Meh (Or, Thoughts on the Election)

 

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I tend to avoid overtly political posts. By that I mean that I try to not write about specific candidates, unless they say something theologically ignorant or profound. The former happens much more frequently than the latter. All of this to say that I try to remember that I am called to be of service to all persons, and I don’t want political disagreements to prevent the possibility of fulfilling that call.

My FB feed is filled with those overjoyed with Hillary Clinton’s presumptive nomination; those who think it is not over and that Bernie still has a chance with superdelegates; those who are resigned to vote for whomever the DNC nominates; those who will not vote for Hillary under any circumstances; and those who simply will not vote. I admit, I have either taken known Trump supporters off my timeline or unfriended them (mostly because of a lack of civility, something I also had to do with a few Bernie supporters). I know it is going to be a long five months, and while I hope to not have to write any more about specific candidates–the likelihood of that, with the walking disaster that is Trump, is low–so I’m weighing in on this now and hope to not post anything on FB about this particular issue again.

I am going to vote for Hillary Clinton. I do so without great enthusiasm, but I don’t do so with reservations, given the system we have and the options presented. In no way, shape, or form do I think Secretary Clinton and Donald Drumpf are one and the same. I understand the myriad concerns people have with Clinton, from her ties to corporate monies to foreign policy positions. I understand that for many of us, the Clintons represent a pulling to the right of the Democratic Party and that her progressivism seems to be opportunistically inconsistent. But let there be no doubt. She is wholly, completely qualified to be president of the United States. Trump is a buffoon. A charlatan. An ego-maniacal, mediocre salesman who was given money and opportunity by the genetic lottery. He has accomplished things, to be sure, but they largely reflect great deficiencies in our culture. His books are read instead of serious treatises from learned economists; his reality show revealed the celebrated duplicity of persons like Omarossa and Gene Simmons. His misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are both casual and aggressive. The support he is garnering from across the Republican Party–even amongst those who are disgusted by him–reveals what is at stake. For the sake of women, ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, Muslims, and the wrong kinds of white people (of whom I am a proud member), I am voting for Hillary Clinton.

I think that the United States made a fundamental error in allowing capitalism to be less an economic system and more a political philosophy dictating policies. Our country is an oligarchy. People much smarter than I have concluded this, and I believe it to be true. As a follower of Jesus Christ, which does not necessarily inform the candidate whom I chose but does impact the issues that are important to me, I cannot support an economic or political system that is based upon the oppression and subjugation of human persons. No government instituted by human beings will ever be perfect (hence why we Christians pray that God’s kin-dom come), and I don’t necessarily know what should replace what we have now, but I think it should be replaced. So my objections to Hillary Clinton are largely based on my fundamental disagreements with capitalism and a two-party system that is intimately tied to corporate money.

I have thought this through for myself. I’m not saying that I am correct and that others should follow my lead. What I am saying, though, is that I will delete off my FB wall anything that attempts to get me to do something other than vote for Hillary Clinton. I will gladly cast my vote for the first female president, and I will do so with a similar pride and appreciation as I did when I voted for President Obama the first time. (I was proud the second time as well, but it was a different experience and came with some mixed emotions because of the Administration’s drone policy.) Until then, I’m just gonna keep on trying to love everybody and do some good in my little slice of the world.

“It’s not RAPE-rape”


Trigger warning. Man writing about rape.

I used to think that the most disgusting tautology in the English language was Jar-Jar. Now I realize that it is rape-rape. As in, “Well, it’s not like it was rape-rape.” Such seems to be the opinion of Leslie Rasmussen of the band Good English, which I now know will never, ever play the Yellow Springs Street Fair because of her recent letter defending rapist Brock Turner. How? I know people.

But the loss of a potential gig for a band is not why I am choosing to write about a subject that I have little right to be writing about; I’ve had some uncomfortable sexual situations in which my own “no” was not heard as quickly as I would have liked, but nothing like true assault or rape. However, I have been part of a culture that causes many of us to internalize some arbitrary and meaningless distinctions about “degrees” of rape. You know, there’s all manner of inappropriate hijinks, but then there’s RAPE-rape. The dark alley, knife to the throat, perpetrator with a ski mask whispering things about how she likes it. That, we’re told, is rape. The only category that matters. And that is pure bullshit.

And Leslie seems to have internalized it, too. In her letter she insinuates that Turner’s actions were somehow less rapey than what would qualify, in her mind, a crime deserving of 10 years’ worth of punishment. Turner’s father, in his own letter, says that his son should not have his life destroyed by “twenty minutes of action.” Like the victim–whose letter is as potent as it is tear-jerking–somehow consented to being penetrated while passed out next to a dumpster. I dunno, sounds pretty rapey to me.

