Post-Women’s March Questions: And I’m troubled

January 23, 2017

So, I’ve kept myself involved with aging parents since early last week, and tried to observe from social media all of the events of the presidential transition. Then, the following day was a remarkable movement across the world: the Women’s March. Both events, from what I can discern, had unique elements.

Today, I read different versions of both events, and I started thinking about how weird some of the descriptions were. And, while driving around fetching this and that for my parents, I started reflecting on myself and the people who made the remarks: and I was troubled.

So, I’m going to post some questions that will come from “both sides,” because I realized that I’ve got some commitments and opinions that might deserve some walk-back, as well as walk-forward. (If that is a thing.)

First, I spotted a comment made by a former I-Student from the ministry: “This week they march for their own ‘rights’ over the unborn . Next week, braver women will march for the rights of the unborn over our own ‘rights’.” I thought, “Wow.” That’s it?  This alumnus of our ministry concluded that that was all the Women’s March was about? How was that possible? And: How did he learn about the status of the courage of one group of women contrasted with another? Is it that a smaller, numerical group will be afforded a comparative of “braver” when held up against a protest that literally spanned the globe? These questions are real ones, and I’m not asking these as some kind of rhetorical exercise to beat down an alumnus that I love and whose friendship I enjoy.

In a related note, Fr. Dwight Longenecker came to a similar conclusion. Here again, my thinking moved the dial a little more, in that it occurred to me: that Longenecker, as a former evangelical now Catholic priest (with a foray as an Anglican priest), demonstrated what you and I now know to be true: 99% of all pastors understand nothing about social theory, and even less about social change. I felt embarrassed by his blathering. He won’t be embarrassed, but, grace abounds Fr. Longenecker. Why did these two men make the Women’s March out to be all about and only about pro-choice and resistance to those who are pro-life? What I discovered is that they were not alone in coming to this conclusion.

Here’s another question that popped into my head as I was running errands for my parents: So, if this Women’s March was all about protesting threats to women’s rights, abortion rights, the right to have some self-determination regarding one’s physical status in a social environment, they did not need to protest, right? Right now, the law is totally on their side: the side of women. But, here’s the weird thing.

Some of the people (not the alumnus and not Fr. Longenecker) think the PEOTUS (He’s just the elected president by way of the Electoral College, right?) is just awesome stuff. Yet, the juxtaposition of a totally vulnerable child to an abortion with a reality TV actor telling someone that you can grab a woman’s genitals—exactly where a totally vulnerable child finds egress from the mother’s womb—strikes me as peculiar to the extreme: Here is a man who thinks violence to the very topography of a woman’s genitalia where a baby will enter the world can be a source of pleasure and gratification for himself also believes that US citizens should trust his judgment regarding the laws over the same woman’s body, including that baby.

This is a weird thing, no?

But, let me swing over to another question, for my friends who champion women’s rights, and likely participated in the Women’s March: somewhere on our planet…

There were reports of the pro-life movement receiving acceptance, then rejection, from the Washington D.C. organizers. One feminist wrote on her perspective. It made me really struggle at this very point. At first, I thought: “Come on! Can you really believe that you would’ve been welcomed?”

But, the next thought troubled me: deeply. For as we all know, this nation, this polis, is deeply divided. Duh. Yet, without any essentializing here at all, I found myself just baffled at how the Women’s March could reject any woman who shared all of the organizers’ indignation and outrage, as well as the calls for justice: save one matter.

I’m hardly suggesting this is easy or that the divide should simply be swept under the rug. Obviously, I have a far-too-limited understanding of the pro-choice movement. However, at the very moment of coming together, in outrage, the politics of exclusion held sway. The organizers of the Women’s March could have said: “We don’t have to agree about everything, but if you’re a woman, you have some long and deep say-so about your body, and your self-determination.” There are claims that with Planned Parenthood as one of the financial sponsors of the D.C. event, there was no way that any pro-life movement would be included in the march. Even so: It was a missed opportunity, sure, but it was also indicative of how polarized the divide is among those organizing the divide.

I’m going to leave you with a link to a speech by Robert Reich, made during Occupy Cal.

