Radio Silence and Advent Hope

Annunciation_to_ZechariahDay 2 of Advent, my favorite season on the church calendar.  Yesterday I taught a lesson on Zechariah and Elizabeth and one of the commentaries I read mentioned the “400 years of prophetic silence” that Israel had endured before, suddenly, the angel Gabriel showed up while Zechariah was trying to perform a once in a lifetime job in the Holy Place.

How could Zechariah be skeptical when the angel told him he was going to be a dad?  This was the question we bandied about in class, and Zechariah didn’t get a lot of sympathy.  He was a priest, for crying out loud, in the Holy Place, talking to a bona fide angel.  Was this any time to be dubious?  I understand that argument, but a couple of people also mentioned his age as a reason that he should have had more faith.  He was an old man, Zechariah.  Doesn’t wisdom come with age?

I think, just possibly, getting worn out comes with age.  Getting tired of waiting comes with age.  Fading optimism comes with age.

400 years.  No prophetic voice.  Israel gets passed around like a bad wedding gift, from the Babylonians to the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans.  And all the while, God – Israel’s God – is quiet.

Zechariah the priest serves this silent God even as the decades pass and nothing changes – not for Israel, and not for Zechariah and his barren wife, Elizabeth.  Or nothing changes until suddenly, crazily, it does.  Gabriel shows up, a prophetic baby is promised, and Zechariah’s skepticism earns him a temporary silencing of his own.

I can identify with Zechariah.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m wired for doubting.  I’m likely to be the last person to jump on a bandwagon, and the first person to tick off an angel with my crotchety questions.  And I’ve also been experiencing radio silence for a while now.  I’ve mentioned that, too – how barren the last year or so has been, spiritually.  How quiet God has been.  Like Zechariah, I’ve been trying to show up and do my job, anyway.  Put on the robes, burn the incense, hope it matters to the unspeaking God.  Teach the class, lead the prayer, hope that God is receiving the offering of this tired, waiting servant.

But the great thing about Advent is that it transforms waiting into something beautiful, something meaningful.  Waiting for the Messiah becomes our “reasonable service”:  waiting on God to move, to speak, becomes the incense we burn.  We hope, we expect, we wait.

Zechariah didn’t have to wait forever, of course.  The God who was always present in the silence acted and the fulfillment of Messianic promises was set in motion.  I won’t have to wait forever, either.  The God who has spoken to me before will speak again.  He is not finished with me.  He will come, my weariness and my ragged-edged optimism notwithstanding.  He always comes, because – as Zechariah was reminded – He keeps His promises.  Zechariah’s name meant “God remembers”, and He certainly does.  He remembers His purposes for us long after we’ve started to lose sight of them.

So I have big plans for this Advent season.  I’m going to wait.  With Zechariah and Elizabeth, with Simeon and Anna, with all the other old folks who hung in there until their waiting made sense. It’s not flashy, it’s not exciting, but it’s what’s often required of the people of God.  I’ll hope, I’ll expect, I’ll wait.  That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it.

Posted in Advent, Bible, Christianity, religion, spirituality | Tagged | 1 Comment

A Patriarch Takes a Fall: Doug Phillips Resigns

doug phillipsDouglas Phillips resigned as director of Vision Forum Ministries a few days ago, citing a “lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman” other than his wife, Beall.  You can read his statement here.

If you know who Douglas Phillips is at all, chances are you know exactly who he is.  He is a celebrity within conservative homeschooling, a proponent not only of homeschooling but of a very rigid family structure that he calls “Biblical Patriarchy”.  According to Phillips the righteous will live by rules; lots and lots of rules:  biblical manhood and womanhood, homeschooling, family integrated church, courtship, young earth creationism, stay-at-home daughters, quiverfull, Reconstructionism.  He speaks widely and has been, perhaps, the most powerful single figure in the shaping of the Fundamentalist homeschooling subculture.

It would be hard to overstate how strenuously I disagree with Douglas Phillips on almost everything.  I think his teachings are not just wrong, but poisonously wrong.  I write, in part, to fight the influence of Douglas Phillips and his fellow “patriarchs”.

