Category Archives: Truth

Broken? Part II

At best, this has a nodding acquaintance with today's subject. But, it's funny  and isn't that what's important?
At best, this has a nodding acquaintance with today’s subject. But, it’s funny and isn’t that what’s important?

The whole broken people/original sin thing is kind of big deal to Christians, conservative and progressive alike. They tend to look at in different ways, though.  For those of a more conservative bent, original sin and the brokenness of humanity is a given. It’s one of those absolute truths some folks like to talk about: it just is and that’s pretty much that. For progressives, it seems to be just the opposite. More than once, I’ve seen the subject broached in progressive discussion groups and it is always soundly rejected. But, for all my progressive leanings, this is one place I tend to agree with conservatives.

I realize that statement may be a little surprising and it does require a little qualification; on the original sin question, if nothing else. For the record, I do not believe that we are all bound to sin because some dumb ass ate a piece of fruit that was expressly forbidden to him. But, the phrase, “original sin” can be a useful metaphor when explaining how things in this world got so fucked up. Hugh Hollowell defines it this way: God created a perfect world and we screwed things up by not following God’s plan. Not only is that easier to say/write than the longer explanation, it has the added appeal of being understood by a large swath of the population.

My uncharacteristic agreement with conservatives centers more on the “broken” part of the equation. I used to believe that we are not “broken”, but that we live broken world and that causes us to do broken things. Not anymore; these days, I subscribe to the Will Campbell school of thought. Campbell, when asked to describe the Gospel in 10 words or less, said “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway”. While I wonder on a regular basis why God loves us, I have no problem believing that we’re all bastards. Why? Because I am faced with incontrovertible evidence that people are miserable mother-fuckers, that’s why.

You don’t have to look far to this evidence. The past year provides a litany of people’s shitty behavior towards each other. And, this year isn’t shaping up to be much better, what with the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Boko Haram massacre, the attempted fire bombing of Colorado Springs NAACP offices, etc. There’s further proof of humanity’s shittiness in the fact that we’ve been inundated with news coverage of the murder of a few European (i.e. white) cartoonists while the deaths of Africans and mayhem against the NAACP (i.e. not white) have been practically ignored. Nice, huh?

As much as we might hate to admit it, I think we have to face up to the fact that we are broken. If we weren’t, people who, when faced with the hard situation of doing the right thing, consistently say “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, wouldn’t be so goddamned rare. Sadly, you can count these individuals on one hand: Jesus, Gandhi, MLK and a couple of others.

But, it’s not all bad because, and this is going to sound odd, I also believe that people have the capacity for immense good. That there is a little piece of the divine floating around in each of us and somehow, someway it fights its way through all the shit in our beings and occassionally shows us just how good we can actually be. Sort of a cross between the Quaker’s inner light and the concept  of prevenient grace. If only it would fight its way to the surface a little more often. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Spirit Or Letter?

Love-handsSome days, finding a topic for a blog post is not easy. On those days, I spend as much time looking for a something to write about as much as I do actually writing about it. Other days, subject matter will just fall into my lap. Today is of those days; the good kind, I mean. This morning, I got a late start on my daily routine of wasting time on Facebook researching and writing because I was working on a storage building for my new house ((Oh yeah, I bought a house! More on that later)). That delay was fortuitous, because if I’d followed my usual scheduled, I might have missed the news that the UMC’s Judicial Council had validated Rev. Franklyn Schaefer’s reinstatement.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to get out more I’ll explain. Basically, Schaefer was defrocked for officiating at the wedding of his son, who happens to be gay((for a more detailed account, click here)).  As part of his punishment for this dastardly act, Schaefer was required to state his willingness to “uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety.” When he could not do so in good conscience, his conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry took his credentials. That’s enough details on the subject((for more, click here)) especially since that’s not really what I want to talk about this morning. No, I’d rather talk about two other things today. One comes from Schaefer’s statement and the other from something my son-in-law said this morning.