“Some of you may feel a little bit — what are we doing here? What exactly is our goal? I urge you, I urge you to be patient with yourselves, because with regard to every social movement of the last half-century or more, it started with a sense of moral outrage.”

I recall watching this on a live video feed, and thinking, “It’s on.” Because, some people are making claims that the Women’s March was just a one-off event. Hardly. Read Reich’s speech, and let it simmer for awhile, and let me know if you come to the same conclusion: It’s on.

Your questions? Please post them to Facebook. Thanks.

Link to Robert Reich’s speech at Occupy Cal.

This is not normal: An unusual week. To say the least

November 28, 2016

I started harvesting more news items, blogs, and other sources for this week’s version of #notnormal. It turned out to be quite a week of possibilities. Steve Bannon? More of Jeff Sessions? Betsy DeVos selected as Secretary of Education? The (unfortunate) firing of Charlie Strong?

No. Just under the wire: This.


So: The backstory here is DJT’s outrage that Clinton and others have requested an audit of the votes in a few states. We all might take a step back for just one moment and at least concede this: anyone who has won an election might have more than a little emotional resistance to this kind of effort. OK? That makes sense.

And, truth be told, when I first heard about the various momentum toward audits, I thought that DJT would scoop everyone with the high road: Say something to the effect that he welcomed such audits, as the outcomes would not only verify his victory, but it would also reaffirm confidence in voting in any election, no matter what kind of ballot would be cast. Right? Such statements would at least position DJT as one who held confidence in the process and could steady the anxieties of the electorate.

Instead, this guy, the so-called PEOTUS, has done a few things that simply move the dial toward the category of “he’s certifiable” through a single tweet. Of course, he made several others since then, but the damage is done.

First, he made a claim that he could never in a million years ever confirm. How he knows this to be true simply is never substantiated.

Second, he called into question the very process that got him elected. Is there a conspiracy that we should now know about that he was already aware of?

Third, and here is where he moves into the same territory that got Clinton in so much trouble for calling US citizens “deplorable,” he ends up labeling the Clinton voters as people who committed voter fraud. Really?
Clearly, words do not matter to this fella. The kind of wordsmithing that DJT practices hardly commends any trust in the soon-to-be Executive Commuter. Stay tuned. Last week was an unusual week.


Drugs, Asking, & Depression: On (the Rest of Us) Having a Moral Compass

August 12, 2014

I am interrupting this series on freshman in their faith commitments. Yesterday, Robin Williams was discovered dead of asphyxia. Williams had a long history of depression and drug addiction. In particular, Williams used illegal drugs, such as cocaine. Williams acknowledged many years ago that the death of his friend and colleague, John Belushi, from drug addiction had awakened him to his own problems.

More recently, his struggle with depression reemerged, as did the use of illegal drugs. Although quite open about his struggles with addiction and depression, apparently his transparency about these debilitating problems did not have sufficient power to alleviate the pain of depression or keep him from (allegedly) taking his own life.

I caught part of an interview on KTLA this morning, and that viewing prompted this post. An actress made an astonishing apology for Williams’ drug abuse and alleged suicide: and I mean apology in the traditional sense of justifying his actions.

I want to err here on the side of grief: I will assume that, like so many others I’ve heard over the years, when we grieve, we say things that are totally out-of-bounds and so exceptionally offensive. Were it not for the overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness within grief, we would banish such thoughts from our heads before ever allowing them upon our tongues. Yet, I could not help but think, “Wow: Why doesn’t the journalist intervene right here? This kind of talk on TV is unacceptable.”

Although completely independent, I could not help but think of the overdose death of Phillip Seymour Hoffmann earlier this year. Hoffmann also struggled with addiction to illegal drugs; in his case, the struggle was with heroin. He was also alleged to have problems with depression.

Both Williams and Hoffmann were adored and celebrated for their astonishing acting abilities, and the range of characters that they inhabited in film, theater, and TV. They had a cadre of professionals who served them, conducted business on their behalf, and empowered their convictions regarding the arts; they both had friends and family who were aware of the troubles and maladies that each suffered from. Indeed, although only one with a lay understanding, it occurs to me that those in closest proximity also experience some social conflicts and emotional fatigue.

