Saturday, June 01, 2013

Symptom Or Cause? (Corrected)

Father's Day is coming, and we have the usual suspects writing the usual schlock about how poorly men are treated by our evil castrating harpies and their allies in the state.  We were also treated to Erick Erickson and Lou Dobbs and Juan Williams mansplaining to the world (with Erickson screaming "Science!" like that old guy in the Thomas Dolby video from the 80's) how America faces imminent collapse because in 40% of American households the woman is the chief bread-winner.

As a father and a member of one of those 40%, I would suggest that the collapse of marriage as an institution, the ubiquity of women in the workforce and increasingly as the major income provider is not the result of an evil plot by liberals to destroy America, but is the direct result of a series of economic and social policies that privilege large corporate profits over the two-parent household.  Any number of policy alternatives have been offered up over the years, from strengthening unions and collective bargaining to real flex time hours so parents can have more time with their families to altering school hours so there are fewer children returning to an empty house.  None of these have ever been taken very seriously, and the results are the breakdown of traditional family structures in the face of economic pressures that make the two-parent household less and less tenable.

As a father this Father's Day, I think we need to work toward enacting laws and policies that are truly family-friendly.  Even at the cost of corporate profits.  Stop blaming women and liberals and start looking at the reality all families face.  The real culprit behind the decline of the traditional two-parent household isn't bad morals.  It's bad policies.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pointing And Laughing Isn't Emo

Another day, another internet tempest in a tea pot.
I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology, when you look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.
It's hysterical that Erickson appeals to science to defend an idea that is increasingly understood as anthropomorphism.  From a scientific standpoint, how is it possible to generalize about gender roles from non-human species?

But, of course, ignorance of science hasn't stopped the American right before, so why stop now?
In a blog post on, Editor-in-Chief Erick Erickson replied to criticism of his Fox Business appearance Wednesday evening, in which he railed against the uptick of "breadwinning" mothers he says is "tearing us apart."
"Many feminist and emo lefties have their panties in a wad over my statements in the past 24 hours about families," Erickson wrote on Thursday. 
On Fox, Erickson expressed his dismay about a recent Pew study the found mothers to be the breadwinners in 40% of American households with children, explaining that a cursory glance at the animal world reveals that males are the dominant gender, and liberals who fail to see this are "very anti-science." . . .
A couple thoughts.  When you're in a hole, stop digging.  It's fantastic to watch someone demonstrate unrelated ignorances of both science and pop vocabulary.

Does This Bother You?

So here's a painting of Jesus washing Kofi Anan's feet.  Having washed Angela Merkel's and Tony Blair's.  Next up would be the now late, unlamented Osama Bin Laden, followed by former Pres. George W. Bush, former Indian Prime Minister Mamohan Singh, and former Chinese Premiere Jiang Zemin.

Apparently, it bothered some folks when it was first painted in 2007.

Not sure why.

I won't deny it makes me uncomfortable.  Then again, it's a good kind of uncomfortable.  Just interested in reactions.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It's Always Fun Til Someone Loses An I

Leaving a church is never easy.  Being a part of a congregation involves a large emotional investment; there's the temptation not to allow oneself to open up and become a part of the lives of others, if only because you know some day it has to end.  Of course, that's precisely the wrong response.  Real love is about accepting the risk of pain and loss because the joy of sharing with others outweighs whatever pain will surely come from having to go on to the next part of one's life.

Each of the four churches Lisa has served has offered unique opportunities to grow in fellowship with a diverse group of people, to experience in its fullness the marvelous variety that is human life.  With sixteen days until the moving truck arrives and thirty-three days until our last Sunday, the goodbyes are beginning and they are rough.  Last week I celebrated my last chance to lead our "Just Jesus" class, a wonderful small group in which we went through a series of in-depth studies of the life and ministry of Jesus.  We were, to be honest, as unlikely a group to agree about much of anything as one could imagine.  It worked, though, because we shared a simple goal - learning together who this Jesus was, and what he might be for us today.

