Monday, February 27, 2012

This Is My First Book

For roughly four years, I've been working on much of These Mornings Are Rough on Many a Night: A Hazy Memoir of an Urban Teacher - my oh-so-hahalarious memoirs as a failed teacher in Chicago. Some parts for even longer. I had been holding out for that elusive book deal for so long that I never actually got it published. But I bit in when I noticed that the technology is ripe for self-publishing. Particularly e-publishing.

It's $2.99. It helps out a worthy cause (me not starving) and allows me the opportunity to kick-start a second career.

So, please, pick up a copy. It'll work in your Kindle or Kindle app (mine looks nice on my Asus Transformer Droid tablet. Which I wish I never bought and got a laptop instead. But that's a different story...). If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it for free. If you're not, you can preview the first few pages for free as well.

I'd appreciate any feedback (and, yeah, that cover has to go. I know. Was working on it at 4 am).

I'd like to release a second e-book in the middle of next month, that one more closely associated with this blog.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shrewd Advice

Be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes.
- Mark 4 (The Message)

The poor tend to know this. Out of spirit, we share, knowing that we usually get back when it is necessary and when we least expect it. And often a hundred-fold. It's a communal, involuntary insurance.

And it leaves us being gracious for what we have in terms of not just property, but family.

But sometimes we give out of our poverty and we're hurt for it.

A fellow, a neighbor, a stranger, a cousin, burns us. Steals from us when we house him. Lies to us about her kid's hunger or medical needs. Jimmy bums loose squares, always promising to pay back and never delivering. Some real nice lady does a business transaction with us but she runs into some problems and in an effort to speed up the process, we end up losing thousands of dollars that we don't have. Roy comes over for dinner every other day but then starts mocking the food and service.

It's easy to forget. To become stingy at this point. To take on the work and personality of the world around us.

Let's not. Let's not succumb to use the tools of the mean-spirited. He is in solidarity with no one; he cannot even trust himself. He dies alone and miserable, and lives alone and miserable.

Let us be continuously generous, for then we live as free men and women. Our wages may be restricted, our generosity even trampled on, but when we abandon our sisters and brothers in their time of need, when we refuse to share in the bounty of our meager harvest, we break the bonds of humanity, of friendship, of family, of our own very selves.

Share. It will be given back to us. A thousand-fold.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Calling Evil for What It Is: Refusing to Help

Yesterday's Lenten reading was in Mark 3, where Jesus finds himself in the awkward position of defending his healing and feeding habits during the Holy Day. And in this, Jesus asks a simple question:

What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?
(The Message)

What kind of action is truly holy? What kind of action is actually religious?

This brings us to austerity. Austerity is sanctions against the poor and assistance to the rich. Maybe that sounds disengenuous to some readers. But it is what it is: Leaving the poor, the elderly, the sick, and those with the least amount of help with little-to-no help. Under austerity, workers, seniors, and the working poor lose assistance, benefits, or sometimes even wages under the guise of state poverty. The state cannot afford to continue to sustain such lavish payouts, austerity advocates proclaim.

Yet on the other hand... Austerity gives humongous tax breaks to those who can most afford to pay their taxes. These corporations and extraordinarily wealthy people make their riches through the infrastructure afforded them by a free state. Yet the Austerians defend them and decry the leeching poor.

Yes, it's backwards. This that benefit the most are "heroes" and those exploited for the profits of the heroes are lazy parasites. Ayn Randism all over again.

Austerians claim that the way to help the poor is to hurt them into self-reliance. "Give a man a fish," begins their favorite proverb, "and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime."

This is agreeable on the surface. Those of us who have had to or presently rely on some form of government aid would love to be able to make it by our own means. We do not want to rely on someone else's assistance and often feel worse for it. So getting help to provide for our own selves by our own means is something we tend to desire.

But that's not happening. Certainly not within Austeria.

Fish cleaning at Klädesholmen, Tjörn, Sweden- In Austeria, educational funding for the poor - already tremendously deficient - has been drastically reduced for profit. And despite what the Austerians are declaring, they themselves are not teaching the poor.

- In Austeria, the poor do not have access to the good water with the good, healthy fish. Those lakes and streams have been closed off - with high and wide electric fences, pinching dobermans, security guards with bees coming out of their mouths, moats filled with living fire.. Austerians claim that this is necessary. Their argument is that only the rich know how to properly care for the best resources. Somehow, we believe this nonsense.

- In Austeria, the waters that are available to the poor are tremendously polluted, dangerous, and filthy. The fish are limping along, gasping, gills cluttered with waste, scales covered with oil residue, vision impaired despite the new third eye. Yet it is the rich who have poisoned our waters and then charged the rest of us for their crimes.


All of this is not to say that the poor are helpless, wailing away in incompetence. They have done stunningly well for generations with what little they are given. But that's a relative "stunningly well". As in, the poor may live meaningful and productive lives, but we constantly worry about our next meals, about our children's health, about our parents' care.

