A Thanks-giving

Hi, friends — Thanks for the affirmations for the popularity of my post from 2018 (“The Unborn”). I’m glad it has gotten traction again in light of the dire news from Texas. I enjoy my 15 minutes / seconds of fame 🙂. The form of ministry I’ve chosen means I don’t often get to see the concrete results of my work, so hearing from folks who have found this piece meaningful certainly scratches an itch!

Some folks have asked if I’ve gotten hate mail; I have, but not nearly as many as affirmations.

I’m not really great at self-promotion or building a “brand,” partially because I am so suspicious of the cult of celebrity that drives so much of our capitalist versions of church. But it weighs on me that I’m probably not using the attention well, so if you’ve found my Facebook page because of this piece and you want to support my work, you can make a donation to my church here: https://onrealm.org/saintjunia/-/give/now

And if you find the idea of house churches intriguing and would like to explore the idea, or if you’d like to see more of my writing, you can do so here:

Church Comes Home: https://bookshop.org/…/church-comes-home…/9781791007331

God Shows No Partiality: https://www.amazon.com/…/B007…/ref=dp-kindle-redirect…

Sometimes the work the world needs is overwhelming, but our words of mutual encouragement make it bearable. Thanks for reaching out with your support and affirmation!

A Memorial Day Reflection (TW)

CN: violence and religion

The sacrifice of Abraham *oil on canvas *195 x 132.3 cm *inscribed b.r.: Rembrandt. verandert. En overgeschildert. 1636

“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” (Jeremiah 19:5)

We’re going to hear it again and again this weekend, as we’ve heard it so often: “Sacrifice. Sacrifice. Sacrifice.”

It literally means “to make sacred.” And it’s bullshit.

I am not saying there is no honor in dying for an honorable cause. I’m saying nothing and no one is made sacred by killing. It is a religious lie.

The manufacturers of war use the rhetoric of sacrifice to create a caste of warrior-priests. They want us to genuflect to the flag and the uniform and to think of combat as holy. They recruit preachers who should know better to parrot their heretical doctrines and put flags in their sanctuaries so that the Prince of Peace polishes the boots of their generals.

How do you know the language of war sacrifice is a lie? The whole point of war is to make the OTHER people sacrifice MORE. Nobody wins wars because they “sacrifice.” You win because you kill, or you raise the cost of war so high the other side can no longer afford it. That’s what the metaphor of “sacrifice” elides.

It is also why we don’t honor the people who pay the highest cost in war: women, children, and the poor. Tell me about the sacrifice of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tell me how those children’s burnt bodies made anything holy. Tell me about the 60+ children dead in Gaza this month, or the handful in Israel. Where is their Memorial Day? When is “Collateral Damage Day?” when we remember those who wandered the ruins of napalmed villages and bombed cities and the kids who starved during sieges? There is a reason we fail to honor their sacrifice for our victories. There is a reason we don’t talk about how their sacrifice “protects our freedoms.” They are the unwilling transaction we fail to memorialize. We have no day for them, no time to spare to think of them.

Children during air raid : Soviet children during a German air raid in the first days of the war.(near Minsk,Belorussia) RIA Novosti archive, image #137811, http://visualrian.ru/ru/site/gallery/#137811 from Wikimedia Commons

How do you know “sacrifice” is a lie? No warrior went to war to die for their country. They went to war to KILL for their country. That they suffered, that they experienced terrible things, that they did brave things for country and comrade, and that they had honor and altruism in their hearts may all be true. They may have even fought in a just war, though those are far rarer than we admit. But they did not make “the ultimate sacrifice” because nothing was made holy by their deaths. No god, not even Ares, was appeased with their blood.

Tell me about the sacrifice of returning vets who survived but had no roof over their heads and who numbed their trauma with drugs, whose government turned its back on them, just as it does to all those who suffer. Tell me about how our suicide dead outnumber our combat dead. What is made holy by how they were changed? Are we healed by their suffering?

And their human masters only became more greedy and went to war more easily the more we spoke of nation and war with religious devotion. That is why the language of war was so often in the puckered mouth-sphincter of our 45th president, why he blustered and carved a path through his own citizens to hold a Bible and glare through the tear gas. He is the perfect picture of a priest of war, this dolt who never served.

Rinse from your mouth the unholy language of sacrifice. If this is holy in your god’s eyes, your god is trash, and your religion is a lie. I want nothing of your religion, because it has no salve for the wounds of this war-weary world.

