Look to the Battlefield, Gladiator.

FILE – Int his Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif. Reid has resumed his kneeling protest for human rights during the national anthem, after joining then-teammate Kaepernick’s polarizing demonstration last season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) ORG XMIT: NYHK702

Dear Football Player,

I really wanted my first blog on my new site to be about books. I wanted it to be about reading, and the craft that  I love so much.   Alas, here we are talking about football.

I am not a big sports guy. I used to play baseball when I was a kid but that was the extent of my sports knowledge.

However, the National Football League has decided that the men who play their sport – mostly black men – no longer have their permission to kneel during the playing of The National Anthem.

Colin Kaepernick started a national conversation with his decision to kneel in recognition of the men and women throughout the United States who’ve been killed in the streets because of a lack of Due Process. Crimes committed by white police officers who were either never charged for it or who were charged and simply got away with it.

Many of these incidents including Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, a little kid with a toy gun named Tamir Rice, and a man who’d been choked to death in New York named Eric Garner,  have left their families without justice.

These football players in the NFL, 80 percent of whom are African American, have drawn a lot of criticism for their stance. Criticism from President Donald Trump and from football fans who expect these men to play a game for their entertainment and say that because they make X amount of dollars they should be quiet.

The NFL, receiving a lot of flak,  has recently ruled that players cannot kneel in the upcoming season or risk fines and other punishments including ones that would impact the game they are playing.

As a United States veteran, someone who joined after 9/11 and because of 9/11, who deployed the middle east in support of Operation Iraq Freedom, who wore the uniform and swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, I’d like to make it clear to these football players that the permission to protest (or not to in this case) is not granted by the Nation Football League.

During the war, it was often said by the Bush Administration et. al that “Freedom isn’t Free,” and that “We have to defend it.” Well, the same rules apply here.

Gladiator, you’re right to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem was granted to you long before you were ever born.  Long before the NFL was actually a thing. You’re ancestors, my ancestors, the founders and the foundation builders of this country paid for your right to kneel in protest.  Every person who has ever worn the uniform of the United States of America, every Civil Rights activist who marched in Selma, or Montgomery, or was assassinated for your right to live is a member of this society – has paid for your right to kneel.

Those hanged by white mobs during the lynching years paid for you. Those who served in the Civil War – paid for you.

Sure, there are going to be people who don’t like it. Mostly, because they know what you’re kneeling for and believe (in one way or another) that the right to harm black bodies and possess black minds, still belongs to them. It’s an ignorance and an anger as old as this country is.

But as rights go – never, ever look to the masses to bestow them on you. That’s never been the way of things here in the United States. Rights are fought for through long and often perilous battles and right now America is at war with itself. Two ideologies are engaged in this uproarus debate for the soul of our country.

If you so feel inclined to kneel. I hope you have the courage to do so. And if you need a little more courage to push you over the edge, when you are standing in the locker room before the game, like Maya Angelou once said, summon the spirits of those who’ve dreamed you into being to escort you onto that field.

Summon those soldiers who died. Summon those Civil Rights Activists who’ve died. Invoke the founders. Invoke the spirit of our country when you take to that field.  Invoke God who granted you inalienable rights and have Jesus meet you on the 50-yard line.

You would then honor them, the flag, the anthem, and your ancestors. Therein lies your permission, Gladiator.

 

P.S. NFL, back off.  This isn’t your lookout.

Before Hitler was Anything – He was a Racist

 

I read an article in the Baptist New Global online magazine.  It was a dressing down by Miguel De La Torre dated Nov, 13 2017. In his scathing remarks, he addresses what has transpired in America concerning the support of the Evangelical Movement and their support for Donald Trump. You can read his article here. 

The article itself was bombastic – but I think De La Torre brought up a few good points. However, being a preacher’s kid a long time ago in the fundamentalist tradition – I am not as surprised to hear about the move of Evangelicals to Trump. I think they were waiting for someone like him to come along.

America’s churches are in a crisis. Some say, including the late, great, Phyliss Tickle, that we are actually at the beginning of what theologians and historians are starting to refer to as The Great Emergence. You can read about it in the books she published later on in life. You can also seek her out on youtube where she talked, at length, about the phenomenon.

