Monday, February 25, 2008

Moving and shaking

Zip on over to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (one of my favorite interesting places to browse) for U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Lots of really interesting factoids there (who we religious -- and nonreligious -- folks are, where we are, what we are) but what chooses to focus on is all us unfaithful faithfuls, that is, all of us who started out as one religion or denomination and ended up as another.

(That's me, by the way. I started out as Roman Catholic, made a brief attempt at being a Methodist and finally got comfy in the UCC. And I do not guarantee that I will not stray in the future. Me and God, see, we have this open relationship, but God started it first!)

According to Pew, 28% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another one. And that does not even include those who switched from one Protestant denomination to another; if it did, the number would jump to 44%. Says Greg Smith, one of the main researchers for the "Landscape" data, churn applies across the board. "There's no group that is simply winning or simply losing," he says. "Nothing is static. Every group is simultaneously winning and losing."

Or is that like futbol, where a draw means there's no losers, but there's no winners?

Anyway, does that mean that religion is like a house, you trade up whenever you need more space? Like marriage, you trade spouses when you get tired of feeling unloved? Would church/temple/mosque/synagogue-hopping bring us to a closer understanding of diversity, since we've all come from somewhere and we know what it's like across that line? Or is it like our teenage years, where when we become parents we immediately forget what our hormones were doing and all the drinking we did, as we admonish our children to say no to sex AND drugs (but rock'n'roll, which has become corporate pop, is OK now) -- that is, we immediately reject what we used to do in order to cling to what we have now?

Speaking of that, this weekend (as I said earlier, while I was skipping church in favor of reading textbooks at the bookstore) I browsed through a book called Choosing Your Faith (In a World of Spiritual Options) by Mark Mittelberg. I grabbed it off the table because I had this theory about where it was going to end up and I was hoping to be disappointed.

Mittelberg lays out the case for making a reasoned, conscious choice for be a part of the faith tradition you're in, which is not a bad thing and is, in fact, a good thing. Which is not to say that being a part of your faith tradition because you were raised in it is a bad thing, either. There's a lot to that, such as family ties, culture, psychic and spiritual comfort, which are all part of being human. Still, though, choice is nice (but very American, don't you think?). But, alas, the book did NOT disappoint me, because -- surprise, surprise -- the faith that Mittelberg is trying to lead his readers to "choose" is Christianity, particularly evangelical apologist Christianity. The title made me hopeful that maybe the idea was "I'm a Christian, it works for me, but here are arguments on why rationally choosing your faith is a good thing, regardless of what you choose." No, instead it was "Don't be X-brand of Christian because you were born that way, be my brand of Christian because mine is the only logical one!"

Ugh. Choice means just that -- choice. Not validating someone's decision and instead pushing what you want on someone hovers between persuasion and bullying. We get enough of that in politics, why bring it into faith?

Music break

My theology professor played this before class the other day, right before we spent the 3-hour class period watching the documentary Race: The Power of Illusion, as a way to prep for the contextual theologies we'll be reading in the second half of the course. Race, class, gender, sexual identity and social location matter in how we talk about God, about human beings, about the entire world. As all theology is contextual (yes, even the classic, Old-Theology views we moderns inherited from the Greeks by way of medieval Europe) it's important to know our own contexts as well as the context of others. It seems kind of daunting and too diverse-for-unity sometimes, that everyone has their own lens through which to peer, darkly, at matters divine, but I think that's just a case of looking at the hole instead of the entire donut. Our contexts may differ, but we are all humans, and we all are under grace, which is the unconditional love of God which frees us to love and welcome others.

Anyway, I heard this song yesterday while I was at the bookstore, skipping church in favor of academic catch-up, and I thought I'd share it and its message, which is a pretty good one. Enjoy!

