Karen, Your Faith Isn’t Worth Sh*t

Fotothek_df_roe-neg_0006438_014_Genossenschaftsbauer_Grygo_beim_Dungbreiten

If you’ve got a problem with this title, take it up with Jesus. He said salt that has lost its flavor isn’t fit for the soil or the manure pile (Luke 14:34-35). Maybe that doesn’t strike you as offensive. Maybe you are mindful of the wonderfully fertile qualities of shit. People refer to worm shit (“castings”) as “gardener’s gold.” Chicken and cow poo is good, too. But salt without flavor is mostly good for killing things. Even shit has redeeming qualities.

When Karen Handel says her faith “leads her to a different place” on gay adoption, I’m not playing with this toxic manure. Faith that leads you to prevent gay parents from adopting does not bring life. You aren’t “saving” kids from becoming gay, or increasing the probability of them having healthy childhoods, or reducing the suicide rate of LGBTQ youth. Quite the opposite. It isn’t spreading the Good News. You’re doing harm in the name of Jesus, and that’s some serious bullshit. Not the good kind.

And don’t give me this hypocritical tone-policing humbug that has a problem with the word “bullshit” either. I’ve got LGBTQ friends and church members who have adopted kids, and straight parents who have adopted LGBTQ kids. This is not a difference of opinion. This is an attack on people I love. There are much, much stronger words that are appropriate, but they can articulate them better than I.

Mixing your flavorless faith with bullshit doesn’t make it worthy of our community garden. You and Roy Moore can keep that manure in your own yard. I don’t need the stink.

For further reading:

On Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurt

Text of the Day for 5-30-17

136.The_Prophet_Amos

Today’s text is from Amos 2:6-7:

Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
and push the afflicted out of the way… (NRSV)

This is one of those passages that packs even more of a punch when you read it in context. Amos starts in chapter 1 by addressing all the surrounding nations and city-states: Damascus, Tyre, Gaza, Edom, and so on. He uses the same phrase: “For three transgressions, and for four…”

It’d be a bit like if I wanted to deliver a prophecy to the United States, but I started with North Korea, and then Iran, and then Russia, describing all their failures. I’d get my audience nodding along with me, but I’d save the best for last: “And as for you, you United States of America…” The repetition is a set up for a surprise.

Amos says that the guilt of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, is oppression of the poor. I’m going to stick with Amos for a few weeks, and later on we’ll get to the passage Rev. Dr. King made famous more than 2500 years later, but right now I just want to leave you with this perspective on Amos:

First, he lumps Israel in with the other nations in order to make a point: Israel’s special, but they ain’t that special.

Second, their main sin is oppression of the poor. Whatever else you may have heard about God’s judgment of Israel, Amos wants to make it clear—it’s not because of their lack of religiosity. It’s their mistreatment of the poor.

Which raises this question: “How are the poor mistreated?” And how can we avoid doing the same thing?

 


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 

Text Of The Day

You can give online here to support the ministry of Saint Junia. 

Dear Jephthah

Alexandre_Cabanel_-_The_Daughter_of_Jephthah_(1879,_Oil_on_canvas)
You thought perhaps
it would be someone else—
a servant, or a servant’s child,
or a child’s pet.
You would trade
in someone else’s grief,
while you made sad eyes
and talked about a greater purpose
and collateral damage
and breaking eggs to make omelettes,
and the cost of discipleship
and each of us bearing our cross
and sacrifice.

 

When she ran out of the door,
smiling,
breathless,
almost as tall as you,
long limbs (where does the time go?)
covering the ground in half the time
(where does it go?)
as your wife,
and the servants
and their children
and their pets,
first through the door,
because she was faster than the wind,

 

I saw your face crack;
I heard your heart break.
Only last month
(or was it last year?)
she asked for a story every night,
followed by a song,
followed by a prayer,
and I hoped you would have the sense
to know that God has no need
for anyone to prove their righteousness.

 

When you swore your oath,
to sacrifice the first creature
who ran out of your door
in exchange for victory,
the chance was slim,
you thought;
and if it did so happen
that it was your child,
then you saw yourself as faithful as Abraham.
In your head,
you were already composing the story,
and you were the hero
because you sacrificed so much.

