Monday, August 31, 2009

Brief Announcement

So, amazingly, I've gotten hired by to be one of their "Examiners" for religion and spirituality in the bay area. This gig may pay next to nothing - the pay isn't really the point for me. The point is that it is a writing gig.

The point of this post is to say that I'll still want to be involved with Two Friars and a Fool, but I'll have this other thing I'm responsible for as well. I'm starting in the next couple of days (I've been moving and so on) and am responsible for writing 3-4 short articles per week. I already feel both excited and quite daunted by the prospect.

There are still things I want to say here that I won't really be able to say there, so this isn't goodbye by any means, just a brief announcement...

And now back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Your Job Is Evil

I really despise most "vocational theology" out there. It amounts to little more than comforting people in their miserable jobs, or convincing ourselves that pointless or even horrific activities are part of God's purpose for our lives. I get what Luther was trying to do by saying that being a good baker is as important as being a good priest, but it has led us to a state of puerility where whatever you're doing right now must be what God intends for you.

Most jobs are not vocations. No one has a vocation to make photocopies and fetch coffee. Saying that some people have a vocation to work a shitty job is just a tool the Church uses for keeping a nice orderly society. The protestant work ethic is a stroke of genius for ingratiating the Church to the Government.

Furthermore, many jobs are not even suitable vehicles for fulfilling your universal vocation of discipleship. Some jobs are just Evil (with an Austin Powers emphasis) and if you think you are living out God's purpose for your life you are gloriously deluded. Here are some reasons why your job is Evil...

Servants of Mammon

Sales: If you want to get some practice at lying, become a salesperson. If you want to hone an overdeveloped sense of self-interest, work on a commission. If you want to belong to a fraternity of braggarts, work in corporate sales. The quintessential Evil moment for a salesman is when you give a fist pump after walking away from the trailer park having indebted another family by persuading them to buy the deluxe set of Henckel's serrated knives...

Marketing: If sales is lying, marketing is preemptive lying - brainwashing. Whereas Sales is intimate, marketing is impersonal. If anything though, marketing is far more Evil. Marketing is about denigrating human beings, society, and life in order to create false desires. You then seek to manipulate these false desires so that they build up your wealth, while impoverishing everyone else. If you make a living putting people down for a profit - your job is Evil.

Other Evil servants of the Evil lord Mammon include: Stock Brokers, Investment Bankers, Oil Speculators, Insurance Claim Denial Specialists, "Consultants"...

Servants of Mars

Soldier: Let's face it, at root a soldier's job is about killing people. Killing people is Evil. Worse than just killing people though, by agreeing to the entire military culture of obedience soldiers are participants in the single largest fictional justification of murder down through history. Because as long as it is "soldiers" doing the killing instead of, you know, people, we call it war and invest it with faux virtues like honor, duty, and sacrifice. By enabling this mass delusion soldiers make us all liars and hypocrites. More Evil than any soldier, though, are officers.

Politicians: If soldiers are Evil and officers are even worse, then politicians are really blackhearted infernal vermin. It is the job of a politician to maintain power and order through a steady diet of war, police enforcement, and ideological vitriol. The ideal accomplishment of a politician is for foreign enemies to be murdered, domestic foes discredited and imprisoned, the populace confused, afraid, or infused with a fanatical fever, and the status quo absolutely unaltered.

Other Evil servants of the Evil God Mars include: Mercenaries, Defense Contractors, the Media, Police Officers, Security Guards, Customs Officials, a variety of Government Functionaries...

Servants of the Morning Star himself...

Few professions have the deleterious effect on humanity that the clergy do. Not only do clergy justify every form of gross moral abuse and ease the troubled consciences of many a murderer, sexual predator, and thief, but clergy serve by their very existence as a universal excuse for the irreligion and vice of lay people. It is a stroke of pure Evil genius that the presence of a clergy person can at once represent a harsh esteem-crushing judgmentalism and perpetual indulgence for unsavory behavior. Furthermore, a clergy-person's claim to metaphysical authority bestows upon them an unimpeachable power of persuasion over the weak-minded. It is, of all the professions, one of the most Evil.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Important Countercultural Prohibitions

According to Christian...



No Killing

No Fornication

No Torture

No Gays

No Hoarding Wealth

No Dancing

No Exploiting the Poor

No Drinking

No Racism/Sexism/


No Abortion

No Cussing

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ok UK, We Hear You

In a mere 2 days, 115,738 citizens of the UK have felt the need to clarify their feelings about their national healthcare system, so maligned by conservative worshipers of insurance companies.

