Sharing a podcast link to a sermon, The Great Unmasking, from a famous white evangelical pastor preaching some Gospel, talking about social justice in our current context, preaching from the prophets and discussing things like defunding police. It’s Rob Bell, which to be fair, I’m not sure he’s actually an evangelical….He was booted out of his evangelical church years back, circa 2012.
It’s my birthday today. I took the day off of work, and I also took a day off from closely monitoring the news, setting out for a hike. It was a wonderful and refreshing hike, up Fireweed Mountain just down the road from my cabin. The weather is beautiful, the sun is shining on us in this magnificent valley, making it feel like a cathedral, surrounded as it is by grand mountains, roaring rivers, and a massive glacial field. But the news cycle caught up with me, and I write this with tears running down my face. It may feel like a cathedral here but there is no sanctuary, no place of escape from the violent karma that is currently raging in our streets. But for many Americans there has never been an escape from police violence.
It was August of 2010. I saw the lights of Anchorage from the seat of my plane as we prepared for landing at Ted Stevens International Airport. My family had lived in Anchorage for a few years when I was very young but at age 32, this was my first time back in Alaska, as an adult. This trip had begun in my imagination, about a year before, as I walked around the Indianapolis Zoo. I was fascinated by a placard about grizzly bears, located nearby to a rather sad looking, caged Griz. The placard told of how a woman was attacked by a grizzly bear, in the city of Anchorage no less, while out for a jog in the park. For some reason that resonated with me. It wasn’t a sadistic thing, I don’t take pleasure in the suffering of joggers. I was just completely enchanted by the idea of a state like Alaska, where bears and moose made their presence felt, even in the biggest of cities. It was strange, that moment, but …
I recently came across this little homily from one of my favorite spiritual teachers, James Finley. He’s been called the spiritual teacher that spiritual teachers listen to when they listen to spiritual teachers…or something like that… In any event, what makes him compelling has nothing to do with needing some kind of esoteric or highly specialized knowledge. It’s that he’s just had a mature presence, the picture of someone experienced, i.e. he has suffered, but he is also relaxed and calm, which always gives me a sense of reassurance, because when someone who is serene and light can talk about the deepest most difficult shit that we have to endure, then it means something. [Footnote: my auto-correct keeps changing “spiritual” to “Doritos.” I change it back, but I’m quite certain that there are Doritos teachers who are also fans of James Finley. There is no doubt in my mind.] In any event, if you have ten minutes to watch the homily, let me know what you think. [Note on photo: that’s early 2012, when I …
I spent a pleasant New Year’s Day in my pajamas, binge-watching the first season of Westworld with one of my friends. Westworld is a beautiful show; it’s visually elegant, the pacing is deliberate but builds on itself, and the writing is fantastic, there’s nothing wasted. I’ve heard, in fact, that they interrupted the whole production process, putting the show on hold, all so that the writers could fine tune the show. It certainly paid off. It hooked me in, and I stopped only to satisfy the most basic of biological needs. It all made for a hellagood New Year’s Day.
This summer I’ve turned more attention to blogging, and I’ve started phazing out Facebook. In the process I’ve been pleasantly surprised to cross paths with several new blogger friends, bloggers who are Christians, and they are Christians with whom I share key commonalities, a form of fellowship, so-to-speak. It’s been interesting to flip my mind back into theological mode, here and there. One perspective that I still share, that I still have in common with Christians is the sense that in some way there was a communion that was broken, that in some sense our original state of being is communion and harmony. So given that we are living in the days of rage, in a period of increasing cultural coflict, this idea of communion has come to take on greater meaning for me.
I’m 48 hours into my fast. It’s been 2 days since I last ate. That leaves another 24-30 hours remaining. I haven’t done much by way of fasting in my life, but the little that I have done has been pretty beneficial. Mostly I fast for physical reasons, to cleanse and to give the digestive system a chance for some repairs and maintenance. I’ve been having digestive issues over the past several months, so this fast was prompted by a desire to let the digestive system rest and perhaps balance out the acid levels. After my fast, I’ll reevaluate my diet.
