Monday, November 18, 2013

Rooted: Beyond Pentecostal Missions [Guest Post at The Antioch Session]

I'm over at Zach Hoag's place, The Antioch Session, participating in his month long series on rethinking the missional conversation called: Rooted. I'm coming at it from the perspective of my tradition of Pentecostalism, and how I think sometimes we miss the boat on mission, which is sad, because I'd argue that Pentecost is really at the root of mission in the first place.

Here's an excerpt:

I come from the Pentecostal tradition of American Evangelicalism, where unfortunately, we don't talk a lot about being missional. In fact, I would venture to say that there is almost no participation in the missional conversation from within Pentecostalism. There are a lot of reasons, I think, but for the most part, I think Pentecostals assume they've got it all figured out already, and instead of talking about being missional, we talk about:


Missions



Now, at first blush, it sounds like a great thing (colonial implications aside), and from raw numbers, you might think that Pentecostals have it all figured out too, considering we're the fastest growing Christian sect in the world. (Take that, YRR crowd!)



What makes missions attractive to Pentecostals, I think, is that it suits our particular view of how and when "the end" might happen (most Pentecostals are sooner-rather-than-laterists). "We're saving the world before Jesus comes back, yeah!!"



What's more important though, is that it meshes well with the economic and cultural assumptions that in no small way have become a primary driver of the way we do church. To put it simply, I think that when we mix American consumerism with cultural colonialism in the crucible of an escapist eschatology (the end is near!) and a "born-again" soteriology (just say this prayer and get saved!), the resulting concept of "missions" is inevitable. We become as detached from the mission of the Gospel as we are from the Bangledeshi factory workers who risk their lives to make our designer clothes. Those of us who aren't "called" do our part and support the "crusaders" being sent out to the "heathens" all over the world and it absolves us of the responsibility of actually doing anything here at home.


It's sort of the church version of "I gave at the office."

Click over to Zach's place to read the rest.  

 
 

Monday, November 4, 2013

From Clenched Fists to Open Arms, A Review of Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist


A quick preface: if you aren't familiar with my somewhat rocky history in the American masculinity machine, I've written in depth about it a few times (like here, here, here), but that's not really important. Basically, it goes a little something like this: society (including the church) told me what it was to be a "man" and acting that way A) almost destroyed every relationship I had in my life and B) nearly killed me (literally). For most of my life, my default reaction to injustice was anger, to clench my fists in white-knuckled fury at the unfairness of it all. Ultimately though, I think that was a selfish response. Feeling angry gave me a chance to showcase my own moral superiority without actually doing anything about it. Anger didn't cost me anything, which meant that it wasn't really worth anything, but Sarah Bessey's life and her work, encapsulated so well here in Jesus Feminist, consistently reminds me of another way.

But enough about me, let's talk about Jesus Feminist.

Right out of the gate, let me say that I think what Sarah is doing here is really important. By putting the word "Jesus" in lights right next to "feminist," she's forcing a certain conversation that some folks would rather not have right now (or ever). Feminism has been recast in the past few decades as anathema to Christianity in many ways. Simply suggesting that one can hold to both concepts and implying that being a "Jesus Feminist" is possible in a way that will not, in fact, result in a sort of universe-destroying cataclysm, is a radical statement in itself, it would seem.

Starting with the introduction and all the way through to her hopeful commission in the final chapter, Sarah's primary mode of interaction with the reader is one of disarming. She sets the tone early on saying,
"We have often treated our communities like a minefield, acted like theology is a war, and we are the wounded and we are the wounding."
She's acknowledging up front the firepower we often bring to discussions like these, and suggests that, instead of trying to kill each other, maybe we could just try to hear each other instead. As you read on, you start to understand that this is no empty gesture. Sarah is consistently disarming in her grace, her candor, and her willingness to let us into the most intimate, most painful experiences of her life. Some people bring knives to gunfights. All Sarah brought was her story, and the result is that we cannot help but lower our weapons and listen to her tell it. So as you settle in past the introduction and into the meat of the book itself, the feeling is far more coffee (or tea!) on a Saturday afternoon than it is a sermon on Sunday or a lecture on Monday.


There are two primary arcs that Sarah weaves artfully through the book, and I'll try to do them justice here. The first is the refusal to meet the old arguments for patriarchy on their own terms. She kindly-yet-thoroughly dismantles much of the traditional case for the marginalization of women and girls in and by the church, and presents a positive, Jesus-centric ideal for the radical inclusion of women in the ongoing redemptive work of God in the world. She says,
"Instead, in Christ and because of Christ, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God through redemptive movement-for both men and women-toward equality and freedom. We can choose to move with God, further into justice and wholeness, or we can choose to prop up the world's dead systems, baptizing injustice and power in sacred language."
She's essentially refusing to allow patriarchy exclusive claim to the language of the divine, and it works quite well. The line about "baptizing injustice and power in sacred language" is still ringing in my ears.

In speaking of Jesus healing the woman with the crippled hand in the synagogue, she highlights the phrase Jesus used, "daughter of Abraham." This has always struck me as a really pivotal, even if often overlooked, piece of the story. With a single word, Jesus upsets generations of religions dogma and sociocultural programming. Some might ask, "to what end?" But that's the thing, we know the end, and we start to see where Sarah is taking us. The trajectory of Christ's life was always singular in its focus of reconciling creation back into shalom with its creator. Every word that he spoke was a waypoint one that journey, and this one was no different. In deconstructing the rigid gender hierarchies of His day, He was giving us a model (and I'd argue a directive) to do the same thing in ours.

In dealing with the household codes, she says they "are not universal standards without context or purpose." And I might add, "no matter how much we would like them to be." In contextualizing, she says,
"It's helpful for me, in discerning the meaning of these passages, to turn to the rest of the writer's work. In a letter to the church in Galatia, Paul wrote, 'There is no longer Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.'"
Again, she gracefully refuses to allow patriarchal voices to violate the text in order to continue to oppress women and girls. She brings the point squarely home with this:
"When women are restricted from the service of God in any capacity, the church is mistakenly allowing an imperfect, male-dominated ancient culture to drive our understanding and practice of Christ's redeeming work..."


Indeed. Here we catch a glimpse again of where she's taking us in that she's showing the utter irrelevance irrelevance of this mode of thinking. She's leading us by the hand toward something bigger, gently and lovingly telling us to just leave all of that behind for good and step into something greater.


Where Sarah really starts to sing is when she starts talking about the Kingdom of God. This second arc is the real telos underlying much of her work, and it shows. Now, it's not that the rest of the book isn't wonderful, but she really hits her stride here, especially in the latter half of the book, and you can tell it's where she's most at home.  She's part preacher, part prophet, and part political revolutionary as she says of the work women (and men) are doing all over to advance the Kingdom of God,
"Can't you see? It's all an act of protest, a snatching back from the darkness, a proclamation of freedom, a revolution of love.  And isn't it a miracle!"