I'm not sure how far this petition will go - I imagine it'll lose steam at some point. It's just another little piece of evidence that Republicans are using a number of tactics, including lying, to convince us that 37th in the world for health care is acceptable for the wealthiest and most powerful nation ever to exist.

Granted, there are a few out there who are offering actual solutions rather than screaming and guns, but they don't seem to be the majority in our popular culture right now. And I've established that I am not an Obama worshiper myself, and I can list some imperfections of Obamacare, but if my options are 1) screaming lunatics who bring AR-15s to town hall meetings supported by insurance-company funded Republicans and 2) the 37th health care system in the world for the highest price in the world or 3) Obamacare...well, that's an easy choice. I wish I had better options, but that's what's in front of me.

Oh, and denouncing Obama's "death panels" when they were first put forward by George W. Bush a few years ago and went basically unmentioned? Still incredibly hypocritical, even if you pretend that "death panel" has anything to do with the legislation being considered.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inconsistency & Nonviolence

Being a pacifist is a sure way to get people to criticize you. One criticism that I frequently get is the criticism of inconsistency. People accuse me of being a pacifist only when convenient, or only in certain circumstances. People also accuse me of inconsistent loyalties - that is they think I'm more opposed to violence done by my own country than violence done by other countries.

The first response to this accusation is - of course, I'm inconsistent. Who on earth is perfectly consistent? I'm a human being. If I was jumped in an alleyway I might fight back out of fear or instinct. I'm not claiming to be a saint.

But the kind of inconsistency I'm guilty of is not the kind of inconsistency these people usually mean. They mean that by voicing opinion against certain types or incidents of violence I'm somehow tacitly supporting other types of violence. They mean, for example, that by criticizing the war in Iraq, I'm somehow supporting the terrorists. This is ludicrous, but so common I feel compelled to address it.

Public discourse is dominated these days by a superficial idea of balance. The mainstream media have established a dogma of impartiality that revolves around word count and obsessive hedging of language. The dogma is this: There are two sides, and only two sides, to every story. Objectivity means reporting on both sides equally without value judgments. Truth, facts, and evidence are irrelevant in a dispute - all that matters is the controversy.

Thus we get into absurd situations where creationist "experts" are presented as credible opponents of evolutionary science. Or the NY Times refuses to use the word torture to describe what America has done when the identical techniques done in Iran or Vietnam are called torture by Times reporters all the time. The reason? The debate over what constitutes torture in this country is ongoing...

With this dogma in mind I've been accused of being unfair in my criticism of American violence because I haven't spent an equal amount of time and energy criticizing the violence of "the other side". The ultimate trump in this argument in 9/11. If I mention casualties in Iraq - but 9/11!! Detainees being tortured to death - 9/11!!!

Well, you arbiters of fairness and extollers of all that is good and noble about American's killing whoever they want to, there are very good reasons for me to be so apparently inconsistent.

#1 - Proximity. I am an American. I am responsible for my government's actions. I have a stake in it. I should care more about what Americans do than what other people do. Not only because I'm responsible, but also because I actually have the power to. I can't do a thing if someone in a cave around the world decides to bomb me. I can vote for politicians in this country who promise not to bomb people though. Get the plank out of my own eye and all that...

#2 - Power. The supposed "sides" in this conflict are not equal. America is the world's most powerful military. You know the Spider Man proverb? The more power and money you have the more scrutiny your behavior deserves. When America commits violence we are the fat senior high retard pummeling the elementary school children for lunch money. When those elementary school kids punch us back it just doesn't have the same moral (or physical) force. Do I hold America to high standards? Damn right I do! And you should too.

#3 - Proportion. 9/11 = 2,974 casualties. Iraq War (so far) = 92,898 documented civilian deaths. The ethical import of violence does not come down to basic arithmetic. As a pacifist, I am opposed to any violence. How much more then should I be opposed to the killing of 100,000 people than the killing of 3,000? Everyone these days is in a panic about terrorism. We treat a single suicide bomber as if he were the equivalent evil of a million armed soldiers. The truth is that the most grave violence has always been perpetrated by governments and militaries. 11 million in the Holocaust. 20 million Stalin "disappeared". World Wars 1 & 2. The Killing Fields in Cambodia. The Cultural Revolution in China. The scale of violence that a military is capable of far far outweighs anything any terrorist has ever imagined. Proportion matters. For this reason I oppose war and military action more strenuously than other types of violence.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Go See District 9

A week ago, I went by myself to see District 9 on opening day. I went for a matinee because I was pretty sure Pam didn't want to see the movie, but I wanted to see it...bad.