But, that is where I would like to draw some attention. My lack of “professional” qualifications should be enough warning to you to confirm or investigate what follows. First, I wonder about the relocation of announcement of depression. In the last 24 hours, about every other FB post or tweet made some version of the following request: “If you’re depressed, please tell someone about it.” Or: “If you’re thinking of taking your life, please stop what you are doing, and tell someone about it.”

At one level, this kind of straight talk assumes that explicit, linear, no-nonsense announcements will introduce safety, intervention, and promote healing. And, I am inclined to agree. What little I know from my friends, however, who have depression tell me: Just declaring they are depressed often takes an enormous amount of energy and courage, both of which are often in short supply. So, the above requests hold the best of intentions: but, no one should believe for a moment those announcements will solve everything. Relocating the responsibility to the one with depression is no guarantee we’ll hear anything.

For there is some dispute as to whether depression can be healed. Again, I’m not the one to consult, but if you google “depression healing”, you’ll quickly observe the astonishing range of responses; what kind of depression, and what kinds of healing are possible within any particular version of depression: and you get my point. Just making announcements can’t be the solution to alleviate pain or divert someone from making an attempt on their life.

But, we need to probe in the midst of this historical moment about culpability. Even here, we need to look and listen carefully about what we say and do. I’m always more than aghast when I learn about artists who overdose on narcotics (or die from other causes precipitated from drug abuse), especially those for whom they previously received some of the best medical and psychological treatments available. Who are the people who sell these narcotics and other illegal drugs to these artists? If by chance or serendipity, you are one of those people: Stop.Now. You are setting up your colleague for an early demise, one that is completely preventable.

But, it would be far too easy to merely point fingers at drug dealers, no? I am thinking now of those of us who know someone who has depression. Not everyone should routinely ask this question: but, at least once, checking in: “How are you doing with depression? (Listen.) May I ask you about this again in the future? Who else knows this about you? (Listen) May I have permission to tell that person I spoke with you?”

I feel some anguish here; I have had some students and colleagues over the years who suffered from depression in a variety of forms, and some hid it so well, that my surprise, in hearing from some friends, still has emotional power from the disclosure. It is easier to remain quiet and “keep to ourselves.” I am not proposing anything heroic: far from it. I know at least two or three of you reading here who routinely practice my suggestions: and have been surprised by the worst possible outcome.

Still, I want to recover my “moral compass”: just remaining silent agrees to everyone wandering along in any possible direction. Join me in asking our family and friends, especially those we know who suffer from depression: “How are you doing today?”

Last thought on asking that moves to other forms of intervention. I had a student leader who was too close to a freshman student of the opposite sex; it was the freshman’s first term in the university. She became very despondent about her academic performance, and began isolating herself. The student leader, initially offering pastoral care, learned that the freshmen was considering ending her life. She followed this announcement by telling the student leader that if she learned that he disclosed this to anyone, she would instantly take her life.

So, the student leader kept this agonizing secret for more than a month. I would run into him, or her, sometimes together, and it began to be obvious from their body posture, tone of voice, and forms of communication with me and others that something was being hidden. A private confrontation with the student leader finally yielded the energy-sapping secret.

Now: I can move over to more of my professional experience for you: In short, anyone at anytime who declares to you their intent to take their life is also announcing that they need to be made safe from suicide. They will typically follow this declaration with the threat to fulfill that intent if you disclose it to anyone. You need to swiftly–if possible discreetly–contact law enforcement and get their help. Anyone who declares their intent to end their own life has given up the right for that to be kept secret. For clergy, medical and psychological professionals, and law enforcement personnel all know this: swift intervention is needed. Which is what I did, albeit based upon what little I did know about the freshman and the disclosure by the student leader.

There’s nothing heroic about this kind of action. She’s alive today, married (to someone else), and enjoys being a mother. I’ve had to intervene on behalf of international students as well; those experiences are culturally awkward, and, much to my disappointment, have not resulted in healed relationships over the years.

