Thinking About Chicago

It’s possible to encounter O’Connnor’s stories (you never really just read them) without explicitly discerning her deep, abiding belief in literary art as Christian vocation or her mission to show, as she said, “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.” Clear as day about these motives in her essays and letters, she’s almost never so obvious in her fiction. Perhaps because she uses the evangelical cosmologies of her neighbors as Tolkienesque proxies for her own traditional Catholic systems it’s easy to infer a sort of distance between O’Connor’s art and faith where she in fact saw none. In the same way, it’s possible to listen to Stevens’ biggest hit, “Chicago,” without immediately sensing the plaintive Christian hymn at its core, but “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “Oh God Where Are You Now?,” “The Lord God Bird,” “To Be Alone With You,””God’ll Ne’er Let You Down”… well, these and others comprise a body of work that, like O’Connor’s, raises and answers questions about what makes art “Christian.” Like O’Connor, Stevens operates outside of expectation: his confessional work is among his best, but you’d never call him a Christian artist the way, say, Amy Grant is a Christian artist.

Today is Casimir Pulaski Day; Because of Sufjan and Slavery, I Offer This

It’s mostly an Illinois thing, but there’s also an important Lehigh Valley connection.  I wrote about this a few years ago, but because I love Sufjan Stevens and hate injustice, I’ll tell you about it again:

Pulaski was a Polish noble and general who helped the American colonies win their independence from Great Britain by training and leading American soldiers throughout the Revolution.  Pulaski died from wounds sustained during the Siege of Savannah, and is remembered today as a proto-typical Polish-American hero in many Polish-American communities.  Though his holiday is mostly celebrated in Illinois, two years ago I discovered a connection between the Duke and the Lehigh Valley’s very own Bethlehem, PA.

I was walking around the grounds of the old Moravian settlements in Bethlehem and come upon this grave in the historic Moravian Cemetery:

A few yards away, I found this historical marker, explaining Duke Pulaski’s role in defending the early settlement and the fact that women from the Moravian community created the war banner he carried into Savannah, an even later llionized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem at the Consecration of Pulaski’s Banner.

Reconciling the image of pacifist Moravians sewing banners meant for war is one thing.  But Cornelia’s grave made me hot with rage and then it made me weep.

When I got home, I wrote the piece below.  You need to know that Bethlehem, PA, was founded by pacifist Moravians (who were fleeing religious persecution) in 1741 and christened for its namesake on Christmas Eve.

CORNELIA
NEW YORK
1728-1757
MULATTO SLAVE
(THE HORSFIELD’S)
1755 RECEIVED INTO THE CHURCH

What scandal, these Moravians, these Peace Church nuns and friars rending martial banners? Duke Pulaski, their protector, marches to Savannah, is recalled in Illinois among the Polish and in the frontier psalter for his sword. How ancient, their Count’s mission, in its context on the Lehigh, infant, pre-incarnate by their Christmas City’s namesake — Bethlehem, Palestine?

Cornelia, theirs in life, (the Horsfields’), not her own or God’s, sewn in Pennsylvania with the city’s founding mythos. December 24, 17whatever. Theirs in death, the Horsfields, these Peace Church nuns and friars.

The Gospel of Mark as Sudden Fiction

Sudden fiction is another term for flash fiction, but the two aren’t simply synonymous, at least not to my ear.  Don’t read too much into the title of this post.  I’m not making some argument that the Gospel of Mark ought to be thought of as fiction or non-fiction by modern definitions.  I’m talking about effect.   Where does the writer mean to take us, and why?  How do we know?

The Gospel of Mark is short, but it’s also very sudden.  Replete with “immediatelys,” the narrative is constantly moving.  Like a good short story, it feels meant to be read in one sitting.

I’ve just finished a sudden read in this manner.  My sudden thoughts follow.

In Mark, Jesus is concerned with telling anyone who will hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is here, and that this news is good.

Often, his message gains traction through healing and exorcisms (these may or may not be the same).   He is clearly opposed to entrenched religious systems and values, but not to the teachings of Israel’s prophets.  His je ne sais quoi  has precisely to do with his vision of God and God’s kingdom in the context of Rome’s empire, Herod’s puppet vassal, the Sanhedrin’s religious hegemony, the temple-merchants’ guild and the common-place fiefdom of first-century mores, beliefs, and expectations often beguiling his disciples or other parts of the general public.  Often, those outside his immediate circle understand him best.  He is arrested, tried, and crucified quickly.  He even dies quickly.  His tomb is found empty, and his followers are instructed by a heavenly presence to meet him, the Risen, in Galilee.  No big deal.  Biggest deal ever.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

’99 Problems: Jimmy Fallon Lost Me at Bitch

A few nights ago, Chris Rock’s “Bigger and Blacker” special was on.  Because I remember it being from 1999 and also hilarious, I watched it for a while.  A few things stuck out this time around.

  • Because it was made in 1999, it looks like it could have been made yesterday (Rock’s update on the Raw-era Eddie Murphy leather suit notwithstanding).
  • A lot of the jokes themselves still stand up.   Most of the ones that don’t have to do with gender roles and outdated (and even then, largely feigned) attitudes toward women.

The next day, I saw the clip of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake bringing their History of Rap bit to The Tonight Show.  Near the end of the medley, we’re treated to “Move, bitch! Get out the way!” and “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” in rapid succession.

Watching two wealthy, talented, powerful men grunt bitch the way they did was, quite frankly, shocking.  In both cases, bitch is meant as a pronoun, a somehow acceptable substitute for woman.  “Demeaning” doesn’t begin to capture it, and, while they should be embarrassed by it, embarrassing isn’t a strong enough word.  It was lyrical misogyny and it was shameful.  Because we all love you, Jimmy Fallon, we may be inclined to give you a pass.  Poor judgement happens.  But this felt like watching little boys learning how to marginalize and mistreat other people.   It looked like grown men who should know better legitimizing their part of a culture that treats women like objects worthy of derision, possession, and shame.   Aren’t we past all of this?

IronPigs-Liberty-Bell-2014

Not Just Bacon: The IronPigs, the Liberty Bell, and Allentown’s Revolution Legacy

The new bacon hats are getting all of the attention (and a lot of it) in the regional and even national press.  But for me, the most interesting new look in the ‘Pigs’ line up this year is the powder-blue/burgundy combo complete with a new alternate logo wedding the Liberty Bell to the local steel industry.   From the IronPigs:

“The IronPigs will don a new powder blue and burgundy two-tone Sunday cap this season that connects the rich histories of the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia regions with a fresh-take on the world-famous Liberty Bell. In this new design, the Bell is suspended by an I-beam, a symbol of the Lehigh Valley’s steelmaking prowess, and features metal rivets to indicate the Bell’s iconic crack. Lehigh Valley residents may also be familiar with the fact that in 1777, the Liberty Bell was hidden in Allentown so that the British army wouldn’t melt it down for munitions. The cap will be worn with the retro mesh IronPigs jersey which was introduced in 2013 to pay homage to the Phillies’ tradition-rich teams of the 1970s and 1980s in which the Phillies went to the postseason in six of eight seasons and won their first World Championship in 1980. “

Frankly, you had me (and always will) at powder blue and burgundy.  But there’s something even more interesting and historically important here, which the front office mentions but I’d like to expand on.   As many locals know, Allentown, then known as Northampton Town, did indeed hide the Liberty Bell (then known as the State House Bell) from the British during the American Revolution.  Specifically, the bell and ten other Philadelphia bells were hidden under the floor boards of Zion’s German Reformed Church (now known as Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ).   Also rendered Zion’s Liberty Bell Church, the site at Church and Hamilton (between 7th and 6th) has housed Allentown’s Liberty Bell Shrine and Museum since 1962.

From Zion’s website (libertybellchurch.org):

“Zion is known as the Liberty Bell Church because in 1777, eleven bells were brought here from Philadelphia for safe‑keeping during the Revolutionary War. Those bells included the State House bell B, now better known as the Liberty Bell. They were hidden under the floor boards on this very site so that the British would not find and melt them to make cannons.

Our Liberty Bell Museum on the lower level of the building commemorates this and other historic events at the church, and houses the Harry S. Trexler Portraits of Freedom collection as well as changing exhibits. Because of its historical importance, Zion is on the National Register of Historic Places.”

As the tour guides at Zion’s will tell you, the Liberty Bell did not become “The Liberty Bell” for another 80 years after the colonies were liberated from Great Britain.  Seizing upon the message emblazoned across the bell (Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof),  abolitionists in the 19th century made it a symbol in the fight to end slavery and a reminder of the degree to which we’d failed as a body politic to proclaim the ideals of the revolution in their fullest, truest sense.

It’s not often that the cities respectively hosting a big league club and their top affiliate have this kind of connection in terms of history, iconography, and branding.  I’ll be sporting the new hat (reserved by the ‘Pigs, of course, for Sundays) in proud support of my city and the role it played in preserving one of liberty’s greatest symbols.

