• What Ever Happened to “Shake the Dust From Your Feet?”

    Words of wisdom from Scott Dannemiller, aka The Accidental Missionary on how to deal with those you disapprove of:

    Recall what Jesus told his closest buddies the first time he sent them out. He told them to heal, cure, and comfort, proclaiming God’s name along the way. And he added,

    “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt 10: 14)

    Sounds harsh, right? But he doesn’t add, “And leavest thou a flaming bag of poo on their doorstep, and drape their olive trees in Charmin.”

    Jesus is telling us to let it go. Self-righteous outrage is not worth the trouble. If judgment is to come, let Him be the sword. Meanwhile, save your words. They hold little value anyway.

    But . . . but . . . even Jesus got angry, right? Sure. And let’s look at what Jesus got angry about:

    A “hangry” Jesus got mad at a fig tree when he walked by and noticed it bore no fruit. He overturned tables like Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse, outraged with the money lenders turning a temple into a strip mall. He expressed outrage toward anyone who would harm a child, sounding a bit Tony Soprano-like when he said they would be better off sleeping with the fishes.

    Got that? Jesus got angry about hunger not fed, the commercialization of the holy and harm to children. If what you are angry about is one of those things, fine. But if you’re angry about any of the usual hobby horses that drive conflict with and in the church, Jesus says to let it go.

    Don’t yell and scream. Don’t appeal your case to the powers that be. Don’t explain your position over and over and over again to people who have already rejected it. Don’t go to war with those who reject you, your message or God himself. Leave it for God to deal with. Even if you think it’s an idiotic way to do things.

  • least_of_these

    The Least Have the Answers

    Back when I was pregnant with my oldest son, I wound up without a place to live. The counselor at the crisis pregnancy center which was helping me navigate this time reluctantly referred me to a homeless shelter/half-way house for single moms as a last resort. She didn’t come right out and say it, but my sense was that she was none too impressed with the way the program there was run.

    And she was right. In the year and a half that I lived there, not one of the women who went through the program was able to move from the shelter into independent living. They were all either kicked out or ended up moving into another unstable setting to get away. When I asked the social worker who we met with regularly, she could only think of one former resident who had moved on to independent living after her time there. And that was because she had scored a section 8 voucher. Given that the stated goal of the program was to move single moms from homelessness to independent living, this was kind of a big deal.

    A few months after I moved in, the leadership of the program announced that they were re-hauling the program and the house rules women had to abide by. They asked us to write down any suggestions we had for how to make the program more effective and our lives better. Me being me, I wrote a very long, thoughtful list of changes that I thought would help, complete with explanations.

    Several months later, the board of the organization put out the new rules. Of all the suggestions I and other women in the program had made, just one was adopted; we would now be allowed to have Christmas trees. Not only were none of our suggestions adopted, but the new rules actually moved in the opposite direction of what we had said would be helpful to us.

    After the new rules were implemented, women cycled in and out of the program faster than before. I was eventually kicked out for taking on a second job without discussing it with the social worker. My now-husband arranged for me and our son to sleep on a his friend’s pull-out sofa for a few months while I tried to find someplace safe that would rent someone under the age of 25 with bad credit. I had never met the woman before I showed up with my bags and kid.

    The people who ran the program, when asked about their lack of success in reaching their stated goal, would sigh and say it just shows how hard it is to work with people who wind up in trouble. Frankly, if your program is unable to help a compliant, college educated young woman from an upper-middle class background, who doesn’t party, has worked continually since age 10 and has never been in trouble with the law to get on her feet, it’s safe to say that your program doesn’t work.

    The reason I’m sharing this story is to illustrate why it is we as a society cannot solve the problems we face. The problem with this program was the same problem that nearly all programs meant to help those in need have. It was designed and run by successful people according to their experiences and assumptions about how the world works. And that’s why that program didn’t work and why most government social programs don’t work and even why so many schools don’t work.

    We have this tendency to think that if we want something fixed, we should listen to people who are successful. It makes a certain sense. If you’ve succeeded, then you know how to succeed and can share the answers with others who would like to succeed.

    However, before I became a homeless, single mom or got involved with the man from a bad family who is now my husband, I came from a family of 2%ers. My dad and his three siblings all have masters degrees. His dad was trained at Harvard by the Army during WWII and went on to be president of a company. Two of my mom’s siblings are multi-millionaires. So, I was born, bred and raised among successful people.