The short version: this movie is amazing. It is a gory science-fiction action thriller that is relentlessly good. I recommended it to a coworker who dislikes gory movies and science fiction, and she loved it.

Technically, the movie is superb. The cinematography is a mix of first-person shots, third-person shots following characters as usual, and supposed security-camera feeds organized later. The premise of the shooting is that the film you are watching is a documentary on what went terribly wrong in District 9 interspersed with shots that are not part of the documentary but also take place in the recent past.

Emotionally, the movie is very affecting. The ending isn't all bad news, but this is a movie that morally horrifies in a couple of places. One of the premises of the movie is the monstrosity of human beings compared to the monstrous aliens. The aliens are not ET - they are not cuddly, and do a good job of being alien - but during the film I felt more alienated from the humans, even though all that they do in the film seems plausible to me given our history.

Philosophically, the movie is challenging. It asks questions like 'What is it to be human'? 'What is heroic'? As well as the usual questions of the thriller, like 'Oh my God what will happen next!?'

I can't say much more without spoiling things about the movie. It will surprise you in a number of ways. Unless you are very squeamish (the movie has some visceral parts) I recommend this movie very highly - even if you don't normally like science fiction that much. I left this movie thinking, satisfied, and wanting to see it again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Speaks For Itself

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) votes to recognize same-gender couples - Allows those gay and lesbian people in relationships to serve as church leaders!

Today the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a resolution stating that it will commit itself to find a way to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. Additionally, the voting members passed another resolution stating that the ELCA is committed to find a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of the church.

“We are thrilled with these historic decisions,” said Jeff Lutes, Soulforce Executive Director, “God is smiling and the ELCA will benefit greatly from the spiritual gifts of those who can now love, worship, and serve with integrity. I hope every Lutheran congregation will see the rightness of today’s decisions and open their hearts accordingly.”

Soulforce has a long history of working for change within the ELCA. In 2001, fifty Soulforce volunteers were arrested outside the Indianapolis Convention Center during civil disobedience after the ELCA voted to continue requiring gay and lesbian clergy to vow celibacy to be eligible for ordained ministry. In 2003, Soulforce maintained a visible presence at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee by leafleting and vigiling to educate ELCA voting members. In 2005, Soulforce partnered with Goodsoil in Orlando where approximately 100 people walked silently to the front of the hall and stood between Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and the 1,018 members after they rejected a proposal to allow gay men and lesbians in committed relationships to be ordained as members of the clergy. The action created tension within the hall and forced ELCA voting members to face the injustice of their vote.

After nearly a decade of waiting, Soulforce rejoices over today’s decisions and commends Lutherans Concerned, Goodsoil, and so many others who have also worked tirelessly for many years to bring about this change. Now more than ever, Soulforce is committed to the practice of relentless, nonviolent, resistance until all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are free from both political and religious oppression.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Angry Victims

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was released from prison in Scotland yesterday on compassionate grounds - he is dying of cancer. He is being returned to his family in Libya. 8 years ago he was convicted for the destruction of PanAm flight 103 which crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 human beings. Some of the families are now expressing their outrage at the scottish court's decision to release him.

I believe I can understand some of the emotions this brings up. I do not claim to have experiential knowledge of other people's grief, but I know the depth of my own attachment to my loved ones and I can imagine how soul-destroying their sudden death would be for me. I would never expect those wounds to heal, and I would certainly not expect anyone to "get over it." I am perplexed, though, by the way in which grief becomes a hunger for vengeance in some people and not in others.

Some people just seem to get it. They know that their loss is a debt that can never be repaid. They know that no earthly judgment, or prison term, or execution could ever be even the beginning of restitution for their dead child. In fact it is the opposite. Anger burns. Fueling that fire with thoughts of vengeance just makes it burn more.

No one knows the truth behind the Lockerbie tragedy. It is unlikely Megrahi was working alone. Many believe that he was a sacrificial lamb offered up by Libya to avoid further scrutiny. Even if Megrahi were imprisoned for the rest of his life, even if he were executed, there would still be no certainty that capital-J justice was served.

