In which I kinda, sorta agree with Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Hi Joel,

Have you followed the spat between Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Shane Claiborne?

Falwell is the head of Liberty University, a school that conservative evangelicals hope will serve as a pipeline to government positions, including judicial appointments. He is an unabashed Trump supporter and a generally hateful, hypocritical person. Definitely the kind of religious leader you can imagine Jesus calling a viper, a wolf, and an empty vessel.

Claiborne, who has spoken directly to Mennonites at our national convention, is part of an intentional community in Philadelphia and a key part of the New Monastic movement. There is a lot I like about his work and a some things that really bother me (It’s the dreadlocks. I haven’t read enough of Claiborne to know is defense of them, but I know that they hurt his witness with many African Americans. And, yes, I fully understand what it means for me to say that someone’s hair interferes with their “witness,” so the fact that I’m saying it anyway should tell you what a big deal it is for me.)

Anyway, Claiborne has been an outspoken critic of empire-loving Christians in general and Falwell in particular. Despite/because of this he issued an invite for Falwell to join him in prayer when Claiborne comes to Lynchberg, Virginia, where Liberty is headquartered, to lead a two-day “revival” this weekend among students who oppose Trump. Liberty University is not just an accidental target: Claiborne is calling out Falwell and other Christians like him who support Christian nationalism.

In the planning process, he asked Jerry Falwell, Jr., to join the revivalists in prayer. In response, Falwell, Jr. had Liberty lawyers write a letter to Claiborne warning him to stay off the campus–which is, after all, private property–or Liberty would sic their lawyers on them. This, in turns, is being used as evidence that Falwell isn’t a real Christian, doesn’t care about Christian unity, is a hypocrite about the free expression of religion, etc. It doesn’t help that he then censored an effort by the university newspaper to cover the off-campus event.

Which is all true. Falwell IS angry, power hungry, and vacuous. I suppose God loves him, but that’s mostly because I’m not a Calvinist yet, though Falwell could push me over the edge. When I look at his life, I don’t see any fruit of God’s presence in his life.

 

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Above, a 2017 tweet in which Claiborne says “Yes, I’m troubled by Trump. But I’m more troubled by the Christians who support him. Trump’s gospel is so different from the Gospel of Jesus.” In the accompanying photo, Trump holds an issue of Playboy that also appeared in a photo of him, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s wife. Falwell himself circulated the image of him standing with the president in front of a framed copy of the pornographic magazine. 

And yet…

I think he was mostly right to reject Claiborne’s offer. Obviously, it was a set-up. I have no idea what these two men could meet to pray about. When each prays the Lord’s prayer–“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”–they mean entirely different things. Their heavens are different, and their Gods are different. And, like Mark Twain says, you can’t pray a lie.

I don’t think that his legal threats anything about Falwell’s character that we don’t know. I don’t think that there is a single issue on which Falwell could honestly pray with Claiborne. Claiborne cares about peace, but Falwell promotes war. Claiborne wants people to be treasured as creations of God; Falwell is on an advisory council for a pornography promoter. Claiborne wants an end to the death penalty; Falwell wants our enemies blown to smithereens.

Not praying with Claiborne might be the most honest thing a man like him could do.

Rebecca

 

 

 

Remembering my first vote

Hi Joel,

Today was my county’s Democratic Nominating Convention. Which makes me wonder:

Do you remember the first time you voted?

[Cue flashback music]

I turned 18 the fall of my senior year of high school, so my first vote was in the 1996 primary. Bill Clinton was the Democratic nominee. Our Senators were not up for re-election, so I couldn’t vote against Arlen Spector or Rick Santorum, and Republican Representative Joe Pitts was a safe bet for the House.  So it was a relatively easy choice to register as a Republican: I would be picking which local Republican won the primary and thus the general election.

As a progressive who has lived most of her voting life in deeply conservative places (Kansas, Arkansas, Utah), it’s a strategy that I’ve relied on many times–so much so that at nearly half of my adult voting life has been as a registered Republican. That would likely surprise many of my students (and maybe our readers).

