Sunday, April 30, 2006

Time out for Teen Pregnancy

A couple weeks ago, a mother in our homeschool co-op sent an email to the one hundred families who attend, sharing that her 16-year-old daughter is pregnant and (obviously) not married. The letter was heartbreaking not just in content (that the daughter was pregnant), but in its tone. This mother was clearly very nervous about the reaction to her news that we all would have. She went so far as to say that she knew some families would withdraw their friendship and would consider her daughter a danger, etc.

I sent a reply right away saying how much I loved their family and that I admired how the mother had offered support to her daughter during this crisis. I even said I'd attend a baby shower, if they have one. I worried that the reception she'd get would be much less generous.

I was wrong. Apparently this group of families rallied to stand with this mom and family. Some of the mothers in the co-op shared similar stories (their own or how they coped with children who became teen parents) and almost everyone offered love and empathy, not criticism and judgment. The next Monday at co-op, all day I saw moms and teens hugging this daughter and one table seemed devoted to giving kind advice and support. Made me so happy.

Today, I was reading at Shimmer Glimpse (one of my blogroll blogs) and Kimmy posted a very different experience with a pregnant teen who went to a Pregnancy Crisis Center. I'm ashamed. I worked in Operation Rescue (yes, I'm sure those who know me can easily believe it) for years and we supported the local PCC in our city when we lived in Pasadena. To hear this report from someone who is not a Christian and yet was seeking support for a teen who had decided not to have an abortion outrages me. Since I have so many Christian readers here, I thought it worthwhile to send you to her blog to read this tale of woe - Woe to us! (Kimmy is one of my very favorite bloggers, btw. I love her thoughtful entries.)

Thinking about Motherhood and Teen Mamas

Thursday, April 27, 2006

From Bone-Dry Doctrine—God is Still Juicy

The column for UPI this week was an epiphany for me. Those of you who know my "religious" life best might be surprised to read my use of the word God in this current column. I have much reticence is using it at all as it (even for me) still conjures "big guy in the sky" kind of memories and I so don't mean that at all when I use the term.

Rather, what's come home to me through the study of doctine these last sixteen weeks is that there is some benefit to there being a "more" or "beyond" (even just the hope of there being a "more"). And that possibility, that belief, even, does in some uncanny way offer support and can give us a frame of reference for how we ought to care for one another. I found the descriptions of how we relate to God and how God relates to us to be poetic in all the best ways (source of inspiration and commitment). And that's why I can use the "God" word without feeling hypocritical.

So with those words of qualification, I offer you my reflections on how I responded to a four century journey (1600-2000) through theological reflection and doctrinal development.
UPI column


P.S. I'm loving the discussion (here on unplugged) about Islam and hope to get back to the comments to those blog entries tomorrow. There's so much to talk about and I want to do it!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Karen Armstrong Reprise

First, I need to ask the Internet for forgiveness. I should never assert that I am right and Karen Armstrong is wrong. Hubris of the highest degree and I felt the point of the knife against my chest last night as she spoke. So, please forgive me for that lapse into angry arrogance.

I get stirred up over Islam. I want to believe that it is in fact a beautiful religion of peace and social conscience and yet am instead confronted with my experiences that say the contrary. I am so befuddled and perplexed by it. Reminds me of this dialog between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice:
Darcy: May I ask to what these questions tend?

Lizzie: Merely to the illustration of your character.... I am trying to make it out.

Darcy: And what is your success?

Lizzie: I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.

And that is precisely how I feel about Islam. I am puzzled by the varieties of accounts that don't match up. So it was with this inner conflict that I returned last night to Xavier to hear Karen speak again, this time about Islam.

As it turned out, Karen spoke from her new book The Great Transformation which examines the spiritual developments of the Axial Age (the era of ancient history that is seen as the hub on a wheel wrt spiritual insight). In this age, the prophets and spiritual leaders came to similar insights through varieties of practices around the globe in roughly the same time period. The "universality" of the compassion principle that erupted at this time is the more remarkable because it was a time when international travel and communication were not achieved with ease and therefore it appears that this particular insight was in fact spontaneously discovered almost silmultaneously around the world.

