The BSA Funding Hornet’s Nest

Earlier today I posted a Scouting-related tweet that provoked drew a strong reaction from several people. Here’s the tweet:

Intel Corporation: Pull your financial support until the Boy Scouts pull their anti-gay policy http://www.change.org/petitions/intel-corporation-pull-your-financial-support-until-the-boy-scouts-pull-their-anti-gay-policy … via @change

I was asked if I thought that it was better for Scouting to lose funds. I was asked how doing this would help the boys in Scouting. I was told that it was abusive and manipulative to use funding to try to effect change in Scouting’s policies over what is a relatively minor matter.

I am a former Boy Scout, my son is a Boy Scout, I have just been registered as an adult Scouter, and my daughter is looking at joining a Venture crew sometime in the next year. I think that Scouting is a fantastic youth program. So how can I support Scouts while calling for Intel to defund them?

I have two main reasons to support the petition to Intel.

Reason 1: Choices have consequences

The value of Scouting isn’t just the outdoor skills and learning how to handle yourself in the wilderness; it’s in the character formation that goes along with the outdoor program. Scouting teaches principles and duty. Scouting youth often drop out when they hit a certain age because of the peer pressure they’re getting by being different, by standing up for their beliefs and values. The kids who stay in Scouting learn that making a stand comes with consequences. It is precisely this kind of character formation that many former Scouts go on to say is the most valuable lesson they learn from Scouting.

The national Scouting organization has now said multiple times that they see having gay Scouts and Scouters as somehow being incompatible with Scouting ideals. Intel and the other companies identified in this article by Andy Birkey on The American Independent (linked to from the petition, BTW) have made their policies on charitable donations crystal clear. These policies are not new. These companies need to make sure their house is in order by verifying that their giving is in line with their policies (as the ones in orange have done). However, Scouting has a responsibility here too. By continuing to accept money from organizations such as Intel in violation of their stated donation guidelines, I believe that Scouting is sending the message that money is more important than principles. I’ve heard a lot of justification for accepting the money, but when it comes right down to it, taking donations from these companies when you don’t comply with their guidelines is hypocrisy, plain and simple. I think Scouting is better than that.

Whether I agree with the national organization’s stance on gay Scouts/Scouters or not, I think the unwritten message is doing more harm in the long run that the immediate defunding would do. I’m confident that should Scouting actually have the courage to turn down this money, alternate funding sources would quickly emerge in today’s polarized climate. Look at the Chik-Fil-A protests and responses if you doubt me. So no, I’m not worried that there would be long-term financial damage to Scouting.

It’s not like this is a theoretical situation for my family. Our local troop enjoys a high level of funding thanks to Microsoft matching contributions to the men and women who volunteer as our Scouters and committee members, many of whom are full-time Microsoft employees. I suspect that Microsoft’s policies are actually the same as Intel’s, based on their publicly stated policies for software donations to charities. If Microsoft were to stop funding Scouting (or Scouting were to stop taking Microsoft dollars because of this policy) our troop would be directly and severely affected.

I personally know at least two gay Scouters, and I suspect I know more. Scouting would somehow find the money to replace the lost donations. I don’t know how they’d replace the people I’m thinking of.

I’ve talked this over with my son on multiple occasions. When we discussed this particular petition and the fact that I was going to publicly support it, we talked about the implications. I asked him if he had any concerns. His response: “Do it, Dad. Scouting needs a kick in the ass.” (Yes, he’s my kid.)

And if you think I’m somehow being abusive or manipulative for supporting the use of defunding as a tool for policy change, go back to that Birkey article:

In a brief filed in the landmark case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, a lawyer for the LDS Church warned that the church would leave the scouts if gays were allowed to be scout leaders.

“If the appointment of scout leaders cannot be limited to those who live and affirm the sexual standards of BSA and its religious sponsors, the Scouting Movement as now constituted will cease to exist,” wrote Von G. Keetch on behalf of the LDS Church and several other religious organizations in 2000. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the largest single sponsor of Scouting units in the United States — would withdraw from Scouting if it were compelled to accept openly homosexual Scout leaders.”

According to the Chartered Organizations and the Boy Scouts of America fact sheet, as of December 31, 2011 there are over 100,000 chartered Scouting units, with nearly 7/10 of them chartered by religious organizations. In the tables in that fact sheet, we see data on the top 25 religious charterers, top 20 civic charterers, and the educational charterers – giving us data on 55,100 units (just over half) and 1,031,240 youth. According to this data, the LDS Church sponsors almost 35% of the Scouting units in the BSA. Yet, according to this same data, they have only 16% of the actual youth in Scouting. The youth-to-unit average for the LDS Church is a mere 11.1, which is the lowest of any organization (or group of organizations) listed in the fact sheet data.

Several of the organizations on that list, including the next largest religious sponsor (the United Methodist Church – 11,078 units, 371,491 youth, 33.5 youth per unit, 10% of the total units, and 14% of the total youth) would support and welcome gay Scouts and Scouters. The LDS Church gets to be vocal about it because of that 1/3 number of units – that translates into money for Scouting. This kind of ultimatum is in fact what manipulative behavior (using the threat of defunding) looks like.

Reason 2: People who see a problem need to be part of the solution

I’m continuing to get more involved with Scouting for one simple reason: I believe that if I see something I think is wrong, I need to be part of the solution. I don’t think it’s right that Scouting be in a position where it can have its cake and eat it too. However, I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater; I see the incredible value the Scouting program gives to young men (and the young women who participate in the Venturer program).

My own religious beliefs and principles move me to be more involved precisely because I think Scouting needs more Scouts and Scouters who are open about their support for changing these policies. I know people who gave up on Scouting; I refuse to be one of them.

I want Scouting to change its policies, but I’m willing to keep being a part of it during those changes. I’m not trying to take my bat and ball and go home if the game doesn’t go my way. I want Scouts to continue producing young people of character for future generations.

Want to see the data I’m looking at? I got the fact sheet from the link stated above, brought the data in Excel, and added formulas for unit/youth ratios and percentages. I’ve put this spreadsheet online publicly via SkyDrive.

Things They Forgot

Pat Robertson’s comments on Haiti basically boil down to “they got what was coming to them.” Mr. Robertson, I think you forgot Matthew 25:34-46 (KJV):

34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Rush Limbaugh may have forgotten the above as well. His claims that Obama is using humanitarian aid for political profit definitely seem to have forgotten Matthew 7:15-20:

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

If that last passage seems a bit murky, here’s a quote from C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle (the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia) that I have always loved. The speaker is a Calormene soldier, Emeth, who has had a life-changing encounter with Aslan during the last hours of Narnia:

He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he had truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?

By their fruits ye shall know them…whatever their claims.

Defend THIS

Iowa’s Supreme Court handed out a fairly shocking unanimous decision this morning striking down the definition of marriage as “one man, one woman”, upholding a 2007 Polk Country ruling

If you follow along my blog, you probably already know that I think this is a good thing, so I won’t comment extensively on it here. However, there’s one section in the article I linked to above that just reeks of so much stupidity that I have to respond:

Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a New Jersey group, said “once again, the most undemocratic branch of government is being used to advance an agenda the majority of Americans reject.”

“Marriage means a husband and wife. That’s not discrimination, that’s common sense,” she said in a press release. “Even in states like Vermont, where they are pushing this issue through legislatures, gay marriage advocates are totally unwilling to let the people decide these issues directly.”

Really? Ms. Gallagher, did you really just stoop to the “30 billion flies eat shit” argument to justify your position? You lose.