Anyway, back to that April day in 1996: I’d gone to Mt. Eden Lutheran church to vote, armed with my notes on each candidate, just in case I forgot what I was doing when I got inside the booth. I had my voter registration card, which had a simple drawing of a Conestoga wagon on it. (I may still have it somewhere…) and a sense of deep responsibility to vote in an informed way.

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Above, the seal of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, appeared on my first voter registration card. The heart within a heart signifies the human heart living in the heart of God. The Conestoga wagon and Pennsylvania rifles are emblems of the ingenuity of the people there–and their influence on the rest of the United States. The green ground below is strewn with corn, a native food, honoring the area’s farmers. 

I was met outside the church by an elderly woman giving away small packets of wildflower seeds who offered to help me through the process. I told her that I was there to vote in the Republican primary, and she asked me if I knew who I was voting for. I did, but the importance of the secret ballot had been impressed deeply upon me by Miss Cynthia Sangrey and Mr. Ronald Althouse, my US history teachers. At the same time, I couldn’t tell an elder to mind her own business, so I simply smiled and said I needed to think about it. In response, she pulled out a sample ballot–with marks by the names of candidates that, she explained, the state party supported. “It’s so confusing,” she said sympathetically. “You’re probably too busy to keep track of everyone, so it’s probably just easiest to vote this way.”

I thanked her and went on my way, a bit shaken that interference with the voting process could take such a kindly form.

I’m far less naive now.  Amid an investigation of Trump’s collusions with the Russians and Russian bots’ attempts to divide Americans, my greatest concern for democracy is homegrown: voter suppression, irregularities with electronic voting machines, voter ID policies that disenfranchise people of color, and partisan gerrymandering that undermines democratic elections. They’re not only more powerful tactics that Russian propaganda–they’re being brought to use by our own leaders.

Rebecca

 

The battlefield amorality of Donald Trump

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Technically, he’s white.

A chilling bit of reporting:

Later, when the agency’s head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?” one participant in the meeting recalled.

On the campaign trail, Trump often said he would “take out” the families of terrorists.

Civilians routinely die when the U.S. drops its bombs, but our consciences are supposed to be salved because of all the steps the military takes to avoid civilian casualties. (The U.S. government also tends to undercount civilian casualties.) If you’re on the receiving end of U.S. bombs, those good intentions probably don’t count for much: You’re maimed or dead either way, probably angry as hell if you’re a survivor. But at least we can convince ourselves we’re prosecuting messy wars in as morally upright a fashion as possible if we understand ourselves to be trying.

President Trump would dispense with even that fig leaf of moral superiority.

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Read the full Washington Post story and you’ll come to understand that America’s wars abroad are confused affairs, that our country is apparently doomed to stumble around causing overseas bloodshed in perpetuity … or until such time as the cost, in blood or treasure or the simple willingness of Americans to ignore and tolerate what’s done on our behalf, becomes too much. I doubt it’s doing much to make us safer.

Trump’s approach makes all this worse. If the people we’re bombing can point to his words, that will create more enemies for America. In the terrorism era, it doesn’t take too many enemies to inflict some serious misery. Trump’s kill ’em all approach seems likely to make us less safe.  If morality doesn’t make adifference to the president — and clearly it doesn’t — utilitarian considerations might. Unfortunately, Trump only knows about (and seemingly only cares about) looking like a TV version of a tough guy.

God’s theologically significant penis

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Forgive me for the headline, but here’s Rod Dreher again:

God is revealed to us in the Bible as a Father. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is a man. Mary, the mother of the Messiah, plays an important symbolic role too. You lose the male and female aspects of the story, you lose sight of why these things matter theologically.

This is why I cannot bring myself to fully commit to any kind of orthodox faith (though as always, my Mennonite connections still have a hold on me). Dreher takes something ultimately unknowable — outside of some assertions written in patriarchal cultures thousands of years ago — and elevates the assertion to the level of meaningful theology. He’s pretty typical in this!

But I cannot, for the life of me, begin to give a shit about whether God has a penis, much less what that should mean for any kind of faith system I adopt.

