Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dawkins calls out weak-willed atheists

to come out of the closet and take a stand for the atheist cause.

(Why do I feel an altar call coming on? Must be deja vu all over again. Shudder.)

"I'm quite keen on the politics of persuading people of the virtues of atheism," Dawkins says, after we get settled in one of the high-ceilinged, ground-floor rooms. He asks me to keep an eye on his bike, which sits just behind him, on the other side of a window overlooking the street. "The number of nonreligious people in the U.S. is something nearer to 30 million than 20 million," he says. "That's more than all the Jews in the world put together. I think we're in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out. The more people who came out, the more people had the courage to come out. I think that's the case with atheists. They are more numerous than anybody realizes."

Dawkins looks forward to the day when the first U.S. politician is honest about being an atheist. "Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists," he says. "Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn't add up. Either they're stupid, or they're lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they've got a motive! Everybody knows that an atheist can't get elected."

Read more here.

Atheism is one of the most despised points of view to admit to in polite company. So I hear Dawkins' righteous indignation and would happily join the fray to stick up for our "no belief in God" or "believe there is no God" human family members. Still, Rich lacks style points in my book—a polemicist whose noisy presentation often obscures his substance. Still, I get a kick out listening to what he says, sort of the same way I enjoy clubbing my eardrums with Hannity and Limbaugh on a bleak afternoon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Keisha Castle-Hughes and Mary

So will you go to see "The Nativity" (the feature film about Jesus's parents)? Critics hate it. The story outside the film is more interesting that the film itself, apparently. Keisha (who plays Mary) is living a wayward, updated version of the virgin in real life: she's 16 and pregnant out of wedlock. Chief differences between the two: Keisha had sex to get pregnant and the father is her 19-year-old boyfriend. Oh, and I think we're short a couple of angelic visitations as well.

There's a bit of a bru-ha-ha over why the Pope didn't go to the Vatican's premiere showing. Some "eager to spread gossip" bloggers are saying he didn't attend because of the unwed teen playing the part of Mary. You know, not wanting to support the idea of pregnancy outside of marriage and all.

Ah, but I think that reasoning is too predictable, too cliched. What if he had more artistic concerns in mind and thought: typecast. Okay, I'll knock it off. Just a bit punch drunk after all the debate over on

The whole story got under my skin today. Thing of it is, I just don't know how any of us can speak with such authority about what happened to Mary. Maybe a better title for this film would have been, "There's Something About Mary."

Our perpetual virgin is so shrouded in dogma, layers of narrative, veneration, doctrinal development (and deconstruction), mythology, reported appearances, and thousands of years of devotion (as well as equally passionate and devoted repudiation by hardcore Protestants) that no one can think straight about her.

Talk about a taboo topic! Who can challenge the nativity?

So I'm curious. What do you, my esteemed readers, believe about Mary? Was she a virgin? Ever after as well? Did she really ride a donkey into Bethlehem and give birth in a stable? Did she and Joseph receive angelic visitations?

And will you see the film?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Black youth continue to be target for NYPD

I wish I could write a light-hearted post tonight. I can't. I feel ill.

I sat in traffic on the way back from Xavier, stomach twisting with bile, as I listened to Sean Hannity rail on Charles Barron (NY City Councilman) calling Barron a racist. Barron stated with passion that New York City must not be surprised if there is an explosion in the black community if justice is not served after the recent shooting of 23 year old Sean Bell (the night before his wedding). NYTimes article.

Barron attempted to explain to the bone-headed Hannity (while Hannity used his "shout-over-the-caller" technique) that what happened was evidence of institutional racism. Hannity clearly has not been to college in 25 years as he did not seem to know what institutional racism is. Simply because Hannity could cite a black and Latino police officer among those who shot the 50 (that's right 50) rounds into Bell and his two friends, he cannot assume color-blind justice at work.

As Barron patiently pointed out (with quite a bit of self-control, I might add - I, otoh, was in danger of swerving off the road in a rage), the racism is not in the individuals but is systemic within the NYPD itself. Police departments in large cities typically see black males as automatically dangerous. They are predisposed to assume so. Add to it that in the history of police shooting young adult black men, they are never convicted of criminal over-reaction. Even high profile cases end in the police getting off.

I remember my professor of black theology, who grew up in New York, saying that in 100 years of records, and after all the shootings of NYPD against black youths, no convictions against the police have ever been won. Not one (according to him - I tried to do research but am failing to come up with it). As Dr. Clark would say to the police, Every time you shot you were justified in pulling the trigger? You didn't mistake a cell phone for a gun, ever? You didn't slip up and let fear make your decision rather than protocol even once in 100 years?

How many young blacks have to die for mistakes, for the assumption that they are dangerous?

The Cincinnati riots of 2001 were caused by the fatal shooting of 19 year old Timothy Thomas (he was shot in the back). We had another shooting of a 14 year old in October.

I lived in Los Angeles during the travesty of the Rodney King trial and the riots that followed.

For Hannity to think that there isn't a generalized fear of blacks among whites (whether police officers or civilians) that translates into misuse of force is to choose to be deliberately ignorant of the facts.
Between February 1995 and April 2001, fifteen black males under the age of 40 were killed by police, while no other males from other races were killed by police (during apprehension, chase, confrontation or while in custody in cruisers).[1] Police reports reflect that nationwide in the United States, whites resist arrest at a rate far less than blacks, however, during the time span cited, regardless of the crime or whether or not white suspects resisted, no whites died in police custody.

The disproportionate death rate, although often cited as the most dramatic, was not the only aspect of the charges. A local independent magazine, City Beat, published research that an "analysis of 141,000 traffic citations written by Cincinnati Police in a 22-month period found black drivers twice as likely as whites to be cited for driving without a license, twice as likely to be cited for not wearing a seat belt and four times as likely to be cited for driving without proof of insurance." National trend or localized anomaly, the lawsuit was based on a disproportional number of arrests, citations, and deaths. Some note that the number of deaths during confrontations with police is relatively proportional for a city the size of Cincinnati but the focus of the lawsuit was on the fact that only Blacks died during that span.

Despite all the situations which led to the deaths of the young black males, no police were ever found guilty through any civil or criminal trials; in only one case were the police officers involved reprimanded and given extra training (Death of Michael Carpenter by Officers Michael Miller, III and Brent McCurley). Wikipedia entry about Cincinnati's race relations and the riots.

The truth is, whites don't fear the police generally speaking. We expect to be treated fairly. I don't know a single white person who has ever been mistreated, shot at or killed by a police officer. Consequently, the stories in my head about police are that they can be trusted to do their jobs correctly.

What stories do inner city blacks tell each other? What do they know?

I remember when OJ was let off the hook after his trial. I lived in L.A. at the time and we all sat stunned as jury member after jury member declared that they believed the LAPD had planted evidence against him. What? Were they insane? The LAPD was this incredibly reliable police force—trustworthy and honest. So we thought.

Only a year later did it come out that the LAPD planted evidence routinely to convict suspected criminals. It hit me with force (like a shot in the back) that the jurors saw the police as untrustworthy and out to get them. The glove that didn't fit? Yep! Evidence planted. Fit with the stories they knew.

How incredible that in the same city where Rodney King's trial was moved to Simi Valley followed by no convictions which outraged the black community, the OJ trial was moved from Santa Monica to downtown LA and rendered a verdict equally incomprehesible to whites.

In light of all the black theology over the last few weeks, and the discussion of racism in Michael Irvin's comments and Michael Richards as well, it seems bitterly disillusioning to hear of Bell's death at the hands of police. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song called American Skin "41 Shots" based on that shooting in New York City from a few years ago. He sang it on tour, here, the year that Cincinnati was boycotting businesses over the Timothy Thomas shooting. Catch the refrain:

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret
(It ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret
(It ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
Your American skin

That's just it. When I say listen to communities, this is what I'm talking about. We have totally different narratives at work inside us, inside our skin. Even my professor was stopped for a "routine" driver's license "check" within two weeks of moving to Cincinnati. He wasn't speeding. He drives a nice car. He was wearing a suit.

That has never happened to me or Jon. But we're white.

I almost posted about the tasering event against the Iranian student at UCLA last week but the video was so upsetting, I let it go. How ironic. Sean Bell didn't get tasered. He got killed. On the eve of his wedding. Nice going NYPD.

One more article. This one is worth reading.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Casino Royale: A Bond for every man (and woman!)

Finally some eye candy for the ladies! Ay-yi-yi!

Funny thing is that blondes are usually not my thang. See handsome photo of my formerly brunette hubster.

