Saturday, June 30, 2012

Five G.O.A.T.S.

These are the five greatest things God has given humanity (in order):

  1.  Ice cream
  2.  Cookies
  3.  Lionel Ritchie (at the very least for this song)
  4.  Human touch
  5.  Iced drinks on a hot night

Feel free to discuss amendments. Or even disagree (You will probably be wrong, but it won't hurt to try anyway).

I wish I can remember where I got this from. If you know, please tell me so I can give credit to the artist. Because this is clearly in the top 20.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Gods of Comfort vs the Prophets of Discombobulation

"But against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, not a dog shall growl; that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel."

Walter Brueggeman, on Moses, Egypt, impartiality as read through the lens of Exodus 11:7, quoted above:

[This declaration] occurs not in a doctrine but in a narrative and an uproven memory that we must let stand in all its audacity. It is not reflective theology but news just for this moment and just this community. The God who will decide is not the comfortable god of the empire, so fat and well fed as to be neutral and inattentive. Rather, it is the God who is alert to the realities, who does not flinch from taking sides, who sits in the divine council on the edge of his seat and is attentive his special interests. It is the way of the unifying gods of the empire not to take sides and, by being tolerant, to cast eternal votes for the way things are... 
There is not much here for the reasoned voices. No prophet ever sees things under the aspect of eternity. It is always partisan theology, always for the moment, always for the concrete community, satisfied only to see only a piece of it all and to speak out of that at the risk of contradicting the rest of it. Empires prefer reasoned voices who see it all, who understand both sides, and who regard polemics as unworthy of God and divisive of the public good. But what an energizing statement! In his passion and energy, Moses takes sides with the losers and powerless marginal people; he has not yet grown cynical with the "double speak" of imperial talk and so dares to speak before the data are in and dares to affront more subtle thinking... 
Seen at a distance, this bald statement is high theology. It is the gospel; God is for us. In an empire no god is for anyone... [T]he urging I make to those who would be prophets is that we not neglect to do our work about who god is and that we know our discernment of God is at the breaking points in human community.

It is not that the prophetic voice isn't looking for truth, but she will not be satisfied by the "There are two sides to every story" false equivalence. He is not placated when he sees injustice. The prophets leave the comfort and familiarity of home and hearth and even their own country to report and point and scream and jump up and down and shock the kings and queens with discomforting stories. The prophetess does not side with the people she was raised with, but with her new people. Her people are now the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the hurt, the evicted, the suffering, the sick, the rounded up, the pushed out, the expatriats.


The gods and priests of the empire - of the markets, of consumption - in their "impartiality" are truly really partial. They prefer the way things they are. They do not like to be upset. They want all to remain as it has been and forever will be. They may change a few seats on the deck, but the boat remains in the same direction, the majority of those seated remain seated, barking out orders followed by men with bullhorns and whips, demanding extra sweat, extra steam, extra breath from the rowers and steam room workers.

These are the gods, and their priests, who do not concern themselves about the oppression. Because concerning themselves about such things in any significant manner means to upset the cart. And the cart cannot be upset. The order of things cannot change nor be brought down. They must, at all costs, remain. They do not hear the cry of the slaves, the sick, the outsiders and lepers.

But God and the prophets of God do. They hear, and they cry out to the pharaohs and demand to, "Let my people go!" And when they are not heeded, when Pharaoh and his gods do not relent but harden their hearts, the Almighty Bearer of Justice liberates them by overthrowing the carts, by flinging the chariots and their horses (and their industrial bombers and nuclear weapons) into the sea. It is the prophets' job to declare liberation and seek justice - and not to settle for the way things are. Because the way things are is not right, and the God of Justice seeks to make all right.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Devil's Children: Originally Sinning?

“We know that people are basically evil and sinful because, look, you even notice it with little babies. Sometimes they cry not because they need something, but just out of selfishness. They’re being sinful.”

I came home with my own daughter to hear this statement in my living room, which had been converted for use from a mixed utility extra bedroom and den into a bible study area. I wish I could say I was shocked by this theological axiom. A bit flustered and a bit disgusted, sure, but it was not a new concept to me. I remember agreeing with the idea that children – as people – are fundamentally sinful creatures and even saying some variation of that adage myself well before I had my own. And it wasn’t just bachelor and bachelorette laity repeating this theological miscue, either.  Pastors and parents in Christian America are so sure of children’s innate evil that they advocate various forms of violence in order to exorcise those demons out of the child’s ass. Presumably through coughing, I suppose.

