I think the following passage from Book 2, Chapter 2 of the Bros. K, is a decent response to the question why walk in the Way.  Whether the Way is that described by Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed.  Or whether the Way is a meaningful, rich existence available to the secular humanist.

The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a
pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him,
and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no
respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself
without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and
sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other
men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily
offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take
offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but
that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and
exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a
mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be
the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he
feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But
get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful



Why I Am an Ally

My piece for the GLAD Easter Writing Project is up today. You can find the project here. I strongly encourage looking into the archives. There are some amazing pieces from folks who have walked the walk. Here is what I had to say:

I am a person of privilege. Not so much based on my finances—although, there too if I allow myself any perspective—but I am a white, male, cisgendered, middle-aged, straight, married, Christian father of two kids with a house in the suburbs. The question: Why would someone like me be an active ally of those in the LGBTIQ community? The answer: Jesus offers salvation, even to the privileged.

If you peruse the Beatitudes, you do not find much love for people like me. Blessed are the poor, those that hunger, those that are hated for Jesus’ sake, and those that mourn. The social-justice activist author of Luke even takes it a step farther and provides curses for the rich, the full, those who are laughing and those who are spoken well of. Luke 6. Thankfully, if you look elsewhere Jesus provides an out for us. In Matthew 25, we learn that we can be saved simply by helping the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the imprisoned. In Mark 10, Jesus teaches the privileged young man that all he has to do to inherit eternal life is to give up his privilege and follow Jesus. It is surely a rational choice to surrender privilege in order to participate in the life eternal, right?

Of course, the thing about surrendering privilege—or put another way, promoting justice—is that once it is gone, it is gone. That was the rich man’s problem in Mark. He had so much that surrendering it was not an easy thing to do. Kindness or charity is much easier. I could be the straight guy who is actually pretty nice to the gays. The man who actually lets the woman at work get credit for something once in a while. The cisgendered man who, you know, uses the proper pronoun without commentary when referring to a transgendered woman. Of course there is a problem with the kindness over justice plan; seems like you risk missing out on the eternal life promise.

Even with such a great prize at stake, it would have been difficult for me to advocate for a permanent end to my privilege, but for the powerful examples in my life of people who chose justice, and therefore participation in the eternal life. My parents were children of the sixties who fought for justice. My mom is the teacher who stands up for the rambunctious little boy, or the girl whose clothes don’t get washed as often as they should, or the little guy who can get this math problem but not as fast as the others. My dad established open membership and women elders at every church he pastored, and preached against racism and in favor of Dr. King’s ministry—even when it was suggested that he tread lightly around such topics. And truthfully, that is why I am an ally. I believe the Scripture supports being a champion for social justice, but without the example of what living the eternal life really means, how truly, deeply, joy-filled it can be, I would never have been able to reach for it by letting go of the privilege.

I asked my mom why she and my dad cared so much about justice. She said, “Well, I think it is because of the church.” She talked about the unconditional love they had both experienced at Meadlawn Christian Church in Indianapolis and how that unconditional love had as its precursor the notion that everyone, everyone, was a child of God. Presumably the folks at Meadlawn who loved Mom and Dad as youngsters would have told a similar story. Who knows how far back this chain of love goes. Maybe in a very concrete way, I pursue justice today because Jesus not only offers salvation to the privileged, but because Jesus started a chain of love that made it possible for me to accept that salvation.


Predestiny and Predisposition

Oedipus Rex explores man’s inability to run from his destiny.

Oedipus, his parents, and a few other people became aware that something unthinkable is going to happen. I focus on the sexual component because it seems that Oedipus was not particularly traumatized my coming across some folks on the highway and killing them. Perhaps the Thebes-Corinth corridor observed a version of the stand your ground law. Also, frankly, it is not hard to imagine a circumstance that leads to a father killing a son, particularly in the king-crown prince dynamic.

Also, Sophocles devotes some significant energy to describing Oedipus’ sexual perversion in new and different ways.

