Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost

We're trying something crazy in worship today. We've purchased a bunch of indoor sparklers, which we will distribute to each person. During the prayer of invocation we will light them all, too-obviously symbolizing the coming of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire. Should be, um, dangerous.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

PIF Redux Part 1

I've been thrown by the experience of no longer feeling impending doom around every corner, no longer slipping into morose contemplation at every opportunity, but it hasn't stopped me from rewriting my PIF (the first one was written, like everything else I've done for the past few months, in the midst of a pretty severe depression). Here is the new PIF for your reading pleasure, in four parts:

Characteristics of the church or organization you would like to serve and the unique gifts, skills and experiences you would like to bring to the position:

I am part of a generation of people who do not go to church, who often aren’t interested in church, who perhaps have even been hurt or turned off specifically by church. I have remained part of a church community for my entire life for a few simple reasons. The first reason is that I found ways to make my life meaningful through loving God and loving others.

Another reason is that I have been nurtured by the church, even when my own home and family life were most difficult growing up. I am thankful to be nourished by the church since then, as a student and as a chaplain. I have been able to find, in the church, an outlet for my creativity and passion, designing new worship experiences, using drama and music and art, writing poetry and organizing for justice. I have also been pushed and challenged by the church, her teachings, her history, and her present conflicts.

I found that the church has accepted me, that through it I have become part of the family of God. Because the church’s doors have always been open to me, I believe that her doors must remain open for any others who wish to come, taste, and know that God is good. I welcome the challenge and opportunity in everyone who comes through those doors.
In the church I found God - in worship, in service, and in community - and God saved my life, is making me whole, and has prepared me to go out and be a leader and follower, preacher and prophet, pastor and counselor, ordained minister and flawed, growing human being.

Stupid Obsessions Of Mine

  1. I have floral wallpaper in my bathroom. Every time I'm in there I count how many blossoms of a particular color are on it even though I have it memorized.
  2. I have never played a match of tennis, nor been to a live match, nor even watched a match on TV, but I follow the results of Men's Singles very closely and have been for the past 5 years. I am particularly obsessed with Rafael Nadal.
  3. I check my email about 20 times a day.
  4. I put my watch, cellphone, keys, and wallet in the exact same place every night before going to bed.
  5. I feel like I have to complete every single side-quest and mini-game in computer RPG's which pretty much makes WoW feel like a bottomless pit to me.
  6. When I make To-Do lists I check things off as I complete them, then cross them out as I complete "sets" of tasks, and then black everything out when the list is done. It feels like I accomplished more.
  7. If I can possibly help it, I start every single day with a swig of orange juice.
  8. I always eat red M&M's last.
  9. Once I realized I had posted to this blog everyday for the first 10 days of May I felt like I had to finish the month that way.
  10. #9 was the only reason for this post, but putting up one stupid obsession didn't seem like enough and if it was going to be a list then it had to have 10 things on it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ethics and Homosexuality

If you aren't tired of hearing me go on about different modes of moral reasoning and their relation to debate on homosexuality hop on over to Viola's. She responded to an email I wrote her and got a conversation going. If you're inclined to comment, respect her rules, since I don't want her blaming me for sending a bunch of rabble-rousers over. :P

Recruitment 101

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not a Sin: Gay Parents

A while back there was a conversation on this blog about same-gender parenting and wishing a study had been conducted to dispel some homophobia. Check this out:
There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with 1 or more gay parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families.
via The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children — Pawelski et al. 118 (1): 349 — Pediatrics.

h/t Drew Tatusko.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blind Spots

We all have blind spots. We all have areas of our moral imagination that we have left unexamined, or in which we have made commitments that are in contradiction with the rest of our moral character.

The Church has had some enormous blind spots over the centuries. It takes quite a blind spot to imagine you are serving the Prince of Peace by burning witches - or that you are upholding the purity of the Church by prosecuting heresy. In every era the Church has been blinded, as well, by the prevailing culture into drawing boundary lines between people who we should be proclaiming have been made one in Christ. We draw lines to exclude women, or savages, or homosexuals. While we proclaim liberty with one breath, in our next we are keeping certain people in captivity.

A truly remarkable example of how destructive these blind spots can be is the life of John Milton Chivington. He is rightly excoriated in the history books as the man responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre. After encouraging a group of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho natives to treat with him under the American flag, he led 700 US Soldiers in an attack on the unarmed encampment murdering around 400 women, children and elderly Native Americans. The victims were scalped and mutilated, and soldiers were seen later showing off "trophies" - scalps, fingers, and genitalia.

We would assume that a man guilty of such an atrocity must be deeply violent, and probably harbor beliefs of his own racial superiority. He never demonstrated remorse for the massacre in his life, and even threatened people who testified against him in congressional hearings about the event. One man, Captain Silas Soule, who served under Chivington and was present at Sand Creek, refused to follow Chivington's order to fire on the encampment. Soule testified against Chivington in the hearings and was later murdered by a soldier loyal to Chivington. So we are dealing with a guy who was absolutely convicted that his actions were justified.

So here is the twist - Chivington was an ordained Methodist minister and a committed abolitionist who had received death threats, and been moved for his protection, because of his preaching and acting on behalf of slaves.

How could a man committed to the gospel, who indeed gave his life in service to the Church, and clearly understood that service to mean risking his own life to free others from oppression and violence, then turn around and feel justified in murdering hundreds of unarmed human beings?