Honor the war dead. Remember your kin who wore the uniform. Show gratitude to those who lost limbs, life, or loved ones. But may God damn to hell the language of war “sacrifice.” War never makes holy. It only profanes this good Earth.

Joseph Did You Know?

Joseph did you know that your baby boy is not really your offspring?
Joseph did you know that your baby boy will be a living wellspring?
Did you know that your bastard child would smash the gates of hell?
And that we’d rather kill him than hear the truth he’d tell?

Joseph did you know that your baby boy will make the high priest angry?
Joseph did you know that your baby boy will redefine his family?
Did you know that your baby boy will say his Father’s God?
And that a branch has grown out from Jesse’s ancient rod?

An angel told you in a dream, so we all know you knew.
You heeded your wife’s voice and that’s what all great spouses do.

Joseph did you know that you’ll have to flee to refuge as an exile?
Joseph did you know that your Egypt flight will bring life to the gentiles?
Did you know our patriarchy’s pushed you to the side?
Some people just can’t handle your family or your bride.

Alien Peer-Pressure

The Pillars of Creation, NASA, from Wikimedia Commons

We’ve made some amazing space discoveries this year: water on the moon, potential life signs on Venus, many possible habitable worlds in other systems.

I dare to daydream sometimes. One daydream hope for humanity is that we not only discover intelligent alien life, but that the peer pressure of other sentient beings in the universe causes us to clean up our act. My hope is that rather than engaging them as colonizers or colonized we’d be freakin’ embarrassed, like when you find out that company could be coming over and your house is a mess. They need not even be super-enlightened beings to exert such peer pressure; just slightly more thoughful than we are.

The aliens would be like, “wait, you’ve got so many resources — why do you let so many people go without food, homes, or basic medical care?” And our leaders would be like… “well, uh…” And they would be like, “And why do you let industries pour their crap into your water? Why do you foul your atmosphere? Why do you shit where you eat?” And our leaders would stare at their shoes.

I have to admit it’s a faint hope for change, seeing how we treat other life in the more-than-human world we already inhabit, and how horribly we treat other human beings even when other people are looking (like separating asylum-seeking parents from children—who does that?). But man, I love the idea that we could be shamed by alien life into becoming the kind of species Gene Roddenberry thought we could be. I love the idea that large numbers of people could have their consciousness raised, that we could experience a global awakening and start asking ourselves why we hesitate to make life better for everybody *right now* when it is totally within our ability.

Maybe we’d look at ourselves the way we look at cholera-stricken people in past centuries who burned witches, pooped near their drinking water, and refused to wash their hands, and we’d be ashamed because it’s fine when you don’t know any better, but when you do it’s just stupidity, right? We could see that we’re still operating in this laughably narrow-minded anti-scientific way, sabotaging our own communities and our planet.

Look, even in my most hopeful daydreams, I imagine that we’d have our ignorant ruling class and their pundits preaching about preserving “our sacred way of life,” which is essentially manufacturing poverty and oppression for any being lower on the hierarchy, digging up oil and belching climate-changing gasses into the sky; but I do have this belief, perhaps naive after four years of this awful administration, that there are some self-interested human leaders who can be shamed or socially pressured into appropriate behavior. Some leaders still have a conscience, right? Somewhere, even scoundrels want to be *perceived* as virtuous?

And since they seem to have become immune to garden-variety human shaming, I’m hoping maybe *extraterrestrial* shaming would make them at least pretend to give a rip about other people. A science-fiction version of the End Times, you know: “Jesus is coming — look busy.”

Then again, I’ve lived in Alabama for most of my life, so I know it’s possible that the citizens of Earth might decide to be *proud* of living in the Alabama of the Galaxy, proud of living in our own filth and boasting about the way we create suffering for ourselves. “We dare defend our right to ruin our planet.”

I’m hoping that when we do discover alien life, we start to realize that the life we have here is just as awe-inspiring and precious, and there is so much waiting to be discovered right under our noses. I hope we learn to appreciate this planet the way we might an alien one. I hope we learn to see that our manufactured suffering is so completely unnecessary.

Insert Clever Title Here

I’ve had a few things I’ve written “go viral” and get tens or even hundreds of thousands of shares (which is still not much in internet terms), but what amuses me is that the single most popular blog post I’ve ever written *over time* is this one on biblical insults. It has never gone viral, but about 20-30 people read it each day, which means that it eclipses all other posts on my blog. Apparently most people find it from google searches.

