Advent Conspiracy Invitation

•October 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

A couple years ago, Lesley and I heard about some churches that were trying to ‘do Christmas’ a little differently. They looked at the consumer bloodbath that surrounds the holiday and wondered how it had morphed into what it’s become. They looked at the Christmas narratives in the bible and saw profoundly subversive stories – stories that announce a new way of doing things, of living in the world and relating to the powers that shape our lives. They considered some of the global problems we faced and realized that if Americans took a fraction of what they spend on Christmas gifts and instead turned that towards solutions to these problems, a real difference could be made. Lesley and I were compelled by these ideas, we were tired of all the stress, credit card debt, and exhaustion that inevitably surrounded the holiday, and  we decided to start practicing Christmas differently. 

 

So for the past several years, we’ve sought to give different kinds of gifts – gifts of time spent, crafts made or creative gifts, gifts of food that we then share with the recipients. No joke, these have been the best, most meaningful gifts we’ve ever been able to give people. We’ve been able to invest a bit of ourselves into these gifts, rather than just check off our list of buying things out of obligation for relatives. 

 

In addition, we’ve spent less money, and we’ve been able to use the money we didn’t spend on meaningless gifts to give to charities that we felt were doing important work, both at home and around the world. 

 

If you think this sounds interesting, we want to invite you to join us this year. We want to host a series of weekly gatherings at our house, where we can spend a little bit of time talking about how the typical US-consumer ways of Christmas are actually antithetical to the themes of Advent and Christmas, which are hope, joy, peace, and love. Then, we want to scheme and conspire ideas and ways in which to give better gifts, sharing our talents and resources with each other, and then giving some of the surplus money we save to help others. 

 

We’re going to start October 23rd at our house and meet every Tuesday until Thanksgiving. It seems early, but some of the creative gifts take a little more time and intention than finding a parking space at the mall. We’ll start at 6:30, provide some food (and you’re welcome to bring something to share) and be done by 8:30. 

 

Please RSVP and let me know if you can come. We hope you’ll join us! You can check out more about Advent Conspiracy here. 

Eagle Scout, Resigned

•August 6, 2012 • 4 Comments

Last week, I returned my Eagle Scout badge and medal to the Boy Scouts of America, in protest of their recent re-affirmation of an exclusionary policy towards gays. You can read my letter, and others, here.

 

I received both positive and negative responses, and have been thinking about it all week. I wanted to flesh out my thoughts a little bit more.

 

First, this isn’t really about me. For as sad as I feel returning a symbol of a highly valued achievement and renouncing my ties with an organization that benefitted me greatly, it pales in comparison to the hurt and frustration that must be felt by those who desire to be a part of Scouting, but are excluded because of this policy. This really hit home when a friend of mine, who earned Eagle and is also gay, wrote me to say thanks.

 

Second, I in no way mean to disrespect my close friends and mentors who remain leaders in Scouting, and who disagree with my decision. They are great men of integrity, and they are doing phenomenal work training and mentoring young boys and helping them become men. I just feel they’re on the wrong side with this. I hope they come around, but if they don’t, for whatever reasons, it will in no way diminish my respect for them.

 

I received a little pushback, mostly in private. A few people brought up that the BSA is a private organization and has the right to include or exclude whomever they want. Which is true, and I’m not contesting that. I think it is WRONG for the BSA to exclude people based on sexual orientation. So the ‘private organization’ excuse is besides the point.

 

A few people also commented that homosexuality is morally wrong, and then made an argument stemming from their views of Christianity. That’s a conversation that could go on all day, but the truth is, the BSA is NOT a Christian organization, and even if it was, there is plenty of diversity within Christianity in regards to sexuality. That line of reasoning doesn’t get us anywhere. Interestingly, the Mormon church (which, it should be noted, my Christian friends making these arguments would not even consider ‘really’ Christian) is one of the biggest promoters of Scouting, and has previously stated that they would withdraw from the BSA were this policy removed. That’s a big deal, and hardly irrelevant.

