• idiots

    Why Have Lunatics Taken Over?

    Sometimes people come to me and say, “Rebecca, you are amazing, wise, funny and smell like flowers and lemon Pledge. Why are you not recognized as the wonder you are by all of humanity near and far?”

    To which I can only answer, “this is a great mystery to me as well.”

    The other questions I get asked a lot are “has everyone lost their ever-loving-minds?”, “Why are the lunatics in charge of everything?” and “Is there any hope for humanity left?”

    As fate would have it, I happen to have answers to these questions. They are, respectively:

    Pretty much.

    Because lunatics appeal to all of our worst impulses.

    Yes. The lunatics’ days are numbered.

    Now, perhaps you too have noticed that the world seems, well, a bit unbalanced lately. The most violent, most hateful, most greedy, most dishonest actors in our world appear to be ascendant, if not triumphant. Families are in shambles, communities are shells and compassion seems to have gone MIA. Injustices which have festered for decades, if not centuries, are not even attempting to hide themselves, but are right out into the open, secure in the knowledge that few will object. The technological innovations that not so long ago were making humanity safer, healthier, more prosperous and comfortable seem to be reaching their limits and are threatening to turn on us. It’s very easy and tempting to be pessimistic and lose faith in the whole human project.

    To a certain extent, this is an illusion. With the internet, global communication and 24 hour media, we can see things we were not previously aware of (or were in denial about). It used to be that if something awful was happening in another part of the world, we wouldn’t know it for months or years, if at all. If an atrocity was committed, we might read a news story about it and wonder what in the world was wrong with those people. Today we can watch videos in real time and get instant news from far and wide.

    Since we all have front row seats to what’s wrong in the world, it’s easy to think that this is because there’s more wrong in the world. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. In America, the crime rate has dwindled down to rates not seen since the Eisenhower administration. Around the world crime has fallen, poverty has decreased dramatically, armed conflicts are less common and life spans are increasing. It’s not perfect, but we’re on a very positive trajectory.

    However, it does seem that large portions of humanity are refusing to let go of their allegiance to the very worst tendencies that the human race are prone to. While the world and our understanding of it and ourselves has changed dramatically and brought massive improvements at every level, not everyone’s on board. It’s not that we’re any worse than in the past. People in the past were just as, if not more, prone to obnoxious, hateful, violent, ignorant, greedy, oppressive behavior and words as anyone alive today. What has changed, really, is that increasing numbers of us are openly and loudly refusing to accept those behaviors and attitudes as normal or acceptable – for any reason.

    This has opened up a gap which is fueling both conflict and insecurity. The questions I get asked about what in the world is going on tend to come from those who want to see humanity turn its back on our hateful, oppressive, greedy, violent tendencies once and for all. They listen to the rhetoric coming from churches, politicians, individuals and governments and wonder if those who view the past as something to go back to rather than run from are going to win. And the answer is no. They will not. But it’s probably going to be ugly for a while.

    I have two related reasons for saying this. The first has to do with the way God deals with sin and those who will not repent of it:

    And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. ~ Romans 1:28-32

    Essentially, Paul says that when people refuse to repent of their sins and continually reject God’s call to love, mercy, peace, service and forgiveness, God will allow them to follow the desires of their heart to their own destruction. As they do so, their sin, error and the darkness of their hearts becomes more and more apparent. The longer they refuse to accept correction, the more outrageous their words and behaviors will become. Eventually, such people will become object lessons that others point to as warnings. And this is exactly what we are watching happen all around us.

    When we see people, institutions and governments speaking and behaving in outrageous ways, we are being shown exactly what it looks like when a depraved mind is allowed free reign. So, while I understand people’s alarm at what they see going on in the world, and I do not in any way mean to discount the very real suffering of those who are on the receiving end of those who have been given over to their depraved minds, I tend to see these people as serving a useful purpose. Basically, they are exhibits in humanity’s world-wide asshole identification training program.

    As I’ve mentioned before, one of the unique things about the time in which we live is that what happens in the dark is being brought into the light. For most of human history, the worst actors have been able to gain and hold power through a combination of force and deception. It has generally only been after the fact that people were able to recognize the evil being perpetrated for what it was. In the moment, wars, slavery, feudalism, inequality and injustice seemed like reasonable ways to go about organizing the world. And there were always theologians and clergy willing and able to explain how these things were part of God’s will, just to make sure it all went down as smoothly as possible.

    Dragging what was done in darkness into the light is of course a good, necessary step. But now we need to learn to recognize what we are looking at. Enter in the lunatics who are, if not fully in charge, making a good run for it. These people and their supporters are showing us, out in the open, what a depraved mind looks like. Our job is to learn to recognize them for what and who they are. It’s a painful and frightening, but necessary part of the process.