Yet, as someone who is now on the outside of fundamentalism, I can’t help but think with their minds. I remember well the indoctrination, the wrath, and the judgment, but most of all I remember the hypocrisy, and the anger, and the bigotry.  Or, the stories about how a preacher took off the with the church’s money, ran off to Vegas with a woman he was having an affair with. Or, the daughter of the preacher getting caught having sex in the nursery with her boyfriend. Or, the woman who was pulled up on stage one night and called a whore because someone drove past her house and saw a man’s car in the driveway.

For those outside these movements, what goes on inside these churches seems almost patently absurd. I mean, it’s like Payton Place, if you know, Payton place had jean floor-length skirts and a cloud of Aquanet hovering above them. It was a political atmosphere to be sure and despite all the railing from the pulpit about morality and judgment, these organizations seemed to suffer terribly from their own lack of both.

It took me years to get away from that worldview. Because that’s what fundamental evangelicalism is.  Christianity is the faith, sure. But fundamental evangelicalism is the lens through which you view everything around you.  If naivete can shade someone’s worldview rose-colored, surely these people wear yellow-colored jaundiced ones.

The world didn’t change my worldview. Not really. I began to backtrack away from fundamentalism when looking into the legacy of the church. It’s not all pretty. Heck, the reformation was a terrible bloody event on both sides. Yet, I do believe there were great moments of triumph and terrible moments of failure.

De La Torre is right in his view of these people who’ve allowed the church to become so ill on its own ager and hatred – it can no longer see clearly. And while history doesn’t repeat itself, as Mark Twain pointed out, it often does rhyme. With people like Trump  and company having won such a big swath of this kind of believer – it’s worth noting that we’ve seen something like this before.

 

In the 1930’s, famed Lutheran Theologian and minister Detriech Bonhoeffer came to study in America. Upon traveling to the deep south during the height of Jim Crow law, Bonhoeffer was stunned at what he saw.

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Now, mind you Hitler is just beginning his ascension to power in Germany and although Jew’s had been treated badly the world over for centuries -the worst was yet to come for them.
Also, mind you, that the last Lynching on record in the United States was 1955 with Emmet Till, a 14-year-old boy, who was accused of winking at a white woman.
In grief and despair, Detrich Bonhoeffer declared that, “…Christianity in America is dead.”
That was until he was invited by a minister to attend another gathering at Abyssinian Baptist Church, a black church, in Harlem, New York.
It was the first time he’d ever hear gospel music. There, he recanted his statement and said, “…these people suffer and they are joyful. God is in Harlem.”
He would take that gospel music back with him to Germany and share it with his friends and fellow believers in what he called, “The Confessing Church.”
Now, Bonhoeffer was a pacifist, and he loved his country desperately, however – before the Allies could rescue him toward the end of the war he would be taken out and assassinated for his plot to kill Adolf Hitler.
My father was an evangelist for a time and I would, of course, ride the small circuit up in Michigan with him to various churches where he would go to preach.
Someone would give an altar call, someone would begin to sing Just as I am, or All to Jesus, or Amazing Grace. And here, these lily white folks would come streaming down the aisles hands raised to heaven to be saved or to ‘get right with God.’ Not knowing for a second – that the song they were singing, “Amazing Grace” was entrenched in Slavery.
The author, John Newton, was a slave ship captain, who would lose his eyesight, become a monk in the Church of England, and in turn would become one of the world’s first abolitionists. As a matter of fact, he along with Wilberforce would end the practice of Slavery in Great Britain years before the United States would.
There are so many people surprised that 85 percent of white evangelicals would side with Donald Trump despite the many flagrant and cavalier ways he stands for almost everything Christianity stands against. Yet, I don’t understand why you’re so shocked. This has gone on for years. This has been their M.O. for as long as I knew them. It’s been their M.O dating back decades since before Brown Vs. Board of Education.
I left the faith tradition over 15 years ago and while I was still there, I left it mentally long before that due in large part to it’s inherent racism. See, I grew up in a predominately African American City, went to a predominately black middle school and high school, and while the preachers preached AGAINST interracial marriage – due to inequality of the races – I wondered at who was actually unequal.
The Principle was Dr. Betty Hines. Exceptionally well dressed, professional, she ruled over that school with an iron fist. There was Dr. Granderson, a Chemistry teacher who could always be spotted walking up and down the hall with his lab coat and pushing a cart. He was also always smartly dressed and professional. They all drove nice cars and were this constant stable presence in my life while at home – my personal life was in shreds.
In the 1930’s, according to Charles Marsh’s ‘Strange Glory’ the biography of Bonhoeffer I highly suggest people read – the author makes it very clear that when Hitler began his ascent to power, the Lutheran Church in that era immediately abdicated to him. They wanted the power that Hilter promised them and he did grant it to them for a time. They even flew the swastika in their churches. Until he found no more use for them and unceremoniously cast them aside.
But by then it was too late.
Understand this: Before Hitler was anything, he was a racist and so is this 85 percent of evangelicals. All you have to do is look at case law after the 1954 Supreme Court Decision of Brown V. Board of Education. Bob Jones Sr. v The United States.
Before Donald Trump is anything – he’s a racist all you need to do is look back at his trying to get men put in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, his having to be sued by the Nixon Administration for not allowing blacks to rent apartment space in his buildings, his statement against Hispanics, Muslims, and the list goes on.
They can call themselves Christians all day long and twice on Sunday. They’re not. They never were. They’re anti-Christians since they do the exact opposite of what was told to them by Christ. That being, take care of the poor, the sick, the weakest among you, and pray in private.
I am a Christain. I don’t believe Christianity is dead in America. I think preachers like John Palvolitz, Bishop Barber, and Nadia Bolz Weber (this Emergent or Emerging Church leaders) are Christianity in America – and they’re struggling. And they’re not the only ones. They’re out there.