One parishioner remembers hearing John Chivington in a sermon, say:
It is an abuse of the dignity of God's children, an abuse of God's son Jesus Christ, to keep any human being in bondage...
Compare that with these words from the same man:
Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! ... I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Back Off This is My Flock!

A weird experience I never expected to have:

A man came into my congregation as a guest, a pastor from another community. At my invitation he preached in worship and held a Q&A session afterword about his ministry. Following the Q&A one of my parishioners approached him with a private question and he proceeded to offer her pastoral advice. The advice wasn't well received. This parishioner came to me later that day in tears and here is what surprised me - I was emotionally very protective of this person and angry at the man who came in from outside and mucked around with my people.

Now, I disagreed with his approach and felt his advice was off-target, but I wonder if I still would have been miffed even if I'd agreed with him. I thought his behavior was presumptuous, not so much because it transgressed on my territory but because, as an outsider, he doesn't know my people, whereas I am spending a lot of time and energy getting to know them precisely in order to justify the privilege I have of being approached by them with these kinds of questions. Furthermore, since he was a guest he went home and will probably never see this person again whereas I am likely to have to deal with this person's hurt feelings for a while.

What do you think - am I just overreacting? Is it silly to be protective of members of my congregation? Is it some outmoded patriarchal control impulse? Or is it legitimate?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Kirk Gets It Right

The Church of Scotland voted to dismiss the objections against the appointment of Rev. Scott Rennie, an openly homosexual minister, to Queen's Cross parish in Aberdeen.

Hurrah for them! May we puritanical Americans follow suit sooner rather than later.

The best thing about this decision is that it came against the backdrop of pressure from outside the church. Baptists and free-church members were the most prominent protesters proving once again that "guardians of orthodoxy" among American Presbyterians are more in line with the radical reformation and fundamentalists than with the Reformed branch of the church.

Congratulations to Rev. Scott Rennie who must have suffered plenty over the past year waiting to hear if the church would come to her senses and let him serve Christ. Many blessings on your ministry in Aberdeen.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Master...of Divinity!


Yeah, that's right, they gave it to me.

Who woulda thunk it?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Enough Politics

Seems like most of my posts lately have been about politics. I'm starting to get tired of it so I'll probably be taking a break from it for a while. I doubt I'll back off of the torture issue, but you can all read much better political commentary from other sources. This space should be more about pub-talk and theology. I've gotten off track. That's what happens when my other friars aren't prodding me about my soap-box tendencies...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Obama's speech today was extremely disappointing. He spoke about a number of things and though it had some nice high-minded ideology in it, at almost every turn he undermined his supposed ideals with his plans. He supports rule of law, but plans to continue indefinite detainment without legal recourse. He favors transparency, but plans to continue keeping plenty of things in the dark. He loves accountability, but plans to fight any attempt to actually hold people accountable for breaking laws if he thinks it will get in the way of his agenda.

Most disappointing to me is his continued opposition to any kind of truth commission or investigation of torture. He characterized the push for investigation as partisan finger-pointing playing right into the hands of the Sean Hannity and friends:

I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years. Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort, and our politics on the challenges of the future.

Torture is not a partisan issue. Upholding the rule of law is not a partisan value. It is not finger-pointing to try someone for a crime that evidence and witnesses and documentation clearly indicates they committed. What does he mean by "re-litigate"? I know that the thrust of his rhetoric is all about us moving forward and not looking back and he wants to give us the idea that all of that stuff is in the past, but it is disingenuous. This stuff can't be "re-litigated" because it has never been "litigated". We still don't know the whole truth. We still haven't actually held anyone accountable for anything. We're not asking to redo anything we're asking Obama to do what he promised to do - uphold the law.

I understand that Obama doesn't want his presidency defined by this, but it's not his choice. He says he wants to avoid partisan politics but by refusing to set up an independent bi-partisan commission he is ensuring that this remains political. It doesn't matter if there are economic matters or military matters that Obama thinks should take precedence, this isn't a political decision it is a law-enforcement decision. Is there evidence that crimes were committed? Yes. Then we are obligated to investigate and take appropriate action under the law.

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: "anything goes." Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants – provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Terrorism is not unique, it is ancient. Every President ever has alleged that their own circumstances were unique and required a new set of rules (or rather the breaking of all the old ones). It is not absolutist to say that national security cannot be a justification for breaking the law. Thus, whether there is transparency or secrecy, there must be accountability under the law. Or rather, whether that is an absolutist statement or not, it is also right.

Obama you are wrong, wrong, wrong. I think Glenn Greenwald put it well:
The speech was fairly representative of what Obama typically does: effectively defend some important ideals in a uniquely persuasive way and advocating some policies that promote those ideals (closing Guantanamo, banning torture tactics, limiting the state secrets privilege) while committing to many which plainly violate them (indefinite preventive detention schemes, military commissions, denial of habeas rights to Bagram abductees, concealing torture evidence, blocking judicial review on secrecy grounds). Like all political officials, Obama should be judged based on his actions and decisions, not his words and alleged intentions and motives. Those actions in the civil liberties realm, with some exceptions, have been profoundly at odds with his claimed principles, and this speech hasn't changed that. Only actions will.
The ironic/maddening/terrifying/tragic thing is that Cheney gave a speech immediately after Obama's and while their rhetoric couldn't have been more opposite, their actual positions are difficult to distinguish. Obama may be more dangerous than Cheney ever was, because with Cheney you know he is a villain - he rides into town proudly wearing the black hat, but Obama looks and sounds convincingly like a good guy.