Sheryl Crow, "Out of Our Heads"
If you feel you wanna fight me
There’s a chain around your mind
When something is holding you tightly
What is real is so hard to find

Losing babies to genocide
Oh where’s the meaning in that plight
Can’t you see that we’ve really bought into
Every word they proclaimed and every lie, oh

If we could only get out of our heads, out of our heads
And into our hearts
If we could only get out of our heads, out of our heads
And into our hearts

Someone’s feeding on your anger
Someone’s been whispering in your ear
You’ve seen his face before
You’ve been played before
These aren’t the words you need to hear

Through the dawn of darkness blindly
You have blood upon your hands
All the world will treat you kindly
But only the heart can understand, oh understand

If we could only get out of our heads, out of our heads
And into our hearts
Children of Abraham lay down your fears, swallow your
tears and look to your heart

If we could only get out of our heads, out of our heads
And into our hearts
Children of Abraham lay down your fears, swallow your
tears and look to your heart

Every man is his own prophet
Oh every prophet just a man
I say all the women stand up, say yes to themselves
Teach your children best you can

Let every man bow to the best in himself
We’re not killing any more
We’re the wisest ones, everybody listen
‘Cause you can’t fight this feeling any more, oh anymore

If we could only get out of our heads, out of our heads
And into our hearts
Children of Abraham lay down your fears, swallow your
tears and look to your heart

If we could only get out of our heads, out of our heads
And into our hearts
Children of Abraham lay down your fears, swallow your
tears and look to your heart

Saturday, February 16, 2008

If I had words ...

... to make a day for you
I'd give you the morning
golden and true
I would make this day
last for all time
and fill the night deep in moonshine
-- Farmer Hoggett, Babe

For an assignment for my pastoral counseling class, we've been asked to write a paper describing our metaphor for pastoral or Christian care. Of course, we've been inundated with shepherd images. Twenty-third Psalm this, Feed my sheep that, you know. You've read it (or you haven't, but you're not missing anything).

Quite honestly, I've got no real love for the shepherd metaphor. Nothing really against shepherds; I know they're cowboy-like -- the real kind that work for next to nothing in crappy conditions, the kind that get that for a job because it's either what their family does, or there's no other job in the world that they can get, or they are the kind of person who really does love the life. Think the protagonists in Brokeback Mountain and you'll have more of an idea of what the image of shepherd means to me. Or the shepherds in the deleted scenes of Monty Python's Life of Brian. Or the shepherds in Jill Paton Walsh's Knowledge of Angels. Or the shepherd in The Alchemist. Or the shepherd in the short story Pecado de Omission de Ana Maria Matute. Wow, I just realized that there are lots of movies and books that feature shepherds.

Anyway, but in christianity, we romanticize shepherds to make the 23rd Psalm imagery work; yes, the shepherd is a good one because it overturns the idea of what a messiah was supposed to be back in that day. But the thing I just can't get past is that the shepherd-sheep relationship is typically hierarchical, a top-down affair in which the bleating little shit-covered mincing piles of fluff are managed by a person with a staff and sling/gun that may or may not actually give a damn about them. And, for all the verses about the shepherd loving the sheep so much that s/he'll leave 99 to go look for the lost one -- at the end of the day, the sheep are a commodity. They will be eaten, shorn or sold, and the care that they're given is primarily based on the price that they will fetch.

As far as pastoral/Christian care metaphors go, that doesn't do a lot for me. Considering all the evils that people in power do in church (men to women, women to women, adults to children, one religion or denomination to the other) I think I've had enough metaphors that are rooted in power. Maybe it's OK that in the end it's God that eats, shears or sells us, for whatever those metaphors might mean to God, but I'm not a fan for applying them to a human being.

So it occurred to me that maybe we need less shepherds and more sheep-pigs.

If you haven't seen the movie Babe, you should go out and rent it immediately. It was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1995, and it's so good it'll make you cry. The sheep-pig, I realized upon another viewing of the movie to confirm my notion of refashioning the shepherd metaphor to include a cuddly little oinker, shows a different view of the shepherd-sheep relationship, even from the movie's opening line:

This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever.

Instead of sticking to the barnyard script of dogs have one purpose and sheep another, the ousider Babe befriends both sheep and sheep dogs, and becomes a sheep-pig and herds to sheep by treating them not with aggression or intimidation, but with respect and kindness. This, in turn, catches the attention of Farmer Hoggett, who comes to treat his piggy prodigy with the same love and regard and upends the wisdom of the world to a new, inclusive idea.

If you think I'm pushing the image just a tad, check out what the director, George Miller (you know, from the Mad Max movies) said about the theological dimensions of the film:

I must say that Babe is much closer to a Christ figure than Max. Particularly in Babe (dir. Chris Noonan), he does change the established order. In fact, in Babe, Pig in the City, he's much more a Christ figure because he turns the other cheek. He goes to save from drowning the one who was about to kill him. But in Babe, he relinquishes his self-interest in order to save Farmer Hoggett [James Cromwell] and to help fulfill the dream for Farmer Hoggett and to show that a pig can, indeed, be a champion sheepdog. He does it in part for himself but it's mainly for the farmer. Yes, he's closer to Christ— not that a pig should be Christ but he's more Christ-like than Max!