    I’ve seen people at both the top and at the bottom, up close and personal. And I have a secret for you; if you want answers for how to help people who are struggling and failing, don’t ask successful people. Ask the people who are struggling and failing.

    The answers which successful people have for how to overcome adversity are the same answers that everyone has. They don’t have anything unique to offer in that respect. They also don’t have any real understanding of the problems people face.

    In fact, I can say from experience, when you are successful it’s hard to grasp that there really are problems. It’s hard to understand why what made you successful won’t work for everyone else. From the vantage point of the sort of person who makes rules, starts programs and runs things, the problem must be with the people – they just aren’t willing to do it right.

    People on the bottom have answers that people on the top don’t. They know why people aren’t doing it right. They know what the obstacles to doing it right are. They know the obstacles people face even when they are doing it right. They know what people need in order to overcome those obstacles. In fact, if you look at the few social programs which are working, nearly all of them are run by people from the bottom.

    Of course, we humans aren’t in the habit of listening to people at the bottom. They are losers, failures, suspect. What do they know about how to suceed? If they were so smart, they wouldn’t be in a position of needing help, right?

    The governing board of the shelter I was at didn’t listen to any of the opinions of the women living there in good part because they didn’t trust us. They were like multi-millionaire lawmakers who are reluctant to build a safety net, lest people lose the drive to support themselves. They thought our goal was to avoid being responsible and disciplined and saw it as their job to force responsibility and discipline on us. They couldn’t imagine that we might understand our problems better than they did. They were sucessful people with families and homes. We had failed at life before we had even started. Clearly, they knew better than we did.

    This is a common problem; even when people at the bottom can make their concerns and ideas heard, we don’t trust them enough to listen. We look for any excuse to ignore, discount and disagree. We refuse to consider that perhaps the people at the bottom are able to see things that people at the top don’t. We refuse to believe that the world is so hostile or the odds so stacked. And frankly, we often refuse to listen to people at the bottom because the problems they point to seem too large and intractible to be solved.

    The thing is that while successful people rarely understand what the problems are, successful people often have skill sets, networks and experience that people at the bottom don’t have. And those things can be incredibly valuable. Someone at the bottom often knows just what needs to be done to help people, but lacks the skills, networks and experience to make that happen. So it’s not that successful people don’t have anything to offer.

    We all know that Jesus said that his followers were to serve those in need and to consider the last to be first and the first to be last. Usually, we see this as a call to alleviate suffering, show compassion and grow in love. Which is certainly true. But I also think that these teachings are a bit of a trail of crumbs he left for us as well. That he knew the answers to the problems we face would be found among the least and not the greatest. Besides, Jesus said that what we do for the least of these, we are also doing for him. Might Jesus who says if we love him, we will listen to his words, also expect us to listen to, learn from and take seriously what the least have to say? It is very much how his upside down Kingdom works, no?

  • abortion

    The Surprising Way Abortion Really is Destroying the Country

    Just for fun, how about I start off the week by pissing everyone off? And what better way to piss everyone off than by talking politics? Specifically abortion and politics. And even more specifically abortion, politics and the faithless Christian response to both. Now there’s a recipe for upsetting everyone! See – we’re having fun already!

    Almost since Roe v Wade was handed down 40 years ago, high profile (and many not so high profile) Christian preachers have been warning that America’s embrace of abortion, among other things,  would bring down God’s wrath and destroy our country. Yesterday, looking at the mess our country’s in at the moment, it occurred to me that these preachers were correct. Only it’s not working quite the way they thought it was going to work. Because primary blame doesn’t go to the abortionists or pro-choice politicians or women who get abortions for the destruction. It’s those of us who oppose abortion while claiming the name of Christ who bear the lion’s share of the blame.

    Now, if you’ve been following me for a while, you already know that I’m pro-life. Because I’m really mean and cruel and enjoy seeing women suffer. No, not really. I am pro-life because I believe that life is a gift and that God demands that we protect and serve the helpless, the defenseless, the needy, the least, those who can’t speak for themselves – and no one fits that description more than an unborn child.

