Thursday, May 30, 2019

Denise, and Other Cries of the Heart

This album is 20 years old, and it remains one of my favorites. I'm a sucker for catchy power pop; simplistic lyrics and guitars blasting out from tinny speakers, and this song has both in abundance. It verges on being too clever for its own good (rhyming "Texas" and "Lexus"), but it redeems itself with the following lyrics: "Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la." I'm telling you, you should pay attention to any song that includes the words "Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la."

I could listen to this all day, over and over again. Some days I've done exactly that. Twenty years of greatness.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Praying for the President

Some people I know wonder why I have such a difficult time with the Evangelical Christian Church.

Here's a good example of why I struggle. For the record, I pray for the President of the United States. I am commanded to do so, and I do so. I pray for his conversion. I pray that he would become a different person than the one he has consistently and routinely shown himself to be for over seven decades on the planet. I believe this conversion, like any conversion, could very well result in significant changes in attitudes and behaviors. It might very well manifest itself in truth-telling instead of lying. I believe that long-demonstrated behaviors such as bullying and mocking might be transformed into kindness and consideration of others. In terms of character, I believe it might manifest itself in terms of marital faithfulness instead of serial adultery and crass one-night stands with porn stars. It might even transform deep-seated racist and authoritarian beliefs and actions.

I live in hope, so I will be joining Franklin Graham and a bunch of other Evangelicals on Sunday, June 2 in praying for the President. These transformations have happened throughout history. I hope and pray they happen again. This is what I've been praying for the last several years.

Otherwise? I have no idea what religion Franklin Graham is following. It's not Christianity as it has been understood for 2,000 years.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Patriot for Humanity

"As for myself, I have written for all, with a profound love for my own country, but without being engrossed by France more than by any other nation. In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity."
- Victor Hugo, Preface to the Italian translation of "Les Miserables," 1862

And so we come once again to the most ambivalent of holidays, the one that honors the fallen dead and the one that serves as a USA! USA! hockey chant for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

God bless the fallen dead. God bless all the fallen dead.

Every year - actually several times each year, on the Sundays closest to Memorial Day, The Fourth of July, and Veterans Day - my church breaks out this old chestnut, still a profound antidote to the strangling miasma of nationalism mixed with the so-called Kingdom of God, which will always be a fatal disease of the soul.

And every year - all three times each year, actually - I am thankful for the witness of the old words, and thankful that God so loved the world. That's John 3:16. You used to find those words on posters at football and hockey games. Not so much anymore.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

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.