I read an article the other day that made me sick. But not for the reasons it might have made other people sick. It made me sick because it pretended to be different from the Evangelical mainstream, pretended to take a good, hard look at the facts and make a brutally honest assessment of the situation. But instead it lied, just like the majority of the Evangelical church, so it could conclude by reaffirming the status quo it admitted was unreasonable.
This is the epitome of bad faith.
If the status quo – viz, abstinence from sex until marriage – is unreasonable in our current cultural context, a new understanding of chastity is required. What is acceptable and what isn’t? What does it mean to be chaste in 21st century America? How can we cast off the longstanding tradition of what it means to be chaste while maintaining the crux of chastity itself?
If it is not unreasonable, if it truly is possible for the majority of twenty-something Christians to abstain from sex until getting married at an average age of 28.4 for men and 26.6 for women1, a better explanation is required. If God created us as sexual beings – a trait that can’t simply be turned off when it’s inconvenient – what form of expression of that sexual nature is appropriate for unmarried twenty-somethings? Why is the requirement of head coverings for women specific to one culture and the prohibition of fornication universal? If 80% of unmarried Evangelicals between 18 and 29 have had sex2, or if 80% of unmarried, church-going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex3, why? Do the believe it’s wrong and do it anyway, or do they not think it’s wrong? Is there a realistic solution? Preaching abstinence or getting married younger don’t work since the former appears to be ineffective and the later is not possible for many.
The Evangelical church as a whole doesn’t seem to have room for dissenting voices. A friend of mine wrote a blog post about this recently. But I think dissenting voices are exactly what are called for here. Open, honest, two-way dialogue.
That’s why I feel it’s really important that this documentary be made. It’s a chance for both sides of the debate to speak. A chance to think for yourself instead of having a pastor or leader think for you. If you support balanced dialogue on this issue, please consider giving them $5 to help make it happen. Or $500. But do it soon, they’re down to the last few days. If they don’t reach their goal, they won’t get any money at all.
I’ll leave you with a bit of scripture that reminds me of most Evangelical leaders’ teaching on this issue. It’s Jesus speaking about the Pharisees:
But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help.
Matthew 23 (The Message)
First, I will acknowledge my bias. I must admit that, theologically speaking, I am extremely unsympathetic to the Catholic teaching that the use of any form of birth control (except for medical reasons) is immoral. I think what is immoral is expecting impoverished married couples to either abstain from sex, or to have more children than they can afford to take care of.
But this isn’t really about that. It’s about the separation of Church and State. Which, just to be clear, comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, not from the language of the First Amendment.
I’ve been thinking about this recently. I work for a 501(c)(3) religious organization. To what extent is my employment with them a religious affair, and to what extent is it a civic affair? Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they are allowed to make employment decisions (hiring, discipline, promotion, firing) based on religion. But what does that mean? Does it mean they could fire me even though I’m a Christian because I disagree about one minor doctrine? Not that they would, but could they? Is that morally right? Religious doctrines cover nearly every aspect of life. To what extent can they dictate my activities while I’m not at work? Can they say I must go to church? Can they say which churches I may and may not attend? Can they dictate what I eat or drink? How I use the bathroom? What I do in my bedroom? What I read or watch or listen to?
Now my employer is not like this at all. But what if they were? What if I got written up for writing this blog post, for thinking for myself?
Honestly, I’m starting to think that employment falls in the State category and not in the Church category. Now appointment of ministers is different. That’s a church affair. And maybe it shouldn’t even be considered employment. If religious organizations want to stipulate that their ministers can only pee once per hour and must flagellate themselves and say ‘mea culpa’ afterward, let them knock themselves out. They might have trouble finding applicants, though…
For non-ministerial employees, I think religious organizations should have to demonstrate and document BFOQ (Bona fide occupational qualification), i.e. why it’s necessary that someone be a Christian in order to keep your books or build your website. And if they can’t demonstrate BFOQ but still want someone of their own faith… well, there’s always volunteers. Good luck with that.
As for the Catholic Church, it’s one thing to teach that the use of non-therapeutic contraception is wrong. It’s another to deny your employees medical care. Because even HumanÃ¦ VitÃ¦ acknowledges that it’s sometimes medically necessary. And Catholic ministers? They’re male and celibate. Problem solved.