Let’s start with Schaefer. In a statement to the Reconciling Ministries Network, he said the Council’s decision “signals hope to our LGBTQ community that has not always seen the rule of love and grace winning over the letter of the archaic law the church still subscribes to.” I like that. The idea that Christians should live by the spirit, rather than the letter of the Law is all over the New Testament. In Romans 2:29, Paul says “Instead, it is the person who is a Jew inside, who is circumcised in spirit, not literally. That person’s praise doesn’t come from people but from God.” And, Jesus had numerous rows with the Pharisees who demanded strict adherence to the Law((even going so far as to determine the maximum number of steps you could take in one stretch on the Sabbath)) at the expense of people’s needs. To maintain that folks who are LGBT should be treated as second-class citizens (and make no mistake, the Church((and not just the UMC)) continues to treat them as such) based on a few passages of scripture instead of welcoming and embracing them brothers and sisters in Christ is pretty much a text-book example of applying the letter of the law over the spirit.

Now, for the second thing I wanted to tell you about. Earlier this morning, my son-in-law, Tyler, was helping me with the storage building I mentioned. Somehow, we ended up talking about the way some Christians treat people who are LGBT and he said that while he didn’t agree that it wasn’t a sin, he believed that, as Christians, we are called to love and that’s what he tried to do. I wish more conservative Christians took this point of view.

No matter how you see this LGBTQ thing, if you’re going to be down with the J-man((aka, be a Christian)), you are called to love everyone and that includes people who love differently than you doI hate to break it to you, but proposing legislation to undermine a ruling that ends discrimination, standing in a pulpit and saying that LGBT folks should be condemned to concentration camps, or claiming that marriage equality is somehow Satanic has nothing to do with love and everything to do with legalism and fear. Which is pretty much the opposite of everything Jesus ever said.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s easy. Some people can be mighty hard to love; I should know since I’m one of those people. But, something else Jesus told us was that, if we wanted to be his disciples, we should take up our cross and follow him((follow the link and read this passage in the CEB. I really like it)). I think this is the kind of thing he was talking about when he said that.

This Is What It’s Like

Yeah, pretty much
Yeah, pretty much

The past couple of days, I’ve had several conversations about ADHD. In the first one, I was trying to describe what it’s like to live with the condition, but I wasn’t having much luck. After several attempts, I was down to “If you don’t have it, you won’t get it.” That’s a pretty shitty way to end a discussion and neither of us was satisfied. That led to another conversation with a friend who happens to have ADHD. They described it as standing in front a multiple stereos, all turned on, all up loud and all tuned to different stations. Which is about as good a definition as I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, it didn’t answer the question I was wrestling with. During the first conversation, I was trying to explain why it often looks like someone with ADHD doesn’t give a shit about doing stuff they don’t like. How many of us who live with the little ball of fun that is ADHD have heard this one: “I notice you don’t have a problem doing things you like. You’re just lazy/don’t want to (insert task)/ not trying hard enough, etc.” I don’t know about anyone else, but that was a constant refrain during my childhood. It didn’t help that I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, either pre-dating or in the midst of much of the early research that informs our understanding of ADHD. And, of course, being in an evangelical/charismatic cult, I was told more than once that I was possessed by an evil spirit of laziness and prayed for constantly. Not only did that not work, I came away with an unreasoning fear of being possessed by a demon. That was fun.

So, how do you tell someone who doesn’t have ADHD what it feels like and why it might appear that you’re lazy/just don’t fucking care? Here’s what I came up with: Imagine that every day, at work, at school or at home, a succession of people walk up and give you instructions. But, each one does it in a different language. The first person comes to you, speaking Chinese. But, you don’t speak Chinese and can’t understand what they’re saying. The next person speaks to you in French. Guess what? You don’t speak French, either. Then, someone else approaches, speaking German and, you guessed it, you don’t speak German. A fourth person walks up and speaks to you in English and, you’re like “Finally, something I can understand!” So, you set to work with a vengeance on the task they’ve given you. Of course, that’s on a good day. Many days, you’re hit from all sides at once and you do your best to focus on the one person you can understand; all too often, though, they get drowned out in the cacophony of crap you don’t understand.

