21 December 2012

On a dark day

This is the gospel, the good news: You are loved. No matter what.

These are the lost, in need of good news: Every single one of us.

This is the Church, the Body of Christ: Those who embody the gospel by loving the lost.

This is the bad news: If the gospel is not embodied, it is bullshit.

Usually I'm all about robust exchange of ideas. But right now, if you're inclined to demonstrate the wrongness of the above claims, you can shove your theological debate up your ass. Doesn't mean I'm laying claim to Truth; just that I'm fresh out of f$cks to give at the moment.

There's some rude armchair theology for you, on this dark day.

05 July 2012


Preach it, Rufus.*

In case you can't read the image above, it's a quote from Chris Rock's character Rufus the Apostle from the movie Dogma.  Says Rufus: "I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier. Life should be malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant."

I think Rufus is right on.  I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and I really want to work hard to not have beliefs.  This might sound strange from someone who identifies fiercely with the Christian Church - and it may well sound strange to some of my friends within the Church.  But upon much reflection, I really just don't think that "beliefs" are a very good idea.  I'm trying to do my darnedest to avoid them.

So, for example, I'm not interested in saying, "I believe there is no god", as an atheist would (though I will have to confess a lack of belief in any concretely-imagined concept of a divine being).  But nor am I interested in saying, "I believe God is One in Three" (though I find very rich and helpful symbolism in Trinitarian thought) or "I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God" (though I remain a devoted disciple of Jesus as the ultimate - for me - image of Love in human form).

So you're probably saying - well, it sure sounds like you have beliefs.  And maybe I (along with Rufus) am just arguing semantics.  But to me, "belief" means something like "coming to a conclusion about something for which there is insufficient evidence to decide".  That just seems unwise to me.  So instead, I try to have other things instead.

I have ideas, like Rufus suggested.

I have conclusions based on scientific evidence.  Due to the nature of science, these are of course provisional.

I have opinions.  I support marriage equality (even though I think that "marriage" as we know it is a hot Constantinian mess) and I think the indefinite detention provisions of the 2012 NDAA are a horrific idea.  For example.

I have heuristics.  Rules of thumb.  Things that I think work well a lot of the time.  The Sermon on the Mount, for example, is full of those.  I'm a fan.

I have hunches.  For example, I have a hunch about the thing that happens when groups intentionally seeking discernment have moments of clarity that lead them to helpful and healing action - which Christians often attribute to the Holy Spirit.  I have a hunch that that's a real thing.  Perhaps "Jungian collective unconsciousness" or "adaptive social sensitivity" or something is a better interpretive construct for that sort of thing than "the Holy Spirit".  I'm not super-concerned about interpretive constructs.  I think that for many phenomena that we don't understand very well, there's a wide variety of interpretive constructs/images/symbols that might be productively used to talk about them.  I think when we latch on to those constructs and make them "beliefs", they can (but don't necessarily) become harmful.

(Another example might be mental illness.  As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I actually think that the ancient interpretation of some forms of mental illness as "demon possession" was not as ridiculous as it may seem.  That's a pretty apt image for what it's like sometimes.  But when you take that too seriously - and morally judge someone for "dealing with demons" - or prescribe exorcism instead of psychiatry - then it becomes harmful.)

I have hopes.  For example, I have a hunch that there's no continuity of consciousness that survives death.  But I have a hope that I'm wrong.  I also have a hope that the human race's future might be characterized by lots more love and grace (what Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God), rather than by various forms of human-made apocalypse.  I don't expect God to just take care of that for us while we sit back and keep screwing things up...nor do I believe that the "myth of progress" will inexorably march us to that outcome.  Yet I persist in this hope.

All these things, I have.  All these things are provisional.  My dear friend Deanna once described belief as a "stake in the sand" - something you put down in order to function in the world, but could pull up easily when appropriate.  Something provisional, in other words - like Rufus's "ideas".

I suppose many of my "other things" described above could be called "beliefs" in this sense.  Maybe I am just quibbling about language.  So be it.  But I guess "belief" is just not a word I'm finding very helpful right now.

*The above image is credited to The Interwebs.  I don't know who made it, and since they amusingly credit it to Chris Rock a line that was written by Kevin Smith, I'm not too concerned about the image creator chasing after me for lack of attribution.

