“Green fields grow dead, white trees” Memorial Day 2013

cemetery

Green fields grow dead, white trees,
gleaming in the sun, pretending at life.
Fed on blood and manure,
the trees stand still.
Whitewashed tombs.

The beast devours children,
shits them out,
and we feed it more, and more, and more.

It keeps our fields green,
our memories cleaned.

Other fields,
other blood,
other excrement that once breathed,
moved,
loved,
lived…
they’re hidden from our eyes.
Rubble,
rock and dirt and sand.

Death hides behind platitudes,
valor, honor, heroism,
and we stare at the dead white trees,
the green fields,
the mimicry of life.

We feed the beast the hearts of our children,
build meaning from its shit,
and tell ourselves our hands are clean.

God bless MLK. God damn MLK Day.

Today I’m off work for the MLK Holiday, and I’m thankful for that. I can use the rest. I’m also dismayed by the day.

Rev. King was killed in Memphis while he was there supporting the sanitation workers who were striking. I walked out my front door today to see the rows of emptied trash bins, evidence that while I was sleeping in, the sanitation workers in my town were up long before dawn, working. People are at work right now, making nowhere near a living wage at WalMart, Burger King, gas stations, coffee shops, hotels, janitorial services and nearly every retail or service industry job, while a handful of us rest. Or worse, shop.

The president is being sworn in today with his hands on Dr. King’s Bible. Dr. Cornel West expresses everything that is wrong with that, and does it far better than I can.

So we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by letting a privileged few off work while those who labor and still make poverty wages are ignored. We celebrate King’s agitation for peace by having the leader of the world’s largest killing force, a man who murders by order and by robot, falsely associate himself with King’s vision and King’s faith by placing his hands on the Rev. King’s Bible.

We do nothing to stop war. We do nothing to end poverty. We ignore the basic humanity of people near and far. Yet we can feel good about ourselves, because there’s a day on the calendar to honor a man who did all the work that we refuse to.

God bless Martin Luther King, Jr. May his legacy never die and his words never fall silent. God damn the empty holiday that bears his name.

Things I’ve been reading, early November edition

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so this is going to be long. There’s lots of good stuff here, though, on a number of topics.

An Outlaw’s Theology

I lose my voice! I lose it because my witness and story are not heard. All my life, it is my voice that conveys my story. Deep from within me, it is my distinct, personal, intimate power of expression. Upon it ride the images and imaginations of my spiritual beliefs, all my hopes and dreams, all facts and truths as I know them and as they live through me. I am baffled, because now I have no voice.

This is not hyperbole. I am not speaking allegorically. I intend no metaphor. One moment I turn to you, my juror, and weave my life story into and throughout yours. About the atrocities of the Vietnam War and the crimes of our government, I speak clearly. My voice is passionate. I expose the sufferings of innocents: skin burning alive with napalm. My voice is truthful: classmates, friends, cousin, and kin, my whole generation, lied to and betrayed by elected officials. My voice is hopeful: “Pacem in Terris,” Peace on earth declares my spiritual leader, Pope John XXIII, and so I declare “Peace!” My voice is confessional: I am just one guy–reaching out in despair, frustration, anger, almost hopeless, but then not–with gritty hope I act as best I can. When the leaders no longer listen, then words are not enough. The draft raid is my way of speaking, “Peace!”


Ears of Stone

It was quite acceptable to talk “politics.” There was at least a nascent sense that the war was intolerable, granted the American system and its “normal” workings. One gained this small leverage. But the fact that the war might be inconsistent with the words and example of Christ, that killing others was repugnant to the letter and spirit of the Sermon on the Mount–this was too much: it turned living ears to stone.


Breaking of the Bridesmaids: a parable for patience, justice and Occupy protests

I begin this way only because our understanding of this text has become so ingrained that it is difficult to think of the story in any way other than a cautionary, apocalyptic tale about the return of Jesus.


Can I worship to this song? Poetics and Process

Being a theologian who loves music can be tricky in the current worship culture. I find myself thinking “can I sing this song with integrity?”

I take worship pretty seriously so I just don’t have the luxury to ‘turn my brain off’ or ‘turn a blind eye’ to the content of the songs that we sing as a congregation. I can’t do what some of my peers do and say with a shrug “these are simply the songs that we sing and that is just the way it is – don’t get too worked up about it or put too much thought into it.” It’s just not possible with my personality and passions.


Women’s boxing split as governing body suggests skirts

During last year’s World Championships, the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) presented competitors with skirts, rather than the usual shorts, which it wanted to “phase in for international competitions”.

AIBA asked boxers to trial the skirts, which they said would allow spectators to distinguish them from men, but at last week’s European Championships in Rotterdam only two nations – Poland and Romania – had taken on the alternative outfits.

Poland Boxing actually took it a step further and made it compulsory for their boxers to wear skirts, saying they are more “elegant”.

“By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression,” Poland coach Leszek Piotrowski told BBC Sport. “Wearing shorts is not a good way for women boxers to dress.