Bullets With Butterfly Wings: A Writing Prompt About Nerves, Dread, and Fear

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

The prompt (not the awesome title reference) came today from WordPress.  Butterflies like bullets.  You know what that’s about.  That song came out in 1995, which is probably exactly when my own strongest moment of heart-pounding, belly-twiting nervousness happened.  To make another reference, it was almost certainly about a girl.

And now I need to watch this, and so do you:

A few years ago I was on an obsessive workout regimen and dropped a million pounds.  Nirvana Unplugged was my cardio jam.  I wonder what that was about.

How Letterman Keeps Winning

Jay Leno may have delivered more viewers in the long run, but Letterman’s move to CBS 21 years ago created the late night ethos dominating NBC and cable even now.

Notes David Bauder:

“Like most comics of his generation, Meyers worships at the altar of David Letterman, but a more enduring influence is Conan O’Brien.” There’s no Meyers (or Conan, Fallon, Colebert, Stewart, or Ferguson) without David Letterman.

Those Unknown Search Terms on Your WordPress Dashboard

Vintage_mail_bag_at_the_Postal_MuseumThe Search Term Mail Bag is one of my favorite kinds of posts.  It’s that part of the show where we pretend your search terms are sent by you to me ala David Letterman’s CBS Mail Bag or Craig Ferguson’s email segment.  They’re collected here, but they’re getting harder and harder to do.

As Google encrypts more searches in an effort to satisfy consumer privacy demands, bloggers are seeing fewer real search terms come through in our metrics.  There are some, of course, mixed in with the growing chorus of unknown terms.  WordPress says weighs in here.

We all understand why Google and other engines are doing this, but there was something charming about seeing every term and gauging all the reasons people found your koans and haiku about Axl Rose and Plato.  We can still use metrics about tags and posts to piece these things together, but that creates the kind of vacuum space and writers always seek to fill.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church no longer praying for the government; Tetyana Derkatch calls for Yanukovych’s excommunication

In an unprecedented move, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church leadership says prayers for the current government will no longer be included in the liturgy.

Instead the denomination’s ruling body, known as the Holy Synod, advised believers to ask God to protect Ukraine and its people, and to pray [for] the many victims.

More here.

And from Euromaidan in English – Site of the Official English-language Public Relations Secretariat for the Headquarters of the National Resistance in Kyiv, Ukraine, this:

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate on February 20 issued a decision to stop the remembrance of those in power during worships.

“Taking into account that the repeated calls of the Church not to use weapons against people, who elected them to serve people and Ukraine, but not for violence and murder were not heard by the State authorities, it was decided not to mention those in power during services” starting from February 20, 2014 said the statement.

In addition, the clericals appealed to the authorities to stop using weapons against the people immediately. Now the church, in spite of the Scripture and the Constitution of Ukraine, which imply the necessity to pray for those in power, will pray for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people .

The church also appeal to pray for the dead and wounded in clashes in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, also this:

Tetyana Derkatch, the religious publicist, initiates public petition to Metropolitan Volodymyr and the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) for the purpose of excommunication and anathematizing Viktor Yanukovych. She has announced the action on her Facebook page, http://risu.org.ua reports.

“The idea of ​​excommunicating authorities and anathematizing them for their crimes, incompatible with even the slightest requirements for a Christian, is not new. This should be done when an especially high-ranking member of the Church sets a bad example for society by his or her inadequate response, which spells corruption for the whole society,” – Tetyana Derkatch explains.

The publicist advises everyone who agrees with this initiative to put a cross under her post.

“It is better to cut off the seducing hand than to lose the whole body,” – she notes.

Tetyana admits that it was not uncommon in the past for the Church to punish highly-placed parishioners.

“Somewhat similar events happened to the emperor Theodosius and Ambrose, bishop of Milan. It seems even more reasonable in circumstances where the leadership is no longer considered to be a sacred gift from the Lord. The President of Ukraine is not the Byzantine emperor. He is a parishioner of the particular Church. He does not only take the desired benefits of power, rather he also takes responsibility for its spiritual condition.”

“For example, an excommunicated person is no longer welcome to visit Mount Athos to pray for forgiveness,” – Tetyana states.

On her opinion, excommunicating Yanukovych will suspend the conflict between the people and the government.

“If the Church wants to contribute to the settlement of institutional conflict in Ukraine caused entirely by its parishioners, it must use all available means to influence them, and not only appeal to someone unnamed for peace and nonviolence. Otherwise it must not be surprised, if its voice is never heard,” the religious publicist summarizes.

Living Here In Allentown and on Reverse Frontiers

At about 118,000 people, Allentown is the third-largest and fastest-growing city in Pennsylvania.  After long and short falls from its place as a national commercial and industrial leader, Allentown is again a city in transition, with a downtown redevelopment project (heavily subsidized, of course) poised to renew the economic vitality of the urban core.

Allentown is a mid-sized city, and here’s what that means to me:  big enough to be burdened with great responsibilities and blessed with great potential, but small enough that people — and partnerships — can make real differences.  Small enough, then, for me to take the success of my city personally.  Developers may be footing parts of the bill, but at 80 public cents spent for every private dollar, so am I.   So are the working poor, and I continue to demand real opportunities for everyone affected to have a voice in all this change.   Allentown’s size also means there are real opportunities for territorialism, silo-building, Richard-Coreyism, and real opportunities to have a personal stake in the subversion of those things.   Those former things are bad for my city, and I can be given to take that personally. It’s no coincidence that my spiritual tradition holds out a vision for a kind of city where those former things have passed away.

The opportunities in Allentown mean specific things for young Gen Xers and Millennials.

Creative class: we need you.

Come here.  Move here.  Create here.  Advocate here.  A hundred more of you could be the tipping point that creates thriving art and green scenes that you’ll build with the people here who are working hard at connecting around those kinds of issues now.  If developers and politicians assert with their branding and their braggadocio that Allentown is up for grabs, I’ll assert it with them.  And if it’s up for grabs for them, it’s up for grabs for us.  We need you to help us chart the course of Allentown’s civic identity in the 21st Century.  Help us see our iconography anew.  Help us celebrate our history by building a future together.  Join the good work being done here and stake your own claim on this reverse-frontier.

Someone found my blog today by searching the term “Generation X is broken.”  We’re not, and neither is this place.  We are poised to make a difference, to create and lead the change.  Come back from the hinterland and be part of something real.

For reference, Allentown is bigger than fellow mid-sized cities like Springfield, Illinois; Athens, Georgia; Lansing, Michigan; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Berkley, California; and Burbank, California.  Like most of these cities, Allentown is part of a larger metropolitan area.  And we’re uniquely positioned within reasonable distances from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and DC. We have unique colonial, consumer and creative heritage, an institutional art scene and an emerging network of eager independents.

See you soon.

Solidarity, Serendipity, Grace: a brief story from my morning

Yesterday I reposted a three-year old piece about Hess’s, the famed and sorely missed downtown commercial icon that owned the 20th century not just here in Allentown but really across this part of Pennsylvania.

As you know if you live here, Allentown is undergoing half-a-billion dollars in new capital investment (highly subsidized, of course).

This morning, I had a breakfast get together downtown. I was early, and I found myself sitting in the lobby of the Butz building, about 830, silently praying. At some point, a kind woman I’d never met before who works somewhere in the building asked me if I wanted anything to eat or if I could use some coffee. Yesterday, I gave a little extra at a local coffee shop and said if you don’t want the tip, please do pass it on to a homeless friend in need. #solidarity #serendipity #grace.

The kind woman from this morning may have thought I was homeless or just simply hurting, and maybe that’s on her mind because of all the awareness being raised about the needs in Allentown. Maybe looking out for others is part of who she is.  In any case, I’m  grateful there are people out there wanting to help each other.  I’m grateful for her kindness and her courage, and I know that someday soon it will encounter someone with needs I can’t begin to imagine, and I bet it has already.

Tweet: Solidarity, Serendipity, Grace: a brief story from my morning http://ctt.ec/smVhl+

Bill Russell On Michael Jordan (and Cartesian Circles)

I get a few queries for this topic every day, but I’ve never actually posted about it.  I’ve talked about Kareem on Russell and Jordan and about what Jordan says about Russell (as little as possible), but given all the recent talk about who should be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore and Will Kobe and/or LeBron Ever Get There, I thought I should see what I could do.

In so doing, I found a still-extant Tripod (yes) website explaining why Russell is the greatest ever, and you need to see it.   There’s also a detailed Straussian discussion about how Russell’s claim that Jordan was the greatest is purposefully meaningless.  I sort of said the same thing about Kareem.  And there’s also this picture of Wlit Chamberlain wearing a fanny pack that says Wilt.

Jesus Chills With Spider-Man, Hulk, and Captain America and The Comic Book Where Batman Was a Priest

Image

So many hits on this blog are because of things I’ve said about Jesus or things I’ve said about comic books.  Roll with it, right?

