Saturday, January 31, 2015

"Thomas Merton, like almost no one else in our time, put together the mystical depths and the political implications of the Christian message. He did it in a way that confirmed for many of us a kind of 'deep Christianity.' He wrote things that still now are showing themselves to be true and even central to spiritual truth."

-- Richard Rohr, St. Anthony Messenger, Rediscovering Contemplation

"I know one thing. I'm a black man walking down the street doing nothing and I got stopped and went to jail by a white police officer."

70 year old black man arrested in Seattle for carrying a golf club.

Friday, January 30, 2015

"I kept asking myself through tears at the end: Can a person be a hero in a fake, unjust war? Chris Kyle was his father's son and a victim of American hubris, cultural and economic expansionism, and dependence on oil. He is the military sniper with the most kills in history. But for what?"

-- Sister Rose Pacatte, American Sniper -- A Question of Heroes

"Thwart institutional cowardice." 

-- Werner Herzog

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"The west does not see itself the way others see it; indeed it often does not see others at all. Solipsistic in its suffering and narcissistic in its impulses, it promotes itself as the upholder of principles it does not keep, and a morality it does not practise. This alone would barely distinguish it from most cultures. What makes the west different is the physical and philosophical force with which it simultaneously makes its case for superiority and contradicts it. Therein lies the dysfunction whereby it keeps doing hateful things while expressing bewilderment at why some people hate it. It’s as though we are continually caught by surprise that others have not chosen to ignore their humiliation, pain, anger and sorrow just because we have.  'The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side,' wrote George Orwell in Notes on Nationalism. 'But he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them … Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection.'”

American Sniper illustrates the west’s morality blind spots, Gary Younge, The Guardian

Monday, January 26, 2015

“Wars are scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood. And murder–which is admitted to be a crime in the case of an individual–is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not because they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale.”

— St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (died 258 AD)

“'American Sniper,' like the big-budget feature films pumped out in Germany during the Nazi era to exalt deformed values of militarism, racial self-glorification and state violence, is a piece of propaganda, a tawdry commercial for the crimes of empire. That it made a record-breaking $105.3 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday long weekend is a symptom of the United States’ dark malaise." 

-- Chris Hedges

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the 'opium of the people.'  And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him.  When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system--when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandists, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate.  It deadens the spirit enought to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life.  And this brings about the alientation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism.  His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race.  His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything.  God is the status quo." 

-- Thomas Merton

Friday, January 23, 2015

"What if, instead of the way they view it now, evangelical Christians thought of salvation in terms of 'healing' and 'wholeness' and 'liberation'—as salvation is, in fact, primarily depicted in the Gospels? What if evangelical Christians thought of salvation as the reclaiming of original blessings, rather than as forgiveness for original sin? What if salvation was experienced as a process of growth in love, rather than as a reward for believing a particular doctrine about Jesus? Then Christians...might actually experience the extravagance of a divine grace that reaches every person, not just those who conform to their own belief systems."

-- Unfundamentalist Christians

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Why is it not OK to kill people in the name of a religion, but it is OK to kill people in the name of a nation?" 

-- Ian Welsh (via AZSpot)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

 "Moreover, believing as 'believing the right things' does not intrinsically lead to a changed life. It is possible to have strongly-held beliefs, even more or less right beliefs, and still be unchanged: fearful, self-preoccupied and self-concerned, angry, judgmental, mean, even brutal and violent. Christian history and the history of other religions are filled with examples. Believing has little transformative power. But Christianity is not about 'right beliefs.' It is about a change of heart. It is about the transformation of ourselves at that deep level that shapes our vision (how we see), our commitment (our loyalty, allegiance), and our values (how we live)." 

-- Marcus Borg (1942-2015)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"As long as we LGBTQ Christians are shoved into the shadows of this faith community, no evangelical parent with a closeted child is going to know of another way until it’s too late to take it. No LGBTQ child is going to have hope that there is place they belong. As long as we are unseen, families will continue to fall apart. Beautiful lives will continue to disappear.  The church will miss out on the gospel of grace for the people willing to reconcile with the community that destroyed their lives. The body will remain incomplete. Prophetic voices will not be heard. Serving hands will not be touched. Churches will be missing a vital chord to their music. The gospel will remain stained by the bigotry of its believers. As long as we remain unseen, the hope of a more whole and holy church will remain a flicker off on the horizon." 

-- Benjamin Moberg

Monday, January 19, 2015

It was a bit dissonant last night to walk out of the theatre after watching 'Selma'--a film about a man of peace who was murdered by a sniper--and stumble upon long line of people waiting to watch a film glorifying an American sniper who murdered hundreds.

"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"His fundamental commitment is to a radical love of humanity, and especially of poor and working people. And that radical love leads him to a radical analysis of power, domination and oppression."

-- Cornel West on Martin Luther King Jr.