She did address Islam (which is not from the Axial Age) toward the end of her presentation and joined her comments to the thrust of these Axial Age prophets and gurus. She sees Islam as tending in the same direction. Ironically, she sees Christianity (as observed after Christ) as not following this same kind of pattern.

The core of her message, then, was that the west has a peculiar, eccentric obsession: we want right belief more than we want to be people of sacred practice. She said this orientation is an anomoly as far as religions around the world. Most religions focus on spiritual disciplines that require altered behavior that is intended to reshape our very selves, how we experience living and how we orient ourselves to the other—in short, how we grow in compassion.

Beliefs don't do that as effectively and often become weapons or shields rather than soul-shapers (my word, not hers). She provoked lots of reflection when she said that Jesus (Axial Age prophet) focused on knowing the other, being compassionate, divesting self of ego etc. and not once did Jesus expound on the Trinity, the Incarnation or original sin (all HUGE theological threads that have pre-occupied theologians for centuries and thousands of pages).

She went on to explain that for Jews, keeping Kosher was one way of learning to honor and respect the earth and its produce, training yourself every day not to take its produce for granted, not to assume that you may do whatever you like with animals and grains and so on. Yoga was a daily practice of hours where you learned to empty the self of the ego and become patient and peaceful and to have an outlook not achieved through belief, but through painful body manipulations. She moved forward in time to talk about Mohamed requiring Arabs (whose pride is perhaps among the most pronounced culturally of anywhere in the world) to bow down to the ground five times a day touching the foreheads to the ground...

Karen explained that the content of belief doesn't concern her very much any more. She wouldn't mind someone being a 6 Day Creationist if that belief was in a constellation of beliefs and practice that led that person to being compassionate.

Of course, the question begging to be asked is if in fact the word compassion itself is defined differently for each group. As a missionary, I fully believed that the most compassionate thing I could do for Muslims was to convince them that their faith would send them to hell and that Jesus was the only answer for happiness/salvation/forgiveness here and in the hereafter. Yet we know that is not what she would call "compassionate" behavior.

I know this is getting long and I want to share some insights I gleaned from a Pakistani Professor from Xavier who stood with Jon and me after the talk while we sipped on lemonade and snacked on cheese and crackers (no wine that night since Muslims were in attendance). I'll do that in a comment.

On the whole, I found the evening stimulating for more reflection how practice (actual use of one's body) shapes a person's soul and outlook and orientation to the other. That little soundbite alone has left me wondering if that's why I sound like Jack Twist when he turns to Ennis Del Mar at their final meeting:

"I wish I knew how to quit you."

I don't know how to quit religion so I'm trying to figure out how to live with it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Reacting to Karen Armstrong

and all the Islamic apologists

Last night Xavier hosted the World Affairs Council in a Town Meeting featuring Karen Armstrong the author of the international bestseller, The History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Dr. Baher Foad, director of adult religious education at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, Farooq Kathwari, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc., and Jerry Leach, president of the World Affairs Council.

Karen's new book, The Great Transformation, was in prominent display and she will be speaking about it and Islam in more detail on Tuesday night by herself. I'll be there.

Last night, though, gave me cause to pause.

I admit it. I am not enamored with Islam no matter how much I read about it, no matter how many professors and scholars show me the error of my judgments. It's not that I don't believe them. I read many, many articles by Riffat Hassan, Pakistani woman now professor at University of Louisville. She is known as a prominent voice for the injustices against women perpetrated by Muslims and she spends a great deal of energy reclaiming her tradition through showing the misuse of the Qu'ran and then reinterprets difficult passages through a historical social context to relieve them of their dangerous implications for women.



More power to her.

But what is it about this topic of Islam that makes otherwise smart people dump the burden for the problems in the middle east on the western caricature and stereotype? It's not that I mind being berated. Guilt me, shame me, show me my racism, my heterocentrism, my selfish middle class waste. Make me beat my chest and repent of my sins. Force me to admit, California snob that I am, that Kentucky, for instance, is a beautiful state with hospitable people!