There’s not really a way to even begin to debate this, because it all goes to the level of our deep, individual psyches. Dreher, for whatever reason, needs his faith to be difficult, demanding, and masculine — needs, in fact, for it be be difficult, demanding, and masculine for everybody. Everything else is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a “feminized” — how his use of that term drips with scorn! — bastardization of faith. He believes this for the same reason, I think, that we all hold whatever theological beliefs we have:

Because we want to. The rest is rationalization.

“The Gift of Being Broken”

Today, we share a sermon by Ruth Harder, pastor of Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City.  Pastor Harder generously shares her thoughts about Holy Week–and Good Friday in particular–in a piece about being broken, being in community, and art.

Thank you, Ruth, for these words.

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Recently I asked my parents if I could have this chalice of theirs. “You know you can’t use it because of the crack, right?” “Yes,” I said. I still thought it had value.

We probably all know what it is like to hold something precious only to have it fall out of our grip and onto the floor. Shattered, sometimes repairable, sometimes not.

Holy Week invites us into these movements of holding something precious, experiencing the shattering, and then, sometimes much to our surprise, having something new arrive or be revived. We are invited into these movements within the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and within the development of the early church, for they too knew what it was like to hold what they believed to be precious, only to have it shatter in front of them.  Then, much to the world’s surprise, they became a resurrected church, taking the shattered pieces, the body undone by violence, and reassembling a Body made for a different purpose—living toward a different purpose.

So with that introduction, I want to introduce you to someone that makes these movements of Jesus and Jesus’ followers feel very much alive and full of potential and vitality today.

Meet Nelia Kimbrough. Artist. Preacher. Social Activist. Poet. Teacher. Friend. The person who I invited to speak at my ordination.

For over ten years, starting in 2014, Nelia and her husband Calvin were volunteer residents at The Open Door Community (ODC) in Atlanta, GA, a Catholic Worker-style community on the margins of Atlanta. As one person put it, “The ODC’s charism and struggle was focused on living in deep, sincere relationship with those experiencing or facing homelessness, imprisonment, poverty, and execution, offering hospitality in the form of soup kitchens, showers, medical clinics, prison visitations, care packages for the condemned, and so much more.” Works of mercy and works of justice were practiced day in and day out for 35 years, alongside the imperative work of living into the trauma and pain of white supremacy, patriarchy and interracial strife.

Everyone who came in and out of their doors day after day had plenty to say and teach about the brokenness of the world, the ways we are undone and shattered by so much. There are also incredible stories and examples from the ODC experience of a community becoming redone, bodies reassembled, wholeness and renewal sought.

And I want to share one example of this. I mentioned Nelia is an artist, a visual poet and theologian.

In a phone interview with her recently, she said that when ODC  building was purchased 35 years ago, it came with a mirror that hung near the front door hallway. So when people came in for the soup kitchen, or for showers, or a change of clothes, they would often stop by the front door to look at themselves. And sometimes just the very act of seeing themselves in the mirror restored their belief they were a human being.

One day Nelia heard some commotion outside and a guy, who came for showers, was upset. He was often disrespected, perhaps because he was gay. They tried to bring him inside and help him calm down, but that didn’t work so they told him to come back another time. On his way out, he grabbed a ceramic coffee mug and threw it at the mirror and shattered the mirror. Soon people started to haul the broken glass out, but Nelia insisted that the broken, shattered mirror be kept. She didn’t know why exactly, but eventually the idea was born that they would use this broken glass, as well as all the broken pieces of dishes from their soup kitchen, to create a mural by the front door.

It was important to Nelia that a mirror be kept in the center, at eye level, so that people could remember their humanness as they came and went. So a new round mirror was gifted to the community by a long term volunteer.

And Nelia set out to begin this mural project, with others helping from time to time. Well, as is often the case, the projects we set out to complete get interrupted, our dreams of finishing shatters, things unravel. The work at ODC, Nelia told me, was often physically and mentally draining. And Nelia got stuck. She simply couldn’t work on the mural. So this project, this struggle stretched into a nine year project/struggle, and finally, it was finished in fall of 2013.