 

(Do not bring God into this.
Your idea
never entered God’s mind.)

 

You told her to go into the mountains
and bewail her virginity, and so
that is what she told you
she did.

 

I heard what she bewailed:
She bewailed a world
where men trade their children
for the image of their own virtue,
where they prize abstinence and virginity
more than life,
where legislators
and preachers
and pundits
and generals
bereave parents again and again and again,
where people in authority
make foolish oaths,
and stupid laws,
and empty promises,
that keep taking the lives
of queer kids,
and straight kids,
and any child
who sprints out of the door,
full of hope, and excitement, and love.

 

Jephthah, God is tired;
tired of parents grieving
so you can prove
how worthy you are
by sacrificing their children
for your holy war.

 

Jeremiah 7:31
Judges 11:29-40

Why Should People of Faith Care About Mass Incarceration?

13th_(film)

I just completed an essay for FaithLink on Mass Incarceration. I did a huge survey of recent research, news articles, and opinion pieces. Some of the best are below.

Why should people of faith care about mass incarceration? It is a quiet genocide. Justice demands a response. Scripture also demands a response, and is skeptical about claims of invincible ignorance:

Proverbs 24:10-12
If you show yourself weak on a day of distress, your strength is too small. Rescue those being taken off to death; and from those staggering to the slaughter, don’t hold back.

If you say, “Look, we didn’t know about it,” the one who weighs hearts—doesn’t he understand? The one who protects your life—he knows. He makes people pay for their actions.

Stats on Mass Incarceration:

Stats on Homicide Rates by Country:

Conservative Support for Prison Reform:

Causes of Mass Incarceration:

Film Documentaries & Videos About Mass Incarceration and Slavery:

Primary Sources:

United Methodist Sources:

Different/Opposing Views:

Organizations Working to End Mass Incarceration

For Further Reading:

 

The Orwellian Christianese of “Love”

V0041892 An auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition and the execution o

Too many Christians confuse pity and paternalism with love.

Actually, “confuse” may be too generous a word. For some it can be Orwellian Christianese, where “love” or “forgiveness” is simply used as a tool to demand submission, or to silence complaints. One of the most common negative responses to prophetic language is Christian tone-policing—saying that it is “unloving” or “hateful” to use oppressors’ own rhetoric to disarm their religious weaponry, or to criticize those in power who use religious language as a political tool of domination. In this reading, much of what Jesus himself said is unloving and hateful.

It is a kind of weak rhetorical ju-jitsu to take the words of the prophets* and the complaints of those who are oppressed and describe them as “hate.” As if protesting the disproportionate slaying and imprisonment of black children is “hate.” As if objecting to for-profit sick-care is “hate.” As if decrying Christianese support of militarism and fascism is “hate.” As if championing the rights of “widows, orphans, and aliens” against the abuse of political leaders is “hate.”

There is something I gladly admit to hating: this kind of language. This condescending, paternalistic, bullying and bully-enabling language that uses the words of Christ for cover. (There is a difference between hating the sin and the sinner, right? Or does that only apply to gay folks?)

Rather than get tangled in endless psychologizing or spiritualizing about the inward state of debate partners, I’m much more interested in the effect of our language, practices, and policy. Where do we see the oppressed being freed? Where do we see widows, orphans, and aliens valued as fully human and made in the image of God?

That’s where love is.

I appreciate that Christ loves me, and I have full assurance of salvation through the Holy Spirit. I appreciate that Christ also loves the bullies and fascists of the world, the Torquemadas and Roy Moores and Bull Connors, and that where I’m unable to love I can intercede that Christ love for me while shaping me into someone more loving. I can acknowledge my own failure to love.

But I have no interest in a “love” that does not rejoice in the truth. Nor do I have interest in a religion that can only speak of “good news” if the oppressed are silenced.

There is difference between paternalism, pity, and love.

*(Of course, there is a critique of the less-than-loving attitude of the prophets in the Bible itself. It’s called the Book of Jonah.)