Furthermore, his conviction was not a matter of restitution for the families of the dead. He was tried by the state for crimes against society. Modern criminal courts do not serve the interests of the victims. They serve the interests of the society, protecting citizens from the destructive actions of individuals acting against the laws. If there was an interest for the court to keep Megrahi in jail it was that his release represented a danger to society - NOT that it was the desire of the families of the victims.

However, even if our courts were mere lynch mobs serving the interests of victims, and even if we had absolute certainty that Megrahi were solely responsible for the murders at Lockerbie... even then how would his being eternally imprisoned (or executed) make the loss of a child or husband or sister an ounce more tolerable?

One of the family members said something which gets right to the heart of why many Christians believe in hell: "Lockerbie looks like it never happened now — there isn't anybody in prison for it." If somebody isn't being punished it's like the crime itself vanished. The visibility of the crime matters - because it was the crime that stole the beloved away. The crime, the wound, has filled the place the beloved once held and if the crime disappears then you've been robbed twice. You're left with a wound, but no sign of the nail that pierced you.

Isn't this the scandal of grace? Isn't this why people insist that God is actually a very violent judge tossing people into the inferno? So the crime will be remembered eternally. So you'll never be robbed of your status as a victim. So when people see your wounds you'll be able to point to the nails.

It's hard to swallow this: "I am the one who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." (Isaiah 43:25)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

File This One Under "Awesome!"

Talk Talk an internet broadband company in Britain apparently being run by mad geniuses has started a new program. They're sending ex-pickpockets into the streets of London to surreptitiously deposit small amounts of cash in people's wallets.

They're calling them "putpockets" and they are putting up to 20 pounds sterling in total stranger's pockets. The plan is to give away at least 100,000 pounds in small increments.

This story has everything: atonement for criminals, random anonymous generosity, inverting a common fear of pedestrians in urban areas.

The effect of this idea is to turn what would otherwise be dull, crowded, or even threatening daily commutes in the London Underground, into something exciting - even hopeful. Original and awesome.

Hold On A Minute

Let me get this straight, conservatives.

If someone is unwilling to sign a Republican loyalty oath, they aren't allowed into a RNC rally...But its fine if someone brings a loaded AR-15 to an Obama rally.

And Obama is the fascist!?

Here's another one. If Republicans try to pass end-of-life consulting panels in 2003, no big deal, but when Obama does the EXACT SAME THING, they are death-panels, and again, Obama is the fascist.

I can only come to a few conclusions.

1. Sarah Palin and her "death panel" ilk have no memory of any events preceding 2005, kind of like the reverse of the guy from Memento...(and they also lack YouTube, the Daily Show, Google or TiVo)

2. Republicans are aware of their own spittle-flecked hypocrisy and are having a good laugh at the expense of the rest of us...(and nice one guys, but this has gone on a little long)

3. I have finally snapped...

4. Or we are all trying to have a debate with inanimate objects.

I try very hard to grant the benefit of the doubt, but on this current health-care "debate", I just can't. I'm sure there are reasonable conservatives out there, but I wish they were louder.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preemptive Celebration

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus Christ comes to announce the immediate arrival, in his person, of the Kingdom of God. The overriding theme of Jesus' life and ministry, the cause of his death, and the purpose of his resurrection is that the Kingdom is here, the era of the Spirit is inaugurated.

In displaying this Kingdom Jesus makes it clear that the invitations have already been sent. God, according to Jesus is making a wild offer of extravagant hospitality to any and all who accept. The principal question, left hanging by the writers of this Gospel, is whether or not we will join the celebration.

Note, that the celebration is already going on. Note, also, that none of the traditional obstacles to participation are present. People of every class and social status, of every tribe and nation, gender, and religion are invited and at various times shown to be participants in the feast. Furthermore, the Gospels go to great length to prove that not even sin is an obstacle to joining the party. The stance of Jesus toward sinners is one I would describe as "preemptive celebration".

Consider Zacchaeus, for example. Before Jesus ever even lays eyes on this vertically challenged thief, he announces to him that he will be coming over for dinner. Jesus doesn't confront him over his thuggery. Jesus doesn't give any hint that he has any purpose but procuring a full belly and a bed. Jesus definitely doesn't make his presence contingent on Zacchaeus' repenting. The party was going to happen regardless.