    The next time you encounter someone or see a news story of someone advocating violence, hatred, greed, oppression and lies, imagine that you’re watching a wild life documentary with a narrator in the background intoning:

    “Here we see the asshole in his native habitat. Observe how he lies and distorts reality in order to shore up his position in the group. Notice the tendency to advocate for the rich over the poor, the denigration of peace and glorification of violence and the various excuses utilized to oppress and dismiss those who threaten the diabolical system he relies on for sustenance. The asshole lives in a symbiotic relationship with those who value his willingness to be the voice of the asshole in order to maintain their illusions and avoid the pain of being wrong or having to give heed to other people’s humanity. If you encounter an asshole in the wild, approach with caution. The asshole is driven by a depraved mind and should be considered dumb and dangerous.”

    That being said, no one’s perfect, and the accusation of a depraved mind is easy enough to throw around as a weapon to discredit and defame others, of course. So what makes me so sure that the lunatics are being put on display for educational purposes and will not maintain their power forever? Well, part of it is because God has promised his ultimate triumph. The depraved mind cannot sustain itself in the presence of the glory of God and his ways, and so is doomed to ultimate failure.

    The other reason for my confidence comes from the fact that I have had several different people bring me the same message explaining what we see happening around us right now. In fact, one of my readers who had made a commitment to pray for me and my family sent me a “word” that she felt God had lead her to convey to me. Much of the message was for me personally, but there was one part which spoke to the wider goings on in the world (the bold is the message, the parts in parenthesis comments from the person who sent it to me):

    (At this point I saw the world, the earth from outer space)

    It is like a cauldron, boiling and bubbling, the scum is rising to the top, and I will take it away and bring new life.

    (it would seem more appropriate that he is talking about your world and life circumstances, but the feeling I actually had when writing this was that he was describing the world, that it was time to bring stuff up, like something is stirring)                                                                                   

     

    Now, as a general rule, any claim of having received a “word” or message need to be taken pretty lightly. There’s a great deal of self-serving and deception that tends to surround such things. However, aside from the good character and faith of the person who sent this to me, this is a message I have heard from multiple sources which, to me, lends it credibility.

    God is in the process of refining humanity. In Isaiah 1:25, God says: “I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.” This refers to the process of refining gold and silver by melting down, adding lye which binds to the impurities in it and causes them to rise to the surface in order to be skimmed off and removed. These people who are advocating for violence, greed, hatred, oppression and the like are bringing humanity’s dross to the surface. The dross is removed as more and more people turn from the enemy’s ways and towards’ God’s rule of love, peace, mercy, service and forgiveness. The more outrageous the lunatics are, the more people will learn to recognize an asshole when they see one and turn away.

    Of course, refining gold and silver is a process that must be done repeatedly in order to bring it to the highest levels of purity. Neither I nor anyone else can say how long this will go on or how many times we will have to see the assholes in action before humanity at large turns their hearts towards love. But ultimately, the time of the lunatics will pass. And in the meantime, hang onto your hats and your sense of humor. It’s bound to be a bumpy ride!

  • fatalism_large1

    Free Will and Its Discontents

    fatalism_large1OK, so let’s talk about free will. I’ve had several people ask me to explain my understanding of it lately, so apparently it’s a subject of interest. As the conversation usually breaks out, you have free will on one side and determinism on the other. Free will says we make our own choices. Determinism says that everything is decided for us. Free will is a mental illusion and nothing more.

    Now, to be frank, I’ve never had much interest in the subject of free will. The reason being that it makes no real difference in how we live our lives. If the reality is that I have no actual free will, then either choice I make will be the inevitable which is more confusing than helpful when faced with a decision. How do you pick the “right” path when whatever I choose is inevitable. It’s a supremely unhelpful concept when you have to make some decision.

    As a practical matter, I must chart my course as if I had free will. Even if predestination is true, the illusion of free will is such a powerful internal sensation that for all practical purposes, it’s my reality. That being the case, what difference does it make is from some cosmic perspective everything is predestined?

    Now, my personal understanding is that we have incomplete free will. There are simply too many factors which can take away our ability to choose freely to say that we have unfettered free will. Like I can’t stick my elbow in my ear. Seriously, I’ve tried and I just can’t do it, not matter how much I freely choose to. Or take someone who is facing extreme poverty, war, crime, sickness, oppression, etc. People’s options can become so circumscribed by circumstances that free will loses any real meaning.

    However, within the limits we are working under, I think we have complete free will. More than people even realize, in fact. I believe strongly that we are always free to choose to do anything we want, so long as we are willing to live with the consequences. Not only do I believe that, but I  believe that this attitude is key to living a life of freedom, wisdom and power.

