Friday, July 31, 2009

Quakers Right Again

From Bloomberg:

British Quakers have agreed to recognize same-sex marriage and allow their communities to conduct wedding ceremonies for gay couples.

The change means that homosexual couples will be given the same recognition by Quakers in the U.K. that the group accords heterosexual marriages. The Quakers, known as the Religious Society of Friends and founded in England in 1652, had accepted same-sex partnerships for decades.

“Marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses,” the Quakers’ British organization said in an e-mailed statement detailing the decision made today at their annual meeting in the English city of York. “The question of legal recognition by the state is secondary.”

They were the first to get it right about slavery. It's no surprise that they're among the first to get it right about homosexuality. Good job Friends! May we not be long in following your fine example.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

War & Sacrifice

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Few things get me more riled up than the twisted lies that pass for patriotic language around war. Particularly when the language is stolen from the gospel and then inverted to express blackhearted malice disguised as nobility. The maggot ridden heart of these poisonous lies is the concept of sacrifice.

We opine poetically that soldiers are noble and virtuous for their "sacrifice". This is not the truth.

Soldiers do not sacrifice themselves. Soldiers do everything they can to ensure it is the other guy who dies. In no sense do they "lay down their life". They do exactly the opposite. They take up arms and defend their life with everything at their disposal.

This is not to say that there are not moments of heroism in war. Stories of soldiers risking danger to save buddies are exciting and inspiring - but in no sense do they qualify as a sacrifice.

But the word sacrifice does apply to war, in a very different sense. A sacrifice is a violent offering on behalf of the people from among their own possessions or people. The sacrifice being offered in this case is all of the victims of war: our own soldiers as well as the enemy, civilian casualties, and even the widows, orphans, destroyed economies, and broken veterans that are the aftermath. The one making the sacrifice is none other than the people of the nation, led by our priestly political leaders. The altar is our patriotic pride, and the purpose is appeasing the gods of fear and hate, and securing a fragile unity for our bloodthirsty tribe.

Steeping our war in these religious waters leads to an idolatrous brew so noxious it is literally anti-Christ.

I can't say this any clearer - you cannot follow the Prince of Peace while glorifying Mars. God in Christ has nothing to do with war. There is no just war. There is no righteous way to kill another person. There is nothing noble or sacrificial about taking up arms against your neighbors.

But sacrifice is at the heart of it. Human Sacrifice. The Tomb of the Unknowns is a modern Aztec temple with reddened marble steps. It is a charred altar with an insatiable thirst for human blood and still beating hearts ripped from chests in the name of false ideals. It is a monument of lies.

The lie that freedom is costly - it is not! It is the free gift of God's grace.

The lie that security is within our grasp - it is not! Our only security is in God and all grasping after security in this life is an act of useless violence.

And the lie which sustains the two above: that the cost of freedom and the means to security are sacrifice. God abolished sacrifice eternally by laying down his own life for friends rather than taking a single life in pursuit of his own freedom or security.

Since all sacrifice is ended we have no choice but to call war what it is: mass-murder. And the ones who commit it are none other than ourselves.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One Third There

The point of my practice was to write about 60 poems by the end of this last CPE unit. I'm one third there and two thirds done with the unit. This is not good.

I've learned that I'm still very bad at scheduled practice. Nothing magic has happened since last time I tried this to make it go easier or more naturally.

If I look at the practice as The Practice, as a whole, then one third is just nonsense. What is one third of a life, or one third true, or one third lovely, or one third of love? So whatever point I find myself at, there I am, and it is a good place to be. That feels like something I'd want to continue.

If I look at the practice as a bean-counting exercise where I am supposed to produce the beans, then one third makes too much sense. You're behind. You won't likely catch up. You failed to achieve, or missed the mark. This sounds like something I'll be happy to be done with, to put it behind me.

Not really what I'm going for in spiritual practices.

It makes me think, in this stream-of consciousness way, of sin. Of missing the mark.

We see our lives as a bean-counter would. We miss the mark. We do not add up. We amount to little.

God sees - or I believe that God sees - us as whole, so what sense does missing the mark make to God? It just ends up falling down to a proportionality, God the Ultimate Bean Counter, finding homosexuals or liberals or Muslims or whomever to be Lacking Sufficient Beans, whereas conservatives and heteros and the orthodox have Just Enough Beans.

I don't buy it. I don't think that God makes bean-counter sense.

At the very least, I hope that I do not let my practices make bean-counter sense of me.

I understand if this post only makes sense to me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


barely minimal
efforts swallowed entirely
by the jaws of time

True and Boring

Mark Yaconelli started the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project at my alma mater, San Francisco Theological Seminary. He came to speak while I was at seminary to announce the publication of a book based on the project, "Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus." I've heard him speak 2 or 3 times since then and always liked his style and message. I've been intending to read this book for a while, but finally got around to it.

Here's the good: he's dead right. He speaks with refreshing candor about diverse situations and arrives at unflinching assesments of many of the diseases which plague ministry in general, but youth ministry in particular. His examples are superb. His style is engaging, and he offers solid practical advice. This is no cookie-cutter solution manual, but it would be hard not to get a good idea or two for youth ministry here. I'm going to have my adult volunteers and mentors read this book.