Still, aside from Daniel Craig being effin' hot, the movie was the perfect Bond movie. Casino Royale is the story of how Bond came to be a "00." Judy Dench has the right feisty touch which creates the tension of whether or not this blustering Bond will ever get the finesse necessary to be certified by the dame. Craig lends vulnerability to the role which adds interest (read: I want to tame and soothe you, Mr. Bond!). And to show just how far this poor James must claw to the top, we see him enter his first driving scene in, wait for it, a Ford. I did the requisite double take.

When this Bond gets in fights, cuts and scrapes litter his face for a respectable length of time, as though he had actually been in a fight which caused cuts and scrapes. Novel idea! In fact, there are even moments when this Bond is not downright gorgeous... I know! So not Bond! For one frame, I thought his ears looked like William Macy's. (Sorry Daniel.) And yet, there is something essentially sexy about a Bond who is not all champagne and caviar, but has flappy ears and makes mistakes and shows hubris that costs him.

And well, those scenes on the beach... yes, they were too long for Jon, but too short for me.

The movie opens with an unforgettable sequence that pays homage to Parkour (click here for movie clips). Parkour is the French name for "urban gymnastics." Learned all about it from my son who is a part of a Parkour group in Cincinnati. Apparently the opening action/chase mirrors a famous Parkour sequence in the movie Banlieue 13 (District 13) by David Belle, Parkour's most famous innovator.

Every action scene held my attention which is a feat in itself. Usually I get bored after the third car is blown up. This time, the novelty of Parkour, the stairwell fight, the surprising car chases, the bad guy's eye that bleeds... it all held up.

Lastly, I've gotta give props to Eva Green, the first smart, complex Bond girl... ever. One reviewer said she had depth and I agree. And great hair.

If you need an escape from the humdrum life in the 'burbs, go see this movie.

If you have kids to take to the movies, you could do worse than "Happy Feet." It's not perfect by a long shot, but the musical numbers that pay tribute to Stevie Wonder, Queen and Diana Ross are winners.

Congratulations to Bengals, Skins, Chiefs

fans who read here! Woo-hoo. Good shows all around.

Bengals: 30-0... that's right zippo! We're not all that cocky, though. Thursday night is Ravens here at home - short week and the Ravens are dominating our division. So...

And sorry about Dave's Lions. Just not their year. Ugh.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Irish go down in flames

And this Bruin has nothing but respect for Pete Carroll. What a coach.

Dare I ask it? Is Brady Quinn over-rated as a QB?

More reflections on the game: Did it seem to you that the commentators worked especially hard to pretend this game was a "great game" and a "close game" when it has been clear since halftime that the Trojans had the whole thing sewn up?

They tried to say Booty's confidence was shaken. Spare me. ND showed a little heart with the interceptions, but they have been short circuiting in the scoring department for the entire game.

Dare I admit it? I may have to root for the Trojans to go to the BCS Championship. I don't think anyone else can give OSU a run for their money. Still, the Bruins have their shot at USC next week and I know I won't abandon my Bruins until after that game.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to all

I may or may not blog this weekend, but wanted to send out warm wishes to all you early morning Friday shoppers (I am not one). Go forth, and find deals!

I'll be working on college apps with my daughter and then on Saturday, will be preoccupied with the USC-ND game (rooting for the Irish while my husband roots for SC... yes, this Bruin still shares his bed, amazingly).

So unless I have a burst of energy before then, see you on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm getting Googled in Arabic script!

(I don't know if this is Arabic or Farsi, but isn't it pretty?)

Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick: Cutting Edge Social Commentary

So you've probably all heard the scuttle-but about Michael "Kramer" Richards and his Mel Gibson-like racist tirade at a Comedy Club last week. He apologized at the behest of Seinfeld on Letterman the other night. (Don't you love the word "behest"?)

I first heard of the story on ESPN radio. Colin Cowherd stepped out in front of the train that would surely come and stated that the apology was not adequate to overturn the outrage expressed in Richards' comments. There are some words, some types of name-calling that can never be taken back. He identified what is wrong with Richards' rant: the deep-seated contempt in every sentence. That level of racism cannot be tolerated, nor can it be taken back through an apology.

A caller to his show (southern, white) got on his high horse and challenged Colin: When black comedians hammer whites, why don't they draw the same kind of national furor? Selective racism?

At this moment, Colin went into my personal hall of fame. Paraphrased: Listen, blacks have endured hundreds of years of oppression and subjugation at the hands of white people. Don't tell me that we have to allow that kind of garbage because Chris Rock calls white people "Krackers" in his comedy routine. Chris Rock and any other black comedian can say whatever they want about us for a couple hundred years. We owe them that much. But whites may NEVER cross that line, ever, because of our history, because of what we did. Click (phone call terminated), his rant followed.

For those with morbid curiosity, the original clip of Richards' stomach-turning remarks is below:

YouTube (It is obscene and offensive: be ye forewarned).

Surprisingly, Dan Patrick (The Big Show on ESPN radio) had the strange misfortune of being on Letterman's show the same night as Richards and watched from back stage as the entire apology unfolded right before he went on the air to "chat" with Dave. Dan was mortified, as are we all. Yet what I liked about hearing Dan address this topic is that he has consistently called out whites (and blacks... as you'll see) for their thinly veiled racist attitudes and remarks.

For instance, Dan criticized sports writers when he noticed that they tend to describe black quarterbacks as "great athletes" whereas they admire white QBs for being "smart and hard working." And then he asks, "Why?" and leaves you hanging with your discomfort.

He went on to say that when a black athlete is interviewed, a white commentator will often remark: "He was well-spoken" whereas when a white commentator interviews a white player, no such remark is made.

Michael Irvin (former Dallas wide receiver -thanks Ish) on Dan's Big Show on Monday claimed that Tony Romo (Dallas' QB who replaced Drew Bledsoe) must have had some great, great, great, great Grandma who "got it down in the 'hood' or the barn or something" with a black man to account for Romo's talent. Dan Patrick challenged Irvin, asking if that is the only way Romo could be a good athlete. Irvin laughed and moved on. Dan and Keith Olberman were utterly perplexed and said so once the interview ended. Listen here. Ugh!

What stands out to me about all this racial stuff is: These sports guys seem to get it. At least, they see the issues, and say so.

Sports guys! Making social judgments. Do you think being in a world where blacks and whites must get along and where respect and admiration runs deep between the races might just help a wee bit? Sounds like it. After years of Rush, Hannity and Glenn "I'm really white" Beck and their poor attempts to cover up racism when it shows up in their constituencies, I love listening to these sports guys.

In other sports news: UCLA is hot in basketball (beat KY last night—which means a lot more to me now in KY's shadow than it did in Westwood).
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute scored 18 points despite playing the final 8½ minutes with four fouls. He scored six of UCLA's last 10 points, ignoring the foul trouble to go inside for the first four points and then throwing down a dunk on the break to make it 69-65 with 25 seconds to play.

This has to be their year. Has to be! (Right, Steve? - chief Bruin in the blogosphere)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Black theology's gauntlet

Today's column continues my series on black theology. I will be winding it up next week, I believe. I have another blog post to publish about women and being heard so I'll do that after this one has been up for a little bit. The column didn't get published until tonight.

This week has been an odyssey of seeing how difficult it is to listen. It's also been an exercise in frustration at times in not feeling heard. Clearly those experiences influenced today's column.

My UPI column will be posted later today

I'm heading off to co-op so no time to blog. I started one yesterday that I hope to finish tonight. In the meantime, have a great morning.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I can't look.... those Bengals...

I'm listening on the radio instead of watching on TV. Little comfort.

Still, the pundits who declared the points would rack up like a slot machine couldn't be more wrong. This is a defensive battle by two weak defenses. Crazy.

Update: Woo-hoo! 31-16 That's what I'm talkin' bout!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

But the real football story is... Cincinnati!

The University of Cincinnati (commonly referred to as UC out here - not to be confused with University of California schools) is eating undefeated Rutgers' lunch and dinner!

We are so stoked! Noah is a student, Jon teaches there and well, hey. We don't have any football teams in Cinci apart from UC. So this is a big deal. UC has had the toughest schedule in the NCAA (according to all the pundits). They're 5 and 1 at home. But what's most interesting is that they've played well against teams like OSU and Louisville, even though in the end they lose.

To beat Rutgers would be such a feather in their cap. Score right now: 27-3.

Update: Did I really write "feather in their cap"? Blech. Rinse, spit.