 

Another friend quoted the policy, and then shared a slight modification to a statement made by the Chief Scout Executive:

 

The BSA policy is: “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”

Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.

 

Some other friends had a bit of back-and-forth as to whether this means the Scouts are leaving sex ‘out’ of the program.

 

I haven’t been fully involved in Scouting for awhile, and things may have changed, but here’s my understanding. Perhaps someone can helpfully correct me if I’m mistaken. I think there’s a very little bit about relationships in the Scout handbook, but I don’t have a copy to check.

 

Apart from issues of youth protection (identifying and reporting abuse, etc), sex is a non-topic within Scouting. If a youth approaches one of their adult leaders and asks a question, or talks about having sex with their girlfriend, my understanding is that the adult leader is to direct that scout to their parent or guardian. At the same time, adult leaders shouldn’t be discussing their sex lives with scouts.

 

This, in my opinion, is leaving sex ‘out’ of the program.

 

The problem comes in with the policy. Elaborating on my above example, say I’m an adult leader, and a scout comes to talk to me about having sex with his girlfriend. I direct the scout to speak with his parents.

 

If the scout comes to talk to me about having sex with his BOYfriend, he gets kicked out.

 

Doesn’t that seem silly?

 

I actually don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for the Scouts to leave sex out of the program. I think that’s an understandable approach, and in line with my friends comment, that most parents would like to deal with these issues in their own way. Scouts is not a place where sex is talked about. I don’t think it’s the ideal (more on that in a moment) but it seems an acceptable approach.

 

But the policy actually messes up that approach. Sex moves from being a conversation that is redirected to one that can determine participation. Not to mention the condemnation and judgment. Lame.

 

Now, I think the Boy Scouts have a real opportunity to be a positive force within our hypersexualized culture. Rather than attempt to leave sex out of the program (and failing), they are uniquely positioned to instill important values and responsibility into ALL dimensions of young men’s relationships. It would take a lot of work, and some parents wouldn’t want their sons to participate, and some leaders might be uncomfortable discussing sex. They should get over it. There’s too much at stake.

 

Misogynistic advertising, objectification of both genders, prostitution and sexual slavery, as well as skyrocketing emotional and psychological concerns which impact sexuality…I think when we consider all of the different cultural issues, and the different elements that comprise a person’s sexuality, it becomes clear that the gender of one’s partner might not be the most important.

 

It’s the wrong place to take a stand. And for all those who get excluded from everything that Scouting has to offer, it’s tragic.

 

I’m not quite sure how you got there.

•July 17, 2012 • 1 Comment

Mark Van Steenwyk of Jesus Radicals has a great little intro to Christian Anarchy out, “That Holy Anarchist” and it’s a cheap Kindle purchase right now. I highly recommend it as an overview to Christian Anarchism.

While discussing some tensions between Christians and Anarchists, the question of violence comes up. He has a great bit here:

It is also important, I think, to remember that Jesus’ teachings aren’t the same as Gandhi’s. Many [pacifist or nonviolent] Christians have mistakenly assumed, based upon Jesus’ life and teachings, that everything we usually identify as “violent” is off-limits. Yet clearly, Jesus engaged in such things as property destruction, verbal abuse, and civil disobedience. Rather than developing an absolutist code, we should engage Scripture in the midst of the practice of communal discernment in particular contexts and let things develop from there.

 Van Steenwyk, Mark (2012-06-26). That Holy Anarchist (p. 56). Missio Dei. Kindle Edition.

I’ve had plenty of conversations, and always see listed as a primary objection to any sort of Christian nonviolence position, that because Jesus turned over the tables, he couldn’t have been completely nonviolent. These are people who justify violence in self-defense, militarism, etc. I’ve never quite understood how someone can make the leap from turning over tables in the temple to drone strikes, but somehow people manage it.