Here's the bad: despite all of that the book didn't excite me. I floated along with it, gently amused, but it never sunk its hooks in. I agreed with everything, but not with any passion, and I was never surprised. I find this to be a common theme among books that treat the subject of "spirituality". There is a pleasant airiness in the reading which makes me nod my head, but then I nod off and fall asleep.

The worst thing is that great spiritual teachers are rarely boring people. Yaconelli in person is electrifying, but somehow in print he was very tame. The same is true of Richard Foster, Parker Palmer, Pema Chodron, and the Dalai Lama. Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon, but there is something about spiritual truths that is very prosaic and dull.

Or maybe the prose is the problem. More and more I grow convinced of the need for truth to be expressed in artforms like poetry, music, theatre, and fiction. Want to read a book about spirituality that has teeth, and is not at all dull - try Frederick Buechner's "Godric". Somehow when spiritual truth is presented naked in nonfiction prose, such as in all of these "how to live your life better" manuals it loses something. The functional aspect is there, but the aesthetic pulse is absent, and thus it is hard to absorb.

None of this nullifies my positive remarks above about Yaconelli's book. It is right on the money when it comes to the challenges and rewards of youth ministry. It will be useful. That is about the extent of it.

Monday, July 27, 2009


iron more beautiful
dressed in light

mountains more beauty-full still
in fog-raiment

the trespasser beauty of the sea
as alien as the womb

creature beauty of limb, sinew, coat
of skin, hair, eyes
everywhere immutable

most beautiful is the very human beauty
of i am sorry
i love you
i forgive you and


ever have that feeling
off your game
whatever you say
an idiot

i find, writing
it happens
all the time

Pink FTL

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sarah Palin: Quiviter?

Here's an interesting op-ed article about Sarah Palin. Since she's the heir apparent of the Republican party, maybe it's germane and maybe it isn't.

We report. You decide :)

For the other side, I suppose you can check here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

This Blog Has Had Congress With Santa!

In Denmark this week. There will be congress with Santa. Godless Danes!

Picking Sides: Invoking Jesus

Christians love to remake Jesus in their own image. It is our favorite pastime. Thus conservatives believe Jesus is a good ol' boy, blessing the nation state, preaching charity (not socialism!), and threatening hellfire and damnation for all those who have sex standing up because, as the old saw goes, it might lead to dancing! Liberals meanwhile imagine a tofu-eating, guitar-playing, peace-loving hippie with a poet's soul and a soft heart for prostitutes.

Both are obvious caricatures. Anyone who tells you they know exactly who Jesus is, and then proceeds to describe a guy just like themselves but with a beard and more gravitas, is a nincompoop. That's right I called you a nincompoop! What are you gonna do about it?

Our mental images of Jesus are idols, every single one of them. No one has a perfectly accurate understanding of this man who is by definition always beyond our comprehension. Still, is there nothing we can say about this image war between liberal and conservative Christians? Is it a hopeless stalemate?

No, I think there is a definitive fact, an aspect of the gospel story, which resolves the dilemma in favor of the liberal side: Jesus was crucified. He wasn't killed by a populist assassin for siding with the establishment. He was tried and convicted by the state at the urging of the religious elite, and he was executed as a rebel. No matter how you spin the story, no matter what you believe the content of his message was - it has to make conservatives uncomfortable that he was killed by the conservatives of his day.

Given that one fact, when invoking Jesus in present day disputes, we should never take seriously the idea that Jesus would side with the establishment. I don't imagine for a second that Jesus is in facile agreement with everything liberal Americans believe - especially where liberals are embedded in the status quo. But, if liberalism remembers its populist-reformist roots, it is far more likely that Jesus is to be found standing in a picket line, than sitting in a board room.

That should make conservatives very uncomfortable indeed, because conservatism is about reaching into the past to resist change in the present, for the sake of protecting one's own stake in the status quo. It is an ideology which cannot cope with the world-overturning kingdom theology of a crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

So, in addition to the track record of liberalism actually improving our society morally, there is another reason to be proud of being a liberal: Jesus is one.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Picking Sides: Track Records

As a typical wishy-washy progressive I have a lot of sympathy for the "can't we all just get along," "we're all on the same team," kind of thinking. I get the appeal of "middle-way," "moderate," some might call it "fence-sitting" rhetoric. Even more, I appreciate attempts to forge a third path through the wilderness that is not on this tired spectrum. At times I actually genuinely hold a strong opinion that would be difficult to classify as Liberal or Conservative, but then no one is a complete caricature.

Furthermore, I reject the truth of binary generalizations and question the utility of labels so historically flexible as to mean exactly the opposite thing in different times and places. You can't put me in a box! Dammit!

But isn't the very fact that I feel the need to put so many qualifiers at the start of this post sufficient evidence of which box I belong in? (Hint: it isn't the one with the Nazi.) One thing that really annoys me is the apparent need of many liberals to disavow their liberalism. So this post is about one very good reason, among many, to be proud of being a liberal. It's about track records.