None of these—either the quick “viral” pieces or the slow-and-steady accumulators—are what I consider my best writing. There are several lessons in this for people writing in public: 1) Try to write well consistently, because you don’t get to choose what will be read the most, and you don’t want to have regrets over careless mistakes if/when something explodes. 2) Popularity has little to do with quality. 3) Descriptive titles are important. I definitely don’t give enough thought to titles.

A Few Ways White Supremacy Hurts White Folks

White supremacy hurts everybody, including white folks. How does white supremacy hurt white folks?

1) The racist war on drugs has led to mass incarceration. Although it disproportionately hurts black folks, most people in prison are white.

2) The racist war on drugs has locked away psychedelics for fifty years, which could have been used to treat generations of people with addiction, PTSD, and treatment-resistant depression.

3) When you [white folks] buy a home in a “nice” neighborhood with a “good” school system, you are paying real estate premiums to maintain segregation. The education you are buying for your child with your rent/mortgage is an education that should be available to all kids. How much a year do YOU pay in property taxes, sales taxes, or rent to maintain segregation so that your child can get the education that should be available to all?

4) Huge proportions of city budgets are going to police departments that could be used to lift people out of poverty—and most of the poor in our country are also white.

5) Voter suppression disproportionately disenfranchises black folks, but it also disenfranchises the elderly, those without transportation, the poor, and those in rural areas—many of whom are white.

6) The criminalization of black folks impoverishes our public life and our relationships. Our young black siblings are less able to use their talent and promising futures for the benefit of us all when society steals their hope. The fact that so many DO rise, succeed, and contribute their substantial gifts to the world is a testimony to their resilience, grit, and grace.

7) White supremacy causes moral injury and spiritual harm to white folks. We cut off and stigmatize portions of ourselves in order to maintain the fiction of “whiteness.” We create and then suppress the shame of whiteness.

I say this not to reinforce the sinful notion that white people should only care about white people, but to point out that there is a financial, social, and personal cost to everyone—including white folks—for maintaining this bullshit system.

We have metaphors for this: “cutting off your nose to spite your face,” and “shooting yourself in the foot.” White supremacy affects the body politic. Saint Paul said that they hand cannot shun the eye, but that’s what we do every day. It is a voluntary self-inflicted wound. If you consider yourself white, it is in your SELF-interest to dismantle white supremacy, to end it NOW, to refuse to let it continue for one more generation.

We need to understand it not simply as a character flaw, or an evil system, but a deep psychological and social wound. I say this not to diminish the generational trauma inflicted upon black folks, but to get people who think they are white* to wake up to the harm that has been done to US by white supremacy.

I want you to feel this urgency not out of altruism, as though you are doing something nice for your black friends by supporting this movement. I want you to hate white supremacy for what it has done to YOU. This is about YOUR liberation from a hateful, exploitive system that the oligarchs and white supremacists among us want to maintain.

*This is a phrase coined by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

**There is a double irony to this list that I have shared, because some white folks use these things as evidence for their claim that systemic racisms does not exist. I even read one ex-prisoner claim that there is no such thing as white privilege because most people in prison are white—as though mass incarceration itself isn’t a byproduct of the criminalization of black people.

On Bullshit and Confederate Memorials

Some folks get offended when I use the term “bullshit.” “Bullshit” is actually a wonderful word, explored in depth by philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt, which describes a language trick we employ that is not *quite* an outright lie. The goal of bullshit, he says, is not to deceive someone about facts, but about your *self*. I can say something that we BOTH know isn’t true, and my goal is not to deceive, but to *perform*.

Screenshot of AL.com, reporting on the removal of Birmingham’s Confederate Memorial. Click for source.

When Lost Cause Apologists say, “These monuments teach history,” these white supremacists aren’t lying about a fact. They are performing. Everyone knows busloads of school children do not go to see these monuments and learn anything about history. If anything, the monuments are about *erasing* history, about substituting the Lost Cause Mythology for the pain and suffering and trauma of multiple generations of enslaved black people. No, the Lost Cause Apologists are lying about THEMSELVES. “I’m not a white supremacist—I’m just concerned about “history.”

Alabama has THREE state holidays for the confederacy, and ONE for MLK day (which is co-opted by Robert E Lee day). Nobody sends greeting cards for Jefferson Davis’ birthday, or Confederate Memorial Day, and there are no parades or speeches on these days—at least, none for people who aren’t White Supremacists. These holidays are not about history. It’s about reminding state employees—and everyone else—that we live in a white supremacist state, with white supremacist legislators.