Jesus does this again and again. He eats with sinners. Not ex-sinners. Not repentant-sinners. He even makes a point of NOT washing his hands before dinner - making the point that coming to the meal unclean doesn't matter, it's being a generous host that matters. In other words, since the party is already rolling, the only thing that matters is deciding to attend.

There is the rub. When making the decision of whether or not to attend there IS one thing, and ONLY one thing that can get in our way - our own self-righteousness. It is the self-righteousness of the pharisees that keeps them from joining Jesus in dining with sinners - and it is this which he criticizes more harshly than anything else in the Gospel. It is ultimately, the point of the latter half of the parable of the prodigal son. The elder son excludes himself from the celebration even as the father comes and pleads with him to join. The parable ends without the question answered: will the elder son accept the invitation? The only thing stopping him is his own indignation.

Unfortunately elder sons and pharisees frequently find themselves in positions of worldly power and believe they have the ability to exclude certain undesirables from the ongoing feast. They do so by telling us that the true feast is in the future or in heaven instead of here and now. They also exclude by establishing standards - the most basic of which is repentance. They harass and cajole us into believing that God's offer is a starkly contingent one, we have to sign on the dotted line and show our identification before being admitted. They try their best to catch sinners headed to the feast and cause them to stumble. A practice for which Jesus had no patience. The tragedy is that they ultimately exclude only themselves from the joy of God's festival.

By contrast, Jesus kicked things off with a party. He celebrated before anything else. Before even making introductions in many cases, and certainly before anyone could try and formulate a guest list and start vetting the crowd for the event Jesus was attending. He celebrated preemptively. Cutting potential objections off with a burst of frivolity.

Our contemporary pharisees will call this antinomianism in an attempt to scare us back into line. They regarded Jesus as a blasphemer and a lawbreaker as well, but Jesus responded that his behavior was the very fulfillment of the law. What is the law but a tool to bring people to God? What does it mean to be in God's presence but to celebrate? In joining the celebration we are already fulfilling the law, whether we've come to the table with clean hands or dirty.

Furthermore, preemptive celebration doesn't circumvent repentance - it is perhaps the only ground upon which legitimate repentance is possible. Only by accepting the place already prepared for us at the table, can we accurately reflect on the grace which brought us there and be free from self-righteousness which is the one insurmountable obstacle to a penitential heart. Be like Jesus - practice preemptive celebration.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Neil Gaiman - "Instructions"

Just another extraordinary thing from Neil Gaiman. Few people, in my opinion, have been able to inhabit the logic of myth so completely.

"remember your name.
do not lose hope
for what you seek will be found.
trust ghosts.
trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn.
trust dreams,
trust your heart,
and trust your story."

I think, sometimes, that Neil Gaiman writes stories for the same reason that I write sermons. He just does it a whole lot better.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Innovation My Ass

There are many bad arguments for why we can't reform our disaster of a health care system. I'd love to mock them all, but the one which seems to be popping up lately in the circles I run in is the question of innovation. Basically the argument goes like this:

The only motivation pharmaceutical companies have to continue researching new drugs is an obscene profit margin. It is a high risk for high reward industry. Any kind of national system will eat into Big Pharm profits and reduce their incentive to innovate. Pretty soon no new discoveries will be being made. Socialized medicine is a short term gain for a long term loss...

This argument fails on at least 2 counts:

#1 Government involvement does not invariably mean less innovation.

Virtually all military technological development through history has been government funded. Who would dispute that the United States has the most technologically advanced army ever assembled and it has all been driven by government spending. The US spends over half of its R&D budget every year on defense. Imagine if an equivalent amount of energy and money were put behind medical research. Doug once pointed out to me that our technology is not evenly spread. We are launching precision missiles from the other side of the planet in terms of weapons tech, but our energy technology hasn't advanced much past the stone age - burn fuel/make heat!

The government is already the biggest source of grant money for all universities and most research laboratories in this country. A good friend of mine was working on synthesizing specialized lipids for the delivery of potent drugs exclusively to cancer cells, protecting the healthy cells nearby. He was doing that research at Purdue University on a government grant. All of his colleagues there were on government grants as well. Once in a while they would hear of someone who got a patent and made some money from a private corporation, but everyone knew that your day-in-day-out funding was government or nothing.

#2 Pharmaceuticals is not a high-risk industry, and it is way too high-reward.