    And I think that abortion distorts relationships between men and women in unhealthy ways. And I think that abortion is a bandaid covering up more fundamental problems with our way of life which are inimicable to women, children and human flourishing. (For my more liberal readers who are now disappointed in me, you can take some comfort in knowing that I’m pro-life in the Roman Catholic sense. I also oppose the death penalty, violence for reasons other than defending against immediate harm and anything which creates deprivation, devaluation and degregation in the lives of the already born. See- I’m not really so mean and cruel!)

    And yet, I believe that if there is judgment coming (or being made manifest) from God due to abortion, it rests heaviest on the shoulders of those of us who are pro-life. We are the ones who have failed. We have been disobedient and our whole country is reaping the consequences.

    The problem is the same one I have harped on many times; we reject the actual instructions of Jesus because they are naive, unrealistic and we don’t think they will work. Instead, we fall back on the ways of men – a will to power, anger, argument, control, guilt and condemnation. As is so often the case, we chose being right over being faithful. In doing so, we have both lost the fight and are bringing down judgment.

    Jesus gave us specific instructions for dealing with our opponents. He said to love them. He said not to resist the evil man. He said that if someone won’t repent of their sin, we ought to let them go their own way. He ran off those who would condemn a sinner and then said, “neither do I condemn you. Go freely. Sin no more.” When faced with aggressive evil, he advocated for those doing it in the spiritual realm saying, “forgive them Father. They do not know what they are doing.”

    Paul instructs us not to be argumentative. Like Jesus, he tells us to serve our enemies. Make sure they are cared for. He tells us that we are to do as Jesus did – give up our rights as an act of humillity. Read the book of Philemon; Paul says that he would be in his rights to demand that Philemon set his slave Onesimus free, but that he is choosing not to do that. Instead he offers no judgment or condemnation. Even when the life of a man he loves hangs in the balance, Paul follows Jesus’ example and gives up his rights in humility and makes an invitation to love.

    I ask you in all seriousness, when have we Christian pro-lifers done any of these things? We haven’t. Instead, we responded to the evil of abortion exactly the same way men have always responded to not getting their way. We organized to gain political power. We sought control and influence. We stood outside clinics and threw stones – sometimes literally. We called people baby killers and put pictures of mutilated pre-born children in the trick or treat bags of small children. We offered condemnation and tried to guilt people into changing their minds about abortion. We tried to physically stop people from gaining entrance to clinics. Our tone has consistently been combative, angry and condemning.

    In response to abortion, pro-life Christians have been an ugly portrait of disobedience to the one we claim to follow.  And we’ve done it in the name of God. We Christians ought to know that God will not be mocked like that. He does and will judge.

    When faced with evil, the obedient, faithful thing to have done would have been to follow Jesus’ instructions. To love more. To serve more. To visit the sick and imprisoned. To feed the hungry. Take in the homeless. Give away all we have. Offer forgiveness.

    We would have been kind to our opponents. We would have been patient with the process. We would have been extremely sparing with our anger and when angry, been angry over the sort of suffering which leads a woman seek an abortion. We would have given up our right to power, control and influence in favor of love and forgiveness. We would have put our faith in the ways of God and not in the ways of man.

    Of course, there are those who have responded to abortion by serving those in need. Who have poured love out on men and women facing an unplanned pregnancy. Who have ministered love and forgiveness to those who have had abortions. In fact, if every dollar which has gone to support pro-life causes and especially “pro-life” politicians had gone to those sorts of Christ-honoring efforts, this country would be in a very different place right now. But the reality is that such efforts at offering a Godly response to abortion struggle for money and attention while politicians blowing the pro-life whistle rake in combined billions.

    Overwhelmingly, pro-life Christians who have actively sought to end abortion have done so by trying to move the levers of power. Abortion was made legal through the levers of power, it was reasoned, so to undo the harm, we must take control of those levers and move them ourselves. It was a lazy, disobedient tact to take. It required very little of us personally other than showing up to vote and sending in a few bucks. Maybe spend a few hours at a rally feeling like part of a righteous tribe headed towards victory. The only suffering involved was the pain of losing from time to time. But now, it is through these very levers of power we grasped at that judgment is coming down.

    Allow me to explain what is happening. For a good number of Christians, opposition to abortion became the most important political issue. For these people, voting for a pro-choice politician was unthinkable. It was tantamount to rejecting the Christian faith, in fact.