Put Harry Reid in Gitmo

The Democrats in congress are spineless cowards. In other shocking news, water is wet.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to block the closure of Guantanamo. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) held a press conference afterward saying that he opposes the transfer of detainees to prisons in the US. Reid was incoherent and pedantic clinging to his talking points like a frightened meerkat:

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? …

REID: I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

Later, Reid repeated that he would not support Guantanamo detainees being transferred to U.S prisons:

QUESTION: But Senator, Senator, it’s not that you’re not being clear when you say you don’t want them released. But could you say — would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?

REID: Not in the United States.

Of course, this pedantic fear-mongering is borrowed right out of the Republican play book and is completely ignorant since there are already dozens of convicted terrorists in prison on American soil including this handful of fellows in my own state of Colorado:

Zacarias Moussaoui, Conspirator in the September 11, 2001 attacks
Omar Abdel-Rahman, "The Blind Sheik"; involved in 1993 WTC bombing
Richard Colvin Reid, Islamic terrorist, nicknamed the "Shoe Bomber"
Wadih el-Hage, Conspirator in the 1998 US embassy bombings
Mahmud Abouhalima, Islamic Mujahideen leader, 1993 WTC bombing
Jose Padilla, Convicted of aiding terrorists
Mohammed A. Salameh, 1993 WTC bombing

There are over 2 million people incarcerated in this country and only 240 detainees in Gitmo, of which only a handful are actually "high-value" prisoners. Don't you think we can handle this? Are we now more cowardly than during WWII when we had thousands of Nazis, Italian soldiers, and Japanese soldiers detained in this country throughout the whole war?

Of course, maybe the people at Fox News who went around showing pictures of people in Muslim head-gear and asking "would you want this person living in your backyard?" weren't so crazy. Maybe what Harry Reid and friends are really afraid of is that most of these detainees were wrongly imprisoned in the first place and all of them were illegally held without a trial and maybe moving them to American Prisons would just bring us one step closer to the day that we actually release them entirely. But that would involve admitting we were wrong, so it's highly unlikely.

I propose we throw Harry Reid in Gitmo and allow him to cool his heels while waiting for the President and congress to come up with a suitable plan for transferring the detainees. I certainly don't want an idiot like Mr. Reid in my backyard.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Iron Cross

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron." Dwight D. Eisenhower
Killing Jesus was an act of war. It was a declaration by one empire founded on the might of legions, of eternal enmity against the empire of the prince of peace. All violence ever since has been the continuation of that war, which is asymmetrical because the forces of heaven cannot be defeated. They are so utterly superior to the pathetic warlords and petty fiefdoms of this world that they do not deign to take even a single life in the process of their conquest. They are assured of victory by virtue of God's commitment to resurrection.

Because heaven is unassailable we lob our missiles at one another, taking grim pleasure in the piling up of collateral damage which is what we have consigned ourselves to be. We take shots at God and hit our children and then claim victory. We are all terrorists breathing hatred and destruction. Mad kings in our skull-sized kingdoms we are obsessed with murder. We line the roads with rebels on crosses; millions of souls pierced for our transgressions, and every one our self.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another Detour

I get a kick out of using this blog for things other than theology and politics.

I had a turn for the worse and then for the better again. It really bothers me to think of myself as dependent on medication to feel 'normal', but its the case, at least for now. I had to switch up what I was taking (with the doctor's consultation of course) and for the first time in maybe two months, I've had three days I'd call "baseline". Crazy. I've been able to just enjoy things I normally enjoy, get out of bed without 45 minutes of effort, and feel ok for more than a few minutes a day.

I'm fine with knowing that I have asthma and having to use an inhaler at least once a day. I'm even fine with having a slightly weird spine that means I get back pain periodically and I have to take painkillers for that. But thinking of myself as someone who has to take a little pink pill in order to feel like a human being...that is hard to swallow.

In the meantime, I find that I can write again, and I feel motivated to do things for the first time in a couple of months, which is a great change. And my friends, coworkers and wife can get a break from hearing me whine, which will be nice for them.

I might even talk about theology or politics.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Presidential Sermon

Obama spoke at Notre Dame University yesterday. According to everyone it was controversial. He is a great speaker (whatever you think of him) and he gave a doozy of an address/sermon to that crowd.


He started with a joke:

I want to thank you for this honorary degree. I know it has not been without controversy. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by. So far I’m only 1 for 2 as President. Father Hesburgh is 150 for 150. I guess that’s better. Father Ted, after the ceremony, maybe you can give me some pointers on how to boost my average.
He then set the stage for his principal point:

We must decide how to save God’s creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it. We must seek peace at a time when there are those who will stop at nothing to do us harm, and when weapons in the hands of a few can destroy the many. And we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity - diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family. It is this last challenge that I’d like to talk about today. For the major threats we face in the 21st century - whether it’s global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease - do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.

He moved through several examples before directly addressing the controversy around his visit:

...when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That’s when we begin to say, “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

And then he laid this on them:

In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse.

But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.

He finished with this:

Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family and the same fulfillment of a life well-lived. Remember that in the end, we are all fishermen.

If nothing else, that knowledge should give us faith that through our collective labor, and God’s providence, and our willingness to shoulder each other’s burdens, America will continue on its precious journey towards that more perfect union. Congratulations on your graduation, may God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

I alternate between confused/angry and excited with Obama. He's not been strong enough on human rights or torture, he's spending WAY too much especially on the banks and corporations, and he is back and forth on transparency. He is also failing big time with Don't Ask Don't Tell. But he is doing great with the environment, health care, and education. His foreign policy is also light-years better than our last administration. He is making the right move closing Gitmo, and ending extraordinary rendition. So I don't know whether I like him or not, but I know he gives a mean sermon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Preaching the Long Game

Preaching is a passion of mine. Could be I just like the sound of my own voice. Could be that it combines my interest in drama with ethics, storytelling, teaching, and philology. Could be that I genuinely want to share the Gospel to the best of my ability. Could be all three or something else entirely. You decide.