He sowed the same womb as his father . . . Time, which watches everything and uncovered you against your will, now sits in judgment of that fatal marriage, where child and parent have been joined so long. . . . She lay moaning by the bed, where she, poor woman, had given birth twice over—a husband from a husband, children from a child. . . . As he moved, he kept asking us to give him a sword, as he tried to find that wife who was no wife—whose mother’s womb had given birth to him and to his children.

The play ends with Oedipus mutilating himself and his mother/wife killing herself.

Uplifting I know. I can’t help but be reminded of the torment we inflict on the gay community by insisting that they deny their sexuality. Running from one’s destiny, Sophocles teaches, leads to suffering.

I wonder if it matters whether one considers something to be a predestiny rather than a predisposition. I wonder whether my heterosexual orientation and cisgender is destiny or disposition.


Suffering of Your Enemy

After Achilles has killed Hector, Homer takes us to Hector’s widow in the walls of Troy.

Hector’s wife had as yet heard nothing, for no one had come to tell her that her husband had remained without the gates. She was at her loom in an inner part of the house, weaving a double purple web, and embroidering it with many flowers. She told her maids to set a large tripod on the fire, so as to have a warm bath ready for Hector when he came out of battle; poor woman, she knew not that he was now beyond the reach of baths, and that Minerva had laid him low by the hands of Achilles.

To twist the knife a bit, Homer turns to Hector’s now fatherless son.

The day that robs a child of his parents severs him from his own kind; his head is bowed, his cheeks are wet with tears, and he will go about destitute among the friends of his father, plucking one by the cloak and another by the shirt. Some one or other of these may so far pity him as to hold the cup for a moment towards him and let him moisten his lips, but he must not drink enough to wet the roof of his mouth; then one whose parents are alive will drive him from the table with blows and angry words. ‘Out with you,’ he will say, ‘you have no father here,’ and the child will go crying back to his widowed mother.’

[Aside: The anger directed toward a weeping child reminded me of the pain of leaving for deployment. A socially awkward, emotionally stunted department head’s son came crying after him on the day of leaving for deployment. The man shouted to his son, “Get back in the house or I will beat your butt.”]

The closing line of Book 22 refers again to the widow, “In such wise did she cry aloud amid her tears, and the women joined in her lament.” This whole passage reminds me of the Biblical story of Deborah. Deborah’s general Barak, no relation, crushes the enemy army led by Sisera. Sisera runs away and seeks shelter to Jael. Jael, in another exercise of girl power, kills Sisera while he sleeps by driving a tent stake through his temple. The song of Deborah closes with this passage:

28 “Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
29 The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30 ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’

Judges 5:28-30. I have often wondered what to make of this passage from the song of Deborah, which is one of the oldest passages in the Hebrew Bible. Are the Hebrews invoking sympathy for their enemies? Is Homer? The fact is, Homer treats Hector with much more respect than the Hebrews treated any Hebrew enemy. It makes me feel sympathy for the enemy, but is that the purpose? Or is the purpose to say to the People not only did we kill the enemy, we humiliated him and we made his women and children back home weep for him? Is this the beginnings of moving beyond tribalism, or is this dancing on the grave of the vanquished?


The Illiad & Me.


The Disciples of Christ are Anti-Exclusion: Part I: Introduction

Note: This is the first section of an essay I am writing. I would appreciate any and all feedback, from typos to organizational suggestions to objections to the premise.

This essay outlines why the history and heritage of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) leads naturally to being Open and Affirming–accepting into full membership all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It demonstrates that the theological underpinnings of the original movements that led to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)’s formation militate an Open and Affirming stance. Next, it briefly traces the Church’s admittedly inconsistent history of removing cultural barriers to participation in the Church. Finally, it applies to the question of whether to be Open and Affirming the Church’s modern vision of bringing wholeness to a fragmented world. Of course, one does not develop an impression of his or her church through academic inquiry, but through experience. And for that reason, this piece begins with a story from a First Christian Church in southern Indiana in the 1980s.

Jeff was older than most when he began membership classes. it is possible that since Jeff was a person with Down Syndrome others had not considered him capable of knowingly making his Good Confession, but the new pastor knew better. The new pastor had grown up as a rough and tumble neighborhood kid in Indianapolis. As a troublemaker who didn’t fit in with organized sports, who under performed in school, and who skirted close to the edge of the law from time to time, he had nonetheless been unconditionally accepted by the Christian Church. He knew that it was his job to likewise accept all those in his new community.