To allow the poor even less assistance while continuing to deny them access to the means to live securely is, simply put, evil.

Have mercy on our souls for allowing this evil to flourish, Jesus.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

There's the Proof in Your Puddin'!

After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren't able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, "Son, I forgive your sins."

Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, "He can't talk that way! That's blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins."

Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, "Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, 'I forgive your sins,' or say, 'Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking'? Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . ." (he looked now at the paraplegic), "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home." And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, "We've never seen anything like this!"

- Mark 2:1-8 (The Message)

Which is simpler: To say, "These are your sins and if you don't follow the rules, you are a horrible, lowly person. You should be full of shame and fear because of your body/stance/sexual attraction/color/doubt/economic stance," or say, "You are forgiven. Act as if it's a new day because it is. Let us seek healing together - as one"?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

All of Me = None of Us

The Lenten Season in the Christian calendar is a time to reminisce and reflect on the sufferings of Jesus toward his crucifixion. Many connect this period - remembering the humble, suffering servant - with reflecting on the suffering of those whom he suffered with and amongst: the hungry, the outcasts, the strangers, the widows, the orphans, the prostitutes, the sick.

As Liz Lemon would say, "I want to go to there."

In my efforts of solidarity with Jesus and those he identifies with, for the next forty days (with breaks on Sundays) I'll be limiting my diet to non-processed foods with rare meats and at a budget of five dollars a day.

That may be a bit difficult, sure, for this spoiled American with food addictions. But that's not going to be the difficult part for me. In fact, suffering won't be hard for me right now.

Frequent bouts of depression. Near drastic and chronic under-employment. Marital woes.

I do know how to cry. Extensively.

But I need to get out of me. I'm full of me. I want to be full of something healthier. I want to be a part of something greater.
Woe Is I!

May I surrender as Jesus did, for the glory set before him (us): Not my will, but thy will be done.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No True Christian

No true Christian would ever...

Let's draw a Venn diagram, shall we?

Here we have two, very, very crudely drawn circles. One is labeled "Christian", the other "Christ-follower." Notice that the two are neither mutually exclusive nor are they equal. Meaning that one can be one, or the other, or both, or neither. But just because one falls under one label doesn't mean she falls under the other one.

And now you may have one or two questions. I'll see if I can figure them out and then answer them for you.

  1. What's the difference between the first circle and the next?
  2. What does this all mean and what is your point?
  3. Couldn't you have used the circle drawing tool in the SuperNote app? It would've looked so much better?

1) To say that one is a Christian is to say that one follows or is a member of a particular religion that is attached to not only the person and deification of Christ, but also the religious ties that have been drawn up since then. Rules, guidelines, prescriptions, seasonal celebrations (such as Lent coming up right now), worship, ascribed doctrine, regular (or irregular) gatherings with co-religionists, offerings and other sacrifices, etc. On the other hand, to say that one follows the Christ himself is to say that he or she follows the examples and teachings - as best as can - that Jesus set out during his ministry years.

2) This is done to point out the fallacy of the No True Scotsman rule as applied to public figures and their claims to Christianity. Men like Franklin Graham are going around affirming Gingrich and Santorum's Christian credentials while plausibly denying Obama's Christianity. As a retort, many on the left are declaring that Gingrich and Santorum cannot be true Christians. But to say that is to deny that Christianity is a religion fraught with horrible atrocities committed in the name of Christ. Christians supported religious wars against Muslims and other Christians, genocide against American Indians, Palestinians,

Though without Jesus' approval and quite contrary to his teachings and examples.

3) Only two questions, please. So shut up.

So what we see here are two distinct but intermingled identities - one easy to identify (the particularly religious one) and one with different sets of criteria that can be seen through an engagement with the Gospels.

Please notice, unlike a particularly viral video posted by a young Christian, I don't want to give off the impression that religion is bad. Christianity, for many Christ-followers, can give us an anchoring, an identity, a spiriual home, and a community that we may otherwise flail about without. Joining in the suffering of Jesus that is Lent helps to remind us and keep us focused as to the person, work and focus of Jesus. Prayer and meditation keep us connected to our source and heart and can energize us - or at least calm us down.

But one can - as we used to say - go through the motions without actually following Jesus.

Most self described Born Again Christians would agree with that statement. But I don't mean the same thing they do, necessarily. Jesus said a tree is known by its fruits. We would have some overlap as to what those fruits look like (specifically, the fruits of the Spirit), but considering the de-emphasis on Jesus' teachings on the sheep and the goats (the most obvious qualifications he gives), not much.

