Take Bread Together, With Wayfarers and Wastrels

A pastor recently stood at the stage of the American Baptist Biennial meeting in Kansas City. He stood up during the business meeting to say something he had on his chest. On his reading of that day and our present moment in our lives together, our denominational beliefs were insufficient.

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Has Fat Gotten A Bad Rap?

Oh man WordPress allows reblogs now

The Dish

A new book claims so:

[The Big Fat Surprise author Nina] Teicholz describes the early academics who demonised fat and those who have kept up the crusade. Top among them was Ancel Keys, a professor at the University of Minnesota, whose work landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1961. He provided an answer to why middle-aged men were dropping dead from heart attacks, as well as a solution: eat less fat. Work by Keys and others propelled the American government’s first set of dietary guidelines, in 1980. Cut back on red meat, whole milk and other sources of saturated fat. The few sceptics of this theory were, for decades, marginalised.

But the vilification of fat, argues Ms Teicholz, does not stand up to closer examination. She pokes holes in famous pieces of research—the Framingham heart study, the Seven Countries study, the Los Angeles Veterans Trial, to…

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It’s not our fault people weren’t listening

A friend clued me into a HuffPo article about this thing Dan Savage is up to. Long story short, it’s an “It Gets Better” project in which Savage’s “NALTs” get to say to a camera that they aren’t bigoted.

I’ll have to think about whether I want to do this, or even support it. To be honest, I have a problem with Savage’s NALT stuff. It reminds me a little bit of conservative Christians who demand that Muslims denounce extremist Islam, all while the fact that many Muslims do denounce extremism on a regular basis and their denunciations are simply ignored by those who demanded the denunciations in the first place. I am part of a Baptist organization, the Alliance of Baptists, that has been vocally supportive of gays and lesbians publicly since 1993, well before many other  denominations, and regularly condemned anti-gay bigotry in public statements. I’m also a part of an organization, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, that has been working on these issues since the days of American Baptists Concerned, decades ago.

Savage’s complaint about NALTs always seemed to be more that non-traditionalists didn’t have a good public presence, which relates far more to our being sidelined as credible voices of USian Christianity by more conservative Christians than to some failure on our part to vocally denounce anti-gay bigotry in Christian community. Dan Savage only got told “we’re not all like that” so many times because those of us in the W&A communities had been so thoroughly excluded from places of power for so long that we had no platform from which to make our denunciations resonate. When Dan Savage assumed that our Christianities were synonymous with these Christianities we didn’t follow, we were understandably upset that our efforts were being ignored not only by our co-religionists, but by the LGBTQ community we either were allied with or were part of ourselves. And we told him so.

I get where Savage is coming from, but the idea that the people Savage called NALTs were somehow only privately so, in a “just-between-me-and-Dan-Savage” kind of way, always seemed a frustrating sleight of hand that belied the relative power imbalance between traditional and non-traditional Christian communities. I’m just not sure if I can in good conscience support popularizing a term that I think is dismissive of non-traditionalist Christianities.

But I can see the good in the effort, all the same. Perhaps it is a vehicle for the heretofore diminished media capability of the Christian W&A movement to actually get some credit for doing what it’s been doing for decades in the midst of a thoroughly oppressive broader church environment. I just think Savage would do well to remember that most NALTs have not been quietly wandering through that environment. We’ve been kicking and screaming.

On Deterrence

I’m currently working as a chaplain in a clinical pastoral education program at a hospital on Chicago’s south side.  When I started, I worked in the emergency room.

My second week on the job, a boy was brought in.  I won’t forget him, because when I learned his birthday, I learned that he was almost exactly as old–or rather, as young–as my little brother.  It does something to you when a boy as young as your brother is on a bed before you, his whole body shaking, his side ripped open by a gunshot wound he suffered while going from his home to visit a friend.  It means you don’t forget.

A guy had walked up to him and shot him.  Simple as that.  He was surrounded by friends when it happened, too, friends who helped him get to the hospital.  And when he got there, I had to hold his hand, and pray with him, and help him call his mother when his fingers were trembling too much to use the touch screen on his cell phone.  He had a mother, oh yes.