Now, those of you who are “normal”((whatever the hell that means)) are probably thinking “Why do you just say ‘I don’t understand?” We do…, at least, initially. But, society is a ruthlessly “majority rules” situation and it’s set up for the way most people learn/understand and those people don’t understand why you can’t, well, understand. So, every day, no matter how loudly you scream “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND A GOD-DAMNED WORD YOU’RE SAYING”, people keep coming up and speaking to you in ways you…just…don’t…get. Eventually, it becomes too much and you say “Fuck it, I quit”. It’s not that you’re lazy, or not trying; it’s that you’re frustrated. And, that frustration is made even worse by the fact that people think you’re lazy and/or don’t give a shit. Nothing could be further from the truth. People with ADHD want to understand and contribute in the worst way. Unfortunately, it’s often not all that easy for us.

So, what to do about this problem? The best answer I can think of comes from one of my favorite books, To Kill A Mockingbird. At one point, Atticus Finch (the greatest father in modern literature) tells his daughter, Scout,

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

So, the next time you think someone is lazy/doesn’t care/just isn’t trying, take a minute to “climb inside of his (or her((girls have it too, you know))) skin and walk around in it”. You might be surprised at what you find.

Gungor And Genesis

gungorAs there is a glut of articles flying around the blogosphere about Robin Williams (some good, some bad and some ugly), I’m going to refrain from including my voice in that cacophony. By this point, anything I could say has already been said and, if I said it anyway, would be a transparent attempt to generate blog hits. And, I just can’t do that this morning. Instead, let’s talk about Gungor-gate.

You may be wondering what the hell I’m talking about when I say “Gungor-gate”. It seems that contemporary Christian musician Michael Gungor has incurred the ire of evangelicals by using his brain stating his belief that the creation story in Genesis is not a literal, historic account of the world’s beginnings. So, evangelicals have gotten pissed when a Christian celebrity says something that articulately challenges their beliefs. In other words, same old same old.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about Michael Gungor other than he’s a musician that a lot of my Christian hipster friends think is the shit (although the cool kids are into David Wimbish and The Collection). Well, saying that’s all I know isn’t exactly true, as is evidenced by the previous paragraph. But, until he created the current shitstorm, it was true. Since I wasn’t exactly familiar with Gungor (the man or the band), I decided to listen to a few Gungor songs to see what all the fuss was about. They weren’t bad. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but not bad.

Musically, Gungor is relatively inoffensive, falling mostly the indie-folk genre that hipsters think is so new and fresh, but is really a rehash update of what Dylan, Baez and Co. were doing 50 years ago; which, in itself, was nifty piece of cultural appropriation a revival of music from an even earlier age. Lyrically, Gungor is more impressive, writing songs that explore issues deeper than the superfluous twaddle that makes up most praise and worship music. Hell, I might actually sing some of these songs if they made into a Sunday worship service.

But, this fracas isn’t really about music, it’s about someone straying from the “Christian” (i.e. evangelical) fold. According to World Magazine, Gungor drifts from biblical orthodoxyKen Ham, a huckster cashing in on a mistaken interpretation of the Bible the leading voice in Creationism has called on Gungor to apologize for, in his words, “calling Jesus a liar”. And, Christian Post refers to Gungor’s “unorthodox theology”. But, here’s the thing: Gungor has not strayed from orthodoxy and he didn’t call Jesus a liar. Don’t think so? Take a look at what St. Augustine, quite possibly the foremost Christian theologian in history, had to say about creationism: 

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

So, Augustine backs up Gungor’s ideas about Genesis. And, as we all know, it doesn’t get much more orthodox than good ol’ Auggie.

As for Ham’s contention that Gungor called Jesus a liar, that’s just ridiculous. His visceral reaction to Gungor’s words are straight out of the conservative playbook: when, you can’t refute an argument with truth, logic or reason, attack. And, attack he does, saying “… He needs to be told that he needs to apologize for the tone of the article and the way he attacked Christians who believe God’s word in Genesis and believe in Noah’s flood. He needs to apologize for that and he needs to write in a respectable way.”  But, for Ham, this isn’t really about “calling Jesus a liar”; it’s about protecting his empire, i.e. The Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis. Ham is heavily invested in creationism (both monetarily and spiritually), so while his reaction isn’t exactly Christ-like, I suppose it is understandable.