Spare not the rod, they repeat. As if a rod is a metal pipe and not a shepherd’s gentle directing device to keep the sheep from going into the path of predators. What kind of twisted logic must we place onto the Good Shepherd poem to believe that brutalizing with a rod and a staff are supposed to be comforting? Who, ever, feels safe and secure when beaten? Someone who desperately needs counseling.

Child Crying in the Shadows
First, if you’re going to prove that humans are naturally sinful, you probably shouldn’t blame babies for being dependent and not fully cognizant of the world. Babies are selfish – but they’re supposed to be. Do you think they are able to care for you, or any of a million suffering people in the world? They can’t. They have physical, psychological, social, and biological needs. They are dependent mammals. That is how they are. That is how God created them to be.

Those moments when we think that infants don’t need anything but they're crying nonetheless? They need to be stimulated and played with and held and they need to know their boundaries and they need sleep. They may have gas. Or they may feel a little bit of discomfort and, being new to the world outside of a fluid sack and new to sights and sounds and touch  – catch this – they just don’t know what to do with themselves just yet.

Is that evil? Is that sinful that they have yet to develop the cognitive capacity for sympathy or empathy when they don’t know how to feed themselves or lift their heads up? Is it evil that they wake parents up and put us through all sorts of insecurities and frights and worries and sleepless nights? Are we supposed to believe that they're merely being selfish? Is this why some Christians have an adversarial position with science? Because if they find out basic child development patterns their entire theology goes down the diaper?

As children grow, they still cry for various reasons. But not because they’re necessarily evil. They just don’t know any better. My daughter whines when she’s angry, sad, tired, hungry, hurt, or feeling neglected. Combine any two of those and she’s liable to cry for what – at first glance – I would deem to be selfish. Well, she’s four. Four whole years old. We’re still in process of training her. She’s still in the process of connecting neurons which will build up her empathy and sympathy connectors. She’s got smaller legs than I do and she can’t fit as much food (ergo, energy) down her tubes, so she needs to snack if she’s going to exert energy. Lord, she hasn’t learned a task as complex as tying her shoes yet.

Children aren’t naturally wicked. They’re just naturally natural. It’s okay that children are like that. On the other hand, it’s not okay when adults are selfish. It is not okay when grown-ups use our own temperaments as barometers for how children are expected to behave at any given moment. It’s not okay that parents are so selfish that we have to react to our children in ultimately harmful and destructive means.

Crying child

But let’s get to the second point, shall we? My father, though he wasn’t a Calvinist*, learned from his father that children were supposed to be whooped in order to make them obedient. Obedience is kind of a funny concept in its own right, of course. It’s quite a different concept than discipline. Discipline means we have training that teaches us to do the right thing as necessary. So I teach my daughter to take her medicine every night, do her treatments when she wakes and before she goes to bed. We have nighttime routines and morning routines that we try to adhere to despite the fact that we’re tired or grumpy. And these disciplines get us through the days and are good for us in the short and long run. I wish that my father disciplined me into brushing my teeth regularly. They wouldn’t be so messed up now. Punishment is something different. Punishment is usually arbitrary and can come at any time and for nearly any infraction. It's goal may be to make us better people, but usually through the process of strict obedience** - so there is no true foundation. Only fear.

I didn’t lie or tell stories to my dad, or smart off to him, etc, not primarily because I loved him or respected him, but because I feared him. Fear was the name of the game. My dad would pull down my pants, lean me over his knee while he sat on the edge of the tub and strike down fiercely onto my naked butt-flesh with his bony hands until I screamed bloody murder. And then he’d strike a few more times. It was profoundly disturbing. And embarrassing – especially the time that my friends were at my house. But I hated him for it. I hated him for the inconsistency and for the violence and for the shame. It was and is still a process I’m going through to relieve myself of that pain. The bitterness is gone. I have forgiven him. I love my dad. I know he tried to do right. But I don’t want my daughter to go through those same emotions. She can hate me for different reasons (I’m sure there will be many more reasons to hate me when she becomes a teen), but I don’t want to shame or humiliate her or lose her trust. That would not be the basis of a healthy relationship. And since the relationship between family members is the primary one that a human being has, that sets the stage for all other relationships, why would I want to jeopardize her entire life?

Is that what Christian parenting should be? If so, I want no part of that.