I write because of the deep frustration I feel that not only men but also women have internalized these standards that deviate from what should be the operating position for us all: all non-consensual sex is rape. There is only one “type” of sex, and that is consensual. Period. It does not matter how many times individuals have had sex, even with one another, all it takes is one non-consensual interaction to constitute assault or rape.

There is no rape-rape. Only Zuul.

I’m In An Open Relationship (With Jesus)

I wrote awhile ago about being in a relationship with JesusIt’s getting serious, I quipped. This declaration has been met in different ways by different people, as one might imagine. My pastor friends smile and nod, understanding the ways in which commitment to ministry ebbs and flows. Sometimes it is done with incredible passion and sense of purpose; other times it is done out of muscle memory and sense of duty. Being in a relationship with Jesus is great, but I understand that he sees other people. He’s not monogamous. Our is very much an open relationship. Sometimes I find myself alone in the flat, drinking wine and eating ice cream, belting out “All By Myself.” Yes, that’s right. When I’m not with Jesus I’m Bridget Jones. Deal with it.

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But all this to say that there are times when God seems really far away. There are times when I ask myself what the hell I’ve done? Do I fully understand that I have organized my life around something that ultimately may not be true; that I have made decisions impacting my financial life–and, therefore, the financial life of my wife–and continue to accrue education debt even though I know the church I serve will not be in the financial position to support me full time, perhaps ever? I have purposefully pursued a terminal degree that is not accepted as an adequate credential from certain institutions of higher learning, including the one at which I have taught for nearly a decade. (I trust that soon D.Min. degrees (especially with the concentration I am pursuing) will have universal appreciation, but that may be slow in coming for Catholic universities.) I have made changes to the way I live my life, shifted the sense of responsibility I have for others, and dedicated myself to a continued commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It’s a BFD.

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And it is for a multitude of reasons. But one is on my mind: it can be so dangerous when someone becomes really religious. I think about the way that I was raised–with really no attention paid to the spiritual life, but great attention paid to the intellectual one–and I want to be certain that I remain an open-minded, compassionate person who is fully committed to relationships with people without preconditions. In the end, that’s ridiculous. We all have preconditions: we want to be safe and respected, and when those preconditions are broken we make decisions about whether we want to continue that relationship. What I’m talking about is never wanting to be at the place where I begin to judge someone else’s spiritual beliefs, or will not engage in a relationship with someone because their beliefs do not comport with mine. Again, examples could be offered in which someone’s beliefs would cause me to not be in relationship with them (they believe God calls them to molest children), but I am speaking about having a religious belief that makes me think I am better than others. I never want to tread upon that territory. So when I say I’m on fire for Jesus, I get why some people would shrink away and have some serious questions and concerns. I welcome those questions and affirm those concerns.

But for me it is this: I firmly believe that God has led me to this time and this place to witness for Christ. I’ll use my words in bible study, sermons, and writings; but the rest of the time, I want my actions to represent my faith. I have no desire to proselyte and convert, but I do want to model the behavior of Jesus, to love as radically as God loves, and to be a servant for my wider community such that anyone, regardless of faith tradition or condition in life, will feel comfortable coming to me or allowing me to come to them. I want to pull down as many barriers as I can in my personal life and within the society that I inhabit, barriers that keep me out of significant relationships with others. That, to me, is the call on my heart.

I guess I’m just a YS hippy after all.

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We Are Unworthy of Him

This photo hangs in my father’s bedroom. It used to be in the family room, but moved furniture required a new home, so it has pride of place above Dad’s dresser. I love it because it represents two of the most potent figures of my childhood: The Beatles and Muhhamad Ali. 

There have been a lot of tributes written lately, and I was hesitant to add to it. Ali was largely hated by White America. Hated. He eventually won people over, but he was stripped of his titles and prevented from feeding his family because he refused to fight an unjust war. He was targeted by the FBI. He was not humble and deferential about this, the way that America wanted its pacificists or Negroes to be; he refused to be frightened into submission. Much of White American could not reconcile a man who was so prolific with violence in the ring refusing to engage in it for his own country.  It did not matter that he had already won an Olympic gold medal for his country. It did not matter that he perfectly explained, time and time again, how hypocritical our nation was to ask African Americans to kill people overseas when they were being killed in their own neighborhoods by those sworn to protect them. Sadly, little has changed. I know, I know. Not all White people. Not all police. Not all. I know.