Let's look at those qualifications:

  • Love God.
  • Love your enemies. (This means, particularly and without equivocation, we need to shun war and other acts of violence done against our neighbors and enemies.)
  • Pray for those who persecute you.
  • Let go of wealth. (This one is especially de-emphasized in modern times. We tend to say Jesus was okay with wealth, but the truth is he wasn't. He considered it evil and he shunned it, personally. The creator god of the universe, for example, came to earth not just as a baby, but as a peasant. And then he lived homeless, as a vegabond. It's within this context that we should understand his talk with the rich young ruler, or his lesson about the evil eye.)
  • Work towards peace (Not just ending war, but all sorts of violence we do toward each other - including poverty)
  • Visit those in prison (Rather than throw them in there to forget them under the auspice of "keeping us safer".)
  • Give water to the thirsty and feed the hungry (In other words, those arguing for an end to social programs for the hungry - without any real, tangible plans to alleviate the suffering of those who are dependent on them are in direct defiance of this order.)
  • House the homeless (Ditto)
  • Clothe the cold (Well, most of us seem to get that one right. For the most part. Seriously.)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.

Now, keep in mind, the parts in parentheses are interpretations of the more direct exhortations in the Gospels (and the epistles as well). They are not direct commands, but I tend to think they're pretty obvious from the context of Jesus' culture and socio-political surroundings, as well as from the way that Jesus and the first few centuries' worth of his followers practiced out their faith. But again, my interpretation.

Which, I think, goes to show how complex it can be to try to point and say, "He's in; she's out; she, in..." I'm not so sure that's our place. Because if we were to go by specific rules, then we "all fall short of the glory of God." To follow Christ is to acknowledge that we are traveling, and that there is no destination, only journey.

I was highly tempted to list those I felt belonged in certain groups. But I think I'll refrain from that pharisaism. If public figures want to go around and act like anti-Christs while they claim the name of Christian, then they make their own rotten fruits evident. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Debtor Love Is No Love At All

I'm reading a fascinating interview in The Boston Review with David Graeber, activist, anthropologist, and author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, about the history and trap of debt, about how money is largely a way What the book does as a reading exercise is enliven one’s imagination to the multitude of possibilities there are in how we can think about debt.

One reason to spread the canvas so broadly—the same thing that drew me to anthropology—is that you fight the idea that all these questions are settled, that there’s really only one way to run the economy, the political system, society. What you see when you look at history, if you look anthropologically across the world, even at any one time, is a dazzling infinite variety of social possibilities. Which you would never have dreamed possible until you see them. It makes it much more difficult to make the argument that nothing except what we’ve got is possible.

One of the primary arguments that Graeber makes is that throughout history, the financing system has largely been rigged toward the lender. Even prior to money, there was lending and even then the lenders had the upper-hand. It follows that coin/paper currency was used as a way to broaden and strengthen the debtors' margins of profit.

This fits in with what we've been thinking here: That we need to rely less on paper and globalized currency and more on localized systems of organic economies. Not so much that currency is evil, but that a strict reliance upon it leaves most of the world indebted and imprisoned to the monied few. And this isn't how nature works nor how we act naturally. Currency-based economics actually colors and poisons our relationships.

Most interactions with people that you trust, people that you love, or people that just need to cooperate with on an immediate basis, take the form of “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” It doesn’t matter if you’re working for the government, working for a corporation, or working in your family; if you need to fix the toilet because it’s leaking and you say “Hand me the wrench,” the other guy doesn’t say “What do I get for that?” It’s not an exchange; people act according to their abilities to chip in.

That's how we tend to operate amongst people we live with and amongst. We've had many friends and relatives stay with us at their time of need, and many have had me during my times of need. Not because I'm awesome, but that's how we do people we're close to. There is no record of debts or wrongs.

Which only further convinces me of the need for a local-based organic, sustainable economy. Before we talk more about this later this week, I'll leave you with this.

[O]ne of the more dramatic consistencies I’ve noticed in the history of debt: debts between equals are not the same as debts between people who are not equals.

Debts between either poor people or rich people, that they have with each other, can be renegotiated or forgiven. People can be extraordinarily generous, understanding, forgiving when dealing with others like themselves. But debts between social classes, between the rich and the poor, suddenly become a matter of absolute morality.

Yeah, see, equals.

h/t to Slacktivist for the interview find.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Futile Complications of Wagery

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, back in 2007, back before the massive foreclosures:
On any given night, approximately 750,000 men, women, and children are homeless in the US.

* 56% are living in shelters and transitional housing, while 44% are unsheltered.
* 59% are single adults and 41% are persons living in families.
* 98,452 are homeless families
* 23% are chronically homeless according to HUD’s definition.

Regarding hunger:

The [Greater Chicago] Food Depository defines "food insecurity" as "reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet," or, put simply, "unsure where they will find their next meal." Overall, Chicago has a 20.6 percent rate of food insecurity. That means 581,558 people are food insecure, a fairly terrifying number. Even worse, 36% of those who are food insecure are thus not eligible for federal nutrition programs because of their income - suggesting that the income cap for those programs may be too low.

In the impoverished, underresourced, segregated South side neighborhoods of Englewood and East Garfield Park where I've taught, nearly a third of residents (31.2%) face food insecurity.