    The problem I have with free will enthusiasts is the often unstated assumption that having free will means we are all captain of our own ships and masters of our domain. If life is directed not by outside forces, but by the direction of our free choices, then clearly we are all responsible for those choices and the consequences of them. It is my opinion that this is why the idea of free will is so popular in American Christianity. We like to judge. We feel that it is our duty to judge. When we refuse to judge, we end up with reality TV shows featuring Flavorflav in hot tub filled with erotic dancers. If we have free will, then people are culpable for their own choices and our job of warning people away from such things is both simple and a moral imperative.

    Now, if you are fairly privileged; if you are not impoverished, under-educated, disabled, living under oppression, haven’t suffered significant trauma, don’t have a chronic illness, aren’t being held hostage by stoned pirates, etc., then free will is very appealing. It means that a fairly direct line can be drawn between what is good in your life and the good choices you made and the bad choices you turned away from. You can take responsibility for both your poor choices and the good choices you made which allowed you to overcome them. You are free, wise and powerful.

    However, what I know from experience is that for someone who is not so privileged, the teaching of free will becomes a trap of condemnation. If you made a bad choice, it was because you freely made a bad choice and therefor can be held accountable for the consequences. It doesn’t really matter if you were so stressed and overwhelmed by circumstances that you couldn’t think straight. It doesn’t matter if you were in so much pain that your judgment was compromised. It doesn’t matter if you were trying to escape a dangerous, untenable situation by any means possible. It doesn’t matter if you made your choices without the sort of maturity or information that would have allowed you to make a good choice. You made your choice. It was a bad choice. It’s all your fault, so don’t expect any coddling or sympathy from the good people who knew better than to choose so poorly.

    In fact, so deeply ingrained in a lot of Christians’ thinking is the idea of free will that the church is well known for resisting psychology, many social justice concerns and calls to display greater compassion towards society’s undesirables. Frequently such things are seen as excuse making by and for those who are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. The fact that the average church goer is better educated, happier and wealthier than the rest of the population means that a lot of white Christians, in particular, haven’t ever spent years on end being pushed past the limits of their ability to cope and so have no real idea what life is like for those they see as excuse making failures.

    If we admit that things like trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance remove at least some culpability for people’s poor choices, then the answer is to do something about the sources of trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance.  And really, it’s much easier to tell people to buck up and get their acts together. In practice, free will enthusiasm is frequently an excuse for eschewing any responsibility for lifting burdens, ending oppression and righting injustices.

    Of course, I am writing this as a child of western culture which is excessively married to the idea of free will. There are plenty of people who come from cultures that are excessively married to the idea of fate. I suspect that for a person who has been told that life is all up to God and fate, the idea of free will is exactly what it should be – a source of freedom, wisdom and power. But for someone like myself, the idea that fate has its say is a comfort to me. It’s a bit of reprieve from a harsh, judging and demanding world that blames me for all of my own suffering.

    In the end, only God really knows the extent to which life is and isn’t in our control. It is foolish arrogance to claim to have such knowledge ourselves. The best we can do is accept that even if it’s not our own experience, for most people, life is continually circumscribed by circumstances beyond their control. Not every obstacle can be overcome through force of will. Sometimes we are completely powerless and just going along the best way we can figure out how. Yet, when an option presents itself, we do have the right to choose, so far as we are able. And frankly, many people do not take full advantage of the free will they do have because they do not consider the full range of options available to us. As usual, the best answer seems to be both/and rather than either/or.

  • Bring the Smelling Salts and Set Your Alarm Clocks!

    So there’s this lovely woman named Judy who produces the radio show Up For Debate with Julie Roys on Moody Radio. And I think she might be slightly incompetent. I mean, I’m no expert in these things and I certainly can’t predict the future, but it seems likely that come Monday morning she’s going to be having a serious conversation with someone higher up about whether she has the judgment required to perform her duties. Why do I say this, you ask? Because the poor dear went and asked yours truly to be part of an hour long discussion on the church, race and Ferguson. And I, having a big mouth, lots of opinions and no qualms about taking advantage of dear Judy’s foolishness, said yes.

    So, if you’d like to hear me engage in my usual tomfoolery (hopefully without the typos, grammar glitches and random gibberish that I like to sprinkle in my writing), tune in. It’s on Moody Radio from 8-9 am, central time, tomorrow morning. Program info and station information can be found here. And if you really love me, call in and gush about how amazing I am and how every good Christian should listen to everything I say. Depending on how it goes, I might need the help!

    In all seriousness, say a prayer for me. Continue reading

  • korean women

    And Now For Something Weird in the End Times

    In today’s edition of signs of the end times, we’re going to talk about vanity, the anitchrist, lion’s teeth and Marian apparitions. Among other things. Because part of my calling is to make your brains hurt. But don’t worry, it’ll be fun! And fun is good until somebody pokes an eye out. But I promise I’ll be careful not to poke your eye out.