Update #2: UC rolled over Rutger's: 30-11. They stole the show, the dance, the night. Nick Davila, UC's QB, has not started a game... ever. Grutza (starter) was injured and Davila showed up unannounced and made it happen. Talk about storybook fairytales. He's a senior, from California, transferred from a junior college, has never started a game and it was senior night. What a night for him and the whole program!

And Cincinnati... Trivia question: why do sports casters always take a trip to Skyline chili when they do Cincinnati sporting events?

A Bruin Affair: Rooting for OSU

Corona with lime? Check.
Overpriced Boar's Head Deli meats? Check.
Jungle Jim's famous assorted olives from the bar? Check?
Flat screen TV? Oh yeah!

As an exiled southern California in midwestern diaspora, I've been sentenced to years of rivalry irrelevance. Usually when UCLA plays USC, I'm stuck watching someone like Kent State versus Ball State. (Happy to report this year that it looks like ABC may bail me out and show my beloved rivalry game.)

Back when Terry Donahue coached the incomparable UCLA Bruins and Rick Neuheisel wasn't betting on basketball but was throwing great passes, the Rose Bowl was an annual celebration of Pac-10 dominance and the Big-Ten represented (to me) a bunch of middle-aged balding white guy alums who flew in from Wisconsin or Michigan to get a couple of days in the sun while we beat up their team. Or so I thought.

Now that I'm in the land of the Big Ten, I've discovered just how good this conference is, how tenaciously loyal the fans are, and I have to pony up and admit, my pale skin betrays a genetic connection to the middle west, after all. (Both parents raised in Chicago and my father is a Fighting Irish alum!)

Today, I realize after seven years wandering in the midwestern wilderness, the Michigan-Ohio State game actually means a little bit to me. I've caught the Buckeye bug and am looking forward to rooting for Troy Smith to take out the Wolverines. I can't believe I care! (Fortunately I don't care that much. I can't take another Bengals loss tomorrow...)

So, enjoy the big game. We will.

Also, just wanted to say: Peace on Bo's soul. What an icon! Michigan may have the emotional edge today as a result.

Update: Buckeyes win! And now we can hold on to the hope that Troy Smith will win the Heismann. He is one smart, fast, creative QB.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Mark Driscoll Firestorm

Mark Driscoll has "apologized" for his insulting remarks about women made in the wake of the Ted Haggard scandal. The most offensive are these:
Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.

I was first linked to these comments by a friend who is not an evangelical and who had never heard of Driscoll. I read them and dismissed them as the rantings of a self-indulgent up-and-coming pastor who liked to make wise-cracks as insider jokes to his buddies.

Alas, the Internet did not render the same verdict. All kinds of responses have been launched at Mark. TallSkinnyKiwi has a good summary of the varieties of reactions to the offending remarks.

Honestly, I hardly care any more what some guy in a church says about women, Christianity, or sex. What I found more intriguing was the way sincere requests for apologies within the emergent movement were first, dismissed and then side-stepped in that "poor excuse for an apology" letter, and more fascinating still, how many men rushed to Mark's defense. Had these comments been made about a race or ethnic group (blacks or Mexicans) or made by Muslims, I think Christians would consider them insulting and ignorant. Why Mark gets a pass is beyond me.

Humorous response: The People Against Fundamentalism are rallying the troops! Using their mad fundamentalist skill set, they will picket and protest Mark's "misogynist" remarks in front of his church on Sunday... you know, to show them the Truth and to Rescue women from not being smart enough to recognize how dangerous Mark really is to them.

What's up with sex?

Bilbo has a post with lots of questions about sex and he needs answers! :) If you have time and interest, pop by and give him help sorting these out.

Sound familiar? (Moderate Muslim Manifesto)

Faith and Public Engagement

In the public sphere, I increasingly come back to what business it is of the state or the community--especially a community living as a minority--what the sexuality of a member of the community is.

Secondly, the other question I come back to is "What kept Umar up at night?" Was it whether someone might be engaging in homosexual conduct? Or whether a woman in his realm might not be conforming to the religion's requirements of "Hijab"? Or whether anyone--including, very clearly women, homosexuals, or even sinners and kafirs--would go to bed hungry? Which one of those did the second Caliph, one we often refer to as (not bringin The Prophet into) the greatest administrator Islam has had, think Allah would ask him on the Day of Judgement about?

And then I have difficulty going beyond that in terms of public policy. Should we be talking about whether anyone is dying of hunger in Afghanistan, or whether there are any apostates of homosexuals in Afghanistan or in downtown Toronto? Which one will Allah ask me about on The Day of Judgement?
(from: ifaqeerwikispace)

Ifaqeer in comments led me to his various sites and I've been enjoying reading the way the debate in Islam is being conducted through the various links he offers.

If you replaced the names of the groups with names we know: does Jerry Falwell speak for Christianity? Are we to be more interested in whether a woman speaks in a church service (Mark Driscoll) or with feeding the poor (Jim Wallis)? How much should the state be influenced by Christian morality and belief systems?

My oh my! I feel like a huge door flew open! Good stuff.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Reza Aslan: Xavier

I don't have a photo from Tuesday night (wasn't there) but this one approximates what he looked like behind the podium (watched the video yesterday).

Reza spoke both to our class and then lectured to the community Tuesday night. One word describes his treatment of Islam, terrorism, the current relations between the west and the east:


Finally an academic who gets it. Finally someone who understands both Islam and the scope of the difficulties within it.

I’ve had an uneasy relationship to both Islam as a religion and to Muslims. While I’ve come to love and value Muslims I know personally for their hospitality and the simplicity of their devotion to God, I’ve also developed a fear of Islam in general. That fear was accelerated by 9/11, not caused by it. Having lived in Morocco during the Gulf War and for several years before that, I saw firsthand how utterly other their form of faith and identity were to the way we in America saw ours.

I resented the way women were treated as possessions and sex objects, I couldn't comprehend the way most Muslims were non-practicing yet very defensive and evangelistic, and it appeared to me that the faith itself encouraged a superiority rooted in shame that led to a twisted self-image.

Fundamentalists seemed on the brink all the time of being set off... leading to violence. The government worked over time to ferret them out to head off those kinds of demonstrations.

Moroccans resented the west (even as they admired it) and their resentment looked all the way back to the Crusades, included the European colonialist period, and extended itself to the American-backed corrupt leadership of the Arab world which enabled both Wahabism and secularist versions of Islam to thrive, both of which common Muslims rejected as being out of step with “true Islam.”

Reza Aslan described a Muslim's relationship to America as "Yankee, go home, and take me with you."

Even though the public party line in a country like Morocco had to be support of the king (or find yourself in a dark cell on the back side of the Atlas mountains for 25 years), the subtle yet palpable sentiment underneath the public declarations of loyalty was yearning. Moroccan Muslims yearned for a day when they could see their most perfect of faiths rise to a level of control over society that would lead them into a brighter tomorrow, where problems like hunger, economic hardship, unemployment, the vices of the west and apathetic Islamic practice would fall away.

Sound familiar? Anyone who has spent time in triumphalist movements or hyper fundamentalist Christianity knows what I'm talking about. There's an ideal form of the faith that if practiced purely, will lead to a kingdom on earth! That's similar to how many Muslims talk about Islam. The problems in the Muslim world are never with the religion; they are always located in its imperfect practice (particularly as tarnished by state leaders who are not legitimate Muslim leaders).

Reza Aslan gave language to the uneasy experiences I had. Until now, Riffat Hassan, Karen Armstrong and other lecturers usually gave some kind of apologetic for Islamic violence, or distanced the "true" Islam from the extremists without actually unfolding the tumultuous internal conflict of the Muslim world. I've usually left those meetings feeling like Muslims hold the west responsible for negative stereotypes and the exploitation of the Arab world for oil as the reasons for extremists... and they sort of wipe Islam's hands of any relationship to those more embarassing manifestations of the faithful.

Aslan certainly pointed his finger at the west when necessary, but he emphasized that the reformation under way has little to do with us, really. It has everything to do with seizing a moment in history and becoming something more than they've ever been. I finally get it.

I've got a fatwa for you!

In keeping with the theme of the week, Aslan stated that fatwas (via the Internet) are now a dime a dozen and the faithful can shop for the ones they want to follow (sort of like scanning the bookshelves in a xtn bookstore for the "right" parenting book or the right way to pray... you decide, rather than relying on a papal bull or encyclical). No relying on clerics to issue how to practice the faith; you can pick the fatwas you want to follow!

Here's for a sample of how the Internet is changing the face of Islam. combines the latest news events with fatwas (see lower righthand box as you scroll).

