The NRA hates you and me

Dear Rebecca:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the interplay between civility and justice lately, resisting the idea that we have to hate our neighbors who think differently than us, feeling like any political victories we achieve in such an atmosphere might be hollow and rickety.

But then there’s this ad from the NRA:

(Sorry, the video is not embedding. Follow the link and watch.)

And, um, I’m terrified.

It makes me wonder if civility is beside the point. Safety is first, then justice. I see no love for their fellow citizens in this ad, no understanding – or even a care to understand – what might motivate them. All I see is hate and rage.

They hate you. They hate me. And they love it. They need it.

God help us all.

Millennials are Killing Stuff. Thank them!

Hi Joel,

You may have seen one of my new least favorite genres of commentary: the Things Millennials are Killing piece. This kind of writing bemoans the fact that younger people are changing the economy by their stubborn refusal to buy the consumer goods that their parents and grandparents thought signaled adulthood: cars, homes, diamonds, televisions. It is in the vein of the Why Won’t Millennials Work Like We Did essay, which complains that Millennials won’t pledge loyalty to or arrange their schedules around jobs that will never, ever pay them enough to buy the cars, homes, and diamonds that they aren’t buying. The bigger story: Millennials are questioning the relationships among work, stuff, and happiness. And science backs up their decisions to spend money on experiences–including eating avocado toast, getting massages, and traveling–rather than material goods.


Above, mmmm…. Avocado toast, three ways: with tomato, with fried egg, and with bacon. Don’t like it? Maybe you should pay wages that will allow young workers to save up for a down payment. In the meantime, “let them eat toast!”

Why these stories get reported as emergencies is clear: there are a lot of people labeled Millennial (full disclosure: I’m of the Oregon Trail Generation, those born between the release of the first and third films in the original Star Wars trilogy: born analog but reached adulthood in the digital age, and, because of my delayed entry into adulthood (grad school), my financial habits are more Millennial than Gen X.), and they matter a lot to the economy, but as consumers. We’ve structured our economy so that many of them were graduating from college with insurmountable debt and lousy job prospects, but we still need them to buy stuff.

But the urgent tine of these essays doesn’t tell us how very important this change is. It’s a shift produced by a number of factors, primarily economic (They don’t have the money.) but also out of a recognition that rampant consumerism is unethical; it hurts the earth and, frankly, it’s pretty hard to accumulate stuff without participating in human slavery and other forms of labor exploitation. Maybe if Millennials had the money to do it, they’d buy diamonds, but since they don’t, they might as well also note that the diamond industry is deeply damaging to people and the planet. Or, as Sarah Kendzior says it in an article for Quartz, “Many millennials do not have a lot of choice. They are merely reacting to lost opportunity.”)

For our Mennonite readers (and others) who take the call to live simply seriously, we should be enthusiastically supporting Millennials who reject consumerism. And we could probably all benefit from applying Millennial’s detachment from things–especially since, in the end, they might be the ones deciding just what to do with your stuff.


In Christ there is no East or West

Dear Rebecca:

I’m sorry I haven’t posted lately. My silence has been driven by two things: Busyness, but also a deep anger about our politics — with heartless Republicans and smug liberals — and, well, I haven’t trusted myself to comment rationally and persuasively.

I went to church this morning, though, and got to sing the traditional version of this untraditional Mavis Staples take on an old hymn:

The United Methodist Church has an interesting website devoted to the history of hymns. About the original version, it says this:

As UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young observes, “[t]he theme of Oxenham’s hymn, one of the most durable hymnic statements of Christian unity in the twentieth century, is from Galatians 3:28: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ.’”

Though originating in the missionary movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries, this hymn gratefully lacks the triumphalism and hegemonic assumptions of so many mission hymns of this era. Perhaps the author’s extensive travel helped him develop a sense of Christian unity beyond the racial and cultural differences that he observed.

This is my animating idea when it comes to the church, I guess. It’s why I resist Christianity as tribalism, or as a force that reinforces our tribalism. If there is a god and that being is the God of us all, what excuse do we have to separate ourselves and to exult in, be prideful about, those separations?