Neither the monuments nor the official state holidays are about HISTORY, preserving it or teaching it. They exist ONLY to announce who is in charge, to remind us all of the Theology of Whiteness.

Case in point: just after Selma elected its first black mayor, white supremacists put up a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Dragon of the KKK.

Lost Cause Apologists want to claim these monuments are about history because they want to have their cake and eat it, too: to advance an agenda of White Supremacy without being called “White Supremacists.” Claiming these are about “history” is not a “lie,”—but it is bullshit. It is a way for someone to claim they are concerned about something that they would PREFER TO IGNORE.

You want history? Visit the Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery and the Legacy Museum. Visit the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham.

There is an effort to bring memorials for the thousands of racial terror lynchings to every county where they happened. This would, in fact, be about teaching the history that has been erased by these monuments to white supremacy.

But anyone who says the bland, featureless obelisk in Birmingham was about “history,” is full of BULLSHIT. It was a blight. And the fine imposed on the city by our white supremacist legislature is a reminder of white supremacy, too. It is fitting that white folks pay the bill for white supremacy.

On Tantrums and Leadership

Photo by VanessaQ, from Wikimedia Commons

A kid is throwing a tantrum in Wal-Mart. He’s tired, and hungry, his feet hurt, and his daddy is getting increasingly angry. Eventually the daddy yells, “I’ll give you something to cry about!” and proceeds to grab and shake his son violently. Bystanders shake their heads, and a few rebuke the father. He cusses and proceeds to haul the child out of the store. The kid alternately goes limp and hits back, resisting the only way he can. It becomes clear in these situations that it is the PARENT throwing the tantrum. He is out of control, responding in fear and anger.

We know when you put your hand on the child, you increase the odds that the kid will cry, scream, kick. You may “win” the fight, because you are bigger and stronger. But you will not “win” the relationship, or future behavior. In fact, you increase the chances of future tantrums. “Shopping” becomes a trigger for resistance, fear, and resentment.

This approach doesn’t work with CHILDREN. So why do elected officials think it will work with ADULTS?

This is an imperfect analogy, of course, and it is unfortunately paternalistic. Protesters are not children. But I use the example because WE WERE ALL CHILDREN, and many of us are parents. Human behavior, regardless of age, is predictable. Violence is reciprocal. Whatever “lesson” you think you are teaching, when you spank a child, what you teach them is that the strong dominate the weak, and that violence is how we communicate what we want.

We also know that when people of any age are stressed, afraid, and angry, they become less able to make good decisions and more prone to violence. So what do we do? We give police guns and pepper spray and tell them to stop a tantrum by throwing a BIGGER tantrum. With weapons. Just like an abusive parent.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Children want what everyone wants: empathy. Understanding. Their physical needs met. It is the job of parents and leaders to help their people get what they need to thrive.

So the president, in his immaturity and incompetence, is talking about using the military to “dominate” space and “dominate” protesters. Leaders sometimes use the phrase “make an example” or “teach a lesson.” These are signals that adults are throwing temper tantrums: “I’ll give you something to cry about!”

Good leadership and good parenting are actually the same thing. And authoritarian parenting and authoritarian leadership come from the same source. This is about an orientation to the world, a spiritual value.

You have responsibility to people’s lives and well-being. Do you treat them like the people you hope they will become? Do you engage them and find out what they are going through that makes them act out? Or do you dehumanize them with violence and contempt? Do you delegitimize their experience and their needs? Do you make a bad situation worse by adding physical pain to the emotional pain they already feel? Can you take a step back and ask, “What is my desired outcome?”

Authoritarian leaders, like Trump, Mubarak, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Putin et al — these fragile men were/are simply abusers with the emotional maturity of toddlers. They are throwing tantrums with military weapons. They do not have the ability to reflect or imagine their desired outcomes. They are like the abusive daddy trying to control a tired and hungry child.

It is way past time to put these immature men in time out, and put mature people in charge who will model the behavior we expect from ourselves.

A Note on a Recent Megachurch Controversy

I try not to complain about COTH, because it’s like complaining about Wal-Mart: it’s too easy and it’s a big target. People I know and love shop at Wal-Mart and attend Church of the Highlands. But because this controversy is emblematic of a larger issue, here is all I will say on the Chris HodgesCOTH controversy:

• It takes NO courage to say something as banal as “racism and bigotry are bad” from the pulpit.
• It takes SLIGHTLY MORE to say “racism is bad, and in spite of our good intentions, we are often complicit.”
• But anyone who can say to tens of thousands of white Alabamians, “Systemic racism exists, and the world you see is not the world your black siblings see” — that pastor is telling the truth.