The average R&D spending by pharmaceutical corporations has increased in recent years to about 11% of total revenue. That might sound high, but it is less than 1/3 of what the same companies spend on average on marketing and administration. It is also less than what Computer Technology and Internet companies spend each year (about 15% of total revenue). Meanwhile, Big Pharm sees 17% profits as a percent of total revenue compared to the median of 3.1% for all other fortune 500 companies. In other words, Pharmaceutical companies spend less and earn WAY MORE money than most other big corporations.

The irony is that they often do so with government subsidies supporting their research, government patents protecting their profits, and government health insurance (medicare/medicaid) paying for their drugs on behalf of the consumer.

I'm willing to wager that even if socialized medicine were to cut into pharmaceutical profits there would be more than enough "incentive" to continue or even increase research. Microsoft frequently manages to spend up to 24% of total revenue on R&D without the moral imperative medical research would usually involve. I know lots of kids who want to grow up and find a cure for cancer. I don't know any who want to grow up and make the next version of Excel.

It's pretty disgusting how insurers and Big Pharm are holding us hostage right now claiming that if we see fit to decrease their profit margin by the tiniest bit they will stop all research and medical technology will go into a deep freeze. It reveals an ugly truth about their character that saving lives is only worth it if they can make huge profits while they're at it. If that's who these guys are - we don't need them.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sweet Relief

Well, today was the last of my CPE seminars. I still have final evaluations and four weeks more of chaplaincy, but I will no longer have to do the extra educational work alongside the clinical work.

I felt a strong sense of relief, and now I just feel really tired. I'm going to call a Fool and then go up to pray with a young man in the burn unit and then head to bed.

I have learned so much through this program. I am now a laser-guided pastoral ninja. But I am also very, emphatically done.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


o the road is long
dust powders my feet
and i'm better off gone

stride out in the night
beneath companion stars
a moth following light

leave you sleeping alone
to roll over and sigh
when the money runs out
i'll wither to bone

the devil comes for me
all debts to collect
and i'll not return

dust i came from

and i didn't learn

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

School of Virtue

In a previous post I pointed out that two prominent paths to virtue are denied to homosexuals by the church: ordination and marriage. This post will focus on the latter.

It is often argued by conservatives that marriage is forbidden to homosexuals on Biblical grounds: that it is a gift from God intended for the uniting of two flesh - man and woman, and that no other understanding of marriage is acceptable. It is an oddly sacramental interpretation of marriage coming from protestants who have long held that marriage is just a civil institution. It is also a highly selective reading of scripture which has examples (and approves of) a variety of marital arrangements and never implies that any single configuration is a divine mandate.

The New Testament, especially, is very ambiguous about marriage. Paul seems to denigrate it and lift up celibacy as the nobler path - marriage being for those too weak to do the truly virtuous thing. Jesus himself never discusses marriage except in reference to divorce (an important point I'll bring up later), and we are given no clue about his sexual activity. Was Jesus married? The Gospels don't say, but the tradition of the Church has been that he was celibate. If so, and Jesus is truly the representative of perfect humanity, it seems that marriage has no place or is at least irrelevant to the Christian life.

Based on Pauline arguments the Roman Church had long been encouraging the clerical caste toward celibacy when Martin Luther objected and got married calling marriage a "school of virtue." The best reason from scripture to lean toward a monogamous consensual model of marriage is Paul's insistence that if you must get married the purpose of that marriage ought to be growing deeper into Christ. Paul encourages the people in his churches to use marriage as a means to develop in virtue. Jesus' comments forbidding divorce ought to be seen in the same light, in my opinion.

Here is why: the principal benefit of lifelong monogamy is depth. It is not the best arrangement from the standpoint of procreation (polygamy is better). What you get with monogamy however is a commitment to a single individual that demands greater empathy, patience, honesty, and trust. In order for a long-term consensual intimate relationship with a single individual to be successful you MUST learn to understand one another, to trust each other, to be patient with each other's flaws, and honest about your needs. Combine this with the egalitarian impluse of Christianity (neither male nor female...) and you arrive at a picture of a relationship that can only work at all with mutual commitment and effort. Surviving a monogamous marriage requires virtue.

In a polygamous marriage you don't have to be the only one to meet your partner's emotional or sexual needs. You can remain only partly available, only partly honest. You can afford to be less patient since the dynamic of a polygamous relationship is inherently un-egalitarian. The man's needs and rights always take priority.