Gives some substance to the ideas Aslan is expressing: reformation, baby, and we get to watch it happen.

Better yet: Reza Aslan in his own words!

I still have to write that paper, but now I have help! I found the lecture in article form on the website of the Boston Globe. This article was written in September and is the mirror image of the lecture he gave here in Cincinnati. I would much rather you read his comments about Islam than mine. He is passionate, articulate and I have a hunch, states ideas you have never considered or thought about. His opening paragraph alone was news to me. Why hadn't I heard of this conference denouncing violence in the name of Islam? Why didn't I know that only clerics are supposed to issue fatwas, not radicals like bin Laden?

So please read this article (posted in entirety below). Then we can chat! :)

The Boston Globe
The war for Islam
Osama bin Laden may go down in history not only as the murderous criminal who declared holy war on the United States, but also as a radical figure in what has come to be called the Islamic Reformation--the epic struggle to define the faith of over a billion people.

By Reza Aslan | September 10, 2006

ON JULY 6TH, 2005, in an unprecedented display of intersectarian collaboration, 170 of the world's leading Muslim clerics and scholars gathered in Amman, Jordan, to issue a joint fatwa, or legal ruling, denouncing all acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam.

This belated attempt by the traditional clerical institutions to assert some measure of influence and authority over the world's Muslims was surely one of the most interesting developments in what has become an epic battle to define the faith and practice of over a billion people. Never before in the history of Islam had representatives of every major sect and school of law assembled as a single body, much less come to terms on issues of mutual concern.

Yet what made the Amman declaration so remarkable was not its condemnation of terrorism-since Sept. 11, 2001, similar statements have been issued by countless Muslim organizations throughout the world, despite perceptions to the contrary in the West. Rather, it was the inclusion of an all-encompassing fatwa reminding Muslims that only those who have dedicated a lifetime of study to the traditional Islamic sciences-in other words, the clerics themselves-could issue a fatwa in the first place.

This statement was a deliberate attempt to strip Islamic militants like Osama bin Laden of their self-proclaimed authority to speak for the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.

But if these clerics thought they could exert their authority over the militants, they were mistaken. The following day, July 7, four young British Muslims obliterated themselves and 52 bus and tube passengers during the height of rush hour. The London bombers, like the perpetrators of similar attacks in Madrid, New York, Tunisia, Turkey, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali, Egypt, and, most dramatically, Iraq, believed they were heeding bin Laden's call for global jihad.

No wonder, then, that since 9/11 bin Laden has taken on an almost mythic stature in the world's imagination as the undisputed leader of a unified global network of Islamic terrorism (more properly termed ``jihadism"). Indeed, in President Bush's mind, bin Laden is a modern-day Hitler or Lenin. But in the minds of many scholars of Islam and observers of the Muslim world, bin Laden is not only a murderous criminal; he has transformed himself into one of the principal figures of what many now call ``the Islamic Reformation."

Obviously the term ``reformation" has certain unavoidable Christian and European connotations that are simply not applicable to the complex sociopolitical conflicts plaguing much of the Arab and Muslim world. And any comparison of people and events in the 16th century to those of the 21st century must come with the caveat that historical analogies are never simple and should be handled with care. But the Christian Reformation, it should be remembered, was, above all else, an argument over who has the authority to define faith: the individual or the institution. In many ways, this same argument is now taking place within Islam, with similarly violent consequences.

Despite common perception in Europe and the United States, bin Laden's primary target is neither Christians nor Jews (both of whom are referred to by Al Qaeda as ``the far enemy") but rather Islam's traditional clerical institutions along with those hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not share his puritanical worldview (``the near enemy") and who, as a consequence, make up the overwhelming majority of Al Qaeda's victims.

. . .

To be sure, unlike Christianity, Islam has never had anything like a ``Muslim pope" or a ``Muslim Vatican." Religious authority in Islam is not centralized within a single individual or institution; rather, it is scattered among a host of exceedingly powerful clerical institutions and schools of law.

This authority, it must be understood, is self-conferred, not divinely ordained. Like a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim cleric is a scholar, not a priest. His judgment on a particular issue is respected and followed not because it carries the authority of God, but because the cleric's scholarship is supposed to grant him deeper insight into what God desires of humanity. Consequently, for 1,400 years Islam's clerical institutions have managed to maintain their monopoly over religious interpretation by maintaining a monopoly over religious learning.

That is no longer the case. The last century has witnessed dramatic increases in literacy and education throughout the Arab and Muslim world, giving both Muslim men and women unprecedented access to new ideas and sources of knowledge. The result has been a steady erosion in the religious authority of Islam's traditional clerical institutions. After all, most Muslims no longer need go to a mosque to hear the words of God; they can experience the Koran for themselves, in their own homes, among their own friends, and increasingly, in their own languages.

Over the last century, the Koran has been translated into more languages than in the 14 centuries previous. Until recently, some 90 percent of the world's Muslims, for whom Arabic is not a primary language, had to depend on their clerical leaders to define the meaning and message of the Koran. Now, as more and more Muslim laity, and especially Muslim women, are studying the Koran for themselves, they are increasingly brushing aside centuries of traditionalist, male-dominated, and often misogynistic, clerical interpretation in favor of a highly individualized and more gender-neutral reading of Islam. By seizing the power of interpretation from the iron grip of the clerical institutions, these individuals are not only actively reinterpreting Islam according to their own evolving needs, they are shaping the future of this rapidly expanding and deeply fractured faith.

To see how this radical ``individualization" of the Muslim world is affecting traditional notions of religious authority, one only need visit the magnificent city of Cairo, the cultural capital of the Muslim world. For more than a millennium, Cairo's famed Al-Azhar University has served as the center of Islamic scholarship. Within its hallowed walls, generations of male scriptural scholars (the ulama) have labored to construct a comprehensive code of conduct, called the shariah, meant to regulate every aspect of the believer's life. There was a time when Muslims from all over the world consulted Al-Azhar's revered scholars about everything from how to pray properly to how to properly dispose of fingernail clippings. No longer.

Today, if a Muslim wants legal or spiritual advice on how to live a righteous life, he or she is just as likely to pass over the antiquated scholarship of Al-Azhar for the televised broadcasts of the wildly popular Egyptian televangelist Amr Khaled, who is not a cleric and who has never studied Islam or Islamic law in any official capacity. Nevertheless, through his weekly television program, in which he dispenses his sage advice on religious and legal matters to tens of millions of Muslims throughout the world-from Detroit to Jakarta-Amr Khaled has utterly usurped the role traditionally reserved for Islam's clerical class.

And he is not alone. The Internet-whose role in the Islamic Reformation clearly parallels that of the printing press in the Christian Reformation-has now made it possible for many Muslims to draw upon the opinions of not only their own clerical leaders, but also of a host of Muslim activists and academics who are propounding fresh and innovative interpretations of Islam.

Fifty years ago, if a Muslim in, say, Malaysia, wanted a legal ruling on a disputed topic, he had access only to the religious opinion of his neighborhood cleric, whose word, at least to his followers, was essentially law. Now, that Muslim can troll the vast databases of or, both of which provide ready-made fatwas on every question imaginable. He can send an e-mail to Amr Khaled (, or to Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (, or to any number of Muslim scholars-clerics and nonclerics alike-who are more than happy to spread their influence beyond their local communities. And because no centralized religious authority exists in Islam to determine whose opinion is sound and whose is not, Muslims can simply follow whichever fatwa they like best.

Welcome to the Islamic Reformation.

. . .

Of course, much as the Christian Reformation ushered in multiple, often conflicting, and sometimes baffling interpretations of Christianity, so has the Islamic Reformation created a number of wildly divergent and competing interpretations of Islam. Perhaps it is inevitable that, as religious authority passes from institutions to individuals, there will be men and women whose radical reinterpretations of religion will be fueled by their extreme social and political agendas.

It is in this sense that Osama bin Laden can be viewed as one of the Islamic Reformation's most influential figures. In fact, generations from now, when historians look back on this tumultuous time, they may compare bin Laden not to Lenin or Hitler, but rather to the so-called reformation radicals of Christianity-men like Thomas Muntzer, Jacob Hutter, Hans Hut, or even Martin Luther-who pushed the principle of religious individualism and militant anticlericalism to its terrifying limits.

Like his 16th-century Christian counterparts, bin Laden is concerned above all else with the purification of his own religion. Al-Qaeda is, after all, a puritanical movement whose members consider themselves the only true believers, and believe all other Muslims are hypocrites, impostors, and apostates who must be convinced of their folly or abandoned to their horrible fate.