We don't, oddly enough, have a shortage of houses or food. Just as we don't have a shortage of doctors or pharmaceuticals. We have a shortage of meaningful, living-wage jobs that provide adequate means to food, shelter, medical care, transportation, and a degree of economic security. There need not be a shortage of ingenuity nor of resources*. But there sure seems to be a shortage of imagination. Not because we are not intelligent, but because all of our thoughts of work and resultant earnings have been reduced (by the Powers That Be and, sadly, by our own complicity with them) to thinking about making paper money. How one job or another can afford us more paper money than another, what that can afford us, and how far that can last or get us.

'young labor paycheck' photo (c) 2011, MN AFL-CIO - license:

Rather, I propose, we should be thinking in terms of direct ownership of our tools, talents, work, hands and how these can get us direct access to that which we need.

The world as it is set up is simply needlessly complicated. Wagery. That's what we live for. A certain amount of money that may or may not have anything to do with our skills, use, talents, passion, vision, focus. Nor the usefulness of those to people or the environment. Our aspiration is largely wasted on wagery.

The non-irony in all of this is that the most-compensated - the best waged - are those who control and run the Big Wagery. The Money People are those who, in general, receive the Most Money. And their control over us is predicated on our need for wages. Wage jobs give us money and with money we get...


Stuff like food and clothing and and electronics and housing and transport to our distant jobs and schools and stores where we may continually purchase food and clothing and... stuff. Much of which we know we could live without.

We are like fish who have been incepted to love us some bicycles.

It's all both largely important and immeasurably futile. We are playing a game of life and death - with someone else's rules, and on his island.

And until we loosen their control over our lives and get off their damned island, we have little control over our own lives.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gluttony and Temperance

Absorbing it all so that there's none left.

That's gluttony in the short. And that's what the United States of America - a country that comprises 5% of the human population yet consumes a full 20% of its non-renewable resources - is. We are the very definition of gluttony.

'Fast Food' photo (c) 2006, Christian Cable - license: that again with me, please.

My country makes up 1/20th of the people in the whole world.

But we take in 1/5th of its resources.

The non-renewable kind.

Consumed. Complete. Swallowed. Done. Finished. Taken in and not-replaced.

That is, we take in four times per person, on average, what everybody else in the entire world does. This includes food. And clothing. Electronics. Cars. Gas. Oil. Electricity. Water.

These are resources that others can't use.

This leads to malnourishment, starvation, disease.


Because we can't be temperate in our insatiable appetites?

How do we avoid this trap of selfishness? How can  we still live well and assure that others do as well? That's a serious question that we need to wrap our minds around.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Papa Pink Panda Blankie

Daddy, daddy.

That's how I know she's excited about what's gonna come out of her little girl squeaky vocal tubes.


This blanket smells like you!

It does?

It does? Should I assume the best?

Here, smell.

I'm used to my four year old giving me directives. But this one, to be perfectly honest, may be a new one. I decide not to correct her this time. Thissss time.


The blanket is pink and lightweight - like a throw. It's not made to be a primary level of protection during Chicago winters. (For that, one should seek out the carcass of a brown bear. Hats and scarves made from timber-wolf fur and boots consisting of hollowed-out bunnies are also strongly encouraged.) But it is soft and comfy and has the heads of panda bears all over it (Not literally). And it's her current favorite.

So the fact that is smells a bit musky is a bit odd.

It smells weird, right?

She sounds almost adult as she says this. As adult as one can when sounding like a preschool-aged Betty Boop - sans the masculinity. Which makes it all the more disorienting. And, therefore, insulting.

Yeah... It kinda does, honey.

The good news is, now we know what pink pandas smell like: Me!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Force of Religious and Secualrized Freedom

Ready? Brace yourselves, because these are the things I believe.

I believe that there is one creator god who got so angry with his creation that he completely flooded it once. I also believe that this creator god is not just one being, but three persons within one (I know what you're thinking: Is he schizoid or siamese?). I believe that one of those persons incepted a virgin teenage girl with another one. I believe that this man-god walked among us and healed people in ways that modern science and medicine would find absolutely quackery. He also rearranged molecular particles to make bread and fish multiply thousands-fold, to heal optic nerves, and to turn water into wine. This man-god, however, couldn't save himself from death... because he chose not to. And, according to my belief, he up and walked out of his tomb two days later.

And can walk between walls now.

Statue of god Imi-khent-wer  (DSC_0023)These are, to be honest, fantastical and unrealistic beliefs. But that's okay. We live in a world where we are free to believe and disbelieve any notion we choose - even when external forces choose for us not to. More to the point, despite what some say, I find that these and related beliefs have made me more considerate, more kind, more compassionate. Our belief systems - whether religious or philosophical - tend to color our world and our interactions with them. That is inevitle, and it can be a good thing.

But if we're not careful, our freedoms to believe as we want and act accordingly can cause considerable harm.