She paints a picture with her words of the Kingdom of God that's so beautiful, so radically inclusive and so affirming of its constituents that it's hard to not want to be a part of it. She leaves no question about whether or not patriarchy is something that could be a part of this new Kingdom. She doesn't beg readers to take her word for any of this, but rather she invites them to walk in the fullness of what she already knows to be the truth. It is a testament to both her grace and her authenticity, I think,  that she can so plainly lay out a critique of the social system that awards me privilege at her expense, and instead of feeling rebuffed, I feel encouraged that there's something better out there for me to step into as well. "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand," Jesus said. I think what that means is finally starting to sink in. She writes,
"If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that Kingdom of God is what all of us hunger for above all other things, even when we don't know its name or realize that it's what we're starving to death for."


By the end of the book, when her song about the Kingdom of God reaches its crescendo in an exhortation and an invitation to stand up and take part in this new Kingdom, you can't help but want to get on board. And through it all, she reminds us that there is another way, that clenched fists aren't necessarily the only way we can react to the sort of systemic injustice she's combatting here. Instead, she shows us an alternative paradigm of open arms. Clenched fists are worthless but for striking out, but open arms grieve with those who grieve and comfort those who need comforting. You can slide one of those open arms around the waist of a brother or sister who's falling down and hold them up or you can lock arms in solidarity with your sisters (and brothers) across the world or right there in your hometown. Clenched fists connote  condemnation, but open arms on the other hand, that's the stuff of redemption.

"You and me," she says near the end, "we are Kingdom people, an outpost of redemption, engaged in God's mission of reconciliation.

May it be so.
________________

There is so much more I could say about this book, but this is already dreadfully long, so I'll just say this: if what Jesus says matters to you and if you care about the future of women and girls (and men and boys, for that matter) in the church and the world, you need to read this book.

Jesus Feminist releases tomorrow, November 5th and you can order it here: http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Feminist-Invitation-Revisit-Bibles/dp/1476717257

Check out what others are saying around the web and join the conversation by using the hashtag #jesusfeminist!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Imperfect and Unprepared: The Story of Every Parent Ever

I'm over at A Deeper Family today, having a little fun and giving everyone, parents and kids alike, permission to not be perfect.

We came home from the hospital with an 8 pound rage factory who hated the world unless he was nursing or in the bath. No book or class or conversation can prepare you for the sleep-deprived madness of a colicky baby. Similarly, nothing can really prepare you for the first time they fall out of a chair, or burn their hand, or drink the rotten milk from the bottle you accidentally left in their crib in your sleep-deprived stupor.
And if you tell me you were prepared the first time your son asked you a question about vaginas in a public place with his trademark disregard for the rules governing volume levels and inside voices, I’m calling you a liar right to your lying face.
Perhaps what we’re least ready for as parents though, is being confronted with how imperfect we really are.
Head over to A Deeper Family to read the rest.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

When Moving the Conversation Forward Means Shutting Your Mouth

Image Source


I've been gone from the Internets for a while. There was a house and a vacation with an unhealthy amount of time spent in cars. But I'm still alive, so here goes:

There comes a point in any conversation that is being dominated by one side or the other when the only way to move the conversation forward is for the dominant party to shut the hole in their face for a minute and listen. This is especially true when hurtful words have been used or when the arguments that have been presented have been twisted and distorted to justify all sorts of abuse.

There happens to be a conversation happening right now in my little corner of the Internet where I think this point has long since been reached. It's the conversation about modesty, and honestly, to all the bros, the dudes, the fellas, then men, and the boys it might be time to take a step back and shut the mouth for just a minute.

You may remember that I wrote about this once before here. And while there has been a lot of positive dialogue surrounding that post and posts that followed, I'm noticing a ugly theme starting to emerge from the male side of the conversation. It goes a little something like this.

"I'm sorry that we [insert example of archaic, oppressive theology of bodies and sexuality that dis-empowers and objectifies women], I really am,

BUT  <-------

And here is where you lose me, guys.
And here is where you lose credibility.
And most importantly, here is where your apology gets invalidated by everything that follows the "but."

When we say, "I'm sorry, but..." it's just another way of saying "I'm sorry you feel that way" which we all know isn't really an apology at all, but really, it's just another way of saying,

"You're still wrong."

We're called to be peacemakers, and that means in our homes and relationships as well, but we can't do that if we're so busy proving how right we are that we can't take a moment to see the incredible damage that being so wrong for so long has done. If we want to make peace, the kind of shalom that we're called to in this Kingdom of God that we pay lip service to, then we have to start in our own homes and our own relationships, with our mothers and our daughters and our wives and sisters and friends whose hearts and minds bear the scars of being told their whole lives:

"It's your fault that I am a sinner."

It's not her fault that you can not control yourself, it's yours. It's not her fault that you cheated, emotionally or physically, it's yours. It's not her fault that you can't separate a healthy biological response to physical attraction from a desire to control and possess. It is yours.

It's not her fault that you are weak, and blaming her doesn't make you strong.

It makes you a coward.

That may seem harsh, and I would say, "I'm sorry, but..." but that would kind of invalidate everything I've written so far, so I'll just say this:

There is great courage in admitting our mistakes, but our horribly distorted notions of masculinity don't really leave any room for such humility, but if we're ever going to move this conversation forward, our side needs to look something like this:

I am sorry. <---Note the period. It denotes the end of the sentence, the point at which we stop talking.

There are many ways we can say this, but they're all variations on the same theme.

I'm sorry that I've reduced you to the various parts of your body.
I'm sorry that I've used distortions of scripture as an excuse to subjugate and control you.
I'm sorry that I've taken part in trying to load the entirety of human frailty onto your shoulders.
I'm sorry that I've treated use as less than a person.
I'm sorry that I haven't tried harder to listen and understand your point of view.
I'm sorry that I've dominated the conversation for so long that you may have given up trying to speak.
I'm sorry that you've been hurt, and I'm sorry that I haven't done anything to bring healing.
I'm sorry that I've been more concerned with making a point than making peace.

I'm sorry. The end.

And then, we listen.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Tale of Two Meals

Hello friends.

I know, it has been a while. I hope you'll forgive me. I've been immersed in buying a house/moving/renovating for the last couple of months, and it hasn't left me with much time to write.