    So, about 10 years ago, my dear Catholic mother sent me a book called For the Soul of the Family. It’s the story of a woman named Estela Ruiz, a woman who began experiencing visitations from Mary back in 1989 and her family. Marian apparitions are one of those things that I deliberately choose to neither accept or reject. They could be true or they could be false, who knows?

    Over the years, I’ve read accounts of quite a few Marian apparitions and come to the following conclusions:

    1. Like all mothers, Mary repeats herself a lot. Seriously. Her motto might as well be “if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times.”

    2. Like all mothers, Mary is really worried about her kids and absolutely certain that terrible things are going to happen to them if they don’t stop what they are doing and start listening to her.

    3. Mary thinks we need to spend a lot more time praying.

    So, one of the things I remember from this particular book that my mom sent me is that Mary supposedly told Estela that TV was the antichrist. And I think she said movies are too. Which sounds crazy, of course. But consider this; there is a long tradition in Christian thought which says that Jesus is the model of the true man. Like, if we want to know what human beings are meant to look, act and be like, we should look to Jesus.

    Media, on the other hand, has long presented us with a false, often idealized, exaggerated picture of how human beings look, live and behave. And it does affect how we think about ourselves and each other. It’s a powerful force in shaping our ideas about what is normal, desirable and acceptable. You could say that where Jesus is a picture of man as he truly is, media shows us a false picture of who mankind is. Which you could say makes it the anti (as in against or opposed to or opposite of) Christ.

    So, the claim that TV is the antichrist is crazy, but not entirely implausible. I’m not saying you should all go throw out your TVs, except it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea. :p

    Anyhow, one of the most problematic aspects of TV and movies is that the people they show us are tend to all be very attractive. Which is nice to look at, but in real life only about 1 in 5 people is actually all that good looking. Once upon a time it, there was nothing particularly wrong with being plain or dowdy or even just ugly, but today pretty much every ugly woman in America has been told at some point that she should not be inflicting her ugliness on the rest of us by going out in public. I have heard people say that they were too ashamed to go shopping or to meet new people because they are fat.

    Of course, being attractive doesn’t make you good, kind, loving, generous, clever, creative, interesting or any other worthwhile thing. It doesn’t even mean you’d be particularly good in bed, for pity’s sake! It just means your features grew in a symmetrical way. That’s it. But we are obsessed with it.

    I know, I know, people have always been obsessed with beauty, right? Sure. Except here’s a coin with Cleopatra’s face on it:

    Here’s what Hollywood said she looked like:

    Notice the difference? Because it’s not enough to be powerful, charming and intelligent. A woman worth admiring must first and foremost be stunning with high cheekbones and purple eyes. Or how about this picture from South Korea where plastic surgery is the #1 graduation gift year after year:

    Those are 18 different women. They all look the same because there is one ideal look for women in South Korea to have and since you are expected to send in a picture with your job applications, you may be unemployable if you don’t look like that.

    Perhaps you don’t view this as particularly alarming because humans have always gone to extremes in order to be attractive. The Chinese deformed their daughters feet. Some South American tribes wear spikes through their faces. There’s that one African tribe that puts giant plates in their lips and ear lobes. Which is all true, except none of those practices required you to be born looking like that. If you were a Chinese woman with a face like Methuselah and teeny, tiny feet, you were hot. We, on the other hand, aren’t just going to extremes to adorn ourselves with beauty. We have basically gone to war against our bodies for daring to grow with bumps and lumps and eyelids.

    At this point, some of you are thinking, “OK Rebecca, our fixation on looks is unhealthy and unkind. And I promise to never again walk around Walmart offering paper bags and tent sized mumus to the ugly people I meet there. But what on earth does all of this have to do with the end times?!?!”

    Well, I’m so glad you asked. And here’s where I’m going to get extra weird with you. If you go to the book of Revelation, in the middle of all the seals being broken and disaster being unleashed, there’s one particular pit that spews forth an unusual hoard of locusts. These locusts are described as having the shape of horses and as wearing what appeared to be crowns of gold on their heads. Further it says, “their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.”

    In addition to their peculiar looks, these locust could only hurt men, not any other part of the earth. And they couldn’t kill men, but instead caused a painful sting like that of a scorpian that went away in time, but was bad enough to make people wish for death.

    Admit it, those are some mighty fine teeth.

    Now, I readily admit that this is an entirely speculative reading of the passage, but I believe that this is a figurative description of the destructive vanity which has overtaken mankind. The long hair and the lion’s teeth. Do you have any idea how much we spend on cosmetic dentistry, teeth whitening, hair care and the like? Billions. And those things on their heads that “appeared to be like crowns of gold” sound an awful lot like the figurative halos we see our favorite Hollywood golden girls and boys wearing.