In current debates framed in binary liberal vs. conservative terms there are strong arguments and even more passion on both sides. If an impartial observer wanted to determine which side was right, one reasonable strategy would be to analyze similar debates through history and see which side had more often been vindicated.

Here are some examples:

Slavery - Liberals win. Slavery is bad.
Suffrage - Liberals win. Women can vote.
Civil Rights - Liberals win. Segregation ends.

Who would want to defend the historical conservative position on any of these issues now? Contemporary conservatives certainly don't, because they have conceded that liberals were right in those instances. What makes them so certain that liberals are now wrong?

Not every battle has a clear cut conclusion, but can anyone name a major social issue that conservatives have won - by which I mean their moral vision has been vindicated as the correct one by society in retrospect?

The track record of liberalism certainly isn't without blemish. Liberals have started wars and profited at the expense of the poor. I am just as cynical of liberal politicians as any other, but if we're evaluating the quality of an idea in comparison to its competitors liberalism comes out looking pretty good. There are many thoughtful, wise, good conservatives, but that doesn't change the fact that as an ideology it is also a refuge for racists, mysoginists, and fascists.

What I will never understand is how being a "liberal" has come to be something to be ashamed of, whereas belonging to the same ideological milieux as Machiavelli, Rasputin and Cheney, is a source of pride.

quirky homage to this evening's frivolities

honest-hearted, true
their keen minds and blades
a bulwark around the Mouse Territories
from Darkheather to the wide green sea
Scent Border to Wild Lands
all brave, selfless mice
heed our call

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

St. Louis Photos

David, a friend from High School, found a stellar human being and wife in Kari and they had me do their wedding this past weekend. We turned it into a vacation and took the whole family for a week to St. Louis. It was incredible.

Here are some pics:

See the rest here.

Nature: More Insight Into Cancer

I heard about this last night and found these article overviews in Nature that talked about the part that microRNA plays in the development and differentiation of cancer cells. I also learned a new term: oncogene.

I encourage you to read up and find out what that term means.

This also makes me think of my recent post on the physical sciences. This stuff is seriously cool, people. Amazing.

I've always thought of cancer as a solvable problem. The problem of cancer sort of exists in a box - a big, complicated box, but a box nontheless. It is something that some team of geneticists and doctors is going to crack open, one day, and figure out, and be able to do something about. It might be a long time - and as far as this new research points, it might be sooner than I'd thought.

I'm really excited to see what the cure for our various cancers will look like.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

a conversation with a shcizophrenic patient prompted the following

sung, in my head, to a tune i can't get rid of

you pray
for proof
but somebody goofed
you look
but can't get it off your
it's true
it's finally gotten
to you

God is dead
it's all made up in our head
God is dead
it's all
made up
in our head

you look
there's mines buried in the
and then
some children come by and
they go off - bang!
and nobody can say why


let this happen

God is dead
it's all made up in our head
God is dead
it's all made up
in our head

it used to be alive but we killed him
he used to be alive but we killed her
she used to be alive but we killed it

and now we all just

Mid-Course Correction

On reflection, this practice of poem-writing is about as difficult as I'd expected, but it has fallen by the wayside and become entirely ad-hoc and improvisational. I've found no consistency with time - my goal was to do it in the morning, but I forgot that my brain doesn't work in the morning (I begin each day empty and end it full if I'm lucky) and so I put if off and then it doesn't happen, or happens when I remember for no particular reason.

I'm going to change what I'm trying to do and see if that works. I've found my sleeping pills, so what I'll do is write one poem each night, right before I take the sleeping pill and brush my teeth and do the final few rituals before I trudge off to bed to lay there and toss and turn for another night.

We'll see how this goes. I guess I should be patient with myself, having never had a scheduled...anything on a regular basis.

Smells Like Rickrolling...

Monday, July 20, 2009

A New, Terrible, Wonderful Idea

Pam and I did a lot of driving today, going to church and saying goodbye to friends and hanging out with others who needed some support. Basically a half tank of gas all told, from home to Berkeley to San Jose to Oakland to SF back to home. Long day.

Sometime during that driving, between the bathroom breaks and caffeine binging and arguing about directions, Pam came up with a terrible, wonderful idea that I expanded upon.

I and a friend from seminary open a gaming store in Portland, something we both have wanted to do for a long time. Then, we also start a church, and we rent space in the storefront to the church.

I've always wanted a storefront church in an urban area - its one of the things I've pictured for a long time when I've thought about where I will end up in ministry. I've also wanted to run a game store since I was about, I dunno, 13 or so.

I've heard it called "tentmaking", and when I talk about this plan, people tell me that I really light up. And I feel lit up. There are a lot of downsides, but I've talked to the friend in question and he really likes the idea so far. I want to pursue it, at least to see how far it goes.