I looked up poverty. It’s a condition where one is unable to provide for one’s needs or basic comforts. Then I looked up wealth. It’s an abundance of material goods. Interesting. Nothing to do with money at all. He who dies with the most toys wins.
The more money you make, the more material possessions you have, and the more valuable the possessions. And, as a rule, this means a bigger house. Which means a bigger mortgage. Probably more or nicer cars and possibly boats/motorcycles/RVs, etc. So the richer you are, the more debt you have, and in most cases, the higher the negative net worth you have.
Now consider a homeless person, who has almost no basic comforts much less luxuries. Who also has no debt.
It’s interesting how the ubiquity of debt in our society has shaped our definitions of rich and poor. Net worth means nothing, disposable income – or perhaps more correctly, the ability to leverage assets for the acquisition of goods and services – means everything.
I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. I was persecuted for being a homosexual and you did not stand up for me.
Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison or harassed, and did not help you?
I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
Author Dan Brennan takes a closer look at the oft-neglected and sometimes controversial topic of intimate Christian friendship between men and women in this unique book. With an approach that thoughtfully combines a learned survey of material on the subject with a contagious enthusiasm for what is ultimately a beautiful mystery, Brennan convincingly, yet charitably, takes on the popular notion that men and women can’t be friends.
In an age where non-hatred passes for Christian love, and affection is sacrificed on the altar of personal piety and propriety, the Church can ill afford to neglect a topic so central to Christian discipleship â€“ and to the Gospel itself â€“ as neighbour-love, and by extension, friendship. This book dares to ask, humbly, ‘Who is my neighbour?’
For the champion of cross-gender friendships as well as the skeptic, Brennan offers an enlightening look at the role of these special relationships in the life of Christ and the history of the Church. His approach is decidedly descriptive rather than prescriptive, leaving room for the uniqueness of every individual and relationship.
Where this book perhaps lacks a bit of the polish found in the offerings of larger publishing companies, I believe it retains a bit of honesty and sincerity often lost there.
I highly recommend Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions.
The other day I saw the clouds. I ‘see’ them just about every day, but usually they don’t register. They’re just there, an insignificant part of the landscape. Why should I be concerned with them? I know weather as something to be owned and controlled. I can look at the forecast or check the temperature and plan accordingly. I can take a jacket or scrape my car windows and master the minor inconveniences nature throws my way.
It was not always so.
Once I knew the weather. I knew it because I couldn’t control it. I lived outdoors, and not indoors. I walked to school, and at recess I played outside. I walked home, abandoned my school things and went to play in my back yard, or a friend’s. I felt the seasons change. I knew the sensation of cool grass beneath my feet. I listened to the drone of cicadas buzzing in the trees and the song of crickets in the yard. I caught grasshoppers and knew the tickle of their legs kicking to get away. I dug in the dirt with my hands and held its cold, moist weight. I felt small and anxious beneath vast thunderclouds, green and grey and black. I felt scared when the civil defense sirens whirred to life and sent us to the basement to wait out a tornado. I knew that when the grass grew prickly underneath my feet and the air had that certain chill, fall was coming. I was acquainted with the musty smell of a pile of dead leaves. I knew the cold of winter, the crunch of wet snow beneath my boots, and the sneaking in of spring.
I’ve forgotten all these things. When I was young, I wondered at what I saw. I was curious and alive. I lived in and touched the weather. But now I’m impatient. I know what’s coming next and I want that instead of what’s going on now. It snows and I “really don’t want to go out in that.” But I do anyway. I bundle up, scrape my windows, then jump in my car and crank up the heater, all the while picturing the cup of coffee that will warm my hands at work. I’m too busy scraping and being impatient to actually feel the cold in any meaningful way. And what was it, really, that I was going out into? My car, neatly sealed from the outside air, where I have control over the weather with a little knob? I go for a walk but am too preoccupied with my petty troubles to really notice what’s around me, and too dignified to climb a tree or dig a hole or catch a grasshopper. I’m too busy to lay on the ground and stare at the clouds.