I was fortunate to get plenty of experience preaching before taking my first call. I was preaching at my home church regularly before going to seminary. At seminary I took every homiletics class I could get into, while volunteering to fill pulpits around the Bay Area. In my internship I preached about twice a month for the first half, until my supervisor resigned. For the second half of the internship I preached every Sunday.

All of this experience was great, but it had in common one flaw - it was always temporary. Usually I was "guest preaching" just one time in each of those places. Even at the internship I was filling in for someone and I knew I wasn't there for the long term. I think this gave a kind of unnecessary urgency to my sermons. I was rushed. I hurried to get to the punch line, knowing that I wouldn't get many other chances.

What's become more and more apparent to me as I preach week in and week out in my current call, is that I have time. It is not that the message is less vital or that I have lowered my sights or backed off of my goals. It is, rather, that I see how I can move from week to week along an intentional path with my congregation. I can have the destination in sight from farther out and work steadily to get there without having to sprint each time I climb into the pulpit.

This is important for a number of reasons.

When I sprint, I tend to leave people behind. If they weren't ready to run with me they just stand there looking bewildered at this precocious kid who has suddenly darted away from them. It isn't that I am bright and other people are slow it is that...

You can only sprint down a well-trod path. The first time someone walks a path they have to hack their way through the underbrush. I tend to forget that the first time I traveled this way I went step by step. I have to be patient enough to help them clear the underbrush and pack down the earth before the road is ready for running.

Also, when I move faster than people are ready for it looks like I'm jumping to conclusions. Unless the landmarks along the road are familiar, a hasty journey has the effect of seeming like a commercial flight at 40,000ft. You come in one airport and out another and you are just "magically" in a new place. You fail to see how the two places are connected. This makes it hard for people to accept my conclusions - they seem harsh and alien and unrelated to their own starting points. They can't see how I got from point A to point Q.

Finally, it is important to think long-term in preaching, because it saves me stress on a weekly basis. I don't have to figure out how I'm going to get my congregation to move from "love your enemies" to "nuclear disarmament" in a single sermon. I can take time and really explore love of enemies over weeks and weeks. I can help them extrapolate step by step over a variety of situations the implications of loving our enemies. I may even be so fortunate as to have people in the congregation come to important conclusions on their own.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Tragic Map


This map depicts the use of capital punishment around the world. The black spots are countries that use it.

Note that the US is in good company: Saudi Arabia, Iran, China...

Note that all of Europe, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South America and even Russia do not kill their prisoners.

There is currently some good pressure going on to abolish the death penalty in this country. New Mexico took the bold step recently. Colorado came very close - it will certainly be coming up again at the next session of the state legislature. Wherever you are, you should push to help end this barbaric practice.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Graduation

The two best friars there ever were are graduating from seminary very soon. Doug and Nick have learned Greek and Hebrew, suffered through the Intro to Ministry series, become ethical, learned theology and read a ridiculous amount of self-important theologians, taken a stupid number of units in Biblical Studies, and managed to squeeze in the occasional good course too. They've put up with frustration and administration, they've also, frankly, gotten to live in some of the best weather on the planet. They've paid a crap-ton of money, and eaten infinite lunches at Java-Hut (hub, whatever).

Congratulations guys. I know it doesn't seem like a big deal. I know you're mostly just exhausted, disillusioned, and a bit stressed about what comes next, but you will very soon be MASTERS OF DIVINITY! (cue He-Man theme song)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Atheists Have Stronger Morals Than Christians

New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris contend that religion not only dulls the wits and distracts us with fantasies, but actually hinders serious morality. The contention is an offensive generalization, but it is hard to defend against when stuff like this comes out:

The poll data from a survey of 742 U.S. adults released April 29 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 62 percent of white evangelical Protestants said torture of a suspected terrorist could be often or sometimes justified to obtain important information.

By contrast, 51 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics, 46 percent of white mainline Protestants and 40 percent of the religiously unaffiliated held that position.

Those who attend religious services at least once a week were more likely than those who rarely or never attend to say torture is sometimes or often justified in that scenario — 54 percent to 42 percent.

How is it possible that Christians, followers of a tortured and executed savior, could be MORE likely to support torture than atheists? Is there another issue about which we ought to have such automatic clarity and unity? If we think, for the most part, that it is okay to go on nailing people to crosses then what the hell is the gospel about?

To be fair, the Pew Forum did point out that religion is a less reliable indicator of support for torture than political affiliation or economic status. Also, a different study done last fall came out with this:

A poll commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University found that 44 percent of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experience and common sense to form opinions on torture. By contrast, 28 percent said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

So if we were to extrapolate irresponsibly from this limited data, we could say that a majority of Christians who support torture do so on the basis of political factors, because they think that their religion doesn't have anything important to say on the subject.

Oh. Ok. So it's just that we have failed utterly to proclaim the gospel, not that more than half of all Christians are repulsive hypocrites. I suppose that's better. Sort of.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

BenX: Autistic Gospel

We don't appreciate foreign cinema enough in this country. Absolute gems like this Belgian film about a boy with Asperger's go completely unnoticed. It was entered for consideration for the "Best Foreign Film" category at the Academy Awards in 2008, but didn't even get the nomination. There is no way there were 5 better films last year. This is an amazing movie.