On the surface, the novel Beloved seems like literature that makes us more aware of the brutality of slavery — the physical and emotional abuses, the violence, and the dehumanization. It is, all of these, of course, but I think that what sets Toni Morrison’s novel apart, and what has earned her the well-deserved international acclaim she has achieved, is that she goes deeper, to really get under our skin, as it were. For me, reading Beloved made me acutely aware of the color of my skin. This is perhaps as good as it gets, when it comes to fiction writing, because Beloved forces the reader to confront themselves in relation to skin color and in relation to the brutality of racism, both past and present. Morrison does all this simpy by being a great writer, by putting the reader there, right there in the middle of it all.
It’s extremely weird, in retrospect, but in my evangelical circles no one ever really talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. Here was one of America’s most profoundly moral truth-tellers, a minister who spoke with authority and rallied the entire black church in the south, a prophetic voice if there ever was one — and he was more or less passed over in my evangelicals circles, or treated by way of a good-natured dismisal, some sort of feel-good tip of the hat to the guy that got America back on track and patched up “the race problem.” But the details of King’s life and struggle and activism and theology? It didn’t happen, not in my circles. This is because for the evangelicals that support Trump, the Gospel is construed solely as an individualistic affair: get things right with God and pick up your Get-Out-of-Hell Free Card.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. ~ Matthew 18:5-6 Perhaps this verse might be something of a counter to the White House theologians as they weaponize the Bible so as to justify their attacks on the world’s most vulnerable.
I grew up Evangelical, in the Nineties. For me this meant being very aware that I was a central player in America’s “culture war,” an epic, ongoing saga, a clash of good and evil, a series of battles against the secular world and the liberals who were actively encouraging sexual liberty, baby killing, the feminizing of men, the gay-ing of American children, and the use of the welfare state to reward sloth and laziness. In a degenerate age, we were on God’s side, doing God’s work. So when it was discovered that Bill Clinton received a blow job (or perhaps more than one) from a busty young intern, we all lined up against him. As an impressionable teenager, I was told that character mattered; it was crucial, I was told, that American leaders be men with integrity — and I was a pretty earnest kid, so I took it all to heart.
A college friend, Dave Lester, posted a few thoughts on secular humanism. Dave is sort of a post-evangelical, of sorts. He still considers himself an evangelical but unlike most evangelicals, Dave remains truly engaged, both intellectually and emotionally, with “the world.” I post a good bit about evangelical Christians. I’d rather not, but I do. I do it because evangelicals are some of the real movers and shakers within Cult Trump and are more or less responsible for this den of thieves that is otherwise known as the Republican Party. (And of course, I’m a former evangelical m’self.) You can ignore them, but evangelicals are the engine driving the Trump Train forward, pushing the United States toward the edge of the cliff.
One of the things that has gotten a lot of press lately is how Evangelical leaders who are a part of Trump’s informal faith advisory council have stuck with their man, even after Trump’s Charlottesville fiasco. Even after Trump wavered on his condemnation of white supremacy in his recent comments on Charlottesville — indicting “both sides,” as though the left shared just as much blame as neo-NAZI’s — evangelical leaders continue to stand by Trump. Even after a wave of prominent CEOs defected from one of Trump’s advisory groups and even after every last soul resigned from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, prominent evangelical leaders continue to ring out their support, which has come most ardently (and most infamously) from Jerry Falwell, Jr. who took to Twitter to praise Trump in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s Charlottesville speech. The most obvious question: Why? Given how at-odds Trump is with the basic tenants of morality and spirituality as taught by Jesus, how can evangelicals remain so steadfast in their support for Trump?
I’m very happy to have landed out west — I love the landscapes, the culture, I just love the whole vibe — but I’m originally from the Midwest, and this makes me more than a little suspicious when I read articles that slam the Red States. I don’t disagree with most of the points made in this article, even though it’s harsh, and I even agree with the author’s basic premise that too much is being made of trying to “understand” the swing state Trump voter, as if Trump won and the Democrats lost at (literally) every level simply because they didn’t have better Red State focus groups. To understand rural white Christian conservatives is to understand that their perspective is non-negotiable. The author gets this right. It’s the fundamentalist strain of evangelical Christianity — there are certain things you just believe, certain things you don’t question. And more to the point: there are evil enemies (liberals and leftists, atheists and secularists) against which one must be hyper vigilant. A liberal or secular perspective (and …
“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that …