However, when Preston Yancey announced his series about the intersections of faith and food, I knew I had to participate. Hospitality is a big part of our family's history, and I wanted to share a little bit about how the table affected us, so I'm over at his place today sharing "A Tale of Two Meals":
It was ten years, 2 kids, and a lifetime later, and it was a meal of considerably less fanfare than that first one. It was a simple breakfast of pancakes smothered in fruit compote and homemade whipped cream with some bacon on the side. It was their Saturday tradition.
But it was more like a sacrament.  
Absurdly, he found meaning in the flour, peace in the whir of the mixer, and hope in the eyes of the two little ones as they licked fresh whipped cream off of the beaters. And every time he sat down at that table, he rediscovered another piece of the humanity he’d lost and found the presence of the God he’d cursed in that bitter darkness.
I hope you'll click through to read the rest, and I hope you read some of the other wonderful stories in this series.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Let's Talk About (The Way We Talk About) SEX.

Jill and I are teaming up again, this time over at a Deeper Family, and this time we're talking about sex. Should be...fun? Come on over and join the conversation!
 

We recently came to a conclusion: there was something very wrong with the way we were talking (or more appropriately, not talking) about sex with our kids. 
I (Luke) was 12 (strike one) when my mom (strike two) first told me about sex using a cartoon book (strike three). I had learned more about sex from discarded magazines and those analog cable channels that we watched between the squiggly lines than I learned in that conversation, but God bless her, she soldiered through the awkwardness and marched on. But that embarrassment we both felt said something in itself: that sex was shameful, dirty, and not something we really talk about. 
I (Jill) was 6 when a neighbor girl told me that sex was when someone “kisses you all over every part of your body and you make a baby.” As we walked down the street pulling the wagon with our dolls in it, trying to imagine how the baby gets from the inside to the outside of the mommy, I couldn’t wait to get home to ask my mom if it was true. My mom, however, was not nearly as interested as I was in having the conversation. “You’re not old enough to know about that,” she said. So from that moment, sex was a secret, something to be hidden, maybe even something to be feared. 
And our experiences, we’ve found, are not unique. I mean, let’s be honest, positivity and openness about sex aren’t exactly common in the US period, and in the church
Forget about it.  
A lot (and I mean a lot) of us grew up with some pretty distorted and destructive views of sexuality, and like most parents, we’re just hoping that we can provide our kids something better than what we had. 
So, now we have two boys (granted, they’re only not quite 4 and not quite 2) and we’re already wondering how and when we’re going to have to start talking about these sorts of things. 
Are we jumping the gun here?
 
Click through to A Deeper Family to read the rest!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Old Voices and the Power of Newness (Reflections on Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination, Part Deux)

This is the second half of a post that started over at Kelly Nikondeha's place on Wednesday. It is a personal reflection on Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination. This piece (and especially some of the language and terminology I use in it) might make more sense if you read that one first. Also, there are four other absolutely brilliant posts on her site (here, here, here, and here) that you should definitely check out as well.


Photo Credit
Those old voices don't always scream. Most of the time, they don’t have to. They whisper empty assurances and counterfeit hope into ears that are burning for songs of justice.

We hear what we want to hear, what we need to hear, what we think we hope to hear.

This is what makes the royal consciousness so insidious. It teaches us that meeting our own needs is paramount, and then teaches us what our needs are and meets them.

It is a closed system.

There is simply no room for external inputs. It is nothing if not beautifully and terribly efficient.

So we move throughout our lives oblivious to the privileges we enjoy being on the “right” side of Empire. The murmur of a thousand old voices drowns out the lonely cries for justice and lulls us into numbness saying,

“This is just the way it is.”

“Be grateful for what you have.”

“Everything is alright, as it should be.”

This is the Great Lie.

As Brueggemann puts it, “as long as the empire can keep the pretense alive that things are all right, there will be no real grieving and no serious criticism.” We don’t engage in serious criticism when we don’t see serious problems. We don’t grieve where there is no suffering. As long as the empire can keep us convinced that things are just fine, then the persistence of the imperial system – in the economic, political and religious spheres – is all but assured its survival.

And those old voices just keep whispering.

But once in a while, something happens. The closed system is disrupted and an external input finds its way in. Something or someone breaks in and forces us to confront the reality we’ve been shielded from our entire lives by the din of those old voices:

Things are very much not OK.

For me, this wasn’t just an intellectual or emotional realization. It wasn’t even a particularly religious experience. It was an existential one. My entire concept of reality was shaken to the core. I lost my grounding. My entire identity had been shaped by the whispers of the old voices. My truth had been dictated by the static wisdom of the royal consciousness. It’s main components – the politics of oppression, the economics of affluence, and the religion of immanence – were the three legs of the stool that I stood on to see the world around me. Suddenly they were all ripped out from underneath me, and I was in freefall.

The old voices taught me that feeling anything was wrong, but suddenly feeling nothing was replaced by feeling everything. When I dared to voice it, it was amazing how the timbre of those old voices changed. The hushed whispers became raised voices. The previously soothing tones suddenly became shrill and unforgiving. Nowhere is the terrifying efficiency of the royal consciousness as evident as when there is a hole in the fa├žade of certainty, exposing the sheer emptiness that lay behind it.

Brueggemann highlights the impetus for such this response: “…this regime could not tolerate promises, for they question the present oppressive ordering and threaten the very foundations of current self-serving.” Even the possibility of something other than what we have, here and now, is a threat to those old voices, and they know it instinctively. Questions of inequality and promises of justice and freedom are dangerous, and hope is a kind of weapon.

But questions aren’t enough. Grief isn't enough. Promises aren’t enough. Hope isn’t even enough.

When defining the critical task of the prophet, Brueggmann highlights what he sees as the crux of the prophetic imagination, “The royal consciousness leads people to despair about the power to move toward new life. It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God.”

Newness. Redemption. Resurrection. The Beauty of the Kingdom of God from the ashes of empire.

This is where our hope ultimately lies, in the promise and power of newness and regeneration. If we don’t believe that there really can, here and now, be an alternative to what is and what always has been, then we’re still buying into the Great Lie. But if we truly believe, as Brueggeman says, that “It is the marvel of prophetic faith that both imperial religion and imperial politics could be broken,” then we become powerful symbols of that newness as we rest in the hope of a free and loving God. Our own dynamism becomes an affront to the static lethargy of the old way. This promise of newness, of something better, erodes the ability of the old voices to lie to us and tell us, “This is the best there is.”

“The royal consciousness means to overcome history and therefore by design the future loses its vitality and authority. The present ordering, and by derivation the present regime, claims to be the full and final ordering. That claim means there can be no future that either calls the present into question or promises a way out of it.”

But those old voices cannot contain a future bursting with the promise of redemption, so we sing boldly our songs of the hope of newness.

We let grief and passion motivate and energize us and we speak truth to the power of those old voices, but tearing down the old is not enough. “More than dismantling, the purpose of the alternative community is to enable a new human beginning to be made.” So we speak up and speak out, but we “speak neither in rage nor with cheap grace, but with the candor born of anguish and passion.”