But don't try to convince me that the American media, the United States government and its European allies are actually responsible for Islam being the debacle of a faith that it is! There are a billion Muslims in the world, and somehow the vast majority of them have the wrong impression of their own religion. The problems may be exacerbated by our prejudices and blindnesses, but no way are we responsible for misinterpreting the faith to Muslims themselves. Whose fault is that?

When Karen repeatedly makes jabs at the media, at American culture, at Fox News, at President Bush, at westerners for thinking Islam is not a religion of peace and social justice, as though we are ignoring some vast body of evidence that shows Islam to the contrary, I want to laugh. We do not see Islam living up to its principles in the countries where it is practiced.

And what of these very countries where freedom of speech doesn't exist and Muslim stereotypes of westerners contribute to their deeply held misperceptions of who we are? Who berates them? (Fortunately last night Farooq Kathwari made this very point. Hats off to him.)

I would love to give you lots of reasons why I'm right and Karen is wrong. And I'll do that tonight.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Mission Impossible of salvation

UPI column

I'd love to discuss this one, if anyone else wants to. Also, I am hoping to get back to questions about the Erotic Gospel post (below). I do want to define "eros" as Brock discusses it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bring on the erotic power of the Gospel!

I sure love these late 20th century theologians. They mess with everything! Their serious tomes rework christology like a taffy pull. Can't help giggling. More power to them!

I'm not laughing at the content. No way. Love the content. Rather, it's the moxie of the thing - their sheer guts to take on Big, Powerful, All-correct TRADITION while delivering their doctrine-smashing ideas in disinterested "clearing the dishes after dinner" academic voice.

I've developed a serious girl crush on Rita Nakashima Brock. Catch this title of her best-known book: Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power and Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States.

"Erotic" and "Christology" in the same sentence?

*pant, pant*

And that's why Rita is today's virtual guest on:

"Julie Springer's Theological Talk Show"
(Aka: How to take out 20 centuries of tradition in a couple of paragraphs).

(The following interview is purely the invention of "moi" while the responses are drawn from Journeys of the Heart, Chapter 3)

Moi: So Rita, how do you understand "the Big Guy in the Sky" theology, upheld by theological hall of famers: Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Barth?

Rita: In moving beyond a unilateral understanding of power I will be developing a christology not centered in Jesus...

Moi: Whoa! Come again? Did you just say a "Christology not centered in Jesus"? Rita, my stars, you trot that comment out like it's about as surprising as jello at a potluck!

Rita: [Well, I'm speaking of a christology centered in] relationship and community as the whole-making, healing center of Christianity.

Moi: I like that idea - community is the center. What does that say about Jesus then?

Rita: In that sense, Christ is what I am calling Christa/Community. Jesus participates centrally in this Christa/Community, but he neither brings erotic power into being nor controls it.

Moi: Good heavens, woman! Them's fightin' words. Reminds me of the first time I heard James Cone say "God is black." You've got Jesus "participating centrally" (not even "influencing predominently" ala Hartshorne or Tillich). You say Jesus doesn't "bring erotic power" (kinda depends on who is cast as Jesus in all those movies, though, doesn't it?)... nor exerts control.

In other words, Jesus is a catalyst perhaps, a presence that acts as a unifier, a central force (maybe a centrifugal force?) in creating community.

I'm listening Rita. Tell me more...

Rita: He is brought into being through [the community] and participates in the cocreation of it. Christa/Community is a lived reality expressed in relational images. Hence, Christa/Community is described in the images of events in which erotic power is made manifest. The reality of erotic power within connectedness means it cannot be located in a single individual.

Moi: Stop the bus! If salvation isn't located in a single individual, then are we off track with all of our emphasis on a singular human - Christ - saving me from my sins, Christ directly loving and redeeming me? What other way can we think about salvation?

Rita: [W]hat is truly christological, that is, truly revealing of divine incarnation and salvific power in human life, must reside in connectedness and not in single individuals. The relational nature of erotic power is as true during Jesus' life as it is after his death. He neither reveals nor embodies it, but he participates in its revelation and embodiment. And through its myriad embodiments and playful manifestations, we are led to take heart.

Moi: Crikey! *flipping booklet madly* None of this is in the Four Spiritual laws.

I'm struck by the emphasis on realitonality as the center of Christian community, salvation and incarnation.