Is Christianity dead in Evangelicalism? In 85 percent of them, I’d say yes. Yet, again, I think they’ve been dead for a very long time.

 

 

 

Sinners who hate other sinners

Jesus
So, I’ve been thinking about this guy quite a bit lately.
 
A friend of mine posted this earlier and for any gay man who was raised in religion – we have a fickle relationship with Christ.
 
The other day I made a comment on a Facebook page of a Popular priest, a Jesuit, who is working really hard to reach out to the Queer community as a whole. He seems very kind.
 
However, after I placed the comment about my husband and I, it didn’t take very long for someone to come along and start throwing scripture at me. Leviticus and Romans – mostly. He brought up the Apostle Paul yada yada .
 
When I was a kid, as church would begin someone would lead the congregation in hymns and someone else would sing a special – and that part of the service always had my attention.
I mean, the love of God that they sang about was so overwhelming in songs such as The Love of God.
The second verse goes something like this:
 
Could we with Ink, the Ocean fill
and were the skies of parchment made
were every stalk on earth a quill; and every man a scribe by trade
to write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry
nor could that scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky
 
or take a verse from It is Well by Horatio Spafford
 
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
 
Or how Great Thou Art
 
Oh, Lord my God. When I in awesome wonder.
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made
I see the sun, I hear the rolling thunder
thy power throughout the universe displayed
 
 
And then the microphone was put down and in the ten steps from the piano to the pulpit God changed. He went through a metamorphosis.
In the ten steps between the piano and the pulpit God changed from this awesomely powerful, all encompassing loving, being to a twisted, angry, petty, creature akin to a brat hovered over an ant hill with a magnifying glass.
 
In those ten steps I went from open to the experience of God, not just the message, but my body would react. My heart would beat. I would get gooseflesh and tears in my eyes tooooooo…….. nothing.
 
Not anger. Not boredom. Not fear.
 
Just. Nothing.
 
It is an amazing feat to be a child/ teenager and sit still and stare forward at a man prowling the altar like a lion, shouting, pointing, sweating, and not move a muscle and yet, be as far away as a person could be. This would go on for a couple of hours every Sunday morning, Sunday Evening, and Wednesday night and God help us, if there was a tent revival because then that shit just went on all week.
 
7 days, often times, seven different preachers, each one of them come to deliver us from the pit of our transgressions.
 
And always the same, the music was there. I would be enraptured with it. Moved by it. Experiencing God, I believe.
 
Then. Whamo!
 
The door would slam shut and I’m mentally redecorating my bedroom.
 
There was something off about the message. Mostly, I think, it was because we made Christ into some kind of schizophrenic.
 
My husband has been watching this lecture series on The Great Courses with this professor who is as dry as an accountant’s field manual. Honestly, he’d turn it on, meaning to watch it, and before long I’d hear him snoring in the living room. But I am listening to this guy as I am working and he’s going on and on about the gospels. Not just Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John but all the gospels that didn’t make the final cut. The Gospel of St. Thomas, The Gospel of Mary, and on and on it goes.
 
