• A Random Hump Night Thought

    I mean hump night because today is Wednesday which is halfway through the week, thus earning it the name “hump day” because it’s all downhill once you get over the hump. Just in case you were thinking about that thing your dog does to visitors.

    At any rate, I just wanted to share a random thought with y’all. Don’t worry, my random thoughts are more interesting than most. If not, I figure they’re still worth reading for the bad jokes I have the gall to write on my Christian blog if nothing else. So, here’s my random thought for tonight:

    Did you know that researchers sometimes stumble on these weird connections between the language people speak and some quirk in their thinking which can have disasterous outcomes?

    For example, in most languages, a broken bone is something that happens, not something you do. So you would say, “my arm got broken.” But most English speakers say, “I broke my arm.” This would make no sense in most of the world; a sane person wouldn’t deliberately break their own arm! But in America, we regularly speak this way. If you take a minute, you can think of other examples. “In crashed my car”, “I lost my job”, “I let the dog get out”, etc.

    Which makes me wonder if this isn’t part of what makes America such a blaming culture. Why we have to sue everyone when something bad happens. Why we reflexively blame people for their own misfortune. Because there’s this quirk built into our language which subconciously teaches us that things don’t just happen; some one always has to be responsible. Even if that someone is you right when your arm got broken in an accident.

    Another example is found in countries with high savings rates. Many of us struggle to save or really to plan well for our future at all. But there are a few countries like China and Finland where people sometimes save too much. It turns out that in countries where people are savers, there is no such thing as past, preasent or future tense in their languages. They use the same verb tense and rely on context to convey whether you are talking about past, present or future events.

    Economists theorize that in languages where we shift into future tense whenever we speak of the future, it teaches us to think of the future as something which is different than the present. In languages where the present is spoken of no differently than the future, the fact that the future is most likely going to be very much like the present is obvious. It makes the benefit of saving for a better future seem like the obvious thing to do. Thus, this higher savings rate in countrie where the language has this quirk.

    And then there are those quirks of language which reveal a truth which we all know, but would never say out loud. Like the German word scheudenfreude which means to take pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. Or my favorite; the Japanese have over a dozen different ways of saying thank you. And it is said that all of them convey varying degrees of resentment between the parties. And isn’t that the truth?

    Ahhh . . . .language. Just what you needed to finish your hump day off right, Although perhaps you have a better way of ending it . . . ;)

  • The Entrance Leads to the Whole

    So, know anyone with some really bad theology? Like you hear them talk and all you can hear are the lies, errors and misrepresentations they are spouting and it makes you want to scream? OK, maybe you don’t actually care about theology that much. It’s probably better if you don’t when you get right down to it.

    But, we all know people who are intensely passionate about their opinions. And hey – if just putting your theology into the category of “opinion” offends you, well, passion’s not a bad thing. But that’s not really here nor there. My point was that some people have terrible theology. Like Westboro Baptist. And . . . well, we won’t get into the rest. Let’s just say there’s no end of churches believing really wacky things.

    Of course, it doesn’t all lead to crazy land. Some people have theology that you just think is wrong. Like Jehovah’s witnesses. I had a pair who stopped coming after I told them that living forever on Earth would never, ever be desirable to me. Because until I can reside with the God of the universe, I will not be content. There’s more to the world than our little planet and our people. They were appalled that I would reject the gift of eternal life. I was going to go into the role of the mosquito in the ecosystem to illustrate that their perfect Earth couldn’t exist, but they left before I had the chance. But again, not my point.

    What I really want to talk about is why we need to stop worrying so much about how wrong everyone else is. We’ve been doing that for a while now and I’m not sure what we think we’re going to gain by keeping it up. We disagree. About almost everything. Maybe we need to get over it and start building on a different foundation. Continue reading

  • Black and White Drug Dealers in America

    Late last Saturday night, my husband and some friends were driving home when there was an accident a ways ahead of them. A piece of debris from the accident punctured the gas tank of our family’s only vehicle. Which, of course, we had used our last pennies to pay off the day before. Because, of course.

    On the upside, one of my husband’s friends has stepped up and is driving him to and from the bus stop while they work on replacing the damaged gas tank. He took my husband to buy the replacement, brought over the tools needed and has spent at least 6 hours so far on our cold, filthy garage floor helping my husband remove the damaged tank. Obviously, he’s a very good friend.

    However, about 15 years ago, he was our town drug dealer. He sold everything, but particularly cocaine and meth. And he had become a meth user himself. He says that the first time he tried meth, he felt so good that he thought, “this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.” Big ambitions.

    He was still in high school at the time and one day, just a few months short of his 18th birthday, he was caught on school grounds with a large quantity of drugs and cash in his car. At this point, his fate was in the hands of the county prosecutor.