I read one post written by an African-American woman that took umbrage to the opportunistic eulogies being offered by Whites who denounced all Muslims yesterday but are suddenly ready to put on bow ties and sell bean pies in honor of Ali today. She said that Ali was a hero to “us,” meaning African-Americans, not all Americans. I get that. I respect that. And I agree, almost completely. Yes. The most dangerous thing Ali did was dare to love himself when everything around him taught self-loathing. And he taught that to other persons of color. He found a faith that rooted him in compassion, and while he sinned like all of us do, he spent most of his time trying to be good, to do good, to spread good. So this piece is not meaning to suddenly jump on the Ali bandwagon and co-opt his legacy. 

But I grew up in a boxing household. I knew about Ali from a young age. My father, a lifelong pacifist, talked less about Ali in the ring than he did about Ali out of the ring. How his stance against Vietnam helped my father to come his own consciousness. My Dad has always admired Ali for sticking to his principles, even when it cost him heavily; from a young age, I was taught to respect Ali.  I saw in his braggadocious behavior a man of incredible intelligence, a master of promotion and one of the most skilled pugilists in human history. Every time the Thrilla in Manilla or the Rumble in the Jungle would be replayed on the weekends by stations desperate to fill the new 24 hour cycle, Dad and I would park in front of the TV and watch the fight. Dad would tell me about the times, the feeling in the air, what Ali meant to a changing and ever-fearful America. When we owned a small movie theater in my hometown, Dad showed documentaries about Ali on 16mm.  That was how I discovered Theolonius, too; but that’s for another blog. 

So let us not whitewash Ali the way we often whitewash King. Ali was a revolutionary. He was a bad, bad man. He was unapologetically Black, and he declared it beautiful. I don’t know if America is worthy to call him our own, but I pray that one day we will get there. RIP, Champ. Rest in Power. Insallah.  

What Hurts?


I had another meeting last night in which harsh words were spoken to me; I feel much of what was said was unjustified and misplaced, but I do understand that it is essential for me to pay attention to how others perceive me. Being accused of acting from ego strikes me to the quick; I feel wounded because I honestly spend much of my time analyzing my ego, examining the attachments I have that I use to manufacture a sense of self that can be asserted and experienced. My goal is to understand–intellectually and emotionally–what is happening to me within the moment, so I can remain calm, rational, and compassionate in thought, word, and deed. I am far from having accomplished this, and I also understand that I am a hurricane. A force. I can bowl people over in the name of enthusiasm and passion, but it can come across as a threat or egotism. I must remain aware of this, and adjust my behavior so that it better represents my intentions, and encourages others to want to be collaborative. Today, I pray for guidance in this endeavor. 

But I hurt. Much of that hurt was affirmed and acknowledged last night, and for that I am grateful. I am truly humbled by the ways in which others have been able to put aside their own hurt to hear mine, something I believe I reciprocate as well. The stinging words still echo in my mind, though, like an unfair taunt on the playground I used to answer better at night, alone and in the shower, feeling tough and confident, than I did at the time.  But that there is ego, the need to feel vindicated or justified in my defensiveness. Pride. Hubris. Still, the intellectual realization does not mitigate the emotional response. 

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that Jesus’ sufferings connect us to him. That in the most difficult of our human experiences, we are most profoundly connected to the one who models perfectly God’s intentions for humanity. And like Christ, who went to his death certain that God’s grace would await him, we in our pain and sorrow can rest in God, knowing that forgiveness and love are abundant to the repentant and recalcitrant heart. God’s assurance remains even when the slings and arrows are hurled. Whether in the valley or on the mountain, we are not alone. 

I feel small today. I want to take up less space. Maybe that will shrink the hurt. 

Zealotry or Zealousness? 


My first introduction to religious zealotry was through Jesus Christ Superstar, which will surprise exactly no one who has known me longer than 5 five minutes. In our high school production, a female portrayed the part as Simone Zealotes, which was just all kinds of awesome, but to me Simon has been and always will be Larry Marshal. His Black Church vocals and the masterful choreography always communicated to me the depth of passion and belief Simon had for Jesus. Sure, his theology was wrong; Zealots often believe that if they draw enough blood, God will respond. It is like a twisted take on Field of Dreams: “If you spill it, He will come.” But my initial feelings about zealotry were positive. 

Once I got to college and started seriously studied religion, I began to understand the damaging impact zealots can wring; women can lose their autonomy and agency; outsiders can be targeted for persecution and violence; human rights can be abridged or nullified; education can be skewed or denied. Religious zealotry is rarely good, at least as it manifests in public. And this makes sense because religious zealotry draws attention to itself. Religious zealousness draws attention to God and the work that God can do through servants. Servants who work for God without having to push their beliefs on others; servants who give of themselves, even to those they may not like personally, but love because it is what God commands. What God offers. What God is. 