Jonah_and_the_Whale,_Folio_from_a_Jami_al-Tavarikh_(Compendium_of_Chronicles)

If Paul Wrote “The Love Chapter” Today

handheart
If I speak Christianese, but do not have love, I am just an annoying advertising jingle for Jesus. And if I have a big blog following, and three best sellers, and if I run a big church, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I become a martyr for evangelism or social justice, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 

Grandstanding is not love. Smarm is not love. Love does not belittle the beloved’s anger. Love does not gaslight, tone-police, or tell victims to reconcile with their abusers. Love does not shrink from conflict, but calls all parties to act like mature adults.

 

Love does not bear all things, because it rejects that which diminishes the image of God in self or others. It does not believe all things; it rejects bullshit, because it is neither naive nor gullible—it rejoices in the truth. It can endure much, but it cannot endure “love the sinner and hate the sin.” See above. Love treats others with the compassion, respect, and dignity we want for ourselves.

 

The internet will end. Politics will end. Blogs, books, and religion will end. Right, now? All this stuff is a pale reflection of the love and justice God has in store.

 

When I was a toddler, I thought “sharing” meant that you give to me. I thought “love” meant you defer to my wishes. I thought Christian paternalism and pity were love. But I grew out of that.

 

I’m not perfect, of course. I’m still capable of self-deception. I’m not as mature as I will one day be, but one day we will all know God’s love inside and out.

 

Sure, faith is important. Hope is important. But you know what’s more important?

 

Love. Mature love.

 

(1 Corinthians 13, for comparison)

Reflection on “The Exodus”

Thanks to everyone who has found this blog by reading “The Exodus.” I’ve appreciated reading the feedback—all of it, positive, negative, questioning, or reflective. I’ve especially appreciated some of the email from folks who shared deeply personal struggles with faith, those who feel alienated by the dominant Christian narrative in our culture, or who simply resonated with the words. I’ve been touched by stories of people who have told me they have left church, but would go to a church if they could find one that said these words.

Thanks to John Archibald and Kissing Fish for helping it to go viral.

I was inspired to write it after reading the Song of Miriam in Exodus. Some scholars believe it may be the oldest text in the Bible.

I just want to offer a few words to folks who have commented, emailed, or shared discussion on social media.

1) In The Four Loves, CS Lewis says that friends are those who “see the same truth.” So I am delighted to make the acquaintance of new friends. When I read something that plucks a string in my soul that vibrates for days, or I’m stunned to learn someone else has put into words thoughts I’ve thought or feelings I’ve felt, I feel less alone. It means a lot to me that some of you have shared that these words did that for you, or that they offered courage, comfort, or challenge. Thank you.

2) For everyone who has been alienated from the church, who told me it is a relief or a surprise to hear Christian religious language used in a way that was not advancing a right-wing agenda, just know that there is a long, long tradition of religious social justice work. I’m part of a grassroots community organizing group called Faith in Action Alabama, and one of our themes is that what we’re talking about is not a thin veneer of religious language over a political agenda, but a deeply-rooted faith response that claims that God is not neutral about injustice, that all human beings are made in God’s image, and that prophetic imagination is part of our calling. I encourage you to find a group doing such work in your area. I also recommend Common Prayer for daily devotional.

While the piece is titled “The Exodus,” I’m still very firmly part of a church. Even an institutional church. But I totally understand the desire to leave both church and nation for a new land. For me, the Good News is that there is an alternative in our midst. “The Kingdom is among y’all,” as JC said.

3) For critics, know that I appreciate thoughtful criticism and read what you write, even if I don’t always reply. I am happy to debate the finer points of policy, government intervention, evidence-based programs that reduce poverty, and the effects of legislation on things like the health of LGBTQ persons and reduction of abortion. I believe in respectful dialogue and giving folks the benefit of the doubt.

But polemic, art, and imagination—not rational debate—is the proper response to oppressive, bullying, tone-policing, white-supremacist, patriarchal theology. Jesus knew this, and his response to the dominant theology of his day is recorded in Matthew 23. I will not legitimize the dominant narrative by speaking on its terms. Doing so is simply throwing pearls before swine, an activity Jesus admonishes his followers to avoid (Matthew 7:6).