Interestingly, these are the same type of people who get put off when they see any sort of protest that involves property destruction, and sometimes even civil disobedience. In this line of thinking, somehow yelling at the police, forming a human chain, or smashing a window become unacceptable violence. So to clarify this position: drone strikes are ok because Jesus flipped over the tables, but human chains are not.

I wish I was kidding.

I’ll be honest: I’m not sure how I feel about resistance through things like property destruction. Sometimes, as in the case of the Catonsville Nine burning draft cards during Vietnam, I think it serves a brilliant prophetic purpose. I don’t see quite the same value in smashing bank windows (though I certainly understand the sentiment). It’s possible my ambiguous feelings are because I’m a coward, but I haven’t sorted it all out yet.

If you want to read some more about this (and I hope you do), check out these articles from a few months ago:

Chris Hedges “The Cancer In Occupy”

and David Graeber’s response – “Concerning the Violent Peace-Police”

They’re both excellent reads, and will provide you an interesting insight into some of the thinking going on behind the Occupy movement.

It wasn’t me

•July 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Last week, Fred Clark over at Slacktivist posted about some recent research regarding why it is so difficult to frame climate change as a moral issue. It’s worth a read, and it reflects my experience talking about systemic justice issues with different groups of people, most of whom have little or no sense of these kinds of concerns.

Of particular note is the point that “…people tend to reject…messages of blame…” This is precisely what I’ve experienced. I’ve talked to churches about serving in a local homeless shelter – the response is always a group of volunteers ready to help. I’ve talked about the justice issues inherent in our food systems – the response is resistance, accusations of political motivations, etc. The difference is, there is no implication of guilt for serving at the homeless shelter. “It’s not MY fault they’re homeless, and I’m glad to help serve!” vs. “The food I get at the grocery store is linked with human trafficking, deplorable work conditions, even slavery? I call BS.” The response to any suggestion of guilt or complicity prompts resistance.*

I get it, nobody likes a guilt trip. Add in the extreme complexity of systemic justice issues, and it’s easy to write them off simply because they’re overwhelming to think about, let alone to do something. We like to think that we’re morally consistent creatures, and when confronted with the reality that we aren’t, our psyche resists. It’s easier to act like it’s not our fault or problem.

You would think that Christian communities, who hold the belief that we’re all tainted by sin, and who follow a guy whose primary message was “Repent”, might be a little more open to acknowledging our guilt.

Further, it’s hard to convict ourselves of our complicity when the logic of blame isn’t quite as direct as we’re used to. I didn’t exactly CHOOSE to participate in these systems; it always feels like they’re my only option. Something I can’t change. Which isn’t exactly true, but the changes necessary are difficult. We’re so conditioned to our privilege, the mere suggestion that it comes with costs to others (while our individualism and self-righteousness insist we would NEVER do something that hurts others!) – we reject the possibility of guilt and complicity.

Since we actually BENEFIT from these systemic injustices, you have another roadblock to change. It’s CONVENIENT to not know where our food comes from, or ignore our own environmental footprint, and we love convenience. It’s that convenience which allows us to do the REALLY important stuff. Like serve at the homeless shelter, where the people who lost their homes due to flooding went.**

*Of course, we likely ARE connected to WHY people are homeless. JP Morgan Chase could have unjustly foreclosed on that family I served at the shelter, and then I use my Chase card to buy groceries on the way home. But my little dialogue above is reflective of the thought processes going on.

**I recently bought a house, and while filling out the paperwork, it came up that we didn’t need flood insurance, because we’re not in a flood zone. I’m guessing the people in New York and Vermont whose homes were devastated by Irene last year didn’t think they were in flood zones, either.

How to Pray for Colorado

•June 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Typically when there’s a natural disaster you can count on some pastor to make the ridiculous claim that God is sending a warning, or calling people to repent, or whatever. I wonder what they’re thinking as the fires rage in Colorado Springs, home of several conservative evangelical associations (like Focus on the Family), as well as the US Air Force Academy, which has been accused in the past of particularly coercive ‘evangelism’ practices. I suppose these pastors might be thinking differently right now.