He was shot in a part of town with plenty of “concealed carrying.”  Whoever shot him knew that.  The perpetrator saw him there, surrounded by friends, and an educated guess would have told him the truth: that someone in that group was carrying a weapon.  Probably more than one person had one.  And they most certainly knew how to use it, and use it well, even without the proper credentials from the state.  And yet that individual, knowing the risks, knowing that return fire was not only possible, but probable, walked up to that young man and shot him.

I hesitated to share this story.  I have removed anything identifying because of the confidentiality of the pastoral visit, and hesitated to share because the body of that boy was as sacred as any I’ve encountered, an image of God struggling through pain to hang on to life and safety.  But maybe my sharing his story, even in this truncated form, can lay bare the real meaning of the Greek word martyr. It means witness.

It’s an story worth sharing, because it is worth remembering the next time someone tells you that the way to prevent crime is for everyone to carry a gun.  Because in this part of Chicago, many, many people are.  And yet a man still walked up to this boy, this boy surrounded by people who could credibly be assumed to be “packing heat,” and put a bullet in his belly.


“Comfort ye my people,” cried the tenor, “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

For the hundredth time, I heard the music pivot, and I heard the words of the Prophet on the lips of a young man I do not know, and the proclamation rang forth.

“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked straight and the rough places plain.”

And for the first time hearing this music, I heard it.  It reduced me to tears and prayer.

I am the mountain; at times the valley.  There are rough places in me, there are crookednesses that must be straightened out.

The world is filled with the lowly, teeming and yearning for their deliverance.  The world is filled with the 1%.  In my society I am not one of them; in other societies I am wealthy beyond measure.  There are injustices and evils, roughnesses, wickednesses, crooked roads of systems and sins that destroy the vision of this world.

But I was reminded in the pivot of a tenor’s voice that the highway we build is through our hearts and through our worlds.  It does not conform to the strictures of the terrain, wind and wrap around and twist and climb mountains and plunge through valleys.  The highway we make for our God in ourselves and the world exalts the meek and lowly, humbles the proud and powerful, rebuilds what is broken, and smooths out the sufferings of the world.

We predict and wait in Advent upon a Christ whose birth drives out the fear, that proclaims good news, a Christ met by poor and rich alike, a manger in the meanest cave exalted to the most sanctified space in creation.

There is much in my life right now that stands in need of healing and wholeness.  There are worries.  I cried when that music pivoted, I wept at its beauty and its truth, and my tears were both contrition for my faults and joys at the promise that God-with-us in Christ has promised to build Her great highway through the center of our heart, and our world.

Advent began for me, truly, this night.  Maybe a bit late, if the church calendar is to be believed, but thanks at last be to God.

Thoughts on something sad

I came across the following post this morning, and it really breaks my heart. In it, “Cop’s Wife” explains the aftermath of a simply beautiful post she made around Halloween, “My Son is Gay.”  The new post, “Epilogue,” is about the way the church preschool where she took her children kicking her out for that post…accusing her of violations of the Eighth Commandment.  I recently preached my first real sermon on the Eighth Commandment.  Doesn’t mean I know everything about it, of course, but enough to know that it sounds like the pastor in this case is misjudging the semantic between the terms “exercising Christian chastisement towards a violater of the eight commandment” and “finding flimsy pretext to abuse a parishioner.”  This is what the pastor did:

The second discussion was a face-to-face meeting during which Squirt was present. I was handed a printout of the church’s response. There had been a meeting with some Elders, and they decided I’d broken the 8th Commandmentand not followed Matthew 18. I was told that some members were worried that I was “promoting gayness.” I don’t even know what that means. The words I had written were not promoting anything other than unconditional love and tolerance. My post was about bullying and how my son was treated. My post was about a 5-year-old child. Pastor said he “tried to be mad at me, but couldn’t.” I didn’t and don’t understand why he would want to be mad at me. Again, Boo’s well-being was not mentioned.

There’s some of this that I won’t touch.  The whole “promoting gayness” thing, well, these folks are wrong and I have no intention of fighting that battle with them.  On this point, what they have to say about gayness I hold as wrong and thoroughly without charity, and with 1 Corinthians 13 as my authority I will interlocute with them on the subject no further.

But what is striking to me is the invocation of Matthew 18.  I assume that the verse the church is considering highly is 6: “‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”  Which probably means the church thinks that dressing up as a woman will somehow make this child gay, and thus be an occasion for stumbling.