So, don’t let your family or friends just wander around in their depression. I realize: We all have our limits. It’s the keeping of silence and secrets that contributes to our lack of moral compass: Ask your friends and family with depression how they are doing. Throwing some light upon all of this will contribute to the journey of life. (Jn. 12:35)

Response to Pew Report on Rising Number of “nones” with Religious Affiliation: really, just one (big) thought

October 12, 2012

Earlier this week, the Pew Report on Religion announced its perceived most important result: the number of religiously unaffiliated increased in the last 5 years from just over 15% to just under 20%. Perhaps the most valuable description here is that what was formerly an intuition for most people is now quantified. For those wanting to know more about the increasing movement in the unaffiliated, there was a sidebar that offered some interpretation.

To me, this sidebar was informative, and leaves us with an impression that there are powers at work that will keep rolling through North America, almost without stalling, inexorably, and lending to the notion that the extinguishing of religious affiliation is a foregone conclusion. That impression needs to be examined, although not for the sake of preserving religions per se. Of course, some people may not agree with the impression, and what follows will be superfluous. Such readers may want to stick around anyway.

The sidebar observes four different theories to explain the increase, and they are as follows:

  1. Political backlash, i.e., people reject the attempts of organized religions to influence social institutions like marriage or school curriculum, and are repelled by institutions like the 1970’s “Religious Right” and others that were media savvy for their day and remarkably well organized for influencing elections and sitting politicians.
  2. Delays in Marriage; here, the idea is proposed that those who wait for matrimony (into their 30’s?) are less likely to participate in religious services or commit to any social institution.
  3. Broad social disengagement; here, there is larger trend, made famous by Putnam’s text, “Bowling Alone”, in which, just not religious organizations, but many social institutions are experiencing declines throughout the generations in participation, resulting in lower social capital and a remarkable decrease in communal experience.
  4. Secularization. I must admit: I thought this theory was moribund, and perhaps the editors/writers of the sidebar felt they needed to include this. Yet, even their data- and they admit as much- give further evidence the theory is lifeless. In short, the theory argues that as the overall economic/financial health of the society improves, their religiosity decreases; if the economic health is poor, the religiosity of a nation increases. In the US, the trend continues unabated: the GDP improves, and the nation’s religiosity increases. Why the theory was included doesn’t have any support from the data.

So, my one thought all along has been, how do the people respond to such forces? It needs to be made clear. Survey data doesn’t give us such information. Again, the theories proposed above don’t offer much direct engagement with the surveys or specifically with the respondents. So…

I would make a few suggestions for your reading, and such fall under one big thought: people already have some sense of mission in their lives. They may not use, or even resist, the use of the term “mission.” But for those who are thriving, they have some sense of purpose to their lives. They may not have a religious, let alone Christian, sense to that mission, but they’ve got it. I will defer to another day for a discussion of what is going on for those “who do not thrive.” But, for now, I want to attend to those who are thriving.

For those are the people who are negotiating and determining what kinds of constraints and enablements they encounter when they consider religious affiliation. Religious affiliation doesn’t possess, in and of itself, some social hydraulic that pre-determines an outcome socially. Nor does it hold some kind of special power that induces a unique psychological state that human persons are compelled to act upon.

My guess is that most readers are following me: in other words, I’m trying to make sure we preserve the capacities and dignities that all human persons possess, while denying that the properties and powers of religious affiliation and its related institutional structures will/must produce a specific emotional and social status or produce a certain allegiance.

Let’s not abandon the very real capacities that all human persons have for inner deliberations, of the many kind that exist, and to determine, in response to religious affiliations, how to intersect in a fruitful manner that accounts for their personal sense of mission/purpose.

On the one hand, attaching ourselves to the different theories above concurrently hands off our latent powers to reflect upon the social and cultural context one finds one self in, and merges such without any real consideration of what it means to be human. On the other hand, by keeping a confident hold on such remarkable properties leaves room for learning, testing, a “changing of one’s mind,” and the possibilities that one’s personal projects can fallibly include religious affiliation: and still retain a sense of mission that coheres with that religious affiliation: and activate the powers that accompany a religious commitment.

Ethnic Diversity: Reality for Growth or Choice of Zip Code?

August 17, 2012

I had an interesting meeting with a vendor regarding service for the home we just moved into. This vendor, an Anglo, mentioned that his family raised him in a community adjacent to the one we just moved from. He remained in that community through marriage and child-raising, and once he and his wife became an empty-nest, they moved several miles away, because of “the changing demographic, with so many Orientals moving into [the community].” He said this with a straight face, no sense of malice, not seeking some kind of social solidarity with me: even though he had just been introduced to my wife not 5 minutes earlier.