Bin Laden has shown he is willing to use any means necessary to purify Islam of what he considers to be its adulteration at the hands of the clerical establishment. While his tactics are immoral and horrifying, his justification for the use of violence is not so different than that used by reformation radicals like Martin Luther, who defended the massacre of his Protestant opponents by claiming that ``in such a war, it is Christian and an act of love to strangle the enemies confidently, to rob, to burn, and do all that is harmful until they are overcome."

But what most connects bin Laden and the Reformation radicals of the 16th century is his deliberate attempt to seize for himself the powers traditionally reserved for the institutional authorities of his religion. Luther challenged the papacy's right to be the sole interpreter of the Scripture; bin Laden challenges the right of the clerical establishment to be the sole interpreters of Islamic law. That is why he repeatedly issues his own fatwas, despite the fact that, as the Amman declaration sought to remind Muslims, only a cleric affiliated with one of Islam's recognized schools of law has the authority to do so.

Even more striking is bin Laden's fundamental reinterpretation of the Koranic concept of jihad. What was once considered a collective duty waged solely under the command of a qualified clerical authority, has, in bin Laden's hands, become a radically individualistic and violent obligation totally divorced from any institutional power. In short, bin Laden's vision of Islam is one that is devoid of institutional control, where anyone can issue a fatwa and anyone can declare jihad.

It is this conscious recasting of religious authority that has made bin Laden so appealing to those Muslims, especially in Europe, whose sense of social, economic, or religious alienation from their own communities make them yearn for alternative sources of leadership. In his speeches and writings, bin Laden warns these disaffected Muslims not to listen to their own clerics, whom he considers incapable of addressing their needs. In fact, he claims that following the leadership of these ``takfiri," or ``apostate" clerical authorities (by which he means those who disagree with his interpretation of Islam), is ``tantamount to worshipping [them] rather than God." He then defiantly takes upon himself the duty traditionally reserved for Islam's clerical class of ``enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong."

It is a clever manipulative trick: convince Muslims to stop obeying their clerical authorities, while taking upon yourself their traditional clerical duties.

The struggle to define religious faith, as we know from Christian history, can be a chaotic and bloody affair. And the Islamic Reformation has some way to go before it is resolved. It may be too early to speculate how much bin Laden's radical individualism will influence Islam in the coming years. But it is important to note that bin Laden's voice is but one among the chorus of voices clamoring to define the Islamic Reformation.

There are millions of individuals who, by seizing powers of interpretation for themselves, are developing new and innovative interpretations of Islam: some promoting peace and tolerance, others promoting bigotry and puritanism. Who will win this war for the future of the Islamic faith remains to be seen. But once begun, the struggle cannot be stopped.

Reza Aslan is a scholar of religions and the author of ``No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam" (Random House).

Iraq and Islam

I'm working on my piece for class today about the Islamic Reformation and will post that later today. In the meantime, Ampersand set the stage beautifully with a post that explains how the situation in Iraq evolved, as well as the tension/dynamics culturally, ethnically and geo-politically that have made the US occupation a virtual cesspool of conflicting interests.

See her post here.

If you read that first and then my comments later, things will make a lot of sense (at least, I presume they will... better had write the ideas first before promising so much!)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bits and Pieces of a Crazy Day

Yesterday I had a scare. I came home from a day away to a note from Dave that said my blog appeared to be down. I literally had thirty minutes to shower, load my car with materials for my speaking engagement that night, and dress (uh, not in that order per se, though it might have made the whole experience more stimulating ala the definition of JulieUnplugged...) when I checked, and lo, my blog had been hacked! The home page was filled with html gobbeldy-gook and my heart flipped over.

So, instead of showering, I immediately logged into Blogger. All my blog contents were still on dashboard so I wisely discerned that this was a cosmetic hack, not a real one. :) I hit republish, waited the mini-eternity for the blog to process, and then, after refreshing the screen on Firefox (you always have to do that after publishing), the old friendly face of my blog reappeared.


Raced through my shower, threw on my clothes, loaded my car, skipped dinner and flew out the door to speak at the PEACH homeschooling meeting in Xenia. Great time! I brought a friend (who is my shipper/handler) with me. We drove in the dark looking for the little church among all the little churches and houses... And saw the following sign on the Baptist building next to the one where I spoke:


When I squeezed lemon juice on the asphalt underneath the sign, the invisible ink said:

We'll give ya fifty bucks if you can find those three words in the Bible.

The meeting next door, wherein I taught moms how to teach writing, went great. Brave Writer (my business) is coming up on its seventh anniversary (in January). In the last two speaking engagements, I've had moms coming to the events just to tell me how much Brave Writer has helped them. It's so gratifying. Only a couple of years ago, no one in these groups had ever heard of Brave Writer. Now I've got all these enthusiastic moms sharing about the classes they've taken, the success their older kids are having in college and so on. Ahhhh.

Well, off to be a conscientious homeschooler myself. Today, I'll be going down to Xavier to watch the lecture Reza Aslan gave last night at Xavier (on DVD). Jon (husband) attended and declared that finally we have a sane voice among academics who appears to understand the true nature of aggressive Islam and what the reformation in Islam means to the Arab world and to the rest of us.

I'll be sure to share about that once I find two minutes to rub together.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Barack Obama on the black church

Audacity of Hope, pp 207-208 (Barack Obama)

Ampersand sent the following quote to me and it so dove-tailed with my columns on black theology, that I wanted to post it for all of you to read. One nuance that I may not be adequately tapping in my postings here is that the black church sees itself much more as a community than white Christians. We tend to see ourselves as making individual commitments to God and then looking for an individual church that we will join.

For the African American community, partly forged through suffering, Christians see themselves as sisters and brothers, as members of a collective, a community without walls. That experience of collective identity is shifting as more and more are moving to the suburbs, and racism is slowly transformed into classism. Still, for Cone, who wrote during the Civil Rights Movement, community as identity was primary. Obama's description of the distinctives of his experience in the black church is all the more noteworthy since he was raised by a white mother.

For one thing, I was drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change. Out of necessity, the black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation. It had to serve as the center of the community's political, economic, and social as well as spiritual life; it understood in an intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities. In the history of these struggles, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; rather, it was an active, palpable agent in the world. In the day-to-day work of the men and women I met in church each day, in their ability to "make a way out of no way" and maintain hope and dignity in the direst of circumstances, I could see the Word made manifest.

And perhaps it was out of the intimate knowledge of hardship, the grounding of faith in struggle, that the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on this world. Long before it became fashionable among television evangelists, the typical black sermon freely acknowledged that all Christians (including all pastors) could expect to experience the same greed, resentment, lust, and anger that everyone else experienced. The gospel songs, the happy feet, and the tears and shouts all spoke of a release, an acknowledgement, and finally a channeling of these emotions. In the black community, the lines between sinner and saved were more fluid; the sins of those who came to church were not so different from the sins of those who didn't, and so were as likely to be talked about with humor as with condemnation. You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it; rich, poor, sinner, saved, you needed to embrace Christ precisely because you had sins to wash away -- because you were human and needed an ally in your difficult journey, to make the peaks and valleys smooth and render all those crooked paths straight.

It was because of those newfound understandings -- that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved -- that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Liberating God from Spirituality

UPI column

Today's column returns to my series on black theology. Last week I received an email from a friend who reminded me that some churches make identification with the suffering the primary plank of their theology and as a result beat up their parishoners with 29 lashes of guilt simply for being born white and into privilege. They manage to make working for justice the impossible endless task that evangelicals make missions and saving the lost.

My intention in this series is not to add a new burden to anyone's life (God knows I am not yet living the ideals put forth in black theology). Rather, I'm drawn to the critique that reveals a misplaced spirituality among the middle class church - our emphasis on ideas rather than practical action or even awareness that Christianity ought to be about relevance to a moment in history. It is easier to transcend history when you are not on the oppressed side of it.

As I work on my MA thesis paper, I'm conscious of how much Bonhoeffer predates any of us in his thinking. His insights are like a scalpel, cutting through churchianity and requiring us to give up our notions of "faithfulness to doctrines" for "suffering with God."

In an America where poverty is hidden from the suburbs, where the international crisis of AIDS is far off, and where mega-churches are models of successful Christianity, I think Cone and Bonhoeffer prophetically remind us that real faith has to do with involving ourselves in the sufferings of God, ergo, the sufferings of human beings.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bengals bungle again...