When you say "take heart" are you referring to hope, then, of some kind?

Rita: Heart--the self in original grace--is our guide into territories of erotic power. Through that power we come to touch and be touched by, to transform and be transformed by all that is "the whole and compassionate being."

Moi: Well knock me out with a sound punch to the solar plexis. For you, our hearts indicate "self in original grace." Original Grace! Has a ring to it...

Rita summarizes how she sees community functioning in a christological way when she writes:

We are led to heal ourselves and each other. In the self-acceptance and wholeness that come with healing, we are empowered to live by heart, to reach out to each other and to the whole aching and groaning cosmos in acts of honest remembrance and heartfelt connection...

Erotic power is the only life-giving power. Our ability to live in its grace and to risk acting to stop the forces that crush it is what continually creates salvific acts. Spirit-Sophia and humanity as Christa/Community journey together into the territories of erotic power where we discover our love for the whole and compassionate being, the incarnation of divine love.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Holy Week reflections end here

Struggling for words today...

Freewrite follows.

This is the first Easter in twenty-five years where I did not attend church. In the end, I realized it would not be honest to go. I don't believe Easter is about church, lilies, my salvation, God's plan for the world or incense. I don't think it's about recruiting new members, shaming "once a year" visitors into more regular attendance, singing hymns or listening to the slick new worship team belt out surprisingly relevant pop tunes about the King of Kings. I don't think it's a time for reflection on me and my problems or my mistakes and sins, either.

Even the beauty of the Catholic services don't feel like Jesus and Easter to me. Don't get me wrong. I know they are meaningful to the many participants. But not for me. I feel like a tourist who observes another culture speak its language and engage in its customs, but I remain apart--an observer who is oddly moved by it all but not drawn in.

As I went back over my year and looked for clues about how I had become so disaffected with Easter, two specific moments stood out to me.

Visiting Italy.
I posted about the cold reaction I had to cathedrals in July. Catholicism feels unrelated to Jesus, for me. I understand the ways in which Catholicism provokes deeper reflection on how they see Jesus, the passion, his acts, the Gospels. I get it. What I don't get is Jesus... The way I have grown to think about Jesus. It's as if in all the desire to honor and elevate and worship him, the person of Jesus is lost in the pageantry of things (for me). I get more out of reading the notes from my Foundations of Biblical Studies class than praying and kneeling.

Brokeback Mountain.
This film changed my life. Literally. I joined a website forum where I became immersed in a culture and worldview that I thought I knew something about... and discovered I knew nothing. Gut punched is how I felt every day for eight weeks. I can't tell you the tears I've cried.

Let me give you a taste.

How would you like to be described these ways every time you sought information about yourself as a teen, or young adult, or even grown man? Each time you tried to "find yourself" in a book, to help you understand who you are? A friend put it this way.

For so long we (gay people) have been described always in terms of a deficit model: what is wrong with us, why we’re not adequate, inferior, flawed, a mistake, a social problem, an illness, an affliction, an abomination, a spiritual evil, 'intrinsically evil', not proper males or females, the result of inadequate parenting, deviant, genetically impaired, emotionally immature, stuck in an inappropriate stage of psychological development and now, developmentally damaged in the womb.

Can any of us take this in, really? Stop thinking about homosexuality for a moment and replace it with something that is true of you - your gender, race, intellectual ability, handicap, depression, mental illness... How would you feel reading these messages over and over again?

Let's back up.
Who was characterized in these ways in Jesus's day? The woman caught in adultery. Tax collectors. Lepers. The demonized (perhaps mentally ill, perhaps spiritually oppressed). The blind and lame who wondered if they had sinned or their parents (not whether or not they had sinned, but whose sin caused the defects).

These charges were leveled at people we no longer categorize as fundamentally flawed, intrinsically evil. Yet we routinely do so to homosexuals, even today, to people Jesus never mentions, according to the Gospels.

So then...
Why do we love Jesus?

Because he kicked our sin out of us? (I know many feel relieved by this idea.) Or because he kicked the socially constructed superstitions of his day in the teeth - beat them all, overcame them with such power that the Gospel writers recorded these acts as miracles. My sins are a problem, no doubt. I do stuff I am ashamed of and have acted in ways that harm others. But those acts pale in comparison to the power of what a society can do to its unwanted, to those it vilifies and hates.

