Saturday, December 29, 2012


Earlier this year I finally saw the 1999 film Trekkies for the first time.  Despite being a lifelong Star Trek fan I'd never made an effort to see this documentary, in part because I was already familiar with the lengths that some diehard fans go to, and the laughter (not always kind) that accompanies their displays of devotion to all things Trek.

And Trekkies does introduce viewers to a number of fans whose lives revolve around Star Trek to an extreme.  Despite a handful of cringeworthy moments, however, the documentary also reminded me why Star Trek has such a devoted fan base (myself included, even if I've never worn a Starfleet uniform in my everyday life or learned to speak Klingon) in the first place.  Its positive vision of a future in which mankind has overcome the problems that threaten our present existence - racism, poverty, war, pollution, etc. - and joined with alien races to form a federation based on our highest ideals, has inspired hope in many who saw little reason for hope in the present-day world around them.

In addition to that reminder, the subjects of Trekkies point us toward an aspect of our humanity that sometimes gets forgotten in our age of science and rationalism: the power of myth.  For too long our modern world has conflated myth with fiction and thereby reduced it to mere entertainment.  Myth may not be intended to live up to the factual standards of literal history, but "real" or not it connects us with the deeper truths of human existence that aren't so easily quantified in textbooks and instruction manuals.

For some, Star Trek really is nothing more than entertainment.  But for others, it's the mythology that informs their lives and shapes the lens through which they interpret the world around them.  Religious or not, we humans long to be part of a greater story.  On an intuitive level the modern church has never completely forgotten that; even the most ardent literalists still teach their children the stories of Moses, David, Joseph, Esther and the other great heroes of the Bible.

Where we get tripped up is in the dichotomy that modern society has created between fact and fiction.  It's a necessary distinction when one is dealing with matters of science, but when we apply it to all realms of life we lose something vital.  A friend of mine who attended an evangelical seminary once took a class on the writings of CS Lewis that was taught by a theology professor who had never read the Chronicles of Narnia because he adamantly refused to read fiction.  Not coincidentally, this professor wasn't known for being a very interesting person when he wasn't standing behind a podium.  And no doubt he finds it exasperating that so many children love Aslan more than they love the God they hear about in church on Sundays.

Christian apologetics is still a highly popular pursuit in evangelical circles.  If we can just prove the Bible is literally true, the world will have no choice but to fall in line behind us - or so advocates of apologetics seem to believe.  All we have to do is win the argument once and for all, and anyone who still dissents will be exposed as a fraud.  Unfortunately, the stories and poems that encounter us through so much of the Bible don't readily lend themselves to this approach.

That's not to say that logic and reason have no place in theological discussions, simply that their use has been misdirected.  At the end of the day, which has the greater influence on our spiritual lives - debates over the age and authorship of the book of Daniel, or the stories of courage and wisdom that become part of our own stories as we read it?

Perhaps the church would be a more Christ-like place if we worried less about being right about everything.  As Rob Bell puts it, "a good story has a powerful way of rescuing us from abstract theological discussions that can tie us up in knots for years."  Rediscovering the Bible as Divine myth rather than as a book of facts and rules may seem an invitation to anarchy, given how a story can mean something different to every person who hears it.

Some may even think it reduces the Christian faith to the level of a fairy tale if we cannot state with certainty that every story in the Bible is historically accurate.  But perhaps the open-endedness of myth is the only way mankind can connect with the Infinite.  And perhaps that same open-endedness will serve to weed out those whose quest for certainty and rules is less about that connection than it is about attempting to control God.

And maybe the Bible would once again inspire Christians as powerfully as Star Trek inspires Trekkies.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Lights

It's been a while since I posted one of these.  I hate to think how much it cost to put this thing together and run it, but it sure does look impressive...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


For sheer bravery, look no further than this coming out post.  If you've never had a huge, earth-shaking secret that you've needed to share for the sake of your own mental health at the risk of losing everybody you love, be grateful - and try not to discount what it's like to be in that position.

There are still people in my life that I'm not out to - some intentionally, some because we're not that close and the topic has never come up.  Minus a few relatives, the important people in my life know, and I've been content to leave it at that.  Truth be told, I've always assumed I'd finish coming out to everyone else once I was in a relationship.  Wedding pictures on Facebook, or something along those lines.

Of course, if there is no Mr. Right out there, that kind of dashes that plan.  The question then becomes, am I content to remain in my comfortable little rut, or will I finally find the courage to say "to hell with other people's convenience" and make them deal with the full weight of me.  It's not as simple a question as it may seem from the outside...

Sunday, December 02, 2012


We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love. 
 -President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address

Sadly, we don't seem to be any closer to realizing that vision than we were fifty years ago.  But it still remains an ideal worth striving for...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Miscommunication, Part 2

One of the biggest problems currently facing the United States is that we can no longer communicate with each other.  People on each side of any given issue are coming from such a different worldview that they literally cannot understand what their opponents are saying.  At the same time, however, they act as though their opponents understand them perfectly and are willfully disregarding and disrespecting that knowledge.