03 July 2012

A short thought about maturity

This is a thought I had, following Wild Goose Festival (East) 2012 and my experience there both with friends, and reflecting upon a number of talks which touched on recovery from traumatic experiences:
It's a rare and precious thing to be capable of coming alongside someone as a friend without needing to explain them to yourself - that is, to offer your presence while allowing your friend to maintain their own mysterious integrity, free from your need to fit them - and their thoughts, actions, motivations, joys, passions, and sufferings - into categories that make sense to you and make you feel comfortable. I hope to grow in this capability.
I posted this in an online group, and my friend Janine responded with the following:
I'm with you, Mike, hoping to grow in this capability too! Perhaps non-dualistic thinking is the basis for being able to grow in this way. Seems to fit with Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation for today:

"Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (GOAL). 
"Reality is “not totally one,” but it is “not totally two,” either! All things, events, persons, and institutions, if looked at contemplatively (non-egocentrically), reveal contradictions, create dilemmas, and have their own shadow side. Wisdom knows how to hold and to grow from this creative tension; ego does not. Our ego splits reality into parts that it can manage, but then pays a big price in regard to actual truth or understanding. 
"The contemplative mind will be at the heart and center of all teaching in our new Living School. Only the contemplative mind can honor the underlying unity (“not two”) of things, while also work with them in their distinctness (“not totally one”). The world almost always presents itself as a paradox, a contradiction, or a problem—like our themes of “action and contemplation,” “Christian and non-Christian,” or “male and female” first did. At the mature level, however, we learn to see all things in terms of unitive consciousness, while still respecting, protecting, and working with the very real differences. This is the great—perhaps the greatest—art form. It is the supreme task of all religion." 
~ Richard Rohr, June 2012
I have to admit that I was surprised and a little proud to be tracking so closely with thoughts from Fr. Richard, whom I admire very much.

image: Attribution Some rights reserved by janiebug2010

16 May 2012

Modern and postmodern cultures, and individuality

Here's a half-baked thought that I recently posted on my church's Unauthorized Theology Pub (a Google Group).  I'm not sure how solid my reasoning is, but my friend Maria wanted to refer to it online, so I'm posting it here, too.  Enjoy, and feel free to push back.

I was thinking - and a lot of this thinking came (as good things so often do) out of a conversation with my friend Maranda - about "modern" vs. "postmodern" Western culture.  I'm using those terms in an extremely colloquial sense - not at all an a technical or academic sense - and not really in a sense that has direct relation to philosophy or literature.  More in the way that "emerging church" folks tend to casually toss the terms around as descriptors for the cultural shift that (a lot of us think) has really been gathering steam in the Western world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  Just for the sake of argument, let's suppose that those terms are adequate to designate the "pre-shift" and "post-shift" flavors of Western culture.  If you haven't been in on this kind of "modern vs. postmodern" cultural conversation, then this is probably not going to make much sense to you.

So an interesting aspect of this particular cultural sparring match is that both "sides" seem to think that the other "side" is scandalously individualistic.  It's dogma among folks who consider themselves "postmodern" that individualism (at the expense of community) is one of the hallmarks of modernity, and that "modern" culture glorifies it in the forms of things like consumerism, self-sufficiency, suburban isolation, unlimited entertainment choice, judgmentalism, etc.  On the other hand, many "moderns" regard "postmoderns" as selfish brats who glorify their own personal pursuits and passions at the expense of any concern for the common good.

How can this be?  Are they both right?  Well, pretty much, IMHO.  I really don't think that the modern => postmodern shift has much to do, in itself, with a shift from individualism to communalism or vice-versa.  Rather, it's a difference in how community is conceived, and that difference is both one of scale, and one of direction.

Regarding scale (to vastly oversimplify), "modern" favors big fishes and big ponds.  It favors the successful individual in the large-scale, institutional setting (the nation, the corporation, the school board, the megachurch).  "Small fish" individualism is promoted as well, as long as it's a) within the well-worn channels (both network and cable) ;-) carved out and prescribed by the big fishes and the institutions, or b) the sort of minor "safety valve" protest that lets off steam without actually threatening the institutional systems (like when the Architect created the One to keep the Matrix in balance).