I saw this via George Takei via In Good Faith.  I love that George shared this and what he said about it.  Everybody wins.

It also reminded me of this, from one of the best Batman Elseworlds ever:

Image

I’m fairly certain this book has informed a lot of what I do.

The Wop-Shaming of Matteo Renzi

I know there are many more and many worse injustices perpetrated every day against my sisters and brothers of different backgrounds. But today, wop-shaming just went a little too far for me.

“Italy’s political stability has just gone from bad to worse,”  The Daily Beast says.  Basically, because the new PM is a “Tony Danza look-alike” and “he has also been dubbed “the Fonz” thanks to his penchant for t-shirts and leather jackets.”

Really, Daily Beast?  Really?

Fa nable. 

David Byrne. (Photo via Getty Images)

David Byrne: What If We Broke Up With the Internet?

A few problems with David’s observations.
1) Spotify is awesome. Spotify didn’t kill all that was good about music. Spotify lets us make playlists. If DB’s bringing back analogue tape, I’m all for it.
2) Skyping With Grandma is what some art school band aping the Talking Heads are calling themselves right now.

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Ken Cuccinelli: Stop The Widespread Collection Of Americans Metadata

Christopher Cocca:

So is THIS the angle with which Republicans will gain some traction? Crudely, progressives fear the tyranny of business more than the tyranny of government; conservatives the inverse. Is it possible to fear both (as we all should) AND legislate with both fears in mind? I think so. Neither major party has been great at that. Too often, once-progressives settle into “liberal” middle-age (think Ed Rendell) and the fear of corporate tyranny goes out the window as the campaign cash comes rolling in. Too often, their conservative counterparts place unbridled faith in the market and its rigged system (often as the campaign cash comes rolling in). And so, let the fight over metadata begin.

Originally posted on CBS Philly:

By Dom Giordano

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Ken Cuccinelli, a former candidate for Governor in Virginia, spoke with Dom Giordano today on Talk Radio 1210 WPHT, about a lawsuit he filed with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky against the National Security Agency.

“The NSA sweeping up all of our telephone metadata, the phone numbers we’re calling, who we’re getting calls from, how long those calls are, and all sorts of other things, Americans generally expect that information to be private,” Cuccinelli said laying out his case for protecting what can and cannot be collected by the federal government.

“That expectation of privacy under the 4th Amendment is critical to determining whether the NSA is actually violating the Constitution which we have asserted in this lawsuit we filed,” he said explaining his argument that current levels of data collection have crossed the line into illegality.

Listen to full podcast here…           

View original 167 more words

Kyle Minor on Alice Munro; The Atlantic on Kyle Minor

photo by Jennifer Percy.

photo by Jennifer Percy.

I came to know of Kyle Minor’s work because:

  • the title of his first collection, In the Devil’s Territory, is also the name of a Sufjan Stevens song, but
  • Stevens and Minor both took the phrase from a reworking of Flannery O’Connor’s observation about her own work, and
  • Stevens has more than one song named after stories on Ben Taylor’s New School MFA syllabus, and
  • Ben Taylor had Sufjan as a student a few years before I learned everything I know about Flannery O’Connor (and Alice Munro) in that that same seminar. So.

Even if I’d never stumbled upon Minor’s work before the recent release of his new collection, Praying Drunk, I would absolutely know about him now.  He is everywhere, and Praying Drunk is lighting everything on fire.  It has been a joy, and whatever the opposite of schadenfreude is, to watch this career develop over the past few years and come into this season of more widespread acclamation.

Today, Mr. Minor has a great piece up at The Atlantic about Alice Munro.   Part of the By Heart series, which puts Kyle in the company of Serman Alexie and Jonathan Franzen, his essay is introduced by an Atlantic editor with high praise for Praying Drunk. Kyle, to say your hard-won recognition is encouraging to me as a writer would be a gross understatement.  Keeping with the theme, it’s sobering in the way that sobriety is, for those who have worked long and hard for it, a true thing of celebration.

Thank Your Grandmother For Shirley Temple

Last night, not knowing we’d wake up to the sad news about Shirley Temple, I posted this to my sister’s facebook wall.  It’s about how my grandmother taught me everything I learned in my MFA program, and how my professors reminded me of that fundamental truth.  I said:

“Whatever Ann and James and Bob and James and Jeff taught me, Grammy taught me first. She bought me books and encyclopedias, told me stories from her family on the farm.  She read us Laura Ingalls Wilder. She gave us a vernacular.  She helped run a business and she raised a family.  An extended family.  So much of who we are is simply her.  So much of who I am.”

She also gave us Shirley Temple.  Forsaking a discussion about perils and injustices of child stardom for now, it’s hard to appreciate the magnitude of Shirley Temple’s stardom or the comfort her work brought to masses of Americans who were generally afflicted by the Depression and, later, the anxieties of war.  If you can watch The Little Princess without losing your mind, I’m not sure I have much more to say to you on the topic.  The catharsis she’s able to pull from that material is visceral.

By giving us Shirley Temple (and also Judy Garland, and Laura Ingalls, and stories from the her cousins on the farm), Grammy gave us a piece of her childhood from a place of love over sheer nostalgia.  Those films meant a lot to her, and she knew they’d mean a lot to us.  The keepers of language and story.

Deconstructing Philanthropy

Let’s make it irrelevant.  Let’s replace it with #justice.

“The 1% Work Harder” Myth

It was hateful classism then, and it’s hateful classism now.

Jesus Messed Around With Gender Roles

Can we recognize that Jesus inspired marginalized women to action and proclamation on one hand and affirm on the other that the pastoral epistles equating “good and orderly” church governance with all-male leadership aren’t bound to localized contexts?  I don’t think so.  It’s like saying “sure, you wanna spread the word about a man come back from the dead, you let a woman be the first to know. But if you want churches to work as institutions, you better call a man. I mean, come on guys, it doesn’t have to be circumcised.  But it has to BE there.”

Doubt, Depression, Dark Mornings of the Soul

I’m trying to write a new post about depression and doubt. One does not do this without referencing Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. I looked up some old posts for reference, only to find that I’d written this almost a year ago to the day:

http://chriscocca.com/2013/02/08/rockstars-and-whetstones-and-ssris-steven-hyden-and-a-bunch-of-other-stuff/

I can’t say that my medical situation is exactly the same as it was then, but I feel a year better, at least, about almost everything.

Below is what I started with this morning before going back.

For me, doubt is never about the veracity of some narrative.  I suppose that’s because the living Christ is the only thing I really believe in.  I suppose it’s because I feel connected to the prophetic witness and movement of the Holy Spirit.  Or perhaps I am drawn to these realities specifically because I can’t fathom the idea that salvation of the world depends on getting this or that narrative right.  I want to experience what Jesus experienced of God, and what his followers experienced of him.  I want to do what he did.  I don’t have time for anything else.

For me, doubt isn’t waking up and fearing that the stories we were raised on aren’t true.  I don’t care about that.  Doubt, for me, is far more insidious.  It has to do with waking up and worrying that everything I fought for yesterday doesn’t matter, or, worse, would embarrass Ernest Hemingway.  I’m talking about a specific, latent, and under-discussed anxiety that often turns young Christian or Muslim or just plain earnest men into misogynists: the fear of spiritual conviction as masculine failure.  In the West at least, men are inevitably trained to worry about this.  We are trained not only to believe that our worth as men or as people has everything to do with supposedly gender-bound responsibilities of provision to our families and sexual gratification to ourselves, but that the bald pursuit of both at any cost is somehow noble, right, and good.  Spirituality (like nurturing) is better left to women.  When we do pursue spiritual matters, God (God!) forbid we allow ourselves to cede equal ground to women or their equal standing before God.  God forbid we affirm the radical hunches of Paul or the radical directives of Jesus.  If we’re already concerned that spirituality (or anything not manifesting as apathy) marks as cruiser-weight chumps in the war of each against all, we’re not likely to admit women (or gay men, for that matter) can do that shit as well as us, period.

If you’ve ever felt this way, please know that hyper-masculine Neo-Calvinism won’t help.  This isn’t about embracing a beefed-up vision of Jesus but about reclaiming an honest one.  He fought the law and the law won.  And then he won.  On the dark mornings of my soul, waking up means having to remember that the radical potency of insubordination and insurrection isn’t just the point of Jesus’ witness, but of this “work in progress called life.”   The point of life, as best as I can see it, isn’t found in the catechisms of J.M. Barrie, Martin Luther, or Ulrich Zwingli.   It’s found in the life and work of someone like Jesus, killed for daring to free the world from the scarcity model.

That’s no small thing.  It’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of.   It won’t net you a sports car or pension or the kind of disposable relationships we sometimes crave.  It may, however, net you some life and in that sense, abundance.

In Putin’s Russia, “Better” Gets You

The New York Review of Books asks and answers “Why Sochi?”