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Above, Nelia Kimbrough stands in front of The Gift of Being Broken. The mosaic features a large circular mirror where passersby can see their fces. Above the mirror, a white dove descends over a yellow burst. 

What you have is the mirror at eye-level and center. What you have are extended arms, with bread in one hand and a chalice in the other. What you have is a cup of coffee, a sandwich, a bowl of soup. What you have are broken, yet shining pieces, made into something new and whole. What you have is a dove descending (the only intact object other than the mirror). Nelia said she used it at the top of the mural as the symbol of the Holy Spirit pouring forth the gift of the Eucharist in the midst of the brokenness. What you have is a communion mural, a hospitality mural, called “The Gift of Being Broken.”

And how I wish I could end on this inspiring note and image. But as I said at the beginning, so often what we hold as precious shatters. Less than a year after Nelia finished this mural, The Open Door Community in Atlanta, 910 Ponce de Leon Avenue, was torn down, reduced to a pile of rubble that has been swept up and taken who knows where. The Open Door is no longer a hospitality oasis in the city of Atlanta. Last week, Nelia and her husband Calvin were in Atlanta and drove by ODC. Nelia reflects on the experience:

“I have thought about the sacred presence that has been poured into that plot of earth through the thousands of cups of unfinished coffee, the pee & poop left there when the public restroom wasn’t open and the energy infused in to the soil by the bodies that made a bed on the ground when there was nowhere else to sleep. No amount of scraping or digging will ever take that away.”

I want to read one more person’s reflection on this particular ending/shattering. To me it has gospel-sized implications. As Nathan Dorris said in a Facebook post recalling ODC:

“There are those, quick to comfort and with all good intention, who will say that Open Door still exists – primarily in the hearts, minds, spirits of the people…all those affected by its life and work, moved by its spirit; but also in the continuity of work carried on by former members of the community in other parts of Georgia or Baltimore, where a small enclave of refugees from Atlanta have settled to keep the fire lit. There is much to commend such a response; it’s true, all of it. But, at least for myself, there’s something more going on in this pain that I want to sit with for just a moment, a small whimper that I feel the need to be still and listen to. It is, I think, the pain of the destruction of a place that is a living presence of its own.

Countless hours of laughter were stored in those walls, absorbed from conversations between vast numbers of wildly diverse people. Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims; people of color, people of privilege, people of means, people of generational trauma and poverty. Anger, pain, rage, resentment–at class oppression, racial inequality, at our own failures to live into better ways of being together, our faults and shortcomings, at the bullshit of the local and national political machinery as well as the latest performance by the Atlanta Falcons–coursed through the veins of that place, stoking its passion and the passion of those who passed through for one, two, three nights, or a year, or five. Water runoff from showers offered and given freely to those who are often otherwise denied a place to wash themselves; coffee made with love poured out as libation upon the ground in the front yard. The thousands upon thousands of voices sharing their thoughts, feelings, singing loudly, poorly, earnestly, etching themselves into the leaves of the trees or the notches in the benches. Murals made of broken pottery, more beautiful than any I’ve seen in a museum, set into those walls like distinctive bends on the hands of a loved one.”

For me, this reflection, just like this communion mural, plunges us into the depths of Holy Week, especially Good Friday—a time when we are invited to sink into the broken realities impacting so many lives and places. The rubble, the shattered pieces crying out to be remembered, lives aching to remember, to reassemble a sense of belovedness.

We take this plunge into Good Friday as a community, as friends and followers of Jesus. We aren’t asked to walk this way all by our lonesome, but in the company of one another, hopefully nourished along the way until that Easter joy is finally, once and for all, experienced by all. The mural once again made complete.

May it be so.

What is Christianity for?

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This is a question I’ve asked a few times here at SixOh6. It seems like a good question to revisit at Easter. And here’s my my quick-and-dirty answer: I don’t have a good answer.

Or rather: I have multiple answers.