By contrast, "postmodern" favors small fishes and small ponds.  The most significant community is the immediate community - the circle of friends, the "tribe", the club, the house church, the meetup, the cohort, the class or workgroup.  Small communities claim the ability to set their own values and priorities, and individual "small fishes" are encouraged to explore their own individual journey and passions as long as it's in harmony with the values and needs of the community - and often with little regard for the standards of the larger, institutional systems.

Regarding "direction", I just mean that in "modern" cultures, "community" is defined through membership in top-down hierarchical institutions.  In "postmodern" cultures, "community" is more likely a flat organization of equals, horizontally networked with other similar groups.

As I write that stuff out, a lot of it sounds like gross oversimplification, among other forms of egregious BS.  But my whole point is:  I really don't feel like one type of culture is more individualistic or more community-oriented than the other.  It's just a matter of how "community" is defined, and therefore which "community's" standards the individual is expected to live in harmony with.  The nation, or the neighborhood?  The church denomination, or the neo-monastic group house?  The statewide school board, or the democratic classroom?  The Fortune 500 company, or the open-source development workgroup?  Etc.  In many ways, individual freedom can be much greater - and much more encouraged - in a "postmodern" paradigm.

So in many ways, we "postmodern" people really are selfish brats.


I think the image, from the seminal film Monty Python's Life of Brian, is copyright Sony Pictures, all rights reserved.  Go buy or rent their awesome movie.

25 April 2012

So I bet you thought I was straight

(Quick note:  With the help of dear friends and family, I've been in pretty intentional discernment about doing what I'm doing right now - that is, coming out of the closet - for about six months; and I've been in "passive" discernment about it for much longer.  So the timing of this has almost nothing to do with the fact that Dan Savage called out people like me on his podcast this week.  But in any event:  there you go, Dan.  One formerly closeted bi guy, joining the fight.)

Unless you have specific reason to think otherwise, I'm guessing this post's title is fairly accurate.  Further, I imagine that's true if you've known me for years and years, or if we're just acquaintances, or if I'm only somebody you decided to follow on a social network.  Why?  Because we're culturally conditioned to assume that everyone is straight, cisgender, and mono, unless we have serious reason to believe otherwise.

Which is pretty much the reason I'm telling you otherwise.  (Well, that, and because the cultural assumptions of "normal" - and the bullying that helps to enforce those assumptions - sometimes provoke kids to kill themselves.)

So here are the facts, at a certain level of detail:

I've been married to an amazing woman for 17 1/2 years.  (I've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for 11 1/2 of those, which is proof enough of "amazing", I think.)  Our married relationship has always been monogamous, and I've been faithful to her throughout our marriage.  Also, on the very rare occasions that the subject has come up, I've generally not corrected anyone's assumption that I identify as straight.

If you know me well enough to know all (or much) of this, I certainly don't blame you for thinking I'm straight.

More facts:  before I was married, I didn't have a whole lot of sexual experience.  However, I did have sex with more than one person, and not exclusively with women.

Let's take a break to review some helpful tools:

- The sex researcher Alfred Kinsey first published the Kinsey Scale in the 1940's.  It's limited, but it's a useful shorthand.  It rates sexual orientation on a scale from 0 (100% heterosexual) through 3 (50/50 bisexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual).

- Fritz Klein added some nuance to Kinsey with the Klein Grid, which rates 7 categories related to sexual orientation on a scale of 1 to 7 (roughly corresponding to Kinsey's 0 to 6).  It also takes into account change over time.

So, the scoop?  The common assumption, based on my long-term, monogamous marriage and the general cultural default, would be that I am a 0 on the Kinsey Scale (exclusively hetero).  If fact, I am a 1 - 2.  Taking into account the Klein Grid categories, my responses vary a bit in the different categories, and they are definitely weighted toward women, but I am not exclusively hetero in any of those various dimensions.

The final row on the Klein Grid is self-identification.  (So here's what I came to say.)  I've spent most of my life failing to correct the default assumption that I am 100% hetero.  It's easier that way, for sure.  Being married to a woman, I can easily pass as straight.

But I don't want to do that anymore.  I want to stop doing it for the sake of my own authenticity.  And I want to stop doing it in some small hope of helping other folks - especially young folks who also don't conform to the cultural assumptions regarding sexual orientation - to feel authentic and valid in their own skin.

So for the record, here's how I would prefer to identify, in regard to sexual orientation.  I'll give you several options, in order of preference.