AT&T is the first US Olympic Committee sponsor to condemn a vague 2013 Russian law that many believe basically outlaws public sentiment in favor of gay rights.  On paper, it prohibits pro-gay “propaganda” from being distributed to minors.  Given that Russia is Russia and Putin is Putin, this could and probably does mean a million other things.  At the most basic level, the Kremlin has made sure that there’s no Russian phrase for “It Gets Better.”  DeVry University and Chobani have now also expressed disdain for the Russian law.

Now that Russia is killing dogs in the street (“biological trash,” those in charge say), twitter is on fire.

I won’t be watching these games.  Screw this.

MoscowPride2008-2

Hip Young Misogynists

hipster

…is not the name of Zach Lind’s other band.   He shared this today on twitter:

The article is about Vintage Church, a swarm of youngish, hippish folks in Raleigh, NC who seem to get together to wear plaid, worship Jesus, and maintain archaic gender roles they still, somehow, believe are mandated by Christian scripture.  Vintage is one of many such communities and is part of the Acts 29 church planting network, a group founded by Mark Driscoll. You may know Driscoll from having recently interviewed Russell Wilson, or for his hateful public witness regarding gender roles and sexual identity.

It’s not the case that Vintage and churches like it are aping indie culture to make their presentation of not-the-gospel more appealing.  Indie culture has been aped by the over-culture to such an extent that lots of folks, from places of spiritual need (looking for love in all the wrong places), are able to belong to these kinds of churches and listen to bands like CHVRCHES without the kind of damning cognitive dissonance you’d expect and hope for.  At least for a while.

Sarah McCoy left Vintage in 2010. Now an associate pastor at Love Wins ministries, she couldn’t accept Vintage’s views on women.

“It became clear to me they did not honor my personhood in the same way they honored the male leadership,” she said. “The work we do [at Love Wins] is all about people being equal in the eyes of the world and of God. I believe we are all fundamentally the same, no matter the gender.”

Vintage and Acts 29 churches are unusual in that they are contemporary in liturgical practices but hold fast to outdated tenets such as a patriarchal church leadership.

Acts 29 churches are guided by five “doctrinal distinctives.” One of these is “deep commitment to the fundamental spiritual and moral equality of male and female, as well as the principle of male headship in the church and home.”

Women can be staff members in Acts 29 churches, but they cannot serve in teaching or leadership positions. Though Catholicism and other orthodox denominations don’t allow the ordination of women, many Protestant denominations permit it. Progressive Episcopal churches allow the ordination of openly gay clergy.

Strangely, the Acts 29 organizations are not up front about this aspect of their structure. There is nothing about Vintage’s refusal to ordain women on the church’s website.

Amy Laura Hall, an associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke University and elder at United Methodist Church, said that the Southern Baptist Convention recently tightened the reins on women in leadership, and that “there is a similar kind of discipline going on in the Acts 29 network.”

“Their most consistent messaging to men is that they are re-masculinizing the church,” Hall said. “It’s been feminized and we need to re-masculinize Christianity. If young people stay a part of those churches, we will have a significant segment of that generation being very gender conservative on the natural hierarchy between men and women.”

“It was communicated to us in sermons,” Laura, a former Vintage member, said. “Pastors would talk about women, almost on it being a level of sin for a mother to work outside the home and it was a sin on the husband’s part because he wasn’t providing for the family.”

McCoy said she also experienced “single-shaming” for being unmarried.

“It’s one thing to say we as humans are meant for relationships,” McCoy said, “but when you’re made to feel like you’re doing something wrong by being single, that’s taking it to another extreme.”

Another former congregant who asked not to be named, remembered a sermon in which Pastor Jones said the most important thing a woman can do is be a wife and mother.

“A lot of women in the congregation were really hurt by that,” the former congregant said. “Many were single or divorced. That’s a pretty strong statement.”

Something else:

According to the church’s communications director, Vintage’s 2014 operating budget is nearly $2 million. A former staff member, who worked at Vintage until 2009 and had access to the church’s financial information, said Jones and the other lead pastors “were making over $100K, with pastoral housing allowances and everything.”

Shit like this is one of the reasons I’m working on projects like this.

David Letterman on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

“I mean, he’s a wonderful man.  But that’s a full day.”

There is so much about this I find strangely sublime.

http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/david-letterman-i-like-kettlecorn

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Peyton’s Place

It’s been a few days since that awful routing.

He’s no longer in “The Discussion” with Montana and Brady, says everyone.

Here’s the thing.  Manning is undoubtedly the most gifted quarterback we’ve ever seen.  In our gut, we know he’s more complete than Brady and even Montana.  That’s why all the hype leading up to Sunday’s game had lots of us believing the deal was done.  Great quarterbacks don’t go 1 and 2 in Super Bowls.  They don’t have fewer rings than Little Brother.  Before Sunday, Manning had been bathed in the light of the greatest single season by any quarterback ever.  Legacy discussions by and large tended to include Brady as a sort of obligation.  Peyton’s already the best, lots of people seemed to be saying.  A win over Seattle will keep him there.

What to make of the fact that he lost, and so badly, even while breaking the Super Bowl record for most completions?  What to make of the fact that deep, deep down, 9 naked fingers be damned, you still think Manning’s the best quarter back ever?

He’s a contradiction, for sure.  In losing, did he just transcend the meaning of winning the Super Bowl and the bearing it has on his legacy?  I’m willing to say so.  Can’t win big games, has a losing record in the playoffs, I get all of that.  But the man plays without an offensive coordinator, with no Jerry Rice and no Darth Belichick.

I don’t mean to take anything away from Seattle.  I picked them 27 – 24.  I love their defense and I love the things Richard Sherman is forcing us to think about.  I love his mind and his grit and his story.   I love the 12th man.  I love that they won.  I also love that Peyton’s loss says more about our rubrics of greatness than it does about his place in history.

Speaking of history, I wonder how much more of it football has left.  Given what we know about CTE and about the ways in which the NFL, like a villain from Sherwood Anderson, “cuts through the bodies of men” in pursuit of its own sense of glory and legacy, I’m less of a fan all the time.

Epistemological Jams Revisited

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Last night, someone I follow on facebook asked what folks thought about a list of  7 essential beliefs without which one can’t be called a Christian.  The seventh was a statement about “The ultimate authority of Scripture without which none of the other truths can be affirmed or asserted with confidence.”

Some of us engaged  in a good discussion (which is still happening, though I’ve said all I think I mean to say in the space).   Below, I’m going to share my contributions (out of context, admittedly,  because I don’t think it’s fair to take people’s semi-private facebook thoughts more public, even if their names and pictures are blocked out.)  From what I share below, you can probably infer some of the other things being said, Toad the Wet Sprocket style, in the spaces in between.

I’m not sharing this with an axe to grind, but I suppose I do have an agenda.  I’m really, really concerned with the sometimes staggeringly dangerous claims some Christians make about epistemology.  I worry that many for whom the Bible is somehow epistemologically authoritative (and ‘how?’ is a HUGE question) are saying much more about the Bible’s ontology than anything else.  That they believe about the Bible what they say they believe about God.   I could say more, and probably will in another post.  The business of being clear about what the Bible is and isn’t, and what bearing that does or doesn’t have on what we’re talking about when we’re talking about God, is so important, especially in America, even (or, perhaps, again, especially) within modernity’s and old Christendom’s last requiems.  I’ve written about this is greater length and detail a few times over the past few years.  Given the work I’m doing on the insubordination project, now feels like a good time to revisit that material.

In the meantime, most of what I said on facebook with regards to this specific prompt:

We know truth through the living Christ. Not a book.

If I must believe the Bible to be X, Y, or Z, before I can believe in Jesus, I must be doing something wrong.

Jesus is alive. That’s what the NT bears witness to, but if I’m required to believe this or that about the NT before I’m able to experience the living Jesus or know him, then I’m engaged in some layer of faith or religion before getting to Jesus. That makes little sense to me. How do we know the Bible is a chronicle of the God who speaks? That requires some pre-Christian epistemology, doesn’t it? Conversion happens when you meet Jesus. The Bible can play a role in that, but it’s not an exclusive one. Some of us even believe that the living Christ is the hermeneutic through which Scripture should be judged.

I’m not proposing anything new here, by the way. These strains of thought have a long history in various Christian traditions and experiences).

I’d say that the the written Bible is one part of the shared experience of people over millenia understanding Jesus. I agree that the Logos is the instructor and the content…but I don’t agree that the Bible is the Logos! Jesus is.

Others would say that we must not rely our own natural thinking about what Scripture is to understand the Spirit and presence of Christ. It seems to me that this is fundamentally a question of epistemology, and there are many of us for whom Christ is real, saving, compelling, and blissfully radical, regardless of what we’re able to force ourselves to believe about the Bible. Lots of people meet Jesus without ever seeing a Bible. Certainly, that was the case for many of his earliest followers.