People look for images in the clouds. I always found emotions. Lazy contentedness in the high fluffy clouds of a summer afternoon. Mystery and wonder in low, foggy clouds. Heavy foreboding in stormclouds. Glory in the grey-white puffy masses with pink, purple and orange linings and descending shafts ofÂ light. Coziness in the blanket-like snow clouds. Eerie disorientation in green hail-filled clouds.
I don’t think I can get back what I’ve lost without a radical change of lifestyle. Maybe someday I’ll own a farm.
A Maundy Thursday Reflection
Two thousand years ago, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. It was then that He instituted the Eucharist.
During the meal, He got up and washed his disciples feet. It was a very improper and upsetting thing for him to do. He, the Son of God, got on his knees and touched the feet of his followers. Foot-washing was a chore for servants, not leaders. He told them they were to love and serve one another as he had done for them.
After dinner, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He asked His disciples to watch and pray with Him, until He was betrayed.
The Maundy Thursday service is a very powerful one. Feet are washed. The Eucharist is celebrated. And then all hell breaks loose.
The reserve sacrament is not placed in the tabernacle, but instead, processed out. The sanctuary light–the eternal flame–is extinguished!
This bit of liturgical trivia can also be found in synagogues, symbolizing the presence of God and hearkening back to the menorah in the the Hebrew temple.
So Jesus is arrested and taken away, and the reserve sacrament–the very presence of Christ–is carried off, and the candle is extinguished to let you know it.
The procession returns, sans Jesus, and the altar–the entire sanctuary is laid bare. No more altar clothes. No more cushions on benches and seats. No more sanctuary light. It’s as though the Grinch has stolen Christmas. The sanctuary is denuded and, for all practical practical purposes, desecrated.
And then after a solemn prayer, we leave in pensive silence. There are wordless hugs. The kind of hugs you see after a great public tragedy. Perhaps the kind of hugs the disciples exchanged after Jesus’ arrest.
Because we know what comes next, and we don’t want to think about it just yet.
I’m reminded of some very old words. They’re from the seder. “How is this night different from all other nights?” They’re a part of a catechism-like question and answer bit of the haggadah, meant to teach children (and remind adults) why passover is celebrated.
But I remember them from a different context. I remember those words coming from Mary’s mouth in the Passion of the Christ, a deeply troubled look on her face.
The Paschal Lamb’s fate is sealed. There will be more grief before there is joy.
But for now, we will keep watch with Him, in the place where the reserve sacrement was taken.
I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. I’ve been doing a bit of writing. But for various reasons, not writing I can share here.
But I’d like to share some of my thoughts.
I’ve been wondering about Christianity and morality. I’ve been thinking about Euthyphro and Socrates. Does God love Good because it’s good, or is Good good because God loves it? I’ve been thinking about Nietzsche and good/bad and good/evil. What kind of Good is Christianity?
Like a lot of deep questions, it doesn’t really matter that much. Either way, we are to obey God, right?
And yet I think it does matter. Because if whatever is Good pleases God, perhaps there’s room for good, too. There’s room for the things we know are right, even if we can’t back it up with scripture. But if whatever pleases God is Good, then good is useless because it is not Good.
I’m reminded of a phrase used to scold children. “You know better than that.” Knowing better. Being acquainted with a higher good.
I think a lot of times, Christians know better, but hide their laziness about the good behind the Good. They know better than to hold back or restrict their love for the people closest to them. But the Bible says to be pure and it’s easier to not have sex than it is to be vulnerable in relationships. They know better than to oppress gays, but since the Bible says homosexuality is not Good, fighting gay marriage is obviously the ‘loving’ thing to do. They know better than to make a lot of noise about abortion but not really do anything about it. It’s a lot easier to make something illegal than it is to put an end to it. They know better than to perpetuate a broken and unsustainable healthcare system that prices out the poor, bankrupts and kills the middle class, and makes (some of) the rich richer. But it’s a lot easier to toe the party line than it is to be informed.
In fact, it’s a lot easier to be politically active than it is to be spiritually active. It’s easier to wag a finger and wave a sign and preach to the choir and call someone on Facebook an idiot than it is to pray or volunteer or listen or entertain ideas that challenge your beliefs.
