Goblin King

The word is going around: David Bowie had sex with a 14-year-old girl.

Sometimes it’s put more forcefully: Bowie was a child abuser.

Others don’t think so (including the woman in question): It was consensual! “Who wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to David Bowie?” (A direct quote.)

The best piece I’ve seen so far is this one, which boils down to this line: “We want to be inspired be wonderful people, and to condemn the human excrement who do terrible things. We’re not comfortable with how grubby it is, here in the grey areas.”

Always the gray areas. Continue reading

Two Ways to be Wrong

I discovered a piece of racist literature on my walk yesterday.

At first glance it looks quite innocuous. The flyer that was up on the lamppost is two-thirds picture, showing a smiling woman holding a smiling child, the woman looking quite modern in shorts and close-cropped hair, the child of indeterminate gender. And under the picture, these exact words:

We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children”

Continue reading

Put the Hammer Down

On October 19, 2014, an advertisement ran in the Los Angeles Times (on pg. A4). It stated that an “apparition” of the Virgin Mary had revealed that Pope Paul VI was replaced with “an impostor pope” leading to the “destructive Vatican II reforms.” The ad then showed two pictures of Pope Paul, one labeled “Pope Paul VI,” the other “The impostor (1975-1978) created by highly skilled plastic surgeons.” Never mind the fact that Vatican II ended in 1965, and never mind the fact that the pictures are obviously of the same man, just at different ages. It’s a ludicrous story—but one that someone clearly believes, whole-heartedly, as it gives them a reason to avoid change.

I wouldn’t mention this at all, except that the ad struck me as remarkably parallel to something else going on right now: “GamerGate.”

If you’re unfamiliar with GamerGate, you’re a fortunate soul, but it’s a real problem that needs attention, because it shows how determined people are to Keep Things The Same, and how willing they are to threaten people to get their way. Continue reading

Ferguson Queries

As I was coming home from work the other night, a song came up on my headphones: “The Suburbs,” by Arcade Fire. I have always thought of that particular piece as a “prophecy song,” in large part because of the music video, which can be found here. It’s about six minutes long, and I encourage all to watch it.

For those who are unable to watch, the video centers on five friends, in their early teens, enjoying their life among wealthy suburbs, riding bikes, playing with BB guns, roughhousing, and in general becoming fast companions. But they live in a slightly different America, a dystopia, set against the background of, as the song lyrics say, “a suburban war—your part of town against mine.” Armed soldiers patrol the streets. Occasionally people are dragged from their homes in the depths of night. Military helicopters fly overhead, trucks and tanks are common sights. And gradually this background seeps into the foreground, as the twisted world the kids live in begins to destroy their friendship, culminating in an act of brutal violence.

As I listened to the song on my headphones, I thought of the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri—the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed, unarmed, prompting protests and riots. I thought of the militarized police that has been so aggressive and so criticized in Ferguson. And it finally hit me, years too late: Continue reading

The Problem of Evil

For centuries, theologians have wrestled with a simple problem. If there is a god, then that god would have to be all-powerful and all-knowing; any limitations would make such a being less than divine. But if there is such a being, and that being is loving and merciful, then why do terrible events befall the world? Surely a powerful and loving god would step in and do something. I feel, however, that (with apologies to the Bard) “the fault is not in our gods, but in ourselves.” The worst evil and the darkest disaster, such as the storm that has just pounded the Philippines flat and left death and desolation in its wake, is not the fault of any god above, nor necessarily the fault of the lack of such a god, but due to our own inaction. Edmund Burke probably never said “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” But my point remains regardless. If there is evil in the world, it is because we allow it.

Longtime readers will remember, however, that I am not concerned with the proof of God. I will not try to prove the existence of the divine, nor will I try to argue against it. It is, quite simply, not my issue. I don’t care if God exists, though I believe that the Holy Spirit is real—God or not, my actions would be the same. So why am I, so resolutely dedicated to the here-and-now world, addressing a theological debate? I do so because there are real lessons in the discussion for believers and doubters alike. Continue reading

The Economy of Love in Action

I’ve spoken of the Economy of Love as if it were something to be done in the future. But when you look around, you can see hints of it already present. Friends, I encourage you to take these hints as inspiration and build on them.

From the menu of Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, here in Seattle:

The Community Bowl: We created this bowl to allow those in financial need to have access to nutritive, organic food. Brown rice, black beans, mixed vegetables, tahini sauce and spiced sunflower seeds. Choice of orange or banana. Payment is by donation. No one is turned away. Suggested value is $7. Feed yourself and someone in need for $14 or more. Overage will be donated to a local food bank.”

The Revolution According to Mark

Joe Snyder tells Bible stories. This sometimes makes people uneasy, and two years ago I was one of those people. “I flinch every time you say, ‘Jesus,’” I confessed.

“Read the Bible,” Joe replied, not at all concerned. “That’ll take care of that flinch.” And then he told me about Mark.

This piece is intended to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The afflicted in this case—or, perhaps, the conflicted—are those Quakers, particularly young folks like me, who are troubled by references to Jesus, Christ, Christianity, or the Bible as a whole. The comfortable are either those who are sure that they already know what the Bible says, and thus dismiss the Bible as a reactionary old tome, or those who confidently use the Bible to shore up today’s structures of power and wealth because it is so reactionary. I mean to show, however, that the Bible has a lot to offer the most radical in our Quaker faith. Continue reading

Safety Net

Our social safety net is still fraying. In some places it is altogether worn through. This is perhaps not surprising, what with the rhetoric that fills our airwaves and legislatures: poor people are lazy, drug-addicted parasites, and safety-net programs like TANF (welfare), SNAP (food stamps), and others are just enabling their lazy, drug-addled leeching. “Leech” is more commonly applied to welfare recipients than to Social Security recipients, but even there we hear talk of “hard decisions,” which always come back to “How do we cut back?” instead of “How do we raise more?”