    There were enough drugs and cash in the car that it was obvious he was the source of a lot of the drugs being used in the area. And he had been found with them on school property, during school hours. He was close enough to his 18th birthday to be charged as an adult with multiple felonies and sent away for a long time. In fact, the DA and the local police would be able to make some real political hay with the case. Plus could hold a press conference with the drugs and cash laid out on a table, announcing that they had just taken out a major player in the local drug trade. Continue reading

  • Colonizing Cities for White American Jesus

    No one likes to think of themselves as racist or prejudiced. Even the KKK denies being a racist organization. Which for some people just affirms the deeply held idea that there’s something wrong with people of color. If there wasn’t something wrong with them, people of color wouldn’t have so many problems now that racism isn’t a problem. How can racism be to blame when there are no more racists among us?

    Of course, racism and the residual effects of centuries of being raped, robbed and pillaged continue to be an issue. If we’d ever like to get to the day when there really are no racists among us, we need white people to be a lot less clueless. Like, for example, we need for this to become unthinkable, particularly for Christians:

    When I asked the white pastor of a large suburban multi-campus church to . . . reflect on whether he has earned the right to do ministry among the oppressed, he responded by saying, “Obviously, the pastors [of color] that are already in the community aren’t more qualified to minister in that neighborhood than I am. If they were, they’d have made a bigger impact by now. They’ve had their chance. Now it’s mine.”

    Or this:

    One older African-American pastor said he’s heard chilling reports of meetings, in which representatives from many of the suburban churches have gathered around a map of the city and marked each church’s “territory,” as if Buffalo was theirs to divvy up. The indigenous leaders were not invited to these meetings, nor have they been contacted by these churches. It’s as if they don’t exist, their churches don’t exist, and their expertise doesn’t exist.

    Those quotes come from a really excellent article by Christina Cleveland called “Urban Church Planting Plantations” which ought to be required reading for every suburban pastor. And for you too. It’s super good.

    I had heard talk of urban church planting and knew that most such church plants fail miserably. Often they become money holes for the church supporting them. Even relatively successful ones find that instead of ministering directly to poor, struggling communities, they are attracting a crowd that doesn’t actually live in the area the church is supposed to be ministering to.

    In fact, the last church our family was seriously involved in was an urban church plant supported by a large, predominantly white denomination. They had a long history of working for racial reconciliation and so did better than most. They hired African American pastors and ministers who were at least somewhat familiar with the community. They were even paying for additional education and training to bring the pastors up to the denomination’s standards. But at the same time, we were driving 40 minutes each way to get there. Urban ministry is much harder than Pastor “It’s my turn” thinks.

    Continue reading

  • Christians and Interracial Marriage

    Guys, what is this world coming to? Aljezeera America recently used the parable of the talents to explain current events. Christianity Today, the flagship publication of conservative, Evangelical Christianity, is promoting interracial marriage. And discussing racism. And even relying on the voice of a black women to explain the theology of the whole thing. The world’s going all off kilter here. 

    I know the rest of the world (and many of us) find it ridiculous that the church still struggles with these things. But we are a people whose founder said he’d go back for the one sheep dumb enough to get left behind. So perhaps it’s part of being church in the world to be a sanctuary for those who just can’t keep up with the pace of change in the world. That doesn’t mean they need to become the sanctuary’s leaders and spokespeople, of course. It’s still a work in progress.

    But look at this fruit. Doesn’t it make your heart sing?

    God abhors racism. Miriam’s skin was turned “leprous, like snow.” Her punishment was directly related to her sinful prejudice against the dark skin of the Cushite people. I did a quick search to examine the effects of leprosy. (Not recommended.) Her punishment would change the way peopleviewed her. It would not affect the way they thought of her per se, but the way they looked at her. As Miriam once looked at the Cushite woman with distain, she would now know exactly what that was like.

    What Miriam forgot, and what so many others still forget, is that all people are made in the image of God, we are all from the same Adam, and now we are all redeemed equally through Christ. Interracial marriage isn’t merely acceptable; it reflects the beauty and glory of the gospel.

    Through the gospel, we are reconciled first to God, then to one another. We are made brothers and sisters in Christ. We are counted as righteous. The gospel breaks the barriers that once divided us.

    You can read the whole post by Trillia Newbell here. Her book Union can be purchased here.

    For the last several decades we’ve heard that we ought to accept interracial relationships for two reasons. One is that we can’t tell other people what to do or who to love. The other is that all races are equal. And those are fine things. Except “everyone should be able to do what they want to do” is something a 7 year old would say. And equal does not mean the same. We still have to figure out how to deal with those differences.

    On the other hand, Newbell’s vision of interracial marriage is built around reconciliation and our true identity. She challenges us to see interracial marriage not only as an acceptable thing, but a good thing. A reflection of God’s Kingdom, in fact.

