my wife or daughters. This is progress.

Buttigieg is being touted as a potential presidential candidate. I would almost certainly vote for him, and his relative youth and lack of political experience is, in my mind, somewhat offset by the notion that we are currently dealing with a highly immoral reality TV star and game show host. He's also gay, which probably means that he has 0% chance of winning, because this is Amerikkka, and because there are millions of people who would automatically vote against him for that very reason.

But it was fairly refreshing to encounter a good man who also happened to be a politician. I miss those folks.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Beauty Will Save the World

To the extent that I care about theology these days, I can safely state that I am not a Calvinist. And you'd be correct in assuming that a Christian university called Calvin College might adhere to Calvinist theology. All of that is to say that I have no horse in this race other than the horse that believes that art - all by itself, no further justifications theological or otherwise needed - is a worthwhile pursuit. I will also admit to adhering to the stubborn notion that beauty can rip a hole in your soul that lets the light shine through, only because I've experienced that phenomenon time and time again.

I don't know Ken Heffner well. I've only interacted with him a few times when he has graciously invited me to participate as a speaker at Calvin's biennial Festival of Faith and Music. But I've followed him and his work from afar because I've been consistently amazed by and impressed with what one man with a vision can do at a conservative Christian college. I've witnessed dozens of thinkers and yes, first-rate musicians and bands converge on Grand Rapids, Michigan, of all places, to play music and talk about the role of music in living life; actual awake life that is attuned to beauty and truth and escaping the tiny prison of oneself. Some of those thinkers and musicians have been Christians. Some of them haven't been. But the level of discourse has been consistently challenging, uplifting, and thrilling. I've invariably emerged from those long weekends re-energized, believing strongly that I'm not alone in this strange, God-forsaken, spiritual-platitude-mouthing country, and that there were and are people out there who see the world in roughly the same way I do. Brothers and sisters? It's a bizarre and wholly inadequate concept for the most part, but I found them at Calvin College.

So I'm saddened but not at all shocked that the conservative Christian world has deigned that people like Ken no longer make sense, or cents, for Christian universities. You can't bank on the commodities in which Ken Heffner trafficked. What is the value of seeing the world in new ways? What is the price tag for being ripped wide open by beauty?

I have no answers to those questions, but I want to thank Ken Heffner for being Ken Heffner, and for focusing on the priceless.