Now that there is absolutely no suspense as far as my opinion of the movie - go rent it. Stop reading what I think and go watch the film. Then come back and tell me if you saw the same things I did.

*************

BenX is ingenious in its construction. It is told partly through documentary style interviews, partly through a linear narrative, partly through fantasies of the main character, and partly through the main character's interactions in a MMORPG. Through this jumble of different approaches we get into the head of Ben, an autistic boy, in a way I would not have thought possible in film.

The presenting subject of the film is autism, or possibly bullying, but these are really just the outward form. The real genre of this movie is gospel. By getting you into the head of this autistic boy, and helping you understand autism as you never have before this movie sets you up for a remarkable transformation, which turns the situation on its head and makes you see life and death differently. It is intense and upsetting. It will be shocking to many. It is absolutely necessary.

The film references the gospel in a number of ways. From the obvious: a scene early in the film has a literature teacher talking about Jesus' crucifixion. To the subtle: the name BenX (which has a cross in it) is a flemish pun meaning "I am nothing". It is a reference to the servant song of Isaiah, "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not."

Ben embodies the man of sorrows even better than our traditional pictures of Jesus - who is often strong and manly, articulate and persuasive - a powerful, miracle-working, savior. Ben is none of these things. He is awkward and unkempt. He is fragile and unsettling. His sorrow is profound and in his violent end he teaches us that we are violent people, and he shows us a new way. The film offers us a way into the future which is humanizing and life-giving. It is the gospel. It is fantastic.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Waterboarding in 1902

h/t TYWKIWDBI

The caption is especially fascinating: "Chorus in background} 'Those pious Yankees can't throw stones at us anymore.'"

Tidbits on Torture

I summarized most of the news on torture in a previous post. Since this is an issue I am particularly attuned to I comb a couple dozen items a day on the subject. The frequency of reports and commentary about torture are increasing, not decreasing, which I take as a good sign that we are not going to sweep this stuff under the carpet.

One point which came up in the comments was whether torture was an effective deterrent - ie: does it discourage terrorism by frightening our enemies? On the contrary, a recent statistical study suggest that there countries which torture more also experience more terrorism (both of the domestic and transnational variety). This is consistent with other studies about the abuse of human rights and terrorism as well as capital punishment and violent crime. The lesson should be obvious: violence begets violence.

Another significant comment on the subject of torture came from Hussein Rashid who wonders why there has been such deafening silence from American Muslims on the issue. He then went on to rectify that problem by issuing a public statement on behalf of the American Muslim community (which is gathering many signatures) condemning the use of torture on the basis of Muslim beliefs.

John Winn argued for the Washington Times that there will be no prosecution because no laws have been broken, and that no American Jury would convict because the defense would just have to play video of 9/11 over and over. Scott Horton disagreed strongly, pointing out that there have been multiple homicides under the torture program by both CIA and military. Andrew Sullivan, also rightly remarked that such a defense would make a mockery of the entire justice system. Does every crime have to be worse than 9/11 to be illegal now? Is 9/11 sufficient justification for any kind of depravity? Have we really sunk so low?

And in case you think the push for prosecution is a liberal witch-hunt, remember that Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the entire torture program back in '02. There are no good guys in this mess. It is just a giant disgusting debacle, and it gets worse every day that we avoid actually holding ourselves accountable.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jon Stewart v. Cliff May

It is disappointing to think that there are almost no mainstream media outlets where this kind of conversation is happening in such a frank and thorough manner. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show interviews Cliff May on the issue of torture and the cameras roll while they have a great debate for quite a while. It was too long to be shown on the program, but they put the entire interview up online. How crazy is it that a comedian is the one having this conversation...

Part 1
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor


Part 2
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 2
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor


Part 3
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 3
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Saturday, May 9, 2009

National Day of Prayer

National Day of Prayer was this past Thursday. As a minister, I was invited by the local chapter of the National Day of Prayer Task Force to assist in leading a public prayer service in our town. It was held in the park beside the library at city center. A modest crowd attended and 3 other ministers from different denominations were involved.

The service began with a color guard, the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem. We then had prayers (interspersed with patriotic hymns) on the following subjects: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church, and Family. I gave the prayers on Media and Education.

This event made me extremely uncomfortable on a number of levels.

Gramatically the very idea of a "National Day of Prayer" is ambiguous. Is it a day for people to pray about the nation? If so, what shall we pray? Shall we pray for the nation (the more likely assumption)? Or against the nation (ie: should we take a prophetic bent)? Or is this a day for generally that the people of the nation should set aside for prayer (in which case the nation is not the subject of the prayers, but the subject of the clause)? Because this is not a country made up of exclusively Christians the purpose of the holiday is intentionally vague. People of different faiths can interpret it to mean what they want. But then what are people of no faith to do with this day (or faiths that do not pray)?

Politically, a "National Day of Prayer" is very troublesome. There is no question that there is Biblical precedent for entire nations engaging in prayer, or individuals praying on behalf of nations. But the nations depicted in the Bible are unapologetically theocratic. What on earth does such an idea mean in a secular democracy? Overt religiosity has always played a role in American political rhetoric, but it sits uneasily with our foundational governing principals. We are of two minds, politically, about the role of religion in our national identity.