In any case, I think prayer is important. Not because it causes God to supernaturally intervene, but rather because in those moments of reflective mindfulness, we begin to line up our own wills and intentions with the invitation of God to participate in the healing, restoration, and reconciliation of the world. Prayer attunes us to the will of God and prompts us to respond, and without our own response, I’d suggest our prayers aren’t particularly meaningful.

So here’s how I’d suggest praying for Colorado (and the other states suffering wildfires right now):

1 – Make a donation to relief efforts on the ground. Start with the American Red Cross, but if you have friends or family nearby you may be able to learn about more particular local responses as well.

2 – Consider the possibility that record temperatures, extreme drought, and other ‘weather weirding’ in the past few years (like exceptional wildfires and droughts in Texas, or Russia, as well as hurricanes in Vermont!!) might not simply be coincidences. You could start by reading “Eaarth” by Bill McKibben.

3 – After you’ve considered these possible connections, do something about it. There are likely plenty of things you can do in your own life to reduce your environmental impact (you know what they are already, don’t you?) and there are opportunities to speak out against the systemic environmental destruction that’s going on around us, like here (fracking) and here (Keystone XL).

Or perhaps God just has a particularly harsh message for Colorado Springs this year.

I recognize that this might seem an insensitive or heavy-handed way of advocating for environmental issues. That’s why relief is #1 on my list. But…if we don’t consider the broader systemic connections (could our lifestyles have actually contributed to this destruction in some way?), all we’re left with is scratching our heads when these things happen, wondering what God is trying to say.

All I’m saying is, you should pray about this.

Things are going to start happening to me now

•June 18, 2012 • 3 Comments

No, my name’s not in the phonebook.

 

And you should opt-out of phonebook delivery. It’s 2012, people. 

 

So the past year has brought some tremendous changes.

 

Lesley and I are no longer pursuing ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. After a long conversation with their candidate development director, it became clear that our philosophy of ministry didn’t fit very well with the Alliance. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway. It wasn’t a bad conversation, but it was an odd feeling. For six years we’ve been saying “This is what we’re doing” and now we’re not. It feels good to have the decision settled, though.

 

Since it was no longer necessary to fulfill the Alliance education requirements, I was able to transfer some courses and finish my degree at Fuller earlier than I’d planned, which was great news. My time at Fuller was positive overall. There were (many) times where I felt that the courses weren’t academically rigorous enough, but the relationships I established in my cohort are tremendous. 

 

Part of the reason I felt the way I did about the academics is likely due to the friends I made from Claremont, most of whom are in more advanced degrees, and in different areas of study, like philosophy of religion, or practical theology. Those fields run tandem with most of the topics in the MAGL (my program at Fuller), which were primarily missiology and leadership. I was able to incorporate a lot of what I learned from the Claremont folks, but I often felt like I was having a slightly different conversation than many of my classmates. 

 

So we finished school, and happened upon a house in Albany that we rented an apartment in when we first got married. It had been for sale for a few years, and the price had been lowered to a reasonable amount. So we checked it out, and it was actually better than we remembered. We had hoped to purchase it with some friends and begin an intentional community, but that didn’t work out and we ended up buying it on our own. We worked like crazy for a month, I found some great tenants among my co-workers, and we’re looking to root ourselves in this community for some time. I’ve got a list of people I’d like to connect with in Albany, and at this point I don’t have any idea what the future holds. We’re here, we’ve got stable, flexible jobs, and we’re open to anything. 

 

In the midst of all this, I attended the Emergent Village Theological Conversation, went on a weeklong canoe trip in the Adirondacks, our cat died, and we adopted a dog. His name is Artax, and he is awesome. 

 

So that’s the short update. I’m looking forward to establishing new daily rhythms, writing a bit, reading whatever appeals to me at the moment rather than assigned texts, working on the house, and training my dog while I get to know my neighbors. 

 

Things are going to start happening to me now.

Who is this God in Revelation?