In the blog post that started it all, Gungor said “I am saying this because I used to stand as a fundamentalist myself and felt threatened by anything more complex than a simple reading of the biblical text.” I italicized that last bit, because that’s what it’s really all about. It’s cognitive dissonance in action. When people hear something that challenges a long-held belief, they often react badly. These people need our love and support to work things out. If they do so in a manner we agree with, great. If not, well, we still have to love them. I don’t really like it, but I think that’s what Jesus meant when talked about taking up our cross and following him.

Does The Church Have Its Head Up Its Ass?

294-Youre-doing-it-wrong-asshole-bible-quotes-heaven-matthew-poverty-riches-the-popeRecently, my brother sent me the following Facebook message:

“I was thinking about why there are so many assholes in Christianity. It occurred to me that Christ attracts broken people. Just because they accept grace doesn’t automatically make angels out of assholes. No excuse for behavior Jesus would cringe over. But it does explain some things. The question is what is the church doing about that? Not much that I see. But if you say you have a personal relationship with Jesus, then isn’t it your responsibility to grow closer to the standard set by Christ? Even if the church has its institutional head up its bureaucratic ass?”

He has a way with words, my brother. Not always pleasant, but a way nonetheless. Coarse language aside, though, what about his claim that Christianity is full of assholes and the Church doesn’t seem to be doing much about it?

Let’s start with the idea that there are “assholes” in Christianity. I know that may be offensive to some folks, but the truth is that Christian history is filled with intolerant, bigoted, mean-spirited people twisting the faith to their own ends; denying that fact doesn’t make it any less true. You need look no further than present-day Seattle, Washington for an example. Mark Driscoll (whose empire is falling apart in the wake of multiple uncomplimentary revelations) is pretty much the definition of the kind of “asshole” my brother was talking about. Much as you might hate to admit it, Christian do assholes exist.

So, there are unpleasant people who call themselves Christian. That’s not really a surprise, considering that they are, well, people. And, as Christopher Moore said so eloquently in The Stupidest Angel, “People generally suck.” They don’t magically become better when they accept grace, no matter what some folks might say. And, no, that’s not an excuse for behavior that makes Jesus cry. And, yes, you would think that a personal relationship with Jesus would make someone want to grow closer to the example set by the person they claim to follow. Hell, that’s what the whole “following” thing is about. But, for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Then, he asks “what is the church doing about that?” He answers his own question with “Not much that I see”. And, when I look at the big picture, I can see why he might think that. The institutional church does, indeed, have its head up its bureaucratic ass and that’s probably the nicest thing that can be said about the situation because it implies an unconcious aspect to the way the Church has behaved throughout history instead of the active oppression and persecution that is too often the case. The thing is, I don’t believe “The Church” (the institutional one) is capable of influencing individuals in the way that he wishes they would.

In Forty Acres And A Goat, Will D. Campbell said all institutions, including religious ones, are inherently evil and eventually exist only to perpetuate the institution itself. Even though I finished the book less than a month ago, I can’t remember if he was talking about the Church when he said that, but it certainly fits. The Church is incapable of exerting the kind of influence that would bring these people closer to way of Jesus because it is run by these very people. And, people are loath to do things that will bring them pain. Or, make them change (which is often the same thing).

But, that doesn’t mean the small “c” church can’t do it. Or, that it isn’t already doing it. Real change doesn’t happen in institutions; it happens at much more personal and organic level. In individual congregations all over the world, Christians are living up to the name. They are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked. They are loving their neighbors to the best of their ability and, in more than a few cases, telling the institution to go fuck itself when it gets in the way.

Does “the church have its institutional head up its bureaucratic ass?” Yes, it does. But, that doesn’t mean God’s church isn’t helping people “grow closer to the standard set by Christ”. It just means that a human construct is living up (or is that down?) to expectations.

If You Don’t Work, You Don’t Eat

 

Wisdom of the great St. Ronald of Simi Valley coupled with a little hard truth.
Wisdom of the great St. Ronald of Simi Valley coupled with a little hard truth.

The other day, I found this site called The Onion and it is great. I mean, yeah, that’s a weird name and all, but they have some killer articles on there. Like the one about the woman who’s an expert on what poor people should have in their shopping carts (now, that’s a needed service) But, the one I really like reports on a new program that will require welfare moochers receiptients to submit vials of sweat periodically to prove the lazy bastards beneficiaries are working.