It was a good morning to be in church. A time to be reminded of some important stuff.


Books for Woke Kids

Hi Joel,

It’s summer time, which means it’s time for public library reading programs! My kids each get a certificate from the school district superintendent if they read 10 “age appropriate” books or a total of 1000 pages over the summer, plus prizes along the way from the library. We spent the morning at the university library working on this project, with the oldest reading a passage on cuttlefish from Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and the middle child working her way through a book on women saints. The major family reading list this summer including Benito Cereno in response to Ariel Dorfman’s call for us to use Melville to understand the age of Trump.

Books, just as much as my politically active parents and Mennonite church experiences, helped me develop the empathy, historical knowledge, and ability to see how personal experiences illuminated structural and institutional injustices. Books occupied a very special place in my upbringing. My siblings and I were never told “no” when we asked to buy them through the Scholastic book order program, and I consider that unlimited generosity one of my parent’ best gifts to us. Each of us had our own bookshelf–and not a little one, either, but something at least chest-high. I’m not sure if, growing up, you could have thrown a ball without hitting a book or stack of magazines or newspapers in our house. One of our most treasured possessions was an excellent set of gilt-edged encyclopedias, which could only be handled after we’d washed our hands.

Books matter just as much in my own family now, as the many saints who have helped us move them can attest.

My own children are now in preschool, upper elementary, and middle school. I’ve written elsewhere (specifically about supporting refugees) about how important books are to foster our hope that our children will be caring global citizens (and sometimes they get it, and sometimes it works!). Here are three favorites we’ve read and re-read, individually and as a family, to get our kids thinking about the ways we want to be in the world.


Above, Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shows a beautiful painting of King’s face, smiling. The book has won numerous awards for children’s literature. 

You know you love it when the book is held together with paperclips, rubber bands, or other basic office supplies. That’s the case for Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. The book’s clear words and beautiful illustrations tell the story of a childhood King who is himself beginning to understand the racism that is shaping his life.


Above, the cover of The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum shows a young Dorothy comforting the Cowardly Lion as Toto and her new friends Scarecrow and Tin Man look on. 

From start to finish, it’s a radical book that celebrates diversity and is unabashedly pro-queer and feminist.


9781902593579-usAbove, the cover of Addicted to War: Why the US Can’t Kick Militarism shows an illustration of a white man in a suite sweating as he attempts to hold too many items in his arms: tanks, military helicopters, an Air Force jet, missiles, a naval ship, and nuclear smokestacks. 

Addicted to War is a graphic nonfiction book by Joel Andreas was brought to our attention by folks at Joy Mennonite Church in Oklahoma City. It provides an accessible introduction to US military history from the conflict perspective, always asking, “How did this benefit the people in power?” If you have a child interested in warfare but you’d rather not romanticize it, this is a great choice. We’ve worn through two copies of it already and are on our third.

Readers: What books helped you see the world differently? Made you more empathetic? Introduced you to figures from history or fiction who changed your life? What books do you want your children to read? What books of their generation are you reading and learning from now?



If a White Supremacist and an Islamophobe Love Each Other Very Much… You might just get Bryan Fischer

Dear Joel,

I’m hopeful that some of our readers joined in protests against last weekend’s ACT for America demonstrations against Muslims. Claiming to be “anti-Shariah” protestors, participants chose Ramadan, a time of holy fasting and prayer to honor the revealing of the Qu’ran. Because racism tends to attract racism,racism tends to attract racism, white supremacists showed up to many of anti-Muslim ones, including in Arkansas, where the ACT for America event was organized by a known neo-Nazi.

White terrorists represent the single largest threat to domestic safety, so thousands of white Christians spend their time spreading hate toward their Muslim neighbors, despite the fact that terror attacks by Muslims are relatively rare, if widely overreported–by about 449%.  The meaningful work they could be doing to insure Americans’ safety–monitoring their own radical factions and bringing back into the fold the lone wolf actors who commit so many of the terrorism attacks we see in the US–won’t be done by them.