An atheist cheerleads war with predominately Muslim countries in efforts to bomb Islam off the face of the Earth.

A religious sect preaches that Black people are the spawn of Satan.

A Baptist school outlaws interracial coupling.

Satanist sects hang dead cats on doors.

Fundamentalist Christians force creationism in the public schools as a form of science.

Hebrew holy scriptures are used to justify the genocide of native Palestinians.

Theocrats of most faiths threaten, ostracize, and sometimes kill converts and non-co-religionists.

Some Muslims mutilate their daughters' privates.

Jehovah's Witnesses are way too friendly at 9 on Saturday mornings.

And celibate, male priests and bishops tell women how they should take care of their potentially child-bearing bodies.

Any right of religion/philosophy ends where it injures or violates others. Conservative Christians and Muslims have the right to refuse to marry homosexuals. But they should not be allowed to prevent homosexuals from marrying.

Believing in a Flying Spaghetti Monster, a million gods, or no god at all is perfectly fine and acceptable. Using that strain of belief to guide and protect bigotry, hatred, and murder (as Hitler did with various philosophies and Christian sects) is unacceptable.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Evangelicals and the Great Mission

"Go and make disciples of all the peoples. Teaching them everything I have taught you. I am with you to the end of the world."
- Jesus (Matthew 28)

Evangelicals live by this, the Great Commission. It's where our movement gets its name from. It's why we are not a denomination, but a movement that encompasses and passes through and above and away from denominational lines. A denomination is fixed in boundaries, yet we've decided to move beyond such limitations.

This is where we get our energy from, and a part of the reason I still consider myself Evangelical.

I'm confident, though, that we are doing great injustice to the Great Commission and our own status as Evangelicals (Messengers of the Good News). I was thinking about this as I was reading Skye Jethani's article in the Huffington Post this morning. Jethani, senior editor for Christianity Today's pastor-centric periodical Leadership Journal, shares a story in which he gave a talk to a church youth group shortly after 9/11 and the pastor, finding that Skye had studied Islam in college, urged him to defraud Islam as a religion of hate. Jethani refused and insisted that 1) that's an inaccurate lie and 2) the beauty of Christ is compelling enough on its own.

The pastor, however, countered that his cabal of youth were surrounded by doubts and needed some assurance that they were on the right path.

I can sympathize with those doubts, yet, if these young men and women were to continue to follow the insecure faith of their pastor, they'd be better off with doubt. Although he's trying, in his own way, to fulfill the GC, he's acting counter to it. As is much of Evangelicalism.

The Great Commission is sadly misunderstood in two important and related dynamics. And those two dynamics are integral to how Evangelicalism has been failing the GC that we feel is core to our identity and that we cherish*.

First, we make disciples not by forcing or manipulating others to believe as we do, but by demonstrating. Jesus's words give comfort, not traditional triumphalism. It is not through war or emotional trickery, nor telling others how awful they are that we are able to demonstrate the wonderfulness of Jesus. We make disciples by focusing on the teachings of Jesus.

Secondly, we confuse the teachings of Jesus with the teachings of our religion. The teachings of Jesus are pretty simple: Love. That's the gist of it. Love. Share one another's burdens. When someone asked Jesus who is going to heaven just a few chapters before his Great Commission, he answered that those who practice love to the "least of these" - by visiting the imprisoned and feeding the hungry and comforting the afflicted - will be welcomed. Those who DON'T will be turned away. It is they, not Muslims or atheists or Catholics, who will be shunned at the door, who are called "workers of iniquity."

Jesus' teachings aren't on specific doctrines, nor how other religions suck (in point of fact, he said we should "take the log out of your own eyes before considering his or her splinter"). They certainly aren't centered on Capitalism or Marxism (although he made many, many fine points about the evils of wealth that American churches would do well to not navigate around- if we want to see heaven, that is.). Neither did he teach to be politically partisan.

In fact, Jesus taught extensively about loving our enemies - particularly those who we've been trained to hate.

It would do American Evangelical pastors some good to follow Jesus' teachings more often. After all, they've got congregants filled with doubt.

* In saying this, I want to stress that the GC is, IMO, a great thing and should be followed. But not in the way it is/has been misapplied, misunderstood, and abused.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Pride and Humility

I rarely ever travel, partially out of a kind of urban working class snobbishness borne equal parts sincere belief that the world comes to my city, resentment from obnoxious bottle blonde yuppie conversations about luxurious and ego-centric travels to third world countries, and the generational Curse of the Empty Wallet. So on the rare occurrence that I can get some bang for my travel bucks, I am a happy tourist.

I was in a South American metropolis when I learned that great ambitions are blinded by privilege. We arrived with a group of good friends from our church. Medellìn is probably the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The entire town is a valley, nestled up in the mountains and resting on the equator; every viewpoint is a camera's wet dream and the weather, an eternal spring. But the shanty-towns on the higher edges of town - a result of the heavy toll of the war between the narco-communists FARC and the paramilitaries planted and supported by the pro-capitalist current president and his allies - and rampant economic disparity were a blemish on the city as well as the country.