I’m terrible at this. I like to think I’m learning, but I still get angry. I’m still constantly overwhelmed with grief. I feel helpless most days, and on the days I don’t feel helpless I feel at best ineffectual. But even when I’m at my darkest, I can still find the hope of newness. The pain of grief, while never pleasant, is a constant reminder that I’m not numb anymore, that transformation has happened and is happening in me, that this person that I am today is different because of that power of newness that comes from a God of extravagant love and utter freedom. I have done terrible things at the behest of the old voices, and those things will always inform who I am, but those things are not the end of the story.

The redemption of God could no more be bound by my past than the love of God could be held by the cross or the grave.

The transformation that comes from the violent in-breaking of this radical love and the dismantling of our identities and priorities that comes along with it is perhaps the most powerful symbol we could present to a culture that has forgotten how to hope.

That’s the power of newness. That’s our hope. But we have to walk in it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Profound Grief and an Absurd Hope: Reflections on Walter Brueggemann's "Prophetic Imagination"

So, I've been reading along with my friend Kelley Nikondeha as a part of her "Transit Lounge" reading club (see the big badge on the right?), but you might not know that, because as of yet, I haven't actually succeeded in writing about any of the books we've read because [insert littany of excuses here].

This month, however, we're reading The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann, a book we both love by an author we both deeply appreciate, so Kelley wasn't taking "no" for an answer, and she invited me over to her space to write a reflection on the book. Of course I said yes, but as it turns out I have quite a bit to say on the topic, so I'm posting this in two parts. The first is hosted today over at Kelley's place, and the second will be here later this week [edit - here's part two]. I do hope you'll stick around for both.


Here's an excerpt from my piece over at Kelley's place today:

In the text, Brueggemann is concerned with the role of the prophet, both in the Scriptures and in the context of our modern culture. His thesis is that the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture [or "royal consciousness"] around us.The first task of the prophet then, is to shake us from the “numbness” that the royal consciousness lulls us into. He says in the introduction to the second edition “numbness robs us of our capability for humanity.” Unfortunately, that numbness is something with which I am intimately familiar, but I’ll get to that a bit later. 
Now, the nature of the royal consciousness is that it is the end result of a process of enculturation. So all of us, to one degree or another, participate in the perpetuation of the royal consciousness, whether we do so wittingly or unwittingly. It is the context within which we conceptualize our entire world. It is then, perhaps unsurprisingly, difficult to shake loose the bondage of this royal consciousness and the crushing numbness it carries with it. Brueggemann’s answer – typified in the witness of the weeping prophet Jeremiah, Second Isaiah and Christ – lies in grieving. He writes, It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering and death. For some, that may seem like a somewhat jarring statement, but essentially Brueggemann’s point is that we are, in fact, dead already, that we have allowed the royal consciousness to bind us so tightly that we have lost the ability to feel anything real. Only a confrontation with the horror of the oppression, injustice and death that are the result of the power of the royal consciousness is sufficient to dislodge us from out apathy, and it is the prophet’s role, according to Brueggemann, to give voice to that confrontation.
 
Ultimately, the story I’m trying to tell here is about that confrontation in my own life, my own ongoing and ever-unfolding journey from numbness, to grief, to an absurd-and-ever-so-fragile hope. It’s a story that I’ve been trying to tell for a long time, but I simply haven’t had the frame of reference to even understand it, let alone the words to tell it. I’ve even read Prophetic Imagination before (twice!), but for some reason, this time through it resonated with me in a way it never has before. And when I say “resonated,” I don’t mean like a tuning fork or a violin string, I mean it more like how the seismic waves of earthquakes can resonate with the oscillations of particular buildings and shake them into dust, leaving nothing standing.
 I hope you'll click through and read the rest. And look for part two here in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Today is the Day to Make Peace (A Tattoo Story)

Kelley Nikondeha is over at Deeper Story hosting a link-up on "Embodied Stories" where she invites us all to sit around the table and tell stories about our tattoos. I thought it would be fun, so I'm telling the story of one of mine and linking-up (a day late, which has become kind of my thing as of late).

I was out of the military and just really beginning to process much of what I'd gone through, and I wanted something to mark the occasion by. If you know me at all, you know that the traditional bald-eagle-American-flag collage wasn't really an option, nor was the classic violence-glorifying gun-worshipping sort of thing that also seems to be standard issue among vets (no offense if you've got one of those, it's just really not my thing).

There was a lot going on at the time. My whole worldview was slowly being picked apart, piece by agonizing and terrifying piece. All of the rationalizations seemed absurd, the excuses so silly and empty.

The other day, E was at "school" (which basically consists of 2 hours of structured play, because, you know, HE'S ONLY THREE) and he had worked hard to build a castle out of those fake cardboard bricks, only to have a bully come over and knock the whole thing down.

That's kind of what my faith looked like at the time. I had worked so hard to build it, meticulously placing each brick in its proper place and marvelling as the whole thing took shape. Then, it was confronted by the bully of cold, hard reality.
_____

I had the most incredible English teacher in both junior high and my freshmen year of high school named Mrs. Brandenburg. She was passionate about her job and relentless in trying to get us to step out of our middle school awkwardness and actually express ourselves. She was a constant encouragement (like when I first started writing really bad poetry as a tween) and an inspiration to all of us who were lucky enough to have been in class with her. She was the first one to ever encourage me to write something down (I'll let you be the judge of whether or not that was a good idea).

Anyway, Mrs. Brandenburg had a saying that she lived by (and I can't help but think a certain stellar performance by Robin Williams had something to do with this): Carpe Diem. Seize the day. It has always stuck with me for some reason (perhaps as a counterweight to my accursed penchant for egregious procrastination), and it serves as a constant reminder to take advantage of the gift of time we're given.
_____

So there I was, looking at the wreckage and ruin of everything that not-so-long-ago I thought I was certain of. I was looking for peace, but all I could find was a vague promise in an old book:

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

So I have this saying, Carpe Diem, a saying that has been so often used as justification for all kinds of mindless, self-serving nonsense (I mean, let's be honest, YOLO is just the text-message abbreviation) and hedonistic indulgence. I thought, maybe it would be kind of cool to take it and apply it to something totally counter-cultural, like peacemaking. So I needed some universal symbols of peace that would be easy to recognize.

First, the dove. Duh.

I was raised Pentecostal. The image of the dove as a representation of a certain kind of spiritual peace is a foundational piece of Pentecostal symbology. Pretty sure that one was non-negotiable.

The olive branch is significant as well, from its roots in Roman usage as a symbol of peace. Also, I love the connotations of cultivation that come along with olive branch. To get good olives, you have to work the soil, tend the grove, and pay painstaking attention to the needs of the trees. It takes work, in other words. The two taken together are often seen as a symbol of peace as well, from the conclusion of the flood story to modern appropriations like the symbol of Vets for Peace (a personal favorite of mine). 