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I will also say this:  Someone said that the earliest follows had complete access to Jesus.  I said “so do we.” I probably could have said “this was never a movie about dying, it was always a movie about living, and to that I say ‘keep on.’”

I don’t think I’m espousing particularly radical theology here, except in the strictest sense of the word radical:  “of or relating to the root of something.”

Please, stop putting steps between the world and Jesus.

Losing More Than an Actor, and Knowing It

 

There have been an awful lot of thoughtful words offered in the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing.  Writing in Slate, Dana Stevens talked about “the intensity of [her] sense—of everyone’s, I think—that Philip Seymour Hoffman died when he was right in the middle of something, or of a lot of things, all subsumed under the work in progress called ‘life.’”  David Bazan wondered on twitter why Hoffman’s passing feels especially painful to him and to us.

The answers, in so far as they exist in some way we can talk about across social media and news cycle chatter, have everything to do with our understanding of Hoffman as not wholly unlike us: maturing but not old, really, quite young, right in the middle of something called life.  It’s not that we’re thinking “that could have been me.”  It’s that we know very well it is us.  He was one of the most talented artists of a compound generation born between the late 60s and early 80s, and somehow, his success, so deep and non-conventional and real, affirmed the standards we all hold ourselves to in secret.  He was one of our most brilliant compatriots, one of the last of our poet priests.  We’re all in the middle of this work in progress, and we’ve seen a fellow light, and a bright one, go out.  We are right to mourn, to hug our partners or our children, to commit to keep our own lights burning.  None of this feels as easy as it should be.

A friend recently told me about the death of someone close to her, someone for whom things had seemed to get better.  Life is so lovely and shitty and strange, she said.  Keep going. Please keep going.

That goes for you, too.

One Does Not Simply Hate The Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

I just saw a Freshly Pressed post from a few days ago about hating the RHCP, which does not stand for the Republican House Caucus on some word that starts with P.

I watched The Halftime Show fully realizing the Chili Peppers weren’t necessary.  Bruno Mars and his band are more than talented enough, so I’m not sure why the Peppers were there other than to remind you what kind of shape you won’t be in at 50.  But from “Under The Bridge” on, I’ve been a fan.  And “Give It Away” is about getting off of drugs.  And Anthony Kiedis and Flea were in Back to the Future.  And hey is that Frusciante (no)?  And the drummer is Will Ferrell.  What I’m saying is, what’s not to like?

Here’s something for you.  “Californication” is only 8 years younger than “Under The Bridge,”  but 1999 is still 15 years ago.  I know, right?  And “By The Way,” which is a lot like “Otherside,” is only a few years younger than that.  “Otherside” is basically their “Everlong,” even if it isn’t even half as good (because “Everlong.”)   “Around the World” is a great song.  “Scar Tissue” is everything the summer of ’99 was that wasn’t Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana.  For that alone, we should be thankful.  And hey, I liked that song, but enough was enough already, innit?

Even though we didn’t need them, because Bruno Mars was already reminding us of how awesome James Brown was, don’t pretend them showing up and doing what they do wasn’t pretty great.  Did I need half the stuff I ate last night?  Nahbsolutely.  Did I need to see Cliff Clavin and Hulk Hogan in the same space and time not called 1987?  (Yes).  Was it cool to see Kiedis and Flea being Kiedis and Flea?  Was the moon landing faked?  (Yes, and “that’s not the point.”)

A Note to Readers Outside these United States: Super Bowl and Sundries

First, thank you for reading.  Do comment sometime?

I’ve been to some of your fair shores.  In order, Canada (I didn’t forget you, Canada), Mexico, UK, Germany, Ireland.  I hope to visit more.

My name is pronounced like the first word in Coca-Cola.  Perhaps one does not get more American than that.  Cocca itself is Italian, and refers to the notch where an arrow is strung.  Other parts of me include Welsh, Irish, Scottish, Swedish, French, German (and Pennsylvania German, which mostly we call Pennsylvania Dutch when talking to each other), Swiss (which eventually became German) and others, which eventually became American in the process of becoming me.

Did you watch the Super Bowl?  I’m not sure what to make of it.  This week in American sports media, the only thing most people will be talking about is where the current quarterback of the Denver Broncos ranks on the list of all-time greats.  How do you make such determinations in your most popular sports?  (Is the answer always Pelé?)

How about that Bruno Mars?  As if we didn’t already miss James Brown enough.  Bruno Mars was excellent.  Is he called Bruno Aries in Greece?

Good night, dear readers, or good morning.  Or good midday.  Do drop a line.

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Miscarriages of Justice: Why the Church Should Be (and Isn’t) Compelling To Rising Generations

Christians believe different, often contrasting things about Jesus.  Even so, there are fundamental points of reference across the traditions and theologies comprising what my friend John Franke calls this “manifold witness.”  From perspectives of historical criticism, so-called irrenency, source criticism, literary theory (all having to do with what we may know about Jesus from the Bible) and personal experience (a primary encounter, somehow, with the living Christ), we’ve agreed in broad strokes with the writers of our scriptures about the importance of exploring the tensions of Jesus’ birth, life-setting, teachings, public ministry, passion (Last Supper, arrest, trials, and execution) and the claims about his resurrection.

Differing widely, sometimes wildly, in interpretation, we hold certain things in common.  We may or may not believe the same things about the birth narratives in the books of Luke or Matthew, but we agree that the early Christian communities, formed during the life and within the living memory of Jesus, came to understand those stories as fundamental expressions of the nature of God, and of the kind of God who would send such a Christ to them and us.  The book of John, sometimes derided for its spiritualized appeal to the Hellenistic cosmology of ancient Palestine, says nothing about the birth of Jesus but gets famously to the point of it:  “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believeth in him would not perish but have eternal life.”  John also articulates, beautifully, the belief that in Jesus we encounter the full expression of God’s full self in historic time and human terms.

Church as we know it began because people who loved and followed Jesus found a need to gather together to tell stories about the things he said and did after he was gone.  Any modern fandom does the same, but if the stories of the resurrection are true, and if the early gathered Christians included those who’d seen or somehow experienced the risen Christ, the impetus for fellowship was something else again. Picture dozens of Simons, Judes, and Marys all proclaiming Easter, wondering if they’d lost their minds, gut-checking about the hell just happened and what the hell was next.  Picture Pentecost.

If the resurrection didn’t happen, or if didn’t happen the way most churches teach, the fact remains that the gathered followers of Jesus, even those many generations removed from his life and ministry, have claimed to feel his presence through the ages in community.  This experienced presence was the likely impetus for Paul’s missionary work.  “If churches in Jerusalem experience the living Christ when gathered in community, there should be churches, that is, communities of Jesus followers, everywhere where people are.”   Eventually those settings became our beloved or bedeviled institutions.  Seeking to preserve space for Christians and communities to encounter Christ together, church leaders lost the prophetic plot and surrendered immediacy and the lived-in kingdom of God for the longevity of spaces and institutions with increasing capital and clout.  This process, incremental and well-intentioned here, schemed, contrived, and opportunistic there, was undertaken in the name of a Christ who ran from heaven into our midst, who forsook, as Milton said, “the courts of everlasting day.”  In practice and in theory, it is so far removed from the early church’s doctrine of the Incarnation, of God’s giving of God’s self in Jesus (because, clearly, this Jesus who continued to encounter and embolden our communities long after his departure, was from God) it has rendered the radical notion of such a downwardly mobile God, and the wild-eyed claim that God somehow walked or walks among us, quaint, passe, and false.

If the core of Jesus’ ministry was the flesh-and-blood manifestation of his incarnation at the street level, that is, if the mission of God is radically mobile and radically toward the margin, the church of Jesus Christ should be the most compelling community on Earth.  If we dared to preach in Jesus’ words and follow his example across every facet of  our communal lives, if the church were truly a community in perpetual revolution against the mores of the scarcity model, we’d have a staggering abundance of money, food, and shelter, a blue ocean of agents for reconciliation, justice, and peace converting from the warring gods of social Darwinism.

Too often, our faith communities, begun by people unable to shake the radical call of the radical Jesus, have lost this vision and with it the Holy Spirit’s vigor.  As they’ve institutionalized, they’ve expressed a preference for longevity over justice, a value unrecognizable to Jesus.  They may do good things, but only within a sinning commitment to the lordship of the scarcity model.  This is an insidious idolatry.  Claiming to follow Jesus, the institutional church instead runs parallel, never intersecting with his justice message in ways that threaten ill-won power, especially its own.  Doing good works within oppressive models is far easier than leaning into the realities of a life lived here and now within the visionary community Jesus called the kingdom of God.

By design, the institutional church values things like economic and organizational security and respectability,  functions of its imagined profile in the community, while the gospel values risk-taking, political and economic radicalism, and Spirit-led action in the patch-worked kingdom of God.  In some Reformed mainline traditions, the institutional church’s addiction to its own status among powers not necessarily aligned with the values of Jesus is a vestige of a delicate parsing of the Protestant Reformation that, while perhaps valuable in the 16th century, is clung to now as a justification of the highly-paid professional pastorate, a gospel of genteel upward mobility, and political gamesmanship instead of prophetic witness when the opportunity to speak truth to power comes.