•March 26, 2012 • 10 Comments

I just finished a course at Fuller on Revelation, and had some concluding thoughts on the book, the violence portrayed in it, as well as our images of God, and I wanted to get some feedback. A couple things you should know about me, if you don’t already: I’m firmly committed to nonviolence, because I think that’s what Jesus demonstrates. I don’t think Jesus was a divine ‘fake-out’ who modeled sacrifice the first time he was around, but is waiting to come back, kick ass and take names (which I think is a common, if implicit, understanding). I think there are ways to read the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament that are fully consistent with this nonviolent view (but I won’t get into it all here).

 

Here’s what I wrote for the class, in a final reflection paper after a ‘rapid read’ of the entire text of Revelation:

 

The final course lecture pointed out that “threats and warnings of destruction and judgment consistently fail to produce [God’s desired] repentance (9:20-21; 16:9-11)”. In looking over those passages, I would (humbly) offer a correction; in the context of the visions, actual destruction and judgment consistently fail to produce repentance. We as readers recognize the vision’s overall purpose as threats and warnings, but within the vision, people who experience the destruction refuse to repent. I looked closely for more of this during my reading, and only found one instance where, after suffering judgment, the people respond by giving glory to God (11:13).

Amidst my reflection on all of this, I considered the way I understand another scene of great destruction and suffering in the Bible, which is directly executed by God: the Flood of Genesis. As I’ve wrestled with that story, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most critical part of the story is when Noah curses his son Ham (Genesis 9:20-29). God’s initial impetus for bringing the destructive flood was that human thoughts and hearts were only inclined towards evil (Genesis 6:5). Even though Noah is found “righteous” and “blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9), the first thing he does after the covenant with God is get drunk, and then when his son sees him naked, Noah curses him for generations. This curse has had repercussions throughout history, being used as a justification for black slavery even in relatively recent history. The point is, even after God kills almost everyone in order to end their evil, the only righteous man then causes immense suffering. I think this story is a parable that is trying to tell us the seemingly simple message (which humanity has frequently demonstrated themselves incapable of grasping) that genocide doesn’t work, even when ‘God’ does it.

Could we read Revelation in a similar way? With the singular exception I noted above, all of the destruction, judgments, and death that occur in Revelation fail to bring about repentance. If God desires repentance, then this book demonstrates that destruction and death, both threatened and real, will not bring it about. Interestingly, though we’ve spent much time in this course discussing Revelation’s critique of empire in general and Rome in particular, in Revelation, God seems to be acting very much like the Caesars of Rome, causing pain, suffering, and death to those who refuse to worship him. In the end, only the one who is exactly the opposite of Caesar is able to usher in the New Jerusalem. What if the character of ‘God’ in Revelation is actually the parody?

 

I owe a great deal of my thinking regarding the Flood narrative to Brian McLaren, who made this case more fully in A New Kind of Christianity. I read that two years ago, and I’m not sure why I never thought to apply that line of thinking to Revelation.

Thoughts? Questions? For those of you much more knowledgable than I, are there other scholars I should check out to provide further understanding here?

The End of the World: Seriously, this time.

•May 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Oh hey blog, it’s been awhile. Nice to see you again.

So Harold Camping was wrong. I hope you weren’t surprised.

Interestingly enough, May 21st happens to be an important historical date. While perusing the good ole Yahoo! News, I came across a beautiful slideshow from Life magazine of photos of nuclear weapons tests. Turns out that 55 years ago, on May 21st, the US dropped the first airborne hydrogen bomb on the Bikini atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

Click here for the full slideshow.

As it turns out, there is a group of lunatics who are actively maintaining a stockpile of nuclear weapons, who have proven themselves crazy enough to use them and who sacrifice other, socially beneficial causes in order to sustain the ‘deterrent’, while most of their populace stands silent and watches, with no comment whatsoever. This would be the US.

I’m glad the world didn’t end yesterday. I’d like to take at least a small part in making sure the world doesn’t end anytime soon. If you’re a Christian, don’t you think Jesus has something to say about this?