I must admit to you that I felt very, very sad for this man. In the past, I might have felt some slight or anger. But, in his case, as far as I can discern from his story, assuming the complexity of all life narratives, part of his decision to relocate was motivated by increasing ethnic diversity, i.e., people were moving into his neighborhood who were different from him and his family. And, this vignette evoked sadness for me.

Now, in part, this sadness is also related to the neighborhood we’ve moved into! We are the Asians of the block! As yet, I’ve not seen any African-Americans living on our street, but it’s a long one, and we’ve not been here a month. We have a few Spanish-speaking people, but I’m not sure what their cultural heritage is. So, that present reality may be part of my sadness in response to the vendor’s story.

It’s a big deal for the Christian community to take stock of its ethnic identity. That Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week is a shameful blight that the NA church can faithfully arrest and reverse. That we rarely or fail to vigorously reflect theologically about ethnicity as it relates to our mission in the communities where we live, serve, work, and worship is not merely a blind spot, but a gaping black hole about which our good intentions and “we’ll-get-to-it-later” slogans are vacuumed in while the diverse people around us wonder “what’s in it for me” as we tacitly describe ourselves as Christians.

When we shopped for a home, I recall looking around in every neighborhood, wondering who lives here? I mentioned this to my wife, and she always humored me by listening. For now, as we still get our boxes unpacked and set up, it’s not an issue. Of the neighbors we’ve met, they are the kindest and friendliest people one could ask for to be living adjacent to you: they are the real deal. But, it’s not lost on me: we’re the ethnic minorities of the street, as far as I can tell.

One of my favorite readings in the Gospel of Mark regards the invitation of Jesus to his followers in 4:35-41: “Let’s go over to the other side.” He just concluded some remarkable discourse on the Reign of God, all of which held the attention of the presumably Jewish crowd: and he invites them to head over to…the Gentile side of lake. In other words, as one of my earliest mentors paraphrased Jesus, “Let’s see if this stuff on the Kingdom makes any sense among people unlike ourselves.”
Here, Jesus welcomes his followers into an ambiguous, uncertain, short-term mission, while embedding his teaching, authority, and person within the missio Dei, and joining the two for testing and demonstrating the possibilities for God to reconcile Jew and Gentile in his reign.

Next week, my friends and colleagues from The Fellowship of Presbyterians will gather in Colorado Springs and Atlanta. I observed with some encouragement and some amusement that the pre-conference gathering will be about mission and…missions. Yet, the bulk of the ethos and philosophy of the FoP continues to be about being “missional.” Let me both cheer and chastise this posture.

Yes: the recovery of mission, even the adjective “missional”, is to be welcomed and encouraged: such a retrieval suggests not success, but an approaching day of fruitfulness. No: there cannot be any fruitful horizon for the FoP that fails to theologically account for biblical data that so explicitly directs the people of God into mission among those who are ethnically diverse and different from themselves. The “Focus on Church Planting” element of the August Gathering suggests an important corrective and development in the need for theological reflection on ethnic diversity; it’s a real bonus that it is embedded within the conversation on planting new churches.

Some of the sharpest minds and hearts among Presbyterians are within the FoP. Indeed, in private conversations, some of these people have admitted to me their desire for ethnic diversity within their own congregation. Often, they don’t know how to begin the journey of developing an ethnically-diverse congregation. But, the starting line is right in front of them daily: and I would want to reassure them that they may not get any real guidance straight away: there is no error-free instruction on beginning.

Given the history of NA and its churches, surely some of the FoP elders, both ruling and teaching, can provide leadership that fallibly and imperfectly relies upon the Word and Spirit to give witness to the Gospel among people unlike themselves: even within their own zip code.

Bad Egalitarians, and The Gospel Coalition

July 19, 2012

The recent post by the The Gospel Coalition has, as usual, generated more heat than light. Like all of my other brothers and sisters who are like me, bad egalitarians, I was similarly repelled by the content of a recent post. I have intentionally left the link out to the offending post so as not to distract and also to warn you: the material within that post is incredibly offensive. A few quick observations on the backstory to this conflagration.