So that'll be my pastoral metaphor, not the Good Shepherd, but the Good Sheep-Pig. And it brings me to what I really meant to post about all along, that the above quote came from the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, which along the Journal of Religion & Film is one of my new favorite academe places to visit. If you're interested, I'll post the paper after I get it back. But what's your metaphor for Christian care? Let me know. Or, what's your favorite shepherd movie or book or story? Or your favorite movie/book that seemingly doesn't tie into a spiritual message but you've done it?

Friday, February 15, 2008

More about money

A friend of mine who hosts the Border Reflections blog turned me on to this post at J. Blake Huggins' blog. It's a graphic that compares a country's wealth vs. its religiosity.

Any thoughts on what my contribute to this trend? Do you think it's accurate? Of course, I'm not exactly sure what the criteria are. What is religiosity? How often you go to church? Your actual feelings about the divine? Whether you're an actual member of a denomination?

To be honest, I've got no idea. I have ones that would probably border on being snarky, but I'm trying to get away from that on about half the things I think about. I am surprised that the U.S. is in the middle of the religiosity axis, though. We boast about being so religious, with church attendance figures in the 70s or something, the last I heard or read. (Of course, I might be pulling that number outta my butt.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Grace, or your money back

LifeChurch's 3-Month Tithing Challenge:

I would like to test God's faithfulness by accepting the Three-Month Tithe Challenge. I agree that for the three-month period I state below, my household will contribute to God, through, a tithe equal to 10% of our income. At the end of the three-month period, if I am not convinced of God's faithfulness to bless my life as a result of my obedience to His Word, then I will be entitled to request a refund of the full amount of contributions made during that 90-day period.

I used to do refunds at Wally World, so when I heard someone talking about this, the first words out of my mouth were, "Do you need a receipt?"

But I have to say, I'm utterly appalled at the idea of getting a money-back guarantee on your tithing. I know, I know, they're just daring people to say that God didn't bless their lives. And quite honestly, how would you know? Greek translation this week was Romans 5:1-11, which includes the lovely thought, "We boast in our troubles, since we know that troubles bring endurance, and endurance, character, and character -- hope" (my translation). And it seems that every time someone in the Bible gets the full portion of God's attention, shit happens. Life doesn't get easy for you when your living by God's word; ask a prophet.

And yet, the person kept trying to convince us that if you give your money, it's your sign that you're giving your full trust in God. That you're honoring your blessings by giving of your firstfruits, which is harvested out of your bank account.

Bull. Oh, and shit.

Since when are our blessings only about money? Since when are our first fruits of harvest financial? Blessings in my life since I decided to trust in God and stop trying to control things are, actually, a lot less money, a lot more frustration, but a huge cracking opening of my worldview about myself and the world. And trust me that God gets 10 percent of that at least. My first fruits include my love and solidarity with all people, but especially those in the margins. God definitely will get 10 percent of that, if not more. Capitalist-driven christianity has got to go. I honor God with the things that mean things to me, and I tell you, money is pretty far down on the list.


Monday, February 11, 2008

From the wires

From AFP:

Whites to be minority in U.S. by 2050

Immigration will drive the population of the United States sharply upward between now and 2050, and will push whites into a minority, projections by the Pew Research Center showed Monday.

More than 80 percent of the increase will be due to immigrants arriving in the country and their US-born children, who will make up nearly one in five Americans by 2050 compared with one in eight in 2005, it said.

Whites, who currently make up around two-thirds of the US population, will become a minority (47 percent) by 2050, the report said.

The Hispanic population, currently the largest minority group, will triple in size and double in percentage terms from 14 percent in 2005 to 29 percent in 2050, the report said.

The Asian population will roughly double in percentage terms, from five percent to nine percent, while the black population will remain static at around 13 percent.
I think we need a new word than "minority." The word is generally used to mean people who are numerically less, but also means people who are socially/politically less powerful. I imagine that the power part of the definition won't change, or will it? I also wonder what the mixed-race numbers will be, and what impact we mixed folks might have, if any. I was all for the change on the Census that let us check all races that apply, as I was tired of feeling like I was lying on every government form, but I'm also pretty concerned at the way the numbers of mixed-race people are used to de-power and divide racial groups. I also wonder if by 2050 the default for "American" will still mean "whiteperson," (ala Sam Huntington) or will we finally let that go and accept the diversity that this country is?