    Perhaps this is why research has found that among people who attend highly segregated churches (read: among people who attend church), those who report praying and reading their bible frequently are more likely to date outside their race. Wouldn’t it be funny if being in an interracial relationship started being on of those easily recognized markers for being Christian? I mean, we can be induced to wear cheesy and often offensive T-shirts as a way to show what super, duper, committed Christians we are. Picking a dating/marriage partner from another race in order to look like a good Christian could become a thing in our hypercompetitive church culture.

    Of course, wearing a t-shirt doesn’t grow or change you. Interracial marriage most certainly will. So maybe we should start spreading the word that interracial marriage is a thing that super committed Christians do. It’s got to be a better plan/witness than a “God’s Gym” t-shirt!

  • 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?

  • 247px-Second_Coming_of_Christ_window

    If Jesus Returned Today

    If Jesus returned today would you be ready? Would you be ready to live in a world where God was your only source of life? Where you could no longer get life/identity from other people, your accomplishments, your money, your looks, your relationships, your roles, your job, your house, your clothing, your knowledge, your superiority to someone else or any other thing at all?

    Would you really be ready to live in a world where your only reaction could be love? Where whatever happened or whatever another person did, you couldn’t be resentful, jealous, seek your own way, hold a grudge, assert your rights or demand immediate change?

    Would you be prepared to have your every problem solved by God’s comfort? Are you really prepared to come to God with a complaint, a hurt or a problem and instead of having the situation set right, have God say, “all is well. I love you and care for you. Be at peace” without actually changing anything for us?

    If Jesus came back today, would you be ready to live at peace with all people? Would you be able to love, value and take joy in those who think differently than you? Whose desires and work is different than your own? Could you find joy in someone sees and experiences God in ways that you do not? Could you humble yourself to learn from them instead of opposing them? Could you love them even when you got nothing in return?

    Could you live with only what God has provided and not what you want? If beauty and the fruit of God’s creation were all that were available and no thing which took from rather than added to that existed, could you be satisfied? If there was a lot of fruit but little meat? Water in abundance, but no artificially colored and flavored drinks? If you could know and be in contact with all people and places, but rarely, if ever, travel anywhere?

    Could you take correction with joy rather than pain? Could you face being told you are wrong and instead of arguing, defending yourself, feeling bad or condemned, be excited at the new truth you have been shown?

    Are you able to make God your greatest desire and ambition? Instead of dreaming of awards or degrees or success or a beautiful family, could you spend your days and nights dreaming of ways to draw closer to the King? Could you make all of your choices according to what would amplify love, peace, hope, faith and goodness rather than what would amplify wealth, status, comfort, ease and reputation?

    Could you seek relationships for how they will sharpen, grow and change you – iron against iron, deep calling to deep – rather than how they affirm you, how they bring you comfort or ease, how they build you up? Could you persevere through the process with gladness over how you are being refined without resenting what it costs? Could you refrain from doing anything that brings harm to another person – no matter how different or far removed from you – and no matter what suffering you will endure as a result? Continue reading

  • walmart_salutes3530

    God Bless America?

    Patriotism  makes me cry. The national anthem gets me every time. And the men and women from the VFW marching in parades chokes me up so badly I can’t answer when my kids ask who they are and why we stand when they walk by. I don’t even know why except that I love my country and am profoundly humbled by those who have served us. And yet as a Christian I am also  aware that my country and its people are no more or less beloved by God than any other. I wrote this last year for the 4th and would like to share it again as we celebrate our nation today. Have a blessed 4th, y’all

    In early fall of 2008 I was listening to the radio on the morning that Lehman Brothers failed and there was great concern that this was the beginning of the end of our financial system. It was all a bit scary and I began to pray, “Lord, please protect us.”

    The response? “Why should I? I have blessed America beyond anything the world has ever known before. Should I step in now to protect her snowmobiles and McMansions and Supergulp sodas and plastic surgery and $200 Nikes? I have children who will never own a pair of shoes all over the world. Families who will never live in a space larger than your closet. But I need to protect America? From what?”

    What can you say to something like that? So I thought for a minute and said, “change. Change is hard. Many people’s lives are going to be changing and people will be losing what they thought was secure. Please help people handle the change. Have mercy on them.”

    I’m thinking about this exchange today on the 4th of July when the words “God bless America” are filling the air and our facebook feeds. The thing is that God has blessed America. We are the richest, most powerful country the world has ever known. We have been blessed with a land of beauty and bounty, with toilets and running water in every home, technology that would have seemed like magic not so long ago.