I reject any view of the Bible that limits it to how we behave in our personal lives, or that walls off personal faith from the personal lives of marginalized communities under threat. A faith that is strictly private and does not impinge upon public life, that does not inform how we talk about poverty or injustice in the public sphere, that makes Jesus my Personal Savior but not Savior of the World, is a faith not worth having, in my opinion. There are plenty of Dominionists working in our federal government, and their vision of God and God’s Kingdom is directly opposed to everything I love. And retreat from politics into a privileged sphere of personal pietistic religion is not a luxury I—or the church—can afford.

Jesus told us to take up our crosses. This did not mean giving up chocolate, sex, or beer. The cross was reserved for enemies of the state. If your faith does not lead you to stand with the crucified, with black kids gunned down, with LGBTQ families prevented from adopting, with refugees, then I have no interest in your religion. It simply fails the test. I have no interest in following a Jesus who does not offer the cross. Characterize it as “left wing” if you like. That’s hardly a stinging critique in the world we live in. I have yet to see a martyr of the faith crucified by the state for defending the rights of the privileged and powerful.

4) Here are some books that I’ve been reading recently that inspired my writing:
Pamela Lightsey, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology.
Walter Brueggemann, Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word.
Walter Wink, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium.
Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.

Thanks again for reading, for sharing, and for commenting.
“Be a prophet of the resistance, not a priest of the empire.”

The Exodus

Frans Francken I. Hans skola: Den rike mannen och Lazarus. NM 429
I have seen your religion, and I hate it.
I have heard your doctrine, and I loathe it.
Take away your empty praise songs,
your vacuous worshiptainment.
Your mouth is full of religious words,
but your proverbs are salted manure.

 

“The sick deserve to be sick.
The poor deserve to be poor.
The rich deserve to be rich.
The imprisoned deserve to be imprisoned.”
Because you never saw him sick, or poor, or in prison.

 

“If he had followed police instructions,
if he had minded the company he keeps,
he would not have been killed,”
You say in the hearing
of a man hanging on a cross
between two thieves.

 

“People who live good lives
do not have pre-existing conditions,” you say,
carving these words over the hospital door:
“Who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

 

“It is the church’s job, not the government’s,”
say you fat sheep,
defending your fat shepherds,
shoving and butting with shoulders and horns,
while you foul the water,
grass,
and air,
and scatter the hungry sheep.

 

You watch the melting glaciers and say to the waves of the sea,
“this far shall you come, and no farther,”
as if your will could change the weather,
as if your will could be done in the heavens as it is on this earth,
as if you could drill the sky the way you drill the soil.

 

In your telling,
in the story of the starving of the five thousand,
there are not twelve baskets collected of left-over food;
In your story, God’s abundance becomes scarcity,
and the crowds devour each other.
“Send them into the villages to buy food,”
and let the Invisible Hand’s miracle of the free market sort them out,
the worthy from the unworthy,
while you eat the two fish and five pieces of bread
volunteered by a child.
These ungrateful poor,
the welfare queens
with their anchor babies,
stop before your disciples’ raised palms;
they hear you say,
“The Master cannot be bothered to bless your children.”

 

You see Hannah drunk,
and you jail her for fetal endangerment.

 

Like Haman, you hide behind the skirts of the king;
you make laws and pay bribes
that allow vigilante violence
and private discrimination
against those you hate,
sheltering underneath plausible deniability.
“It’s not a Muslim ban,” you say one day.
“It’s about religious liberty,” you say another.

 

This Bible you wave, this word you claim,
it is sharper than any two-edged sword.
You wield it poorly; it slices you on the backstroke.
You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.
You tie up heavy yokes for others
whose burdens you do not bear,
but you will not lift a finger to help them.
To some you say, “Do not marry, but burn.”
You lock them out of the kingdom of God.
You cross sea and land for your missionary work,
and teach others to be as hateful as you.