I tried watching him full on, and im glad I had the filter of whatever I was doing because my eyes crossed and all I heard was, “Bueler, Bueler, Bueler…”
I digress…
Anyway,  what’s interesting about all of it – and I do mean all of it – is Christ was almost Greek-like in the stories. Like it was Mythology. He was petty, mean, vindictive. There were crazy mythological stories about magic beasts etc etc etc and it dawned on me. These weren’t included because they all made Christ and God by proxy sound …just….human. Petty. Stupid. And it was then I realized that these preachers had done the same thing.
 
There was no ascension happening. No moving toward heaven. No moving the church toward God. No rapture.
 
Christ was actually attacked from behind at a gas station, a bandanna soaked in Desflurane was placed over his mouth and he was thrown in the trunk of the grocery getter.
 
It’s like they couldn’t believe God actually loved them.
 
 They would sing about it.
But when it came to having the faith – that was different.
They didn’t really believe him.
That they were loved.
That they were so loved.
The idea that the grace that ‘saved’ them in their circumstances, would be needed to save someone else they deemed inferior and therefore made Grace as a concept, offensive.
That’s why they hang out in the Old Testament so much. They want a God to punish them.
And they want a God to punish those who they see as inferior to them and therefore become the worst kind of sinner.
A sinner who hates other sinners.
I don’t pretend to know the wisdom of God, but I do know the wisdom of man and I think these men – in not being able to deal with God as he is – had to bring him down from heaven and make him dumber than we are.
I remember when I first started dating my husband. When I realized he loved me. I hated him for it.
I was so twisted inside out with what had gone on in my life and what I’d put myself through – I resented this guy who told me that he loved me. I believed him 100 percent.
But I hated him for it. I knew me. I knew me. I was the least deserving, in my mind.
I sabotaged our relationship. I wanted him to hate me back.
When I asked him later on why he hadn’t given up on me. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You did nothing to earn my love. You can’t lose it.”
It makes me wonder, now, whenever I see a “Real Men Love Jesus” bumper sticker.
Do you love him for loving you? Or do you hate him for loving you because you know you?
Knowing you are not deserving of it.
Thank God, for all our sakes, we did nothing to earn it.

Dear God (Poem)

 

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Photo By: Lisheng Chang

 

God can you hear me?
Even though my faith has waned?
Even though I’ve abandoned my father’s religion?
I feel empty.
Poured out. 
I can no longer lean on man’s truth anymore
even that wavers and crumbles under my feet
What was, what should have been remembered, is lost.
Truth seems inverted. Relative.
There’s so much gray.
I feel lost.

To the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
I’ve told my story
I grew as still as a sharp intake of breath
before bleeding myself dry over bare bits of parchment
till every drop has been squeezed out of me
I’ve confessed
and yet I feel weak
like I’ve wandered the wilderness for forty years
telling the truth over and over
and yet the shadows still grow long and the sky turns red
and the bread I’ve eaten has turned to stone

Is this what was meant by the tree of knowledge?
is the act of knowing so burdensome that truth alone
can lead a man to die?
that the weight of it can bring sorrow and pain
powerful enough to cripple the heart
and make one doubt even his own mind
was that the fruit so forbidden
that cast man into the void – not the knowledge of sin
but the understanding of it? The wisdom it provides?
is sin simply the essence of our humanity and the hatred
of it our own self destruct button?

I don’t know
and that is the worst of it. It’s like wine
that never slakes the thirst. The more I learn the less
I know and the more I want.
But to learn is to breathe and to cease is to die
While great world religions were all erected in this merry go round of knives
hating absolutely what it cannot cease doing unless they cease to be
but cannot cease to be by their own hand lest they cast themselves into eternal uncertainty
which is more uncertain than this …this…whatever it is this is.

Is it balance? Is that it?
Acceptance of it all? The light in the dark and the male in the female? is it this that would bring me comfort?
Were the easterners right when they uttered
Namyoho Renge Kyo?
Was Buddha, like Moses, a prophet telling everyone just to calm down?
That even in the muck and mire of who we are
we are still the beauty that manages somehow to emerge triumphant?
Should I fill myself with that?

Dear God, am I going to be okay?

Thy Will be Done –
but you have some explaining to do.

Why I’ve become a Militant Agnostic

ben-white-137387

(Photo by Ben White)

 

What does that mean? To me, it means, very basically, “I don’t know and neither do you.”