In the context of the Reformation, followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin in many parts of Europe (most notably in the principalities of the so-called Holy Roman Empire) aligned their reformed versions of institutional Christianity with the political interests and civil authority of electors, magistrates, princes and other heads of state.  In lands held by rulers eager to escape the political influence of Rome and the authority of the Pope over princes, Lutheranism or Calvinism replaced Catholicism as state-mandated religion. Entire duchies, counties, and principalities and all the people in them could be officially converted to one or another Reformed tradition by the whim of a scheming ruler. This is what historians call the Magisterial Reformation.  The teachings of the magisterial reformers, not surprisingly, were upheld by their civic allies as authoritative, and in Calvin’s Geneva and many other places, the penalty for conspicuous non-conformity was death.

 By contrast, Anabaptist traditions in the same era stressed the illegitimacy of civic jurisdiction in the kingdom witness of the church and insisted that one of the calls Christ makes to his people was the bearing of prophetic witness to all other powers.  At a time when the separation of church and state was almost nonexistent, and the role of the each was to uphold and legitimize the other, the Anabaptist position was called radical.  Believing in the right to religious self-determination and the application of the prophetic tradition to the powers of their time, Anabaptists were among the most persecuted groups of the Reformation, hunted down and executed by Catholic and Reformed authorities alike.  Luther and Calvin were the forebears of the Magisterial Reformation, an ethos that persists today in some quarters of the various churches fashioned in their likeness (Lutheranism and Presbyterianism most prominent among them).  Anabaptists were the mothers and fathers of the Radical Reformation.  While their followers no longer burn at stakes, we’re said to burn bridges, shun the still-available status afforded by the waning professional pastorate, and otherwise engage in the kind of prophetic activity that must be our specific call.  While church and state are separate in the United States,  and church membership continues its downward trend, there can be no doubt that both mainline and nondenominational churches of considerable wealth continue to afford their leaders something of a princely status by way of salary and benefits and reverence.  This status doesn’t just parallel but fully embraces the realities of the corporate boardrooms inhabited by elite lay leaders in such churches, who are almost always their biggest economic patrons.  We are not so far removed from the inconsistencies of the Magisterial Reformation as we like to think.

 The modern rationale for the persistence of this tradition is, of course, that it gives our pastors access to people with the kind of money and influence required to make real change happen.  They are said to catch more flies with honey.  And yet, the economic situation of our crumbling cities doesn’t change.  The plight of the working poor worsens.  The fundamental underpinnings of our economic systems aren’t questioned or challenged, and our elite pastors are doing absolutely nothing to put themselves or their positions at political risk.  They’re so far from burning at the figurative stake, so far from crucifixion, they ought not make us sing “Jesus, keep me near the cross,” or read most letters of Paul.

 In the institutional church, economic stability is the fountainhead of ministry.  It’s what makes all programs and payrolls possible.  It’s what maintains many buildings increasingly removed from the viscera of their communities.  Like a nerve wrapped around a muscle, the American institutional church has grown up not only with the baggage of the Magisterial Reformation, but with its own paternal native twin, American capitalism.  Operating by design from a scarcity model with zero-sum presuppositions,  capitalism assumes that the pursuit of economic stability will end up forcing most people to be good.  It’s a market-based morality drawing power from the deepest fears and darkest possibilities of what can happen when human beings are required to order lives together.  Institutional churches of all shapes and sizes function in this way.

 At its core, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about how people in the kingdom of God should relate to power in all its forms, thereby calling all economic and political systems into fundamental question.  The kingdom of God is decidedly not confined to religious or political institutionalism for Jesus, but is for all people, everywhere.  His persecution by religious and secular powers operating in scarcity models toward the accumulation of power shows us this.  For Jesus, the kingdom of God is not a transnational arrangement mediated by human institutions, but a hopscotching patchwork of political and economic freedom arranged by human persons responding to his teachings and empowered by his spirit.

    Sherwood Anderson, writing in 1920 about effects of industrial capitalism on the American psyche, said this:

“And all over the country, in the towns, the farm houses, and the growing cities of the new country, people stirred and awakened. Thought and poetry died or passed as a heritage to feeble fawning men who also became servants of the new order. Serious young men in Bidwell and in other American towns, whose fathers had walked together on moonlight nights along Turner’s Pike to talk of God, went away to technical schools. Their fathers had walked and talked and thoughts had grown up in them. The impulse had reached back to their father’s fathers on moonlit roads of England, Germany, Ireland, France, and Italy, and back of these to the moonlit hills of Judea where shepherds talked and serious young men, John and Matthew and Jesus, caught the drift of the talk and made poetry of it; but the serious-minded sons of these men in the new land were swept away from thinking and dreaming. From all sides the voice of the new age that was to do definite things shouted at them. Eagerly they took up the cry and ran with it. Millions of voices arose. The clamor became terrible, and confused the minds of all men. In making way for the newer, broader brotherhood into which men are some day to emerge, in extending the invisible roofs of the towns and cities to cover the world, men cut and crushed their way through the bodies of men.”

In the Gospels and in the extant histories of the early followers of Jesus, the economic and political question is never one of legitimizing the accumulation of wealth or power for the sake of the community’s security.   The question is always one of providing for the poor, proclaiming justice to the margin, elucidating the possibility of freedom in the kingdom network, and trusting that if the community, the network, the kingdom of God, is to be secure, it is God who will do the securing.  Jesus himself flees from security; this is the economic and political message of the cross.  We are to order our lives in such a way that the powers we establish do not crucify the margin, period, let alone for doing things as human and good and freeing as threatening political, religious, and economic structures that stratify and oppress.  The ordering of our lives and our systems is a spiritual, political, and economic operation.  For Jesus, the fundamental worth of every person as a child of God is given. Our political and economic arrangements here and now must flow forth from our status as the children of a God who leaves heaven for a manger and leaves religious fame for crucifixion.

That the political and economic are inseparable from the spiritual is no advocation of theocracy, no apology for the Magisterial Reformation or its modern incarnations. On the contrary, fidelity to the teachings of Jesus require an indictment of the private religious sector for not being a better and more radical witness to a secular order whose recognition and stability it craves.  Speaking truth to power in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Anabaptists, and of Jesus presupposes the formation of political realities in concert with ideas we might call religious.  But if true religion is caring for the widowed and orphaned, then religion is primarily social and necessarily political.  The responsibility of the City Council member and the street preacher, regardless of religious affiliation, is the same.  We are, indeed, our sisters’ and our brothers’ keepers, even as they’re ours.  The role of the prophet is to remind the politician of the radical message of Jesus:  that the political, economic, and spiritual question are one in the same.  Put another way, the Radical Reformation has its own magisterium: everything.  The kingdom of God is no Holy Roman Empire, no holy Roman or American church.  The kingdom of God is a society stitched together outpost by outpost, an underground economy that doesn’t need to hide.  It’s the longed-for destination the teacher Jesus had for all of us, an economic, political, and spiritual reality unhindered by other powers, inviting those powers in.  It does not force; it does not quit.

This history of the early church as recorded by the writer Luke in the book called Acts says the early Christians sold all their possessions and held all things in common.  None were cursed with too much, none suffered with too little.  I think this is what Tim Coons has in mind when he says that in the kingdom of God, everything thing is free.   As a network of outposts each ordered on the life and teachings of Jesus,  the kingdom of God should be such that I can walk from kingdom place to kingdom place in Allentown and never want for anything, even in the poorest neighborhoods or in the poorest churches.  In many ways, that patchworked experience exists, albeit with gaps in affordable housing, one of the areas I’ve worked on at ground level.  Often, it’s the poorest churches who give the most, the bi-vocational pastors drawing no salary from their communities.  Often, it’s the richest churches, those with buildings and big budgets, those that give many dollars to kingdom work, but, from within the scarcity model, refuse to order their own internal systems or external relations as if the kingdom were real, that perpetuate the fundamental injustices Jesus came to tear apart.