As I understand protestant theology and as I read scripture - marriage is almost completely irrelevant for Christians. It is definitely NOT a sacrament. It is NOT a gift from God. It is NOT commanded for one configuration only. It is definitely NOT an institution for the preservation of society. The most important relationships for Christians are our relationships to fellow disciples and enemies. We are commanded to serve the first and love the latter, and this takes priority over everything else so much that it virtually negates familial ties altogether.

However, if we are to honor some kind of marriage arrangement, the one which seems best to commend is a consensual monogamous life-long (I would add egalitarian) commitment for the reason that it lends itself to the development of quintessential Christian virtues. If that is true - if we are to join Luther in praising marriage as a "School of Virtue" - then it is a travesty to deny anyone who wishes to make such a pledge access and support. Our responsibility as Christians toward the institution of marriage is not to control or define it, but to aid in its flourishing as a means of deepening discipleship. Conversely, where marriage is broken, violent, or otherwise a hindrance to the development of virtue it is a Christian responsibility to oppose it since marriage itself is purely instrumental, and not sacramental at all.

In conclusion, homosexuals should not only be permitted, but even encouraged to marry where they understand marriage in this way - as a means of developing virtues like empathy, patience, trust, and compassion.

Monday, August 10, 2009


solved nothing
solved nothing ab- solved

just a winding down
whether or not
i want

not enough time
but what would be enough

Friday, August 7, 2009

Has the Right Gone Crazy?

"Adolf Hitler issued six million end of life orders--he called his program the final solution. I kind of wonder what we're going to call ours," - a spokesman for the Patients First bus tour, fighting healthcare reform.

Okay, I admit that the question in the post title is rhetorical. The Right has been crazy for a long time.

But there seems to be an uptick in loopiness lately. A surge of insanity. A new benchmark for bonkers.

Protesting healthcare reform, the right has decided to connect it to fascism. Rush Limbaugh has been comparing Obama to Hitler all week. The townhall protests taking place are rife with swastikas and clever posters of Obama with a Charlie Chaplin 'stache. I'd go through a list of reasons why this comparison makes no sense, but it is such a complete non sequitor, so totally out of left field (right field?), that there is really no way to break it down into reasonable chunks.

For a long time I've felt like conservatives were living in opposite land, where supporting rights for minorities makes you a racist. Where not wanting palestinian homes to be run over by tanks makes you an anti-semite. Where desiring children and poor people to have access to doctors makes you a thief and (apparently) a fascist.

What I think is happening is effectively this: progressives have won the ideological war. In a profound way conservatives have been forced to incorporate into their own world view fundamental progressive truths like "racism is bad." Having accepted these truths, but still not wanting to be associated with progressives they impotently hurl insults at progressives inadvertently inverting the meaning of the words they are using as they do. Fundamentally, they know that Hitler was a bad man and they are angry at Obama so they compare Obama to Hitler, but there is no comprehension there. No actual awareness of why Hitler was so bad.

This is profound cognitive dissonance at work. They've accepted that the ideologies of conservatism are evil, without wanting to cease to identify as conservatives. So the new way to insult a liberal is to call him or her a conservative. Take that!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reparative Therapy: False and Damaging

More good news today. The American Psychological Association overwhelmingly (125-4) voted to repudiate ridiculous "Gay Reparative Therapy" techniques. A vote that decisive should silence the fringe idiots who insist that there is any place among credible professionals for this kind of garbage.

Homosexuality is not a disease. It cannot be cured. Nor should it be. Treating it as an affliction does grave and lasting harm. This kind of "treatment" is demonstrably associated with depression and suicide.

Of course many will continue to insist that "the power of Christ can change homosexuals!" To which I respond: the power of Christ has been unable to prevent you being a moron, so I don't see it having much of an impact on sexual orientation.

Hurray for sanity. Hopefully people will take their children to psychologists rather than pastors when they begin to wonder about their sexuality.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

further reflections on collapsed greenhouses

feed the roots
not the structure
time has chosen sides
every order falls
every shape
and you, amidst
pieces raining pattering pattern past
as green, then brown
surges upward
there is no way to climb
only to be borne

Monday, August 3, 2009

this "practice" is dying on the vine, but...

flying low over
ruined carcasses
of concrete, steel bones
protruding from a teeming green
flocks of birds alighting from
i long to be on the loam-smelling floor of it
in amongst things greater and more immediate than myself
to be eaten
like what is left of us