One of the things I love about Jon Stewart is that he makes a serious effort to dialogue with those he disagrees with (i.e. most Republicans) - something that rarely happens these days, even on "serious" news programs.  But even he doesn't always succeed, as the above clip demonstrates.

Granted, Stewart has a perfectly valid point when he notes that many (if not most) viewers would interpret Mike Huckabee's commercial as saying that anyone who fails to vote in line with the religious right's agenda is going to hell.  Even some evangelicals haven't studied the Bible well enough to recognize the allusion to the testing of believers' works by fire mentioned in 1 Corinthians.  And the fact that Huckabee would give the go-ahead to such an easily misinterpreted message exposes his own blindness to the fact that not everyone understands his perspective.

Unfortunately, Stewart gets so caught up on that point that he leaves himself with inadequate time to point out that the commercial's intended message is just as manipulative, and only slightly less threatening.  Huckabee may not be threatening people who vote the "wrong" way with a one-way trip to damnation, but he is still telling them that to disobey the religious right on the issues in question is to go directly against the will of God.

It's a message that gives Huckabee's allies a reinforced sense of their own rightness, and leaves them feeling as though they have done their duty to try to correct those who disagree with them.  It's also a message that fails completely to communicate to anyone who doesn't already agree with them, while widening the rift.  And Stewart, though I commend him for trying, failed to bridge any of that distance.  I often wonder whether such a bridge is even possible in our current political climate.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


It's been quite a week.  Whether this proves to be *the* turning point in the battle for LGBT equal rights or merely a bright spot in a protracted conflict, a clean sweep of victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington is worth celebrating.  Across the country there are dozens of reasons for supporters of equality to be optimistic.

Even so, it would be premature to declare that it's all smooth sailing from here.  And while I obviously don't buy the religious right's line that the results of this election are going to trigger God's wrath, I also don't think it would be appropriate to invoke God's favor in the other direction.  What's wrong for one side is wrong for all sides, and my greatest hope is that more Christians will wake up, like this evangelical leader has, to how thoroughly (and inevitably) the quest for political power corrupts the Gospel.  As individual Americans it's entirely appropriate for all of us to be involved in the political process.  As a church, that's not how we're called to be defined.

That awakening appears to be gradually happening, but only time will tell if enough people wake up before the church's moral authority has been completely depleted by its current lust for power.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What Would It Take?

Disagreement is uncomfortable.  I suspect many people feel as I do that it would be far more pleasant to live in a world where everyone agreed on everything (or at least everything of importance).  In reality, though, we sometimes place too much importance on agreement.  A neighbor who thoughtfully disagrees often makes a better friend than an ally who tolerates no dissent.

For that reason (among others) I've made a conscious effort to maintain contact with friends who fall on the opposite side of the fence when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.  That's not always possible, given that far too many conservative Christians remain completely closed to any genuine dialogue, but when it is possible I've found it to be worth doing.

Craig Adams, who I first met through the now-defunct Bridges Across, is one such individual.  Although he still holds to a Side B position, he remains open to listening to what those on Side A have to say.  On his blog he recently explored the question of what it would take to convince him that he was wrong.  Among other things, he points out the differences in worldview and approach to Scripture that separate the two sides and hinder meaningful dialogue.  Merely arguing over the clobber passages is never going to bridge that divide, even if one side were to somehow manage to "win" the debate.

In the end he doesn't reach a conclusive answer as to what would change his mind, but I don't find that surprising.  Having originally come from a Side B perspective, if anything it's even more difficult for me to envision returning to my former beliefs.  Even so, it would be hypocritical of me to insist that I couldn't be wrong on this issue, however firmly I now hold to my hard-won convictions.

(For those unfamiliar with the terms Side A and Side B, link here or here.)

So what would it take to sway me?  After pondering the question, here is what come to mind:

First and foremost, I would have to sense God's leading.  My journey to Side A began with a deep and profound encounter with God that triggered a flood of questions that, in turn, made it impossible for me to remain where I was.  Every step of the way I dragged my feet, desperately afraid of being led astray by my feelings; I resolved early on that I would not abandon Side B for the sake of indulging in what feels good, or out of anger toward the false promises I'd been fed by the ex-gay movement.  And every step of the way God continued to encourage both my questions and the conclusions I was reaching.

As a fallible human being I must acknowledge that, despite the caution with which I undertook this journey, it is still possible that I have been misled by my own feelings.  It's a purely academic possibility in my mind, given everything I've seen and heard over the course of the last eight years, but I still accept the importance of remaining open to new information.

I wouldn't expect God to work in my life in exactly the same way twice, but I would still expect to see evidence of a broader movement of the Holy Spirit.  If Side B is correct, then adhering to a traditional sexual ethic should be good news, something positive that gay Christians can embrace rather than merely resign themselves to, and something that advances the Kingdom of God (which, as Jesus repeatedly told us, is in the here and now) by helping to make the world a better place.