Okay, to unpack that for anyone who didn’t follow that train of thought:

Ms. Gallagher is relying on the tactic of telling people “the government is ignoring your opinion.” By telling people this, she’s playing on a fundamental ignorance of the design and intent of the American government system, which is the tired old myth that America = democracy = the will of the people = only tolerating Christian values. Let’s see what our founding fathers had to say about that:

It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.
Federalist No. 14

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!
Benjamin Franklin

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.
John Adams

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.
Patrick Henry

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, (A)nd if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
Thomas Jefferson

I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should first be those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on them personally.
Abraham Lincoln

I could go on all day and find tons of quotes, but the key threads that I’m weaving here are these:

America is not and was never intended to be a pure democracy. Remember the phrase “the tyranny of the majority”? Basically, it’s great to be in a democracy if you’re part of the 51%. Not so much to be in the 49% Our democratic functions are not set up to allow citizens to directly decide upon laws and legislation and the handling of day-to-day governance; they are set up to elect responsible leaders who do that for us, and to give us mechanisms to take those leaders out of the picture when they fail to discharge their responsibilities. That’s the “democratic republic.” Remember the Pledge of Allegiance? “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands…”

By electing responsible leaders (including legislators and judges), we are in fact giving those leaders the mandate to act in the fashion they see as best. If we don’t like what they do with that mandate, then we’d better pay attention and give them feedback. You can’t leave the people out of the equation, but you can’t directly hand them the keys to the kingdom, either. That’s why we have checks and balances, including the judicial branch of government. It is their job to say, “No, these laws are causing harm and cannot be used, even though they are popularly supported.”  The exercise of democracy should never come at the expense of depriving others of their liberties. How long did popular opinion support and uphold slavery, and how much damage did that do to our country (and continue to do today)? How long was racism enshrined in our laws? Sexism? If you’re counting upon the will of the people to make the correct choice every time, you’ve got a pretty grim track record of results.

America was designed to be a refuge for all religious belief systems, not just a narrow stripe of fundamentalist Christianity. This includes religious systems that directly challenge basic beliefs of Christianity. It was never designed to be a system that promoted Christianity over all others, even though the majority of founders were Christians, espoused Christian ideals, and wanted to see this country continue to be based on a set of morals not completely incompatible with Christianity. When push came to shove, most of the founders espoused liberty and freedom *over* Christian principles as a guiding principle for the government. They reasoned, correctly, that Christianity could flourish in an environment where liberty was pursued, but the reverse was not true (as had been graphically demonstrated). That is, the proper place for Christian values is on the individual level and in our relationships with others, not hard-wiring our specific interpretations into our functions of government. Religion + bureaucracy + power = corruption of values and lessening of liberty.

Let me leave you with this final challenge if you’re still thinking that it’s your religious duty to enshrine your notion of marriage into the laws of our nation:

Show me a comprehensive case in Scripture for collective Christian political activism. Remember the specific accusations the Pharisees made against Jesus to Pontius Pilate and his answers to Pilate in return. Remember his response to the commercialism in the Temple, how his fiercest criticisms were reserved for those who used religion to gain and maintain power. And then take a look at the agenda and funding of groups like National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family who are leading this fight to preserve marriage (whatever that really means) and tell me how they’re not gaining power and money from their collective activism.

Jesus in my arm

Summer is here and school is out, so the kids are looking for more to do. One thing they won’t be doing for the next couple of weeks, however, is riding their bikes.


You see, some bastard(s) stole their bikes at some point in the last couple of days (we were out most of Friday, so it could have been any time from Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon. We assume that the parties who felt the need to liberate the bikes from our carport are the same parties who helped themselves to Nick and Steph’s bikes last Sunday. (Nick stored his bike here since he doesn’t have room at his apartment.)


Needless to say, the kids were pretty upset yesterday when they’d put on their helmets and went out to ride. These bikes were their major Christmas presents and were the first brand-new bikes either child has owned. They’ve taken pretty good care of them, all things considered, and really enjoyed having mountain bikes with multiple gears.


I’m not sure how we’re going to replace them at this point. Nick offered to pick up a couple of new bikes for them in a couple of weeks, and we’ll probably let him help us out, but he’s not going to shoulder it on his own. We need to find some way to scrounge up the money from what is a tight time of the year for various reasons (mainly because we’ve been aggressively paying off debts). Steph, of course, immediately started looking on Craigslist and Freecycle, but Nick suggested — and I agree with him completely — that we may want to spend the extra money for new bikes, since the kids’ bikes were new and were lost through no fault of their own.


I’m trying to maintain a good attitude about this. After all, like I told the kids, their mother and I believe that God gives us financial resources for many reasons, including ministering to others, and if someone is in a bad enough place in their lives to steal someone else’s bike then a) they probably need it worse than we do and b) they have to answer to God about it. The kids are pondering that one thoughtfully; they don’t entirely accept it, and I honestly don’t expect them to, especially since I flat-out admitted that that’s a hard one for me to keep my head wrapped around all the time. It did, however, get them thinking about the general wisdom of getting really attached to material things (and carefully picking which things, if any, you get attached to), which is a huge step forward.


I, however, just want to find the people who made my kids cry and introduce their face to my aluminum baseball bat. With all the love of Jesus in my arm, of course.

Rare or well-done?

Today commemorates the burning at the stake of Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI, at the hands of the court of Mary I. Cranmer was influential in guiding the reformation of the churches in England as they broke (over several issues, not just divorce) with Rome and became the Church of England. He was opposed to the practice of clerical celibacy and penned the first two revisions of the Book of Common Prayer, the key liturgies of the CoE.


Cranmer was convicted of treason for his support of the Lady Jane Grey, and spent two years in prison until Mary completed negotiations with the Roman Catholic Church and was able to appoint a new archbishop in Canterbury. During this time, Cranmer had signed several recantations that, according to laws Mary had enacted, should have spared his life. Instead, she charged him with heresy in February of 1556 and burned him at the stake on March 21 of the same year.


No matter how you look at him, Cranmer was a man of rare talent, and he faithfully executed what he saw as his duties to the Church (even when they brought him in conflict with his patrons). He is still remembered and honored for the strong imprint he placed on the CoE and, by extension, the churches of the Anglican Communion.


Thanks to TNH for the reminder.

A nine-word poem

My friend Mir was telling me about a writing challenge she's been working on lately on one of her web forums; someone posts nine words and then people write a poem incorporating them.


I decided to do something different: write a poem in nine words.

Discipline.
Commitment.
Relationship.

Can't I have easy lessons, God?

Boy, I wasn’t kidding…

…in my last post when I said this was the year of the outage. About the time Steph and I tried to get the domain controller back online, we had a completely unrelated bit of breakage take down the blog server for another several weeks. Finally tracked it down and fixed it this weekend, and in the process fixed more of the cruft on the servers.


But more about me later; it’s time to do the Advent wreath with the family.

Country music, Christianity, and Carrie Underwood

For the past several months (maybe even year or two), I’ve been pondering an essay on how short and overt expressions of Christianity seem to be a staple feature of the country music genre and the severe cognitive dissonance this sometimes produces. Several events have happened recently that convince me I need to write this essay sooner, rather than later.


So, to get the ball rolling, let me point out one juxtaposition that currently makes my teeth ache: Carrie Underwood, the new country sensation whose career was launched by American Idol. Her first release was a sappy number named “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and had all the theological subtlety of a brick in the face. Her second release was an unremarkable coming-of-age number “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” which pretty much confirmed her reputation as Sweetness and Light Personified. Her current release, however, changed all of that. “Before He Cheats” is a powerful and raw number about getting revenge on a no-good cheatin’ scoundrel — and let me tell you, his truck is toast. By the time she gets done with it, you could put it between your legs, squeeze it like toothpaste, and nine out of ten dentists wouldn’t recommend it for anything.


Of her three songs, “Before He Cheats” is the only one I like. Yet I’d like it a lot better if someone else — anyone else — sang it, because Carrie “Jesus, Take the Wheel” Underwood may have the singing chops to pull the number off, but the mental clash between the message in the two songs is overpowering. Now, I don’t want to say that people who profess Christian beliefs must always be paragons of virtue in every way, because even if it were possible I don’t think it’s a healthy goal to pursue. (Remind me some other time to share my thoughts on what being Christ-like means.)


On the other hand, though, there’s too big of a gap between “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats.” Yes, I know, these are songs; they’re entertainment. But that’s what really bothers me. There is a large group of people out there who self-identify as Christian, who are (for the most part) decent people. Yet few of them look at these two songs and say, “Um, gee, something doesn’t add up here.” The country music industry — widely known (and lampooned) for its constant repition of such uplifting themes as infidelity, drunkeness, violence, and other disaster of life both major and minor — has managed to pull a fast one on its audience by inserting brief interludes of verbal piousness in a format that is otherwise filled with examples of every heartache, vice, and sin known to man.


Where is the disconnect? How does this happen? Is this a failure of Christianity or is there something else at work here? 

What ails our Communion: abuse or autoimmune disease?

Steph just forwarded me a blog post that has taken my metaphorical breath away. I haven’t had a chance to properly take it in; all I have are questions and impressions. No answers, sorry. Most unlike me, I know; I’m usually much more of a know-it-all. Steph is sitting over at her computer, working on her own reaction, so keep checking back to see what she eventually posts.