1) Pansexual.  This is the most accurate and authentic label to describe my sexual orientation.  Essentially, it means that my potential ability to find someone sexually, physically, personally, and emotionally attractive is not automatically limited by their biological sex, gender expression, or gender identity.  (Please refer to the Genderbread Person if a reminder of what these terms mean would be helpful.)  My attraction is weighted toward women, similar to the way in which some people might be especially attracted to redheads, or to tall people, or to extraverts, without that preference in any way ruling out their attraction to folks with different characteristics.

2) Bisexual.  You can call me bi.  It's totally OK.  The distinction that's made between pansexuality and bisexuality is that "bisexual" implies that gender/sex is binary, while in fact there are lots of possibilities in between and perpendicular to "male" and "female", including genderqueer, intersex, and much more.  That said, the vast majority of folks who identify as bi are absolutely not trying to say that there's no way they could be attracted to someone who isn't 100% unambiguously male or female, as sometimes seems to be implied by writings on pansexuality.  So you can call me bi.

3) Queer.  Don't think I'm listing "queer" third because I don't like it.  If you call me queer, I'll take it as a compliment (unless it's not one).  It's an appropriate label.  The only reason it's my third preference is that it's so general.  It doesn't convey much information.  I can be more specific, and that seems helpful, so I will.  That's all.

4) Straight.  Most people who don't read this will probably continue to presume that I'm straight.  That's OK.  I rightly pass for straight, and have done for most of my life.  In the future, if someone explicitly mentions making this assumption, I'll correct them.  But it's not as if I find the label inauthentic, inappropriate, or offensive.  It's reasonably accurate for me.  It's not like I'm a 6 on the Kinsey Scale, or a 4, or even a 3.  However, if you have read all this and are having trouble dealing with it and would just prefer to think of me as straight, my request to you is this: If I am someone who is important to you, please try to grapple with this part of my identity.  I would be grateful.

So, um, that's it.  I'm not as straight as you probably thought I was.  My hope is that, by rejecting that assumption (and continuing to do so going forward), just one other person - possibly a young person - who is also outside the sexual "norm" will feel just a little more OK with who God made them to be.  And in any case, this means that I'm just a little bit more transparently who I am.  I feel as if that's worth something.

12 January 2012

Help the Nuba people of Sudan

So I was contacted late last year by Jessica Dotta, who is working with an organization called Media Change which (in Jessica's words) works "with non-profits that serve orphans, widows, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted, and those who are counted as the 'least of these.'" Jessica's been rounding up bloggers and asking us to be on a mailing list to post occasional features that get out the word about folks in need, and what God is up to via the non-profits trying to serve them. This post is my first one from Media Change.  (Fellow blogger friends, if you want to participate, here's where you can sign up!)

So, please read on for an opportunity to help the Nuba people in North Sudan.  (The rest of the blog post is taken directly from Jessica's version, 'cause she said it better then I could.)

Have you ever wondered what you would have done had you been alive in 1940 and were one of those who knew about the Holocaust?

Would you have been a person of action or a person of silence?

It is perhaps one of the most important issues to wrestle with. More than once in our lifetime we will find ourselves at a crossroad, one where the decision we make will reveal as much about our character as our convictions.

There is a genocide happening right now in Northern Sudan. The government is eradicating their own people. If we don’t speak up and help, no one else will. Each time North Sudan launches an attack to kill their own people, and we in the Western world remain silent, we give our permission to continue.

It is easier to overlook what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Sudan because the task feels overwhelming and thinking about it can make us feel helpless.

The truth of the matter is that one person alone cannot save the Nuba People. But a community of people acting in unison can.

One of the most extraordinary acts found in mankind is when a member of the human race deliberately goes out of his way to help another. It is love in action. It is loving your neighbor. It is doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

This month, The Persecution Project Foundation has launched a campaign called Save the Nuba. In order to prevent another genocide, they need the help that only a community can offer.

For those who can afford it, the need for food and medicine is desperate.

For those who have little to give, they’re asking for petitions signed, for awareness to be spread through social media (Facebook, Twitter and blogs.)

For those who are passionate about this cause, they need your help raising awareness.

Will you join us in speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves?

Please visit www.SavetheNuba.com to learn ways you can help.