By "better place" I mean better for everyone, not just for the many heterosexual Christians who have used their Side B beliefs as an excuse to make themselves more comfortable by shaming, ostracizing and casting out those who are different from them.  If Side B represents the heart of God, then upholding that standard should make members of Christ's body more compassionate - not merely in the abstract "I don't want you to go to Hell" sense that too often embodies the evangelical (mis-)definition of compassion, but in the sense of moving them to want to get to know their LGBT neighbors better so that they can understand what life is really like for those they're asking to make such large sacrifices.  I wouldn't expect everyone to go to the lengths that Timothy Kurek did, but that is the sort of empathy that is integral to my definition of compassion.

I don't expect the entire church to suddenly become perfect, but at the present time there still seems to be very little middle ground between those who believe God is fine with same-sex relationships and those who want all gay people to go away entirely.  The majority of those who do try to bridge that gap typically end up, like me, moving over to Side A.

And for those gay Christians who do faithfully live by Side B standards, there is still far too little acceptance among those who should be their strongest champions.  If God is truly the inspiration behind Side B, then a gay Christian who lives a celibate life and who feels called to ministry should be openly embraced by his or her church and viewed as eligible for any position of spiritual leadership, without being tainted by the deep suspicion that most conservatives still seem to hold for them.

Having said all of that, I do have the luxury of still being single as I ponder the above possibilities.  Were I in a committed relationship, I might not be open to entertaining the idea that God could want me to abandon someone I so deeply love.

And having said all of that, even if I were somehow persuaded to return to a Side B worldview, that would not include a return to fighting against legal equality for LGBT individuals.  The use of political power to impose "God's standards" on others is antithetical to the invitational message of the Gospel and, in the long run, a thoroughly self-destructive crusade.  On that point I cannot, in good conscience, compromise.

I also could not return to the ex-gay doublespeak that I once twisted myself in knots trying to conform to.  Whatever God's will may be for how I live my life, the fact remains that I am not heterosexual and, barring supernatural intervention, I never will be.  I cannot simultaneously live a life of integrity and lie about myself just to make the heterosexual majority more comfortable.

If I really am wrong, I trust God to eventually bring me around, even if that journey doesn't end up looking the way I imagine it now.  But for now, at least, I know that I'm right where I need to be, and that God is present and active there.  And why would I want to be anywhere else?

Monday, October 15, 2012


Edward didn't know what to think about the killing of Askama or the violence said to have been triggered by the Jesuit missionaries.  But if Emilio Sandoz, maimed, destitute, utterly alone, had turned to prostitution, who could condemn him?  Not Edward Behr, who had some measure of the man's strength and of what it must have taken to bring him to the state he'd been found in, on Rakhat.

Johannes Voelker, by contrast, was convinced that Sandoz was simply a dangerous rogue, gone to appalling excess in the absence of external controls.  We are what we fear in others, Edward thought, and wondered how Voelker spent his time off.
-Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (page 169)

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Life Soundtrack 32

Home, by Phillip Phillips

Today Highlands Church said goodbye to the building it's called home for the first three years of its life.  It wasn't unexpected; we always knew it was temporary until the developer who owned the building was ready to move ahead with his plans, and soon we'll have an even better building to call home.  And ultimately, a church is the people who attend it, not the location where it meets.

Even so, it can be difficult to say goodbye to a building that has served as a sacred space, a safe haven and the place associated with so many good memories.  A building may just be a building, but it still takes on the life and character that the people who call it home imbue it with.  And so knowing that it will soon no longer be there can be a cause for sadness, as we wait for God to make another place our home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Grace is not about showing others what you do.  It's not even about showing God what you do.  It's about seeing God for who He is (a loving Father), and being changed by that encounter.

It's when we manage to forget about ourselves that we can truly focus on Christ and let go of our selfish interests.  The path of believing that our salvation depends on works, even good works, destroys our love of God.  This means-to-an-end relationship with God is a dead end.  The path of faith and fruit, by contrast, makes all good works possible.  It is the difference between obedience and gratitude.

Works says: Be good, or else...
Grace says: Be grateful, and then...

Getting back to [the book of] James's original example, we don't "demonstrate" our righteousness by feeding the homeless and hungry person; we celebrate our freedom by doing so.  We do it because we care - genuinely and deeply - for the welfare of others.
-Jay Bakker, Fall to Grace

In theory, many if not most evangelical churches would agree with the above statement.  In practice, most members of those churches (including the pastors) are still more motivated by fear of hell - if not for themselves than for those they believe are headed toward eternal condemnation.

While I'm not convinced one has to become a universalist to get to a place where fear is completely overcome by grace, I am convinced that actions motivated by fear of hell (however well concealed by slogans of grace) are a sign that there is error in one's theology.  It's not an error that would jeopardize one's salvation, certainly, but it nonetheless has negative consequences in the here and now.