How can Carson Palmer have a quarterback rating in the 130s and 440 yards and still lose the game against the Chargers? How can the Bengals be up by 21 points at halftime & lose by eight?

The agony of being a fan!! Ampersand, I know you relate!

I even wore my number 9 jersey for good luck! Worked for Carson. Maybe we need some jerseys for the defensive linemen... Pretty short on magical assist in their department.

::fights temptation to rend garment since it is new and a gift from my birthday::

In happier news: Jets beat the Pats! Blow my mind.

Reza Aslan: A Coming Islamic Revolution

Tuesday, Reza Aslan, will be speaking at Xavier (both in the evening at Schiff Family Conference Center at 7:30 p.m. and in my class: Comtemporary Debates on Justice).

His take on Bin Laden's jihad was new to me and I thought you might like reading it:

A Coming Islamic Reformation

The most chilling moment in the article is the parallel between Bin Laden and Martin Luther. Look for it in the middle column. (Taken from the LA Times)

Frederica on Ted

I'm usually not a fan. But this article from First Things by Frederica Matthews Green resonated. (I promise this is the last one about Ted for awhile.) I especially liked this:

So it is a mistake to present Christianity the way some churches do, as if it is the haven of seamlessly well-adjusted, proper people. That results in a desperate artificial sheen. It results in treating worship as a consumer product, which must deliver better intellectual or emotional gratification than the competition. And that sends suffering people home again, still lonely, in their separate metal capsules.

What all humans have in common is our pathos. Getting honest about that binds us together. And then we begin to see how the mercy of God is pouring down on all of us all the time, just as the Good Samaritan bound the wounds of the beaten man with healing oil. May God give this healing mercy to Ted and Gayle, and to their children. May God reveal his healing mercy to Michael Jones, who told the truth. May God have mercy on all of us.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Compassion for Ted Haggard from an unexpected advocate

Thanks to GAF for linking to this provocative article.
When my neighbor Neera invited me to dinner with her gay friend Tom, he was the first out gay man I’d ever actually talked to. He was a sweet and gentle guy, and suddenly I found myself desperate for a connection to someone who could understand what I’d hidden away for so long. With Neera looking on like a satisfied yenta, we talked nonstop through dessert and beyond. I thought I was falling in love.

That reality provoked the greatest crisis of faith if my young life. I shared my dilemma with my very Christian roommate, who warned me I was on the road to destruction and demanded that I never see Tom again. I couldn’t make that promise; I’d tasted the forbidden fruit and found it good. So my roommate, in the name of Christian charity, called my supervisor at the ministry where I worked and the pastor of my church.

The next day, I was jobless and expelled from my church. At the ripe old age of 26, suddenly friendless and without a job, I felt like my life had ended. But it was the greatest gift I could have been given.

I was forced to face myself: a gay man who was spiritual, a spiritual man who happened to be gay. I couldn’t begin to imagine how my sexuality and spirituality could fit together—but the long process of integration had begun.

Recovering from a week unlike...

any I've ever had.

My article at UPI about Ted Haggard got picked up by Google Monsters and Critics last Monday morning. That resulted in a firestorm of exposure for the article itself and led to a spill over of interest here. I've never had so many blog readers... ever. I think I hit 1000 page views in a few hours on Monday. (Contrast that with the old numbers: about 75 page views in a day.)

I've loved the comments and participation. I've received emails from pastors from all over the states and one from Canada and another from Britain. It's been crazy! I hope I've responded to all the emails. I have not responded to all comments. Too many.

I thought a brief bio was in order for anyone who has decided to continue to visit.

I'm a southern Californian (now in midwestern exile) who grew up post Vatican 2 Catholic (we sang Beatles songs in church and I danced during Christmas mass: groovy). I "got saved" in a Presbyeterian junior high group by college students who were a part of the Jesus People movement. (The book on that webpage is written by a friend of mine, in fact.)

By high school, my father gave up on God and Catholics, swiftly followed by my siblings and my mother. My new and fragile born again experience became diluted and I wound up in a pop pyschology movement (some have called it a cult, but you had to pay big bucks to participate) called est.

After my parents split up and I headed off to UCLA (go Bruins!), I hooked up with Campus Crusade for Christ. I got saved again, got a boyfriend who surfed and loved God, and I learned from Bill Bright that any time I spent five minutes with someone, it was a divine appointment which meant whipping out the Four Spiritual Laws and sharing my faith.

Ftr, I loved Campus Crusade. It ordered my life, gave me life-long friends and offered me meaning in exchange for about 20 hours a week of service.

I spent my junior year in France as an exchange student and discovered missionaries preparing for work with Muslims in North Africa. Rock my world! I wanted to do that!

I joined Frontiers after college (recruited by my husband), and served as a missionary over the next eight years (four of them on the field).

Following our missionary service, we lived in Orange County and worked in the Vineyard Anaheim. My husband became the editor of the denominational magazine and I ghostwrote/edited for John Wimber and Vineyard Music Group.

We moved to Cincinnati to work with the Vineyard here seven and a half years ago. We left that church in 2001.

I developed a love for U2 during these last seven years and contributed to a book of sermons based on their lyrics: Get Up Off Your Knees: preaching the U2 catalog. (I've been a freelance writer/editor for fifteen years and own a business that teaches writing to homeschool families.)

Then my faith hit a brick wall. My UPI columns and archived blogs tell that story better than I can here.

I entered a graduate program in theology at Xavier University four years ago where I'm now in my last year of studies and will write my final paper this Christmas (graduation in May).

My theological journey includes both traditional evangelicalism as well as charismatic varieties. I've spent seven years studying theology that covers a wide range of sources: Catholic, Protestant, liberal, evangelical, black, feminist, postmodern and more.

This blog and my column are places where I talk about what interests me, hoping to unravel the tangled web of Christianity that is my life. Despite appearances, I still love the faith.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Speaking about the Speaker

Nancy Pelosi is set to lead men come January.

I wonder if the congress has noticed that she wears skirts. That means that she is about to exercise authority over men. Or at least, she's going to use her feminine wiles to woo them to her ways of thinking, right? She will be Bush's achilles heel in stilettos. And that's just plain dangerous, isn't it?

See, the thing of it is, I've heard that women aren't supposed to lead men. There's this whole line of thinking that goes something like this. Women aren't supposed to lead men. Oh sure they're equal, and they are valued as equals. They can vote and think and write blogs, they can drive cars and run corporations and raise upwards to five children (high five Nancy!). Women can star in music videos and start clothing lines, they can fly into space, teach in universities, be ambassadors to other countries, and go to jail for crimes.

But for gawd-sake, they must not lead men! That would be a violation of all things holy.

There's a great set of reasons for why women can't lead men that I will itemize below so that you will understand why this is a serious issue that we all must take seriously, if we want to be taken seriously when we discuss the seriousness of this issue.

1. Women aren't supposed to lead men.

2. Therefore women shouldn't lead men.

3. And because women aren't supposed to and shouldn't, they had better not lead men.

If you want to probe this line of thinking, it is rooted in a historically grounded argument from Scripture and the identity of Jesus Christ and goes something like this:

1. Paul said so. If you ask why he said so...

2. The Bible says so and if Paul said it in the Bible, then that's just how it is. As Dobson said on one radio show: "If you don't like it, take it up with God. This was not my idea."

3. If you ask why God says so, it's because Jesus is a guy, a dude, a male, a testosterone filled human with lowercase apparatus. He's our model of leadership, ergo, males are our model of leadership.

So let's review: the male should lead the female because the female should never lead the male, and that's because centuries of teaching about what the Bible says by males says that women cannot lead men, especially since they are not males like Jesus is, and that's what God has said on the matter.

Which brings me back to Nancy Pelosi, the future Mme Speaker. Are you about to tell me that congress is not a church? That God only meant that women can't lead men if the sign in the front of the building says something like "First Old Regular Baptist Church of Jesus Christ"? (We have one of these up the street.)

I'm so relieved. Nancy will not be violating the clear cut rules for women leading men after all.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Busters and Boomers see sex differently

Read here.
More than two-thirds of the Buster generation, for instance, believe adults living together before marriage is morally acceptable. Most young adults also said pornography and sex outside of marriage are not morally wrong. Only one-third of Boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964 — agreed. And roughly 50 percent of Busters believe homosexual relationships are acceptable, compared to half as many older adults.

To be sure, Busters have an individualized view of morality — one that disconnects the individual from the group. Almost 50 percent of Busters said ethics and morals are based on what is right for the person, while just one-quarter of pre-Busters agreed. Half of the Boomers believe in absolute truth, but only three of 10 Busters agree.