If one takes Christianity seriously as faith, then the answer for many Christians is something like: Christianity is the way we come into right relationship with God. It plugs us into an eternal perspective, and we are redeemed from our sinful and broken natures by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus and choosing to live as He would have us.

I’m not sure I believe that entirely. As always, I’m one foot in and one foot out of the church.

The foot out: I don’t think I know precisely the nature of God, or what God wants from us, and some of the things traditional Christianity has told us are bad — and this, in my life, ranges all the way from “dancing” to “being gay” — I’ve found, with experience, are actually good.

Still: There’s the example of Jesus. Who warned us against living by the sword. Who ate with tax collectors. Who repeatedly confounded the social expectations of his time, and did it on behalf of adultresses, the meek, the prisoners and the rest of society’s castoffs.

There’s the foot in.

If my writings here at SixOh6 seem occasionally muddled, it’s because while I live my life with one foot out, I expect self-proclaimed Christians to live the former version of Christianity — with an eternal perspective. The tribalism I see in American Christians seems to me to be precisely the opposite of that.

Maybe that’s hypocritical of me.

Rod Dreher, as you know by now, is a source of some frustration to me. And I think he captured why in this essay about why traditional Christian notions of sex are so important.

Is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives—or gave—Christianity its power as a social force?

I think it’s kind of clear that for Dreher, the answer is, uh, “yes.”

But I also think he has the question wrong. He’s not interrogating whether Christianity’s purpose is to be a social force.

It gets complicated. I think if you live out Christianity with that eternal perspective, it will definitely flow through your temporal life an have social ramifications. But that’s a byproduct of living with the eternal perspective, not the purpose.

On the other hand, if you’re me, living with one foot out of the church, with maybe only a nodding hope of the eternal perspective — well, what’s left except the social ramifications? And if that’s the case, who am I to get mad at Rod Dreher for treating his faith that way?

I’m not a good Christian. That’s the choice I make, based on my best sense of what I know. But I want Christians to be the best Christians they can be.

This is partly right:

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

I’m definitely seeing through the glass darkly. What’s Christianity for? Finding out if the rest of it is true, I guess.

Does religious freedom include a right to federal subsidies?

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I don’t think so. But that seems to be the prevailing attitude among religious conservatives these days.

Take Rod Dreher, who is fretting that Christian colleges might lose federal funding unless they change their policies to include acceptance of gays and lesbians. ” Lots of Christian colleges (e.g., Notre Dame) have already capitulated. There will be some holdouts, but I’m not sure how long they can manage. If these colleges cannot access government funds, many of them will be forced to close.”

The notion also popped up in this week’s Kansas debate about letting private adoption agencies discriminate against gay couples.

Several supporters of the bill — sent to the House 28-12 — accused its critics of attacking the Catholic faith by asserting the change in state law would legitimize discrimination.

“The prejudice displayed yesterday towards the Catholic faith was offensive and extremely disappointing,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican. “This bill protects Catholic Charities and other religious affiliated groups to continue doing the most noble work — providing children a loving and safe home in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

Let’s take the last assertion first: I don’t think it’s discrimination to acknowledge that a private religion’s set of beliefs might not be entirely compatible with providing a service to the entire public. Would anybody call it discrimination if presidents pointedly prohibited Mennonites from serving as the Secretary of Defense? Life is full of tradeoffs, but religious conservatives seem to think they’re exempt from that notion.

And they seem to think that religious freedom includes the ability to be subsidized by the taxpayer. “We’re taxpayers too,” Dreher wrote. But I’m fairly certain he’d throw a screaming fit if Wiccans or Muslims funded their academies using tax dollars. What’s the difference?

I went to a Christian college that survived, in part, thanks to those federal dollars. I differ with it on some important matters of theology. But I still love it and the friends I made there: They are my family, for better and for worse. Still, I don’t think it’s entitled to those dollars, either. And I guess it’s a little odd that an institution that so self-consciously contrasts itself against “the world” — or, at least, it did during my years there — would be so reliant on it. Mennonite Christians, in particular, used to know how to shake the dust off their feet. I’m not certain that’s the case anymore.