Theologically, a "National Day of Prayer" is a veritable minefield. I don't think there is anything wrong with praying for the nation, per se, but it is at least flirting very closely with idolatry. Are we praying to the God of all peoples on behalf of this one people, or are we tempted to turn God into an American? What does it mean to say in the church sanctuary "thy kingdom come", and then in the park to pray "preserve this kingdom against other kingdoms"? How do we negotiate the question of allegiance when expected to place our hand over our hearts and declare our loyalty to the American flag, but we have already declared ourselves servants of the Risen Lord? What about the narrative of violence such events portray? Notice that the schedule included prayers for the military, but none for our enemies. What does this say about the theology of the event?

But the biggest trouble I had was practical, and this is what I would like to hear your thoughts about: how should we approach public situations like this?

One choice, obviously is non-participation. I seriously considered that route, believing that I would have a hard time praying with integrity in such a setting. Ultimately I chose to participate for two reasons: I want to interface more with the community outside my church, and I hoped it would be possible to gently guide the event away from idolatrous nationalism at least in the portions I would lead.

If we choose to participate a host of practical questions arise - do you join with everyone else in saying the pledge of allegiance? I did not.

Do you sing the national anthem? I did not.

Do you place your hand on your heart or show other signs of reverance for the flag? I did.

What attitude do you bring to the prayers and how do you participate in them? For example, I found I could not say Amen to the prayers for our military without silently saying a personal prayer for our enemies as well.

When leading prayers, what do you emphasize? What would you say?

Let's hear it people. How would you handle these situations?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Gospel as Book Report

Persuant to my previous post, I've been thinking a little about the Gospel and how it is often presented - as a book report. I've realized I am not that interested in more book reports on the Bible. I don't think anyone is going to say anything new. I encourage everyone to go read the Bible and read books about the Bible, but don't confuse that with the Gospel.

The Good News is an exhausted runner returning from the front lines of the war, with the most amazing news of an unexpected victory snatched from the jaws of death itself. This runner is you. How have you been rescued? How have you been snatched from the jaws of death? What do you have to testify about? That is what is new. That is what is interesting to me.

The Bible is one of the ways I am brought together with other Christians, but I am finding that it is the people I am fascinated with, the people I love, the people I want to find out about, the people I want to interact with, more than the Bible. I want to be alive now. I only really care about atonement insofar as it has touched your life. Talking about atonement theologically is a fun and interesting passtime. Debates can be very engaging and interesting, and they're one way we sharpen our minds - but we sharpen them for a purpose which is not more arguing.

We sharpen our minds so that we can live our lives more fully. We sharpen our minds so that we can seek God more deeply.

That feeling I've had in the past, of being twisted up inside, when I've gotten dragged into another argument about theological differences - I think that feeling was coming up because I was doing the wrong thing. I was betraying what at my core I believe to be true - we are all in this together, and we are getting out of this together or not at all. There is no situation where I win and you lose - that is not the kind of game we are playing.

I know that I'm in that enthusiastic stage where I'm full of an idea, an insight, but I can't express it very well. Dammit.

But the Gospel is not a book report. The Gospel is your life, the Gospel is my life, or it is nothing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pink Shirts For Justice

These two boys deserve a medal. David Shepherd and Travis Price of Cambridge, MA, took a stand against bullying at Central Kings Rural High School.

After watching a fellow student get harassed and mocked and called (gasp) homosexual for showing up to school in a pink shirt, they decided they'd had enough of the bully culture at their school. They got online and spread word of a plan to have students show up en masse in pink. They bought 75 pink tank tops, and got as many people as they could to participate.

On the day, out of a student body of 830 students, about half were wearing pink. The bullies were predictably angered by the stunt, but the message had been made loud and clear.

It is a classic pacifist move - resist violence publicly and loudly (preferably in large numbers) by shaming the violent and showing them to be petty and ridiculous. Martin Luther King Jr. called it arousing the conscience. The more we make a public show of our peaceful conduct in the face of violence, the more we undermine the social acceptance of brutality.

Fearmongers and bullies in our media and government who want to persuade us that perpetual warfare and torture are the only way to keep us safe don't deserve our respect, but our ridicule. We should all show up outside the offices and homes of such individuals in pink shirts and shake our heads in benign disapproval at their childish insecurity.

Maybe I Do Believe in Heaven

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rape and Torture

Andrew Sullivan hits the nail on the head, again.

One way to look at how the Bush administration redefined torture out of existence, so that it could, er, torture human beings, is to compare their criteria for "enhanced interrogation" with those for rape. Raping someone need not leave any long-term physical scars; it certainly doesn't permanently impair any bodily organ; it has no uniquely graphic dimensions - the comic book pulling-fingernail scenarios the know-nothings in the Bush administration viewed as torture; and although it's cruel, it's hardly unusual. It happens all the time in regular prisons, although usually by other inmates as opposed to guards. It barely differs from the sexual abuse, forced nudity and psychological warfare inflicted on prisoners by Bush-Cheney in explicit terms.

Recall that smearing fake sexual blood on the faces of victims was regarded as brilliant interrogation by the Bushies in Gitmo - and its psychological effects were supposed to be heightened by Muslim sexual sensibilities. And male rape would be particularly effective in destroying male Muslim self-worth and psychological integrity. Rape almost perfectly fits, in other words, every criterion the Bush administration used to define "enhanced interrogation."

