God’s theologically significant penis


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.


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.


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?


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?


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.

Christie Appelhanz: ‘Prejudice and discrimination are bad for children, whatever their family structure’

0Earlier today, I posted my anger about a Kansas Senate bill that would let private adoption agencies discriminate against gay couples. My friend Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas, shared with me her testimony against the bill.

Please read and share.



Christie Appelhanz, Executive Director
Children’s Alliance of Kansas
In opposition to SB 401
Before the Committee on Federal and State Affairs

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony in opposition to SB 401. Children’s Alliance represents 17 private, nonprofit member agencies that coordinate child welfare activities and programming across Kansas to strengthen families. While SB 401 would not directly affect the child placing agencies that are part of the Children’s Alliance, it negatively affects our top priority — the Kansas children we serve. With a record number of children in state custody, we need all qualified families who are willing to open their hearts and homes to children in need.

Rooted in religion and guided by research to serve the best interest of the child.

Historically, religious communities founded and managed most orphanages in the United States. Many of the member organizations of the Children’s Alliance are deeply rooted in religious traditions and some remain faith-based organizations. Thousands of our child welfare staff as well as foster and adoptive parents are active in religious communities across Kansas. It may have been their faith that motivated them to work in child welfare in the first place. A high level of personal commitment to the work oftentimes comes from a deep sense of calling or purpose it provides.

But no matter what personal religious beliefs we hold, our decisions must be guided by the best interest of the child. SB 401 puts the needs of some child welfare providers above those of the children we are tasked to serve. Our collective experience shows — and research backs it up — that children are most likely to flourish in families that provide love, security and support whatever their family structure. Prejudice and discrimination are bad for children, whatever their family structure. Whether children have one parent or two, whether their parents are male or female, whether their parents are of the same sex or the opposite sex, matter less for children than does the quality of family relationships and the support of their community.

Narrowing the pool of prospective families hurts kids.

Allowing any agency to turn away qualified families based on religious objections to those families means children are losing opportunities to find families that may be best suited to meet their needs, or possibly the only family willing and able to care for them.

For example, if an agency turns away a prospective adoptive parent who is a doctor or nurse with the skill to care for a child with severe medical needs based on a religious objection, the child may have to remain in an institution rather than have the chance to be part of a loving family. Or if a family willing to care for a large sibling group is turned away, there may not be other families able to do so and those brothers and sisters may end up being separated.

We can’t count on prospective families who have been turned away because of their sexual orientation, faith or other religious-based criteria will continue knocking on doors of other agencies, each time facing the risk of rejection. We can’t afford to lose any qualified families.

We are “no matter what” agencies here for the long haul.

The child welfare system was created and designed to protect children, to allow them to reach their full potential and to help them become thriving members of society. SB 401 will make that more difficult for many kids. As contractors, sub-contractors and partners of the State of Kansas, members of the Children’s Alliance work to match children with “no matter what families.” These are families that will love kids no matter what daunting challenges they face together. We also take pride in being no matter what agencies. While some agencies have threatened to close if they don’t agree with the rules, Children’s Alliance members are committed to serving children no matter what. We will not prioritize the religious beliefs of child welfare agencies over the protection of children no matter what. We will explore all potential avenues to ensure children join safe and loving families no matter what.

The state of Kansas hates gay people more than it loves children

Banned in Kansas?


The Kansas Senate gave final passage Thursday to a bill that would guarantee that faith-based adoption agencies will continue to have access to state contracts and grants, even if they refuse to place children in certain homes based on the agency’s religious beliefs.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Kansas and a number of child welfare advocacy groups openly opposed the bill during committee hearings, with some arguing that it would allow state money to flow to organizations that discriminate against same-sex couples, single adults or even people from another faith.

It’s striking to me that religious conservatives seem to believe that “freedom of religion” means they’re entitled to taxpayer money — it’s a definition of freedom conservatives would countenance in no other context.

But philosophical arguments aside, you know who gets hurt by this? Kansas kids.

Why? Because there’s evidence that steering foster- and adoptive kids to heterosexual-only parents can actually endanger them:

Members of the Legislative Post Audit Committee again declined Tuesday to request an investigation into whether the Kansas Department for Children and Families has placed children in risky situations because of a preference for heterosexual foster parents.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, first requested the audit in December after reports surfaced of DCF removing a baby from the home of a lesbian couple in Wichita and placing it with a heterosexual Topeka couple who subsequently were charged with child abuse.