 

Your kingdom is not the public park of Zechariah,
where children play in the streets
and old men and women lean on their canes for very age.
It is not the land where every fearless household
has its own vine and fig tree,
their own means of production and shade for their rest.
It is not the land where everyone has a home.
Your kingdom is the one with gates,
where homeless beggars have their sores licked by dogs,
where people who have the audacity to grow old
pay a premium for their insolence.
Like Ahab, you covet all the vines, all the fig trees,
letting your domain stretch as far as your eye can see,
adding house to house and field to field
until, in your gentrified land
there is room for no one but you and yours.
Like Pharaoh, you call those who refuse you “Lazy, lazy.”
You build walls, and walls, and walls, and walls,
and you stuff your ears to the sound of protest songs
that will shake those walls down.

 

I have seen your christ, and he is my antichrist.
He is the herald of a violent god,
a god of fertility but not fruitfulness,
a god of embryos but not emancipation, pro-birth and anti-life,
a god of war and retribution but not of justice,
a god of order but not of peace,
a god of might but not of mercy,
a god of marriage but not of love,
a god of sex but not of pleasure,
a god of platitudes but not of wisdom,
a god of work but not of sabbath,
a god who demands sacrifice from the poor but luxury and reward for Pharaoh.

 

Your religion is the religion of pyramids pointed heavenwards,
towers built to reach the heavens.
Supported by their flat base, built by slave labor,
they are stable monuments to wealth and death.
You fill their secret rooms with gold so that
in the afterlife,
you may cross to paradise
on the backs of the oppressed,
and live in forgetful pleasure for eternity.
Your gilded gospel is rusty ruin.

 

You are why the ancient Hebrews
seldom talked about an afterlife,
weary as they were of working
for Egypt’s dead heaven.
Your idols and your religion
are why those slaves left the yoke of heaven,
the land of binding,
for a wide wilderness,
for a nameless, faceless God
who told them they—even they—
were made in God’s image.
You are why your churches are empty
of those who love and believe in freedom.
You are why the Gentiles blaspheme the name of God.
You are the reason for the Exodus.

 

And if you pursue, may God throw you into the sea.
And the horse you rode in on.

 

References:
Amos 5:21-24
Luke 14:34-35
Matthew 25:31-46
Luke 23:33
John 9:1-12
Ezekiel 34
Job 38:11
Matthew 13:14-21
Matthew 19:13-15
1 Samuel 1:12-20
Esther 3:8-11
Hebrews 4:12
Matthew 22:9
Matthew 23:13-26
1 Corinthians 7:9
Zechariah 8:4
Micah 4:4
Isaiah 65:21-25
Luke 16:19-31
1 Kings 21
Isaiah 5:8
Exodus 5:17
Joshua 6
Genesis 11:1-9
Exodus 15:21

Text of the Day for 2-9-17

Today’s text is from Matthew 5:12-16:

Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before [y’all]. [Y’all] are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. [Y’all] are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. (CEB [with my edits])

I’ve heard plenty of salt-and-light sermons calling Christians to do good things. But often it is preached as though this section is divorced from the preceding sentence:

In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before [y’all].

These are not separate ideas, though they are often separated in your printed Bible by verse numbers and section headings.

Jesus is speaking to a community of prophets.

See, it depends how you read this phrase. Most people read with a comma, like this: “…the prophets, who were the ones who came before y’all.” I read it without the comma, i.e. “…the prophets who came before y’all prophets.”

Jesus just spent his prologue telling us that the people who we think are losers are really winners (“happy are the poor in spirit”). It takes a prophet’s vision to see this reality. Jesus is speaking to a community he expects to carry on this prophetic tradition. That is why this community will be a “light on a lamp stand,” letting people see what has been hidden by darkness.

Too often, preachers have focused on simply the last phrase in this section: letting others see your good deeds and giving glory to God in heaven. We have separated good works from the prophetic vision, charity from social justice, and works of mercy from evangelism. The call to be salt and light has a particular context: a prophetic community who is willing to be persecuted for Jesus’ and righteousness’ sake.

We are a prophetic community. That is why we are salt and light.


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

You can give online here to support the ministry of Saint Junia.