That belief in situational ethics affects morality in a big way. The report listed Busters as twice as likely to watch sexually explicit movies; two-and-a-half times more likely to commit adultery; and three times more likely to look at sexually graphic content online.

The remedy, according to this article,
One way to reach those groups, Kouckl said, is to stop giving "topical" sermons and start preaching scripture.

"When we have topicals that are geared to life enhancement, people never learn the message as it was originally given," he said. "Now when you have teachers that are consistently preaching topically to make it consumer-palatable, those who listen never learn the Bible in the sense in which it was originally given. They don't learn the structure, they just have all these bits and pieces."

The key is to contextualize the message for the culture, Kouckl continued. Leaders at Stand to Reason, for instance, say their goal is to make "engagement with culture look more like diplomacy than D-day."

We've discovered through trial and error that if you send your teen to a high school youth group, there is an 92% chance (+ or -5%) that the teaching that day will be either: a) why you should keep your hands, mouth, tongue and various and sundry body parts to yourself when with a boy or girl (answer: so that you will be closer to God) or b) why you ought to bring the kids from your school who do have their hands (and body parts) all over each other to church so that they can be saved.

I wonder if the solution offered here - teaching through Scripture - would make the difference. I would love to know what that looks like in today's culture.

We found a book called Girlosophy years ago that I thought did a tremendous job of giving information without telling teenage girls what to do. Anthea Paul (author) trusted that with good data (including potential consequences) and affirmation of a girl's ability to think for herself and to make choices that would enhance her well-being, she'd be able to navigate these uncertain waters of her sexuality.

One thing about this trend that must be admitted, however. Our kids are postmoderns through and through. In all the railing against postmodernism that I hear in the evangelical world, our kids are growing up speaking that language fluently. Being against postmodernism is like being against the air. It's all around us, we all breathe it and it's not going away. And I hold "Friends" and "Seinfeld" reruns directly responsible.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Julie Unplugged Defined

julie unplugged --


A dance involving little to no clothing

'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at

(From: Quiz Galaxy via Stratopastor.)

Why I love blogging

I just found this blog through a series of links and discovered that he has linked to me! Kevin Bacon and six steps, my foot! I did it in three. :)

Anyway, The Great American Faith Blogger is funny! Check out his subtitle: Because 4 out of 5 gods prefer America to Canada.

A culture of (dis)honesty

News first: Haggard's firing had no affect on the outcome of the defense of marriage and gay civil union rights ammendments in Colorado, as I predicted. The marriage amendment passed while the partner benefits amendment failed. My contention has been that voters would turn out more forcefully to vote because evangelicals would see Haggard's fall as related to the unrestrained activity of the gay community in Colorado. They would want to send a message that homosexuality was unwelcome in Colorado. After all, if the gay community didn't thrive in Denver, might Ted have had no opportunity to fall?


One of the discussion points in the comments sections of the posts below has to do with what it means to cultivate a culture of honesty in church. I would like to propose that honesty has to go deeper than confessing sins. Often we associate lying with covering up shameful behaviors. We attempt to cultivate a culture of honesty through accountability, through preaching about the need to be honest, through offering prayer and compassion to those who are struggling with sin.

Still, what if Christians went on a truth diet in general? (I use the term Christian loosely... I am mostly talking about my experiences in evangelicalism...) What if we were honest about more than our sins, but also the experiences we were having (or not having) in church?

Christians are trained to pretend, which leads to lying.

Think of how many times you have pretended what was not true and called it faith?

Here's an example. You are hurting. Someone offers to pray. You feel nothing, you have no new insight, you don't feel relief. But the person offering the prayers seems sincerely pleased with the prayer time. Do you say: "I felt nothing. I still feel crappy"? Or are you more likely to be grateful, wonder if there is something wrong with you, and then profess that you are confident that God heard the prayer?

Too many times Christians tweak their true experiences to fit a template of faith that supports a belief system.

I can't tell you how many times I watched words of knowledge handled in just this way- a person would express a word of knowledge, the recipient would then start working to make the thing fit. One Sunday evening service when John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard and pastor of the church I attended for eight years) gave a word of knowledge to the congregation saying that eight people had a certain condition. Six came forward. Did he then say, "Well, I must have got that number wrong. Six then."


He explained that the two who hadn't come forward were missing the opportunity for healing and he used shame tactics to try to get two more people to leave their seats. They never did. What interpretation were we to take from that event? That John Wimber is never wrong? That the two people were really there? That God made a mistake?

And what story would we craft from that experience about God and hearing God and healing?

Is there any chance someone would admit: I think John Wimber made the whole thing up?

These kinds of sticky wickets occur even in churches without a visible charismatic cast.

We learn to lie about how happy, healthy or successful we are, to give glory to God.

We learn to hide doubts in order to pretend faith.

Missionaries literally lie to governments to protect their missionary identities.... yet criticize their converts when those same converts lie to the missionaries to protect their jobs or families or embarrassments. (One is seen as justified lying while the other is seen as sin.)

We lie to protect the reputation of Christ by hiding failures, such as failure to pray or study the Bible. We are especially guilty of this kind of lying when talking with non-Christians and oversell the value of practices many of us don't actually do!

We lie about our anger calling it not trusting God.

We declare that God spoke to us... and then when that "spoken thing" doesn't occur, we just let that story disappear from our narrative and never admit that we got it wrong or that God didn't speak.

We lie about sickness calling it health to have faith that God has healed us.

We lie about faith, saying we have it when we don't.

We lie about belief, pretending we believe things we don't.

We say we've forgiven when we are still bitter.

We pray, get no answer, and then try to explain to ourselves and others that it's some failing in us, or some answer called "no" or some other story to keep the blame on me and away from God. This works for awhile, but if you've ever struggled in an ongoing way with weight loss or anger or depression or marriage, and you've sincerely tried to apply the principles of prayer, accountability, and self-discipline only to fail repeatedly, it is pretending to continually blame yourself.

One way to truth-check is to ask yourself: If a member of a cult told me that he had done all the steps his group had suggested for weight loss and none of it worked but he knew that he was just not doing it quite right, what would you say? Would you suggest he go back to those methods and try harder, or would you use that revelation as evidence that the methodology itself was insufficient?

The motivation to hide, pretend or lie is grounded in a desire to protect the reputation of Christianity among ourselves and to unbelievers. We want to create a Christian appearance that will draw others to Christ, we want to experience a victorious life in Christ. As long as witnessing and belonging is tied up in marketing God's power in our individual lives, we will be motivated to cover up weakness, unbelief, failure, inconsistency and depression... for the sake of the Gospel.

Our leaders, then, will be even more motivated.
Which is one reason so many have fallen.
And why there are many others still who have not yet been found out.

One pastor wrote to me yesterday and I loved his message:

Thanks for the excellent article in response to the most recent failure in Church leadership. It was thoughtful and helpful. I believe as you seem to that we promise too much on behalf of God and expect conversion to Christ to erase all sinful and addictive practices. I wish that it were so, but my experience of nearly 40 years in Christian leadership tells me that the Leader is still a sinner, and he/she has no way to be honest with his/her flock. Deception is the name of the game. Self-deception and group dishonesty.

Many of us entered the Christian community as sinners and have practiced the means of grace faithfully, only to find that we are still the same sinners we were when we entered the fellowship many years earlier....the only thing different is that we have learned how to not let it show too much to remain in fellowship.

My heart goes out to Pastor Haggard. He is as much a victim as he is a deceiver. I have a hunch that for the first time in years, he will begin to feel right about himself. He is in my prayers...along with his family, his masseus, his church and the 30 million Evangelicals that are faced with this dirty linen being washed in our secular press.

Your article put the right balance to the tale with a thoughtful nudge to reexamine our sales pitch for honesty in advertising.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It's my birthday and....

I am overwhelmed with work today. I still have a paper to write due at 2:00 for grad school as well. So I am taking a break from blogging just for today. Instead, let me send you to a blog post that my friend Bill created especially for me today.

Yeah, Bono's still got it! And he's 18 mos. older than me. (The Edge and I share a birth year - he turned 45 in August... Why do I know this?)

Monday, November 06, 2006

I do it because I love it

The Ted Haggard discussion is creating quite a bit of traffic and I'd like to make a couple comments that might be useful to some who are reading this blog for the first time.