Fortunately, it's not.


*Now, my father was raised Catholic, and Original Sin was an Augustinian concept before it was plundered and exaggerated by John Calvin and his acolytes. 

** One thing I'm learning: We have more than enough obedience. That is how we justify doing horrible things. Nuremberg was fundamentally about obedience. War is fundamentally about blind obedience. Torture and slavery and suffering is fundamentally about blind obedience. Jesus questioned the authorities, as did Paul and Peter and even the Syro-Phoenician woman.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Those Abominable Circles

The idea that Jerry Sandusky, George Zimmerman, Sheriff Joe Arpaio or any other creep or heinous rapist/murderer should be raped or killed while in prison is not justice nor is it right.

It is neither justice nor is it right because murder and rape are never just nor right. They are evil acts.

As a Christian, I believe in redemption, restoration, justice. I can't help believe that, even if I weren't a Christian, I would see the deep hole that retributive "justice" leads us down.

Ergo, I'm against the death penalty, against war, against using violence as any sort of means to an end.

I cannot, in good conscience, not speak my mind about such issues.

But I also know and understand how we'd all like to see some sort of payback for the horrible crap that Sandusky, for instance, put his victims through. So... enjoy.

via Random Overload

Hey, Ho, Sheriff Joe! - Thousands converged on Phoenix to protest Sheriff Arpaio's cruel punishments. He was too busy trying on pink underwear to notice.

One of the ways Sheriff Joe Arpaio humiliates his prisoners (many of whom are guilty of the very crime of trying to find an honest life in the US) is by forcing them to trot out in pink underwear.

Just because he has a fetish and he has authority does not give him the right to make grown men fulfill his fantasies against their wills.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Swearing on a Pack of P-Funk LP's

Haven't been blogging regularly. Been going through a bunch of personal issues lately. Honestly, been watching a lot of Blockbuster movies - sometimes with my daughter (Happy Feet 2: Electric Bungalow; Yo Gabba Gabba: Live and Trippin' Your Preschoolers!), sometimes without (Mission Impossible 4: Everything's Broken! and the painfully embarrassing Transformers: Dark Side of Depression*). But I wanted to at least touch base.

I was walking home yesterday and started thinking - randomly, as I'm wont to do - about the necessity of the separation of Church and State. To me, as a Christian, it's a no-brainer. Religious organizations should be separate from the functions of the state to have a pure voice, and to be that pure voice as one for and with the marginalized and oppressed. It's impossible to do that when the Church/Synagogue/Mosque is defiled by political power - as we see happen time and time again. Which is not to say that the CSM shouldn't be involved in political and social issues, but not so much in regulating it. No spiritual movement should aligning itself to a particular party. Nor should a religious body have symbolic power over the vestiges of political power, bestowing upon the charade of politics a sacramental veneer.

So, no, I think that swearing an elected official into office on a Bible is a travesty which ties the Christian God to supporting the aggressive and violent acts of men (and women). It's nothing new, being the province of the West since Emperor Constantine saw a vision of a huge cross (a torture device, of course) declaring military victory for him and destruction for them.

So, I was wondering what should be used to swear on for an elected official? Surely the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights are more appropriate? But then what else? Robert's Rules of Order? A law text book? Justice John Marshall's corpse?

But then I started thinking about some pretty cool artifacts that one could swear on. Just as essentially meaningless as using the Bible is for a good many officials, but perhaps more revelatory. And I came up with this poster. - I'd like to see someone sworn into office on a pile of Parliament records, swearing to uphold and protect the Funk, the whole Funk, and nothing but the Funk.

I would then like to see the newly sworn-in officer tear the roof off this mother.

*I'm a strong believer in Truth in Advertising. And deep, abiding depression must possibly be the ONLY reason someone would put themselves through the near-aneurysm of watching more than twelve minutes of this embarrassing tripe (let alone four times as I did. Also, Michael Bay needs a consistency editor). One look at this movie and a chronic saddy like me thinks, "Oh, there is so much more to life than this!" And we have a new mission in life: To make sure robot porn is never unleashed on the public again. Who is with me?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hoarding Scarcity

Sister Simone Campbell, you and yours are lovely. Really. Thank you!

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I want to take a moment to also thank you for reminding us that there is enough to share, but not enough for our greed. I think this needs to be expanded, and I would like Brother Walter Brueggeman to share with us on The Liturgy of Abundance and the Myth of Scarcity.

