Sunday, March 30, 2014

First Cup—Evangelicals, Bullies, and Swirlies…

This blog began a few days ago right after discovering the ongoing Facebook discussion about World Vision’s decision to not discriminate against Christian same sex married employees—and, then, sadly, its decision to run away from that cliff. My initial thought was this: I’m getting one step closer to completely disassociating myself from the label Christian. (I gave up on evangelical a long time ago because of its rampant, ahistorical misuse.) I know there are some who already think I have abandoned the faith and are neither surprised nor shocked by such a decision. There may be a few out there who are thinking—well, good riddance; he’s been messing up the purity of the faith for years.

Why might I do this? Well, some of the reasons:

The continuing confusion between faith and politics. I grew up relatively apolitical; my church was never sure how to be involved in politics. It was, I think, for us more personal and less political—we voted our conscience. We thought politics a necessary evil, at best, because it tended to subvert the gospel, tending to create division rather than unity. Now, apparently, Christians think it is the primary forum for communicating the Good News.

The continuing confusion about how what matters to us gets turned into what matters to Jesus and not the other way around. In the lectionary this week, the Gospel reading shows Jesus criticized for working (aka healing) on the Sabbath. He cannot be from God because he broke the Sabbath by forming dirt into mud and giving sight to a blind man. All Christians are more or less guilty of proof texting—that is, reading texts from our own perspective—and we tend to think that the way I read the text is, in fact, the biblically correct one. I’m honest enough to confess that I struggle with this. Yet, this biblically based certainty about so many things that Jesus is silent about—and our apparent inability to consider our lives in the world in the context of how Jesus lived in the world, reducing it to, well, what follows...

The continuing confusion that insists that the USA is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by Christian founding fathers. I’ll not say more here except, well, only if one puts a fairly broadly Enlightenment spin on the label Christian.

The continuing confusion about replacing serious theological discourse with sloganeering and jingoism and blame. Intelligent, thoughtful discourse (the kind we see throughout the Christian scriptures) about what matters is very nearly a lost art.

The continuing and confusing ways we make decisions that protect us while damaging and disrupting others—even society in general. One has only to consider the vast exodus of Christians from public schools over the last decades for one (not so) pretty devastating example of this.

For the record, Judy and I are not contributors to World Vision; we do support Children of Promise, the child sponsorship program of the Church of God (Anderson, IN), our denomination. But I think the decision that the first WV made was reasonable and thoughtful and clearly in keeping with their mission. I wonder how many people read the carefully reasoned statement about why they were doing this—as an expression of their mission and their historical relationship with a variety of denominations and communions. I think the decision to take money away from children in the name of Jesus is, well, simply wrong. Jesus said something about hurting children, millstones, and drowning. (And I do hope that those now offended, angry, or saddened about its reversal will not choose to behave in the same ways that its attackers did.)

And, now, we’re going viral about a movie—Noah!

If I remember correctly Christians were first named Christian by the people who watched them (Acts 11:26); apparently their behavior was such that others associated their compassionate and generous behavior with Jesus.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43-47 NRSV)

In this narrative, Christian is not a political label, and I don’t think it was meant to be derisive. I think it was a response to how these followers of Jesus lived: "These people are apparently not going away; what shall we call them?" In that spirit, therefore, I choose to label the current crop of “evangelicals” (which, last time I checked, has something to do with Good News) “bullyvangelicals” in keeping with their behavior, which I see as bullying, threatening, intimidating, crass, and finger pointing—the ecclesiastical equivalent of “swirlies.” Somewhere the Good News is lost in favor of some new kind of religio-political correctness.

This leaves me with a problem, however: What will I call myself? I’m not sure. Some now like to say, “I’m a follower of Jesus.” I think I understand why they say that, and I’d like to say that, but it seems presumptuous. I’ve said that; I want to be that but am not sure that I have the ethos to do so. I’ve always thought of myself as a pilgrim, trying to live on a journey of discovery open to the call of God in Christ in my life—waiting for way to close and way to open. Perhaps that’s it—pilgrim. But I guess it finally doesn’t matter what I call myself; it is about what others see in me and my living and loving (a scary proposition), and, finally, God’s grace.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Second cup—Poetry Friday

It's been a while since I've posted any of my poetic musings; it's been a dry spell brought on by too much of nearly everything. Lately, I've been thinking a great deal about what I do in the classroom--what am I really doing there.

Liberating Professors

“If you are not here faithfully among us,
you are causing terrible damage.”

Where are you? How did you get here?
On whose back? On whose shoulders?
Did you get here playing by the rules?
Subverting the rules? Bending the rules?

Did you arrive by bus, train, by straight road or
mountain path or, trackless, cross-country?
Did you arrive by grabbing hold and
refusing to let go or by letting go, fearful,
of the fall? Did you arrive alone
or in the company of a friend or teacher.
Perhaps a company of pilgrims?

I suspect no one who traveled well traveled here alone.
My guess is we’ve traveled with companions
more than by ourselves. My guess is no one would
or could arrive here alone. My story clearly suggests
this. However tall I may stand, it is always on the shoulders
of giants, Christophers, who carried me across rivers.