So hearing that he’d resigned from his ministry and cancelled his speaking engagements, it was difficult to sort through my emotions.  I’m not happy.  Phillips has a wife and eight childen, and they all get dragged through this public scandal with him.  I’m not gloating, I’m not gleeful.  But do I think the world would be better off if Douglas Phillips never wrote another book or gave another speech espousing Biblical Patriarchy?  Yes, I do.  I really do.

Still, there’s been a little unseemly rejoicing among those of us in the anti-patriarchy camp (we need a better name!).  Because of that, and because the details of the story are so sketchy, I didn’t plan to write anything on the subject – until I read James McDonald’s blog post, When Heroes FallMcDonald is another leader in the Biblical Patriarchy movement;  yet another pastor/author/king of the castle who has made a career out of telling the rest of us that we’re doing it all wrong.  He’s less charismatic and polished than Phillips but they’re definitely on the same team.  I encourage you to read McDonald’s post.  It’s elegant spin, and it turned out to be only the first such post from those who are in support of Phillips’ theology.  One of the most common themes is that “the man is not the message”, that people shouldn’t doubt Phillips’ teaching just because he fell in to sin.

Here’s the problem with that argument:  Phillips’ “ministry” was built on the idea that he had tapped into God’s one and only model for the Biblical Family.  He was the most high profile and influential advocate of what are perhaps the most oppressive and legalistic models of marriage, parenting and gender in all of Protestantism.  And yet, he failed to live up to the most basic Christian marital ethic.  I have two thoughts about that.  1)  Can we stop pretending that rules, rules and more rules are the path to Christian purirty?  Law never works.  2)  I don’t know how long Doug and Beall Phillips have been married, but lets just ballpark it at 25 years.  That’s how long I’ve been married, and I suspect we’re around the same age.  Every person who has made it that long without cheating on their spouse is now, in my eyes, a more qualified “marriage expert” than Doug Phillips.  If you can’t even pass that one simple test, mister, you should never, ever presume to tell the rest of us what we’re doing wrong in our homes and families.

And I worry that he will be telling us again; that in a year or two he’ll be back to teaching men how to take dominion over their households, raising up another generation of domesticated daughters and silent wives.  His fellow patriarchs will help him in this “restoration” because they have to defend the system they’ve built.  They certainly aren’t defending Jesus, who treated women with respect.  And they’re also not defending the gospel of the Kingdom, which is nothing like the cult of Biblical Patriarchy.  Ultimately, they are defending their own power, because that’s what the patriarchy is about:  power.

Okay, I’m a little more het up about this than I thought.  So I’m going to suggest that you listen to the always calm and reasoned voice of Karen Campbell.  She’s been writing about Biblical Patriarchy for years, and she knows of what she speaks.

Look at the teachings that have come out of patriocentricity, especially in the last 6 or so years. Teaching that men are the prophets, priests, and kings of their homes, daughters are helpmeets to their fathers, women are here primarily to fulfill the creation mandate and are expendable if threatened with ectopic pregnancies, women do not have their own callings from the Lord but rather are to fulfill a man’s calling, and a strident hierarchy that hearkens back to the antebellum south, these are just the tip of the ice berg. They certainly reveal a heart attitude toward women that can lead to unfaithfulness to a wife and broken dreams for a younger woman taken as a mistress, emotional or physical. Though many are spinning it otherwise what has been taught and promoted by the patriarchs absolutely does matter and absolutely can lead to adultery!

I pray that the Phillips family finds a way through this very public crisis.  I pray the same for the unidentified woman and her family.  But as for Wilson’s career “restoring biblical manhood, godly femininity and the Christian home”?  I hope it’s over, for good.

Posted in Christianity, church, education, family, feminism, gender, homeschooling, patriarchy, religion, spirituality | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Who’s Afraid of Halloween?

photo courtesy of Flickr

(This is one of the first posts I ever wrote, for Civil Religion.  As I’ve started to see a few anti-Halloween items show up in my Facebook feed, I thought it might be time to share it again.)
When I was a little girl Halloween was all about candy and costumes.  The high point for costumes was the Halloween march around the school gymnasium, showing off our finery.  The candy came on Halloween, of course, when my brother and I would walk the streets until we could walk no more – no adult supervision required.  Back at home, we’d spill our loot on the floor and  start working out trades.  Our mother would confiscate anything unwrapped in order to protect us from razor blades and poison,  the only perils that my Christian parents associated with Halloween.