Amazingly, some heretics progressive Christians think these leeches moochers takers deserve our help compassion money. Thank God for good Christian leaders like Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Pastor Hagee spoke about this in a recent sermon, saying:

“To those of you who are sick, to those of you who are elderly, to those of you who are disabled, we gladly support you. To the healthy who can work but won’t work, get your nasty self off the couch and go get a job!”

You tell ’em, Pastor John!

Now, before you get your panties in a wad, let me point out that Hagee’s rant admonition is biblical. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul says

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

Now, some of you blasphemers apostates progressives might try to say that Paul’s authorship of 2 Thessalonians is in doubt, or that the people referred to in this passage weren’t like today’s deadbeats sponges parasites loafers welfare queens recipients of public assistance or you might even resort to the low blow of quoting the Gospel twisting scripture to say Jesus commanded that we support our brothers and sisters who are in need lazy freeloaders. I mean, sure, He said we should feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, etc. But, I refuse to believe He meant those people.

Remember, “God helps those who help themselves” (I’m sure that’s in the Bible somewhere even though I can’t find it right now) and the biblical truth that if you don’t work, you don’t eat is one of the founding tenets of this great country Christian nation. And, as television host Stephen Colbert once said,

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

I really don’t like turning to a papist romanist mackerel-snapper Catholic for advice; not to mention the fact that this is a little offensive because it forces me to acknowledge how I’m cherry-picking scripture to assuage my guilt over being greedy and callous about the suffering of others. But, damn darn it, he seems to be the only one speaking up about this situation. And, he’s got a point. If we’re going to keep dumping on praticing tough love with the poors less fortunate, we need a more coherent plan than the one we’ve got. The heathens libtards progressives are eating us alive won’t shut up these days.

Smokescreens

JesandSadducees_1179-48This week has been a good one for The Progressive Redneck. The last two posts have generated some interesting conversation and Wednesday’s piece about modesty is my most popular post yet (if you haven’t read it, go here and see what all the shouting’s about). At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’m going to round out the week with another article in the same vein as those earlier posts.

Saying that conservative evangelicals are obsessed with matters concerning sexuality is like saying the Titanic bumped into that iceberg, i.e. a bit of an understatement. While plenty of reasons are bandied about for their fixation (control, dodging responsibility, misunderstanding scripture just to name a few), there is one that never seems to come up: smokescreens.

In Luke 20, there is a story about some Sadducees asking Jesus an utterly ridiculous question about Levirate marriage. He answered their query, but was less than happy with them for posing it. Why might that be? Because these learned “men of God” obsessed over the letter of the law, concerning themselves with minutiae instead of getting on with the hard work of loving their neighbor. They purposely refused to see the forest, concentrating on the trees while the people they were supposed to serve were hurting. In other words, they used the law as a smokescreen to avoid dealing with the hard stuff. Which makes the perfect analogy for the evangelical modesty/purity craze.

By now, you know I have a few “issues” with the way some Christians handle the sex question. For me, when it comes to sex,  I use the “love my neighbor” rule. In other words, if I love my neighbor, I won’t take sexual advantage of them. If I love my neighbor, I won’t conceive a child I either can’t, or don’t intend to, care for. If I love my neighbor, I won’t cheat on my spouse or significant other. If I love my neighbor, I won’t have sex with anyone until we’re both emotionally ready. If I love my neighbor…, well, I think you get my point.

Is this “love my neighbor” rule an easy one to live by? No, it is not. But, I do believe it is the right way to go. On its face, an etched-in-stone, one-size-fit-all set of rules might seem easier to live by. Well, unless you don’t fall within its narrow parameters; then, it’s beyond hard. And, that points out the problems with such a list: there’s no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to human beings and if you’re working with an etched-in-stone legalism, you can’t make allowances for those who fall outside its boundaries. You can only call them “sinners” and punish them accordingly. That, to me, is the polar opposite of loving my neighbor.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with abstinence or dressing modestly…., if that’s your choice. And, if that’s what you choose to do, I will have your back. But, I think it’s time  we  stopped concerning ourselves what others wear or what goes on in their bedrooms and started concerning ourselves with making this world a better place for everyone, sinner and saint alike.