Jesus shamed the religious of his day who wanted to throw stones at those they despised.

If Easter is about "my" salvation, I think we're in an entirely different religion than the one that Jesus might have founded had he cared about that sort of thing. He didn't. As far as we know, he wrote nothing down. He left a legacy of people who were changed, who wanted to go out and "do likewise." And that didn't include attending any large buildings, praying for forgiveness and singing contemporary songs.

Some will argue that Christianity and Easter are much more than this picture of Jesus as I've painted him and his relationships. I'd say most Easter celebrations I've attended are about less.

What if Easter were about kicking our socially constructed evils in the teeth and liberating the human beings we demonize from the prison of our judgment (who needs demons when the church does such a great job of demonizing...)?

This year, I stayed home and dyed eggs with my husband and kids. As MLK Jr would call it, I was a conscientious objector to church-ified Easter. This Easter is the day my faith died. It is now utterly in ruins, in a tomb waiting for some kind of resuscitation...

And to my gay brothers and sisters: shalom. No stones thrown your way from me, friends.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My Holy Week reflections start here

The Parable of the Vineyard: The Planting of the Vine
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Today's reading for grad school includes a pair of chapters by Stephen Finlan from his book Problems with Atonement. His argument is that Christianity's doctrine of a substitutionary death for our atonement is not found in Jesus's teachings themselves and is a secondary development (an unhappy one at that!) of the Incarnation (primary).

In his parable of the vineyard, Jesus says the vineyard owner sent his son in order to "collect... his share of the produce of the vineyard" (Mark 12:2—a natural thing for a vineyard owner to do), not in order to have him sacrificed or killed (a very unnatural thing for a father to do). The owner is not happy nor even sadly resigned when the tenants kill his son; he is angry. Clearly this killing is not what he intended.... This theme of God wanting produce is neglected in the studies I have consulted, but it is fully consistent with Jesus's often-repeated stress on spiritual progress: the expectation that entrusted talents will yield a profit, the assumption that trees will bear fruit, the analogies of wheat and mustard growing. What the owner wants from his vineyard is growth and prosperity. There is nothing here about sacrifice, about a life given in order to make satisfaction.

Rather, we see themes that recur throughout Jesus's teaching: God's legitimate expectation of loyalty and of spiritual produce from the convenant people and bitter disappointment over a violent and ignorant response.


Detaching the Incarnation from ancient superstitions about sacrificial obeisance, patronage, ritual magic, and retribution enables us to more clearly discern the ethical and spiritual content of Jesus's life and teachings; for instance, his dissent from all abusive psychology and authority. Jesus neither taught an abusive God-concept nor, when he was being railroaded toward the cross, did he engage in self-blame, as many victims do. He rejected the whole mythology of sacrifice.

Today's reflection: With all the deconstructing of faith I've done over the last seven years, I'm surprised to feel Easter bearing down on me like an unwanted sentence, like a howling wind down a canyon at night. I instinctively turn my head away from the God image I don't accept, yet That God is supposed to be the universally right one, the substitutionary death is meant to conjure deep devotion and sorrow in me for my sins. The resurrection that follows is supposed to effect the great Greek catharsis of thanksgiving and joy...

I don't feel sorrow or joy or emotional catharsis. I feel anger (if I allow myself to go there) - anger that a substitution of Jesus's life for mine is supposed to pay for sins to a God of infinite resources and creativity, that political will turned authoritarian and evil is celebrated (yes, I chose that word deliberately - we do celebrate the whippings and nails with, as Forster might say, ghoulish interest because each nail is meant for my liberation) as the gateway to my cleansing and divine acceptance. In fact, what we say when we see Jesus's execution as necessary is that we must be moved by the torture or we are not grateful for all that he did. We can't wish it to stop or end or wish it had never begun....

So instead this week (to ward off those painful reflections), I find myself numb... thinking of Easter eggs to dye rather than the stations of the cross.