Part of me thinks the following: statistically, no matter what we do, 80% of the seminary graduates in the PC(USA) this year will not find first calls because there are five times as many seminarians graduating as there are first calls. So what the Hell else are we supposed to do? We need to get creative, because the denomination is cranking out seminary graduates at five times the rate it can absorb them. This hardly seems like responsible stewardship, but those sour grapes are old at this point. They're basically w(h)ine. So I need to figure something out, since in the numbers game of first calls, I'm screwed.

I wonder if there is any support for an idea like this in the denomination? I know money goes to new church developments, but I also know they say I need 5 years of ministry experience before I can be an NCD pastor. Well, where am I supposed to get those 5 years?

Running a game store and storefront church in Portland, that's where.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Miraculous Healing and the Postmodern Pastoral Caregiver

I've had this experience before - maybe I'll do better this time.

Say you had the following experience, or one like it:

When you are little, growing up on a farm, your foot gets caught in farm machinery, and from that day forward it is clubbed, your toes curled entirely under you foot. You have to walk around with a huge orthopedic shoe.

By the time you are in your 20s, you are told that you will need surgery to have some nuts and bolts and plates put into your foot. This scares you. You go home and pray "Jesus, help me", and then are struck to the floor. It feels like your entire body is receiving an electric current. When it is finally over, you stand up, pacing around the room, trying to make sense of what has happened, upset and confused.

Then you realize you are pacing...on a brand new, healthy, foot.

Five days later you return to your orthopedic surgeon and show him the foot, say "thanks doc, but Jesus healed me, and I'm outta here", and then walk out the door.

For the purposes of this story, it doesn't matter whether it literally happened or not. You experienced it, and remember it, and it is central. It also isn't the only story of miraculous healing you have in your life, just an example.

Now, imagine that you are in the hospital, have been told that you have two cancers, one of which is terminal and inoperable. Imagine the pain this will cause when you do not experience any healing, but firmly believe that you could, if only...if only...something. After all, you have been healed in the past. The Bible says you will be healed in a multitude of places.

This is a patient I just talked to.

All joking about tent-revival hucksters aside, as far as I know, this patient is telling the truth, and I don't have time or resources to go back and verify her stories. So now I'm stuck, a person who has never experienced a dramatic miraculous healing myself, and whose love of biological sciences predisposes him to be skeptical of such stories, trying to provide pastoral care to a patient who can't figure out why she hasn't been healed yet and is, understandably, incredibly upset.

What I'm proud of is that I did just that. She was very thankful, and I could tell that I was very helpful to her. But its hard for me to just chalk these things up to mystery, and I can see how if this woman is not healed, her theology will turn against itself.

I can also see why my Unitarian Universalist colleague found talking to her so challenging.

So, seriously, any advice from you pastors who read this blog? Have you encountered something like this before? What did you do? I'm going to see her tomorrow morning, briefly on the way home, and will consult with my colleagues about further visitation, but man, this one's a knot and no mistake.
now, don't get me wrong
i love havin' a church
keeps the rain off our heads

an' if people want to find us
they know where to look

but the Body ain't the church
any more than the Word is a book


beneath the roiling


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

your damn fault

your fault i am even out here
isaias; triplet monographs
mouth-burned mumblers
the lot of you

crack-lipped, numb
pustuled prophets

i've shattered not a single yoke

i've taken every one in hand, and
they don't even bend

no light springing forth
no listening ear

just we like oxen dragging ourselves behind us

if you mouth(s) had never been burned
i would be smooth-lipped
maybe gainful, maybe
yoked yet

better if we had not met

Sunday, July 12, 2009

God Out of Bounds: Physical Science

Let's pick this series up again, dust if off, and see where it goes. Next, I've moved down the list a bit and have selected physical science. This feels like an interesting choice - the most often comments we hear in our society from religious folks are basically anti-science, or at the very least deeply suspicious of science. Then we have the more progressive religious minority whispering "But I think science is ok..."

I don't just think that science is OK, I think that science can show us things about God, lead to experiences of transcendence and awe - all whether you are a religious person or not.

The Basics: Physics
Physics on the macro level - you know, the Newtonian world of gravity and electromagnetism and thermodynamics - seems pretty straightforward. Planes fly, microwaves make my dinner and I always throw a baseball in a parabolic arc. You could confuse the world with a huge clock-like machine (and until modern times it was very easy to do so).

If you look closer, though, things are totally insane. Particles teleport around, appear and disappear, and affect each other across distances in ways that allow information to travel faster than the speed of light. At places like CERN, they smash tiny things together at obnoxious speeds and even tinier things break off, surviving for fragments of a second, that only the most sensitive machines we have available can detect.

So when things get really small - when you look very, very closely, not only are the rules broken - the rules don't even mean anything anymore. You're down a rabbit-hole.

What does it mean that so many think God the creator is primarily concerned with rules and their enforcement when we can't even find and understand all the rules that govern physical matter?

Life and its Origins
When we think of God "making" the cosmos, we use metaphorical language based on the best understanding we have of what it means to "make". In Genesis, God "makes" in a way that is described with words referring to metallurgy and blacksmithing, for example, which was the most complicated thing that bronze-age thinkers could conceive of.