Medellin Desde Nuevo Occidente

To its credit, when the town elders put up a cable car transit system and noticed the shanty towns in their line of view, they decided to do something about it. A pair of sisters we met were personally affected by the decisions to close those barrios by giving education, permanent homes, and jobs to their families. And the denomination and its stationed missionaries we were with - a fairly progressive and mostly Evangelical - were doing some wonderful things in the city - sponsoring schools, giving safe havens to children and young adults.

Yet despite their social justice components, the missionaries live in a gated community in one of the ritzier parts of town. They are secluded and separated from the vast majority of the very locals that they are seeking to serve. Additionally, there was a definite Upstairs/Downstairs vibe with the "help".

I can't fully blame the missionaries, however. They are merely following guidelines and protocols set by their missionary boards - and nearly every other missionary board (at least among Protestants) before and since then - and by the dominant society (it's not just White Americans and the British who yell at their servants to keep them in their place). And I'm absolutely positive that they must have struggled deeply with these decisions. As for myself, I would do my damndest to protect my darling daughter (all the more as she's blond, white, and female. Colombia has a high kidnapping rate for both extortion and "white" slavery), so I personally can't blame a family that wants and attains that level of protection.

Yet, this one situation is a picture of an endemic system of pride*. Pride is an understanding of myself as being set apart or better than my neighbors. Pride says that we are worthy of the trappings of greed, gluttony, lust. And the sin of pride is both individual and societal. It is a sin - potentially grave, potentially silly - when done by the person.

While having such a capital time I broke my monocle. :( Heres a Reddit pumpkin to cheer me up!

It is absolutely grave when done by a society or community. Because then it is done against others.

The bible lists pride as one of the biggies. Look in most lists of the things of this world and you will see pride as a central component.

One Proud peacock steps this way..

Pride is also a dangerous illusion. It's that one is wise enough on one's own, that one knows . As I mentioned earlier, White males tend to excel at this. We don't try to, it's just a part of how we are trained and prepped. Pride says that when the rest of the world suffers, we don't need to suffer with them because we are above suffering.

Pride's opposing virtue is humility. Humility is often seen as a sort of attitude or disposition, but I'm starting to think that it's a place. It's not so much something that can be ascertained from words or facial expressions, but from the standing of sharing life with the Other.

Humility in the Christian sense is understood in the example of a god not just walking amongst us like a Shakespearean tragedy - willing to spy on us due to some childish inferiority complex - but also as one of us. Suffering as us, hurting as us, crying as we do, moved and hurt as we are, laughing as we do. God, the Christian scriptures assure us, left his throne in heaven to be homeless on earth. Left his privilege in the universe to be murdered by a Superpower State.

God did not consider pride as worthy of God's own self. Then why do mere humans?

*In this, I'm not condemning having honor or pride in one's culture or identity. That would be ridiculous and impractical and impossible. And it is not the same as holding one culture or ethnicity above all others. That is tribalism. (ie, denying the study of non-Western or indigenous culture histories in public schools).

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Hulk and Cocoa

Daddy, do you like Spider-Man?

Sometimes when we're in the potty, or getting ready for a bath, my daughter finds few distractions from her imagination.

Yes honey. I do.

Do you think he can come over to our house?

Well, I don't see why he would, to be honest. I hope he doesn't find the need to.

But he can, right?

Oh sure. It might be a little disorienting, but that would be pretty awesome.

See what I do there? I throw in a little vocabulary to add an extra level of educational awesomeness into the mix. Because nothing says "Daddy-daughter bonding" like "edutainmental fantasies."

But not Hulk, right? We don't want Hulk in our house, right?

No, no. Hulk will smash. He'll destroy everything.

Hulk is angry. He'll smash everything.

'Hulk Breaking Out: 09/10/06' photo (c) 2006, Ken Banks - license:

Yeah. We can't have that.


My daughter's on the fast-track to becoming a Serious Comic Book Geek, in spite of her innate yet quite unnatural princess temperance. Who else ponders this stuff? Nerds, that's who.

Why is he angry?

I'm not sure. But that's what makes him the Hulk. He's innately angry. That's how he becomes the Hulk.


Thinking. Where does she come up with this stuff? Do they have these brainstorming sessions in preschool? Or is this what she's thinking of during story time that gets her so easily distracted? Is this gonna keep her from Harvard?

She looks me in the eyes.

Daddy, what if we invite him for some hot chocolate?

The simple, profound power of imagination. God, I love this girl.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A Gender Apartheid in the Body of Christ

I don't want no daddy with two strong arms
I had one already, he done too much harm
- "The Word Is Love"

This lyric from barely-noticed Christian roots-rock singer-songwriter Rick Elias was written roughly twenty years ago, and I have hardly heard it since. But it's what's been scratching my mind every time I hear this call for a "Masculine Christianity" from church heavyweights like Mark Driscoll and recently from John Piper. I'm guessing by this they mean that the conservative Evangelical Church, specifically, isn't masculine enough.