Friday, September 07, 2012


Yes, I know they're serious, and even that their rhetoric is pretty tame compared to most of what comes from WorldNet Daily, but even so I think this video would work better as a parody than as a serious message.

For my own part I'm not greatly enamored with either party, or with the vast majority of politicians in general.  But if you want me to vote for Barack Obama, just keep churning out over-the-top garbage like this.

Anyway, as long as we're talking about politics, Rachel Held Evans hits it on the nose with her response to the current convention rhetoric...

Saturday, August 04, 2012


The other day as I was stopped in heavy traffic on Colorado Boulevard (hardly an uncommon situation, as any Denverite with a car can attest), I witnessed something unusual. The driver behind me began maneuvering his large Jeep over the curb until its left tires were atop the narrow median. What did he think that was going to accomplish, I wondered – even if there wasn’t a street sign between him and the turn lane several cars ahead, he’d have to drive on the other side of the road to reach it. The silly things people do when they get impatient, I thought.

A few moments later, though, I heard the siren. An ambulance was coming up behind us, and the Jeep's driver was trying to get out of its way. As it was, the ambulance had to go around us on the other side of the road (which was clear at the moment); with so many cars stopped at a red light with no room to move, it wouldn’t have mattered if I (and the drivers ahead of me) had managed to get up onto that curb. Still, the guy in the Jeep, far from being a basket case, was trying to do what might have been the right thing under slightly different circumstances.

The application is clear enough, even if my illustration seems relatively trivial: Be quick to listen and slow to judge (even with *those* people – in fact, especially with *those* people); the person you’re looking down on might just see something that you don’t. Before you dismiss someone as a sinner (or idiot, or wingnut, or whatever), it pays to be certain that you really do know what you’re talking about.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Think I'm In Love

I've admitted before that I watch America's Got Talent - and sometimes they have some really cheesy acts that make the the term "guilty pleasure" apt.  But then they have a performance like this that blows me away, and I remember why I watch.

In case it's not clear from the video clip, the strings he's playing on are suspended across the auditorium - he literally turned the entire theater into a musical instrument.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Random Detour

So many things I could be commenting on, and this is where my mind goes...

(With insincere apologies to REM and a knowing nod to "Weird Al" Yankovic)

Spam in your inbox at home (wait, what’s this?)
Think about the loser who had time to send it
Spam in your inbox at work (what the frak?)
Think about your firewall, wonder how it got through at all

That Nigerian prince wants to give you his dough
This discounted drug will help your member to grow
Your bank account is going to lock down
Wild party girls, they won’t make you frown

So, spam on the phone in your car
Spam anywhere that you are
Spam in your Gmail account
Spam, it continues to mount
Oh, spam.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


A few random things that have caught my attention lately...

1. First, a belated nod to this post that nicely sums up why Jon Stewart has become my favorite TV personality.  If only there were more journalists ("serious" or otherwise) like him.

2. Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use.  Seriously.  Some of these made me cringe even when I was a card-carrying conservative evangelical.

3. Rachel Evans reviews a book I really need to read.  Learning how to read the Bible on its own terms instead of literally has only made me love it more, so I'm happy to see more Christians waking up to the folly of treating it like a modern history book and instruction manual.

4. Finally, this picture, which could also be the motto of the religious right...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Sunday's sermon at Highlands Church, for those who haven't had the opportunity to hear Mark Tidd preach (and even for those who have).  In this message Mark makes his case for the full inclusion of LGBT individuals in the body of Christ.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food For Thought

The history of theology (Christian or otherwise) is the history of people desperately trying to fit the way things actually are into the way their holy books say they should be.  (Think of the billions of words written in tens of thousands of books on religion "explaining" pain and suffering in the light of God's purported goodness.)  So some people do what Mom [Edith Schaeffer] did: spend a lot of time making excuses for The-God-Of-The-Bible.  Others contrive their theology to make it seem more enlightened than it is: Roman Catholic medieval dogma is rechristened as "Natural Law," Creationism is rebaptized as "Intelligent Design," Islam calls the oppression of women the "protection of women," and so forth.

There is another choice: To admit that the best of any religious tradition depends on the choices its adherents make on how to live despite what their holy books "say," not because of them.  "But where would that leave me?" my former self would have asked.  "I'd be adrift in an ocean of uncertainty."  Yes, and perhaps that's the only honest place to be.  Another name for uncertainty is humility.  No one ever blew up a mosque, church, or abortion clinic after yelling, "I could be wrong."
-Frank Schaeffer, Sex, Mom & God

At the very least, those of us who believe that the Bible is something more than just another book need to be willing to admit that we (and every other Christian who has ever lived) pick and choose which parts of the Bible to emphasize and which to downplay (or even ignore) when formulating our theology.  And that, therefore, we could be wrong about a great many things even if we're right about the Bible's unique significance.