Instead, we get Brian Fischer, right wing radio provocateur, saying this:

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 12.52.35 PM.png

Above, Fischer’s tweet from Sunday, June 11: “The unholy trinity of hate in America: the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and the religion of Islam.”

That’s right–the day after neo-Nazis joined Islamophobes, all enthusiastically empowered by the Trump administration’s tolerance for hate and appeal to hate voters, Fischer says the problem is… Democrats, the media, and Islam.


SBC would rather be silent than TOO anti-racist

Hi Joel,

The Southern Baptist Convention met this week in Phoenix, and the big news was going to be, I thought, how the newest Holman Christian Standard translation of the Bible incorporated more gender-inclusive language. Turns out that that was the least of the SBC’s troubles.

Instead, attention focused on the difficulty that the SBC had passing a resolution condemning white supremacy and the alt-right. You might think that condemning racism would be an easy decision, but it took a denomination founded to defend slavery an actual century and a half to prioritize racial healing within its organization, so let’s not be pretend to be shocked.


Above, more than two dozen Klansman pose in their robes around the pulpit of an unnamed Baptist (denominational affiliation unknown) church in Portland in 1922. Church leaders join them for the photo. 

And, to be far, as anyone who has ever participated in a church convention can likely attest to, making movement on any issue can be hard. Rules abound for how such conversations are to proceed, and while the expressed purpose of rigid processes is to insure fairness and slow down a rush to change, these bureaucratic measures are also a form of violence. As Hannah Arendt writes in On Violence:

Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.

This is as true in federal governments as in meetings of boards of the tiniest churches.

The problem with the resolution condemning white supremacy, it seems, was that the language was too harsh. The original text, posted at the blog of Dwight McKissic, Sr., the black pastor who proposed it, calls on the SBC to “reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system; and be finally.”

That was considered overly broad and could apply to Christians who aren’t part of the alt-right.

Yes, that was the problem.

Sure, maybe it is also the case, as Barrett Duke, head of the resolutions committee said, that they didn’t want to pass a resolution that suggested that they hate their enemy, but it’s also clear that they weren’t going to move on this at all until their was a social media backlash against the failure to condemn racism.

But also: the SBC didn’t want to throw out conservative Christians who aren’t part of the alt-right but who might be xenophobic racists trying to roll back civil rights gains. These are fine lines to draw.

To summarize: white Southern Baptists felt that a resolution condemning white supremacy was, as written by a black man, too harsh and might reflect poorly on them as Christians and might alienate white conservatives who actually do oppose civil right but would prefer not to be lumped into the “white supremacist” category.

But, notably, no white people (as far as I know) suggested that the SBC condemn rising white supremacy.

Somehow the silence of whites was less offensive than the leadership of African Americans; not condemning white supremacy at all was less offensive to the  principle of “love your enemy” than was the language of the original resolution. The risk of throwing out old fashioned nativists and racists with the alt-right was too high.

A version of the resolution that demanded less of white Southern Baptists passed easily once it got to the vote.


PS. The SBC has lost 1 million members in the last 10 years.

When Christians Fail to Entertain Angels


Yesterday,  I shared a sermon I’d preached at Stahl Mennonite Church in Johnstown, PA, immediately after the Pulse shooting in Orlando around this time last year. At the center of that sermon is the image of participants in Angel Action, a strategy for opposing anti-LGBTQ hate that was created in the wake of Westboro Baptist Church’s picket of Matthew Shepard’s funeral. Participants dress as angels, wearing huge wings made of sheets and PVC pipe, and stand between grieving families and protestors. Though participants are not necessarily religious, they are performing an act of love that Christians are called to do: to protect the vulnerable. In Orlando, this response was organized by the theater community.

Shortly before 2 am on the anniversary of the mass shooting, more people in Orlando stepped forward as part of Angel Action, surrounding those who had come to a private service at Pulse to honor their loved ones, with their wings again.

At a time when Christians are probably the primary reason people become atheists, we could decide to learn from angels like these. Will we be gatekeepers who keep people out, or will we be lamplighters who guide people in? What do we lose when we fail to entertain angels?

dsc_0011Above, participants in Orlando’s Angel Action. Photo from the Orlando Sentinel