As a teenager, my enjoyment of Halloween was less about candy and more about costume parties, many held at church.  I didn’t see any evidence that celebrating Halloween was incompatible with being an evangelical Christian.  But something changed in the ’80s, as I was transitioning into adulthood.  By the time I became a parent in 1991, a discussion among evangelicals about celebrating Halloween could stir up the kind of passions that would later come with mentioning Harry Potter.  Concerned with what they perceived to be the satanic roots of the holiday, many Christians opted out of Halloween all together, or joined in church harvest festivals (an attempt to give children the fun of Halloween without the spiritual danger).

I’ve always come down on the pro-Halloween side of these discussions, though I have ambivalent feelings about the state of Halloween in the 21st century.  Would it sound odd to say that I think Halloween has become too commercialized?  Who could have imagined 30 years ago, when I was going door to door in my cheap plastic Cinderella costume, that Halloween would become such a big business?  It’s almost impossible to see the hand-carved pumpkins through the forest of inflatable witches and animatronic axe murderers.  And as the mother of three girls, I have serious misgivings about the direction costumes have gone in recent years, a situation illustrated in this clip from “Mean Girls” (note:  some may find content offensive).

But are there other concerns for Christians?  In the past several years it seems that the Christians I know have relaxed in their attitudes toward Halloween.  Is that a healthy openness or a thoughtless assimilation to the culture?  Some clearly still feel that Halloween should be avoided.  Consider this post, from the Christian Broadcast Network.  But information about the origins of Halloween (even when accurate – and there’s a lot of misinformation available) doesn’t take in to account the various meanings and traditions that have been added to Halloween through history.  What does Halloween mean now, if anything?

For one view of Halloween from a Christian perspective, I recommend Lint Hatcher’s book “The Magic Eightball Test:  A Christian Defense of Halloween and All Things Spooky”.  I heard Lint present a talk on this very subject at The Cornerstone Festival’s Imaginarium in 2006 and was delighted to hear a joyful  Christian faith combined with a love for what Flannery O’Connor might have called a “proper scaring”.  Lint even has a website entitled  If you are interested in hearing a variety of Christian voices address Halloween, dig into this synchroblog on the subject put together in 2007.  The synchroblog even links to a neopagan’s reponse at MetaPagan.   Between these sites there’s enough about the history, traditions and meaning surrounding Halloween to keep you busy all week as we approach Halloween day.

As a fan of candy, a well-chosen costume and a proper scaring, I wish you all a Happy Halloween.

photo courtesy photobucket
Posted in Christianity, church, holidays, movies, religion, spirituality, theology, videos | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

When sadness needs a soundtrack

sad musicRiding in the car with Baph, who has all the best music, I requested that he play a particular song.  After listening to it I said, “I love that song so much, but if depression had a soundtrack, that song would be on it.  Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling down, just the right sad song doesn’t make you feel worse, but better?  It hits some sweet spot and it’s sort of exquisite.”  Baph did not laugh at me.  In fact, he agreed, and we started trying to name a few other songs that have the same effect.  They make me feel more alive somehow, these sad, beautiful songs.  They almost cross a fine line from pain into euphoria, and if that sounds crazy to anyone, well….as I’ve said before, it’s been a long year.  Cut me some slack.

I’m picky about what I put in this category.  Sad lyrics are not the key, although they may contribute to the overall effect.  Depressing words with perky music – The Smiths, for instance – do not qualify.  It’s a specific mood that I’m looking for, and I’m not musically articulate enough to define it.  What I can do, is share my top five examples:  my personal soundtrack to sadness.  Go ahead, shed a tear if you need to.  You’ll feel better when it’s all over.