Friday, June 08, 2012


Princess of China, by Coldplay (with Rihanna)

Not part of my Life Soundtrack series, but I really like the video.  And it's an opportunity to revisit this old post, where I referenced Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which was very likely one of this video's inspirations)...

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


With society's growing acceptance of its LGBT members, especially among the younger generations, it's no surprise that gay students are becoming vocal even at the more conservative Christian colleges.  So the rise of LGBT-supportive groups at schools as conservative as Oral Roberts University, Wheaton College and now Biola University was really just a matter of time.

And I do support the right of these schools to maintain theologically conservative stances on any and all issues they see fit.  So while some of the doctrines taught in their Bible classes may do a mind job on the gay members of their student body (I speak from my own experiences at such a school), nobody is truly being forced to attend them.  I do agree with Misty Irons' point about allowing gay students to live honestly, but at the schools in question it should be possible to accommodate that without any major change in doctrinal stance.

I do, however, have to take issue with a statement that Biola's president, Barry Corey, made in a recent address to the student body (as relayed by John Shore):

Who did He [Jesus] rise up in anger and not receive? Those who quoted scripture like the Pharisees, who wanted to legitimize a certain way of life that Jesus said was not right.
This from the president of a university that includes a theological seminary?  I can see where he's trying to go with that thought, but it's a rather ironic stretch for someone accusing others of twisting scripture.  Jesus' anger at the religious leaders of his day was directed at their hypocrisy and self-righteousness, at the people they drove away from God (both directly and indirectly), and at the higher value they placed on the letter of the law over the people the law was written for.  In the rare cases where those leaders were permissive rather than legalistic, it was primarily for the benefit of a privileged few.

It's one thing to debate what Christian sexual ethics should look like, and quite another to turn Jesus' righteous indignation upside-down to condemn those who call on the church to stop driving LGBT individuals away from God.  The fact that the top spokesman for a highly regarded evangelical institution would engage in such sloppy exegesis suggests that the Biola Underground has him far more rattled than he would ever publicly admit - and perhaps even that there are cracks in the dam that aren't yet visible to outside observers.

Monday, May 28, 2012


No, not that Exodus.  Instead, here's an insightful article on ways that Christians drive people away from the church:

8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert

As Points 2 and 6 touch on, it's not just about bad behavior on the part of far too many Christians - it's often about a system of belief that forces people to abandon critical thinking and to dismiss any scientific discovery that contradicts "The Bible."  That false dichotomy often remains so deeply embedded in the minds of ex-fundamentalists that they continue to believe that the Bible must be taken absolutely literally or dismissed entirely - a mindset I've come across more than a few times in the comment sections of other blogs.

Those of us who understand that one can believe in God - and that He/She/They in some way inspired the authors who wrote the Bible - without abandoning reason share the frustration of the article's author.  As long as Christian fundamentalism remains a potent force in American culture there's no simple solution to the problem.  But perhaps in the larger picture it's necessary that the current situation plays out to its logical conclusion before Christianity's healthier strains can regain control of the conversation and rebuild the church on a firmer foundation.

Friday, May 18, 2012


A few random thoughts for an election year...

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. -Upton Sinclair

It requires neither great oratory nor astute conspiracy to inflame a group with a sense of persecution. -Evelyn Waugh

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.
-Bertram Russell

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Life Soundtrack 31

You Get What You Give, by The New Radicals

A little encouragement for those going through difficult times...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Turning Tide

The day after my last post went up, the Denver Post published this article on the changing political landscape within the evangelical church.  It also highlights my church, as a nice bonus.

No, you can't see me in the Highlands Church worship service picture, though I was there when the photographer took it.  Which is probably just as well, given the liberties cameras seem to like to take with my face...

Saturday, April 21, 2012


For as long as there has been government, rulers have sought to convince their subjects that they have a Divine mandate (or its nearest equivalent) to rule. This is little different in democratic societies, though in terms of the American political scene it hasn't always been as blatant (and polarizing) as it is today.

The religious right is the most obvious exemplar of this "God is on our side" mentality, with liberals continually framed as both anti-American and anti-Christian. But the religious left doesn't always refrain from playing the same game, even if it gets less attention for doing so. "Jesus was a socialist" is a commonly-heard catchphrase, often accompanied by verses like Matthew 19:21.

Inasmuch as such statements serve to jolt those who have come to associate the Gospel with laissez-faire economics, anti-gay politics and an interventionist foreign policy, the left does have a point. Jesus' advocacy for a self-sacrificial lifestyle with an emphasis on helping the poor and disadvantaged does in fact line up with socialistic ideals.

In the world we inhabit, however, the concept of socialism cannot be divorced from its political connotations. And in that regard, Jesus was not a Socialist - he never advocated government redistribution of wealth or, for that matter, any governmental system. Unless his statements on the subject all went unrecorded, Jesus seemed remarkably unconcerned with our politics and far more interested in how we treated others on an individual and community level.