Raised between the fall of Eastern Bloc statism in the early 90s and the fall of American impenetrability a decade later, millennials intuit the the basic goodness of freedom and the right of all people to it more inherently than any generation in history .  Between the death of the Soviet system and 9/11, attitudes about individuals rights, pluralism, tolerance, and environmental stewardship evolved in what was, on the surface, something of a domestic perestroika.  With the turn of the century came the War on Terror, predicted by Samuel P. Huntington as the 90s closed, the war in Iraq, renewed calls for environmental sustainability, a potent movement toward eradicating discrimination based on gender identification or sexuality and, with the economic collapse of 2008, an emerging reconsideration of the basic good of American-style capitalism in a globalized, industrialized, and technologized context.   With the radical teachings of Jesus at its core, the church should have been well-positioned to lead in these areas in compelling ways.  Ironically, the Christian sub-cultures and churches that flourished most in the Bush-Clinton-Bush years were typically evangelical and typically suspicious, to say the least, of maturing 90s progressivism.  The census of mainline churches, many of whom had led the calls for economic justice, peace, and equality (often from far-off denominational offices) continued their decades-long downward trend, especially among young people.  If young people are more aligned with the the social witness of the mainline churches, why haven’t the mainline churches caught their social imagination with the radical vision and message of Jesus?  Two reasons widely lamented in the mainline itself:  1) its own inability (in some cases, unwillingness) to take Jesus as seriously as he demands to be taken, and 2) the relative zeal of the more conservative churches in doing just that, albeit with a socially anemic, spiritualized focus.  With some notable exceptions, the mainline has ceded the public discussion about the possibility of an intensely real relationship with God through the example of Jesus to the evangelical wing of the church.  To be sure, the most popular lights of the so-called Religious Left, people like Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, don’t come from Lutheran or Presbyterian settings but from places of fully realized evangelical conviction.   While the Religious Right has been very loud about the need for personal regeneration through a specific devotion to Jesus (and a specific interpretation of the catechisms of Paul), the mainline has struggled to express their radical social witness in compelling terms centered precisely on the life and work of Christ.  Conservative evangelical churches have drawn in people ready to admit their spiritual need for Jesus; mainline churches should be teeming with people who have found, in Jesus, the focus of what the world outside the church has raised them to intuit as good and true.  Instead, we find ourselves with a small (but growing) Religious Left of evangelicals and mainline Christians personally committed to Jesus in the fullness of his teachings, faithfully subverting the expectations of our media, our politics, and, of course, our churches.  If evangelicals embraced the subversion and reordering Jesus demands his followers apply to all power dynamics, even American ones, in pursuit of the kingdom network, and more mainline churches acted as if the kingdom were real, we’d have a robust witness for the margin and for rising generations.  That’s nothing more or less than the gospel Jesus gave us.

Even bloated, revenue-hungry industries and corporations have found ways in recent years to model aspects of what’s so compelling about the social prerogatives Jesus announces as the hallmarks of the kingdom network, the default realities of our condition.  They do it for, and usually only if it doesn’t hinder, their pursuit of a higher bottom line by appealing to emotional connections to values we already hold as self-evident and true: it’s better to be green, production lines should meet high standards of worker justice, healthier food should be more readily available across distribution networks and so on.  While many corporations enact some social good from within the scarcity model because a growing segment of the market holds the values of the kingdom network closely, others do so from the guiding values and principles of their leaders.  Apologists for theories of market-based moralities will point to organizations in the former model, arguing that, over time, the market corrects our social interactions and the way we treat the planet.  The degree to which we get excited about such incremental change has everything to do with timelines.  The moral arc of the universe is, indeed, long, bending toward justice, but the market won’t hurry what we the people won’t.  Even then, the market demands shortcuts, obfuscations.  Jesus demands we operate in the light of day in the best interests of everyone.  The market commodifies people.  Jesus frees them.

In recent years, Tom Brady and Payton Manning, two of the most gifted professional football players of their generation, optioned for reductions in total compensation so room could be made on their rosters for valued teammates under the National Football League’s salary cap regulations.  The NFL is a multi-billion-dollar industry thinly skating on the full-speed-ahead side of anti-trust legislation.  From a corporate standpoint, it is driven entirely by revenue.  Even recent public overtures in light of the concussion scandals feel more like best practices than commitments to justice.  Even so, Brady and Manning, operating within the scarcity model, have done something our scarcity-driven churches never consider.  Yes, Brady and Manning are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and their pay cuts aren’t like pay cuts taken by people in real occupations.  That said, show me a church that pays a highly-educated pastor less to pay a secretary or sexton more, and I’ll show you a practice a jaded, justice-starved rising generation can respect, perhaps engage in.  More to the point: if the early Christians held all things in common, why can’t large Protestant churches or the Catholic Church as a whole do the same?  Why can’t all the respective wealth going into salaries be summed and divided by the number of workers in the vineyard?  Why can’t the institution called church to a better job of mimicking the organism, church, from Acts?   Wouldn’t news of a rich church where a pastor got paid the same as a custodian go viral? Wouldn’t that be compelling? Look at the way Pope Francis’ radical economic message and personal interactions have sparked renewed interest in the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church and of that church in general.  Imagine if American churches of means raised the ante and said “not only are we unafraid to speak out against a world system that crushes the poor, but we’re also going to mimic the communitarianism of the early church in response.”

Instead, from a place of fear, American churches have hoarded their wealth in the interest of longevity, acting as if a communitarian model wouldn’t provide a compelling witness to the wider community, wouldn’t bolster the faith of the wider community in the intentions of the church, and wouldn’t, by the way, provide enough for everyone.  Too often, church leaders at the highest levels buy into American capitalism at the ground floor because they have profited from it.  As a result, their churches function accordingly, even when their wider mainline denominational settings have been more willing to challenge unjust status quos.  When churches, as potential nodes on the kingdom network, settle for the giving of charitable gifts in place of pursuing gospel justice, so much is lost.  Christians clinging to the radical teachings and examples of Jesus are viewed by their church institutions as too radical, an irony that is both tragic and true..  Jesus was too radical for the rulers of his day, not because he was too radical in contrast to some objective good, but because he threatened their systems and status by rejecting the scarcity model as a basic presumption.  When the radical message of Jesus is proclaimed but not undertaken within our churches, no fruit comes. We get sermons about love and justice and donations for the poor but do nothing about the fundamental causes of hatred, injustice, or poverty, not even among ourselves.  Worship becomes self-serving, following Jesus becomes about going to church on Sunday, and the world moves on without our prophetic witness or example.  We move on, too.  Our children graduate from our programs, possibly without ever engaging the radical charism of the gospel and of the Jesus that transforms ordinary people into agents for good, freed from the narrative of economic success or relative power as the narrow roads unto salvation, saved from the thousand ways those lies can kill us here and now. When churches relate to the world through the scarcity model, charity is cheap.  The prospect of giving life and blessing to our wider communities through the proclamation and example of relationships of justice in the kingdom model is lost, a guiding light smothered, a salt without taste offered to people looking for full lives of vigor and consequence.

When the institutional church gives to the work of the kingdom network without imbibing the kingdom ethos at the most basic of organizational levels, it may parallel the gospel in ways that help people in need, but as long as the institution church stops there, it will always be running in place.  Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said unless we consume his blood and body, we have no part in him or in his kingdom.  Shed and broken at the hands of system that rewards oppression with status, his blood and body are as precious as the Taize hymns proclaim.  They teach us what is real, they prove what is wrong, and they force us to remember.  Called to make this reality the cornerstone of our public witness, called to eat and drink and share this Bread of Life, the institutional church too often settles for sacraments of bland reenactment, for tiny cups and wafers, trickles of juice and small crumbs of bread, in spiritual and physical spaces where all are meant to feast.

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About this essay:

Following an introductory chapter, this document excerpts the first substantive chapter of a book project called insubordination: called to scandalize our institutions from within.  Queries about this project can be made via email at chriscocca@gmail.com

May This Be Our Story, May This Be Our Song

Neither in the depths of my study nor the depths of my spirit have I ever encountered this genteel, bourgeoisie Jesus some claim. Surely, should I ever, I’d leave him. I HAVE met and boldly worship the peasant of Palestine, the carpenter’s son, the voice of the margin, the God born into poverty, oppression and shit. I have held THAT torn hand in solidarity. I have embraced THAT scorned vision for life in the kingdom of God here and now. I have not done any of this perfectly. I have done none of it alone. Jesus Christ, I love you. I serve you because your vision is true, your Good News is good, because you have come to restore sight to blind, shelter to the unsheltered, freedom to the prisoner, and God’s favor to the oppressed. I want no part in a faith or way of life that does otherwise. This my hope and my prayer. Friends, let the grace of God abound.
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People Love Baseball Branding and History

spokane_indiansThis post from a while ago,”All MLB Cap Logos Since 1950 in One Fantastic Graphic” has been getting a lot of traffic recently.

The graphic itself, originally posted by a photobucket user,  is perfect.  It combines the best of great sites like Brand New and Uni-Watch, two staples of my weekly webbing, and the yeoman’s work Chris Creamer has done on the granddaddy of them all, SportsLogos.net.

The spike in traffic may have to do with our inching ever closer to spring, and, in recent days, the news that the Cleveland Indians are dropping Chief Wahoo from even more of their branding this year.  Good for them.  It’s about time.  Next, they need to take a cue from the Spokane Indians, because they just did something awesome.

What a refreshing contrast Spoaquin makes against other pro sports brands, most notably the football team in Washington, DC.  Dan Snyder, wise up already.

Does Mark Driscoll Plagiarize? Why I Sort of Don’t Care.