“We had a judicial finding — after evidence, where both sides had lawyers to argue — that raised serious questions about whether DCF was making decisions (about) placing children based on the best interests of those children or based on some political ideology that opposed same-sex relationships,” Ward said.

Why? Because LGBT couples tend to take on “hard” cases that other prospective parents won’t touch:

According to Tor Docherty, chief executive of New Family Social, (NFS) data from the National Register, the national database of children available for adoption and approved adopters waiting for children, shows that LGBT people are more willing to consider adopting harder-to-place children.

There are a number of reasons why many same sex couples are keen to care for children with more challenging circumstances, she says. “Adoption is often the first route to parenthood [for LGBT people] and this can come with a different set of expectations,” she explains. “They are approaching parenthood in a non-traditional way and may be more flexible.” While many heterosexual couples consider adoption following fertility problems, and because of this can be more focused on babies or younger children, adopting one baby or infant might not necessarily be so important for LGBT people, she says.

That’s from The Guardian, but I’ve heard similar stories in Kansas and the United States for more than a decade.

The ACLU gets this exactly right:

Myth: Children need a mother and a father to have proper male and female role models.

Fact: Children without homes have neither a mother nor a father as role models.

The Senate bill is great for religious agencies. It’s not so great for kids. The State of Kansas is revealing its priorities in ugly fashion.

Listening to Those Who Hate: A Central Educational Challenge of Our Times

Hi Joel,

I have an invitation for friends in the NYC area:

A Gathering for Educative Healing

co-sponsored by the Holistic Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association and the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning of the National Council of Teachers of EnglishApril 12, 2018, 7-9:30 pm

The Open Center for Holistic Learning

Room 3-C, 22 E. 30th St (between Fifth and Madison), NYC

Donations of $10 (or more) for seats must be reserved in advance, and a small number of free standing room spots may also be reserved

Listening to Those Who Hate:

A Central Educational Challenge of Our Time4

The election of Donald Trump—and the new power and recognition it has given to those consciously and unconsciously practicing hateful ideologies—has raised certain hitherto relatively dormant questions to great educational prominence: How can we recognize, without empowering, the voices of hate in classrooms and elsewhere? How can we have compassion and understanding for those who refuse those very things to others? How can we educatively move those who hate to soften their hearts and open their minds? And, not least important, how can we engage in the excruciating emotional work of attending to the dark and fragmented spots of the human heart while maintaining our own sanity and wholeness?

We can now see more clearly how critically important it is for us to educate ourselves about hate in order be able to educate others out of it. But these questions are too new for anyone to pretend they have the definitive answers to them. The session will begin with a series of short presentations. But most of it will be given over to spontaneous and, we hope, heartfelt dialogue among participants about their encounters with various forms of hatred in their classrooms and elsewhere, and their thoughts as to how we might learn to hear one another anew in these new times. After the initial talks, we will ask the group to share in pairs the experiences and questions that brought them to the session, before joining together again in a large group dialogue for the final portion of the session.

Rhetorical Listening as a Pedagogy for Re-Uniting the Now Disunited States of America

Abigail Michelini, Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Understanding Hate: What the Academic Field of Hate Studies Has Shown that Everyone Now Needs to Know

John Shuart, Portland State University and Hate Studies Policy Research Center


Some Ways to Educate People Out of Hate and to Counteract the Ways They Are Educated Into It

Rebecca Barrett-Fox, Arkansas State University and the Journal of Hate Studies


Empathy for Gender Difference to Circumvent Hatred

Greg Bynum, SUNY, New Paltz

Learning from Hate: The Ethics and Politics of Engagement with Enemies

Rachel Wahl, The University of Virginia


The Crisis in Authority Is Everywhere—As Is the Opportunity for a Renewed Democracy: Confronting the Problems of the Personal and the Political Together, by Listening in Hope for a Newly Personalized and Holistic Democracy to Be Generated through a Politics of Interpersonal Attention and Meaning

Bruce Novak, The Foundation for Ethics and Meaning, the Holistic Education SIG of AERA, and AEPL, The Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning of the National Council of Teachers of English

To reserve your place:

  1. Pay by credit card at aepl.org at $10 or $25, using the appropriate button.
  2. If you wish to reserve seats not in units of $10 or $25, email organizer Bruce Novak at brucejnovak@gmail.com.
  3. To reserve a free standing room spot, email Bruce Novak at brucejnovak@gmail.com. 

Donations over $10 per person are tax deductible gifts to the Holistic Education SIG of AERA.

Spaces will be reserved in the order of receipt of email or credit card payment

We expect to sell out quickly, so please act quickly!