    Politicians quickly learned that claiming a pro-life mantle guarenteed them a solid block of votes. It didn’t matter that even when pro-life politicians gained power, very little was done to end abortion. In fact, abortion rates tend to go up when putatively pro-life politicians have power. As long as voting for a pro-choice candidate isn’t an option, there can be no accountability for politicians who claim to be pro-life. They can literally say and do whatever they want without worrying that they will lose the support of their base.

    But the problem created by supporting and electing politicians who are completely unaccountable to their base for anything other than being pro-life is much more insidious than we realize. There is a well documented tendency among humans to resist evidence which makes us look bad. Repeated studies have discovered a strange thing which happens when we’re presented with documented, factual proof that something we believe to be true is actually false. We respond by holding our false belief even tighter. We are so resistant to accepting that we are wrong – perhaps terribly wrong – that we will deny reality rather than change our minds.

    So let’s go back to our unaccountable pro-life politicians. Let’s say that you are one of those one-issue voters who cannot even consider voting for a pro-choice candidate. And let’s say that the pro-life politician you support starts saying things like, “this new heath care law will create death panels to decide who gets treatment and who is allowed to die for lack of medical care. It is meant to bring euthenasia of those deemed worthless to our country.”

    Or “climate change is a lie made up by liberal scientists. It’s just a cover meant to allow the government to seize control of all aspects of our lives.”

    Or “cutting food stamps during a time of high under and un-employment is the most Christian thing we can do for poor people. But raising the minimum wage so people can afford to feed themselves would harm poor people.”

    Or “this president is a Kenyan-born, Muslim socialist who is bent on destroying our country.”

    Or “we have evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, is close to obtaining yellow cake uranium and gave support to the 9-11 highjackers.”

    For the person who supports “pro-life” politicians come-what-may, this creates a problem. All of these statements are false – they have no basis in reality and there’s plenty of evidence to disprove them. Withdrawing support from people who say such things isn’t an option when the alternative is supporting a pro-choice politician (or even just a less stridently ‘pro-life” candidate). But no one wants to believe that they are supporting someone or something which is evil, false or even deranged. So, without even realizing it’s happening, many Christians who vote pro-life do what human beings do – they reject reality in order to protect their sense of themselves as being on the side of right. Because they cannot face the possibility that the pro-life candidate doesn’t deserve their support, many people unconciously chose to believe the blatent lies these people spew instead.

    This dynamic is so strong that research has found that the more evidence a person is presented showing that their beliefs are false, the more tightly they cling to them. So, the more opposition these “pro-life” politicians face and the more facts that are thrown on the table, the more these sort of pro-life Christian voters will support them. In fact, with this dynamic in play it actually benefits these politicians to say more and more outrageous, false things. The more false things they say, the more their opponents howl outrage and the more support the “pro-life” politician gets from his or her base.

    The end result being that there are a lot of pro-life Christians believing a lot of lies. They are supporting politicians who are working to pass laws which are in direct and blatent opposition to the teachings of Christ. These Christians themselves end up adopting and advocating for these radically anti-Christian policies and the attitudes behind them. And not only is abortion still legal and common, but the witness of the church to the rest of the world has been pretty well destroyed.

    The bible tells us that this is exactly what God does with those who will not live in accordance to his instructions and instead cling to the ways of man:

    Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind. ~ Romans 1:28

    We Christians were given the knowledge of God in the form of some pretty specific instructions for how to deal with evil and those who oppose us and God. We are supposed to love them, not resist, offer forgiveness, refrain from condemnation, meet their needs. Abortion has been with us since time immemorial, of course. We just didn’t have to face its reality until it was legalized. And when that time came, most Christians decided that this knowledge we had been handed in Christ wasn’t worthwhile. It wasn’t going to work and wasn’t going to fix the problem. So we let it go. And now much of the church is a living, breathing demonstration of what a depraved mind looks like.

    Its harsh and many who read this may not want to believe it, but it’s true. And to prove it we have elected officials – all “pro-life” politicians – advocating against the needs of the poor in favor of the weathy, against good stewardship of the planet in favor of the exploitation of the planet and against the will of the American people in favor of their own preferences. And abortion is still legal and common. And the church is increasingly marginalized and rejected. That’s the fruit we grew.

    Now, given our tendency to reject evidence which says we are wrong, I’m sure some Christians who read this will be looking for a reason to reject what I say. I’m just a liberal twisting things to make a clever argument, perhaps. I could tell you that’s not true, but instead, allow me to issue an challenge. Or maybe an invitation.