Preachers spend their whole lives working with rhetoric, honing their craft, learning how to say something without saying it, how to persuade subtly, how to push their congregations just far enough without alienating them. But in that process it becomes easy wimp out, to presume that your people can’t handle the truth, and that it’s more important that they come back and not worth the risk of making them uncomfortable.

Chris Hodges could preach ONE sermon on systemic racism, and reach more people than I or most clergy ever could. True, he might lose a few thousand people. But there’s no shortage of racist churches they can attend.

But any pastor who says “racism is bad,” and continues to support policies and rhetoric that disproportionately harm black people, that deprive them of political, economic, and physical power, has chosen the bullshit of white fragility over gospel of Jesus Christ.

We ALL KNOW hatred and bigotry are bad. These are elementary Sunday school lessons. What white Christians need to hear is
1) that unequal criminal justice, voter suppression, and poverty are sin. That racism isn’t just about your heart, but policy.
2) that all our claims about “not being racist” are invalidated if we cannot listen to or sit under the leadership of black women. This is how you know if your heart is truly changed.

Preach THAT, and you won’t have to say something as embarrassingly banal as “racism is bad.”

You might even encounter Jesus.

Tell a Better Story

Rick Santelli rants about “losers” during the 2009 financial crisis.

I want to remind you of this.

This was in February of 2009. The housing bubble had burst. Financial speculators and banks crashed the economy. Unemployment went up to 7.5%. The jobless claims, highest in 26 years, climbed to a whopping 600,000. In the midst of what became a global financial crisis, this man, Rick Santelli, in what became a viral rant, rejected the idea of a stimulus to people who were losing what little wealth they had accumulated in their homes. He called them “losers who couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages” and balked at the notion he should “help pay for their extra bathrooms.”

In comparison to the crisis we face now, the financial crisis of 2008-2009 seems almost quaint.

We know what happened: Somehow, in the midst of a recession, people whose biggest hurt was losing a little bit of value from their stock portfolio shifted the blame from speculators onto people who didn’t own stocks, whose biggest dream of financial security was owning a home.

I’m glad that the term “gaslighting” has gotten some traction in the intervening years, because this is exactly what that moment was: gaslighting on a massive scale. It takes some gall to blame a crisis manufactured by rich people on middle-class and poor people. Not only were they pissing on us and telling us it was raining—they were blaming us for not bringing an umbrella.

And it didn’t take much to turn “taxed enough already” into some catchphrases for white resentment. Our oligarchs found common cause with white folks who resented a black president. And of course, it affected historically marginalized people—black folks, single women, immigrants, and children—disproportionately. Just like now.

I need to point out that this was an *engineered* crisis. Human beings created it. It was not caused by a virus. Now we face a new crisis, and although it wasn’t engineered by wealthy people playing with money, it has certainly been compounded by them. Because we do not have universal health care, guaranteed time off, and other worker protections, people are forced to work in dangerous conditions, cannot get tested, and do not have the means to self-isolate.

For the last few decades, whenever the notion of universal health care is brought up, they ask, “Who is going to pay for it?” We’re ALL paying for it, right now. We are going to be paying for NOT having universal health care for decades.

This principle has never been clearer: that if my neighbor is not able to thrive, it affects me. Our mutual interdependence means that if my neighbor lacks health care, my own health is endangered. It has never been clearer that blame for this crisis cannot be pinned on the people it hurts. This is not about someone buying “an extra bathroom” they can’t afford.

It has never been clearer that a “social safety net” is not just for my neighbor who is down on their luck — it is for me, for my protection, because it is better for all of us if things like education, health care, and a basic standard of living are available for everyone. It doesn’t make sense for us to pay $30,000 a year to house a prisoner if we could subsidize a drug treatment program for $2000 a year.

“Extra bathroom” my ass. We are ALL paying for not caring for our neighbors.

By the way, in March, Santelli suggested just letting people die from the virus. So yeah. A tiger and his stripes, and all that. They are going to blame us for not bringing an umbrella AGAIN. The only modern industrialized country in the world without universal health care has become the epicenter of preventable death and unnecessary suffering.

Like Pharaoh, they are going to say the reason we don’t want to make bricks with straw, or hamburgers without PPE, is that we are “lazy, lazy” (Exodus 5:8). They do not know the story—that leaders with hardened hearts bring MORE plagues upon their country.

As a person of faith, I understand that we live by certain stories. This is the only script they know.

We have so many better ones.