Democrats being what they are, there’s not much language coming back from the Left in defense of welfare recipients, but I’d like to provide some. A Google search turns up a few people, mostly actors and singers (perhaps because they get asked a lot of questions about their lives), who have stories about growing up in poverty and relying on one or another social safety net. Let’s have a roll call, shall we? There’s Shania Twain, famously, but also Kelly Clarkson, Tobey Maguire, JK Rowling, Jesus, Charlie Chaplin…

Wait, what?

Yes, that Jesus. Obviously the social safety net took a different form in his day, but he made use of the ancient version. In Israel it went like this: the law (specifically Leviticus 19:9-10) commanded that everyone had to leave some of their crop for poor people to eat, both by leaving some of the crop unharvested when the rest was brought in―leaving some grapes on the vine, leaving the ears of wheat at the edges of the field, and leaving anything that spilled on the ground lying there. In fact, those with more land had to leave more behind, which is almost progressive taxation. Moreover the law also said that anyone could eat from anyone else’s fields, though they couldn’t take anything out of the field in question. In this way everyone who had something left a little for those who had nothing, and the reason for this is given in a rather important commandment later in Leviticus 19: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And Jesus? Listen to this: “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.” (Matthew 12:1) That’s all twelve disciples taking advantage of the laws protecting the poor. Jesus himself presumably never had to worry about going hungry (lilies of the field, and so on) but he had to feed his flock, after all.

Now it’s true that Jesus likely worked as a carpenter before his ministry began, and his disciples had all sorts of jobs from fisherman to tax collector; it’s also true that where they could get freely-offered hospitality, they took it. That was the better way, and it remains the better way. But for those in-between places, Jesus and company relied on Israel’s form of food stamps.

In fact, if you squint a bit, you can see another connection to today’s situation, because just one verse later the Pharisees chide the grain-plucking because the disciples did it on the sabbath. In short, when they used the social safety net, the disciples were accused of immorality. Some things never change.

So when Jesus said, “As you do for the least of these, you do also for me,” he meant it. He and his group had used the laws protecting the poor; in all likelihood they were poor, having renounced all wealth, property, and careers to follow the call. Israel had protections and help for its poor citizens, and Jesus was among them. Which means, as I’ve often stated, that those who slander the poor are slandering the man from Galilee. “As you do for the least of these” cuts both ways.

Which is, I think, worth remembering.

Old Lessons

Every homeless person I pass, every abused child I hear of, every accusation of rape that is met with hostility and scorn, every fresh disaster worked by human hands, from pollution to famine to war — all these call me to my words. How could they not? I follow a teacher who taught me to love my neighbor as myself, and yet I live a life that spits on such philosophy — indeed, I live such a life and I am enriched by it. I follow a teacher who taught me to share all I have, and I live a life that insists on hoarding my wealth. I follow a teacher who taught me to see the holiness in every one, and I live a life of privilege in a system that treats some as gods and the rest as raw material, to use or waste as the gods see fit.

Then I see those charged by my teacher to set these wrongs aright — minister, priest, pastor on one level, every Christian on another — and too many of them are the scoffers and abusers, the ones who perpetuate the structures of power and the abuses of that power. Not all. There are quite a few who give all they have and more, who love their neighbor with compassion as their guiding star. But any is too many, when it comes to those who say they follow Jesus and attack their neighbors anyway. I look around at my fellows in faith, and for every one I see laboring to heal the world, I see one or two or ten wounding it further, sometimes without even knowing it. I may not see all the good that’s being done, which is as it should be. But when I see the poor on the streetcorners mocked and attacked and scorned, then there is more to do, and I see many of those charged with helping the struggles leading the charge against love and justice, or applauding the attacks from the sidelines. The man from Nazareth came to change the way the world worked, and too many of his followers are standing in his way: they are themselves the problem.

In such times all I can do is quote the words of the prophets, time and time again:

“‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
The Lord has told you, oh mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
(Micah 6:6-8)

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melodies of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
(Amos 5:21, 23-24)

“‘You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the laws and the prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37-40)

Why must I say this again? Why must I teach old lessons anew? Better men than I have taught us to love our neighbors — men, yes, and better women, too, for all that they don’t make it into the books as much. Why is it so hard to learn? Why is it such a struggle for so many to remember? I see so many pouring out their piety on one side, and pouring out scorn upon the poor from the other, yet all from the same mouth. One of their words must be a lie, and their wealth tells us which it is, because they “cannot serve both God and wealth.” They must renounce one master or another, and it seems they have chosen to renounce God.

But to those who renounce wealth, shall they be poor, shall they suffer, shall they starve? No, for the Generous One shall not forget them — and those they have helped will not forget them either. Let those who worship wealth go their own way, because it is a way of loneliness, and meaningless. Those who worship the god I follow shall have each other.

Make your choice!

The Last Judgment of the USA

Then the people of the United States were brought before Christ, and were divided in two, the sheep and the goats, and the goats were placed at his left hand. And he said to them, “You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and you did not cure me, in prison and you did not visit me.” And they all answered, “When was this precisely, Lord?”

And he told them:

“Whenever you drove past East St. Louis or around Watts, and did not stop; whenever you passed over Gary or avoided the South Side; whenever you ignored Baltimore or the Bronx, stayed away from Philly’s heart, fled DC at nightfall. Continue reading