Katie Sherrod, a writer in Forth Worth, TX, today posted Complicit in Abuse, in which she examines her experiences in the modern Episcopal church, and the struggles the Episcopal Church of the United State of America (ECUSA) finds itself in, and compares them with the realities of living in an abusive relationship:

Those of us in places like Fort Worth really want to know. For at least fifteen years those of us in the Diocese of Fort Worth who support the ordination of women and the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life and work of the church have been trying to get some help, or least encouragement, from the national church as our diocesan leadership moved year after year to isolate and separate us more and more from the national church. The Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Integrity and Claiming the Blessing are the only organizations in the church who responded to our cries for help. Only now that the same issues we’ve been struggling with here are threatening the larger church is the national church finally paying attention.

It is perhaps easy — all too easy — to look at the ongoing relationship (or lack thereof) between the greater Anglican Communion (AC) and the U.S. and Canadian national churches, and find parallels of abuse. I have no doubt that many of those parallels are absolutely valid. It’s hard to see some of the demands voiced by some of the more rigidly conservative members of the AC as anything other than naked plays at retaliation for decades of colonial exploitation — act that were far too often abetted by the Communion — with a bit of empire-building of their own thrown in for good measure. No church official that rises to the level of bishop can possibly fail to recognize how incendiary the act of open interference in another church’s hierarchical issues will be. “But they invited us in” is at best a tattered lace glove over the iron fist of a blatant act of manipulation and control.

See? I said it was easy. Seductively so. Taking the abusive relationship as a model for understanding the relationship of ECUSA as a body with other churches in the AC provides insights that we perhaps would be unable (or unwilling) to consider otherwise. The map, however, is not the territory, as one commenter illustrates:

You have no idea how offensive your claims of victimization really are. It is really offensive when you belittle in this way the experience not just of people who have suffered domestic violence but even more so those who have suffered martyrdom, and then say we guilt trip you when we object to your demeaning and mocking our experience. Again, you are the ones who have the power, and generally it is those who have the power who are the abusers.

It’s all too easy to dismiss this commeter’s claims. They’ve posted anonymously, an action generally looked down on by standard netiquette and almost destined to draw (in some corners of the Net) accusations of being a sock puppet, a coward, and worse. The very real pain and anger that come through this comment are sure to turn many readers off; they’re too raw for us to handle. The temptation is to dismiss this person as a raving loony, thus absolving us of the responsibility of listening to what they say.

Those of us who have a horse in this race, however, are not the typical Net users. By virtue of our professed beliefs, we have accepted an obligation to not react in a customary fashion. When remembering the traditional Gospel litany of “the least of these,” I have only to imagine how Jesus would respond to that comment. How would He deal with someone whose past pain is so great that a simple blog post provokes this strong of a reaction? Would He debate the correctness of the commenter’s arguments? Would He chide them for angry, divisive language?

No, I don’t think so.

So why was that my first reaction? My first impulse? I have never been in this kind of dysfunctional relationship in my life. I have no metric to measure this person’s pain by. Who am I, then, to jump to the offensive? And why does it seem to be more and more the norm, these days, for fewer people to stop and ask these questions of themselves before they sit down at the keyboard? Why is it that we Christians, who are by our own professed creeds and beliefs called to be peacemakers, so often jump into fisticuffs with each other?

Is it because we have become so immersed in the world that we simply cannot think of any other way to be?

The comment from Anonymous sends, to me, a chilling and strong warning — not as much because of what they say, but rather because I have seen the likely responses far too many times. After you’ve watched your fellow Christians take out their swords and start fighting among each other, you learn a certain fear. After you’ve picked up your sword and joined in the melee, you nurse your own secret cache of shame. It becomes much easier to strike out at anyone and anything that threatens to bring that grubby mess of guilt to public view than to stop and think before acting.

Could it be that we in the church have learned the real lesson of the Adversary — how to be victims — all too well? Do we really believe our own rhetoric about the transformative power of Christ in the world around us? Are we in such a strong personal relationship with the Word that we expect the daily grace of peace that passes understanding, or do we view it as merely another weapon with which to conduct the struggles of our day-to-day lives? Do we live as overflowing vessels of Divine light and love, or as hoarded jars of stagnant pond water?

It seems to me that applying the model of the abusive relationship is a powerful tool in understanding how we relate to others in our diocese, our church, the AC, and the world. But it also seems to me that as professed believers in God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we need to be exceedingly careful in our responses. We are called to relationship — with God, with our fellow believers, and with those around us. Can we be true to our calling if we react from our all-too-human reflexes and reactions, instead of claiming the heavenly love, peace, wisdom, and loving-kindness that is our portion if we only have the strength of will to take it?

I do not know where to draw the line. I do not know, when dealing with my fellow believers, when to say “Enough is enough! I divorce you!” without feeling in danger of violating my commission. How do we discern when we have been guilty of making others victims of the same attitudes we hold ourselves to be victims of? And in the light of Christ’s sacrifice for us, do we as Christians even have the right to be thinking of ourselves as victims in relation to each other?

According to our strongest traditions, we have been called to be one body. We affirm this relationship on a regular basis. How, then, do we continue to be one body when we begin to reject each other? How can our body survive when we allow this autoimmune disorder to continue?

Compassion is for the weak

One of the things I like about 3Sharp is that I have a great group of co-workers. We can be heads-down in the middle of the most amazingly deep technical discussion and without batting an eye (or dropping an ASCII smiley) transition into the most esoteric (or geeky — or for extra points, both) topics.

Just now, I was discussing the plight of  Co-worker A who was unable to get into a conference call for reasons beyond our control, and somewhere along the way, I uttered the phrase, "Compassion is for the weak." I was referring to the fact that Co-worker A was trying to get hold of Co-worker B, who was also on the conference call, and Co-worker B pointed out that there wasn't much he could have done (since he wasn't the meeting organizer). We all know how this sentiment is normally interpreted — if you're tough and successful, you don't have time (or energy, or a moral obligation) to think of those less fortunate than you.

What just struck me, though, is how our mental baggae is all wrong, even if we reject the explicit "Compassion is for the weak!" viewpoint. Perhaps we tend to think of compassion from a biological point of view. Over in this cell A, we have a high concentration of compassion. Over in cell B, we have a low concentration of compassion. Through the magic of diffusion, we see the compassion work its way through the barrier between cell A and cell B until they've reached some sort of equilibrium. Compassion, according to this model of virtue, is a hoarded commodity, reduced as we share it with others.

I don't think that's at all true.

I think compassion, like other virtues, are an inexaustable, renewable resource. Use what you have on-hand before it goes stale, to make room for the fresh new stuff rolling in. The less you permit yourself to obstruct the flow, the more can flow through you. It's never yours to begin with; you're just the channel, the vector. As we learn how to handle a small flow of compassion, it teaches us how to remove the obstructions we have buried deep inside us. We are weak vessels, clogged with the debris and detritus of years of pain and focus on ourselves. We are weak — and compassion teaches us how to rid ourselves of the weakness. How to be strong for the first time in our lives. How to be healed, to be whole. We cannot ever be whole and healthy by ourselves, cut off from all congress.

Our society teaches us to sneer at people who rely on crutches to get through their life. When you cannot walk — when you can barely hobble through each day — a crutch is a life-saver. 

Compassion is for the weak.

May we all embrace our weakness.

desert

I’m done.


I have a broken tooth and no set date for geting it fixed, so my phobia of dentists is free to whirl in full force. I’m constantly slurring, and the tooth next to it needs pulled as well. I’ve not been this self-conscious in years.


I have had the most difficult week of work I think I’ve ever had in my life. None of that difficulty is from technical reasons. The office is noisy, and I don’t feel like I fit in there anymore.


I just got home at eight. This is the earliest I’ve been home this week, other than the comp day I was given on Tuesday because we all thought the dentist would actually be, y’know, fixing my tooth.


Steph had a minor outpatient procedure on Tuesday afternoon. She’s still wiped and drained, and the kids have been taking advantage of that to try to play us against each other. That shit don’t fly.


Treanna just said grace over the meal. She prayed that Steph would be healed, and then added “And help Dad with his over-sad, over-mad times.” I felt like I’d been punched in the testicles. I couldn’t eat, and got up to hid the fact that I was crying.