Now, when we think about God "making", we have a much wider, more spectacular number of metaphors to utilize. We can go to the limits of our understanding of the age of the Earth and physical life processes and talk about the creation of life in ways never before conceiveable. This is not a threat - it is amazing. This also does not nullify, somehow, the metaphors of the past, like metallurgy or sculpting out of clay. We still do these things too.

Sometimes I sit down and actually try to think backwards through what I understand of the history of life on Earth. Try it - it is impossible, but very moving. Imagine, starting from the beginning moving forward or the preesnt moving back, in a time-lapse montage style, the development of live as you understand it. Back to a time before mammals, to a time before trees, to a time before flowering plants, to a time before bony fish, before sexual reproduction, to a time before multicellular is staggering, and for me, a source of intense awe and amazement.

The Universe at Large
We live in the heart of a miracle of scale. The sun's light reaches us in about eight seconds, and knowing that, we have already shattered our normal means of understanding scale.

Turtles All the Way Down
There are things we are struggling to understand. For example, the cosmos may be a web of vibrating, interacting 10-dimensional strings. It may be holographic, projected from a distant limit which contains only pure information. It may be enfolded 11-dimensional membranes. It may be one of infinite universes, each displaying slightly different physical laws, and we are in the only one that could have given rise to us.

In short, we do not definitively know what stuff is made of, or why it is here, or how it came to be. Not at a fundamental level. Maybe this will always be a mystery. I've read the theory that it is impossible to understand the nature of the universe using methods and tools bounded by the rules of the universe. This could be, but the search is sure a lot of fun to follow along with (as much as I can understand it, which isn't much).

This matches my own experience, which is that in order to make sense of my life and my place in the world, I need primarily to have trust. I tire of the current conservative Christian obsession with objectivity, which by definition precludes trust or faith or hope, because it implies certainty.

I don't live in a universe of certainty.

Physical Science as Alien, then Threat, Then Engine for Theology
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. -Gandhi

At first, theology and physical science were odd bedfellows, but bedfellows all the same. You couldn't account for physical phenominae without making reference to the gods, spirits, or primal spiritual forces which existed in the world.

Over time these two cousins split apart, and at various points in various cultures, they seem to have had a real bloody falling-out. They stopped talking to each other.

This led to them becoming outright enemies. There wasn't enough room in the playground for both of them to play.

Let's be honest - in time, physical science won, and the result is a demystified, demogoguish, mechanized, "expert"-driven culture which is totally bereft of meaning, purpose, beauty or awe. That's oversimplifying, but who the heck wants to live in a world of pundits and advertisements and consumption?

Shoot me now. Make it quick.

What I want is for physical science to become an engine for theological inquiry and meaning-making. This is already happening at the fringes, so to speak, but not in the center. In the center, you seem to have a "God of the gaps", ever shrinking, an ostrich method of burying heads in the sand, or a continuation of the pointless animosity between physical science and religion.

My questions for this post are: What resources have you found which connect theology and meaning-making with physical science? What is the most amazing thing you ever learned about the physical world?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Enneagram in Nine Haikus

depending on how this practice persists, I'll count this as one poem or nine...if you are familiar with the enneagram, you can guess which is which.

ever i balance
see all sides and empathize
fulcrum disappears!

everything in place
someone must divide and see
nothing in between

an open heart cracks
into many smaller hearts
each open always

mirror polishing
i can never see myself
except in success

a perfect lone rose
petals quivering with dew
falling like teardrops

behind battlements
heap upon heap of knowledge
and always i watch

let's each make a deal
if you run then i run; if you
fight then i fight too

what Tiggers do best
bouncy bouncy bouncy bounce -
what was the question?

go ahead, test me
this is me up in your face
i won't hesitate

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rick Warren Again

Since we've talked about Rick Warren in the past, and I saw this article today, I thought I'd post it. I think its interesting, and obviously (?) I like it when Warren breaks with his conservative cohorts.

I liked this quote of Warren's:

"It's easier to be an extremist of any kind because then you only have one group of people mad at you," he said. "But if you actually try to build relationships — like invite an evangelical pastor to your gathering — you'll get criticized for it. So will I."

That's a trenchant point I think. If you are an extremist and draw Us/Them lines in the sand, the main ones tho will be mad at you will be the Them. But whenever someone actually tries to make peace and build bridges and forge relationships, they risk both sides, the Us and the Them, being angry at them.

Gamesmanship at the Layman

Carmen Fowler, President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee has published an editorial over at the Layman entitled: "'War,' 'Go Fish,' and 'Manipulation,' in the PCUSA". In it she suggests that the denomination has moved from a game of 'Go Fish' in which we spent all of our time obeying the Great Commission in relative harmony, to a game of 'Manipulation' which is a game I've never heard of, but apparently "can be played by an unlimited number of people as long as you keep multiplying the decks and manipulating the cards." (It sounds like a fun game Ms. Fowler you should post the rules online somewhere!) Writing to the churches of presbyteries who switched their vote from previous amend or delete-b overtures, Carmen Fowler makes it her purpose to inform them that the game has been changed by nefarious agents like The Covenant Network, More Light Presbyterians, and That All May Freely Serve, and if they don't get into the game it will soon become an all out game of 'War!'