Lost Boys: New child-sex-trafficking research demolishes the stereotype of the underage sex worker

Most astonishing to the researchers was the demographic profile teased out by the study. Published by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2008, Curtis and Dank’s findings thoroughly obliterated the long-held core assumptions about underage prostitution:

  • Nearly half the kids — about 45 percent — were boys.
  • Only 10 percent were involved with a “market facilitator” (e.g., a pimp).
  • About 45 percent got into the “business” through friends.
  • More than 90 percent were U.S.- born (56 percent were New York City natives).
  • On average, they started hooking at age 15.
  • Most of them serviced men — preferably white and wealthy.
  • Most deals were struck on the street.
  • Almost 70 percent of the kids said they’d sought assistance at a youth-service agency at least once.
  • Nearly all of the youths — 95 percent — said they exchanged sex for money because it was the surest way to support themselves.

In other words, the typical kid who is commercially exploited for sex in New York City is not a tween girl, has not been sold into sexual slavery, and is not held captive by a pimp.

Nearly all the boys and girls involved in the city’s sex trade are going it alone.


In which some guys do not want to kill stuff at mens’ ministry

I’ve always avoided men’s ministry. I find it almost impossible to believe I share common ancestry with the guys who are into mixed martial arts and anything else that involves beating the hell out of another human being. Tying MMA into a sermon is as incompatible with Christianity as comparing following Jesus with soldiers attacking an enemy combatant.

Men’s ministry lacks metaphors and activities for guys like me. I was the last guy picked for anything involving sports. I opted for the tiny barbells at the gym. It took me years to forgive my college roommate for tackling me “just for the fun of it.” I’m not an aggressive guy. If you’re the kind of guy wondering, “Could I take this guy?” The answer most certainly is: yes.

When we moved to a new home in Columbus, OH this month, one of my first purchases was a bunch of pansies for the front porch. I also spend my evenings hanging in the living room with my wife and our house rabbits. I feel like that says quite enough about me.

My penchant for pansies aside, I generally find that I exist in a separate universe from the “men’s ministry” dudes who use fighting, military, wrestling, and weight-lifting metaphors for the Christian walk or plan events around aggressive activities.


Do not resent, do not react, keep inner stillness

When I was in seminary I had the great blessing of becoming the spiritual son of a Greek bishop, Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. He ended his life as the bishop of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese. It was he who taught me the Jesus Prayer. The whole spiritual vision of Bishop Kallistos had three very simple points.

  • Do not resent.
  • Do not react.
  • Keep inner stillness.

These three spiritual principles, or disciplines, are really a summation of the Philokalia, the collection of Orthodox Christian spiritual wisdom. And they are disciplines every single one of us can practice, no matter where we are in life – whether we’re in the monastery or in school; whether we’re housewives or retired; whether we’ve got a job or we’ve got little kids to run after. If we can hold on to and exercise these three principles, we will be able to go deeper and deeper in our spiritual life.


A Sense of Owingness

I can think of myself as an empty container of freedom, as a sovereign who exists prior to my entanglements with others, but this is a paltry and ghost-like self. The person who matters is the one who is son, father, husband, cousin, son-in-law, friend, and each of those roles limits my ability to do just whatever I want, whenever. As son, I owe piety; as husband, I owe fidelity; as father, I owe gentle instruction; as friend, I owe loyalty. Consequently, I am what I am in virtue of the responsibilities I bear. Insofar as I matter as a person, I am constituted not by sovereignty, but by what I owe. And only by knowing what I owe to others do I know who I am and what I’m for; ignorance of owing is to be devoid of a self.

If this is true, then the ability to cultivate a sense of owingness is to become a real human being, a free human being. But almost every bit of our cultural life is stacked against our developing this sense, and so we are deaf and dumb about what matters most.


Writing for “that chick blog” on Gender and the Gospel

And so it was to a community wrestling with what it looked like to enact the Great Commission and bring the Gospel message to both Jew and Gentile that Paul wrote these revolutionary words.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

This is not of course to suggest some sort of Gnostic erasing of gender or ethnicity. But for Paul it was central to the very message of the Gospel that the people of God now includes Jew and Gentile, and male and female, on equal footing.

So then part of faithfully proclaiming that Gospel is proclaiming to the people of God that gender, social class, and ethnicity do not define who God can use and how he can use them.


“What Is Process Theology” by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (pdf)

Well, some nuts are hard to crack, but try this: Process theologies are relational ways of thinking about the dynamism of life and faith. Process-relational theologians integrate implications of a thoroughly interdependent universe into how we live and express our faith. We are convinced that everything is dynamically interconnected; that everything matters; that everything has an effect. Such insights can be adapted to many faith traditions, but this particular booklet applies them to Christian faith.


#1 King Jesus Gospel Question

Our responsibility is not to persuade, or to convince, or to defend. Our responsibility is to be a “witness.”


Why Men Should Not Be Pastors

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.


This is the face of obesity

This is the face of obesity.

I am 5’7” and I weigh 235 pounds. This puts me well into the obese category. I’d need to lose another 40 pounds to be classified as “overweight” by standard BMI calculations.