    How about even if you are 100% sure that I’m wrong and probably defaming both God and the church, you do one little thing. You decide to be obedient to Jesus’ teachings. Even though they are naive and foolish and can’t possibly work or be meant to be taken literally. What if you decide that just as an experiment you will start taking them as actual instructions for a while.

    Next time you get angry, repent and pray that God would put love and compassion in your heart for the person who made you angry. The next time someone says something wrong or even evil, don’t argue or come against them. Instead look for your next chance to do or say something kind to them. The next time you see someone doing something outrageously sinful, advocate for them in the heavenlies: “Father, please forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Next time you have the urge to speak out against someone, simply say, “I don’t condemn you. But I do love you.”

    When doing these things seems impossible and your righteous anger burns within you, turn to God and ask him to give you peace, joy, patience, lovingkindness in its place. When the darkness you see in the world threatens to overwhelm you, discipline yourself to follow the words of Paul: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent and praiseworthy – think about such things.” (In other words, turn off the news!) When you are certain that doing these things means capitulating to evil, remember that the end of the story is God wins – and he doesn’t actually need your help to do it. But he has given some pretty specific instructions.

    “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” ~ John 14:15

    Related Posts:

    Why I Don’t Consider Abortion When Voting

    Let’s Stop With The Glue Already!

    The Christian’s Role In Society

    What I Think God Would Say About Abortion

  • salt and light

    The Christian’s Role in Society

    Perhaps it’s inevitable, but the older I get, the more radical I seem to be becoming. It all comes from thinking that Jesus really meant all those crazy things he said and, you know, actually wants us to do them. I mean a lot of effort has gone into trying to put the Jesus stamp of approval on the comfortable American dream and a lot of people are happy with the result. But the red letters are still there in the bible. And all it takes is to try to follow a few of them for a person to be changed and their American dream to be upended – or for them to end up with a really screwed up life if you’d rather see it that way. I’m not sure exactly why we are so convinced that a good and comfortable life is what we get when we follow in the footsteps of a man who was tortured, killed, betrayed, abandoned and mocked. It’s a bit of a disconnect to be sure. But then again, who wants a screwed up life? Better to just sign up for your “get out of hell free” card and sit tight ’till you kick the bucket, I suppose.

    But anyways, what I was saying – or meant to be saying – was that I’ve become more of a radical as I’ve gotten older. And part of being a radical is that you’re prone to being rather unrealistic. Like maybe you embrace pacifism. Or you decide that you shouldn’t have sex with anyone you’re not in a permanent, covenant relationship with. Or you’re going to take what you need to exist on from your paycheck and turn the rest over to people in need. Or you’re going to forgive and be in relationship with the man who murdered your daughter. Being a radical makes you a bit of a lunatic, really. Continue reading

  • Sound Doctrine

    About Those Tickled Ears

    “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” – 2 Timothy 4:3-4

    As a general rule I do my best to adhere to the policy that one ought to promote what one loves rather than bashing what one opposes. But today, I feel the need to warn y’all about the ear ticklers. “Have their ears tickled” was something of an idiom in ancient Rome which meant that a person was listening for things which were pleasing to them rather than the truth. What people looking to have their ears tickled really had a preference for were ideas which were new or novel. Paul warned young Timothy that the day would come when ear ticklers would be all the rage in Christian circles. And people being people, the accusation of tickling ears has probably been thrown around among Christians who disagree with each other ever since.

    Now, I must be upfront and let y’all know that I have myself been accused of being an ear tickler on more than one occasion. If you can believe it. And I’ve noticed that whenever I’ve encountered someone warning about ear ticklers, the underlying assumption is always that ear tickling starts with rejecting a wrathful, condemning, harsh God. For some reason these people seem to be under the impression that it is a common problem that human beings would desire a nice, squishy God whose motto is “I’m OK, you’re OK.” Only I’ve yet to see any evidence of any such thing. Just the opposite, in fact. Continue reading