I’m locked in my office with another family dinner going on in the other room that I, putz that I am, am once again missing. I’m tired of being so damn broken, I’m tired of being in the middle of this desert. I’m not asking for fame and wealth and to slay all the dragons and vanquish all my enemies. I’m just trying to raise decent kids, have time for my wife, do good work, meet our needs, and make a difference in the lives of the people around me in whatever way God leads.


I don’t feel like clay. I feel like a mud pie. In a desert. So, not so much mud as much as dust and grit. And the grit’s pretty much been blown away.

Best hopes for Jim Baen

SF editor Jim Baen is in the hospital after a serious stroke on Monday. The folks at Baen Books are posting updates on their web forums (registration required to follow the link).


Specifically, here’s the latest info:


Jim Baen is in the ICU after a stroke, it is serious, Toni and a relative are there with him. Now you know as much as we do about his condition.

Baen Books is functioning under the very detailed emergency plans that Jim has in place.

Please don’t send cards or flowers. Please do send whatever prayers are appropriate to your faith.


and:


I’m sorry to have to announce that Jim Baen suffered a stroke on Monday, and has been in the hospital ever since. His condition is serious, but it’s too early for any prognosis as to how he’ll fare from here on in.

His family has arrived in NC, and are with him in the hospital. I’ve been to see him, as have other members of Baen’s staff and his friend David Drake. In the meantime, so far as Baen Books is concerned, our plans continue on schedule.

The business is fine, we’re all simply very concerned about Jim.

Toni Weisskopf
Chief editor, Baen Books


Note: the “no cards/no flowers” thing is a common restriction for patients in the ICU, as the medical staff need to have ready access to the patients and don’t need clutter from well-wishers getting in the way.


May the Great Physician attend Jim
and the Comforter be with his family.
The Eternal go before them and follow up behind them;
The Swift Sure Hand guide to the right and left of them;
The Rock of Ages below them, the Highest above them;
Lord of Light without, Emmanuel within them.
His will in all, His Grace to submit.


Update: In response to a question, as far as I know this is an original prayer — though I’ve consciously patterned it on many Celtic sources including a well-known portion of the Lorican. Feel free to pass it on with a link back here.

I’ve talked about it long enough, I need to just do it

For a while now, I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a book on Christianity. All this recent fuss over The Da Vinci Code just convinces me of two things: today’s Amercian Christian churches serious need a well-placed slap upside the head and there’s a lot of free publicity just waiting for the enterprising writer.

Without further ado, here’s an excerpt from the introduction of my proposed book Following Christ Without Being a Christian:


Introduction

I’m completely convinced that many potential readers of this book will end up thinking I’m one of the biggest heretics to ever walk the planet. If Judgement Day goes down the way a lot of people think it will, I’ll end up in the first wave of people who get burned at the stake. I console myself with the knowledge that at least my stake will be fresh.

In all fairness, this book is not for a lot of people. I hate when authors waste my time and suck me into a book, so I’ll try to avoid doing the same thing for you. I’ve provided a handy list of warning signs so you can decide if you want to keep reading or just want to go lay in stocks of lighter fluid right now:

  • If you ever have stated, or can state “If the King James Version was good enough for Our Lord Jesus, then it’s good enough for me” in all seriousness, here’s your Zippo.
  • If you believe in a literal seven-day Creation — complete with God building in all sorts of tricky false fossils just to confuse Darwin and his heathen followers — here’s your Zippo.
  • If you believe that every single word of the Bible was divinely authored and made it rhough multiple centuries with every jot and tittle of meaning fresh and tasty, without any need for historical context and analysis — and you think that the human politics surrounding the transmisison of Scripture has had no effect — here’s your Zippo.
  • If you think that your ultimate ideal as a Christian is to turn America into a Christian Nation, here’s your Zippo.

In short, if you practice a religion that calls itself Christianity while remaining dissociated from Christ’s core teaching, that relies more heavily on the contents of Christian bookstores and Christian radio programming than it does on the (often contradictory) words and letters and throughts of its leaders, then this book is probably not for you. It’s definitely not for you if you like things this way. If, however, you feel something is missing and you’re not sure what…you admire the teachings of the Bible but can’t bear to be associated with the Church…keep reading.

I don’t offer any certainties. I have been wrong in the past, I’m probably wrong about a lot of stuff now, and I’m sure I’ll be wrong in the future. However, I’ve come to a pretty good rule of thumb; the more certain I am of a belief, the more I need to re-examine that belief. Many times, my re-examination gives me new insights and observations that are valuable. In some cases I find that I’ve allowed myself to accrete a lot of baggage around that belief that doesn’t belong. Sacred cows make great hamburgers.


Whaddya think?

Suckiest weekend ever

Last week, we’d been making a big push to finish getting the house cleaned up (my server area and office — two separate areas at opposite ends of the house, for those who haven’t been here) before Friday evening because Treanna was supposed to have an after-school playdate with her best friend. We’d take best friend’s little brother, and later their family would come our way for games after the girls were done. Well, that got cancelled because her friend stayed home sick with fever and vomiting, so poor Treanna was pretty upset. We compensated by having hot chocolate, Pringles, and watching The Prince and Me. Needless to say, the house was mostly clean but there were a couple of islands of clutter left.


So, I faced the weekend with cleaning left to do — never my favorite way to start the weekend, especially after spending at least a couple of hours cleaning and sorting every evening during the week. My body kicked into high insomnia mode, and I didn’t get to bed until 5:30am. Slept too late on Saturday, and when I finally got up it took me a while to get into gear. Just as we finally got moving and I was making progress, we got a phone call from one of our church leaders and found out that Moe, our priest’s husband, had suffered a heart attack that morning and died. Since his daughter is the head Sunday School teacher, they really needed to make sure Steph and I would be there for the kids — Moe regularly played guitar for the Godly Play class.


Sunday morning service was, understandably, subdued and tearful. Someone at the diocese showed an unusual level of tact and diplomacy and arranged to have Father Bob, our previous priest, come supply for us since Esther wasn’t going to be up to handling things. Even though the typical policy is for a priest to be hands-off regarding a church once he leaves, in this case it was a nice move because he’s been gone long enough — and enough changes have been made — that it clearly wasn’t “his” Church of Our Saviour (CoS) anymore. Yet enough of us there remember him that we had family sharing our grief with us, instead of some interloper. Nevertheless, bombshell number two came at the end of service, as the Bishop’s Committee (we’re a mission church, not a self-sustaining parish, so we have a vicar and a Bishop’s Committee instead of a rector and a vestry) announced that Esther had been called to (and accepted) a position at a new church and would be leaving CoS at the end of February. She had been planning on making an announcement that morning. So we are now a parish once again in transition. I was on the BC the last time we were in transition (we ended up hiring Esther), and I was asked by a couple of people to please take over an empty slot on the BC this time around (in addition to several open seats that must be filled during elections next week at our annual meeting, we had some folks step down). So, I’ll be joining the BC again — at least for the next year.


Didn’t feel the greatest Sunday afternoon, but between the dust from cleaning and all the crying, I didn’t think anything of it. Until I woke up Monday morning, sick as a dog. I’ve been down the last couple of days. I still don’t feel completely on top of my game, but I’m clearly on the mend and I’m digging back into work now that I have the attention to spare.


So there is the saga of my Suckiest Weekend Ever. There were some high spots — my shiny new Windows Mobile PDA/cell phone showed up last Thursday, and it is tres sweet — but in all, I’d rather not do that again any time soon.

Small annoyances redux

Holidays are a time of love, peace, family unity, good smells coming from the kitchen, world peace, and a fluffy bunny for every child.

They are also times of high stress, especially for those who are hosting the inevitable gatherings. Lots of chores, food preparation, and other tasks of varying degrees of pleasantness await those who extend their hospitality to friends and family. All this stress can lead to decidedly unpeaceful feelings, especially on the part of those who are doing the bulk of the work, such as my lovely wife.

The stress has an affect on the rest of us, though, and it can take small annoyances and incidents and blow them up out of proportion. If you’re not careful, your reaction will be disproportionate as well. I had to clamp down on an inappropriate reaction this morning when the shattered glass bowl was neatly laid at my feet for my failure to level the refrigerator yesterday, and the whole experience got me thinking about how, at another time when both of us were less stressed, we’d have been able to cope with the situation in a more civil manner. We have some measure of control over how big of a disaster any given incident is, by choosing how we view the situation and what context we choose to see it in.