I get frustrated with Christians who can’t see the forest for the trees. They see the little rules.Â They pay lipservice to the big picture of loving their neighbor. But they don’t do it. Perhaps they think the little rules are loving God and therefore more important than loving their neighbor.
I get even more frustrated with Christians who acknowledge the problems with the Christian status quo, discussing them endlessly, but somehow in their disillusionment and cynicism, fail to emerge from it. And yet they still feel they’re somehow better than the others.
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is goodâ€”except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Where have you been satisfied with just the commandments? Where have you stopped short at the Good and failed to do good too?
One final thought: Jesus wasn’t very nice to people who placed more importance on their own purity than on genuine love.
I occasionally get Visa gift cards. Here is a list of the ways they suck:
- There’s a front end fee.Â It costs a few dollars to buy a Visa gift card. Checks are virtually free.
- The buyer is essentially entering into a financial contract (which they haven’t read cause it’s folded up all tiny-like inside the cardboard thing) on behalf of the recipient. I got a gift card from GreenDot once. Open the package and the damn card’s not even in there! I had to go online, enter a bunch of personal information, and wait for them to MAIL me the card. Then I got charged a monthly fee until I used it up and closed my account. Then, after closing my account, I couldn’t unsubscribe form the mailing list because my account had been closed and I didn’t have access to the site. Grr.
- No debit, ATM, cash advance, balance transfer, or recurring transactions. Not that I use these much, but it would sure be nice to be able to move my money around. Like I could with a check.
- Because I can’t put the money in a bank account (like I could with a check), I can’t use it to pay my credit card bill. If I could, then I could be earning rewards points by buying with my real credit card.
- You have to either use or waste the exact balance of the card. If you go over, the transaction is declined.
- Because of the previous point, when making a purchase of more than the amount on the card, you have to tell the cashier to put a specific amount on one card and the rest on another. They may or may not be willing or able to do this.
- All the visa gift cards I’ve seen either expire or carry an inactivity fee.
I think there are probably more reasons they suck, but I’m done for now. Here’s my new brilliant strategy for dealing with Visa gift cards: I’m going to use Visa gift cards to buy store gift cards for myself.
“What?” you ask. “That’s silly.”
Au contraire, my dear reader. Here is a list of the ways store gift cards (presuming it’s somewhere I’d actually shop) are infinitely better:
- Gift cards cost exactly what they’re worth in the store. No activation fee.
- Many gift card systems are built to detect card balance and automatically handle multi-card transactions. With Starbucks and Target gift cards, I don’t feel at all bad handing them three cards with $0.98 each, followed by a credit card, because it’s so easy. They just swipe or scan it and it updates the total. I don’t even have to know how much is on the card.
- Because of the above, that last $3.17 doesn’t get wasted.
- If I don’t use the whole card, I get a receipt telling me how much is left on the card.
- I’ve been noticing that more recently, most gift cards I’ve seen boast having no inactivity fee and never expiring.
- Some stores will actually give you cash back if there are only a few dollars left on the card.
So that’s my strategy. I’m going to buy myself store gift cards with Visa gift cards, and get on with my life. No use wasting time being frustrated or paying fees and bugging friends by trying to set up some scheme to get the value into my PayPal account.
I’m going to be grateful instead of annoyed when I get them :)
It’s Advent. All of Christendom waits for the coming of the Saviour. They wait for a little Baby born two thousand years ago, and they wait for a King coming in glory to judge the quick and the dead, establishing with unequivocal finality His Kingdom.
And I wonder if it’s really right to call that latter advent the second coming. Because I believe as heralds and citizens of the Kingdom, we become in little moments and little ways, the Body of Christ. The members of the Son of God. We have inherited the Incarnation.
So perhaps we ought to wait for three comings at Advent – the coming of the infant Jesus; the coming again and again of Christ in us, tearing holes in the moment between the Already and the Not Yet (which is also unraveling from both ends) until time itself falls away in tatters, and all that remains is an Eternity where all things have been made new…or, you know, however all that plays out; and the coming of the King, which is a final coming and not a second one.
I want to live, not just reflect on, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.