And so, he welcomed Jeff to the front of the church and asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jeff answered thunderously and unequivocally, “I DO.” His proud and full throated declaration compared favorably to Barton W. Stone’s carefully worded response in a similar situation. Over a century earlier, this founding father had accepted a long list of man made creeds presented to him, but only “[a]s far as it is consistent with the word of God.” Having stripped away the man-made limits on the Gospel, the Christian Church movement enable Jeff to say “I do” without any such hedging.

The pastor then presented the second question, “And do you, Jeff, take Him as your personal Savior?” Again Jeff proclaimed, “I DO.” The ceremony, of course, only provided for a public display of what was already true. God accepted Jeff completely and and surely as Jeff accepted God. Alexander Campbell would have been proud. For, like Campbell, he had protested efforts by the Church to exclude those who were unworthy. Campbell would tell of the time he had qualified for the communion token that authorized him to take communion, but when the time came, he recognized that token to be a symbol of unchristian exclusion, and, thus, rather than participate, he simply dropped the token in the plate and chose not to receive communion that day. If the table was not open to all, he would not participate.

Stone’s defiance and Campbell’s quiet protest bore fruit that Spring day in southern Indiana. The faith of one who might have been rejected was unleashed into the work. And, it transformed all who were there. Such are the ripples created by those founders who rejected exclusion.


Extreme Faith

I bristle at applying “extremist” to terrorist who justify their actions with religion. Violence in the name of God, I contend, displays a lack of faith, not a surplus. [note 1] I have a similar distaste for those who would withdraw from society as an act of faith, but find it less easy to condemn that behavior as a perversion of faith. In Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon gives me fresh reason to question my distaste for such social separatists.

Chapter XV of Gibbon’s work deals with the nature of early Christianity. He notes that during the first century of the common era “the disciples of the Messiah were indulged in a freer latitude both of faith and practice than has ever been allowed in succeeding ages.” [note 2] According to Gibbon, the movement split into three major components: those who adhered completely to “Mosaic law,” Ebionites; those who completely reject Hebrew tradition and other doctrines, e.g., bodily resurrection, Gnostics; and the less discussed Orthodox.

But whatever difference of opinion might subsist between the Orthodox, the Ebionites, and the Gnostics, concerning the divinity or the obligation of the Mosaic law, they were all equally animated by the same exclusive zeal, and by the same abhorrence for idolatry, which had distinguished the Jews from the other nations of the ancient world.

Gibbon goes on to describe the early Christian experience as one of constant concern over the possibility of cultural interface with the pagans. Pagan ritual was present in everything from wedding ceremonies to the currency. If someone responded to a sneeze with “Jupiter bless you,” according to Gibbon, the ancient Christian would be compelled to take the occasion to condemn Jupiter. “Such was the anxious diligence which was required to guard the chastity of the Gospel from the infectious breath of idolatry.”

I cringe at the notion of such isolationist behavior and Christians focusing on every trivial custom. It reminds me of the annual War on Tolerance waged by Christianists who are offended by the “Happy Holidays” greeting. But, I reading this passage gives rise to my own anxiety. Is my tolerance, my integration into mainstream society at odds with what it means to be Christian? How much credence should I give the behavior of Christians so shortly after the formation of the Church?

[note 1] For an opposing view see Sam Harris’s The End of Faith. A book that intensely frustrated my Sunday morning study group at Chalice Christian Church, but at the same time inspired some amazing conversations about faith.

[note 2] This lines up nicely with Harvey Cox’s thesis in The Future of Faith. Cox explains that Christianity went through three phases. First the Age of Faith, which was free of dogma for the first 300-400 years. Then the Age of Belief, which was all about dogma and lasted for 1500 years or so. And finally, we are in the Age of Spirit, which nicely coincides with Cox’s youth in the 1960’s. Our group was less offended by but more suspicious of Cox’s work on Faith as compared to Harris’s.



I have a group of friends that is reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We recently read Chapter 15, The Hiddenness of Prayer, which can be viewed here, if you are willing to sign up for a trial offer. It appears there is no free Bonhoeffer on the web.