The process itself ended up with me answering my own question. I was looking for peace, asking "how do I find it?" when all along, the answer was right there in front of me.

In this life, we don't find peace. We have to make it.

So I guess if you ask me what my tattoo means, the short answer is this:

Today is the day to pro-actively make peace.

With ourselves, our pasts, our families, our enemies, our cities, our world.

Wherever we can. Today is the day. Make Peace.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Faithful Parenting?

Today is fun for two reasons.

1.  I have the distinct pleasure of both getting to share the page (though I guess it's not really a page...more of a screen) with the wonderful, the beautiful, the talented Mrs. Jill Harms (who tells her own beautiful stories here).

2. We're guest-posting over on the Parenting Wild Things blog, a project of one Jessica Bowman of the always funny and insightful Bohemian Bowmans.

We're talking about faithful parenting, and what that looks like for our family:

For us, I think that’s where we begin our discussions of parenting: at the end. We ask ourselves what we want them to get out of this whole process (as opposed to asking what we want to get out of it) and we wonder aloud what the real purpose of discipline is in our family. Is it to teach or to ensure compliance? Is it to correct, or is it to prove to them that we’re correct? Is it to make them better, or is it to make our lives easier?

Now, if we’re being honest, on any given day of the week, the honest answers to these questions might be radically different, which is why we have conversations in the quiet spaces, during the lull of the battle when they’re resting and we’re still awake and alert enough to actually form coherent thoughts. The hope is that if we can give some serious thought to these questions at some point before the moment at which the hitting/snatching/yelling/not listening takes place, perhaps we will be better prepared to handle those situations gracefully, with a certain amount of perspective.

 But best laid plans, and all that. This is hard stuff.
 
Click through to read the rest and join the conversation!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Resurrection For Thee, But Not For Me

Photo Credit
"You wouldn't even have asked this question a year ago," she said.

And I think to myself,

Maybe that's what Resurrection is, for me.
_____

There haven't been a lot of "revolutionary" moments in my life. I didn't have a dramatic conversion experience, no booming voices or bright lights. I don't generally do 180-degree turns. I'm more inclined toward wide, sweeping arcs that eventually get me headed in the right direction. Now don't get me wrong, there certainly has been change, but it has been evolutionary, a slow slog toward...something?

For the last few years I've been unsure what exactly that something was. We use words like salvation and resurrection, but most times I don't think we're really even sure of what those things mean. They're like placeholders for concepts that are too big and too scary for us to really wrap our brains around, abstractions that leave us grasping desperately for something concrete to really grab on to.

And now it's Eastertide, that time when we're supposed to be celebrating Resurrection while anticipating the Gift of Pentecost, but again, I'm left wondering what that word - Resurrection - even means, and how I can find some way to connect to it.

Because if I'm being honest, if Resurrection is the sort of thing that I've been taught my whole life, then it's not something I feel that I have a right to connect to at all.
_____

When you have blood on your hands, it's hard to accept forgiveness.

It's hard to feel like you deserve closure or peace. Part of me, the biggest part in fact, feels like carrying around guilt for the innocent people whose lives came to an end based on your work is somehow the right thing to do, like I should be profoundly affected by these memories, like carrying them around with me somehow keeps that person that I was back then from coming back.

And I've heard all the rationalizations.

"You were just following orders."
 
"You thought it was the right thing to do."
 
"You were influenced by a broken, fallen system."

All of that is true, but none of that really matters.

I was that person who followed those orders, thought those things, and allowed that system to influence me without questioning it.

But what's more, I was that person who took joy in his job. I was that person who was filled with vengeful satisfaction as he watched the dealing of death without mercy play out in front of him. I was that person who delighted in hunting and killing human beings, and who was wholly unmoved by the death of innocents caught in the crossfire.

I did those things. I was that person. How could I possibly be worthy of this thing we call Resurrection?

Can things really be made new?

Those people will still be dead.
I will still be that person.

Yet all around, I see Resurrection. I see light and life breaking in and breaking out where only death and darkness existed before.

Around me. About me. Above and below, in front of and behind me.

But never in me.

I believe in the power of Resurrection, and I strive to see that power manifest in the people, the systems, and the culture I'm immersed in.

But never in me.
_____

So there we were, leaning over the kitchen island in a precious moment of peace, talking about life and change and love.

I ask a question. It seems so simple, so fundamental to the way that a marriage should work and yet, it feels as if it is altogether something new.

"You wouldn't even have asked this question a year ago," she said.
 
And that most unfamiliar of feeling begins to creep into the margins of my Spirit:

Hope.

And I think to myself,

Maybe that's what Resurrection is, for me.
 
I can't ever give those people their lives back, but maybe that's not what being made new means. Maybe it means that their deaths get turned into something meaningful as the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through me. Maybe it means that change might not happen in 3 days or 3 months or even 3 years, but maybe it's not supposed to or maybe it doesn't have to.

Maybe.

To be sure, there still isn't much for me to grab on to here, but whatever it is that I'm reaching for, or that's reaching out for me, I know that I can say something that I haven't been able to say in a long time:

I hope.  


Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Conviction Versus Tradition or "Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?"

The Azusa Street mission, birthplace of modern Pentecostalism

What do we do when our convictions stand in opposition to our tradition, or are at least sidelined by it?

Do we cut and run? Or do we stay, and speak truth to the power of that tradition, in hopes that we might work towards its redemption?

-----

I come from the tradition of Pentecostalism. If you didn't know this about me, and perhaps especially if this blog is the only interaction you've ever had with me, this might have come as somewhat of a surprise. You could say that I am somewhat atypical in the wide world of Pentecostals. I'll be honest, I've struggled greatly with what it means to be a part of this tradition, but there are some voices out there (Like Jonathan Martin, the pastor of Renovatus Church in Charlottes, who penned this post about being an ecumenical pentecostal last week that was like salve on an open wound) that give me a glimmer of hope.

Now, lots of people are downright freaked out by Pentecostalism, or perhaps more accurately, of Pentecostals.

I get that.

We can be weird.

But don't let that scare you away. I promise I'm astonishingly ordinary (and honestly so are most Pentecostals), so stick with me here.

-----

The sorts of expressions of Divine experience that those outside of Pentecostalism probably see as somewhat unorthodox were the mainstays of my religious upbringing. Tremors, "falling out" under the power of the Spirit, holy laughter (probably my personal favorite), and of course, the mother of all of them, that which we are perhaps most (in?)famous for: speaking in tongues.

For many Pentecostals, speaking in tongues, or "receiving your prayer language" as some called it, is billed as the culmination of all religious experience. In my denomination specifically, our doctrinal beliefs clearly stated that if you did not speak in tongues, you were not filled with the Holy Spirit. (This would be the sticking point that led me to walk away from the ordination process in the denomination, but that's another story for another time.) You can imagine how setting up being filled with the Holy Spirit as the quintessential religious experience, and how using a particular manifestation of that experience as a discriminator could create some undue pressure on Pentecostals to seek out that particular manifestation.