The letter is charmingly wrong from beginning to end.

First, there was never a time of harmony where all Presbyterians were playing the same game. Ours has always been a communion of knock-down drag-out parliamentarian brawls. See exhibit A:

If it's not one thing it's another that we're fighting about, and the fact that there have not only been divisions, but also reunions makes it rather futile to try and trace the history as the story of a single faithful communion surrounded by heathens. The fact is, we don't agree and we won't. Both sides believe fervently that they are right and there is no way to reliably arbitrate the dispute which everyone will agree to.

As for infernal interlopers like More Light Presbyterians... I find it humorous that it is "manipulation" when progressive para-church organizations try to change the Book of Order by assembly, propaganda, changing hearts and minds, and parliamentary procedure, but it is just good old-fashioned democracy when The Institute on Religion and Democracy, Presbyterians for Renewal, New Wineskins, and, of course, The Layman do exactly the same thing, using exactly the same methods. Would everyone please quit playing the righteous indignation card? You make fools of us all. We are all in the same muck and you look like an idiot standing up on a dung hill covered in slime proclaiming yourself purer than the rest of us.

The real failure of the letter, and perhaps the conservative vision, is a failure of imagination. All of the games that Carmen Fowler listed as metaphors for our conflict are Zero-Sum games. They are strictly competitive. One side wins, everyone else loses. Whether we are playing 'Go Fish', 'Manipulation', or 'War' there is no way in which we all win. Which means, it doesn't really matter what you call it we've been playing 'War' all along, because there isn't any other game.

But there are other kinds of games. There are individual achievement games where each person competes against their own previous best. This kind of game is like sanctification. There are cooperative games wherein all the players work together against a central mechanic of the game. This kind of game is what our denominational life is like - we are really only competing against human nature and our sad tendency for conflict. We either all win or all lose together. There are games of pure imagination where the only victory condition is 'everyone has fun.' This, I think, is the kind of game God really loves and it is what the Church is like at its best.

All sides agree that God is playing this game with us, and God is going to win. What conservatives fail to realize is that it is not a zero-sum game. There will be no losers in this fight, because the victory condition is 'everybody gets to play.' God is playing until everyone takes their place at the table. God is playing until everyone joins the fun. God is playing until everyone realizes that there are not a limited number of invitations to this game and so there is no need to elbow and shove and try to secure your place by pushing others away. In fact, the more you fight the more clear it is you haven't realized what game it is we are playing here. This is not 'Go Fish' or 'Manipulation' and it is most certainly not 'War.'

This is 'Christianity,' so quit trying to "win" and just start having fun.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

haiku reflections on our bike ride today

flock of pelicans
how like our leaders; swarming
and jostling for fish

and at the outskirts
dainty-wading water birds;
delicate, graceful

watch the commotion
everywhere would be quiet
if we could let be

i go panting past
clattering from gear to gear
i can't help but think

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ask, Tell

In honor of the 4th of July, I am stealing this from a friend and reposting it for your consideration.

On Tuesday, a military board told Lt. Dan Choi -- an Iraq War veteran and Arabic linguist -- that it was recommending his discharge from the Army for "moral and professional dereliction" under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Despite this setback, Lt. Choi is not giving up. Bolstered by more than 300,000 signatures to letters of support calling for the repeal of DADT, Dan is now taking his fight to repeal the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy to Congress.

Dan needs your help as soon as possible. The sooner DADT is repealed, the sooner he can return to service.

I just signed the letter below to Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Lt. Choi is going to personally deliver to her. The letter is being launched on Lt. Choi's behalf by the Courage Campaign, Knights Out and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

We need Speaker Pelosi to take leadership now and speak out publicly in favor of current legislation in Congress that would repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

More than 50,000 people, including me, have signed Lt. Choi's letter in just a few hours. Will you join me in signing it and urge your friends to do the same? Just click to add your name:


---Text of HR 1283: Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009 for the interested:

last night's mare

i woke up with a little mumbled cry
brought the dog upstairs
in concern
going back in time
bullet popping back out of the front of my skull
swallowing what i said the moment before
please don't shoot me
the man in the coveralls moonwalking
back out of the abandoned bathroom
up the ominous stairs

i try to make sense in reverse
confused; the alarm
late to the game

i think i was supposed to learn something
i don't know what it was

Friday, July 3, 2009

This is My Kind of Funk

Here are my own 21 Theses, built around Funk's order and choice of topoics. I am putting my theology where my mouth is. Enjoy!


1. The universe has meaning and human life has purpose. Human beings are meaning-finding and purpose-finding machines. I'm actually pretty sure we could not even experience a meaningless universe, or go through our lives seeing them as literally meaningless. The question is what meaning? My society, in aggregate, gives one answer. Pillage the world, hurt your enemies, dull your mind and then you die. That is the default. What I call "God" embodies another way.