Which leads me to the annoyance I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I challenged you to figure out what exactly about the lyrics of the Rebecca St. James song Lion bothered me. While normally the grammatical issues folks uncovered would bother me, I’m much more forgiving when it comes to song lyrics — it’s hard enough to write decent lyrics without having to be sure you’ve got perfect grammar.

So, much (I’m sure) to the surprise of my readers, my gripe with the lyrics comes from an actual content issue rather than grammar. Specifically, the last line of the chorus bothers me:

This is not a dream that I’m living
This is just a world of Your own
You took me from all that I know
Shown me how it feels to hope
With You with me, facing tomorrow together
I can learn to fly
Feels like I’m living in the lion’s mouth, but the lion is an angel

Remember that we’re talking about songs inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia here, so “the lion” is Aslan. And Aslan is not an angel; He is the Saviour, as the later books make clear. So when I first heard this song, as much as I liked it, I was extremely upset that Rebecca — a musician whose work I have admired for a long time — missed such a basic point. Even though C. S. Lewis hadn’t set out to consciously write Aslan as Christ, it is undeniable that’s how things ended up, and it waters down the impact of the story if Aslan is a mere angel.

A few days after I posted the previous entry, Steph and I were talking about the song and why it irritated me. She was puzzled because she couldn’t really figure out how it related to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We could match it up in a very generic sense, but neither one of us was satisfied with that interpretation. Steph then realized that the song makes perfect sense…if it’s imagined as being from Eustace’s viewpoint, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, after he has his first encounter with Aslan.

All at once, Steph’s insight transformed my irritation. Eustace’s endragoning and subsequent restoration — literally, his rebirth as a new creature — has long been one of my favorite parts of the series, even though I personally find Treader to be the weakest book in the series. All that aside, Eustace’s face-to-face meeting with Aslan is a moving experience. Here is this boy who has been raised knowing nothing of church or God, suddenly transported to a world of fantasy and transformed into an ugly beast that displays the greed of his inner heart for all to see — and now, in a moment of pain and honesty, is brought face-to-face with his failings and his weaknesses. In the eyes and paws of this wild lion he finds only love and forgiveness; and is given the opportunity to change his life forever.

In a way, I envy Eustace; unlike so many of us today, his first experience of God is a singularly soul-changing encounter filled not with guilt and accusation, but rather acceptance and redemption. He doesn’t know anything about theology; he doesn’t have the sophisticated religious jargon with which to share his experience and frame his thoughts. Within the borders of his experience, Eustace only knows that he is made new. He doesn’t know the difference between angel and Saviour…he just knows he’s been touched by the supernatural. And he will never be the same.

It only took a moment to find a different context — and now, my irritation with the song has disappeared. Something that two weeks ago was a big disappointment has been swept away in one moment of changed perspective. What other annoyances and roadblocks can we deal with so easily, I wonder?

To the Religious Right: WTF, over?

You get pissed off about sex in video games because of the children.

You get pissed off about homosexuality because of the children.

You get pissed off about all sorts of things because of the children.

And yet you support a war, and the leadership which is waging it, in which our troops are encouraged to use incendiary weapons in urban areas and melt the skin off of children (warning, graphic link, probably not work-safe).

Is it somehow okay because they’re not our children, or because they’re not white children, or because they’re not rich children?

Man, I hope Jesus isn’t going to be pissed off at you because of the children. You know, those little children he suffered to come unto Him.

Nineteen

I still remember a time in politics, back when I was a lad, when the conservatives were the people who thought that you created the fewest number of laws you could get away with and the liberals
were the ones who thought that if something was a good idea it needed
to be enshrined in law. Sounds like the opening of a science fiction
story, doesn’t it? It doesn’t bear any resemblance to the politics of
today’s America.

Now, I don’t always agree with everything Media Girl says — far from it! — but she’s spot on the money with her musings about the modern conservatism.
What has happened to the Republican Party over the last twenty-odd
years is frankly quite frightening. What I as a Christian find most
frightening is the rise of the “Moral Majority”, the Religious Right —
the people whose careers in church and religious ministry appear to be
aimed not at feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and clothing the
naked, but rather at forging and wielding a political power bloc that
wants to proscribeall the things one cannot do if one wants to be a
good Christian and good American (with the assumption that the two are
inseparable).

It seems to me, from all those Sunday School lessons and Bible
studies of years past, that I can remember hearing about some other
active group of religious leaders who merged religious and political
power towards the goal of describing exactly how good people should
live their lives: the Pharisees.

It seems to me that Jesus spent an awful lot of time talking about
how they needed to pay more attention to their own lives and hearts and
less time trying to tell people how to live, less time pretending to be
the very model of a modern Jewish Orthodox.

It seems to me that Jesus didn’t spend much time at all talking
about how his followers were supposed to focus their eyes on gaining or
wielding political power.

It seems to me, in fact, that many people tried to get Jesus to
endorse one political position or another — usually the independence
of the nation of Israel from hated Rome — and failed to do so. I think
I remember something about “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and it
applying to money and taxes, but I could be wrong there; everyone knows
that we Episcopalians don’t like to talk about money, as that might
lead to tithing.

It seems to me that Jesus had a well-defined description of the sort
of reception his followers could expect to receive if they were really
following Him. Again, my memory might not be perfect, but I don’t
recall anything that implied that His followers would be flocking to
the polls to make the Beatitudes the law of the land.

In fact, the more I’ve re-read the New Testament, the more I see an
explicit example of separation of Church and politics. Time and again
various groups tried to hijack Jesus’s popularity for political ends;
time and again, He refused to endorse the platform.

“What would Jesus do?” was a popular rallying cry for Evangelicals a
few years back. Somehow, I don’t think helping Texas become the
nineteenth state in the Union to pass an anti-gay marriage amendment
would be one of the things Jesus would do. He wouldn’t be one of the
folks holding clipboards and soliciting signatures; He wouldn’t be
calling around urging you to vote for Proposition 2. He’d have better
things to do with his time, like feeding the hungry, healing the sick,
and clothing the naked. He’d be the one sitting in the hospital waiting
room comforting the man who was kept out of the room in which his
partner of multiple decades lay dying, unable to go in and visit with
his loved one because he wasn’t family by any legal definition. Jesus
would be the one cleaning the cuts and bruises of the high school kid
who just got beat up by the jocks (all from good Christian families)
for being a fag. He’d be holding these people close, crying with them,
ministering to their hurts and changing their lives for the better one
by one.

The only people Jesus consistently spoke against were those who
presumed to know the mind of God and who dared to stand in His place
and usurp His voice. All the rest of us sinners, He came to love and
redeem. He wasn’t here to advance an agenda or to make a “Christian
nation”. He was a fisher of men, wherever they might be found. He
called them to a new type of life, one in which kings and governors and
secular powers faded to unimportance beside the call to mission and
ministry.

So yes, my fellow Christians, let’s do what Jesus would do. Let us
keep our churches from becoming institutions that grab for secular
power. Let us refrain from using the law to terrorize each other. Let
us worry more about how to help the outsider than about how to protect
ourselves. Let us preserve our values by putting them into practice.

In the memory of Stephen Smith

I got some very difficult news tonight about a friend. I have no words of my own, so I offer these that were crafted by Annie Lennox, Howard Shore and Fran Walsh , to be sung so powerfully by Annie Lennox for the end of The Lord of the Rings:


Lay down your sweet and weary head
Night is falling; you’ve come to journey’s end
Sleep now and dream of the ones who came before
They are calling from across the distant shore
Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see all of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms, you’re only sleeping

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water; all souls pass

Hope fades into the world of night
Through shadows falling out of memory and time
Don’t say “We have come now to the end”
White shores are calling; you and I will meet again
And you’ll be here in my arms, just sleeping

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water; Grey ships pass into the West


Goodbye, Stephen. We look to the day that we will all stand together again in that far green country.


Our condolences, prayers, and thoughts go out to his family.

0 to 33 in a tad under a minute

I turn 33 today. In most ways, it is a surprise. Oh, I don’t mean that somehow 33 managed to sneak up on me and pop an air-filled bag behind my head; rather, that in many of the ways and metrics I use to gauge myself, I don’t feel like I’m 33.