  • hands-holding-baby

    Why I don’t consider abortion when voting

    Let me be clear up-front: I do not support a right to abortion on demand. In fact, if I were made ruler of the universe, I would make abortions enormously difficult to get. Because I’m a mean and cruel woman. No, not really – I’m actually very kind and empathetic. But I am in agreement with Mother Theresa: “it is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live”. I don’t think abortion is an answer to what is really a societal failure. I don’t only oppose abortion from a pro-life perspective. I think abortion is bad for women, worse for relations between men and women and displays a level of animosity towards women as they are – people whose bodies can start new life – which is evil and vile. If we have a society where the normal functioning of a woman’s body regularly ruins women’s lives, we’re doing it wrong. And abortion doesn’t do anything to fix that – it simply enables it. Nearly 60% of abortions are influenced by pressure from fathers, husbands, boyfriends or others with power in a woman’s life. That’s not empowering. Nor has ready access to abortion resulted in a world where people who shouldn’t have children don’t as abortion proponents used to argue. Far from it. And yet . . . the issue of abortion has nothing to do with how I vote.

    Yes Democrats not only support abortion rights, but celebrate them the way most of us celebrate Grandpa’s 90th birthday. But despite using the abortion issue to garner votes for the last 30 or 40 years, Republicans haven’t and won’t do anything to stop abortion either. Sure, they’ll fiddle around the edges and I’d much rather live in a country where doctors don’t deliver a baby up to its neck before suctioning its brains, crushing its head and completing delivery. But show me one child who is alive today because we banned “intact dilation and extraction”. It’s a symbolic victory at best. The reality is that for all their rhetoric, the Republicans have shown no more willingness to do something about Roe v Wade than their Democratic opponents. If anything, I can at least give the Democrats credit for being honest about their support of abortion as birth control. But voting for someone simply because they claim to be pro-life does nothing what-so-ever to advance pro-life policies. It’s just giving my vote to the person who has set their dog-whistle to the right pitch.

    Another reason abortion isn’t a factor in my voting is that abortion is only marginally a legal issue. 1.2 million women have abortions each year. By some estimates, one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Including a good number of women who are Christian, pro-lifers. That’s a social problem. You don’t fix social problems with laws. Social problems get fixed with people. Continue reading

  • faces-vase

    “What is truth?”

    So, are you sick of the arguments yet? You know the arguments – Romney vs Obama. “Job Creators” vs Inequality. Creationism vs Evolution. Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life. Old Fashioned vs New Fangled. Text Speak vs Grammar Nazi’s. Toilet Seat Up vs Toilet Seat Down. Whatever it is, if we can figure out two ways of looking at an issue to divide ourselves into, we do it. And then we argue and argue and argue. We refine our arguments and wonder what the hell is wrong with the people who don’t agree with us. But aren’t you sick of it?

    I remember years ago an older, wiser friend told me, “arguments don’t work. You never change someone’s mind through arguments.” At the time I was a bit flabbergasted. If we didn’t argue, how would the other person know they were wrong? And if we can’t get everyone pretty much on board, how do we keep the world from going to hell in a hand basket? I mean, what was the alternative?

    Of course, today we have reams of research and endless gigabytes of internet conversations to prove that what my friend told me was true: arguments don’t work. They rarely change anyone’s mind. And I think all but the most die-hard believers are starting to get sick of them.

    So what is the alternative to argument? Do we just agree to disagree – you have your opinions and I’ll have mine? And what about truth? Aren’t some things just true and shouldn’t we stand up for and advocate for them? If we can’t argue and persuade our way into some consensus about what’s true how can we function together to get anything done? The live and let live concept sounds fine until we need policies to get the economy going or fix serious social problems. Then what? Continue reading

  • cwo_mercy

    Most Christian’s Opinions Aren’t Worth Two Dead Flies – But That Can Change

    I like to say that I grew up in the “Easy Listening” phase of American Roman Catholicism. We sang “On Eagle’s Wings” with a guitar accompanist and hung felt banners around the sanctuary. My cousins attended a church that had alter girls and interpretive dancers. An opera singer who attended our church was sometimes allowed to lead songs and children regularly got smacked in the back of the head for giggling when she stretched to hit really high, screechy notes. Which was better than when her nightclub singer daughter sang and made us all feel like we should go home and shower after watching her squirm around singing about God and love in breathy tones.

    Some of my sisters feel strongly that they were damaged by being forced to attend mass each week at this retro-grade institution. But honestly, my memory is of sermons that could basically be summed up as, “kids, listen to your parents and don’t fight with your siblings. And every one needs to stop trying to run each other over in the parking lot after mass.” For me it was about as benign an introduction to Christianity as you could hope for.