Yet in the post as it was presented, the child came forth with the desire to be Daphne.  The child conceived the idea; and when he had doubts, his mother encouraged him to face the world bravely, and not only that…in so doing she evinced a clear conviction that the world did not have to be a place where children and adults abuse each other for any reason, heaping ridicule on one another, but rather supporting and building each other up.  Such a evidenced faith in what the world can be is, in my mind, a hallmark of what Christians claim the world is, in that it is the end towards which the created community moves.

But I’m getting farther afield than I intended.  The verses the church is presumably citing in defense of its bald-faced abuse miss the beginning of the chapter, 18:1-5:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

The pertinent points are two: a five-year-old boy has chosen to dress up like a woman for Halloween.  What might it be like if, instead of punishing or preventing him, we thought of how we might become LIKE him?  There is a beauty in his act, an innocence of circumscribed and socially-constructed gender roles, to act in this world as if rules of outward form and performance are unimportant and adhere only to the movement of the spirit in the moment.  Would that all God’s children were gifted with such wise innocence!

And the second point is more pertinent: in rejecting this family from their church and thus their church preschool, as the epilogue suggests, this church has willed NOT to welcome this child, or his two siblings.  That’s, on my counts, THREE separate Christs that this church has rejected, if we are to take Matthew 18:5 as seriously as Jesus does.

And so the only question remaining is, how does this pastor sleep at night?

So far, so good

Well, being vegetarian is actually going pretty well. Breakfast has mainly been something like a bagel with peanut butter or cream cheese and/or a banana with peanut butter. I have some oatmeal and got some walnuts to toss in with it, but I haven’t made that yet because I’m often running out the door in the morning.

I also used to hate oranges, namely because peeling them was messy. But I’m starting to really appreciate the process of peeling an orange; especially the ones out of the Grounds of Being fridge. They are always way cold and I like oranges at more room-temperature, so there’s this process of slowly rotating the orange and letting my hands speed up its warming, so by the time it’s done it’s about the time of day that the 6:30 breakfast is done. And the process of peeling and then cleaning an orange of that white stuff takes time and care, and is actually productive in that it gives me something to do with my hands during Schweiker’s lectures, helping me stay more focused on Thomas Aquinas. I believe staying focused on Thomas Aquinas may actually be the final cause of an orange.

Lunches have been mainly boca burgers. It’s nice to have them, because I normally don’t eat lunch, which is actually not a very good thing to do because it messes up your metabolism, according to people I know who know things about this and tell me them. But boca burgers are quick and easy and I get tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after about two days worth of eating them.

I’m planning on making Manda Ratatouille sometime soon, maybe next Saturday. On Thursday was when I had the fish, a really great crab-stuffed sole filet that I had in my freezer, leftover from the stuff my parents sent me for Gandalf Day. I have another one left, I think I’m gonna save it for a night when I feel like eating a more robust meal. And Ruthie and I went out last night to get veggie burritos at this place nearby, where we also talked about if certain people were gay and how BDSM might actually be an example of being actualizing to good. Every once in a while the other people in the burrito place I think overheard us so eventually we left because the dirty looks were unbearable.

And so yeah, it’s gone well so far. Tonight I don’t really know what’s on the menu, but I have some mirepoix that I chopped and set aside a few days ago, so I’m thinking I might take that and make a soup. Or maybe make egg drop soup, but I’d have to go to the store to get some scallions and sesame oil, so…maybe not. I don’t really feel like buying anything right now.

That’s it. Also I have a sermon to write on forgiveness so…gotta do that.

On Plans for Lent

So I figured I would update this blog.

I know, I know, it’s been forever.

But it’s about to be Lent, and I figured, what better way to keep this blog going for a little bit then by logging my particular Lenten fast: vegetarianism.

Not only will this be a place for me to record recipes I like, complain about ones I don’t, and generally keep myself accountable for what I’m planning to do, but I figure I have a number of friends who are interested in veggie-style living who might be able to offer tips, support, recipes, or chiding for that day they saw me ordering a chicken salad sandwich at the Medici.  Because I’m expecting to slip up here and there, but I’m also expecting to work as hard as I can to slip up as little as possible.