For example, we went to the fair Saturday evening. There were moments that I definitely felt my age there, such as staggering off of the hang glider ride that I foolishly went on (no, I didn’t get the name), trying to keep from throwing up while assuring my stomach and ears that yes, I understand they’re quite pissed off with me, no I won’t be foolish enough to forget again, and no really I won’t be indulging in any more high-G foolishness. On the other hand, I felt 12 again when the only exhibits that I really liked were the cats (poor kitties, all locked up by snot-nosed 4-H kids for two weeks in a cage! just to win a damn ribbon) and the Legos; everything else was there and I appreciated the work and pride the folks had put into it but, enh, not my thing.


Or at work. Some days I feel like I’m on top of my game and that I’m the equal of anyone in the office; I’m experienced and professional, calm and cool, just hitting my stride and the prime of my life. Other days, like this last week, when I’m grinding myself away against the project that just won’t die and I’m at work at 11:45 on a Friday night rebuilding my test environment for a fourth time, only this time everything has inexplicably slowed down to a crawl and tasks that were taking 15 minutes are now taking an hour and a half, I feel like I’m 17 again only without that inexhaustible supply of energy.


I have this strange dichotomy going on at church, too. Steph and I recently went to our regional pre-Convention gathering, since we’re alternate delegates for our congregation to this year’s Diocesan Convention. We were definitely the youngest people in the room and a few of the other attendees made a point of telling us how much they enjoyed seeing younger faces. One very nice gentleman who clearly has far too much time on his hands made a point of telling me I need to be ordained, and when one of the priests there overheard him she agreed. That’s something I emotionally associate with either young people in seminary or older people who have been priests for longer than my kids have been alive, even though I know rationally that the majority of priests in the ECUSA come to it as a second career. On the other hand, I feel old at the mere thought of trying to go through the discernment process, let alone seminary and ordination. It’s that whole lack of energy again; I just don’t feel as wound up as I used to be.


Back when vinyl records were the rage, there were three primary formats, all measured by how fast they spun: 78rpm, 45rpm, and 33 1/3rpm. I remember a couple of rare examples of the 78rpm format; we had a recording of Peter and the Wolf in 78. Of course, 45s were usually singles, and I still have a handful of them kicking around. 33 1/3 was your long-play (LP) format; I’ve got a couple of those, including a soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof, and there were quite a few movie soundtracks I had memorized back in the day (Benji and Escape to Witch Mountain come to mind). But it was the 33 1/3 that were always the longest albums; ou got through the material too quickly with 45s or 78s. As fast as thirty-three and one-third revolutions in a single minute might sound, it was the slowpoke that got the job done.


Judging my life by the standards of vinyl, I’m played out less than a minute. I’m just getting started, and while I’m not as tightly wound, I’m not in danger of running out of material any time soon. Now, I realize I’m a human, not a piece of plastic with sounds encoding in a spiral groove (good thing, because my groove isn’t spiral!), so taking this vague metaphor too far could get me into trouble. Nevertheless, that’s the imagery that sticks in my head — I’m just settling down for the long haul. Pacing and discipline — two things I’ve always needed work on — are my watchwords for the next 33 years.

It’s My Party

Neither Stephanie nor I are pretty when we cry.


If you’re drawing a blank on why the above line makes sense in a post titled “It’s My Party,” you’ve obviously never seen the movie of the same name starring Eric Roberts and Gregory Harrison. This movie is not everyone’s cup of tea — the story is about Nick (Eric Roberts), has just been diagnosed with Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), a condition that attacks the brain and quickly destroys the victim’s sight, memory, and other brain function. Brandon (Gregory Harrison) is Nick’s ex-partner, who broke up with him a year before when he could no longer face living with a boyfriend with AIDS. The movie centers around a two-day period where Nick holds a farewell party for his friends and family. Having seen AIDS claim the lives of too many friends, Nick is determined to say farewell to his loved ones before the PML reduces him to a vegetative state for another few days of life.


Lots of controversial issues in this movie: homosexuality, right to die, assisted suicide, religious beliefs, estranged relationships, and parents who think that life would have turned out differently for their son if only they’d done something differently. Yet the script does a deft job of weaving through these issues to present us with a picture of a man who, while frightened by the thought of dying, is more frightened of being unable to let those close to him know how much he loves them when he goes. There is a lot of tension surrounding Nick, but he moves through it all with a direct yet compassionate sense of humor, cutting the tangles of jealousy and bitterness while helping people to come to acceptance of their loss. The final scene with Nick and Brandon is one of the simplest and most touching goodbyes I ever hope to see.


Some might be tempted to dismiss this movie as another film that proves Hollywood is out of touch with the lives of the majority of America. It is, after all, just a movie about a dying gay guy (yes, I have in fact heard someone describe this movie in just those terms). To them, I would ask what they were afraid of, if they are scared to see “a dying gay guy” facing his end with as much dignity and love as this movie shows. This is not a movie to watch in order to wage a philosophical or religious battle. This is a movie to watch to be reminded how deeply you care for those in your life, how much pain they would feel if you were gone and how much you would feel if they were gone. It is a movie that urges us — compells us — to reach out to others; it directs us to be peacemakers and bridge-builders rather than cling to our hurts and wounds.


There are a lot of people in my life that I love. I don’t think I tell them that enough. I hope that if I ever faced this situation, my party would be as full of people who loved me as Nick’s party. I hope that I would be as full of wisdom, humor, discernment, and ruthlessness as Nick was — able to help people let go of the grudges and disputes. I hope I would have made such an obvious difference in the world around me.

I can’t tell if this is success or failure…

I made it all the way through Lent without having any pop[1], so Easter Sunday afternoon I treated myself to a can of Pepsi. I had another one this afternoon. It just doesn’t taste as good as I used to think it did. I won’t have any trouble keeping pop as an occasional treat, rather than a steady part of my diet.

Hmph.

[1] Pop, soda, soda pop, whatever the heck you call it. You know what I mean.

The Good, the Bad, and the Episcopalian

Today, we spent the lion’s share of our day at the consecration of our dicoese’s new Bishop Suffragan. Bavi Edna Rivera, or Nedi as we know her, occupies an interesting place in the history of the Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington) of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA). Follow along, if you dare, on these Fun Nedi Rivera Facts:

  • She is the 12th female bishop in the ECUSA and the 16th in the Anglican Communion.
  • She is the first Hispanic female bishop.
  • She is the third-ever bishop actually consecrated within the diocese (we tend to import).
  • She is the 1,001st bishop to be consecrated in the apostolic succession of the Western church. (I’m not certain which churches were considered in this claim; I suspect they mean the Anglican Communion.)
  • Her father is also a bishop, making him the first person in the history of the entire Christian church to be a bishop and have his daughter be a bishop.
  • From what little we interacted with her, she is just an all-around fantastically cool person and we are excited to have her.

[Ed. You may wonder what a Bishop Suffragan is. According to the American Heritage dictionary, it is “A bishop elected or appointed as an assistant to the bishop or ordinary of a diocese, having administrative and episcopal responsibilities but no jurisdictional functions.” In other words, you have the metropolitan or diocesan bishop who is held responsible; the bishop suffragan can be delegated administrative and pastoral duties, but does not share the same personal responsibility and accountability. They are not the boss of you. Now you now.]

I was both impressed and disappointed by the proceedings. The things I liked:

  • Good representation of congreations with the diocese and bishops from other dioceses.
  • More than enough room, despite a complicated liturgy.
  • The liturgy was extermely well-thought out, including traditional touchstones of Episcopal worship (such as incense, candles, processions) while including all sorts of wonderful innovation (two different types of drumming, decent selections of music that don’t put one to sleep, a orchestra and choir that had a very contemporary, praise-music feel). Lots of banners, streamers, and visual tie-ins to pull everything together on multiple levels.
  • Very family and child friendly, with children taking visible and important roles in the liturgy. Treanna was actually able to make it all the way up to the main platform and exchange the Peace with Bishop Rivera, despite being near the back of the space.
  • No major screw-ups, at least that I knew. There was the minor issue of the officiating bishop using the word “priest” instead of “bishop” during the prayer of consecration, but hey, all the paperwork says “bishop” and so did all the rest of the bishops, so it’s all good. She gets to keep her amethyst ring.

So what didn’t I like?