    Plus the effects of these locusts fit. The only part of creation affected by our fixation on looks are human beings. And it’s not fatal, but the rejection people experience when they are judged by themselves or others as not attractive enough hurts. Sometimes it hurts because of eating disorders or the pain of plastic surgery. But sometimes it’s just the pain of being rejected. Did you know that the same parts of our brain that process physical pain also process  pain from being rejected? When we insult someone for being unattractive, we might as well just walk up and slug them as far as our brain’s concerned. And even Americans know that it’s not OK to punch people for not looking like Brangelina.

    Now, in Revelation, people are protected from the sting of the vanity locusts if they “have the seal of God on their forehead”. So that means no credit cards. No wait, that can’t be right. OK, so it means you shouldn’t let President Obama give you an obamacare RFID chip implant. No, no, that can’t be it either. Wait, I’ve got it! How about we assume that it means having a mind set on the things of God:

    For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . . ~ Romans 8:5-7

    There we go. That makes more sense. If you are concerned with the things of God, you will not be affected by the torments which come with having a mind set on the flesh.

    So, today’s lesson is that in the end times, our vanity will be used to torment and torture us and everyone else, unless we refuse to play along. So, let that armpit hair grow, ladies. Embrace your moobs, fellows. And maybe, just maybe, you should pay a little more attention to your mother Mary. She’s worried about you. :)

  • Oppression, Starvation and Christ

    The hallmark of an oppressive system is that it benefits some people while harming others. Because the system does provide benefits to some people, many believe that the system is fundamentally good. The fact that the system harms some people is attributed not to the oppressive nature of the system, but to the failures of the people who are being harmed. This has the effect of shoring up support for the system, even among those who are harmed by it because to admit that you are suffering is to admit your own unworthiness. Any evidence of harm being done by the system becomes evidence that the system is required to protect what is good about the system from those who are unworthy.

    Those who are unable to hide the extent to which they are suffering are unlikely to stand up for themselves, because as members of the human race, they inevitably will have faults and failures. Sometimes they themselves believe the narrative which says they are to blame for their own suffering. Other times they are resigned to suffering in silence, knowing that however unjust it may be, their faults and failures will be used to condemn them and dismiss their complaints against the system.

    We see a prototypical example of this sort of oppressive system at work in the book of Job. Job’s friends believe that suffering is caused by sin, that this is as it should be, and that Job’s suffering must therefore be the result of some secret sin on Job’s part. In the story of Job, we see that this is not the case. Job was specifically identified as a good man and God himself rebuked Job’s friends for suggesting otherwise. However, rather than understanding God to be rejecting the oppressive habit of blaming suffering on sin, we tend to read this as the story of a man who was an exception to the rule that you get what you deserve in life. A caution against relying on the system to excess rather than a denunciation of the system entirely.

    At the other end, oppressive systems claim that those at the top are owed a larger portion of the benefits from the system because they are simultaneously very good and very bad. They are very good in that they are smarter, more ambitious, more fierce, closer to the divine and capable of wielding more power than the rest. They are very bad because if they are not amply rewarded, they will not use those abilities for the good of others. Their demands are allowed to grow, unbounded by anything outside of themselves as the people who support the system trust them to provide for their wellbeing, provided their demands are adequately satisfied.

    An oppressive system always relies on an idol at the very top in order to operate. The idol allows the men who benefit from the oppressive system to lay claim to their right to power as the result of being the living embodiment of the idol. An idol may be a god or spirit, such as the ancient pagan gods or anthropomorphic spirits of the earth even ancestor worship. Or it may be an idea about the proper ordering of humanity such as in monarchies, gender roles or caste systems. Or the idol may be a virtue which is elevated above all others such as intelligence, ambition or strength.

    Idols, of course, are by definition false gods, unworthy of worship and unable to provide what they promise. The systems which grow out of them are inevitably oppressive, providing benefits to some while leaving others to suffer. Frequently this suffering is incurred in service to the system itself such as those who sacrifice their children to idols or who work themselves into an early grave providing for families they barely know.

    While many today view Jesus as either harmless or an advocate for the system de jour, in reality, Jesus subverts every oppressive system. He demonstrates that only God is worthy of the devotion we humans habitually give to idols. Unlike the idol, which is functionally viewed as simultaneously very good and very bad, Jesus shows us the face of a God who is good in all his ways. He does not provide for us according to our fealty, but causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on all the same. Rather than demanding disproportionate benefits in recognition of his worth and power, God demonstrates his worth and power by giving up all benefits and sharing in the lowest human’s suffering. Continue reading

  • Of Camels and Gnats

    Gnats are annoying. Biting gnats leave welts that are much itchier than mosquito bites and when they swarm, you’re likely to wind up looking like an idiot flailing your arms around in a futile attempt to keep them away. Not to mention that you’ll inevitably end up inhaling or swallowing one on accident. For the next hour you’ll feel like there’s something disgusting stuck in your throat or nasal passages. As small as they are, gnats aren’t the sorts of things you live peaceably with.