I figured I’d also lay out my rules for the fast, so as to have them ready at hand as a way of judging myself against a fair standard, so I don’t change the goalposts as this goes along.  First, I’m not completely taking all meat out of my diet.  I am willing to eat fish, provided I have prepared it myself.  Since these kinds of meat tend to be more expensive, I don’t plan on eating them with much regularity, but they are options.  In addition to normal Lenten practice, which is to break the fast on Sundays, I will allow myself to “cheat” once per week if it’s avoidable, with the caveat that I won’t eat red meat at all even when cheating.  I will eat eggs in moderation.  I will also focus my vegetarianism on actual vegetables, and not simply eat a box of cookies a day.  What would be the point in that?  Finally, I will try to post at least once every few days to upgrade anyone reading on how it’s going.  If I think of more rules, I’ll share them, but I think for now this will be the Rule of Madison for the duration of Lent.

I would also like to add that, while this is partially a self-improvement thing, there’s also some theological reasons for this.  A lot of folks just use Lent as an excuse to get more exercise or cut out soda for a while, and you know, that’s fine by me.  I’d rather you have 40 days out of the week making your life better and your body stronger than not.  But for me, this was partially motivated by theology.

For one thing, animals are creatures of the living God, just like you and me.  They feel pain, and terror.  They have internal lives.  It seems as though cavalierly eating their meat is something that we should worry about.  One may rejoin that we were given dominion over them, yadda yadda Genesis.  But, if you ask me, it’s a pretty pisspoor sovereign who uses their dominion as an excuse to murder their subjects.  And the creation struggles under the weight of the apparatus designed to feed us and sustain us in our first-world comfort.  Meat is a big part of that, and if forty days of going without it can help me bankroll that apparatus a little bit less — and develop strategies that can lessen my support of it in the future — that’s worth doing.  And finally, I believe it is true when we are told that we are Temples of God.  Our bodies — my body — is meant to give some glory for God.  Going without meat will, I hope, serve as a reminder that how I treat my body matters to the God who redeems me, and that She wants me to treat that body with the same respect I would treat any of Her temples.

With that said, I thought I’d share the recipe that I prepared tonight and laid aside for a few meals this week.  While it’s not Ash Wednesday for two more days, it never hurts to practice.  After all, that’s what fasting is — a spiritual practice.

I made this from my friend Jimmy’s recipe.  I made a few changes, but it’s thanks to him.  He probably got it from the internet.

Butternut Squash and Apple “Warm Winter” Soup

1 1/2 – 2 T olive oil

1 medium white onion, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic

1½ pounds peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into approximately 1x1x1 inch cubes

4 peeled and cored apples; cut into pieces approximately half the size of the butternut squash

1½ cups 1% milk

3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Chop squash and apples, combine, set aside.  Do the same with the ginger and garlic.  Once done, chop the onion finely, mincing in a chopper if possible.

In a large sauce pan or smaller stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add minced onion to hot oil and cook about 8 minutes, or until the onion turns a golden color. Add garlic and ginger and cook for about a minute more  more.

Next add the chopped butternut squash and apple; season with a little salt and pepper and give the whole mixture a good stir, being sure to bring the onion from the bottom of the pan to coat the veggies and fruits throughout. Cover, reduce heat to low and allow the chopped produce to release its juice for about 10 minutes.  While the mixture sweats, pour the vegetable stock in a small saucepan over low heat so it’s ready for the next step.

When time has elapsed, pour in the milk and stock, raise the heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 30 minutes, being careful not to reach a rapid boil. When the squash is soft, turn off the heat.  Using a blender, hand-held mixing wand or food processor, blend it to a puree.  (If you lack these tools, a potato masher works great to break everything down, then a few minutes of vigorous whisking will do.  It won’t perfectly puree the mixture, but it will still be a tasty soup!  If you use this method, you might want to leave the heat on low so as not to lose temperature before serving, as it can take a little more time.)

Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve topped with croutons and goat or blue cheese crumbles. Fresh basil or parsley also makes for a good topping.

Serves four to six.


People Don’t Care About Martin Luther, et al

I just came across this and thought I’d share.