So ask yourself: if Abu Zubaydah had been raped 83 times, would we be talking about no legal consequences for his rapist - or the people who monitored and authorized the rape?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Sudden Flash of Light

For the past two months, possibly more, I've been struggling with a resurgence of clinical depression. Calling it "clinical" makes it sound more 'official', doesn't it? Part of that is to ameliorate the effect of breaking taboos around talking about mental health. Particularly for a person seeking to be a pastor. Everyone knows that pastors never experience depression, right? Because they are...I don't know...special in some way.

I've made opportunities to contend with this problem in my life, and I've also been offered a number of opportunities in my CPE program. I've also started on medication a few weeks ago. The reason for this was that I saw, and got a lot of feedback from other people around me, that my depression was having a lot of impact on the quality of my work and of my life.

Its been really interesting working with the inpatient and outpatient behavioral health groups at the hospital during this ongoing struggle in my own life and heart/mind. The obvious questions come up, like why am I in the position I'm in while they are labeled "patient" and in many cases they are in the hospital by court mandate.

What I've noticed in the past couple of days is that I'm feeling a bit better.

If you haven't experienced depression, I've found it hard to explain it so that I feel like its understood. It might just be one of those things. It feels like grief sometimes, except you're not grieving anything specific. But it has that crushing sensation in the chest, the sinking feeling in the stomach, the lack of energy and motivation, morbid thinking, flashes of anger - the things I associate with grief. Its also very individual. I don't want to out anyone, but I know a number of people who also struggle with depression, and we're all unique snowflakes as it were.

I've taken it as a sort of spiritual discipline, in the category of becoming more genuine and honest and direct, and in also being first in putting my neck out there when I feel strongly about something. I've been talking to my family (even the ones I don't like, or don't know that well) and friends and coworkers about what's going on with me. It has led me to reflect a lot about honesty, and I had a couple of things to share:

The experience this time, compared to the last time years ago when I went on meds for depression, has been more positive in every way - and you can perhaps imagine the irony there. I've found that either people are pretty accepting of what's going on with me because they care about me, or they aren't supportive, and that reveals to me how much they care. I have found people around me to be supportive in ways I hadn't even thought of.

I have found that this kind of sometimes-radical-seeming honesty has changed me. Its exciting and strange to find that I'm changing something about myself. I have consistently gotten feedback that I have never been more present and engaged with my colleagues and I have noticed that my interactions with patients and staff have suddenly changed in quality. I've said things I'd have hesitated to say in the past, and I trust my instincts more than I have.

Really, I trust myself more. Perhaps this is becomes I am working hard to be more honest, and an honest person is more trustworthy.

There's a lot here that is far beyond the scope of this blog post. But in feeling better, I feel like I have a little energy to do things beyond barely getting through day after day, which is how I've felt for a while now. And I suppose that this post counts as part of my spiritual practice of honesty.

What I've experienced, in theological terms, is grace. Not the sometimes-contrived grace of reading a prayer of confession from a bulletin and receiving a pre-prepared assurance of pardon, or the self-absorbed grace of silently confessing and pretending that is all that is needed. I've been forced by this practice to own up to things I realized I was doing that were damaging, and I examine my life a little differently now.

I've connected this with my love of Good Friday. Without Good Friday, the God of Easter has nothing to say to me. I have come to know God most fully through God's wounds, and my experiments in demonstrating this in my own life, by being more open about my wounds, has been like a sudden flash of light. By his stripes we are healed. Now I have a much better sense of what this means in my own life.

If this is what I was meant to learn here, then amen. Keep it coming.

But I don't think I'll drop the meds just yet.

Get Rich Biblically

This kind of stuff turns my stomach.

There will always be snake-oil salesman, but when the marketing (read: lying) is pulled from scripture and wrapped in the trappings of Christianity I take personal offense. I spend my life trying to persuade people (including myself) that the meaning of human existence is giving ourselves away in order to be truly found - and then someone like Dave Ramsey comes along and tells my parishioner that God wants them to hoard.

Blessed are the poor, Mr. Ramsey.

Indeed, since you're so concerned about what the Bible says about money, let's take a look.

Against our notion of private property contrast this: The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. (Lev 25:23)

Read that whole chapter about Jubilee which is a regular redistribution of wealth that would pretty much kill our credit economy.

The book of proverbs which you quoted as if it were supportive of your money-management scheme has this to say: He who trusts in riches will wither. (Prov. 11:28)

Jesus is the harshest critic of all. He said, "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon." (Luke 16:13) Mammon means wealth in Aramaic.

"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20)

"Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:24)

"Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again" (Luke 6:30)

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth" for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19, 21)

The Bible frequently counsels an inner attitude of detachment from wealth, "If riches increase, set not your heart on them." (Ps. 62:10)

But Jesus goes much further instructing the rich young ruler to sell everything he owns (Matt. 19:16-22), and when the man can't he says, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matt 19:24)

"Take heed," Jesus says, "and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions... Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail." (Luke 12:15,33)

Between those two verses Jesus tells the story of a rich farmer who hoards a good crop. By our standards he is savvy - Jesus calls him a fool. (Luke 12:16-21)

Pastoral advice about money abounds in the epistles as well.

Paul says, "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction." (1 Tim. 6:9)

"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, 'I will never fail you nor forsake you'" (Heb. 13:5)

Greed is idolatry. It is as bad as adultery and thievery. It is the source of violence; "You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war." (James 4:1-2)

I'll stop here. As I've been admonished before, anyone can use a concordance. It will do no more good to continue piling up quotes.

But this is more than a selective list of proof-texts. This is a dominant, even overwhelming, theme in scripture that is exactly the opposite of what Mr. Ramsey says. He says on his site that money is mentioned in scripture over 800 times, but never bothers to let his readers know that nearly every single time it is in a negative light. It's demonic.