5.  I’m Set Free – The Velvet Underground
I can only take The Velvet Underground in small doses, but there’s something about this song… If it sounds a little too jubilant, well, bear in mind that this is freedom to “find a new illusion”.  Sounds like a mixed, possibly drug induced blessing.  But it’s gorgeous.
Almost Tie:  These Days by Nico, because the strings and that Dietrich-y voice create some crazy magic.

4.   Exile Villify- The National
The truth is, most songs by The National are a bit sad.  There’s a natural muted mournfulness to Matt Berninger’s baritone that never gets old to me.  And I just discovered that this song was written for Portal 2.  What??? How did I not know that?
Almost Tie:  Think You Can Wait by The National, because it always reminds me of the movie in which it was featured, “Win Win”.

3.  Either Way – Wilco
At certain points this song becomes perilously cheerful instrumentally.  But those opening lines, “Maybe the sun will shine today/The clouds will blow away/Maybe I won’t feel so afraid”, laid over the sweet melody – oh, it makes my stomach ache just thinking about it, but in a good way.
Almost Tie – Everybody Hurts by REM, because sometimes less is more, and this song is one of the purest and most honest songs of consolation ever written.

2.  No Surprises – Radiohead
We couldn’t have this list without a Radiohead song, now could we?  Just Google “Radiohead depressing” and see what happens.  But, hey, who says that’s a bad thing?  It’s hard to choose just one song, but “No Surprises” triumphs for the loveliness of the melody and Thom Yorke’s gentle, caressing delivery of some of most depressing lines in modern music (“A job that slowly kills you/bruises that won’t heal…..this is my final fit”).
Almost Tie – Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead, because their songs really are too sad to choose just one.

1.  Guess I’m Doing Fine – Beck
And this is the song I requested in the car.  It is my lasting regret that I was too busy listening to bad CCM in the ’90s to discover Beck when I should have.  This song, o Lord, this song!  It’s off the album Sea Change, written after a breakup with a longtime girlfriend.  The whole album is a downer, but in the plaintive delivery of “Guess I’m Doing Fine” I swear you can hear Beck’s heart cracking.
There is no Almost Tie, because Beck, and because this song is perfect.

Pulling up You Tube clips of all these songs has left me with a very satisfying lump in my throat.  But don’t worry about me, it’s only tears that I’m crying.  Guess I’m doing fine.

Now, you!  I know you have favorite blue mood songs.  What are they?   Share the sweet, sweet musical sadness with the rest of us!

*Special thanks to my musical consultant, Baph, for help with this post.

Posted in media, music, videos | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Why this church lady was at a movie about porn (and other “cultural engagement” riddles)

don-jonI went to see Don Jon last night.  If you’ve seen the trailer, you may have the same reaction a couple of my children did:  “You’re going to see that movie, Mom?  Seriously?”  Eye roll.

There were only four other people in the theater with me, and I suspect that two of them were expecting something other than what  they finally got.  The two young men down the row  laughed and talked loudly through the early rapid-fire scenes of the kind of porn Jon was viewing.  Later, as the film became more reflective they quieted down.  I wondered if they were disappointed that this movie didn’t just offer boobs:  it offered a moral critique of porn culture.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Brett McCracken has a new book out – Gray Matters:  Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty.  I was not a fan of McCracken’s last book, Hipster Christianity.  I thought it created a straw man just to poke at it: it seemed aimed at pleasing the curmudgeons of the church who hate on young Christians and their newfangled ways.  Also, I took the Christian hipster quiz and scored quite high, which made the entire enterprise suspect in my eyes.

So when McCracken wrote a book about cultural engagement I thought, “Uh oh.  More of the same.  He’s just going to affirm for more conservative Christians how “worldly” the youngsters are, what with their “Breaking Bad” and their fancy beers.

I haven’t read the book yet, so this is is not a book review.  I will say, having read a few short essays McCracken wrote for Mere Orthodoxy, his thinking seems far more nuanced this time.  In fact, when I read Have Christians Lost Their Sense of Difference, I found myself agreeing with almost every word.  We’ve swung so far away from legalism that the idea of self-denial for the sake of holiness is an almost incomprehensible idea to most of us.  It’s not that we wouldn’t do it, necessarily.  It’s not that we don’t love God and want to grow spiritually.  It’s just that the notion that something we eat, drink, wear, watch, read, listen to might shape us spiritually in a negative way is outside the framework in which we now live.  It’s all freedom these days.  We’re free to do what we want, any old time.