  • A 48-page program and a 3-hour service. OUCH. The program was so long because they included multiple languages at many points.
  • The space used. Because of the expected turnout, we couldn’t use St. Mark’s Cathedral, so they got the convention center in Bellevue. It was weird when we first went in; I remember atttending a job fair in the very same space a couple of years ago.
  • It didn’t seem as polished and, well, professional as I would have thought. Then again, that may just be my anal-retentive streak showing back up. Liturgy is not theater and I tend to want it to be theater. I get annoyed because we don’t do blocking at acolyte practice, and I know this is unreasonable. So this is definitely a me-ism, not a fault of the service, especially since (as I said above) nothing major seemed to blow up. No fiery clouds, no destruction, no pillars of salt. w00t!
  • The ushers really didn’t seem to be doing any sort of crowd management or seating assistance. Once the service started, they knew what they were doing, but until then, they were doing a fine job of standing in the doorways.
  • The homily. It would have been fine at 1/5 the length. How many times can you say “Um, okay, Jesus liked everyone and wanted them all to be His followers, and we keep messing that up, so stop being mean to the women, the people of color, and the homosexuals” before it gets a little repetitive? Answer: not five. That was about three too many. And I refuse to feel bad because I happened to be born into the white middle class. Not my fault, dude.

So that was our Saturday. Long day, especially since we went to the reception afterwards. But that’s a post for another day, because I’m running out my laptop battery while typing this in bed next to a curvy redhead, and I’m going to see how persuasive I can be at getting her participation in other activities before heading off to Dreamland.

On Encouraging Tolerance (with thanks and apologies to John Scalzi)

John Scalzi posted his seven Maxims for Non-Believers and they struck me as so well-crafted, I immediately wished that I was a non-believer so that I could use them:

  1. Being a non-believer does not mean you have to be intolerant of those who believe.
  2. Being a non-believer does not mean you have to be ignorant of the beliefs of those around you.
  3. Being a non-believer doesn’t mean you need to keep your children ignorant of the beliefs around you either. Withholding information from your children is a very bad way to help them make responsible decisions.
  4. Being a non-believer does not mean you can’t empathize with the religious impulse in others.
  5. Being tolerant of belief, knowledgeable about beliefs and empathetic toward the desire for belief does not make one less of a non-believer. It makes one tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic.
  6. I believe that my tolerance, knowledge and empathy makes my own non-belief stronger, because I know why other people believe, and why I don’t.
  7. I believe that in being tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic toward believers, I encourage those who believe to be tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic toward me.

Then I began to wonder what a corresponding set of Maxims for Believers would look like. Here’s my stab at them:

  1. Being a believer does not give me cause to be intolerant of those who do not share my beliefs.
  2. Being a believer does not make it acceptable to be ignorant of others’ beliefs or lack thereof.
  3. Being a believer does not make it acceptable to keep my children ignorant of the beliefs around me, nor do I need to hide from them the fact that many choose not to believe. My beliefs are not as valuable as I think if I can only successfully pass them by encouraging ignorance and committing acts of omission.
  4. Because I am a believer who values my ability to choose my beliefs, I should empathize with the beliefs or lack thereof in others.
  5. Being tolerant of, knowledgeable about, and empathetic towards the beliefs or lack thereof in others does not make me less of a believer. It makes me tolerant, knowledgeable, and empathetic.
  6. I believe that my tolerance, knowledge, and empathy make my own belief more personally genuine because I know why I believe and why other people do not.
  7. I believe that in being tolerant, knowledgeable, and empathetic toward those who do not share my beliefs, I encourage them to be tolerant, knowledgeable, and empathetic toward me.

It was surprisingly hard to put these into words, even with the framework of John’s example staring me in the face to copy from inspire me. Picking the right phrasing is key to ensuring that these guidelines themselves exhibit the tolerance and empathy they endorse without being so gently worded as to be useless. I hope that John is not offended by my derivation; it’s been churning around in the back of my head for most of the day.

Grassroots and the Internet

It seems the American Family Association is upset with FCC Chairman Michael Powell, according to the e-mail I received from them last night. They’ve set up a lovely website for you to register your displeasure with a few clicks and contribute to what they hope is an overwhelming volume of e-mail in protest.

I did in fact make use of their site, but as I suspected, they left the text of the message open for editing. I didn’t send the exact letter they asked me to. I’ll paste the original e-mail, the text of my e-mail, and the original text below. If you feel strongly about this, I encourage you to head to http://capwiz.com/afanet/alert6755986a.html and do your part. Feel free to use my text if you like my opinion better than the AFA’s.

The original e-mail:


FCC Chairman Powell sides with ABC on use of ‘f’ word

Dear Devin,

The children of America and those who love decency need your help.FCC Chairman Michael Powell has asked that no action be taken against the ABC stations that aired over 20 uses of the “f” word and at least 12 “s” words during “Saving Private Ryan,” which shown during prime time last month.Powell’s reason for taking no action opens the door for broadcasters to show any type programming. He believes there should be no action because the use of the profanity was part of an accurate representation of the events depicted, and this made them acceptable.Using Powell’s reasoning, a show about the sex life of two homosexuals would be free to show graphic sex because it would be an accurate representation of their sexual activity. There would be no limits regarding what could be shown and the law regarding indecent material would be meaningless. Any program, no matter how indecent, could claim that the material was needed in order to be an accurate representation.If Powell can get only two other Commissioners to agree with him, then the networks and local broadcasters will be free to show anything. Everything they show, no matter how indecent, could be classified as being an accurate representation. That is what they have been wanting for years. Powell is only two votes away from giving the broadcasters their desire.We realize it is important for families, especially our children, to recognize the sacrifices made by our loved ones during wartime. However, airing excessively profane language during prime-time television hours is not necessary to convey that sacrifice. We believe ABC should have aired their salute to heroes without violating broadcast decency laws.The movie could have easily have been edited for TV, but ABC refused. Powell is now defending ABC’s move, making it possible to open Pandora’s box on program content.TAKE ACTIONPlease send an email letter to your Representative and Senators. Ask them to personally tell Chairman Powell to enforce the law, not to destroy it.Your email will go to your two U.S. Senators, your Representative, Chairman Powell and the other four FCC Commissioners.Please send your email now. Then forward this to your friends and family.


My text:


I was informed about this issue via a mailing from The American Family Association, who has been spreading a scare campaign revolving around the fact that FCC Chairman Michael Powell has publicly stated that no action should be taken regarding the prime time airing of “Saving Private Ryan” on ABC last month. He says no action should be taken because the 20 uses of the “f” word and 12 uses of the “s” word were an accurate representation of the events depicted in the movie.

So far, so good. Where the AFA goes wrong is to state: “Using his reasoning, nothing could be declared indecent or obscene. A program on homosexuality would be free to show homosexuals having graphic sex because it would be an accurate representation of the program.

“Apparently Chrm. Powell has decided to abandon his responsibility to the public and give the networks and broadcasters what they have long wanted, the freedom to show anything they desire without fear of violating the law. They can always argue that their program was an accurate representation.”

Although I am Christian in my beliefs (as the AFA claims to be), I am using the website and mechanism the AFA has put together to allow their members to send you a message that is different from what they would like me to say: let Chairman Powell do his job to the best of his conscience. If he is breaking laws, then let him (in the same spirit of civil disobedience that prompted Martin Luther King Jr.) take the consequences of that action as part of the price of standing up for what he believes. If such an action is within his authority, excellent.

Our traditional broadcast media have always been heavily subsidized by advertisers. If the AFA and their army of outraged families don’t like ABC’s policies, let them respond by informing ABC’s advertisers. Let them stick up for *their* beliefs by boycotting advertisers that sponsor programs they don’t like. Let them be willing to shoulder the burden of their convictions on an equal playing field with the rest of us.

I don’t need the AFA to make parenting easy for me. If I don’t want my kids to watch shows with depictions I find disturbing, *I don’t let them*. It is really that simple. The AFA does not appear to be concerned with teaching their followers how to be good parents and how to pass on morals, ethics, and wholesome values by example. They appear to want to deprive me of the choices I have because they find it easier to bully the government into doing the parenting for them.

As one of your constituents, I implore you to stay out of an FCC internal matter and let the AFA and its members practice what they preach by actually being the adults and moderating what they and their families see and hear, rather than demanding government censorship to do it for them.

Thank you for your time.