This picture was taken after I had just spent five hours hiking a rugged 8 miles around Lake Vesuvius in southeastern Ohio.


I’m Religious, Not Spiritual
While I’m not Orthodox enough to hold to everything the author writes, his understanding of the holiness of the body is amazing.

Thus, if we will be like Jesus, we must fully inhabit our bodies and not descend to some Gnostic pretense that we are above our bodies, fallen though they are. Our bodies are not–as is too often and too regrettably preached at Christian funerals–mere containers housing our spirits, which are “set free” at our death to be with God. No, we are our bodies, our bodies house the Holy Spirit and are therefore themselves holy.


Quiet

O God, make us children of quietness and heirs of peace.
~ St. Clement, from The Doubleday Prayer Collection

I have been wondering lately how the ubiquity of the Internet and the culture of the Internet at this point in time affect the ways we communicate and the ways I communicate. I have been and am thankful for the technology that has allowed for disparate voices to be heard and for connections to be formed despite geography. So many people now have the platform to share their thoughts with countless others, and to do so directly, mediated only by the technology. It has undoubtedly changed my life for the better.

But in some ways the effects have not been so wonderful. In the din of billions of voices I’m desperate to be heard, and I feel that most of the other people I encounter online are as well. We, perhaps, become more and more solidified in our thoughts (and in our hearts) because we are competing for a limited amount of attention from others. If we simply say it louder, strong and without compromise then we’re bound to get a stronger response, a stronger validation, right? Right?

I look at my own desire to be heard and the ways I’ve shaped my ways of thinking to fit into the instant-response culture of the Internet, and I’m not sure I like the ways I’ve been speaking and writing. If I don’t immediately respond to a discussion, it moves along without me. If I take the time to consider my response then by the time it’s ready to be shared it has become irrelevant. Faced with communication possibilities hardly dreamed of when I was younger, I see that slow, measured, considered communication is lost. Again I’ve given circumstances in which loud, strong, uncompromising communication is valued, especially when it’s instant.

In some ways we’re losing ourselves in the flood of humanity we’re exposed to daily. We respond to that by holding ourselves to stronger ideas of self, by having instant responses, by talking louder and faster in the hope that something, anything will be heard in the deluge of voices. We’re so desperate to be heard that we don’t listen. We don’t stop. We don’t allow ourselves to be changed by others. We’re so afraid that our silence means our own death that we refuse to listen each other into existence.

I crave more silence. I crave more listening. I’m afraid of losing myself in that listening, but if I truly believe what I recently wrote, that I only exist in relationship, then in order to live my self I have to allow for the vulnerability of hearing and being heard. That means letting go of the hard hearted core of “self” to which I cling and opening to the question of who I am and who we are. That means silences, both in turn and shared. I’ll never be more myself than when I truly hear and am heard by the Other.

O Jesus, Son of God, who was silent before Pilate, do not let us wag our tongues without thinking of what we are to say and how to say it.
~ Irish Gaelic Prayer, from The Doubleday Prayer Collection

Living Antimilitarism in the Kink Community

I wrote this for FetLife a few months ago, but I thought it would fit just as well here.


I’ve been wondering lately how to best respond to the assumption that I support and respect the police and military. Messages of support for the troops are seen by so many as apolitical, when I experience them as anything but. As an anarchist and pacifist, the insinuation that others act on the myth of redemptive violence on my behalf is not simply insulting, it turns my stomach. Being in the kink scene offers its own unique difficulties in dealing with this.

So much of the current BDSM culture has its roots in leather culture, which in turn has roots in the military and military culture. Despite not being leather myself, I recognize that it does make up a large part of and inform the BDSM culture as a whole. Beyond that, the BDSM scene is a microcosm of the larger culture it’s in, and so the prevalence of veneration of soldiers and police in the subculture is going to be seen in proportion to that in the rest of the culture. However, given the smallness of the kink scene, one runs a much greater risk by vocally opposing that veneration. Given the intimacy of what we do and what we talk about, a difference this stark could easily stand in the way of that intimacy.

So when I’m confronted with things like a celebration of a warship on my local group’s listserv (as one example), I see it has highly political, while most others see it as transcending political boundaries. It would be like if I were to send something celebrating members of the Animal Liberation Front‘s evasion of capture. How then do I remain authentically engaged while pointing out that my own foundational stories put such a celebration on par with celebrations of gang warfare and mafia extortion? Is this a situation where it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie? I don’t think so, as it only encourages the assumption that everyone buys into the myth of redemptive violence. But with such a charged topic, to simply say that I oppose state violence and am offended by it means that I’ll likely end up either enduring a string of invective meant to show me how very wrong I am or have to explain a hundred different points that lead up to my own pacifism before we’re even able to find common ground from which to dialogue.

It’s tough. And since I do value individuals who have been in the military, explaining the line between respecting them as individuals and not respecting the institution they gave themselves over to is very tricky and fraught with pitfalls. To refrain from doing so, however, feels as though I’m being inauthentic, and not giving my real, full self to the relationship and the dialogue, and to do that feels like a worse fate than risking offense.