One: the blog author, Jared Wilson, was attempting to criticize the current popularity and the underlying ethos related to the series of books partially titled “50 Shades of…” In part, the major themes of the book esteem male domination and erotica. The blog author attempted to demonstrate how such literature was antagonistic to the Gospel, and to healthy male-female relationships.

Two: the blog author also cited another Christian author to marshall support for his argument: both of them share a similar complimentarian perspective on male-female relationships.

Three: Unfortunately, the rhetoric employed by the blog author was far too close to the very material that he was criticizing. This is why I caution you about reading the original post: it’s ugly, and even the author knows this.

Four: The posting of the blog and the follow-up post elicited a groundswell of angry responses from egalitarian perspectives.

Unfortunately, for these complimentarians, they are-at least- guilty by association.

There are, no doubt, people who are similarly repelled by the “50 Shades” series. And some of those people also share the complimentarian perspective on male-female relationships. None of that latter group would ever endorse violence against women. Saying this as a bad egalitarian does not mean that I am in favor of or would endorse the complimentarian position. And I won’t.

As egalitarians, though, we often ascribe to our complimentarian-Christian brothers and sisters a commitment to abuse, oppression, and injustice directed at women: because their reading of the Gospel. I don’t have some Pollyanna view of people that would exclude violence against women coming from people with the complimentarian perspective. But, I also want to trust that when the authors respond with indignation to allegations and labels made of them that they promote violence against women, they really have been misunderstood.

Wilson made a huge rhetorical mistake in selecting the material to counter the “50 Shades” series: It’s just way too close in proximity to the very material he wants to warn his readers about. In his indignation, he hasn’t been able to wrap his brain around this reality: that his selection of readings to counter the sick and idolatrous perspectives within “50 Shades” inadvertently aligned him with the position he aimed to repudiate. Here, my sense is that Wilson has a blind spot. But, that does not mean that he has a conscious commitment to violence against women.

Now, I’ve mentioned in this post that I describe myself as a bad egalitarian, and that deserves some explanation here. I’m using the rhetoric of “bad” in a way to acknowledge several matters that I, my wife, my mother, my daughter, my sister, the female members of my extended family, and my female friends and colleagues already know and can confirm for you: I am an imperfect and highly-fallible egalitarian.

At the risk of this post running interminably, I will just recognize that “walking the talk” for egalitarians is much like the coveted “daily quiet time”: it takes regular, habitual practice to integrate into one’s relationship with the Lord and with one’s spouse/mother/daughter/sister. No one ever arrives as an egalitarian, and there’s no moral or theological high ground with which to confront our fellow Christian complimentarians who assume much of the same posture we do in attempting to fulfill their theological commitment to complimentarian perspectives.

As to the “50 Shades” series itself, much to my surprise, I received an email from Amazon about its pending publication-good grief: what did I purchase that prompted that email?- and happened to pass through an airport at nearly the same time: and there were stacks of “50 Shades of Grey.” Not long after that, I read a review in the LA Times about it as well. In brief, as then, so now: I wondered…well, several questions all popped up simultaneously: How does erotica suddenly become mainstream, airport and Amazon best-selling, literature? How is this series riding the coattails of the Twilight series? What’s up with this popular esteeming of male domination of women? And connecting it to erotica? Am I missing something here? Why does this series feel threatening?

Then, I came in contact with a friend from years and years ago through Facebook, and later spotted a post from her: she had concluded reading the series, and wanted to pray for a “Christian”, which I believe is the main male character of the series. I wonder if she was making an attempt at humor.  “Astonishment” does not quite capture my reaction. Why any woman would welcome that kind of relationship- and clearly I am straining the connotative possibilities to “relationship”- into her life leaves me incredulous.

My growing concern is that, in all of glad-handing and back-slapping that all of us bad egalitarians are performing, dismissing our complimentarian Christians- some of whom share the same cup with us on this coming Sunday, we are not anticipating nor praying for what will follow and exceed the “50 Shades” series. God help us, for we are not only bad egalitarians: we are simply bad at understanding our culture and how to serve it in the name of Christ.