    Which isn’t to say that it was entirely content free. Like all good Catholic kiddies, I attended catechism classes every Wednesday night for an hour all through grade school. I have an amazing capacity to completely tune out anything that doesn’t catch my interest, so I don’t have any idea what we did each week. But what I do recall is having to memorize things. We memorized prayers like the Our Father, the Nicene Creed and the prayer for confession. We memorized the 10 commandments, the beatitudes and the various works of mercy. It is entirely possible that we actually talked about what these things we were memorizing meant, but again, I wasn’t really paying attention.

    The end result was that I couldn’t have told you why Jesus lived and died, but I did know that he told us to love each other and serve those in need. And as much as I love me some good theology, I’d say I got a better religious education than other kids who could explain penal substitution and use “Roman’s Road” to explain (their version of) the gospel. Continue reading

  • culture-warrior-clay-bennett

    Our Faithless Culture Wars

    A while ago, I finally realized that I needed to take Jesus’ teachings much more literally. He said, “don’t judge” and I said, “I’m not judging, but clearly some things are wrong. It’s not judging to say that.” He said, “love, pray for and serve your enemies” and I heard, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” He said, “do not resist the evil man” and I signed petitions against groups and politicians in order to protect Jesus’ values. Jesus said, “so do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” and I wonder if we should make plans to attend the financial planning series the church is holding on Thursday nights. Jesus said, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” and I work really hard to be at least in the top quintile in everything I do. See the problem here?

    So, haltingly and stumblingly and often failingly, I have tried to unlearn the ways we do things here in the world and adopt the Kingdom way of doing things. What I have learned in the process is that what we see as “standing up for Jesus” or “hate the sin, love the sinner” is really a form of faithlessness. We don’t trust God enough to be able to work things out according to the ways that Jesus told us to do them. We fight and opine and advocate because we are convinced that without our help, God won’t get his way. We think that all that talk about not judging and not resisting and not worrying are good – so far as they go. But there are important issues at play here. If we don’t stand up and fight, we could lose! We could be eating cat food in retirement. “God doesn’t get what it’s like down here” is what I’ve sometimes told myself. Only that’s ridiculous – God made “down here.” He came down here and suffered the worst we could throw at him. And God wins. Always, everywhere. Period. Amen. The reality is that every time I judge or fight or worry or try to keep my position, I’m throwing my lot in with the losing side. Really. Think about that and then think about our culture wars and you can start to see why “the church” has failed so miserably in fighting them. And even more alarmingly, how breathtakingly faithless we are. Continue reading

  • deficit

    Birth Control, The Catholic Church and HHS

    This is the least frightening picture I've ever seen of General Palpatine, I mean Pope Benedict

    Perhaps you have heard that the Obama administration has decided that they have the duty to force religiously affiliated employers to provide their employees with insurance coverage which includes birth control, the abortion poll and sterilization.  The Catholic Church is preparing for a massive show-down on the matter.  Now, before you say, “they should provide birth control! What right does the church have to force their employees to follow church teachings on such matters”, stop.  Let me make a few points:

    1. Not having insurance coverage for birth control DOES NOT deny anyone access to birth control.  I know, I’ve gone without insurance coverage repeatedly and not once did that have an impact on my ability to procure birth control.  Is it easier when I have insurance coverage? Sure - it means not making a trip to a county clinic or Planned Parenthood (which I thought we were providing tax payer money to in order to meet such needs, but any ways).  But I’d also like insurance coverage with no deductibles which would cover dental.  Dental is a real issue.  Millions of people cannot afford to see a dentist.  I promise you, despite all the “easier access to birth control” rhetoric, there is not a single piece of research which has found that an inability to get birth control is leading to more unplanned pregnancies.  An inability to use it properly, well that’s a whole other matter.  It’s an idea which makes intuitive sense to people who don’t have to deal with such things themselves, but there’s no data to back it up.  There is zero evidence that this is a real problem with serious consequences being attacked here, just an ideological hammer looking for a nail.

    2. Catholic Charities is one of the largest provider of medical and social services in this country (the largest in the world).  Um, maybe we outta say “Thank you” rather than forcing them to shut down just to make a point?  It doesn’t matter if you agree with them Continue reading