The-idiocy

god's planIn case you’re wondering, the word in the title is a corruption the word “theodicy”. I changed it to “the-idiocy” because (brace yourself, I’m about to use a bad word) some people have fucked-up ideas about how God works, i. e. God caused so-and-so to happen so God could reveal God’s glory. Oh sure, they don’t say it that way; but, that’s what phrases like “If God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it”, “It’s all part of God’s plan” and (one of personal favorites) “Everything happens for a reason” really mean. Every time I hear this garbage, I think “Wow, your god really sucks”. And, yes, I used a lower case “g” on purpose. Because any god who’d do shit like that doesn’t deserve an upper case “G”.

Many of us run into this crap when we’re dealing with illness and/or death. Of course, you’ll hear it in other situations, but I think these two are the most common. Thankfully, no one said anything like that around me during times I’ve been under the weather. Oh, there may have been an “Everything happens for reason” in there somewhere, but I don’t remember it. And, I say “thankfully” because when you’re suffering, the last thing you need to hear is that God, the entity you’ve praying to for some relief, is the actually the cause of that suffering.

Let’s get something straight right now: God doesn’t make bad things happen to people so God can be glorified by the good resolution of those bad things. I suppose it does make a twisted kind of sense, though. I mean, God making you sick, then curing you miraculously is a lot more conspicuous than God keeping you from getting sick in the first place. But, like I said earlier, that god would really suck.

I’ll even go so far as to say that God doesn’t make (or even allow) bad things to happen; we do. You could fill books with the evil that humans have ignored because it wasn’t their “business” or because they didn’t want to “get involved”. That’s not even mentioning that much of the nefarious bullshit in question is also perpetrated by human beings (and I use the term “human beings” loosely). Maybe it’s time we started taking responsibility for our screw-ups and stopped laying the blame at God’s doorstep.

None of this is to say that bad things can’t be turned to good (aka the “glory of God”). It happens all the time, but we’re usually too busy trying to find a way to spin things for “God’s glory” to notice God has already worked them out to the good. Miracles still happen, they just don’t look the way we expect them too. For me, the miracle of healing isn’t the healing itself, but that someone cares enough about others to do the dirty work of caring for the sick. And, if you’ve ever cared someone who’s ill, I mean well and truly ill, you know what I mean by “dirty work”. 

I’ve used the phrase “God’s glory” in some form or another more in this post than I probably have in the last year. I don’t say it much because I hate it. It gets used indiscriminately and makes God sound like an insecure asshole. At some point, you have ask yourself
“Is a God who requires constant glorification actually worthy of that glory?” I don’t think so. Instead of talking about what glorifies God, why don’t you do something that, oh I don’t know, glorifies God. If you’re not sure what that might be, I’ll give you hint: it isn’t telling people that they are suffering so that God can be glorified. That’s bullshit and they don’t need to hear it.

The Spirit Of The Law

BIBLE-DNI am a huge Gareth Higgins fan. The man has a way of taking ideas that have danced around in my head for a long time and reducing them to a few, taut, concise sentences. A few years ago, in Memphis, he said “The Gospel is not “Don’t say ‘fuck’. It’s not ‘Don’t sleep with your girlfriend before you’re married’. It’s “Love God and love your neighbor”  In three short sentences, he managed to convey something that would take me 500 words (at least) to say. Plus, he said in a super-cool Irish brogue, which can render even the most unpalatable truths consumable. He does it again in Cinematic States: The Stories We Tell, The American Dreamlife. and How to Understand Everything, telling us that being human “…is the one thing we’re never going to get over, no matter how hard we try. It collapses all boundaries of gender, nationality, politics, ethnicity and taste. The Law at its best – enshrining human rights – says so.” It’s that last sentence that really does it for me.