A few days ago, Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia made news for calling an openly gay pastor.  I’m proud of them for that and for many other things.

The same day, I saw a post on Religion Dispatch about Mark Driscoll’s alleged plagiarism scandal.   I can’t and don’t condone stealing, but I don’t know enough about what happened to even begin to guess what Driscoll did or didn’t do or mean to do.

If you don’t already know it, there are bigger problems with Driscoll that center on his penchant for misogyny and tropes of rhetorical violence. To some, he’s controversial because he’s loud and because he curses.  Very conservative Christians take offense to his working blue, but not to the things he says about gender roles or LGBT people. I don’t mind a preacher who curses every now and then.  Both Jesus and Paul knew the power of a well-placed “asshole” or “bullshit” (look it up if you don’t believe me).   Tony Campolo channeled all of this long ago with his pithy and scandalous truth about the word shit.

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

Some conservative Christians care more about Driscoll’s cursing than they do about the high rate of suicide in the LGBT community and about the ways views like Driscoll’s (effeminate boys should be roughed up and set straight) and theirs contribute to the literal and figurative beatings so many people are forced to take.  I call bullshit on that, and Jesus does, too.

I ‘m writing a new manuscript, part memoir, part manifesto about these kinds of things.  At Religion Dispatch I said:

I won’t speak to the plagiarism issue, but MD’s stance on gender roles and homosexuality are far more alarming than his “cussing.”

“Christian” ought to be synonymous with with radical inclusion and true equality. The Jesus I follow is. So often that kind of sentiment can sound haughty, elitist, judgmental, but that’s not my intention. I just feel like I have come to know a Jesus who radically stands up for the marginalized, beaten down, and oppressed and who undercuts the entire system so many of our institutions and churches embrace. Upward mobility means nothing. The celebrity pulpit means nothing, or worse, it’s all too often vanity. Radical calls for justice, peace, reconciliation and a totally up-ended relationship with power…these are the hallmarks of what he called the Kingdom of God. It can be so. Imperfectly, yes, but better than it is. We have a long way to go and much work to do.

A few folks voted those comments down.  That makes me sad, but I understand this much about it:  Christians following Jesus to the very real ends the earth, to the very real core of his teachings and living in the very real fellowship of his kingdom as experienced through the light of freedom his radical vision for society demands, we so-called “liberal” and sincere followers of the peasant-teacher of Palestine, we must do a better job of engaging the kinds of Christians many of us used to be.  Take Phil Robertson.  His faith in Christ is most likely beautiful, but his understanding of what Scripture is and how the gift of it bears witness to truly good news is flawed, not because he’s an evil man but because there are bridges too far in all of us.  So too among many in the mainstream of the aging evangelical movement, even as post-evangelicals or mainline Christians in rising generations search for places where they can seriously follow Jesus and seriously question their traditions, their churches and themselves, all without having to believe that homosexuality is sinful or that all without Christ are destined for literal, conscious, eternal torment.   The good news is supposed to be good, and it is.

Jesus teaches an ethic in which no bridge is finally too far and more bridges must be radically built.   His life and death command a fundamental deconstruction of upward ladders and spirals and other things that separate human beings from each other.  Breaking down barriers and breaking down walls will find us on the wrong side of religious, political, and economic institutions and institutionalisms.  It will never call us to victimize.

Plagiarism?  That’s not a victimless crime, but compared to some of the things we know Driscoll has willingly done, I’ll admit to some real ambivalence.  You might even say I don’t give a shit.

 

New Year, New Numbers on the Allentown Incinerator Deal, New Polling Numbers for Ed Pawlowski

I’m going to let you in on a little not-so secret secret.  Here in Allentown, nobody believes that the controversial DTE garbage-to-energy plant is going to be built.  My hunch is that some of the people pushing for it and guiding it through its controversial (and, in my opinion, contrived) approval didn’t believe it would come to fruition even then.  The City of Allentown spent $500,000 on consulting in support of this project as directed by Mayor Ed Pawlowski.   One is made to wonder if the whole project wasn’t just a washing of said $500,000 to political allies/campaign donors.  One is made to wonder.

The indefatigable Rich Fegley posted this today on Facebook and on Molivinsky:

“As the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association has stated, Pawlowski and PFM used FALSE and MISLEADING information to convince the Public and City Council that the 35-year INCINERATOR contract was “good” and “better than landfilling” for the City and would save us “$25 million”.

The FACT is that the City now will lose $113 million according to Pawlowski and PFM’s projections. The false landfill costs of $92.29 compared to Easton’s 2014 contracted price of $40.44 for the next 7-years.

Allentown will now lose $113 million according to Pawlowski’s own projections.

Does anyone care about this loss? This is a real number. I am still shocked that no one has really picked up on this shit storm yet.

Think about this, if Pawlowski and PFM basically lied to us about the 35-year incinerator deal, imagine what lies we have been told about the water & sewer lease? Even if not “lies”, what we were told was more than likely misleading, as a few of us in the community have been saying.

Imagine what false and misleading information we have been given regarding the water & sewer deal. And how about the pension deal?

This is embarrassing for the City of Allentown. Why are we allowing Pawlowski and PFM to mislead City Council and the Public?

I blame members of City Council for claiming IGNORANCE when it comes to these DEALS Pawlowski is making.

I have heard Council members claim ignorance when it comes to detailed legal contracts and financial projections. President Guridy has said that he must simply trust the Mayor and the attorneys and accountants.

Ignorance is bliss. Wake up Anonymous, we are all being duped.”

He also posted this:

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Most observers understand that Mr. Pawlowski never imagined he could actually win the governor’s race in 2014.   The suspicion among many is that the goal was to do well enough in the primary to land a spot in the incoming Democratic administration.  Some Pawlowski for Governor PAC money here and there to eventual nominee (all legal), bada bing, bada boom.  Michael Donovan and Rich Fegley have made that scenario all but impossible thanks to their stalwart efforts in this year’s mayoral election.  These things matter.

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Chuck Klosterman Is Wrong About Football (and Temporal Relativity)

At Grantland, a great and not great venture I love and don’t love, Chuck Klosterman says, repeatedly, that football’s popularity has nothing to do with its violence.

He also says:

Now, I realize an argument can be made that eroticized violence is inherent to any collision spectator sport, and that people who love football are tacitly endorsing (and unconsciously embracing) a barbaric activity that damages human bodies for entertainment and money. I get that, and I don’t think the argument is weak. However, it’s still mostly an abstraction. People will freak out when they eventually see someone killed on the football field (which, it seems, is now inevitable). But they won’t stop enjoying football. They might feel obligated to criticize it, and maybe they’ll temporarily stop watching. But they’ll still self-identify as “football fans,” because what they consciously like about the game is (almost certainly) not tied to people being hurt. Football is not like boxing; violence is central to the game, but it’s not the whole game. You can love it for a multitude of complex, analytical reasons. And that allows this cognitive dissonance to exist in perpetuity (i.e., “I know this is probably bad for society, but I desperately want it to continue”).

That’s a lot of hedging.

Here’s the thing.  When we were kids, my cousin and I would get as close to the fence at the local high school football games as we could just so we could hear helmets crack and other things pop. We were not violent children, his BAD-era Michael Jackson studded leather jacket notwithstanding.  We enjoyed football because we were supposed to, because big kids were running up and down the field, but also because those kids were trying to destroy each other.  They were big and we were small.  They could do things we’d only seen on Challenge of the Superfriends. It was empowering, it was wish fulfillment, and it was totally sanctioned by everyone.

Today, professional football players moan and groan about rules that are making the game too soft.  The very people that stand to gain the most from a softer game are leading the chorus against it, because “that’s football.”

Chuck, you have to know that the popularity and violence of football intersect all the time, for players and for fans.  If my cousin and I were living through the juniors and seniors of the William Allen High School football team, how many millions of people are living through the stars of today’s NFL?

And it’s not like those stars aren’t bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before, leaving longer trails of CTE in their wake.  It’s not like that upward physical curve, which manifests as some kind of violence on every play, isn’t part and parcel to football’s always-increasing popularity.  These things feed each other.  It’s like the longball, steroids, and the 90s.

Klosterman is right that there are other things about football to appreciate, but they’re all predicated on violence or the avoidance of violence.

It may or may not be the case that football, as an abstraction, is too violent.  But it’s certainly the case the football in its current form is too physically dangerous to be sustainable over the long term.

Klosterman says:

If football’s ever-rising popularity was directly tied to its ever-increasing violence, something might collapse upon itself: Either the controversy would fade over time, or it would become a terminal anchor on its expansion. But that’s not how it’s unfolding. These two worlds will never collide. They’ll just continue to intensify, each in its own vacuum. This column can run today, or it can run in 2022. The future is the present is the future.

No, Chuck, THIS column will be always be true, forever and ever and ever, because the beginning is the end is the beginning, or another Smashing Pumpkins song from Batman.