    So you can imagine that back in the days when camels were a normal mode of transportation, if you hired a camel to carry you and your goods on a long trip, and your guide showed up with a gnat infested camel, this would be an issue. A long trip on a gnat infested camel was probably a known cause of nervous breakdowns in the ancient world. So, of course, you would demand that the guide you hired for the trip do something about the problem. Attach fly paper to the camel’s ears and provide you with a climate controlled helmet to wear on the trip or something.

    Now, a camel has a thicker hide than a human. But a serious gnat infestation isn’t fun for a camel to endure. Particularly since the little devils will target soft spots like the nose, eyes, mouth and other more unmentionable areas on a camel. Camels aren’t particularly know for their sweet dispositions anyways. So it’s easy to imagine that a gnat infested camel may be a particularly ill tempered beast.

    In fact, while you are busy figuring out what to do about the gnats. the people tending to and attempting to load and prepare the camel are liable to get bit, spit on, kicked in the head, crapped on and otherwise injured by the camel. Imagine for a moment if you responded to the various cries and complaints of the people the camel is hurting by telling them to be more careful in doing their job, to stop with all the complaining. Maybe you fire the person who had the gall to come to work covered in camel dung.

    Or maybe you’re not quite that insensitive so you say, “once we get this gnat situation worked out, the camel will settle down and you’ll be fine. But right now I need you to shut up so I can deal with this gnat problem.”

    Or if you fancy yourself as a sensitive person who understands the plight of dealing with a gnat infested camel, you might say, “the camel kicked you in the head? That’s awful. I know what it’s like. You should see the bites I got while I was sitting on it. I feel your pain. In fact, you really ought to be over here tending to my welts instead of laying on the ground moaning like that.”

    It seems to me that as a people, this is exactly how the problems we face play out. We are so fixated on the problems of those who are riding the camel that we end up not tending to the injuries inflicted on less powerful people who have been injured by the camel. Continue reading

  • Why the White Dude Crossed the Tracks

    Back when I did prison ministry, we used to have this crazy old white dude who would come in to talk with the boys. He had a ministry working with gangs on the streets of Chicago. He had occasionally even managed to bring high up people representing large, dangerous gangs together to reach agreements which would reduce the levels of conflict, and therefore the levels of violence between them.

    Youth for Christ, a national organization which includes Campus Life, City Life, and Juvenile Justice Mission, provided funding for his ministry by employing him between 1982 through 2008. Which is a really long, long time to be a youth minister. Most burnout within their first decade.

    At the time I was involved with prison ministry, crime had just reached a 20 year high, and the problem was most acute in urban areas like Chicago with high density, segregated housing. There were some places that police avoided patrolling out of fear of being targeted by violence, so his ability to develop relationships and gain trust among the gangs was the subject of a lot of interest.

    He was invited to speak to kids in prisons all over Northern Illinois and served as a youth chaplain for the Cook County Sheriff’s department. He made sure that at every step along the path a vulnerable kid was taking, he was there to tell them about Christ’s love.

    The man’s name was Gordon and he looked like a comedy version of a used car sales man. Wore ill fitting and mismatched business clothes. Had a BAD comb over. He was in his late fifties when I met him. But I was 18 at the time, so he could have been my grandpa. If my grandpa were a used car sales man in the early 80s. Gordon had a way of talking that was slightly disjointed, but jokey enough that he kept his audience engaged. He came off as a bit of a fool, really.

    But it was all very deliberate. Continue reading

  • I See Rich People. They Talk to Me. . .

    The mouse on my computer broke. So now I’m back to writing on my kindle. Which is a marvelous bit of technology, but it has all sorts of quirks which can easily double the time it takes for me to do a post. And the spacebar for the keyboard is gimpy. But since I don’t even have money to replace the mouse, I’ll just have to limp along the best I can.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately that when I finally break free of all these obstacles, I’ll astound everyone. It’s like I’ve been trying to play the game wearing weights. If I could just get free and have a fully functioning computer, a good internet connection and a few hours a day without children, well, you just won’t believe what I can do.

    As I was contemplating the rather unpleasant task of writing on my kindle (something I did exclusively for at least six months), it occurred to me that this is why we hear so much more from rich people than anyone else. If you’re rich, you can grab a few hours which you would otherwise have spent playing Sugar Crush and write something thoughtful on your nice computer without any real delays or impediments. Or maybe you’re more of a take my Macbook to Starbucks to write sort of writer.

    But when you’re not rich, you have to type out the word six because the six key doesn’t work any more. And putting in a hyperlink requires the sort of planning skills normally reserved for major military operations. It’s like driving one of those cars that you have to roll down the window to open the door. Everything’s just much more work when you don’t have access to resources.