So we had revival and renewal services. We had prayer meetings where the sole purpose was seeking this particular gift. For some reason though, even as a kid, something about the whole dynamic didn't feel right. I'm not even really sure what my thought process was, but it just wasn't something that I ever sought out. I suppose I thought that if I was going to have some experience of the Holy Spirit, I wanted it to be on terms that She and I dictated, rather than some weird church peer pressure.

-----

A friend of mine used to joke that history in the US started with WWII, and that everything that came before was some kind of hazy, mythical pre-history period. The lessons in church history that I got from the denomination about our church's history were no different. All of the history lessons began with Pentecostalism already having been subsumed into the great grey haze of homogenization that was post-war Evangelicalism.

But wouldn't you know it, that wasn't the whole story.

It turns out Pentecostalism, perhaps like many other religious movements, was fairly radical at the outset and cooled over time. Early Pentecostals were inclusive, they flagrantly disregarded racial and gender boundaries, rejected hierarchy and spoke out against economic inequality in their communities. They were proponents of nonviolence. Considering the context (the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries) within which the movement emerged, these folks were revolutionaries.

See, bad eschatology and unorthodox expressions of Divine experience aside, Pentecostalism, then and now, can be reduced to a fairly simple proposition: the Holy Spirit, the immanent presence of the Creator here on earth, is the key to Christian unity. Now that simple proposition may seem to have gotten lost is a sea of self-seeking emotionalism in today's Pentecostalism, but those early radicals knew that justice was the natural extension of this unity. The institution of modern Pentecostalism has lost sight of it, but justice is in our blood.

I can't help but feel like there's something worth holding on to there.

----

Now don't get me wrong, there have been many times where I've just been ready to walk away, to drop it all, and to forget it. For some reason, I've never been able to go all the way, though. Maybe that makes me a coward, or an intellectual lightweight, or whatever but always, as I'm ready to throw in the towel, the same thought finds its way to the forefront of my mind:

But Jesus...
But justice...

See, I may see a lot of things differently from the way many Pentecostals do. Hell, I see things differently that probably most Christians do, but I still believe that the Holy Spirit, poured out at Pentecost, is the gift of presence that was meant to unite the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church, and that work continues in the world today.  I still believe that the sort of blind justice, solidarity and shared life that those early Pentecostals displayed is exactly the sort of eschatological unity Jesus had in mind when he talked about the Kingdom of God. And while I've never had the kind of quintessential experience of Pentecost that would make me an official card-carrying member of the club, I feel like I have been given a prayer language, and it is the language of justice, of comfort for those who mourn, of good news for the poor and of freedom for the oppressed.

Maybe that makes me "just" a "small p" pentecostal. Maybe it makes me an odd anachronism in a tradition that has moved on.  But there is a tradition worth redeeming here, that much I know. So I'll stay, as long as they'll have me. I'll sing the songs of justice of those early radicals and hope that maybe just a few might join the chorus.

What about you? Do you now find yourself or have you in the past sat in the tension that comes from your convictions being at odds with your tradition? Do you think that some traditions are beyond saving, or that they all can turn around? Practically speaking, how do you think we can speak out from within our own traditions to lovingly prod them back toward those first principles? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On Slivers of Beauty and Prayers of Dedication and Desperation

I'm over at A Deeper Family today talking about the little moments of beauty that carry us through, and the prayers we pray for ourselves and our families as we seem to be just making it from day to day.

But eventually, the moment passed, as it always does. The echoes of that chorus of laughter are then left to sustain us through a raucous bath of endless splashing and the oft-contentious bedtime with the begging for more books or more milk or just a little bit more playtime, even the occasional fit or tantrum. There’s some bargaining, maybe some cajoling, lots of affection, at least eleven good-night’s, and some welcome cuddling, the lights are turned off, the doors closed, and the entire house seems to exhale, like a sigh of both relief and satisfaction at the close of another day, as if to say,

“We made it through, but maybe just barely so.”

There’s a prayer that I’ve been praying in some form or another (even when I didn’t think prayer made a bit of difference) since the oldest first came on the scene. Borne out of my feelings of utter inadequacy to the task of caring for this tiny human, it is the sort of prayer that seems to make some sense of the paradox of power perfected in weakness, equal parts dedication and desperation. This prayer is the breath that escapes my lips as I exhale with the house at night; it is the first thought that rolls around in my sleepy skull as I snooze through my alarms in the morning, and it is the lump that catches in my throat in those moments of beautiful clarity when even at their age, they seem to catch just a glimpse of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God...
 
Click through to read the rest.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On Feminism: The Rehumanization of a Soldier and the Reconstruction of a Man


I'm participating in feminism fest this week, a synchroblog hosted by Preston, Danielle, and JR. I missed yesterday (which was "feminism and me"), so I'm incorporating a little bit of that into today's post (I hope you'll allow me that little indulgence), which focuses on the question, "Why does feminism matter?" 

[A couple of disclaimers: First off, a trigger warning. This post deals with sexual assault and violent sexuality in a way that may be disturbing for some. Those paragraphs that touch on these issues will be marked with TW. Second, I am offering a fairly pointed critique of military culture in the US based on my own experience, and the experiences of others I've walked with along the way. It is important to point out that this is a critique of the culture that is created in the context of the US military, and not necessarily the military members themselves. If you are or you have family or friends that are in the military, this is not a personal attack on them. Think of it as an opportunity to ask important questions about how our acquiescence or ambivalence toward particular cultural norms affects culture creation and cultivation over time.]

I was kind of a shy kid when I joined the Army, 22 and directionless with nothing but some abstract sense of needing to connect to something bigger than myself. I had tried the church, and it had left me damaged in more ways than I care to remember, so in the middle of my first semester of community college, I made what was probably the most mature decision of my life and decided I wasn't mature enough for college.

The Army recruiter's office was the next stop.  I was a boy, and I needed the Army to make me a man. In hindsight, I'm not sure the kind of man that I was to become was what my young self had in mind during that particular existential crisis, but that was a lesson I would have to learn in the hardest of ways.

[TW] Things were great except that one fateful night, not long after I arrived at my first duty station. I was about 49% sure I was going to be sexually assaulted that night by a bunch of rowdy drunk soldiers in the shower, and all of the sudden my views on sex, power, masculinity and what it means to be a man were turned upside down. They said they were just joking, and I laughed it off that night out of a desperate need to not appear weak, but this didn't feel like a joke. When a couple of dudes are restricting your movement while another threatens you with sexual violence, that doesn't feel like a joke. It feels like a message, a not-so-subtle one about power and domination.