The majority of the world's resources pour into the United States. And as we Americans grow more and more wealthy, money is becoming a kind of narcotic for us. We hardly notice our own prosperity or the poverty of so many others. The great contradiction is that we have more and more money and less and less generosity -- less and less public money for the needy, less charity for the neighbor...

Though many of us are well intentioned, we have invested our lives in consumerism. We have a love affair with "more" -- and we will never have enough. Consumerism is not simply a marketing strategy. It has become a demonic spiritual force among us, and the theological question facing us is whether the gospel has the power to help us withstand it.

The Bible starts out with a liturgy of abundance. Genesis I is a song of praise for God's generosity. It tells how well the world is ordered. It keeps saying, "It is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good." It declares that God blesses -- that is, endows with vitality -- the plants and the animals and the fish and the birds and humankind. And it pictures the creator as saying, "Be fruitful and multiply." In an orgy of fruitfulness, everything in its kind is to multiply the overflowing goodness that pours from God's creator spirit. And as you know, the creation ends in Sabbath. God is so overrun with fruitfulness that God says, "I've got to take a break from all this. I've got to get out of the office."...

Blessing is the force of well-being active in the world, and faith is the awareness that creation is the gift that keeps on giving. That awareness dominates Genesis until its 47th chapter. In that chapter Pharaoh dreams that there will be a famine in the land. famine in the land. So Pharaoh gets organized to administer, control and monopolize the food supply. Pharaoh introduces the principle of scarcity into the world economy. For the first time in the Bible, someone says, "There's not enough. Let's get everything."...

Because Pharaoh... is afraid that there aren't enough good things to go around, he must try to have them all. Because he is fearful, he is ruthless. Pharaoh hires Joseph to manage the monopoly. When the crops fail and the peasants run out of food, they come to Joseph. And on behalf of Pharaoh, Joseph says, "What's your collateral?" They give up their land for food, and then, the next year, they give up their cattle. By the third year of the famine they have no collateral but themselves. And that's how the children of Israel become slaves -- through an economic transaction.

By the end of Genesis 47 Pharaoh has all the land except that belonging to the priests, which he never touches because he needs somebody to bless him. The notion of scarcity has been introduced into biblical faith. The Book of Exodus records the contest between the liturgy of generosity and the myth of scarcity -- a contest that still tears us apart today...

By the end of Exodus, Pharaoh has been as mean, brutal and ugly as he knows how to be -- and as the myth of scarcity tends to be. Finally' he becomes so exasperated by his inability to control the people of Israel that he calls Moses and Aaron to come to him. Pharaoh tells them, "Take your people and leave. Take your flocks and herds and just get out of here!" And then the great king of Egypt, who presides over a monopoly of the region's resources, asks Moses and Aaron to bless him...

When the children of Israel of Israel are in the wilderness, beyond the reach of Egypt, they still look back and think, "Should we really go? All the world's glory is in Egypt and with Pharaoh." But when they finally turn around and look into the wilderness, where there are no monopolies, they see the glory of Yahweh.

In answer to the people's fears and complaints, something extraordinary happens. God's love comes trickling down in the form of bread. They say, "Manhue?" -- Hebrew for "What is it?" -- and the word "manna" is born. They had never before received bread as a free gift that they couldn't control, predict, plan for or own. The meaning of this strange narrative is that the gifts of life are indeed given by a generous God. It's a wonder, it's a miracle, it's an embarrassment, it's irrational, but God's abundance transcends the market economy.

Three things happened to this bread in Exodus 16. First, everybody had enough. But because Israel had learned to believe in scarcity in Egypt, people started to hoard the bread. When they tried to bank it, to invest it, it turned sour and rotted, because you cannot store up God's generosity. Finally, Moses said, "You know what we ought to do? We ought to do what God did in Genesis I. We ought to have a Sabbath." Sabbath means that there's enough bread, that we don't have to hustle every day of our lives...

What we know about our beginnings and our endings, then, creates a different kind of present tense for us. We can live according to an ethic whereby we are not driven, controlled, anxious, frantic or greedy, precisely because we are sufficiently at home and at peace to care about others as we have been cared for.

But if you are like me, while you read the Bible you keep looking over at the screen to see how the market is doing. If you are like me, you read the Bible on a good day, but you watch Nike ads every day. And the Nike story says that our beginnings are in our achievements, and that we must create ourselves... 