And so, yeah, I have some concerns about Christians as culture-gluttons.  I have concerns about my own tendency toward pop culture gluttony.  I have concerns about how touchy most of us are when it comes to this subject, so that listening to each other becomes more and more difficult.  No, I’m not the boss of you, and you’re not the boss of me.  But maybe we could at least be willing to talk about the ways that we are being assimilated by the culture around us.  Maybe they are not all good.  Just maybe?

Owen Strachan wrote a review of “Gray Matters” for Christianity Today.  I actually have more trouble with Strachan’s review than with what I’ve seen from McCracken so far.  Strachan seems to fall back on the same old arguments for cultural separation, even as he denies that’s the case.  He turns to 1 Corinthians 6:12 (“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything”), a really helpful verse in affirming that it’s not law that guides us in our cultural engagement.  But determining what is “profitable” or beneficial for individuals is much more complicated.  Regarding beer drinking and Game of Thrones, Strachan asks, “Do I need to?”  Well, no, we can probably all agree that we don’t need those things.  The list of things that are nonessentials in life is quite long.  This morning alone I’ve had my favorite mood-altering hot beverage (nonessential) while listening to NPR (n-e), reading Facebook (n-e) and blogging (n-e).  I’ve also spent time with my nonessential pet who finally, thank God, seems to be getting the hang of house training.  If it seems glib to compare these things to beer and Game of Thrones, I’ll just point out that our Mormon friends feel differently about coffee; some of my conservative friends think NPR is liberal poison; plenty of folks have written on the perils of Facebooking; and blogging can rightly be viewed as an exercise in narcissism.  As for my sweet dog, I’d have more money for those in  need if I wasn’t feeding and medicating an animal – and, yes, I’ve heard that very argument against pet ownership.

So there’s always a way to be more culture-rejecting, more ascetic than the next guy.  I think there’s even a place for that.  Many of the great mystics and spiritual writers of our Christian history have come out of the monastic movement, where countless nonessentials are stripped away for the sake of devotion to God.  Perhaps more of us need to cultivate some small measure of this cultural spareness.

My real beef with Strachan is that he tosses around words and phrases without defining what he means.  He talks about certain art not being “worthy of engagement”.  How do we decide what is worthy and what isn’t?  His only suggestion is that they’re probably not worthy as the “depravity meter creeps upward”.  What does that mean?  Is it just about nudity, or violence or swearing?

And that brings me back to Don Jon, a movie about a porn addict.  Yes, there were brief clips of porn scattered through the movie, and there was an abundant amount of talking about sex, as well as swearing.  And yet, I went to see it knowing all of that in advance.  I went because I’ve seen the damage porn can do, in the lives of people I love.  The apostle Paul wrote about those who made “shipwreck of their faith”:  I’ve watched people make shipwreck of their faith, their marriages, their parenting, their careers – all for porn.   And it’s as big a problem inside the church as out.  I wanted to see how this movie, the creation of a “secular” writer/director/star, would handle the subject of porn culture.  And really, it was an excellent movie.  Not only did it handle with great thoughtfulness the way that porn – and its sibling, advertising – turns people into objects, but it also examined the self indulgent fantasies around which most of us build our lives.  We are selfish people by nature, and it takes a great deal of intention to open ourselves up to other people.  That’s true whether our addiction is to porn, to rom-com narratives, or to our own unbending notions of personal freedom.

Did Don Jon “wrap that message in worldliness”, to borrow a phrase from Strachan’s piece?  Defining “worldliness” would make that a simpler question to answer, but for the sake of argument:  yes, sure, it did.  The resolution did not align with Christian sexual ethics.  While Jon grows, we might wish he’d grown even more, and we might also wish that the church didn’t come off looking so empty and ineffectual in providing spiritual aid.  Perhaps Owen Strachan would decide that all of that – nudity, swearing, an ambiguous sexual ethic, a negative depiction of religion – is reason to avoid Don Jon.  I would never try to argue him, or anyone else, into another conclusion.  My equation turned out differently, and I’m glad I saw the  movie.