Despite the fact that it's run almost exclusively by males. This despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of church congregants are female. And are systematically guarded from positions of leadership within the church.

That, of course, is part of the problem for the Masculine Christianists. They see the church as half-empty and want to market it to more men, specifically, more manly-men who like to do mannish stuff. Like MMA, or throw stuff. Or smash. Or yell. Or hit...

But that's not enough, apparently. Reported from Rachel Held Evans, John Piper recently stated, based on his specific culturally and gender-centric reading of the Bible that:

God has given Christianity a masculine feel.


I'm not sure what that means, "masculine feel." I know that I'm a man, and that there is something good about that, as I - as a male - was made in God's image. But women are also made in God's image. So is my precious daughter. And they're feminine, right? So does Christianity have a feminine feel as well?

I do know that this idea of the masculine feel ties directly into masculine leadership. And that my every experience with Masculine Leadership (as a trait identified specifically as "Masculine") comes up on the pagan side of Jesus' call to his disciples.

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.
Luke 22:24-7 (New Living Translation)

This is where many Christian leaders get their "servant leadership" language from. But it's really just language that barely covers pretty much the same type of leadership. We've seen this type of "servant leadership" before. It's another form of what Piper was referring to when he continued his definition of Masculine Leadership:
[G]odly male leadership in the spirit of Christ with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community.
Even at its most tender-hearted, this exclusively masculine form of leadership is innately ignorant and sometimes downright abusive. Because, being exclusive it is dismissive of other points of view. Piper himself advises wives to stay with their husbands for the night after he strikes her and to wait until the church opens later that week to deal with the problem.

Not, as I'm sure we're well aware post-JoPa scandal, report all abuse to authorities right away. Not, leave him and then see if there can be reconciliation later. Not, we're gonna open up a phone bank for such emergencies and make sure that all women and children (and even men) have a safe place to turn to in the case of such a regular-occurring emergency.

This is the sound of Masculine Christianity?

From the lips of a White male, trust me when I say this: We are not very good at listening.

We are good at getting a swell head filled with power because that's what we're trained to do from an early age. We are the ones the teacher picks on - especially if we (like I did) go to multicultural schools. Due to institutional and multi-generational sexism and racism, we are the ones assumed to be smart and fearless and bold and decisive. And when the moment comes to shine, we relish the opportunity, lessons be damned. Experience from the wise and from females and from minorities and from the oppressed and from our neighbors be damned. White Papa knows what's best.

I mean, that's what God is, right? A strong, White male God who knows best because he. just. does.

He's a male, knowimean?

I'm sure that Jesus wanted his Kingdom to be focused on a "masculine feel" when he and Paul used words like,

to describe it.

You want to see a Masculine Christianity? That's easy! It's all around us. It's the current state of the American Church - a gender apartheid in the body of Christ.

You wanna see the Kingdom? Follow Jesus in tearing down these walls. All of them. Power-grabbing. Property-grabbing. Insecurity. Fear. Letting a handful of men (and even women) spiritually lead hundreds and thousands. Tear them down and allow Christ's love for all to guide us to each other's best interests, to become better persons.

Not to be more masculine or more feminine. Better humans.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Charity and Greed (2)

I feel that "charity" is one of those great virtues that had been stripped of its power once the Christian Church came into power.

Consider that King James reading of I Corinthians 13:13:
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Could the apostles have truly meant that the greatest, most lasting principle in the entire universe would be to give spare change out of our excess to ease the suffering of the very poorest?

Or was it something more, something much deeper?

Perhaps we should view charity as the outpouring of those who've witnessed and become something different, who've moved aside from the debilitating numbness of empire-building of the dominant culture long enough to recognize the needs and assets not only of themselves and their shared community but extend it outside of themselves. These relationships organically work to inject selfless justice to the oppressed and then back to the self.

charity: water display

When such a transformation happens, those who have been touched are no longer concerned with frivolous arguments about "forcing" people to be charitable. Because true charity understands that all of our actions and inactions are interconnected, it understands the violence of poverty first-hand, and it understands that wealth accumulation is theft.

Charity understands the deep, intricate indebtedness we have to each other. Charity rejects the libertarian argument that taxation that lessens income inequality is not theft, but that income inequality itself is greed and therefore theft. And therefore murder.

Charity looks around and sees millions of homeless families, men, women, children. She sees all of the discarded veterans, the abused workers, hungry children, shamed school teachers, overburdened social workers, the rejected differently-abled, the untouchables, not as what society sees them as - the names and titles listed above - but as human beings worthy of human dignity, love, respect, and full access to quality food, healthcare, housing, protection, and clothing.

This form of charity runs in stark contrast to greed. Where greed feels entitled to possess property at others' expense, charity seeks to share, to make sure none is discarded. With true charity, there is no room for greed.