Abundance Statue In The Rose Garden, Hampton Court Palace - London.
Abundance Statue in the Rose Garden, by Jim Linwood

According to the Nike story, whoever has the most shoes when he dies wins. The Nike story says there are no gifts to be given because there's no giver. We end up only with whatever we manage to get for ourselves. This story ends in despair. It gives us a present tense of anxiety, fear, greed and brutality. It produces child and wife abuse, indifference to the poor, the buildup of armaments, divisions between people, and environmental racism. It tells us not to care about anyone but ourselves -- and it is the prevailing creed of American society

Wouldn't it be wonderful if liberal and conservative church people, who love to quarrel with each other, came to a common realization that the real issue confronting us is whether the news of God's abundance can be trusted in the face of the story of scarcity? What we know in the secret recesses of our hearts is that the story of scarcity is a tale of death. And the people of God counter this tale by witnessing to the manna. There is a more excellent bread than crass materialism. It is the bread of life and you don't have to bake it. As we walk into the new millennium, we must decide where our trust is placed...

Jesus said it more succinctly. You cannot serve God and mammon. You cannot serve God and do what you please with your money or your sex or your land. And then he says, "Don't be anxious, because everything you need will be given to you." But you must decide. Christians have a long history of trying to squeeze Jesus out of public life and reduce him to a private little Savior. But to do this is to ignore what the Bible really says. Jesus talks a great deal about the kingdom of God -- and what he means by that is a public life reorganized toward neighborliness.

The question for the contemporary Christian is, "Which narrative do we follow? Who's story will we make our own? God's, or Pharoah's?" How, though, do we go about and practice and live out that story and testimony in the face of overwhelming pressure against blessings? When we are made to feel guilty for having a Sabbath, or for appreciating some occasional manna? When Jesus blesses the poor, and our culture and tv and movies and politicians and radio and restaurants curse the poor while delivering poverty?

How do we counter that?

Saturday, June 09, 2012

When Men Rule, Patriarchy IS the Norm

Note: This post is a part of the One In Christ: A Week of Mutuality organized by Rachel Held Evans. 

In Evangelical Christian - and almost solely in ECc's, as most other movements are fairly set in one cycle or another* - churches, there is a debate raging between those who believe that it is biblical and proper to have  both males and females sharing positions of power or only males holding positions of power**. Egalitarians believe that women and men should both share pastoralships and teaching positions over males and females. Complementarians hold that women have different roles and abilities than men and that it is the woman's responsibility is to complement male headship.

Complementarian Russel Moore (via Denny Burke via Rachel Held Evans):

To use the word ‘patriarchy’ in an evangelical context is uncomfortable since the word is deemed ‘negative’ even by most complementarians. But evangelicals should ask why patriarchy seems negative to those of us who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God and Father of Jesus Christ... Egalitarians are winning the evangelical gender debate, not because their arguments are stronger, but because, in some sense, we are all egalitarians now. The complementarian response must be more than reaction. It must instead present an alternative visiona vision that sums up the burden of male headship under the cosmic rubric of the gospel of Christ and the restoration of all things in him. It must produce churches that are not embarrassed to tell us that when we say the 'Our Father,' we are patriarchs of the oldest kind.

I don’t understand when people, especially Christians, defend male, hetero-, white supremacy. No, that’s not true. I do. I just don’t want to.

Oftentimes, I’m told that I let my political persuasions influence my theology. The truth is, sometimes I do. But we all do. We all take cultural, social, economic, political, and historical concerns as a way of interpreting our faith and philosophy. And we use that lens as a means of understanding our cultural, social, economic, political, and historical context. We use our conceptual frames as a means of understanding our realities and our realities frame our conceptual understandings.

This can be a vicious cycle, especially if every means of our reality is filtered through similar voices. This is especially true if the filter belongs to the dominant culture (which in the US belongs to any combination of White, heterosexual, male, middle and upper class, and Christian people).

This is why it’s important for Christians – and especially male, hetero-, and white American Christians - to understand that the bible isn’t written either for or by us. The voices we see and hear in it are not Western, nor are they affluent. They are, however, part of a society that is influenced by male patriarchy. That was the rule of the game in the Ancient Near East culture. That was the rule in Ancient Greek society, in Roman governance. And it’s the predominant rule now. Not just in Muslim cultures, not just in African or Latin cultures. In fact, in some circles, those cultures are more egalitarian or matriarchal than many white American cultures.