I could keep writing, explaining why I chose to watch – and don’t regret watching -  This is the End, The Kids are Alright and a number of other “questionable” movies.  I’m comfortable with those decisions, but it doesn’t let me off the hook when it comes to the next choice to be made.  I need to take seriously the call to be a people “set apart”.  I need to take seriously my own weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  We all need to be able to listen to each other without either judgement or defensiveness short cutting conversation.

It’s interesting that Owen Strachan refers to Miroslav Volf in his review of “Gray Matters.  He writes, “To use Miroslav Volf’s language, I think there’s more of a ‘hard difference’ between the church and culture than we might suppose.” That’s Volf’s language, all right, but he didn’t argue for a “hard difference”, which (in more Volfian language) would be all exclusion, no embrace.  Volf called for a “soft difference”.  It’s this kind of difference McCracken seems to be pointing toward, in which our lives are different, but in ways that really make a difference.  We are not peculiar for the sake of being peculiar, as I think our forebearers sometimes were.  Instead, we are different because we are in Christ:  the life we now live is a reflection of the grace we have received.

Here’s Volf on the ambiguous place that followers of Jesus have in this world:

‘Christians do not come into their social world from outside seeking either to accommodate to their new home (like second generation immigrants would), shape it in the image of the one they have left behind (like colonizers would), or establish a little haven in the strange new world reminiscent of the old (as resident aliens would). They are not outsiders who either seek to become insiders or maintain strenuously the status of outsiders. Christians are the insiders who have diverted from their culture by being born again. They are by definition those who are not what they used to be, those who do not live like they used to live. Christian difference is therefore not an insertion of something new into the old from outside, but a bursting out of the new precisely within the proper space of the old’.

This doesn’t provide an an airtight defense of my watching Don Jon, or The Walking Dead, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer – or, for that matter, an explanation of why I don’t watch Dexter or South Park; of why I was bothered more by Grown Ups and Taken than by The Kids Are Alright or This is the End. I’m just keeping the conversation going, hoping we’ll all give thought to what we do with this wonderful, gracious, expansive freedom we’ve been given. I hope that’s what Brett McCracken’s book will do, too. I’ll let you know after I have opportunity to read the whole thing.

Posted in art, Christianity, media, movies, sex, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

On my high school reunion: “Time makes you bolder”

photo used courtesy Walker Photography

photo used courtesy Walker Photography

As I wrote in my “mean girls” post, my 30th high school reunion was this past weekend.  I’ve gone to all of our reunions, but not like this.  In the past I’ve always gone with my husband;  only attended the main event on Saturday night; and spent most of  my time with my close friends from high school.  But this time only a couple of my friends were going, Mr. Right wasn’t traveling with me, and I decided to do the whole weekend blowout.  I didn’t make it into town in time for the Homecoming parade, but I was there for the tailgate party, football game, post game meetup at a local bar, and the main event on Saturday night.

This was kind of a big deal.

As I said in my earlier post, I enjoyed high school, but I was a shy, insecure kid and found my safety in sticking close to a tight knit band of friends.  After high school I left town and never looked back.  What mattered most to me, beyond family,  was a very small group of people.  When they scattered away to college and jobs in other places, my hometown didn’t feel like home anymore.

And then, at some point, my perspective changed.  As the awkward memories of adolescence faded I began to appreciate the place I came from, and all the people that made up my life there - all of them, freaks and jocks and mean girls and artists, wonderful teachers and terrible ones, too.  So when I found out that our group (posse?  clique?) was going to be underrepresented at this reunion, I decided to plunge in with both feet and try to get reacquainted with the rest of my class – or at least the ones who would show up for our 30th reunion.

I gave myself quite a pep talk in the car as I traveled home, about the shortness of life and the high cost of living in fear.  Fear shaped too much of what I did and said in high school; and for that matter, fear has played too big a part of my adult life, as well.  I’m tired of it. I’m tired of living a life cramped by anxieties that I’m not good enough or don’t belong, that I’m not one of the “cool kids”.  By the time I reached Sedalia, I felt like I’d taken a magic potion to instill confidence.  “I really don’t care what anyone thinks of me,” I told a close friend as we headed to the party Saturday night.  And I meant it!  That’s darn near miraculous.