Tonight, I meet with yet another small group.  Called "Pushing The Envelope", it is the most marvelous and strange group I have ever encountered.  Once a month, a small group gets together and the class leader hands around a bag filled with envelopes.  Inside the envelopes are stories printed from the internet or cut from newspapers (a lot fewer of those, let me tell you).  They can be about any topic at all.  One person reads them, and then we sit and discuss them.

In an age when far too many people are encouraged to act like assholes because the Internet frees them from the normal rules of courtesy, Pushing The Envelope offers a laboratory in which we can experience what it is like genuinely to disagree without becoming disrespectful.  Because there is nothing at stake, we are free to speak our minds without fear that we will lose something should the discussion turn against one or another person.  Even in the midst of disagreements - and when I say disagreements, let me just note that we've managed to talk about abortion, gay marriage, the recent Presidential election with people coming out on all different sides of the issue - we never forget the people sitting around us are people.  We laugh a lot, too, which helps keep the tension to a minimum.

When I was a wee seminarian, I marveled at the way we invested so much in our in-class discussions.  One's religious beliefs are more than just a set of ideations to which we adhere; they are part of our identity.  Finding oneself immersed in a situation in which there are others who not only don't share the same set of beliefs and values, but are quite willing to dismiss them out of hand becomes more than intellectual back-and-forth.  It is, in the most infuriating way imaginable, a personal attack.  The most difficult trick to acquire if one is going to make it through the experience is skin thick enough to hear others tell you how wrong you are.

Because the local church is a place where people not only have a variety of agendas but a deep personal investment in time, energy, and money in the workings of the organization, disagreements over the most trivial things can become sources of deep division, personal animosity, and interpersonal conflict.  The trick, like in seminary, is to distance oneself from that investment a bit.  Be willing to speak one's mind; be willing to listen and grant the benefit of the doubt to others who do so, as well.

This is what we do in Pushing The Envelope.  At the end of the night, there is no animosity, just a small group of people who recognize our differences, and the fact that those differences do not mean the impossibility of remaining in relationship with one another.  We could do worse as a church or political commonwealth if we emulated what our small group does the fourth Tuesday night of each month.  So, to the group at Pushing The Envelope, I thank you for keeping alive the thought that we can indeed live with differences because those differences don't define who we are and how we relate to one another.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Why I Believe

A couple years back, I received an invitation from fellow-blogger Joel Watts to contribute to a project he was editing that has since been published as From Fear To Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls.  The reason I declined is simple: with the rather bland, typical period of doubt that comes after learning the world is bigger and scarier and more interesting than one imagined, I carried around a pretty bland, uninteresting acceptance of God and the whole Jesus thing that became deeper and more expansive as I grew older.  I would only admit to having something akin to real Christian faith over the past few years; just as I probably said the same thing ten years ago, because as my faith deepens, I realize how little I previously understood what I said and thought I believed.

Also, while I was exposed to some things, particularly in my impressionable youth, that caused me more than a little trouble later in life - Hal Lindsay's The Late Great Planet Earth (and no, I'm not linking to it's Amazon page; I don't promote crap) being the most conspicuous and memorable - I never developed nor was exposed to the kind of thing that the book sought as a starting point.  I was never taught, and have never once thought, the Bible is "inerrant".  Quite apart from how nonsensical the idea is on its face, it's easy enough to recognize that we don't escape from the first two chapters of Genesis without the glaring contradictions of two completely opposed creation stories.  The arguments for inerrancy - "if you find something wrong in one place it calls the whole thing in to question!" - are fallacious because the Church does not read the Bible that way (at least, not historically).  While there was some hellfire and brimstone preaching, and the whole "Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?" nonsense, I never took either too seriously.  The Bible I read, and the faith in which I grew was deeper than that, more complex, and not at all focused on me or my life or my petty concerns.  What little of the other I encountered struck me as wrong-headed on its face.