I have great hope that evangelical Christianity can find a way to offer what it does best to the people who love it most. I love the community life of evangelicalism. I love the way we care for each other, the way everyone rushes in to make life easier for the hurting or suffering (whether someone loses a job or goes to the hospital). I've seen huge doses of grace dispensed to the hurting or fallen. Just last spring when one of the 15 year olds in our homeschool group revealed she was pregnant, our group rallied around her and her family! She continued to come to co-op while pregnant and has since brought her baby with her each week this fall.

Moments like these are times when I'm so proud to be a part of an evangelical community.

What I wish we could see with Ted Haggard's situation is an opportunity for real honesty to co-exist with leadership. The only way that will happen is if a person's job security is not dependent on being absolutely morally pure, particularly in the arena of sexual brokenness. There can be no honesty when one's livelihood is tied to being above reproach, at all times.

On the other hand, churches do have an interest in having leaders that don't fall into large-scale sin. It seems to me that what we really need is a way for churches to help their pastors and members through their addictions to the other side while allowing them to continue to perform the tasks that they can while being helped. Ted can still work in a soup kitchen or go to prayer meetings or teach the Bible, can't he? These skills don't disappear because of sexual misconduct.

He needs the body more now than he ever did. And the body needs him - to see how to recover, how to be humiliated and still find grace and faith. To shuttle him off to some hidden place reinforces the message of hiddennness.

Only when evangelicals can see that their churches are safe places for sinners to reveal their sins, doubt, missteps, changes in thinking will honesty become the currency of our spiritual lives. If not, secrecy will thrive. I write these columns, this blog, my papers for grad school because I am passionate about Christianity... in fact, I love it! I long for the day when Christians can live up to its bold challenge to love, to forgive, to serve, to make peace, to heal, to embrace, to live the truth humbly.

I hope I'm becoming that kind of person myself.

No Christian cure for Haggard's sex addiction

UPI column is up.

We are still tweaking the title so it may look different than this one. I'll edit to match but have to go shower and get ready for homeschool co-op. Wonder if anyone will be discussing this issue... There's a distinct lack of interest in some quarters.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Haggard's Apology to Church

Some of you might like to read it:

The Denver Post has a PDF available here. Lefthand sidebar.

I wrote my UPI column on my thoughts about what this scandal ought to mean to the evangelical church. It will post tomorrow and I'll provide the link then.

Here's an article about how the congregation reacted.

This comment bears quoting:
Several members spoke of Haggard's lesson of faith: People will fail you, no matter how much you love and respect them, but the Holy Spirit never will.

How can they say this? Didn't the Holy Spirit fail Ted, according to this kind of thinking?

Why is it so difficult to be honest about things rather than defending a point of view or the church or some vague theological concept? Why not hear Ted when he says he could not make it work, no matter how much he struggled against his desires? Reality says that loads of people don't change just because they are practicing Christians. Virtual reality says it's their fault, not the fault of the theology or the practices or God.

For now, I'm standing by human beings. When they say they've tried to conquer sin through spiritual practices and fail, I believe them and then ask, "What can be done about it now?"

25 years in review: sex and drug scandals

Let's review, shall we?

In my 25 years as an evangelical, these are the mighty who've fallen that have either had a direct impact on my life or have had the tangential impact of disillusioning me. Some are personal friends and relatives, some are movers and shakers within evangelicalism. Every single one shocked me to the core....

    A leader in our college Christian movement was having sex with one of my good friends (yep - not married)
    The pastor of a church in Indio that supported us stepped down due to an extra-marital affair.
    Don Moomaw (pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church where I was a member and which supported Jon and me as missionaries) preached a sermon on abstinence until marriage and then, was asked to leave his post when his extra-marital affair was discovered.
    Lonnie Frisbee, the catalyst to the signs and wonders movement of the Vineyard, died of AIDS and we were told that in fact, Lonnie was gay. (The link I provided goes to the Lonnie Frisbee Project, a documentary film made by a friend of Jon's. It's making the rounds in California.)
    Mel White, well-known ghost-writer for clients such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Ollie North, and Pat Robertson, comes out as a gay man and starts Soulforce.
    A single female member of our missionary team had sex with a Moroccan Christian.
    Another single female member of our team had sex with a Moroccan Christian and went on to have two children by this man, married him, moved to the states and then, he left her for another woman. He then outed the missionaries he left behind in Morocco to the government officials. Nice.
    A husband and father to three, on our team, had an extra-marital affair with a Moroccan maid while his wife was on furlough.
    A traveling prophet who visited our missionary team molested several of the missionary children.
    Mike Trout, Dobson's co-host and my favorite guy from Focus on the Family (Fof) back when I listened daily for ten years, resigned from his post when he revealed he'd had an extra-marital affair.
    That same month, the head of Fof's recovery from homosexuality ministry was found drinking and dancing in a gay bar.
    One of my friends from college, a pastor of a Presbyterian church, left his wife to live with a girlfriend.
    Carl Tuttle, our senior pastor from the Anaheim Vineyard, successor to John Wimber, was removed from the pastorate when he was found to have a gambling addiction as well as an addiction to prescription drugs.
    My brother-in-law, an Assemblies of God pastor for twenty-five years, left his wife and kids to live with a girlfriend.
    Cheryl Lindsey, well-known homeschooling model, admitted that her husband beat her and then she had an affair. (I admit to complete sympathy with her on this one. Her new husband rocks and the abuse was criminal... still, it was a shock to hear about the whole sequence of events by someone who was supposedly following all the Christian principles that should have resulted in a happy home for her and her husband and their 11 kids...)
    One of our dearest friends in CA revealed that her husband was going to prison for molesting one of their daughters. They were members of our home Bible study group and Johannah was close friends with the molested daughter.
    Rush Limbaugh divorced for the third time and was addicted to prescription drugs. And he thinks drug addicted people should go to jail! I was a regular listener until then.
    An uncountable number of priests are discovered to have molested boys.
And finally:
    Ted Haggard combined the worst of all possible "beastly choices" (according to the evangelical morality police) and had gay sex with a male prostitute while high on crystal meth. My God, does the siren sound any louder? If the Holy Spirit can't help Ted resist those starkly evil temptations, then what the heck is evangelical Christianity good for? It's about all they preach - personal integrity, sexual purity, accountability and moral unimpeachability.
I should add that my father had extra-marital affairs while I was a child which led to my parents' divorce. My original interest in Christianity as a college kid was, in large part, an attempt to join a community of people committed to similar moral ideals so that I would reduce the risk of being left for another woman...

Yeah, as Alanis Morrisette might sing: "Isn't it ironic? Don't ya think?"

Update (2:20 p.m. est): Haggard confesses to congregation that he was in fact guilty of sexual immorality.
"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life," he said.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dobson revises his comments

Here is the statement from Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family:

"All of us at Focus on the Family are heartsick over the allegation, not yet confirmed that Ted has had a private life with a homosexual for several years. We will await the outcome of this story, but the possibility that an illicit relationship has occurred is alarming to us and millions of others.

Ted has been my close friend and colleague for many years. He has been used mightily to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Colorado Springs and around the world. He will continue to be my friend, even if the worst allegations prove accurate. Nevertheless, sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, has serious consequences, and we are extremely concerned of Ted, his family and his church.

We ask that the Focus on the Family constituency and Christians everywhere pray for Ted and his loved ones. Our hearts to out to all of them. Perhaps the allegations are false and the circumstances are not as we have heard. Either way, the situation has grave implications for the Cause of Christ and we ask for the Lord's guidance and blessings in the days ahead." (From

Dr. Dobson lost his first and second co-hosts to extra-marital affairs. One of his staff members who headed up the department which provides support to so-called "recovering homosexuals" wound up dancing in a gay bar and was discovered the same month that Mike Trout left due to the revelation of his affair.

It is striking that in the places where people ought to be the most capable of sustaining the kinds of commitments evangelicals pride themselves on, the mighty fall so visibly. Does that make us revise our thinking at all about what constitutes being a "recovering from sin" person? Do you find yourself wondering how able any pastor is to sustain a "pure" life?

If you haven't listened to any of Ted's comments (both denials and admissions), you can find them on video at

His qualified admission is almost intolerable since we have to also see his wife sitting in the passenger seat of the car with him. She looks to be in agony. He has a kind of "I'm a cooperative, nice, reasonable guy" truculence that is so odd! His church continues to stand by him.

I thought to myself how shocked and scared I'd be as a wife. If the allegations of sex with a male prostitute are true, he's been having risky sex behind his wife's back... which means she's been exposed to the possibility of STDs and AIDS without her knowledge. To me, that would be the deepest violation of all - that my husband would risk my life behind my back.

What a mess.