And it was awesome.  My memory is terrible, so I was forced to say, over and over, “I’m sorry, can you help me out? Remind me of your name?”  But few people seemed bothered by that.  What was weirder was how many people remembered me.  In my mind’s eye I see my high school self as a little eccentric (I wanted to be Jewish, for instance, earning myself the nickname “la Judia rubia” in Spanish class), but quiet, timid and very forgettable.  But something about me seems to have stuck with people, even with the “cool kids”.  It made me feel, retroactively, a little bigger than a bug.  Like a gerbil, maybe, or a finch.

We cheered on the football team, even though the bleachers were hard on our creaky backs.  We yelled over bar noise, complaining to each other about our kids and their gadgets.  We sang our junior high fight song, honored our deceased classmates, laughed at our yearbook pictures, danced badly and marveled over how old we’ve gotten.  Middle aged white women tried to learn to twerk (I sat that one out, wisely).  A classmate who still hasn’t lost her coolness performed “Rapper’s Delight”, and we cheered her memory for lyrics.  Some people wanted to talk about my “mean girls” post, but no one really admitted to being a mean girl.  My theory now is that few people are that self-aware – including me, so who am I to judge?

It was fun to tell people that I’m a pastor now, and see their reactions.  All positive, I’m happy to report.  Many people responded by telling me about their own church involvement.  One classmate who I remember as a stoner is now the head of the elder board at a Baptist Church.  Another classmate responded to the news that I’m a pastor by saying, “Well, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior…and I’ve only had four beers tonight!”

No beer was necessary for me to feel warm and affectionate toward all those people with whom I’d shared the journey through high school. I was glad to see those familiar faces (“But I’m sorry, what was your name again?”); I was glad they were still dancing and laughing and that somehow the wrinkles and gray hair didn’t obscure entirely the children that we were together, such a long time ago.

I felt freer than I have in a long time:  free of self consciousness and worry and responsibility.   I said to a friend, “I’m not stressing about looking old and fat in the pictures tonight.  Any picture in which I look joyful, I will consider a good picture.”  I wound up in a lot of pictures, and I look joyful in almost every one.

Posted in aging, memories | 2 Comments

Ken Ham spreads the good news (just kidding)


No. No, no, no, no, no.

This is not how we “reach out” to atheists, people.

For the record, I am well aware of the billboards that groups like the American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation have put up in the past.  I am not a fan.  The messages are often obnoxious, alienating, smug.  The problem is not that those billboards attack my most deeply cherished convictions, it’s that billboards are no place to attack anyone’s deeply cherished convictions.  Period.  This seems painfully obvious to me, but I guess it wasn’t painfully obvious to American Atheists, or the FRF.

I guess it’s not so obvious to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, either

So what do Ken and the other folks at Answers in Genesis do?  They mimic the most off putting behavior of their ideological opponents and call it a “cordial and engaging message”.  Puh-leaze.  When you have a four word message and two of the words are “you’re wrong”, I think you may need to rethink how cordial and engaging you really are; also, whose example you’re following.  Some of the comments on Ken Ham’s Facebook page compare this approach to Jesus calling the Pharisees “children of the devil” or “a brood of vipers”.  But isn’t that apples and oranges?  Jesus saved his strongest rhetoric for the religious leaders of his day, not the pagans.  Who is more like a Pharisee?  An atheist (even a billboarding one), or a man who has no problem assassinating the characters of Christians who disagree with him on young earth creationism?

I commented on Ken Ham’s Facebook page, telling him that I think this campaign is a bad idea.  It’s not “reaching out” but “hitting back”, I said.  One of the replies to my comment defended the billboards with a mention of 1 Peter 3:15-16.  It happens that I’m currently teaching a class on 1 Peter and have read these verses very recently.  It seems an odd passage to quote, under the circumstances.  Rather than an argument in favor of patronizing billboards, it seems an excellent antidote to such misguided evangelism:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

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