From Bloomberg:

Obama Drive Gets Inspiration From His White Mom Born in Kansas

Barack Obama's mother was most at home a world away from her Midwest roots, trekking the old Silk Road or arranging small loans for weavers in Indonesia.

" I'm so tired of seeing her described as just a white woman from Kansas,'' says Bronwen Solyom, 63, who first met Ann Dunham in the 1970s when they were graduate students in anthropology at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. "She
was much more than that.''

Her son, who may become the first black U.S.
president, displays a penchant for defying convention and forging his own path that those who knew Dunham well trace back to her arrival with her family in Hawaii after high school. Although the son has channeled the rebelliousness of
his early years, he remains impatient with customs, such as the political dictate that he should wait his turn for national office.

"She certainly gave us her open-mindedness and our desire to challenge ourselves with new vistas and perceptions,'' says Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's half-sister from Dunham's second
marriage to an Indonesian businessman.

Too bad the headline writer wasn't paying attention to the actual point of the story -- Obama's mama wasn't just a whitelady from Kansas, she was a multifaceted, world-trekking, adventurous individual who apparently shook off labels like dust from her intrepid feet. Never mind about Barack, I'm inspired by his mom!

It's a small world


Japanese town of Obama has a new hero
In the coastal city of Obama, about 300 miles northwest of Tokyo, some residents formed a support group called "Group that Supports Barack Obama Voluntarily" in early February. Of course, none of the group's original 18 members in this city,
with a population of a little more than 32,000, are qualified to cast a vote in the election.

View Larger Map

How I love the Internets!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Today's wisdom brought to you by the letter ñ

Taken at the CCAMYN guest house for migrants in Altar, México. CCAMYN is staffed and supported by volunteers, with the blessing and prayers of its Catholic community, which prays for migrants daily. At CCAMYN, migrants preparing to make the dangerous journey across the U.S. desert borders are given information on what to expect when they cross, food, a few days shelter, and clothing. They are told about the dangers in the desert, of the coyotes, of the exploitation they might come across. Workers take information and data from migrants on human rights abuses and criminal acts. And families of migrants who have lost touch with their loved ones often turn to CCAMYN to help track their last known movements.

Translated: "If we don't think differently, nothing will change."

Business leaders in Oklahoma are calling for the repeal of the House Bill 1804, which has been called the harshest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country. These business leaders cite negative economic impacts on the communities -- essentially employers are not able to find workers, retailers are not able to find buyers for their stuff.

I hate to agree with Randy Terrill, the author of the bill, but I believe he has something there when he says, "The moral dilemma for them is that they are defending the functional equivalent of modern-day slavery."

An economic argument is the least firm foundation on which to build opposition to this law. This is old thinking.

We need new thinking. We need to start putting value on human lives that isn't economic. Where do we start?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Truly inclusive?

It occurred to me the other day that the problem with "inclusive" thinking is the sure certainty that the other person who isn't of the inclusivist's faith tradition is welcome in the inclusivist's afterlife, but the inclusivist doesn't necessarily conceive of the fact that the she is might be welcome in the other person's afterlife.

Do we truly respect another person's faith or the person himself if we carry around the assumption that our worldview is the right one? Is toleration the same as respect?

I will admit, my christian agnosticism/apatheism leads me to be pretty suspicious that it comes down to Jesus alone at the end (Why not Buddha? Why not Odin?), and I'll also admit that I'll claim christianity simply out of sheer laziness: Seeing as that's the religion that most influenced my worldframe, I've decided to work with that instead of going out to find another one. But I also find myself a little excited that maybe just maybe it's Buddha's compassion that saves me instead of God's. I'm good with that, too. Not very "Christian" of me, but I reserve the right to redefine what christian means for me.

Of course that makes me wonder where we draw the line between faith and blindness, between skepticism and over-thinking-it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yes We Can

Will.I. Am, on why he recorded Yes We Can:

When you are truly inspired..
magic happens...
incredible things happen...
love happens..
(and with that combination)

"love, and inspiration"

change happens...

"change for the better"
Inspiration breeds change...