The fact is that patriarchy isn’t an alternative view of society. It’s the dominant view of society. It’s the view that Jesus cut down in his interactions with females and males, his approach to healings, his Sermon on the Mount. The way of patriarchy is the way of the world. Jesus has a kingdom (or Basileia, let’s say, as it isn’t run by kings, per se) that is not of this world. It’s a different way of interacting, of doing, of being, of relationships.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

Before Jesus, we were under guardianship, we were under custody, locked up. Before Jesus, we were divided by race, class, sex. When we continue under the rules of the world, we are under patriarchy, under rule. Now, through the person and rule of the Christ, we are all free to be fully involved in every aspect of worship and being with and under God through the person of Jesus Christ, without division, without dominionists or lords. Under equality, we no longer have to trust that hopefully this male/ruler/leader won’t be a tyrant. Hopefully. We are free from having to rely on the goodness or badness or incompetence of a few men.

The ways in which this was radical and liberating in the Middle East, the Roman Empire, in Hellenistic cultures can hardly be overstated  - though I believe that the passages in I Tim and Titus that complementarians use to justify their positions were written because some people, in their new found liberty acted without thinking of their cultural context and how that might have destroyed the witness of the Gospel. It was, for some, too much too soon. There is a lesson there...

While we should not use our freedoms to act like fools, nevertheless we are free according to the biblical witness.

Consider the way Jesus approached women in public. Consider the radical approach he took with the Samaritan woman. Men did not talk to women out in the open, for women were beneath the dignity of a man's response. Yet a religious Jew was talking to an adulterous Samaritan woman. It was so radical that she was almost convinced that he was propositioning her. But his offer was to make her the first evangelist in Samaria. In asking her for some of her water at the beginning of their conversation, in fact, he was already beginning to empower her.

Consider that in each of the Gospel stories of the first Easter, the first apostles and witnesses of the resurrection were women - at a time when women's testimonies were not trusted in court. Consider that Apollos was largely discipled by Priscilla, a woman (whom some argue wrote the book of Hebrews). Consider the number of female church leaders in Rome that Paul addresses at the end of his letter there, including Junia (pictured above at the right). Consider Mary Magdelene, one of Jesus' disciples and highly praised by him and the Gospel writers.

These are not in the least bit isolated incidents. Or at least, they are not meant to be. They were counter-cultural, just as surely as the gospel is, every bit as much as the Basileia is. Shame on us for believing that the God of all creation doesn't want to work through women. Shame on the church for shutting down the voice of the Body of Christ and continuing our systemic fails. Shame on the Body of Christ for neglecting the Body of Christ.

Shame on the priesthood of believers for not upholding a universal priesthood of believers. Shame on those of us who believe in democracy and representation to practice such a blatant apartheid.

*For instance, Catholic churches are nearly unanimously run by male clergy while Mainstream Protestant and African American Baptist churches tend to be unquestioningly egalitarian.

**Of course, when we talk about limiting power to a select few, my question would be, are we actually being egalitarian? If the majority of the power in the church is in the hand of the pastor and/or the elder board, can that church truly be about equality? My argument would be that it, while sexual equality in those positions brings us closer to true equality, most institutionalized churches have a power dynamic that looks like the radical early churches. Even so, the name "egalitarian" in this context is a bit misleading. To be truly egalitarian, the dynamics of the church would play out more closely to the Meetings of the Friends - circles, circles everywhere.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Pedestrian Parenting, the book, now available!

Note: There have been some big and stupid formatting issues with the book that have made it impossible to read on various devices. That issue has been cleared up, I believe. So please, if you bought the book already, please get the new, revised version as it is available for free until Thursday, June 14th.
My newest book, Pedestrian Parenting, is finally available for download onto your Kindle or Kindle app accessible device. It is free this Wednesday and Thursday the 13th and 14th of June. If you have Amazon Prime, you can use that to purchase the book for free (though you only get one book a month. Fair warning that this book is only $2.99 starting Friday. But if you don't want to get The Hunger Games or 50 Shades to Lose Your Lover this month...). At under three bucks, I think you'll really enjoy it. Maximum valuety, and all that.

The recurrent theme in both this book about being a dad and in my book about being a teacher is this constant worry that I don't quite measure up, that I'm not just learning on the job, but on the ropes. It may be an inadequacy complex that I should really get looked at, but I also have a nagging feeling that it's very universally shared. If so, this book is dedicated to you.