Don't listen to me, though. I'm depressing. Go listen to Dave Ramsey. He can tell you how you can get rich biblically.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mission-al

Darrell Guder came to speak at the meeting of the Presbytery of Plains and Peaks yesterday evening. He was the principal editor of the book "Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America" which spawned the missional church movement a little more than a decade ago. He is an engaging speaker. This is my summary of what he said with some comments and questions of my own inserted.

According to Darrell Guder, for 1700 years the Church has been doing systematic theology, especially ecclesiology without so much as one word about mission. He doesn't mean that the Church wasn't ever doing mission, but if you think about it - where is the paragraph about mission in any of our creeds or confessions? The first use of the word mission in our Book of Confessions came in 1903 when a paragraph was added to the Westminster Confession - and the idea wasn't really fleshed out until 1967. Think about the major historic theologians - Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin... where are their writings on mission?

To explain this Guder refers to the popular narrative of Christendom which basically goes like this: for the first 2-300 years Christianity was a minority movement about the apostolic project of founding witnessing communities to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then, around the time of Constantine and following, Christianity became "established" as the official religion. Once institutionalized the radical nature of the movement was subverted and Christianity basically went on its merry way, wedded to the State, for 1700 years until the rise of secular atheism "dis-established" the Church in Europe and America.

That is over-simplistic, but you get the idea. Theology for so long wasn't concerned with mission because mission is what you did "out there". Over here, we were living inside Christendom. We were the already evangelized. The movement had succeeded and was thus finished.

For Guder, and those advocating what they call "Missional Theology" (though the word missional is now just another over-used buzz word), the Church exists as God's community of witnesses in a particular location. The Church exists by mission, as a flame exists by burning - so goes the popular quote. It isn't that we "go" anywhere in order to do "mission". It is that we are either engaged in God's mission all the time or we are not being the Church.

I agree with Guder's basic premises, though I think he is exaggerating the extent to which the Church ignored mission. Vatican II said "The pilgrim church is missionary by her very nature," and I don't think they believed they were saying something new, but merely what was understood all along. That is, even if mission wasn't mentioned in those specific terms I think the Church understood itself to be about doing God's work in the world. It is definitely true, though, that the radical aspects of the movement were compromised by growing institutional security - thus our heightened institutional insecurity now is an opportunity to recapture our radical roots.

But one thing Guder said last night struck me as incongruent. He said that the Bible is God's instrument for creating witnessing communities. I think I tentatively disagree.

First of all, in the early Church the instrument used for creating witnessing communities were the apostles. Paul clearly sees himself as such an instrument. True, he used scripture and (if you credit him with writing 2 Timothy) even said "all scripture is useful," but it was nevertheless him who was using it. Scripture was a tool, but he was the instrument.

Secondly, "the Bible" is different from "scripture". "The Bible" refers to the canon. The canon is a relic of the institutional Church. It comes about as a key part of the process of the Church being established as the official religion of the empire. "Scripture" on the other hand refers to holy writings believed to express the intentions of God.

Doesn't it seem contradictory to suggest that we ought to be recapturing the missionary spirit of the early Church, but then claim the primary instrument for doing so is the central pillar of Christendom?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Not a Sin: Gay Culture

I am not gay, so I cannot speak for the "gay community" if there is such a thing. I know, and I hope my readers do too, that there is a diversity of lifestyles and attitudes among LGBT people, just as in heterosexuals - so it is dubious whether there really is such a thing as "gay culture." My comments here are limited and provisional in nature, but I see no reason why we should treat the subject as taboo.

When we say "gay culture" we usually mean the most visible element or social expression of homosexual identity typified by Gay Pride parades, or events like the Folsom Street Fair. These events are flamboyant affairs with lots of costumes, cross-dressing and overt eroticism. Outrageous appearances, and behavior are normal in this context. If you don't like leather and chains and lots of nudity you won't like this scene.

Gay culture also has its own vocabulary: "bear", "twink", "top", "bottom" etc... There are very specific labels for each role in the community relating to appearance, sexual tastes, and attitude.

Many people find this stuff offensive. Conservatives point at a picture of a scantily clad transvestite on a float at a parade as more evidence that homosexuality is sinful, but there are a number of reasons to reject that idea:
  1. At base it is an aesthetic judgment. So, some people find it scandalous. So what? That is personal taste. What, exactly, is wrong with a little leather?
  2. The key word in the phrase gay culture is culture. Even if there is behavior you find distasteful or immoral it is not central to being homosexual. One does not have to be effeminate to be a gay man, or butch to be a lesbian.
  3. Not all homosexuals participate in the popular variety of gay culture described here. The behavior of some cannot be attributed to all.
Being gay and dressing up and going to a BDSM parlor are not inextricably linked. Even if we find elements of gay culture to criticize on moral grounds it is still not an indictment of homosexuality itself.

In fact, it's not surprising that gay culture is shocking to mainstream sensibilities. It is a subculture, like being "punk" or "goth", which exists in large part as an ongoing critique of the mainstream. It is SUPPOSED to offend you. It is part of creating a sense of community among those who get the rough end of the status quo stick. The slang, the dress code, the wild behavior - it is designed to create identity, by affirming membership in a social group.

Really, given the options out there, I think gay culture is pretty positive. Rather than a constant expression of rage (punk), or depression (goth), it is a merry farce lampooning the mainstream. It relieves the stress of being an outcast community with humor instead of resentment.