Furthermore, while most would agree there is merit in government providing a social safety net for its citizens (though what that net should consist of is open to debate), the idea that Jesus would have been an activist for such a system doesn't add up any more than the idea that he would be standing with the Family Research Council against gay rights - it doesn't fit with the witness of the biblical authors who chronicled his life and ministry.

In contrast to what we see in the examples of Christ and the early church, government-run aid programs are the most depersonalized form of charity possible.  In the early (pre-Constantinian) church, members gave not only their material resources but also their time and even their lives for the benefit of their neighbors.  They were directly involved in each others' lives and knew (or got to know) the people they were helping.

When the government takes money from me via taxation, on the other hand, it doesn't matter whether I give willingly, or even whether I like of how it will spend that money; I can be as apathetic and self-centered as I want to be, as long as I care enough about avoiding a prison sentence to pay my taxes.  I don't ever have to think about the poor people my tax dollars might be helping, and even if I do I can discharge my civic duty without ever having to actually meet any of them.

Similarly, the government employees who administer the aid programs my taxes help fund are seldom directly involved in the lives of the people they're helping.  They have a list of rules (usually quite rigid) that they have to follow when determining who gets help and how much, and those arbitrary guidelines may or may not address the actual needs of those recipients.  The government workers may genuinely care about they people they're working to help, but that concern is entirely irrelevant as long as they fulfill the minimum requirements of their job descriptions and do an adequate job of following and enforcing the rules.

And the recipients' attitudes are just as irrelevant.  As long as they jump through all the right bureaucratic hoops, it doesn't matter to the government whether the aid they're receiving truly improves their lives, or whether it slowly hardens their hearts and smothers their own charitable instincts.

So to say that Jesus would be camping out with the 99 percenters, demanding higher taxes on the rich and agitating for a single-payer healthcare system is to miss the point of his message.  Yes, it absolutely matters whether we help the poor and disadvantaged, but first and foremost it's about each of us engaging with our neighbors, living in community with them and addressing their needs as we become aware of them.  Jesus instructed the rich young man to give away all of his possessions not because wealth is an inherent evil, but because it was what stood between the young man and God.  As Christians we give to the poor in part for their sakes, but also in part for ours.  No law or governmental program can ever transform the human heart or make a single one of us more compassionate.

Having said that, by all means vote your conscience, seek justice and allow your faith to inform your politics, whether you lean to the left or right (or in another direction).  But invoking Socialist Jesus to browbeat others into accepting a social welfare platform as the Christian political agenda is only slightly less disingenuous than James Dobson or Chuck Colson conjuring visions of Sodom and Gomorrah to frighten the faithful into voting to oppress their gay neighbors.  An iron fist waving a Bible is still an iron fist, no matter which page it's pointing to.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Sometimes the world reminds us that there's still good reason to hope.

1. Not all high school jocks are bullies, as this story proves. Sometimes they really are heroes.

2. As Nate Phelps' story shows, even the most radical extremism can be escaped. I'm thankful that my own escape from fundamentalism was considerably less dramatic.

3. Equality seems to be centuries away in much of the Muslim world, but even Islam isn't monolithically anti-gay, as this story demonstrates.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Truth in Advertising

Sadly, this parody (which originated here) pretty much sums up the "Christian" approach advocated by groups like Exodus and Focus on the Family for engaging with LGBT individuals. While I can attest to the existence of Side B individuals who genuinely love and respect their gay friends and family members, the waters have been so badly poisoned by fundamentalist and religious right groups that genuine dialogue is difficult to initiate, much less sustain. And that's not terribly likely to change on the so-called Day of Dialogue...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Miscommunication, Part 1

I make an effort to avoid words like "hate" and "bigot" except where they're very clearly deserved; in many cases a more accurate description would be the tone deafness that comes from living inside an echo chamber (which the evangelical subculture most definitely is).

Take, for example, actor Kirk Cameron, who has found himself at the center of a controversy over his very tone-deaf comments about homosexuality. What he said was a simple articulation of the tenets of most conservative strains of Christianity (including the one he has devoted his life to); how he said it is quite another matter.

This post by Jim Burroway sums up the problem quite nicely, reversing Cameron's statements to clearly show how they would sound if directed at evangelical Christians. Suddenly Cameron's "I'm just as flawed" concession doesn't seem quite as gracious.

Given my own background I'm inclined to give people like Cameron the benefit of the doubt; they sincerely believe they're "speaking the truth in love" when they make statements like his. And throwing around loaded words like "bigot" tends to do more to shut down communication than to convince anyone of anything. Even so, the Kirk Camerons of the world need to be encouraged to think a little harder about how their words sound to those they're talking about; the compassion they claim to hold in their hearts requires no less of them.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


This week I came across news of a new book being published that takes a scholarly look at the Book of Revelation. It occurred to me that, for all the time I once spent studying Revelation, I actually know very little about the book's history and context, and even less about the apocalyptic genre that was popular at the time it was written.