If not well, that is, alone, something
is wrong, something stunted. Deformed. We are
not simply alone but lonely. Maybe frightened.
Imposing our loneliness and pain on others
we bang into, accidentally or on
purpose, damaging others in our care.

Remaking others in our image more than,
Virgil like, guiding persons out of their personal
hell through purgatory to their own Beatrice.

We have a language; it defines us as greater than,
more authoritative. Our jargon—insider language—
and the assumptions/attitudes that say clearly
but without words: be like me.
Use my language (for Christianizing Indians.
For uninvited immigrants.) My language.
My vocabulary. My tone.

I wonder. What do we really teach?

—amk (3/28/14)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A late afternoon post--several cups gone...

Mary and the Franciscan Renewal Center—

In the mid-90s my life seemed to be spiraling out of control. I was at the top of my game; I was asked to lead the operational life of the College in a time of great risk; I was emotionally on edge and physically not well. The job was demanding but not impossible, but my health complicated my ability to sustain its demands.

The deeper struggles were spiritual. I was out of sorts and my journey with God had grown cold in face of the challenges of my life—it seemed to me that God was on sabbatical. (Yes, I know, and knew then, God doesn’t do that; but it is one way to characterize my state of being. It is how it felt.) But, like so many of us, I chose to address a deeper spiritual problem by ignoring it and pretending it was something else. So off to the medical doctor. I spent a great deal of time at Kaiser with a Dr. Kono who was a very good and caring doctor—he took me seriously and resolved to find out what was wrong and fix it. Just the kind of doctor we all want. His methods were exhaustive and exhausting. I’m fairly confident that all orifices of my body were probed, every piece of equipment available to him was used, and every possible kind of test was administered. (He did find an insufficiency of thyroid and did correct that.)

The wake up call began about the third of my on going weekly visits when the good doctor asked me a set of questions; he asked the same questions again the next visit; then, the next. I admit I am slow on the uptake and finally asked why these same questions week after week? His initial response was “hospital protocol.” “Protocol?” “Yes.” “Protocol for what and why now?” Here’s the alarum bell: “Protocol for persons who might be suicidal.”


I don’t think I was; I think I’m too much of a coward. But it was a very loud alarm. What to do? Clearly I needed help; where was I to go? I needed someone and I was pretty clear that it needed to be someone who did not know me, know about me—and did not know the Church of God or Warner Pacific College. I won’t go into all of that except to say that I had a fairly profound sense that if I were clinically depressed—and I’m pretty sure I was—that some (or a great deal) of the cause of that was tied up in all of above.

I remembered a colleague in chapel at WPC talking about his own journey with spiritual direction; I thought my problem was spiritual—or at least had deep spiritual roots. I had some limited—and as it turned out narrow—understanding of direction. It fit my sense of what I didn’t want and had the lure of something new. So I called and asked to speak to the spiritual director at the Franciscan Renewal Center, in the West Hills of Portland, near Lewis and Clark College.

One of the most important phone calls I have ever made. It saved me.

As a result of that call, I met Sister Mary Smith, a diminutive, tough, feisty, and lovely “Clare”—a Franciscan sister. Mary was a trained and gifted director. I wrote a poem about her that hints at who she was to me:


she walks within a light
from within, without;
inviting others to the Light
and their light
from within, without.

a gentle light, soft, hinted at
playful light, daring across and
around, highlight

she treads lightly along
the darkling paths—
a companion of seekers and
journeyers lost among mazes
of their own construction,
hidden from others
hidden from self,

and provides a threaded way
out of worn and weary
torturous labyrinth
like another Mary she
opens wide a heart light to
the mysterious God whose
darkness is light
births new life
where sterility and formless
chaos holds sway:

let it be
to me
according to your word.

—Advent, 1993

For nearly a year and a half, I met with Mary in her cozy, private, relaxing, incensed space with a view of hydrangea and trees and grass. It was a holy space. She asked me what I hoped for; I told her about the genuine, loving little boy I was before the “prison house” of my own egotisticdefensiveintentionalharmful choices closed about me. I told her about the boy who knew no strangers but who chose to become an alien. I told her about the boy who, for all kinds of reasons, grew into an adolescent who never felt he belonged anywhere and, upon reflection, never had anyone around to help him find his own way. The boy who chose the wrong path to individuation and, now, ironically, felt trapped in every other person’s expectations. I said, I want to get back to that boy. The journey took a long time. Honestly, it is still not over—I still struggle with the who am I question and still seek recognition and reward in unhealthy ways.

But, I am no longer determined by those desires. I know what they are and can name them, call them out, and dismiss them (well, usually, dismiss them). Mary’s tender loving companionship, her “simple” questions—and her willingness to simply let me sit and cry, sometimes she just held me as I sobbed unable to put feelings into any other kind of “words.”

Few days go by that I do not remember Mary, think of her fondly, miss the visits, and pray for her. I do not know where she is, but wherever--and I do mean wherever--she is changing life for the better.