Friday, January 16, 2015

"It is an intricate story that sounds more like fiction. Picking up Spanish as they went, the Quakers slowly made their way south through Latin America. ... Several members of their caravan were swimming in a river after crossing into Costa Rica from Nicaragua. They noticed that some locals were frantically shouting at them in Spanish. That’s when they learned the Spanish word for 'shark.'”

Costa Rica’s Quakers dodged US draft, now face perils of changing world

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"I look upon George Fox rather as a practical than as a doctrinal man, and as experimentally carrying out in his own life the work of the Spirit of God rather than as being a creed-maker, or as fashioning formulae or framing propositions to which any man might be required to subscribe.  I suppose that Fox would object to your own creed.  I have the notion that Fox would object to any creed, as a creed; and that even if he agreed to what was laid down, he would object to its being laid down at all.  I think he would say, 'No, these things may be true enough, but, lest by any means this creed should be used to bind another man's conscience, I will not agree to it; I believe it and receive it, but I will not subscribe to it, lest it should become, as all creeds do become in process of time, mere dead letters and instruments of tyranny.'"

-- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, "George Fox": An Address Delivered to the Society of Friends Nov. 6th, 1866

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you; then to the Lord God you shall be a sweet savor, and a blessing." 

-- George Fox (died January 13th, 1691)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Theologian/songwriter/worship-leader Vicky Beeching's brilliant keynote speech at the Gay Christian Network conference last week...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What is a Christian?

This week I attended the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland, Oregon.  It was my second GCN conference and was a tremendous experience.  One of the profound things about GCN conferences is the incredible diversity of people in attendence; not only in terms of sexual orientation/identity but also in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, disability/ability, socio-economic strata and denominational affiliation.  It is a beautiful microcosm of the Body of Christ.  It continues to be the most grace-filled and genuine Christian conference I have ever attended.  This year there were over 1,400 attendees from all over the world.

Because of the wide range of denominational backgrounds among the attendees, a great deal of emphasis is placed on having unity as a community--as a family--in spite of doctrinal and theological differences.  GCN does a really great job of this.  And so Catholics and Southern Baptists and Pentecostals and Quakers and nearly every other flavor of Christian you can imagine worship together in beautiful harmony and treat each other with compassion and patience and kindness and forbearance.

At the conference this week, during the Q&A of a workshop with pastor Danny Cortez, a young woman asked what was the core thing around which this diversity of conference-goers orbited that made us all "Christian."  Cortez answered that it was probably an agreement upon the Nicene Creed (one of the oldest Christian creeds, formulated at the First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and expanded at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D).  The next day in a Q&A with theologian/worship-leader Vicky Beeching the same young woman asked the same question.  Beeching likewise responded that the core thing which unified us as Christians was probably our acceptance of the Nicene Creed.

I disagree with Cortez and Beeching.  I don't think that acceptance of a creed makes one a Christian or provides a basis for any kind of meaningful unity.

The Westboro Baptist Church arrived in Portland on the third day of the Gay Christian Network conference.  They stood outside the convention center with their hateful signs.  One hundred or so people, mostly Christians from Portland-area churches who were not attending the conference but had heard in advance that Westboro was going to be there, organized a "wall of love" to block off the picketers from the conference attendees.  One insightful news reporter described it as "Christians protecting Christians from Christians."

But are the Westboro folks Christians?  They too subscribe to the ancient Christian creeds.  On core doctrinal matters they are "orthodox."  And yet the word "Christian" literally means "little Christ."  To be a Christian is to be Christ-like; to reflect Christ's character the way that the moon reflects the light of the sun.  Is it reflecting Christ to hold a sign that says "God Hates Fags"?

The LGBTQ Christians and their straight allies inside the GCN conference would have likely nearly all affirmed agreement with the Nicene Creed.  The sweet Christians who stood outside in the rain to "wall off" the Westboro picketers from the conference-goers likely affirm the Nicene Creed.  The majority of Christians in the world--most of whom think (with varying degrees of harshness) that to be LGBTQ and Christian is an oxymoron--surely affirm the Nicene Creed.  The Westboro Baptist Church affirms the Nicene Creed.

Richard Rohr points out that what is missing from the Nicene Creed is the word "love."  In the 4th century, when the creed was formulated, the preoccupation was with power, not love.    Yet Jesus said that Christians would be known not by their creedal adherence, but by their love for one another.  The New Testament is replete with affirmations that it is love which marks out the followers of Jesus.

Creeds and covenants and statements of faith and doctrinal formulations are great for marking boundaries and defining who is "in" and who is "out."  But really all that they indicate is a mental assent to a set of propositions.  Creeds do not transform hearts or make disciples.  St. Paul urged the early Christians to "walk in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5), not to write a creed and follow it.  Creeds are static.  Creeds are dead letters.  But God is living and active and on the move and at work in the hearts of all people. 

So, if I had been asked the same question that Cortez and Beeching were asked--of what identifies and unites the incredible diversity of Christ followers--I would have said "love"--as fuzzy and amorphous and imprecise as that is.  And the implication of this, I suppose, is that being a Christian is not a noun, but a verb.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, CA spoke today at the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland, OR.  He has a powerful story to tell and his presentation was very moving. You can watch it here (go forward to about the 20:00 mark to skip past the preliminary announcements and get to Cortez's presentation)...