Growing up I was quite fascinated by Revelation, which I had been taught was a literal prophecy of the violent end of the world that could begin at any time. I read dozens of articles and books and heard numerous sermons speculating on the meaning of every symbol in its verses and how they might match up with current events and people. Was the Antichrist a current politician? Was the European Common Market the beast with ten horns? Was the United States the great harlot? The conjectures were endless.

By my college years I'd heard enough false predictions about Christ's return ("88 Reason Christ Will Return in '88" was far from the first - or last) to dampen my enthusiasm for the subject. The final nail in the coffin was coming across a book in the university library's annual book sale, written in the late 1930s, that predicted that Mussolini was the Antichrist. By the time the first Left Behind book was published a couple years later, I was already done with the whole sideshow.

At that time in my life I still believed there would be a literal Tribulation (whether the Rapture happened at the beginning or end) and a literal Antichrist; I'd merely come to realize that God didn't mean for us to spend so much time and energy trying to pinpoint when and how it was all going to happen. Funny how so many Biblical literalists over the years have forgotten that Jesus himself said nobody would know when he was returning. Actually, it's more sad than funny.

Over the years since college, I've gradually come to see how a literal interpretation of Revelation has encouraged (or at least highlighted) so many of the worst traits that are commonly associated with American evangelicalism:

-A heavy focus on the next life (which we may be whisked away to at any moment) that leaves us disinclined - and even unable - to truly engage in this one.
-An "us versus them" mentality, in which "them" is everyone fated to take the Mark of the Beast.
-An arrogant attitude toward everyone in the "them" category.
-A view of Jesus as a macho, violent warrior with no qualms about killing anyone who doesn't believe the right things about him.
-An inclination to look for (and find) persecution around every corner.
-A lack of concern for making this world a better place, since we could be saying goodbye to it at any moment.
-A tendency to caricaturize every political opponent as a potential Antichrist.
-An all-absorbing fascination with scouring every world event for signs of the end times.
-A belief that our support for Israel requires absolute and unquestioned support for every action it takes even if it leads to endless preemptive war against the entire Muslim world.
-A mandate to proselytize aggressively in a manipulative, fear-based manner.
-A fixation on sin avoidance.
-A propensity to spend millions of dollars on mediocre books and fourth-rate movies and then praise them for their "message."

Not that Revelation itself (or John of Patmos) is to blame for the many ways in which our misinterpretations of its rich imagery have transformed the faith of many into a tragic parody of the message of Christ found in the Gospels. But in that same vein, perhaps Revelation does us a favor (even before we mine its depths for the riches we have overlooked for so long) by forcing us to confront the folly of interpreting the Bible in an overly literal manner rather than letting it speak to us on its own terms.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Life Soundtrack 30

The Beginning, by Lifehouse

I've tried to avoid overusing any one artist, but Lifehouse just has a lot of songs that resonate with me. The Beginning is a track you could easily miss if it were playing in the background; you might think it was a pretty song and go on with what you were doing without another thought.

But when I pay attention to this song, it can evoke a wide range of emotions in me. At different times it can make me melancholy, hopeful, content, wistful or contemplative, sometimes all at once. And every now and then it strikes a deeper chord and gives me a hint of a glimpse of something transcendent - something that's never quite fully within reach, but that I know is there.

No wonder the longest book of the Bible is a songbook. Hello, from the world below...

Saturday, February 25, 2012


On a few occasions I've come across comments by writers musing over the fact that the Christian church has a tendency to swing back and forth between liberalism and conservatism, permissivism and legalism, never finding a middle ground that can satisfy both. It's a dilemma I've pondered myself more than once. Theology is neither as static nor as consistently progressive as most would like it to be.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this in modern times is the rise of American fundamentalism. The term 'fundamentalist' was originally coined in the early 20th century by those who wanted to reassert a relatively simple list of doctrines they considered to be fundamentals of the Christian faith, in response to the theological liberalism that had swept most of the mainline denominations in the late 19th century. It was a conservative movement, but a fairly straightforward call for doctrinal reform at the start.

By the 1920s, however, the fundamentalist movement had been taken over by the extreme legalists we now associate with the term. Fundamentalists became reactionaries who vocally condemned science as well as nearly every aspect of American society, advocating cultural isolationism and rigid codes of conduct. Evangelicals have since tried to extricate themselves from this portion of their history, with varying degrees of success. At present, the evangelical movement appears to be veering toward open schism between those that have thoroughly repudiated fundamentalism and those that have merely sanded down its rougher edges.

Even within the last half a century numerous movements have risen (and in some cases run their course and faded away again) within the Christian church, each one reacting to whatever trends preceded it. And so it's gone throughout church history, which is rife with schisms, heretic hunts, heated debates and even literal wars. No matter how reasonable the cause, we never seem to find that elusive center.