Current practices of "charity" however, are actually falsified extensions of greed. Charitable foundations are really nice-looking tax shelters, allowing estates to save millions upon millions of dollars each year while only spending a portion of that in order to game the non-profit world while earning respectability in their corporate endeavors (read: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded). However, if a service provider for the poor needs money to help the very ones discarded by the corporate-produced economic system, it will most likely need to go through these corporate-prduced foundations.

The virtue of charity needs to be reevaluated, not for what it supposedly means, but for what it is opposed to and dreams of.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Just Just War?

I'd like to know what war is or was truly just. I'm especially asking fellow Christians. What would qualify as a just war?

Bombing of Chinese City

And by just, I mean it follows these three guidelines:

  1. It is fought for just cause - meaning for protection of vulnerable peoples, not for, say, property or value.
  2. It is inevitable. It could not have been avoided, nor could there have been a non-violent solution.
  3. It is limited in it reach and only goes as far - only - as absolutely necessary. Ie, no civilian deaths.

Under these guidelines, I'd like to know what conflict could ever have qualified as a Just War.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Lust and Chastity

To recap yesterday's stress-eating, I ate two bowls of oatmeal sprinkled with brown sugar, a large bowl of vegan chilli topped with decidedly non-vegan cheese and sour cream, a large cup of coffee (raw sugar and soy - because I have only so much tolerance for my lactose intolerance), a "snack size" Oreo McFlurry, a blueberry granola bar and juice box (I from my afternoon job tutoring grade schoolers. Not that I'm averse to buying my own juice box. They're awesome!), a chicken torta, a Butterfinger, and a slice of homemade pumpkin pie (courtesy my roommate's mom). I would've had more if a Skor bar hadn't fallen out of my pocket on the bus. Somebody got lucky there...

What of this did I need? I wasn't hungry at any of these feedings and could've been well enough with one bowl of oat meal, half that bowl of chilli - or at least without the dairy products - and the torta.

Oh, and that pie.

The fact is that I lusted for 400 calories of saccharin-infused corn by-products. And then I lusted I my pockets for the change to buy it (get your minds out of the gutter!).

Lord save me, it wasn't even that good.

Lust is almost always defined in terms of sexuality, but it's much broader and deeper than that. Lust is the need for instant gratification of our desires by objectifying and consuming that which can temporarily satisfy us.

Lust is turning ourselves, others, and the good resources of the world into mere instruments devoid of wholeness in order to get what we want now.

A lust for power
A Lust for Power. Aimaness Photography
Lust isn't just about bodily activities, but also the consumerist need to keep up with the Joneses and so deprive ourselves, our body, our senses, our world, our friends, our neighbors of their full potential.

Lust doesn't just manifest itself in pornography and one night stands, it is embodied in our credit reports, it is demonstrated in our shopping habits, it is seen in our living rooms and closets.

And lust is strongest where the temptations are the most powerful. This is where everyone, the top and the bottom percenters, are liable to fall. And it's strongest of all where the income disparity is biggest, because the Joneses are unattainable, and the social status - gotten through mounds of unassailable credit - is all that more urgent.

It's McFlurrys, flat-screen TVs, nights at the multiplex, fur-lined boots, converted condos, extravagant coffee tables, coffee table books (we never, ever read them), disposable dresses, iPhones.

I lust for books even though I read at a snail's pace. They were getting ready to do a spin-off of Hoarders just for me before I reluctantly sold half my titles.

This lust, this consumerism, is as dangerous as greed to our well-being because it is the engine for greed. If we can slow down our lust for materialism, we can grind down the entire Greed Machine.

Which, I'm well aware, takes a lot of mental fortitude. Not necessarily because people are lazy or stupid or any other sort of excuse moralists like myself use to feel superior, but because we are constantly bombarded with psychological warfare that tells us/instructs us/coddles us/warns us that we are only as good as what we possess.

And that which the corporate machines sell to us is guaranteed not to last.

Not that this is new to us. Many of us are aware of the inconsistencies, but we're programmed to live them out. That's why so many billions upon billions of dollars are paid by advertisers trying to jam our brains with their messages. Buy Now. Buy Now. Buy Now.

What if we were chaste instead? What if we said to the authorities of the social, political, and economic worlds: NO! Enough is enough. I control me! I want to receive more out of life than material wants.

What if they realized that we understood that instant gratification does not equal long-lasting satisfaction? That a fleeting laugh is not the same as day-long joy?

What if we grabbed and turned around a puritanical, joy-deprived word like Chastity and renewed it to its revolutionary impact? Because, amongst powers that demand us to buy now, buy now, buy now, to not do so, to not immediately turn what is precious and whole into what is objectified, consumed and tossed aside is to be revolutionary. Is to say, "We are not satisfied with filling our bellies. We want fulfillment. You have taken that from us to sell us retrograde garbage. Give us us back!"