And so I have found myself, since returning from Baltimore, on fucking fire for God. I can’t quite elucidate it proximately, so I resort to that most guttural of words to model the intensity of my faith right now. I am in love with Jesus; I yearn to live into the fullness of who God fashioned me to be, to do so with humility and gratitude, erasing as much as possible the false Aaron that I have constructed through the impermanent things of life. At moments I can feel myself tapping into something almost completely outside of myself, as though I am aligning my energy with that of God, feeling the vastness of incarnation and the smallness of experience. In fleeting whispers, I hear the voice of Creation connecting me with the moment the light burst forth, setting into motion the miraculous birth of all that is, known and unknown, and all who have, do, and will live, until the fullness of time falls in upon itself and what we know is transformed into that which is promised. A cessation of suffering. The elimination of evil. The end that is also the beginning.

This zealousness can become zealotry, if I let it. If I feed my ego and do work for my own glory, the love I feel inside my heart will be a love of ego. It will be a love of what is manufactured. Impermanent. I pray that my zeal remain, and this is self-serving as well. I like how it feels when I am close to God, when I am focused on Jesus. It is like a controlled mania. I feel the energy but not the impetuousness. But I want the zeal to remain because it reminds me of what I am called to do: to serve, just as Jesus served. To preach the gospel at all times, but to only use words when necessary. To be.         

Dying Ego, Living Self


Christianity and Buddhism have many crossovers; Thich Nhat Hahn has explored them well in his twin books Living Buddha, Living Christ and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. A growing number of Christians find themselves incorporating Buddhist principles into their own Christian praxis. Purists will find this unacceptable; those on the outside might accuse us of cultural appropriation; but a larger number of people understand that both religious systems aim to orientatate the practitioner away from impermanent, constructed illusions and toward the true source of permanence. While this may not be the most nuanced explanation of both traditions, it holds true: Jesus and Siddhartha both saw the ways in which cultural forces can keep people in cycles of pain, suffering, and despair, whereas a dedicated change in perspective can help one see Truth. 

Both Christianity and Buddhism instruct us on how attachment to impermanence leads to desire that produces suffering. We want to change our circumstances (for a wide variety of reasons), and act without thinking of ramifications; we mistake the part for the whole; we assert a manufactured sense of self (likes, dislikes, desires, fears, hopes) as though it is permanent, and when we feel it is damaged, we lash out to avenge the hurt. The language used in both traditions may be different, but the underlying message is shared: you are not who you think you are, and that false you is the enemy.

This means that the dedicated religious life involves hours of reflection, meditation, study, and prayer. Who am I? The ideas in my head? The desires and aspirations I pursue? The feelings I have or relationships I establish? Why do my emotions arise in such a way that they trigger a desire to act in manners that might be destructive? Counterproductive. Painful. In pursuit of relationships and community, do I do so so that I can be praised? Am I asserting my will on others in ways that decrease their autonomy or impinge upon their personhood? Do I elevate myself, engaging in puffery? The work is real, yo. 

And it continues. Last night in discussing 2 Corinthians with the wonderful Bible study group I lead at the church, we were talking about what it means to be confident in Christ. Paul encourages the people in Corinth to understand that they can undertake any sufferings (for those sufferings connect us to the sufferings of Jesus) and be filled with confidence (not because of their own deeds but rather as a result of grace through faith) because they know that all things come from God. But Paul also understood that such wisdom is not achieved by simply declaring Jesus Christ as Savior. It is not magic. Paul wrote about the Christian life as requiring maturity; in order for us to grow up spiritually and to put away childish things, we have to think about what it means to be clothed in Christ. Jesus told us that we cannot serve God and Mammon; Paul tells us we cannot serve ourselves and Jesus. As Jesus declared himself a slave to humanity, so we must declare ourselves slaves for God. And what does God want us to do? To serve others. To love justice. To walk humbly on the path.

I find it hard to quell my ego sometimes. I’ll be specific: I think credentials matter. Education matters. There are reasons for why I underwent the training I did, and will continue to further my knowledge and skills. I find myself citing credentials with a startling regularity, and I often wonder if it arises from ego. I feel disrespected, especially when people with little to no formal training begin espousing opinions which are not based in any real understanding of the issues at hand, or act as though an unlearned opinion is equally valid simply because it is arrived upon earnestly. I feel pulled between a desire to affirm people where they are and a desire to stop the perpetuation of a culture that no longer recognizes expertise. It is especially tricky being a person responsible for spiritual life; disagreements that might occur in another context take on extra weight when spirituality and faith are involved. This is a real struggle for me.

Trying to eliminate ego does not mean that feelings are no longer hurt, or disappointment is no longer experienced. It means that the emotions can be experienced and understood differently, but the sting and discomfort remain. I have no desire to remove myself from human experience, but I do want to increase my patience and compassion, slow down my reactions, consider situations from different perspectives, and always to have compassion and love as motivators. Dying ego, living self.