While many provisions of the Law may seem horribly draconian to 21st century minds (rebellious children should be stoned, etc), for its time, it was incredibly progressive. Building on the Code of Hammurabi, Mosaic Law put forth the idea that one life wasn’t worth more than another no matter what the social standing of the parties involved might be. It also made provision for widows and orphans, instituted rules of hospitality for strangers, protected women by codifying rules about divorce, etc. And, yes, it does seem to address homosexuality and same-sex attraction. But even if it does forbid those things (and that’s a big “if”), those proscriptions are a handful of verses out of more than 4000. Why do we focus on those few while ignoring practically everything it says about human rights?

There are a lot of reasons, from money to the “ick” factor. 40 years ago, LGBT issues were not something discussed in polite society. Basically, gay people lived “in the closet” and straight folks ignored them.Two events changed that situation: Stonewall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Stonewall, because it forced us to confront the fact that some people in this country loved differently than the rest of us and the collapse of the Soviet Union because people like Jerry Falwell lost a huge fundraising tool when the “Godless Reds” ceased to be a threat.

The Stonewall riots were both a blessing and curse to the LGBT community because they were the beginning of the modern gay rights movement but the end of their anonymity. No longer able to hide in plain sight, they were out there and they were a target. Culture warriors like Falwell were quick to exploit the issues of homosexuality and abortion and build empires by generating fear of what these twin bugaboos would do to our country. And, not just our country, but the world. They fervently believed (or maybe “fervently preached” is a better way of putting it) that God created America as His tool to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. How did they do that? By cherry-picking scripture and perverting the Law.

How can that be you ask? Doesn’t the Bible plainly say that men who lie with men should be put to death? Yes, it does and we could debate the interpretation of that passage until the cows come home. But, Jesus enjoined his followers to follow the spirit of the Law and not the letter. So, what is the spirit of the law? It is “Love God and love your neighbor”. Taking a few pieces of scripture out of context and using them demonize others isn’t what I call “following the spirit of the law”.

In other words, using The Law to condemn and ostracize people you deem “icky” makes God cry. And, I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing.

Community At The Goose

Wild Goose weirdnessWell, another Wild Goose festival is in the books and, as much as I enjoyed it, I’m glad to be home. Well, sort of; today is shaping up to be a classic Monday. Last week, the kitchen electrical circuit in my house went out. Now, in most homes, this isn’t a big deal. But, I rent a 1950’s ranch from two old fellows who are loath to spend money on the place. So, instead of the usual breaker box, the house has an old style fuse box. Unfortunately, those can’t be repaired or replaced but must be updated. That’s being done today and I don’t have power while the electricians take care of business. If that’s not bad enough, my car developed an extremely irritating squeal on the trip, so I’m sitting in a coffee shop while it’s being worked on. Life is just big ol’ bowl of cherries some days.

Even those slings and arrows can’t bring me down too much (although, I haven’t gotten the bill for my auto repairs yet) because I’m still riding the high from the weekend. As I intimated last week, Wild Goose is as much a community as it is a festival. Granted, it’s not your usual community since it might be the only time most of us see each other face-to-face in a year’s time, but it is a community, nonetheless. That makes sense when you look at the definition of community. According to Dictionary.com (it’s my blog and I get to pick the definitions I like), community is ” a social, religious, occupational or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.” Believe me, if you’ve ever been around this particular group of Jesus  hippies, you know this fits; especially the part about “distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists” (see photo above). While it’s not the kind of community most of us are familiar with, it is a community in the best sense of the word. 

Community, when it’s done right, refreshes, revitalizes and rebuilds. It is a support system, a place of freedom and security. It influences, and is influenced by, our identity. Simply put, community sustains us and makes us what who and what we are. While it is possible to live outside of community, I’m not sure you could call that living; existing  , maybe, but not living.

This past weekend, spent in hinterlands of the Smoky Mountains with no internet or TV and weak cell signal (And I still couldn’t escape the damn World Cup coverage), has done all of those things for me. And, as it usually does, it has brought on a burst of creative energy I don’t get other places. Multiple topics for blog posts, ideas about expanding my reach, inspiration for future projects and other things that are a little harder to quantify. Let’s just say that Wild Goose gives my desire to create a Colbert-like bump. I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone in that.

There is a part of me that wishes for multiple Wild Goose festivals throughout the year. But then, maybe it’s so damn good because it only happens once a year. You know, absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. Whatever. I’m already counting down to next year.