Here’s a great clip from Ben (of Ben and Jerry’s) that lays out the US nuclear arsenal.

And here’s a group that’s trying to do something about it. Join today! Uncle Sam wants YOU to help abolish nuclear weapons!

http://twofuturesproject.org/

Who will love Fred Phelps?

•March 3, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Free speech is upheld, which is a good thing. But is there anything to be done about this guy and his family ‘church’, rather than just report on everything they do and constantly remind everyone that we think they’re out of their minds?

 

I wrote a little bit about this awhile ago – Jesus says love your enemies, and I think most people take that to mean, “Don’t do or say mean things about your enemies.” That’s important, but it’s not exactly an active love. It’s just a refraining from further violence or confrontation. I think Jesus is challenging us to something more.

 

Simultaneously, I wonder if there is a way to subvert (even silence) their hateful message. Again, I’m all for free speech – but these guys have already said everything they’re going to say, and now they’re just torturing people. I imagine a group of counter protesters that (while being kept at a minimum distance by police, as usually happens) erects a giant, thick, dark curtain that envelops the entire Phelps protest, while playing classical music at a volume that would drown out their shouts. Meanwhile, another group of people offers them coffee and donuts or something. Blocking their protest like that is probably illegal, and they’d sue you. But it sounds better to me than being an ineffective, shouting-based counter protest.

 

Or, when the Phelps protests were announced (they always are, in order to draw maximum attention) we begged and pleaded with media outlets to NOT COVER IT. If they thrive on and desire media exposure, don’t give it to them.

 

I still don’t think this is enemy-love as Jesus describes. But I have to confess, I can’t even imagine what it would look like to love and serve the Phelps group. This might be a start. I can barely stand to be around people who make racist comments – I cannot imagine having the fortitude of character to be in the Phelps’ presence in the necessary, long-term, relational, generative way. Lord have mercy.

 

 

Two things, and then another thing.

•February 24, 2011 • 2 Comments

Two things I wrote last week -

1) That we need to discover ways to critique and challenge one another’s ideas without dehumanizing each other.

2) That people who subscribe to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism are assholes and no one will be at their funerals.

 

Right.

 

So…I think I might be part of the problem, here.

 

With that in mind, I’d like to stagger forward into this idea of asserting our opponents or enemies humanity. I could try and justify myself for what I said about objectivism, but it wouldn’t do any good. The important lesson to note is, I suck at this, but it’s still important.

Here’s an idea I’ve tossed around regarding conversations with others whom I might strongly disagree with.

I should start with the assumption that I’m wrong. When I’ve shared this with people, they often look at me quizzically and after a little while ask, “Is it ok to assert that you’re right about SOME things? Like, the life of Jesus and the Resurrection?” To an extent, they are right. I couldn’t function if there weren’t certain things I held to be true about reality, and if I constantly doubted those things I would be paralyzed. BUT! I can enter a conversation and maintain the assumption that I’m wrong about whatever we’re going to talk about, at least to some degree. I might have the correct facts, but I’m wrong if I think that everyone is interpreting them the same way I am. I might be right about the reality of Jesus’ life, but I certainly am wrong if I think I understand all of the implications of his life, death, and resurrection. I’ve got some things right, but to the extent that I don’t have, and can’t ever have, a complete picture, I can say that I’m wrong about it. I just don’t know the whole story, about anything, ever.

Why start with this assumption that I’m wrong? Because it means I’ve got something to learn, and I’m admitting that from the outset. I’m hoping to learn something from the person I’m in conversation with. I also might be less likely to use the things I think I’m right about as a rhetorical weapon if I’m not so confident that it’s the absolute, perfect, certifiable truth. Again, there are some things I HAVE to believe – simple assertions about reality – in order to function. But when I enter into conversation with someone who has different views from me, about anything, I should start with the assumption that I’m wrong about SOMEthing.

I think in some circles this is called ‘epistemological humility’ – but words with that many syllables aren’t always helpful.

 

 
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