Thursday, January 08, 2015

"There's all the difference in the world between being rooted in tradition and being stuck in tradition.  You can't tell offhand, at certain times and in certain seasons, whether a person or a particular community is stuck or rooted in tradition, just as you can't tell, when the leaves have dropped, whether this little thing sticking out of the ground is a seeding that's rooted or a lifeless twig that somebody's stuck in.  You have to wait for the spring.  When springtime comes, we'll see whether it puts forth leaves or whether it doesn't put forth anything and is just stuck.  If it puts forth any leaves, of course, they'll be new leaves--basically the same sort of leaves other plants of this kind had in the past but new, in a real sense, and different in details. ... That's the great challenge for any tradition: to always bring forth somethings that's brand new and yet in some sense the same.  The downfall of every tradition is the ritualization of what was originally alive."

- Brother David Steindl-Rast

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

I'm already beginning to see, in response to the massacre in Paris conducted by Islamic extremists, blanket condemnations by some Christians of all Muslims.  First this made me think of  Anders Breivik, the pro-Christian pro-Israel right-wing anti-Islamic extremist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011.  Then it made me think of Numbers chapter 25 in the Hebrew scriptures:

"While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

The Lord said to Moses, 'Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.'

So Moses said to Israel’s judges, 'Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.'

Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

The Lord said to Moses, 'Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.'”

Then I recalled that the guy who wrote half of the New Testament had previously been a violent religious extremist, until he experienced a dramatic revelation that completely changed his way of thinking.
And there are the Hindu nationalists in India and the machine gun toting Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka. Etc., etc.

The sad fact is that every religion (including atheism) has its violent extremists and often this violence comes as a result of a toxic mixture of religion with political, cultural, economic and ideological extremism.

"In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me." 

-- St. Augustine

Sunday, January 04, 2015

"A hundred years from now, Christians will proudly recall how they fought for LGBT rights at the beginning of the 21st Century, and if anyone reminds them of Christian opposition to our equality, they will reply, 'But that was a FALSE Christianity!' So it happened with slavery, so it will happen with gays."

-- Rob Tisinai (via AZSpot)

Saturday, January 03, 2015

"You can't approach the subject of God without metaphor... literalism like legalism is an attempt to shrink God to recreate him in our own image." 

-- Bono

Friday, January 02, 2015


During the years I was a fundamentalist Christian, I was taught to regard crucifixes with ambivalence--if not downright scorn.  "Why do the Catholics insist on keeping Jesus on the cross?" the preachers used to chide, "He is risen!  He is no longer on the cross!"  True, he is risen indeed, and if one's atonement theology centers around a cosmic transaction whereby the Father poured his wrath upon his son in our stead and perpetrated the ultimate bait-and-switch in which Satan was tricked into handing over the hostages (all of humanity), then a vacant cross and an empty tomb do seem like better indicators of that accomplishment.

Plus, let's face it, sometimes crucifixes are downright creepy--seemingly designed to induce horror and guilt and shame, as if Jesus is hanging there saying "You did this to me!"  Or, perhaps even more disturbing, "God did this to me!"

I'm a Quaker now, and we Quakers tend to eschew altogether the display of the cross--with or without Jesus on it.  This is because we emphasize that Christ is real and present and at work in our midst right here and right now.

But in recent years I've come to reevaluate my feelings about crucifixes and have gained an appreciation.  I have been helped in this by scholars such as Richard Horsely (Jesus and Empire), John Howard Yoder (The Politics of Jesus), Walter Wink (The Powers that Be), Ched Myers (Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus) and Denny Weaver (The Nonviolent Atonement).  I've come to see that the crucifix depicts and symbolizes not God's abandonment of Jesus but rather Jesus's identification with humankind.  The agonized and forelorn Christ on the cross signifies God's solidarity with the desolate, the hopeless, the outcast, the marginalized, the oppressed, the mocked, the accused, the tortured, the condemned.  To see Jesus hanging on the cross reminds me, not that God required a blood sacrifice to satisfy some immutable cosmic law or that I'm a wretched scumbag who caused the death of an innocent, but that Jesus--who is the revelation of God--chose freely to cast his lot with the powerless and to nonviolently subvert the human systems of oppression, knowing full well that those in control would seek to destroy him for doing so.  Seeing the crucifix in this way makes me feel awe and gratitude rather than self-loathing.  It also makes me feel positively challenged by the invitation to take up my cross and likewise follow Jesus in this ongoing mission which he called "the kingdom of God."

A few months ago a friend, an Italian artist, presented me with a crucifix she had made.  It now resides on one of my bookcases, in front of my set of A People's History of Christianity.  The cross appears to be wrapped in gift-paper.  It is beautiful and vibrant and hopeful, which I realize now is not at all incongruent for a crucifix. 

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A reminder and a resolution...