    And having crappy, unreliable technology is a first world problem. Imagine what it took for those women in Nigeria to get the world’s attention when their girls were taken! It’s really no mystery as to why people who are powerful and influential are usually white American men. It’s not that every white American man has resources. It’s just that nearly everyone who has resources is a white American man. Having resources removes so many obstacles that what is impossible for other people is possible for them. And that is a big part of our problem.

    Having resources doesn’t necessarily make the path to sucess a clear and easy one. You still have to work harder and be smarter and overcome more than everyone else in order to acheive great things. I mean, Paris Hilton’s family says she works very hard and I believe them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she puts in sixty hour work weeks. The thing is that my husband has put in sixty hour work weeks pretty routinely for nearly 20 years. And we can’t even afford to buy a mouse.

    (The first person to ask why I don’t get a job wins the chance to find me a job with hours that work for our family, arrange the care of our kids by someone who is able to provide high caliber, on demand tutoring, counseling, and training in the ways of the world customized to each child’s needs, obtain transportation, clothing, housekeeping, cooking and taxi services to make that all happen. Good luck. Let me know when you get that all worked out.)

    Aside from being bullshit, the connection between who has the existing resources and who gets seen and heard and rewarded is more sinister than we realize. You know the proverbial “they” we always hear about? The ones who tell us what other people think of us and what’s normal and what’s a problem and what’s expected of us and what failure looks like? Sometimes people will joke and say, “who is this ‘they’ you keep talking about?” Well, the answer to that is simple. Continue reading

  • What’s Up With the Nigerian Church?

    My brain is all confudled after all the technical difficulties over the last few days. And the $900 car repair bill. And the fact that my husband has been traveling and I have too many children and I’d really just like to go veg somewhere for a week without being interrupted multiple times an hour. So this post is going to be really unfancy, but I think it’s important.

    I mentioned recently that a small group of Nigerian Christians found the blog and reached out to me not long ago. And they are awesome. Real keepers. Some of our discussions have centered on the state of the church in Nigeria and their relationship with it. And what they share, while more extreme than what we usually find here in the West, is sadly familiar. There’s serious work to be done.

    First, a little background. In addition to being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Its population is divided mainly Christian and Muslim with Christians holding more power and wealth than Muslims. This disparity is at the root of the violence which has been in the news lately. Muslims have access to fewer resources than Christians and feel that they are being mistreated which is breeding violence and resentment.

    Much of the problem comes out of geography. The parts of the country with the most resources are largely populated by Christians and Christians hold most important positions of power. However, that power has not been handled responsibly. Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world which means that resources which could be put to use for the benefit of the people are siphoned off by those in power for their own use. People in the Christian parts of the country can at least improve their lot by catering to the moneyed elite who are busy feeding off the government and the country’s natural resources. People in the Muslim parts of the country don’t even have that possibility available to them.

    At the end of the day, Nigeria will not know peace until its government begins to serve its people. All of its people. Which is something the Christian church could be a vocal proponent of. Heck, they could just stand around reading out the writings of the Old Testament prophets and make their point. Given how religious Nigeria is, a church which spoke prophetically in favor of the needs of the poor over the desires of the rich could be a highly effective change agent. But this is not what is happening.

    I’ve just cut and paste portions of several conversations I’ve had with my Nigerian friends about the state of the church below. The dynamics they describe are familiar, although sometimes extreme. They show what happens when the errors of men find their way into church teachings. These errors are often viewed as minor or even desirable to those who are living in a place with a lot of stability and enough abundance to avoid serious suffering. But the fruit they bear in more challenging situations ought to alert us to the fact that we’ve embraced teachings which come from man and not God.

    Corruption in the church

    I am (ruefully) amused at your description of the American church. I think in many ways, the Nigeria church is about the same – but the challenge is that the American society is one where there is a significant amount of balance (which may not be very obvious from the inside) because of many dissenting voices and influences. Everyone, to a large extent is accountable – or appears to be – to someone.

    Nigeria is different. Corruption is blatant and there is a significant amount of poverty among the populace, making them perfect fodder for the religious elite – the ‘pastors’
    ‘Pastor’ or the more emetic ‘daddy’ is the title given to every guy who starts a ‘church’. Largely, the product peddled is hope and the power that comes through ‘Faith’ and the Blood of Jesus. With these combined tablets, you can cure your poverty, sin, sicknesses, chase demons – and do anything…and rise above your neighbour.

    Because their belief systems do not match up to reality, the result is a duality; double standards where there is ‘holy speak’ on Sundays and among the ‘brethren’ and gross corruption and hideous godlessness Monday through Saturday.

    In Nigeria, what is important is getting wealthy. ‘No one’ cares how you do it.