Finlan's description of the Vineyard owner knocked me backwards two weeks when I first read it. That the owner is angry when the son is killed! That's the God I believed in before I "knew" better.

This week, I want to think about how I live rather than how Jesus died. Am I yielding the fruit for which I was created, where I've been planted? A bit like planting a garden in spring, come to think of it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Tramping around in the backyard

A glimpse of what spring does to two of our kids

Photo credit and doctoring of same by the one and only Jacob Bogart whose skills far exceed my own.

Look Liam! No hands, or legs, or elbows or...

And you thought I was going to need braces...

"I think the red contrasts nicely with the black..."

Suspicious evidence that two of the Bogart children are not genetically related to their mother of the thin locks...

They really do love each other this much.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tiger and Judas

I'm much more interested in whether or not Tiger can win back-to-back green jackets than whether or not Judas was really Jesus's best friend. Still, can't ignore the huge stir caused by the Judas Gospel. Gotta love all the schwag available! Marketing extravaganza.

Who's watching the Master's?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Fog of Life

This column is one I reworked a bit from an earlier blog entry last year at this time (I ran out of time this week to write a new one). It's not my best writing or my favorite entry. It is, though, a slice of my life and seemed to go with the fog I'm currently living in this week. I'm trying to see through the fog today. For some reason, it's not working.

I just reread this column once up and feel a bit exposed - not sure I like the style of it for this venue. Too late.

So since I pretty much bare all here, I'm being brave and posting the link anyway. Hopefully I'll be back to my postmodern ironic self next week.

So with that pitiful intro, here's the column.

UPI column

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

AFA unfriendly to Brokeback

AFA against Walmart for carrying gay cowboy movie

Give me a flippin' break. Did they have a hissie fit over The Italian Job? How about The English Patient or Silence of the Lambs?

Are these family friendly?

"It's quite obvious to anyone who shops at Wal-Mart that they're no longer the family-friendly company that they used to project in their image..."

Uh, let's ask the employees of Walmart how family friendly they really are...

Check it out - write letters to Walmart because their business practices are dangerous to real families who rely on them for their employment.

BREAKING: Julie is recovering from shocking loss

After six brownies and endless mind-numbing clicks through sports commentaries, I have come to peace about the UCLA loss to the Gators. They got beat. With style.

Dave - feel free to gloat. I, pant pant, can, pant, handle IT!!

(I'm expecting a photo of the much-mentioned trophy on your blog so I may ridicule admire it.)

Off to spend time with the kids. I'll post the UPI column tomorrow when I've written it as my next blog entry. Until then, check out Dave's blog and flame him tell him I sent you to say hello. :)


Monday, April 03, 2006

Live half time report

OUCH! Bruins getting beat.

Have to admit, I'm totally enjoying the Gators though. What a team! They look sweet - both aggressive offense and Noah... uh, defense. Yeah, the Gators look fantastic!

I would be sadder except that I love watching the Gators. They might make me a fan. :)

Just thought I'd post my positive outlook at the half since by the end I might be pretty sad for the Bruins. But Dave, I'll bet you're doin' the halftime happy dance!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

U C L A Fight, Fight Fight!

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - star of the game

My goodness! Can you spell d-o-m-i-n-a-t-e?

Clearly the Bruins have been under-rated all season. I just can't believe they were so fast, so quick on the rebound, so good beyond the arc. Lots of turn-overs, but in this case, they signaled a speed that threw the LSU offense for a loop!

If I can't watch a single game all season, at least I get to watch one where they really showed their stuff.

Against Florida? Well, let's just say I'll be tuning in to ESPN "In the Herd" on Monday for Colin Cowherd's prediction and commentary. :)

Rick, no rant from me. Obviously. Sorry, Jim, about tonight! And Dave, I'll be rooting against ya come Monday. :)

UCLA Final Four - going all the way!

At least I hope so!

Being a Bruin alum, I picked UCLA to win the whole dance, but of course never really believed that they would. Yet they continue to hold their opponents to an average of 54 pts. a game and have pulled out in the clinch so many times now, you can't call it luck. What a great season!

So who are you rooting for tonight? Would love to see how all of your betting pools are working out.

My dream final two would be George Mason and UCLA. What about you?