2. The doctrine of special creation has been magnified by the discoveries of the scope of the earth in time and space as well as the history and functions of life. Our cosmos, drawn within the lines of the limits of our imagination, is always revealed to be shocking and amazing to each successive generation. I take this as evidence that it came to be through forces and mechanisms that will eternally be outside our understanding. That's pretty damn special. And here we are, apparently able to appreciate this cosmos more than any living creature.

3. Death is natural. So is rape. So is war. To say that death is the enemy is to say something that is true for every person who grieves. Everything we say in the face of death is simply intended to blunt its edge as it cuts us to our core. Is this a punishment for sin? (The "wages" of sin?) If we see sin, in part, as enmeshment in an eternally unsatisfactory world full of pain and suffering and want an injustice, then yes, I think one could say that. What the world pays everyone, for all of their efforts, in the end, is death. This is natural, but it is also tragic, and we seek for things that we hope will transcend our deaths.

4. The Bible is full of instances where God is demonstrated to be unpredictable. Job puts to rest the idea that the righteous are protected from suffering and Jesus and the prophets reverse this entirely, saying that the righteous are promised suffering in a world gone wrong. So will we find an algorithm to determine when, where and how God will intervene? Can we find the on-switch for God's action in our lives? Of course not. No one ever will, and looking will always be fruitless. But is the guy who attributes overcoming addiction to the intervention of God a lunatic or a liar? Possibly neither. If God has no impact on our lives whatsoever apart from our conscious volition, then we need to retire theology forever and find something else to talk about.

5. Prayer is a broad term for a technology of spiritual practice. It is a technique, and a vague one at that. A huge weakness of Protestantism is the loss of the monastic tradition and the majority of ancient spiritual practices that have sustained Christians for millennia. We need to reach back for the broad array of practices that we have forgotten, and build new practices as we find we have needs in a world that is unlike any in the past. If people choose to ask God to intervene, then what good is it to stop them or put them down? I've had a few experiences myself where coincidence and bias don't seem to quite cut it. It just saddens me that our rich heritage of spiritual practice has been reduced to a laundry list whispered to God.


6. I think that Jesus Christ changes everything. Jesus is an eternal, ineffible and incomprehensible paradox that as Christians we are to embody, even without really understanding most of the time what it is we're getting ourselves into. Would we dare do so if we really understood? Would we line up to be crucified the way we line up to shake the preacher's hand after the sermon? Doubt it. I do not think we should ever surrender a transformative mystery we are called to live into for the sake of a comprehensible, domesticated, just-another-teacher.

7. Jesus Christ was never, is never, and will never be credible. Jesus Christ is crazy. You know that concept of what your life means, what makes you valuable and good, what you are called to do, and who you are? Jesus shatters that. Then he shatters it again. Pontious Pilate was credible. The Sanhedrin was credible. The credible people are the ones who killed Jesus. It was his followers who had no credibility. We frame these truths in myth because there is nothing else in the human toolbox that is anywhere near equal to the task.

8. Heather Reichgott challenged me here, and I'll go halfway. I think that acknowledging Jesus as coming from Mary's sexuality, at least in part, is important. It also is interesting that men were not involved at all except as a foster parent. I still don't like the virgin birth because I believe it does denigrate sexuality as a dirty thing that cannot really have touched Jesus. If Jesus is human, then he had to come from the same messy, fun stuff we all came from - or as I see it, no deal.

9. Its the classic neon sign, flashing in the urban night; the roadside sign in hand-painted letters on a country road: Jesus Saves. If this is not true, then we quit now and find something that will actually help us become whole. Historically, we've called that "Saving" atonement, something Jesus did at a particular time and place in the past, has done throughout the history of the cosmos from beginning to end, past and future, and seeks to get us to participate in with every moment of your life and mine. For me, penal sub atonement doesn't come anywhere near to covering that.

10. The resurrected Jesus teleports around and passes through crowds, appears and disappears. Clearly the resurrected Jesus, even in a very literalistic reading of the Gospels, was not just Jesus' same body walking around with the same properties other bodies have. The resurrection is a thing, at its core, that we cannot understand fully. We are just like the first disciples and apostles - Paul in particular. The resurrection is something we experience, something we participate in, with our whole lives. Even if a modern nurse could step out of a time machine and do a full physical exam of the risen Jesus, I don't think the resurrection would be affected one bit. If it would be, then it is not the resurrection depicted in the Gospels.

11. Apocalyptic elements have not been part of the main "Christian agenda" for a while now. Well, I guess there's "Jesus is coming, look busy" type evangelism, or fear-of-Hell evangelism, but a lot of even conservative evangelical types look down on this as simply leveraging self-preservation to get people into the pews. I'm fine with tossing that part out. To lose all of the apocalyptic, though, would mean we also have to lose, say, the thoughts and words of Martin Luther King Jr. I am not willing to "expunge" that. When, mere days from his assassination, MLK says he has seen the promised land, he is talking apocalypse. He is talking about the turning of time, the bending of the arc of the universe. Who cares about Jesus floating in the sky and pointing at us in judgement at the end of history like a work of Baroque art? When I read MLK's words, I shiver in my bones, because I know the apocalypse is coming.