See, the military is kind of a perfect storm, where all of the worst perversions of our notions of masculinity converge to create an environment where power and domination are the ultimate ends, and the means tend to be a disturbing blend of sexuality and violence. The military has a very specific idea of what it means to be a man. This man is a reflection of those values that we as a society embrace, taken to their logical extremes. He is dichotomized in familiar fashion, where he is tough at the expense of being sensitive, where he provides for and protects his family at the expense of actually being with his family, where he is physically strong at the expense of being emotionally crippled, and where he learns to dehumanize others at the expense of his own humanity. The problem is, once you learn to dehumanize "the enemy," it becomes just that much easier to dehumanize just about anyone.

So physically and emotionally we're trained to be hard, to be tough, to be impenetrable. Psychologically, we're trained to compartmentalize, to objectify, and to dehumanize. [Is it really a surprise that sexual harassment and sexual assault run rampant in the military?] This ends up manifesting itself in a complex social dynamic where soldiers (regardless of gender) compete for the role of alpha male, and do so in the context of a culture saturated with violence, where the language of power and domination is the native tongue.

This was the world I was emerging from 5 years ago. I had a wife who I had not lived with alone save for 9 months out of our first 5 years of marriage. I had a shell that was pristine and hard as steel, but inside, I was completely broken. I had sacrificed far too much, it would seem, on the altar of this false hyper-masculinity.

But what does any of this have to do with feminism? Today's question is why does feminism matter? What's really at stake when we talk about feminism?

For me, everything was at stake. My entire identity was invested in this caricature of masculinity that had been cultivated in me my entire life, and refined to perfection in the crucible of Army culture. Certainly, there were a number of factors that contributed to the disintegration of that identity, but feminism played a crucial role in giving me the words to articulate much of what I knew all along was so very wrong with this culture I was immersed in, and in turn, probably saved my marriage, and ultimately brought me back and far deeper into my faith than I had ever been before. It's funny, I've always seen the Holy Spirit as the mother in the little nuclear family of Trinitarian theology, so there's a kind of synchronicity in the fact that feminism was that thing that She used to woo me back.

Feminism was what allowed me to begin reclaiming my own humanity by seeing that exact same humanity in others. Starting at that fundamental precept, the "radical notion that women are people," I was confronted with my own privilege and my propensity for dehumanizing others. It started right here at home, with the way I saw my wife and the way I saw our relationship. (In fact, if you go back to the first post I ever published on this blog, you can actually see the metamorphosis taking place.) I stopped seeing her as a means to validate my own masculinity, and started seeing her for the incredible human being that she was in her own right, regardless of (perhaps in many ways in spite of) her relationship with me. It was feminism that gave me the tools to critically deconstruct the false idol of masculinity that I had fashioned over the first 25 years of my life. When there was nothing left, it was feminism that allowed me to reconstruct a healthy view of maleness that respects the humanity, the Imago Dei, within us all.

But that's the funny thing about feminism. Once you grab a hold of it, wrestle with it and really seek to understand the nature of it, you realize that feminism is much bigger than the box we try to force it into.

Feminism, in its simplest construction, is yet another dialect in the mother tongue of justice.

Once you recognize the simple fact that women are people too, the idea starts to spread, and you start seeing humanity everywhere. You start to see it in people of color, in Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Sikhs and Hindus and atheists, in Democrats and Republicans, in Europeans and Africans and Arabs, in capitalists and communists, in the able-bodied and the disabled, the rich and the poor. Once you set aside the damaging assumption that someone, somewhere is somehow less human than you, it's exceedingly difficult to speak of the world around you in any language besides that of justice.

Or at least, that's the way it worked for me. Feminism was the first dialect I learned in the language of justice, though it wouldn't be the last. It was the first step of many in reversing the dehumanization I suffered in the army, by affirming my own humanity by recognizing it in others. It was a key tool in reshaping my notions of what it meant to be a man who did justice, who loved mercy, and who walked humbly.

But perhaps most importantly, it was a beginning, not an end.

What about you? Do you think feminism has anything to offer you? Why or why not? Why do you think feminism matters? What do you think is at stake in this particular conversation? Are you passionate about feminism? Why or why not? Chime in in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

There Has To Be A Better Way.

I'm taking the conversation we started here about shame over to my guest-spot at A Deeper Family and exploring how shame functions in our relationships with our kids.

It happened again. Yet another meme came cascading through the interwebz showing a parent publicly shaming their child for something they’d done wrong, and the likes and shares were stacking up by the tens and hundreds of thousands. The child in the picture was visibly humiliated, but all the while comments kept streaming in.

“Way to go!”

“That is awesome!”

“The world needs more parents like you!”

Perhaps most surprising (though maybe in retrospect it shouldn’t have been) was that much of the most enthusiastic support was coming from communities of faith. I think I even saw ”God bless you” a couple of times in there.

We, as a community of faith, have so distorted our notion of love in the context of parent/child relationships that we have become enthusiastic endorsers of what essentially amounts to parental cyber-bullying.

I just don’t know how we got here.
 
Head over to A Deeper Family to read the rest. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Shame.

There is a conversation happening. It's an important one, birthed out of frustration over the modesty wars, purity culture, and a whole host of issues that are, I think, concrete manifestations of our misunderstanding of notions like love and grace. Also, I think it's part of a broader conversation about shame and guilt versus hope and redemption, about oppression versus freedom.

There's just one simple idea I want to add to the conversation. I want to shout this from the aisle of every church, put it in all caps on every internet message board and start a kickstarter campaign to buy some Super Bowl add time.

"There is no place for shame in the Kingdom of God."

This Kingdom is built on a foundation of implacable love, every stone a story of redemption, of hope, of restoration. Our Cornerstone is Immanuel, God with us, and scandalous grace is the mortar that binds us all together in our shared heritage of son-and-daughter-ship.

Shame though, at its base, is about fear - fear of condemnation, of rejection, of not measuring up - but perfect Love - radical, self-sacrificing, other-embracing, redemptive Love - casts out all fear. Shaming then is nothing short of denying the primacy of this Love, and the power of grace. It says that God's goodness, love, grace and kindness are not enough to draw us to repentance. It says that control, not love, is the nature of our relationship with God.

While Shame says "You can go no further because of what you've done,"
Grace says "I have already come all the way to you and further because of who you are to me."

While Shame forces you into the darkness, to hide your face from the pain of condemnation,
Love lifts up your face and shines the light of redemption upon it.

Shame destroys. Grace restores. Love renews.

When Love breaks in, the shame that shackles us to the worst versions of ourselves is cast aside, and we are set free. Bonds are broken. In the solidarity of a family of sinners saved by grace, we find the hope that shame stole from us and the redemption that it denied us.