I haven’t said much about the Pew Forum poll regarding people not knowing things about religion because in general it was something mildly interesting but I thought the whole “OMG” response among religious people and the “hahahaha suxxors” response among atheists was ignorant at best, uncharitable at worst, and thoroughly *yawn*

But I came across this post and appreciated some of what the roundtable of scholars had to say on the subject.  The takeaway for me was that a great many religious folks just aren’t in it for a set of history lessons.  That John Edwards was a major figure in the first Great Awakening, that Muslims celebrate Ramadan, etc., all these things aren’t bad things to know (I’m not disparaging knowledge), but a lot of folks go to church to feel a breath of life in otherwise troubled or sad or distracted lives.  Whether they get it or not, I don’t know, I think it’s far too often that people walk out of church not knowing what they came for or what they got from it, but that’s why a lot of them go, I think.  And some go for the coffee and cheese crackers.  And some go because their friends go.  And some go for networking.  And some go out of obligation.  And some go out of a feeling that their children need “moral values,” whatever that means, as if the church should be in the business of teaching your children proto-ethics via allegory.  And so on.  But I doubt a great many of them go in order to be more deeply educated about the vagaries of 17th century religious movements.

Conservatism is Not a Disposition

Or, at least, it’s not JUST a disposition.

There are conservatives like David Frum and Andrew Sullivan.  Although different in outlook (Frum is also more “demographically” conservative), the two are conservative thinkers trying to rethink and reframe conservative ideas differently than your more-standard “I’m-no-racist-but” and “omg-tyranny” and “the-gays-want-to-do-WHAT” varieties of conservatism.  To that end, I’m all for it, I guess.

But then you run into things like Alex Knepper’s recent piece in Frumforum.  It’s not a bad piece; it identifies a lot of the things I’m more or less inclined to agree with.  But it also contains a part that has become something of a mantra among this sort of conservatives; it’s a quotation that anyone who has been following this strand of conservative thinking should recognize immediately:

Conservatism proper is a disposition. It’s a tradition that runs through Socrates, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, Russell Kirk, Michael Oakeshott, and Thomas Sowell. These men disagree on as much as they agree on, but there’s a common current that runs through their thought: it is skeptical, wary of claims to alter or improve the human condition, and […] offers us a vision, not a program.

I’m fine with conservatism proper seeking to cultivate this disposition.  It’s a good disposition!  But I think a few points are in order.  First, I strive towards skeptical and wary approaches to claims that the human condition might be conditioned or altered.  I believe, to borrow from LeGuin, that the revolution will happen only when we come to it “with empty hands.”  The problem with the revolution, of course, is that hardly anyone has empty hands.  Tendencies in the monkey-brain towards greed and pettiness are powerful, and the human desire to return injustices done to them by paying injustice on others, rather than righting injustices done with newer, fuller justice: that tendency is tragic.

But that tendency is not ultimate; human beings have come to believe a great many crazy things over the centuries.  Some believed in Zeus; others believed in Marxism.  Some believed in Hayek and ended up in Mark Levin; I happen to believe that Jesus Christ will come again to judge the quick and the dead.  THESE ARE CRAZY THINGS TO BELIEVE.  And yet people have believed them so deeply that they have done radical things, both for good and for evil; I see no reason to assume that shaping a new discursive framework couldn’t counteract some of the worst monkey-brain tendencies.

That I am skeptical this can be done in my lifetime, however, does not make me a conservative.  That I have this disposition and am still not conservative seems to be a perfectly appropriate point to raise.  Socrates is one of my intellectual heroes; I do not think we can call him “conservative,” and then put him on a list from Ancient Greece to Thomas Sowell as if this idea has developed in perfect strain from one to the other.  I think modern-day liberals, living as we are in a state largely built on the domestic successes of the liberal governments of the 1940s and 1960s, would do well to reconsider Edmund Burke; his constant assertion that society should develop organically and slowly should give liberals a powerful dispositionally conservative response to defend and maintain the liberal successes that so many Tea Partiers of today wish to unravel.  And all I can say about Thomas Sowell is, well, Thomas Sowell recently compared Barack Obama to Hitler because of the BP escrow fund.

Whatever conservatism is, it’s got to be more than a disposition.  And it’s got to do better than simply claiming a bunch of philosophers as its lineage without any serious interaction with their thought.