I started the germs of this latest book a few years ago, blogging various stories, collecting others, tweeting and facebooking several other little interactions. Through it all, I don't think a single sentence survived the knife, no piece looks like it did a couple months ago, no joke has quite the same set-up or take-down.

But the skeleton was there, and is there. Every piece is still meandering, every story not quite complete - partially because life isn't complete and I never feel a burden to make everything have closure. Maybe that will irk some people, but I've always enjoyed the traveling as much as if not more than the destination itself. And maybe that's what this book is really about - the paths of parenting. Meandering and detouring and finding your way while purposefully getting lost.

And since we're meandering anyway, here's a short selection.

When We Bring in the Big Dogs
Parenting media is a funny business. Magazines, television episodes, and blogs shouldn’t be a go-to place for new parents to learn how to prepare for or raise children any more than WebMD should be a place to learn that one has congenital herpes. Television and reality meet to show us how boring the Kardashians are, or how many hot dogs a one hundred and fifty pound man can stuff down his pharynx - not to lecture us. It’s where we observe, point out, and ridicule how horrible other parents are, not where we come to feel remorse for our own failures and shortcomings. I do not come to this beacon of soft, beautiful light to feel any sympathy for the Basketball Wives or for Snookie’s pa. That defeats the whole purpose.
But there you have it. Since most of the West no longer lives in multigenerational community, even diaper changing can be learned through such educational fare as “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
That’s not how I learned to change a diaper by the way.

Primarily, I hope you get a chance to enjoy and dig this book. And if you do, I would like to hear back from you. Perhaps you can even submit a review for Amazon. And if you don't, well, I'd still like to hear some feedback.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Some People Really Don't Like Jesus

This map represents some of the worst of us.

Each of the red dots in this picture represents a dead body found in Arizona. The eighty-eight bodies belong to migrants trying to cross the desert from October of last year to April. The region outlined in red is the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. Migrants tried to trek across this land out of desperation, trying to find some work that would do them well. Trying to find adequate wages to subsist them and their families. Some do; enough to give a faint bit of hope to people across the border who's own jobs have been destroyed by the very American economic policies that keep many of us well-fed and in comfort.

The migrants cross this area because, being a reservation, there are not as many authority figures to incarcerate and then deport them back. But they get thirsty. Real thirsty.

And so devoted volunteers go out in trucks and leave water filling depots for the migrants. It's an act of selfless mercy and sacrifice. It's an act that Christians would (or should) recognize as the great commandment - Love your neighbor as yourself. And migrants are our neighbors, as sure as Samaritans were neighbors of faithful Jews. And thirsty migrants, to Christ-followers, represent Jesus.

"I was thirsty and you gave me drink."

But some people don't like Jesus, apparently. They vandalize and destroy the water stations.

Some die from violence, shot by Border Patrol agents, vigilantes or thieves. Others are killed in accidents: stumbling in rugged terrain, falling over the wall,  or struck by vehicles.  Many others perish of dehydration and exposure – conditions made worse by the recent sabotage of water stations set out by Border Angeles and other humanitarian groups.

Some people really don't like Jesus.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Holding on to What's Good

Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.
I Thess 5:19-22 (NLT)

I was raised in Bible churches. We liked to claim that we didn't have religiosity, only the Bible. That there was no tie in to the traditions of men, but only the pure, unrefracted, open, plain Word of God. Which of course wasn't true. Each interpretation of the Bible is built on several layers of traditions, each made by men (and often and only by men); each church practice is based on some mixture of social, cultural, historical, familial customs. Sometimes the passing of these practices and belief systems are well thought out. Often not.

When my church refused to practice Lent, when it refused to tackle the Lord's Supper with any seriousness (except to scare off guilty congregants), I seriously considered going full papal. If I weren't newly married to an ex-Catholic, I probably would have too. I liked their respect for thousands-year old traditions, for a link to their past. I appreciated their appreciation of the forbearers, "the cloud of witnesses cheering us on."

And there are many things to love about Catholicism and many to love about the Orthodox Church. But much about the traditions that they had kept didn't hold true for me. I also felt that Jesus or the first disciples wouldn't approve of the male-centric dominance and (especially in the Catholic Church) a hierarchical rule that squashes questioning and, thus, discussion and necessary change. This wariness of innovation leads to a church resistant to having female leads, leaving functionally half of the church from the body itself, transitioning the church proper into more and more of a cold, dead institution - a lifeless corpse.