    If I may have the temerity to actually say this – especially on the 4th of July – perhaps we should stop to consider whether we can handle any more blessings. Isn’t a country which can obsess over Snookie and WWF and the latest Apple gadget already choking on its blessing? Our food, our entertainment, our health, our wealth – it is all present in such abundance that the costs of obesity, technology, old age health care, income inequality and such are threatening to devour those same blessings. Perhaps the time has come to stop saying, “God bless America” and start saying, “God, let America be a blessing.” Surely we don’t think that God gives us blessings simply so we can spend nearly $2 billion a year on hair removal?

    So, today I will pray, “Thank you for blessing America. God bless Chad. God bless Mexico. God bless the Sudan. God bless Indonesia. God bless Russia. God bless Guatemala. God bless . . . “

    BTW, sorry for the  lack of blogging. My computer died. Hopefully I’ll have a little  cash soon so I can get a keyboard for  the cool kindle my folks got me for my birthday  and I’ll be able to get back at it!

  • gay hurricanes

    God’s Judgment Coming Through Disasters

    gay hurricanesEver stop to think that maybe God’s really upset with open fields? And farmers? Seriously. Do you have any idea how many tornado’s go rampaging through open fields every year? We all pay attention when a tornado hits a populated area or a pro-gay church gathering, but the vast majority of tornado’s hit open fields and farm land. And since (according to some people’s thinking), natural disasters are a sign of God’s wrath, then God must have some big beef with open fields and farm land – right?

    Or did you ever think through the implications of the fact that our planet couldn’t support life if it wasn’t so dynamic? Without geological process which lead to earthquakes and volcano’s and even weather events like hurricanes doing their part, life could not exist on Earth. So if destructive weather events and earthquakes and volcano’s and such are the result of man’s sin (the teaching of some folks), then if everyone stopped sinning, the planet would become stagnant and we’d all DIE. Now there’s a reason to carry on fornicating if ever there was one!

    OK, OK, I’m being silly. Piper and Driscol their ilk not withstanding, I think all reasonable people understand that natural disasters are the result of the normal processes of the planet and not sent by God to punish us for pissing him off. And yet – believe it or not – I don’t think the “Hurricane Katrina was caused by Mardi Gras” people are entirely wrong to think that there is a link between God’s judgment and natural disasters. In the bible, natural disasters are sometimes linked quite explicitly to God’s judgment. But I don’t think it works the way some people think it does.

    First of all, major weather events and calamity aren’t caused by people sinning and making God angry. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornado’s, volcano’s and the like were happening long before we were here to piss God off. And life on earth does depend on these dynamic processes. The bible says that God “causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the good and evil alike.” Rain can mean flood and sun can mean drought, so this isn’t just a statement indicating blessings, but also disaster. So both good weather and bad weather will happen regardless of whether people are good or evil. Continue reading

  • If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other

    Moving From “Me” to “We”

    If you are an American Christian, odds are really, really good that at some point you have been told that as you read scripture, you should try inserting your name for the word “you” in parts of scripture where Israel or God’s people are being addressed. So, I could read, “Rebecca shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of her God. No longer will they call Rebecca Deserted, or name her land Desolate. But Rebecca will be called Hephzibah, and her land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in Rebecca, and her land will be married.” (Isaiah 62:4) It’s not a terrible idea; sometimes we do need help personalizing scriptures and realizing that the love expressed applies to ourselves. Of course, if you do this, eventually you will end up with something like “Rebecca also took her beautiful jewels made of My gold and of My silver, which I had given her, and made for herself male images that she might play the harlot with them.” (Ezekial 16:17) Which is a little too personal maybe.

    Now, if your pastors/teachers are any good at all, they have probably also taught you that in nearly all of the places where God speaks to “you” or even where Paul and Jesus address “you”, unless a specific person is being addressed, the word used indicates a plural you. So it’s more of a “y’all” than “you, Rebecca, sitting over there eating jelly beans.” This ought to be obvious as usually the word “you” is being used to address the nation of Israel or an entire church or the group of people being spoken to. But we Americans are notoriously hyper-individualistic. So with or without a anyone’s encouragement, we do tend to read scripture as if it were speaking to us individuals rather than to a collective group.

    A while back, I became convicted that the hyper-individualistic programming of our culture isn’t compatible with Christianity. I matter as an individual, but I am also part of a larger body. My life is not for me alone, but for the good of God’s Kingdom – a Kingdom which encompasses all of creation. If I see my life and my faith as primarily about me, I am very much mistaken.

    What I came to realize is that countering hyper-individualism isn’t just a matter of prioritizing social justice or even church fellowship. Rather hyper-individualism hides very deep truths about our identities, our purpose and even the meaning of our lives from us. Because the truth is that my life isn’t about “me”. My life and your life and the life of every other human on the planet is about “we”.

    Now, that might sound like some new-agey, mumbo-jumbo, but it’s actually very deeply embedded in scripture. Continue reading