This truth seems to me to be no small thing, no simple platitude that utter lightly. It is not just a trifle to be put on a bracelet or a slogan to be splashed across a church bulletin. It's a very real acknowledgement of the power of Love to break every chain, to heal every broken heart, to bind up every wound, to give rest to the weary, to save the world from itself.

When we preach shame, condemnation, guilt and oppression, our words ring cold and hollow, empty of the life-giving, words of that Truth. When we shame and condemn, we deny the power of the Gospel.  We can never shame someone into the Kingdom of God, nor scare them into loving community, but Grace makes all things new, and Love makes whole that which was broken.

In the end, Shame says "We can't even start until you fix these things..."

Love says, "It is already finished."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

On Platforms, Privilege, Controversy and Conversation

CAUTION: Stream of consciousness.


I haven't written in a while, and it's not because I'm incredibly busy (although I am), and it's not that I don’t have anything to write about (because I do).

It’s because there are already too many voices, and so very many times, I feel like mine’s just adding to the noise.

So I’ve been trying to take more time to listen.


You see, you start a blog and a couple people like what you have to say (most of them family and close friends), and then those couple of people tell a couple of other people and the next thing you know you have a “platform” (bloggers love this word…I mean, like LOVE IT love it, to the point that when I read yet another post/tweet/status update about it I want to bash my head through the computer screen) Once you’ve got your “platform” (I will always use the uber-sarcastic scare-quotes when using that word in this context), blogging is really no different than stump speeches and political campaigning in a few key ways:
  1. You’re up on stage, saying important things that may or may not be followed by any kind of action. 
  2. Most of the people listening already agree with you anyway (or at least are inclined to do so). 
  3. You’re faced with the occasional heckler (though in the blog world, it’s that most courageous of souls, the anonymous internet commenter, or more affectionately: the troll).
Here’s the thing about a “platform” though: by definition, it elevates. It privileges the words of the speaker. It gives a sense of authority (whether or not it is deserved) to those who would stand upon it.

And like politicians, we bloggers tend to get a little too enamored with that authority (or maybe I’m just projecting here).


So let’s take a second to talk about privilege and why it matters in this conversation. 

First things first, what do I mean when I say privilege? Put simply, I mean it is the set of advantages that members of a particular gender/race/class/religion/etc enjoy in society simply for being a member of that particular gender/race/class/religion/etc in that society.

Privilege is, to put it bluntly, the lubrication on the gears of inequality.  

Someone once broke it down for me in perhaps the most relatable analogy ever (I can’t for the life of me remember who, maybe Danielle over at From Two to One?). [Edit: The analogy comes from John Scalzi's blog, the full text of which can be found here. Thanks to Jessica for the tip.]  Privilege operates like that option when you’re getting ready to play a video game:

Please select difficulty level:

Easy
Medium
Hard
Impossible

It’s like this; for me as a white, straight, middle-class, Christian, able-bodied (mostly, anyway) dude, there should probably be another setting above “Easy” that says “seriously bro, you pretty much barely even have to try.”

The common objection to this characterization of privilege is the age-old “bootstrap” comeback that says, “I got everything I have by my own hard work.”

Respectfully: no, you didn’t.

I’m not devaluing your hard work at all, it certainly matters a great deal, but there are others who do not enjoy your privileged status in society that have worked both quantitatively and qualitatively harder than you have, yet still they are not successful. The opposite is also true: there are others who have put in virtually no work, but because they enjoy a more privileged position in society than you do, are more successful than you, despite your hard work.

Look, if “hard work” was actually the currency of success, women in sub-Saharan Africa would likely be the most successful, prosperous demographic in the world...

...and politicians would be the least successful.

Neither of those is the case.

That should tell us something about the interaction between hard work and privilege.

Why all of this matters is simple: blogging can easily become an echo-chamber of privilege, where we turn controversy into currency for the sake of building a constituency, and cash-in on tragedy for publicity. But the real question is, to what end? Or better yet, at what cost? 


So where am I going with all of this? To be honest: I really have no idea. All I know is that the blogosphere, and especially the Christian blogosphere, is saturated with privileged people. Now granted, any kind of analysis of bloggers is going to be skewed since it kind of presupposes a certain level of privilege. (I mean, if you have a computer, internet access, and enough spare time to crank out a couple of blog posts a week, chances are you’re not doing too terribly bad.)

But here’s the real rub: every time the controversy-of-the-day erupts and the interwebz go crazy talking about it, the voices of those who really need to be heard are drowned out by the voices of those who are yelling from their "platforms." The voices of those whose lives are actually affected by this latest controversy are lost in the din of those pontificating from their platforms of privilege (me, all too often, included). There is rarely an attempt to empathize with this Other in these conversations, but rather, the focus too often seems to be to use the Other as a means to achieving a particular political/theological end. It’s exploitative, and in the end, it just doesn’t do anyone any good, especially those most vulnerable, the ones we’ve effectively silenced by turning their struggles into a commodity to be exploited.


Well, I’m not quitting, if that’s what you’re wondering, although it’s certainly tempting (and that was pretty much my intention when I started writing this). I may slow down a bit, and change the tone, but the fact remains that all of the stuff that I hate most about the world of blogs and blogging and bloggers is the very same stuff that compels me to keep at it. There are so very few places where genuine dialogue might take place. There are so very few voices who speak for the most vulnerable.

Now I’m certainly not saying that I’ve got it all figured out by any means (seriously people, I’m a disaster), and I will probably continue to fail just as often as I succeed in my endeavor to start honest, safe conversations about the really important things.

But I will keep trying.
I hope you’ll continue to be a part of the conversation.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

On Presence as Peace in the Darkness

Sorry, I know it has been a while. The holidays were pretty crazy, but we all survived. I figured it was probably just about time for me to hop back in the saddle, so here's my monthly contribution to A Deeper Family.

“Dad, I don’t want you to go. I’m just so scared of the darkness…”

This is a common refrain at bedtime with the eldest.

Part of it, I’m sure, is just his little way of trying to manipulate me into staying with him just a little bit longer. Most times, he’s successful. I’ll admit, I’m essentially powerless when he looks up at me with those big, brown doe eyes (his mom’s eyes – and yes, I’m equally powerless against her). But part of it is a genuine fear.

Now, I understand that this is a somewhat normal phase that most (if not all) kids go through at some point in their development, but that knowledge doesn’t make things any easier in the moment. As his dad, all I want to do is make it OK, so I try to tell him that there’s nothing to be scared of. I tell him the monsters in his dreams aren’t real, that mommy and daddy are right down the hall, that God made the dark just the same as the light and it’s nothing to be scared of, but none of that really seems to calm him. Even as I’m telling him, I can see the reflection of the nightlight in those big brown eyes. They seem to dart from object to object around the room, hyper-aware of every shadow.
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