God's Domain according to Jesus

12. The Gospels are chock-full of Jesus' suspicion of the essential character of neighbors. It is not about trusting your neighbor, it is about loving your neighbor even when s/he is a certified asshole to you all day long. Even given the guarantee that you will be hurt by others, you are never to hurt in return. That is not a trust ethic, that is a nonviolent ethic. The domain of God is ruled by one who gave up all the trappings of power that we expect and was tortured and executed at our hands. Think of any human government, ever. The domain of God is not that.

13. Jesus urges his followers to celebrate life as though they had just discovered a cache of coins in a field or been invited to a state banquet. They are urged not to worry about the future but to be present to the beauty of the moment. They are exhorted not to hold onto their lives but to lose their lives, and in losing them, they find them at last.

14. For Jesus, God's domain is a realm without social boundaries. In that realm there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, homosexual nor heterosexual, friend nor enemy, liberal nor conservative, insider nor outsider, rich nor poor, less nor more abled, gendered nor transgendered...

15. For Jesus, God's domain has no brokers, no mediators between human beings and divinity. There is a state of atonement, when separations fall, even separations between us and God. In the end, we are all in God. We are Christ's body in the perfected sense of God's purpose culminated.

16. For Jesus, the rites of entry into the domain of God are open to all regardless of the things that separate us from each other in other domains. If you can have water dumped on your head, you are in. If you eat bread (or another fruit of the earth for those allergic to wheat or something) then you are in. And now you have to deal with, as family, everyone else who has water dumped on them and who eats food. Good luck :)

17. In the kingdom, forgiveness is reciprocal: individuals can have it only if they practice it. Forgiveness is the hallmark of restorative justice, in contrast to retributive justice.

18. The kingdom is a journey without end: one arrives only by departing. It is therefore a perpetual odyssey. Exile and homecoming are the true conditions of authentic existence.

The canon

19. The canon is the collection of writings that have, historically, connected people with God and helped them grown in wisdom and understanding. Throughout history, the Church has made use of other writings, words and practices which are not found in the "canon" of the Bible, and the Church will continue to do this. It is right and good to do this, and we should just be honest about it. "Canon" means "we consistently, across time and space, find a way to God there".

20. We do not use the Bible as a rule-book. If we did, the result would be hysterical. The Bible is not intended to be a rulebook, in my opinion. If you go looking for rules, best of luck. If you go, however, looking for identity - now there's something you might find.

The language of faith

21. In continually articulating who we are and what we are about, we should continue to use the full breadth of human written expression found in the Bible - paradox, hyperbole, exaggeration, metaphor, simile, aphorism, epistle, narrative, poem, song, allegory, folktale, martyr cycle, instruction, debate, drama, liturgy and so on, as well as the fuller variety of human expression including music, visual arts, and dance which go beyond a literal text and express meaning in new ways. Our language should be as limitless as creation.


everything else inspires me
except these poems

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Honduras, Iran, Democracy & Nonviolence

Recent events in Honduras and Iran sparked a few thoughts.

It's interesting how completely and uncritically we've come to accept the association "democracy = good". When political events occur in foreign countries our press, our politicians, and our public seem to immediately decide that the side which appears more democratic is obviously in the right. I don't disagree that democracy has a lot going for it, or that dictatorships have a lot of flaws, but it is worth it to point out that the historical examples of Athens, Rome and even America prove that democracies are plenty eager to engage in imperialism, militarism, and all sorts of horrors we usually associate with dictatorships.

From my theological perspective all government is doomed from the outset. It relies on the use of force to maintain control. A democracy is just as much a part of the world of nations that God will abolish with the coming of his kingdom as a dictatorship is.

Does that mean these things are equal? Not at all.

I think, if there is a reason to preference one side or another it is about that issue of coercion and force. A democracy, at the very least, voluntarily restricts itself in the ways it will use force over its own people (not over other peoples though). If I were to support one side over another in Iran or Honduras it would be in the end a choice about which side were willing to set aside force the most.

When the President of Honduras was captured he immediately issued a statement urging the people of Honduras to protest nonviolently. In Iran, much of the focus on the resistance has been on the degree to which it has been nonviolent. There seems to be a consensus that the refusal to employ force is the very quality which bestows legitimacy on the movement. The moment that protesters start throwing molotov cocktails is the moment that Ahmadinejad or Vasquez will look less like villains for "squashing" the rebels.

The question of proportionality still comes into it. Most people will probably still side with the green movement in Iran even if it turns violent just because it will be significantly weaker than the military might of the establishment. There is no question, though, that a violent uprising would lose some legitimacy in many people's (including mine) eyes.

Taking a long view, democracy or dictatorship, it doesn't really matter. All governments are fading institutions doomed to extinction by God's reign of peace. In the interim however, there is a reason to preference democratic governments where those democracies are self-limiting in their use of coercive force. The legitimacy of a political movement comes from its willingness to refuse to achieve its ends by violence.
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insomnia poem

as simple as sleep?
we'll see; night falls with sirens
echoing inward