Their original text:


The American Family Association has informed me that FCC Chairman Michael Powell has publicly stated that no action should be taken regarding the prime time airing of “Saving Private Ryan” on ABC last month. He says no action should be taken because the 20 uses of the “f” word and 12 uses of the “s” word were an accurate representation of the events depicted in the movie. He is wrong! Action should be taken against the stations that violated the law.

Using his reasoning, nothing could be declared indecent or obscene. A program on homosexuality would be free to show homosexuals having graphic sex because it would be an accurate representation of the program.

Apparently Chrm. Powell has decided to abandon his responsibility to the public and give the networks and broadcasters what they have long wanted, the freedom to show anything they desire without fear of violating the law. They can always argue that their program was an accurate representation.

As my elected representative, I implore you to personally speak with Chrm. Powell and tell him to enforce the law, not to unilaterally change it.

May I hear from you on this matter?


Thoughts on the Parable of the Lost Geek

As I was getting ready for bed, a casual conversation with my wife kicked off a thought that resulted in me rushing to the keyboard. This post is the result.

Those of you who read me on LJ may not know that I am a Christian. That’s not a very comforting thing to have to type. I’m actually happy that I’ve had this kind of post, because I want to have more of them. I’m not going to gloss over my faith anymore here, but I’ll still be the guy who swears when he’s pissed, who thinks that churches need to get over the lie that two men or two women getting married somehow attacks the sacred institution of marriage on any meaningful level, and who tries desperately to balance my Open Source longings with the steady paycheck from Microsoft money. In short, I’ll be even more me than I have been. I hope you all stick around to see it.

LJ readers: you are going to have to follow the link to my blog to read the full post.


Remember the parable Jesus tells about the shepherd who has 100 sheep?

One night, he’s getting them under cover for the evening and finds that one is missing. You can probably recite the ending along with me: the shepherd goes after the missing lamb, searching high and low, until he finds the lamb and brings it back. Clergy wax lyrical about this parable; they describe the typical sheep fold in detail (big round wall of rocks, thorny brush on top, small opening, more thorny brush to close the gap) and get dowright teary-eyed telling us about the trials and tribulations that shepherd has, searching for that lost lamb, naked uphill both ways through a blizzard with dead batteries in the Maglite. And anyone who has set foot in church in the last 30^H^H99 years knows the punchline: we’re the lost lamb, Jesus is the shepherd.

Well, rest easy. I’m not going there; I want to talk about how that stupid lamb got cut away from the flock to begin with.

(As an aside, you ever really stop to wonder *why* we’re sheep in all the parables? Our largely urban society has constrained sheep to the realm of Little Bo-Beep, things to count to combat insomnia, fluffy white animated bundles of wool, foul-tasting mutton and heavenly lamb dishes, petting zoos, 4-H projects, and the spunky mentor who helps a talking pig learn what life is really all about. But because the bulk of us aren’t getting up three hours before sunrise, we don’t know what sheep really are: the DUMBEST ANIMAL EVER. No lie. Sheep are noisy, smelly, and dumb. They panic more easily than IT buyers at SCO’s lawsuit against IBM, and when one sheep panics, they all have to get in on the act. One stinking butterfly can turn a peaceful flock into a stampeding rush to drown themselves in the river.)

(Kinda reminds you of people, when you think of it. I think Jesus spent more than his fair share of time in the hills, watching the sheep.)

So accepting that we are sheep — we are dumb, we are followers of all the wrong things, and we panic every time we take a breath (“Wah! It’s all around me, I can feel it!”), how do we get separated from the flock? How is it that we walk away from the shepherd when all our life, he’s been the thing that kills the snakes, leads us to green pastures, walks us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and foils SCO’s discovery motion digging expeditions?

The tools the Enemy uses aren’t new. Pride, greed, envy…you know them. The Seven Deadly Sins, the 42 Not-So-Deadly Sins, the 5,732.483 Kinda-Sort-Deadly Sins, the 157,150 More-Of-A-Minor-Irritant Sins, and so on the list is longer and more complex than the friend maps on LiveJournal. They all come back down to one thing: taking our attention away from where it needs to be.

For geeks (and I am speaking to geeks; where else, when my pulpit is a blog, for Pete’s sake?), I believe that the Enemy has an extra shiny tool lined up. It’s one of the oldest, but since it’s surgical steel, it still gleams prettily and still cuts just as well as it ever did. It’s called PRIDE, and friends, we geeks have it in spades. For above all else, we pride ourselves on our identity as geeks. We hold ourselves separate from the poor unwashed semi-literate masses who can’t program their toaster to record Law & Order while downloading the latest stock reports to our handhelds. We are so focused on being geeks, on establishing what we are, that we forget that as Christians, we have another identity badge that we should be cherishing even more.

Not that we geeks are alone in this behavior, oh no; we’re just elitist snobs about it. Listened to the radio? I don’t care which station you listen to; there are plenty of people dividing the populace into camps of “us” and “them”. Watched our country beating itself up right now over the Presidential election? I firmly believe that if you handed out blue coats to one political party, grey to the other, and pointed them to a field, we’d have the biggest re-enactment of the Civil War ever seen — and we’d have a lot more blood on the grass this time around. Now that our culture’s connection to God has been so thoroughly scrambled by divorce, alcohol, drugs, big business, suburban malls, chain stores, child abuse, spouse abuse, unemployment, and boy bands, we want our flock. We want to be a part of something. We want that identity so badly that we will do damn near anything to get and retain it. Baaaaah!

Take a good look at Jesus, as recorded in the Bible. Whether you take every word as absolute literal truth, or whether you look at him through the filters of metaphor and linguistics, the stories recorded for us don’t give a picture of someone who was a follower. Jesus, the man who time and time again talked and thought the Pharisees into a corner, who was no stranger to the temple or synagogue and was holding his own with the greatest religious minds of his day at the age of 12, who counted many rich and important men as his friends, was not a separatist. He was a bridge builder. He looked past the labels, the clothes, the group, the bankroll, and he reached out to men and women from all walks of life. True, his call was most often heeded by those who were disenfranchised and trampled, because they already had less to lose.

But, hey, let’s be honest here — which one of you reading my blog really would be the modern-day Nicodemus? Joseph of Arimathea? Heck, let’s go for Matthew the tax collector. Sure, he was hated, but he was rich!

Or would we be the Peters and the Johns and the Jameses and the other dregs of Judean society, the Galilean fisherman? I’m neither a mover nor shaker; I’m just this guy with a blog. In the day of Jesus, I’d be some miserable bastard living a life of not-so-quiet desperation. And He’d have taken me, if I really gave myself to Him. He’d have made me part of his crowd. He’d have started the long and never-ending process of teaching me how to reach for God, how to recognize that God was always reaching for me. He’d try to get me to raise my eyes out of the dirt and look at the real treasures. He’d have put me in the fields, encouraging me to the harvest.

He did all that, one day long ago in 1977. Far too many days of my life, I’ve forgotten that. I keep trying to live that life of not-so-quiet desperation. I keep trying to be a Galilean fisherman, a Republican, a science fiction fan, an aspiring author, a sheep looking for the next panic to join and the next river to drown in.

I don’t think Jesus minds that I’m a geek; I don’t think he minds that I am proud to be one. I’m pretty certain, however, that it hurts him greatly when I use that as an excuse to ignore my fellow Christians. I don’t have much in common with them, true — when you look at it from the world’s view. But they are my fellow believers. They are in the fields beside me, sustaining me and praying for me and expecting me to do the same for them. They are running the race all around me. If the first century church was scattered all throughout the known world, spreading the Gospel, what have I been smoking to think that I’m going to stay in my safe little self-chosen group and live a life of Christian comfort interacting only with those few I decide are acceptable?

Oh, no. If we’re to be Christians, we don’t get to pick and choose. One body, remember? I don’t get to tell the eyes I don’t need them. They don’t get to ignore me. We don’t get to try to make each other over to all be the same. God made us with these differences; He gave them to us for a reason. It is not wrong to celebrate them, but it is horribly wrong to let them keep us from pursuing the very work He gave them to us for, to sabotage the mission of the church, to poison the body, by permitting our differences to become excuses for avoiding fellowship with other believers.

If judgement is coming to this country in our lifetimes, this is surely why. Not ordaining women or gays, not abortion, not Democrats, not any policy or cause or statement of belief or creed or treaty. But rather because we no longer remember how to be a family, and we are stubbornly turning our heads away whenever God tries to remind us.

Good night, and may the peace of God always be with you.