Bonhoeffer emphasizes the importance of not being too public with your praying. He focuses on Mathew 6:5-6, which provides, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Bonheoffer emphasizes that prayer is a time for you to be present with God, and notes that if you are showing off, or even allowing yourself to be distracted by your own pride at how good a pray-er you are, you will blow it and miss the whole point of prayer.

I am also reading The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. (The chapter is available on line, without a free trial offer here.) A friend from Chalice gave me the book and I am really enjoying it. Gibran gives this advice on prayer. “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance. For what is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether?” Not to knock Jesus or anything, but I really like this definition of prayer.

Then both texts provide example prayer. I’ll start with Jesus and then quote Gibran.

This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

I cannot teach you how to pray in words. . . [but] if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence,

“Our God, who art our winged self,

it is thy will in us that willeth.

It is thy desire in us that desireth.

It is thy urge in us that would turn our nights,

which are thine, into days which are thine also.

We cannot ask thee for aught,

for thou knowest our needs before they are born in us:

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself

thou givest us all.”



Do we measure truth by our own capacity?

After finishing Montaigne’s lengthy essay on education, I discovered that my Great Books reading list included his short essay “It is folly to measure the true and false by our won capacity” and decided to finish it too, in my effort to catch up. I think it to be a much better conversation starter.

Montaigne talks about the dangerous habit of those “who think they have more than common ability” to attribute “belief and conviction to simplicity and ignorance.” He confesses that although he was once guilty of this himself, he is now reformed writing,

I presently pitied the poor people that were abused by these follies. Whereas I now find, that I myself was to be pitied as much, at least, as they; not that experience has taught me anything to alter my former opinions, though my curiosity has endeavoured that way; but reason has instructed me, that thus resolutely to condemn anything for false and impossible, is arrogantly and impiously to circumscribe and limit the will of God, and the power of our mother nature, within the bounds of my own capacity, than which no folly can be greater.

In our modern context it is easy to generate a list of beliefs that are generally attribute to simplicity and ignorance, at lease by the Prius-driving, NPR-listening, espresso-drinking liberal crowd to which I belong. Creationism, Virgin Birth, Bodily Resurrection, Intercessory Prayer, Physical Afterlife.

Montaigne, as it turns out, may be thinking of a pretty similar list. The direction he takes it, however, is different than I would go. Montaigne issues another of his condemnations of the Reformation and defenses of the Catholic church, including this, which likely sounds familiar to modern readers, “We are either wholly and absolutely to submit ourselves to the authority of our ecclesiastical polity, or totally throw off all obedience to it: ’tis not for us to determine what and how much obedience we owe to it.”

In contrast, I am wary of my own certitude, despite the frequency with which I am certain. Nonetheless, my wariness is not generated by the notion that I should submit to authority, but that perhaps I am missing value tucked away in these believes held by those who I belittle with the tag of simple or ignorant. Perhaps the Truth lies somewhere in between prayer is valuable as a breathing exercise and prayer is a way to call on God to remove a tumor or heal a liver. Perhaps the inability to access the Truth is a measure of the limits of my own capacity.


Sin (Augustine)

In his Confessions Book II, St. Augustine focusses on a number of adolescent sins. He obliquely suggests that he had sex out of marriage, but is more comfortable to confess stealing pears from a tree and then throwing those pears at some pigs. He wonders why do we sin? One problem was that his bodily urges produced such a cloud in his reasoning that he could not “distinquish the clear light of love from the murk of lust.” Another, he says, is that he desired to imitate God’s power, although his was a perverse imitation. He also cites to peer pressure, which in his case was also pear pressure, saying that if he were alone he never would have stolen the fruit. Indeed, he even recounts claiming to have done wicked things he did not do in order to avoid ridicule or to receive praise. See Book II. It is interesting how much his confession strikes me as the text of a “hip” teenage youth group lesson.

The idea of sin is problematic when it is used to declare that someone else deviate from your cultural normal is not only different from you, but in defiance of God. On the other hand, I think the notion of sin is very helpful for those of us who wish to live the best possible life. The idea that we periodically miss the mark makes us better.