My second semester in seminary, I took a reading class on theodicy.  The professor, the late Roy Morrison, offered up the Suffering Servant Song from Isaiah 53; Is God a White Racist? by William R. Jones; Evil and the God of Love by John Hick; and the book I chose to read and present, After Auschwitz: History, Theology, and Contemporary Judaism by Richard Rubenstein.  Rubenstein's book was affecting, particularly as he described his own wrestling with the angel of God on the killing grounds in Poland.  At the same time, while certainly profound and rooted in compassion, at the end of the day Rubenstein rejects God for the same reasons too many other people do: Because the world doesn't conform to his expectations of how it should run if God played according to his rules.

I got thinking about this after reading comments on this post at Patheos.  The objections to belief, in essence, boil down to two categories: intellectual and existential.  The intellectual objections to belief tend to be rooted in a rejection of a facile faith.  The existential objections tend to be rooted in suffering.  Many of the comments at Patheos seem to reflect a kind of, I don't know, sadness perhaps that the individual believes he or she is wrestling with these issues alone.  Wouldn't it be nice if our churches offered space for people to speak out on the doubts and fears these very things bring out in all of us from one time to another?  Wouldn't it be nice if our churches embraced doubt and anger and sorrow as much as we embrace love and faith and joy?

I believe because over the years I have come to realize that all of it, all of existence, all of faith, all of the Universe, has absolutely nothing to do with me.  It isn't my creation.  It isn't mine to control.  It isn't really mine to understand.  That it is is both mystery and joy, especially given the reality that there is no necessity to existence.  All that is would be real even if I had not been born, or born in such a way that I couldn't comprehend it or experience it in some small way.  Accepting the reality of all that is, and its radical contingency (which includes the radical contingency of my own existence) is part of why I believe.

My acceptance is rooted in the paradox of my own faith.  I accept that I could be wrong.  It may well be the case that everything I profess, everything I confess, all that I say about God and humanity could be wrong. It may very well be the case that there is nothing more than elementary particles in fields of force and that when I die the lights go out and I cease to exist.  I'm OK with that only because whether or not I'm OK with it, if it is the way the Universe is, my attitude toward it doesn't change it a bit.

On the other hand, the deepest beauty of the Christian confession is that the God who makes sperm whales and pygmy marmosets and stars larger than our solar system and bacteria that devour our skin and worms that exist in superheated water and no oxygen has decided, for no other reason than love and joy, to take care for this tiny corner of creation and extend through us the simple message of Divine love and care.  The revelation that God in Christ expresses the deepest heart of God the Creator to Be in relationship with this minuscule part of all that is, a relationship of love and hope and celebration is something to celebrate, to share.  To live out.  Precisely because Divine love comes to each of us and all of us, I have come to accept both the intellectual shakiness of much of what passes for Christian faith as well as live with the reality of suffering and evil with what I hope is compassion toward those who suffer without ever once granting them some kind of superior voice.  Suffering, pain, death - this is as much a part of our existence as anything else and neither defines existence nor destroys the reality of Divine love (nor does it confirm it, either; faith, any faith, that swirls around the question of suffering and loss is a thin reed indeed).

I believe because of the paradox that is my own life-experience of faith: that for all the Divine condescension to me, none of any of it has anything to do with me at all.  God loves us so much; God doesn't much care for us, i.e., in some bourgeois way of understanding care as in ensuring we don't suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  We have the simple task of sharing the story of Divine love; if that means we encounter resistance, well, OK.  Keep sharing.  When other's suffer because of human or natural evil, we are to be there not to explain it to them, or excuse the perpetrators; rather our presence with them is to be nothing more than our ongoing expression of the same love that we profess comes from God.

There may not be any "there" there.  Fine.  I accept there is; I proclaim there is, not because I fear death or hell or ridicule or ostracism or anything else.  I proclaim there is because it is joyful to understand that ours is a Universe whose most basic force, the mystery behind gravity and Higgs-Bosons and the wave-particle contradiction is love.  It's a hard love, sure.  A terrible love at times.  But it is, nonetheless, love.  I don't have much of a choice in the matter, really.  I believe because I am.  Thanks be to God.

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