"Positive change"...

no one on this planet is truly experienced to handle the obstacles we face today...
Terror, fear, lies, agendas, politics, money, all the above...
It's all scary...

Martin Luther King didn't have experience to lead...
Kennedy didn't have experience to lead...
Susan B. Anthony...
Nelson Mandela...
Rosa Parks...
Anne Frank...
and everyone else who has had a hand in molding the freedoms we have and take for granted today...

no one truly has experience to deal with the world today...

they just need "desire, strength, courage ability, and passion" to change...
and to stand for something even when people say it's not possible...

Monday, February 4, 2008

Opio Toure

Former Oklahoma state legislator Opio Toure died today.

Opio was an amazing man, one of the most genuine people I've ever had the privilege to know. I met him the first time about twelve years ago when I was a cub reporter in Muskogee, covering his visit to some group or another, and being utterly stupid about how to spell his name, but he patiently spelled it out again and again for me.

We met again a little more than three years ago, at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey. We were part of a tour group traveling through holy sites in Turkey for an interfaith education trip. Opio joined us late, and I introduced myself by mentioning that previous incident. Of course, he didn't remember me, but during our 10 days abroad, we talked a lot and got to know each other. He told me about his grandsons, whom he spent time with every week. He encouraged me in my studies and told me that I needed to go to seminary. And he followed through; he called the admissions office of my seminary, told them to call me, and then did. And the rest, as they say, is history. And I am in seminary because of him.

What amazed me about Opio was his presence, his utter inability to ever know a stranger or an enemy. In his time in the legislature, he believed in being bipartisan, of crossing lines to do the right thing. In Turkey, he borrowed the tiny Turkish phrasebook I had brought along and learned all the words he'd need to know to get around: hello, thank you, grandpa, grandkids, tea. Unable to join the group for the most strenuous activities like scaling hillsides to visit one fabled place or another, he would sit down with some tea, pull out pictures of his family and share himself with others and invite them to share themselves. I remember thinking I wanted to be like Opio when I grew up.

I knew last month that he was in the hospital, but I put off visiting. I planned to drop him a card, but I forgot. It never occurred to me that Opio wouldn't be here. Sick as he was, he was one of the most vital people I've ever known.

Thank you, Opio, for bringing me to seminary, for being a light to drew people and showed the way. I wont' forget you again.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

"A carpenter, worked a miracle, his name was J.C. ..."

(Prizes to the person who knows from which animated TV show I grabbed the line that is this post's title.)

When I was about five or six, I remember standing in the Safeway with my mom, sounding out the big words on the bright orange posters hanging from the windows. "Mommy," I asked, "What's inflation mean?"

She answered, "It's when prices go up, and it's Jimmy Carter's fault."

(Mom, you should know, voted for Reagan when she became a naturalized U.S. citizen about four years later, and a framed picture of the Great Communicator hung in our den for as long as we lived in that house. She probably still has it, I haven't checked.)

Despite my upbringing, I always liked Carter, probably because we pronounced nuclear the same way (nuke-u-lar), but a few years ago I read his book, Our Endangered Values, and ended up being a huge fan of his. Between that, his work with Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center's dedication to mediating peace and ensuring fair and democratic elections worldwide just puts him over the top for me. You go, J.C.!

And now, he's taking on his biggest challenge: Baptists.
(Carter) has spearheaded the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, an unprecedented three-day gathering of more than 10,000 Baptists that began Wednesday (Jan. 30).

"It's hard to find an example of a Baptist layperson who has done more to put feet to his faith than President Carter," said Mercer University President Bill Underwood, who started planning the Atlanta gathering with Carter two years

"I don't think there's anyone in the world who could have brought this diverse array of Baptists together ... other than President Carter because he is so respected for the work that he has done."

The former president continues to teach Sunday school about 35 or 40 times a year at his Maranatha Baptist Church, a small congregation near his home in Plains, Ga., which supports the mission programs of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

"Whenever a Sunday comes and I'm in Plains, then I teach," he said in an interview.

On Wednesday, in an emotional moment, Carter said the celebration was "the most momentous event" in his religious life and urged a renewed focus on the key aspects of Baptist faith, including salvation and unity.

"Unfortunately, the arguments and even the animosities that exist among Christians are like a cancer that is metastasizing within the body of Christ," he said.

Bruce Prescott with Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists is blogging from the Celebration of New Baptist Covenant, and you can keep up with it here.