I was raised in a Fundamental Baptist (IFB) house and growing up there were a lot of rules and stuff but our lives were built around Biblical literalism and legalism. These people believed they were the ‘saved of the saved’ and everyone else was bound for hell.

My time in these churches was not always bad, sometimes it was okay, but the doctrine often found its way into our home and for reasons that I won’t get into right now – made our lives hell.

But as an adult – who is still learning, who is still growing, who is still alive in the sense that I’ve recognized that asking questions is not a sign of ignorance but intelligence seeking wisdom – I’ve run into some problems.

And mostly, those problems revolved around others feeling that it is their duty to let another person know how it is they are supposed to lead their life. And – like always – it’s according to the scripture.

But what I’ve found out about these well-meaning individuals – as well as the scripture itself – is that people cherry picks out of the great holy texts anything and everything that supports THEIR world view.

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many sects of Christianity – that’s the reason.

People have put the focus on one particular part of the Bible vs others – and that includes Biblical literalists, who in the end, aren’t really literalists at all.

They’re really really passionate about the parts of the Bible they covet – and dismiss the rest in its entirety.

 

My agnosticism isn’t directed toward God, however.

Just the Church(es).

Number one, I refuse to think God is a jerk. I mean think about it, if we were to ascribe all the horrific ways God is supposed to be and place that on a person. An individual. We wouldn’t have ANYTHING to do with that person. At all. As a matter of fact – hello my atheists out there – you’d get as far away from that person as you could.

Number two, I refuse to believe that after multitudes of retranslations by people (who they themselves lack perfection and who may themselves be politically motivated like King James) that a collection of oral traditions handed down generation to generation, is the 100 percent Word of God in its totality. Refuse. However, I do make a distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and even if some things got lost over the years – the spirit of it is alive and well. If you take the ARC of the Bible as a whole – God’s actually a pretty decent deity who wants to help.

Number three, I refuse to join in the cults of personality that organized religion has a really bad habit of creating. And I am not talking about The Catholic Pope. I actually think Francis is a pretty good guy mostly because he pisses off his own people as well as others. *cough Donald Trump cough*.  I am talking about American Protestantism where we don’t have one Pope. We have many. You can probably think of some right off the top of your head and just like ancient feudal lords they amass these huge followings and become idols themselves.

Number four, I refuse to dictate to a person how I think they should live their life. That was one major problem I had with fundamentalism, was the Dionne Warwicks out there who could divine in their heads why a person was who they were or why they did what they did and felt the need to sit in judgment over them. If God was as infallible and omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent as they claimed he was – he knew what he had going on when it came to others. He knew. He didn’t need help, Adam and Eve, he had, has, will have, this. Essentially, you have no idea what a person is going through or has been through – and unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, you should probably shut up because you’re making an ass of yourself. And sure, they’ll point at scripture …but so did the devil when Christ was in the wilderness. Christ was also persecuted according to the old testament (because he broke a plethora of rules of the old testament) and was even, according to the old testament, cursed because he was hung on a tree. So, yep, the Old Testament curses the son of God – let that stew a bit. These people are too busy BEING GOD they’ll never hear God speak to them. Ever.

Number five, I believe that when Christ gave the MANDATE to go outfeed, clothe, and care for the weakest among us he wasn’t talking to hear himself. This wasn’t a suggestion. This was a commandment that – especially in American Christianity – is ignored because it runs counter to this marriage of capitalism and faith. Jesus is not a republican, nor is he a democrat, what I think he’d be : Is Pissed at the money changers who have great big churches and homeless people sleeping on the steps. By their fruits, ye shall know them.

Number six, ignoring Christians is not persecution. At all. Having your head chopped off or stoned to death because of your beliefs – that’s persecution. Needing to control people’s bodies and their thoughts and their lives – that’s being a persecutor. Stop being an intellectual slob, stop justifying your hatred for other people by using God. That is not a sign of great faith. That’s a sign of a LACK OF FAITH.

I’ve met people with deep abiding faith – you know what they’re like? They’re calm.

Do I think all the churches out there are bad? No. Do I believe there is enough badness in those churches to keep them in a state of self-reflection before they go out and try to condemn or save the world? Yep. Because they’re human institutions. And as long as human beings are involved – there will ALWAYS be error and sin and failure. Always.

So in the end, they’re just as lost as the rest of us. They just can’t admit it. What matters, in the end, is what has mattered in the beginning – you do the best you can, however you can, and let God handle the rest. And QUESTION EVERYTHING!