When Christians and Churches (whether new megachurches or storefronts or ancient networks of parishes) prioritize institutions over community, we forget those we were sent out for in the first place - the marginalized, the outcast, the oppressed. In order to maintain institution, with property and monies and prestige, we must maintain the favor of the well-to-do, of the institution-holders. In order to do so, we must not upset their comfort by questioning male superiority, or hetero normalcy. Or White or Middle Class Supremacy.

Protestant churches, of course, are known for protesting the conventions of the Catholic Church. Many decided to radically protest any vestiges and remains of Catholic thought - but that's silly.

'Fence' photo (c) 2009, Ajay Panachickal - license:, maybe a bit dangerous. Because if you don't have a line of traditions to interpret your bible with, what do you do with some of the parts that aren't quite understandable? You could build up a whole other rubric and system of theology to handle thorny issues of theology. Or you could pretty much pull whatever you want out of your ass to defend your own fear and hatred.

The world’s got an earful of that ass noise recently, though. A pastor suggests that the US should air drop homosexuals (and queers, I guess?) into an electrified gate in order to exterminate gayness from our country. Because when the gays die out with all their gayness, then they can't teach the kids to be gay no more, right?

Or the pastor whose solution for homosexuality is to scare or capital punish it out of them:
They should be put to death. That’s what happened in Israel. That’s why homosexuality wouldn’t have grown in Israel. It tends to limit conversions. It tends to limit people coming out of the closet. — ‘Oh, so you’re saying we should go out and start killing them, no?’ — I’m saying the government should. They won’t but they should.
Or the little boy who learned and then sang (with much applause) happily that the gays certainly won't be making it past Peter at the Pearly Gates Luxury Resort. The pastor may be on the run, but the church isn't apologizing.

The Pastor and members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle do not condone, teach, or practice hate of any person for any reason. We believe and hope that every person can find true Bible salvation and the mercy and grace of God in their lives.
We are a strong advocate of the family unit according to the teachings and precepts found in the Holy Bible. We believe the Holy Bible is the Divinely-inspired Word of God and we will continue to uphold and preach that which is found in scripture.

You see, they're not hating, because it's in the Bible. And if it's in the Bible, according to them, it can't be about hatred; it can only be about God's Word and God's Truth. And what could be hateful about that? They "found" it in scripture, after all.

They say it’s in the Bible. And I believe they’re right. There’s a lot of stuff in the Bible. There’s a story of God-ordained genocide from the book of I Samuel, in addition to the many other acts of genocide ordained earlier in Joshua and then the utter carnage in Judges.

Most civilized Christians don’t like to talk about this. But I learned about it early on. In much the same way it’s being taught to grade school kids in public schools through a Bible club (endorsed by the Supreme Court, thank you very much). And when it’s a part of the whole, unvarnished Word of God, well, that’s a tradition you need to upkeep, right?

Misogyny, genocide, homophobia. Those are God’s traditions! We don't question them! They are in the Word of God and part of the tradition of our fathers! And so they become Christian traditions, handed down from fathers to sons who listen to these stories and preachings and learn them well - thus sanctioned to hurt and marginalize those who are different, weak, other, effeminate, darker, foreign, immobile, sick.

Sure, it is congruent with stories of a certain god, revealed through the passages of scripture, claiming the same name as the Christian and Jewish God. But maybe not the same legacy. Not the same tradition. It is counter to another tradition of the Christian God - the one based on the Christ. One of inclusion and participation and acceptance and redemption. A God who’s tradition is particularly of love.

Test everything.

Hold on to what’s good.

The rubric is love. If it is not of love, it is not of God. Not - as the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle would have us believe - if it is of “God” then it must necessarily be of love. Test the spirits. Test everything. Hold on to what’s good.

And when what we think is the Word of God contradicts with the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, we must ask, "What is good?" What is revealed to be the God we long to follow? Who are we worshiping? If I am to follow a god of hate, then damn it all, I'm not going down that route. I'm holding on to what's good.

Maybe there is a bright spot, a small one, to our intentional marginalization.In our mistreatment of women and other marginalized people groups, we've sent out the marginalized to reach the marginalized with the voice of their own marginalization. I think I'd rather have church outdoors, if that's where the good is...