But what if in all of that we've missed the point? What if the real problem isn't heresy, but our driving need to be right? Don't get me wrong - at the end of the day we have to be able to reach conclusions on at least some matters, or else we'd be left with nothing but chaos and paralysis. But when the subject at hand is the Creator of everything, a being who exists beyond time and space and above dimensions we can only abstractly apprehend in complex mathematical models, how could it be anything other than the ultimate in hubris to claim that we could ever have such a One all figured out?

Perhaps the center eludes us, because in infinity there is no center. If we are all created in the image of God, perhaps every one of us is needed so that we can add our own unique reflection to the larger picture we're trying to create (and even then, it would be a picture that told only part of a far greater story). Acknowledging that doesn't have to mean that we think all forms of religious expression are equally valid; one need look no further than Fred Phelps or Osama Bin Laden to see the limits of such an absolute relativism.

Taking the humble stance that we need to learn from those outside of our own belief system may seem like a sellout - and it does require that we surrender our right to be right. But for those who are truly confident in their beliefs, it costs nothing of real value to admit the limits of one's own knowledge by humbly listening to other perspectives. It costs very little, but the potential rewards are vast.

The real danger lies in insisting that we have all the right answers, and need no further input. By doing so we devalue others who bear God's image by dismissing everything they have learned and experienced that we don't personally agree with, and by placing greater value on ideas and dogma than we do on people.

For those of us who believe that the Bible was in some manner inspired by the Infinite that we most commonly nickname God, the challenge is to rediscover that even a book so inspired is still finite and not to be conflated with the God it points to. By using the Bible as our starting point for learning more about God - as the foundation for that building rather than the entire structure - we open ourselves to discovering the wonders of a universe that's far larger than we dared imagine it could ever be.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I have visited the tip of Argentina, the region named Tierra del Fuego ("land of fire") by Magellan's explorers, who noticed fires burning on shore. The natives tending the fires, however, paid no attention to the great ships as they sailed through the straits. Later, they explained that they had considered the ships an apparition, so different were they from anything seen before. They lacked the experience, even the imagination, to decode evidence passing right before their eyes.

And we who built the skyscrapers in New York, who build today not just galleons but space stations and Hubble telescopes that peer to the very edge of the universe, what about us? What are we missing? What do we not see, for lack of imagination or faith?
-Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World (pages 17-18)

Saturday, February 04, 2012


It's been a busy week in the blogosphere - not here, perhaps, but elsewhere. Here are a few pieces that resonated with me...

1. Rachel Held Evans slides down the slippery slope, and discovers a far different destination than the one she'd been told she was headed toward.

2. Speaking of different destinations, a former Exodus leader finds change and freedom - just not the change and freedom Exodus likes to proclaim.

3. Tired of people who use the world "biblical" to shut down debate over their agendas? So am I, and so is this guy. (Hat tip to Craig)

4. Finally, if this post describes your evangelism style, please reconsider...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Downfall, Part 5

There's something very surreal about seeing a predominantly Christian audience boo a speaker for appealing to the Golden Rule. There's certainly a debate to be had over whether (and/or how) the rules that apply to individual relationships can be applied to foreign policy, but for a political movement that shouts so loudly about "biblical" values to respond so derisively to an appeal to what is arguably the highest biblical principle of all speaks volumes.

It's a small example of how thoroughly American evangelicalism has been tainted and debased by politics, but it also encapsulates the problem quite succinctly.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Life Soundtrack 29

Uprising, by Muse

An apt theme song for the Arab Spring (with the hope that what comes next represents a step in the direction of freedom and human dignity). And no doubt a song that both the Occupy movement and the Tea Party would claim as their own...

(And here's a link to the official video, which was nicely produced...)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Shattering Stereotypes

The process of recovering from a heavily conservative background involves a lengthy process of stripping away multiple layers of misinformation interspersed within years of baggage. Sometimes those old illusions disappear so quietly that their absence initially goes unnoticed.

Growing up I remember being taught that all lesbians were man-haters. That myth no doubt coincides (or at least overlaps) with the oft-repeated claim that all lesbians are victims of sexual abuse. I even remember once reading a quote by a lesbian activist (who knows if it was quoted in context) that supposedly proved that the political alliance between lesbians and gay men was purely temporary and borne of necessity.

Such ideas no doubt seem laughable to anyone who actually has female friends who happen to be gay. Not that individuals who genuinely hate members of the opposite sex don't exist - but they're far more likely to be straight than gay.

As I look back to the days when I accepted myths like that without question I'm torn between laughing and crying at the base ignorance that bred them. I can now count so many lesbians among my friends - people that I love and respect - that I find myself taking offense at such stereotypes. They deserve far better, not that those on the religious right would be likely to take the time to get to know one of the people they're demonizing.

As I post this, I'm getting ready to head out to spend the evening with two of my favorite people (who just happen to be lesbians). How much poorer would my life be if I were still hiding from people based on stereotypes that I was fed about them?