    The result is such a complex system of religious rot in a highly religious society. Armed robbers have been known to pray before robbery and even pay their tithes and offerings. Some pastors bless the guns of some armed robbers. I have heard someone say ‘you are stupid in Jesus name’, seen gross exploitation of people in the name of tithe and first fruit, seen musical instruments for the ‘church’ prioritized over people’s lives and it goes on and on…

    Authoritarianism in the church

    Sadly, the way the society is structured, there is a great emphasis on (pseudo) community; so the older ones respect elders and do not speak out if they have a different view point. If the ‘man of God’ says something, you obey and if he does something wrong, you say nothing because the bible says ‘touch not my anointed’…
    No matter how much you try to explain the context or show that we are on equal footing before God, it seems so difficult for people to understand and/or accept because of what has been soldered into their psyche over time.

    It has become a norm, the order of the day…that you dare not say a thing against the so called man of God or disagree with him on whatsoever he taught or he teaches. This is one problem of on an African man, when an elderly person has spoken you have no opinion.

    People seem to believe their pastor more than giving attention to the reading of the scriptures. An average African man believes in Christ for Salvation but he’s quickly introduce into a kind of Authoritarian-ship of man. Trusting Christ for Salvation isn’t enough here unless you have someone that is control of your life…

    The sad part of it is “you must submit to someone, he must be your covering, you must give your tithe to him and blah blah blah….” I’ve only met few Christians that I can engage on the things of the Kingdom..the rest seem to love the Church things more than the Kingdom. 

    The Suffering Caused by Bad Theology

    Life is tough and God teaches you via processes and experiences. So it is not everytime prayers get answered the way we like and it is not everyone Jesus healed because he had to align with what the Spirit wanted to do, not just do miracles when he felt like it. So many people try to faith their way through pain and poverty, try to use the blood of Jesus to get through tough circumstances like it is an amulet, exaggerate ‘spiritual’ activity over pragmatic activity, ignoring the clear overlaps that we have when we deal with these spheres…and they get their fingers badly burnt. They lose jobs, they lose people, they cant pay bills, they run out of cash…and through it all, they fail to see that sometimes, hardship doesnt come about because of sin, or lack of faith…

    Continue reading

  • Manhunt for Peace in the Dark Heart of Africa

    You know my thing about Africa that I’ve mentioned a couple of times lately? Well, allow me to share a story out of the Congo and Uganda. Now, in Western minds, this part of Africa was long considered “the dark heart” of Africa. And unfortunately in the last few decades, there have been times when anyone who was paying attention would wonder if there wasn’t some sort of curse on that area.

    The details of the back and forth that got and kept the conflict going are long and boring. But the basic outline of what happened is this:

    A political uprising originally brought on, in 1986 and 1987, by genuine oppression (and thus serving objectives justified in the eyes of those who took up arms), so quickly mutated—by the end of the 1980s already—into a practice of radical violence, with no other aim, at the end, than its own perpetuation, beyond even the effective survival of the group.

    (This quote and all others used from the excellent story Sign Warfare, by journalist Jonathan Little, Asymptote Journal, April 2014)

    The way the conflict was fought was the sort of stuff you don’t say out loud when the kids are around and only in whispers in private. You don’t want it in their head that such things could exist. You wish it wasn’t in yours. So this conflict is the stuff of nightmares here. This is the conflict that gave us Kony 2012 and boy soldiers, the lost boys that some churches took in.

    Today, the government, which triggered the original conflict by refusing to allow freedom for an oppressed, mistreated minority, is engaged in a manhunt to find the last 150 or so soldiers still fighting. 150. That’s it. They can’t just ignore them because they are so violent. 150 is so few, but they still have the power to kill thousands. And I’ll tell you what? If you ever have to make a bet on a face-off between a Navy Seal and one of the Congolese soldiers involved in hunting them down, I wouldn’t be too quick to write off the Congolese soldier. I’m just saying. They’re kind of bad asses.

    But anyways, this isn’t your typical manhunt. What they really want is for the soldiers to desert and surrender:

    [The combatants] who surrender are well-treated, they are interrogated but without violence, it isn’t necessary, once out of the bush they have nothing to hide; then they’re sent back to Uganda, where they’re granted amnesty, go through a program of psycho-social reinsertion and sometimes get some professional training, before being sent back home with a little money and a few household supplies, or joining the army, more or less voluntarily. 

    The biggest reason for the ongoing conflict at this point is that the combatants don’t trust the government. They think offers of help are a trick. Because it’s been that kind of war. But this time, it’s real.

    That is amazing. This is not how human beings deal with their enemies. Especially enemies who are driven by a logic no higher thanwe just kill for the sake of killing. It humiliates the government, that’s good enough for us.” Those are the enemies you kill. The ones that you and your people and generations to follow never forgive. The people who, at the very least, must be held accountable for their crimes. 

    What is going on in the Congo has never been done before. We’ve never ended our conflicts by forgiving and helping our enemy get well. Never. I am not saying that the government is now perfect or that this particular policy is the be all and end all. But this is something amazing which uses the logic of God’s Kingdom to defeat the power of the enemy’s kingdom. Continue reading