Thursday, December 29, 2011


This morning, this graphic showed up in my Facebook feed.  I have no issue with people allowing their faith to inform their politics and I do not have a problem with people of faith speaking out on political issues.  Indeed, I think we should.  Still, this little graphic really interests me.  While I'm sure there are those who are actually pro those four things and anti-Obama and who genuinely hold all of those stances, I have real problems when they are conflated.  I have met far too many folk who say that they are a package deal and if you don't own all of them, you don't own any of them.  Add to that, my basic orientation that says that to some degree, these statements are anti-thetical and you can see where I have issues.

Let me address each... I am pro-God... but it really does depend on what god you're talking about.  If we're talking about the God revealed in Jesus, then, I'm right with you.  If we're talking about the god worshiped in some national religion that equates God with capitalism, war, and most of all the USA, then I'm definitely not "pro-god."

I am pro-life, but I have to say that I cringe when I say that.  All too often the term actually means "pro unborn babies and once their born they're on their own."  If you really want to use that term, you need to use it as the Roman Catholic hierarchy professes to use it - anti abortion, anti-war, anti capital punishment, pro affirmative action (in the broadest sense).  Then, you can really say you're pro-life.  If you are against all f the programs that support poor children, for raising funding of the military industrial complex... well, you get the direction... and you aren't pro-life, you're pro unborn babies and once they're actually born, they're on their own.

Pro - gun?  Frankly, I don't believe the 2nd amendment has anything to say in today's world and should be repealed (like that would ever happen).  The real question though is what does this mean to these folk?  Are they saying they have the right to have a gun to shoot intruders (see pro-life)?  To stand up against a repressive government?   Good luck using that 440 deer rifle against a fuel air bomb dropped from a jet... or are they just saying they can spend their own money any way they please and that they have some machismo issue that requires owning something that can kill from 100's of yards away?   Or maybe it has to do with the aesthetics and engineering of some weapons and the deisre to own something beautiful or with historical import?  I don't know, but do any of those ideas really measure up to needing a constitutional amendment?

Pro-country... I'm pro the USA.  I believe it is the best idea that anyone has had for a political arrangement.  I believe we really can still be the city on a hill if we truly embrace the best of the dreams that gave shape to this country.  At the same time, I am not a tribalist.  If there is something to be learned from another country, then one who truly loves this country will learn it.  If this country does something that flies in the face of all of its stated ideals, then one who truly loves it will call it out.   Truly loving the country cannot ever mean turning a blind eye to its failings.  The most important parts of my religious tradition tell me that those failings have to do with treatment of the poor and vulnerable.  Being pro-country means to me, standing up to make life better for them.

Anti-Obama?  Go for it.  That is part of the genius of our system.  You can be against the president for any reason you like, even stupid ones, racist ones, selfish ones, and uninformed ones.  And there are good ones too.   Still, if you go to the website for the PAC that produced that little graphic, they are complaining about a lack of leadership... but proposing no leader.  Somehow, I think they've dropped the ball.  They want your money to dispose of one poor leader to put who in?  Trust them...  yeah right.

And finally, all of these ideas are conflated with being a Republican.  I'm sure there are Republicans who hold only the very best of values and vote that way because their conscience leads them in that direction.  Like me, when I vote Democratic, many of them hold their noses because the Republican party endorses some ideas that they feel are important while ignoring some they also think important... and they make what they perceive as the better of two bad options.  I sort of understand that.  Still, I cannot but see how the basic orientations of the Republican Party do stand in direct opposition to my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  Indeed, of the five statements, only two seem to fit,  for me, with the Republican platform - pro-gun and anti-Obama. 

for a little smile, here is a cartoon from the naked pastor blog (one of my favorites) that relates to the poster and the way that I experience the Republican party although it clearly is not meant for them alone (it is likely aimed at factions within the Church) and calls me to look more carefully at myself both from a faith standpoint and in regards to my politics as well.

Monday, December 26, 2011


First my disclaimers...  I'm male.  I'm white.  I'm very well educated.  I have a middle class salary.  I live in a home that while not ostentatious at all, is quite nice, and when compared to houses in much of the country is pretty expensive.  I have OK health insurance which likewise is ridiculously expensive.  I grew up in a blue collar family in a blue collar city in a time when blue collar folk living in Pittsburgh made a solidly middle class living.

I'm aware of the other side though.  I also went to a school district that was about 50% minority and I experienced first hand the ways that race impacts everything.  I had friends who were poor and had no hope of ever being anything else and it didn't matter how hard they worked.   I also saw first hand what happened when the good blue collar jobs disappeared from Pittsburgh and my parents slipped from being solidly middle class to poor.  In their latter years, they struggled terribly.  My younger sister was just far enough behind me to miss all of the benefits I experienced... and the fact that she was female with a learning disability didn't help at all.

My politics, theology, and economics were formed in the crucible of the 60's and early 70's and I never forgot where I came from.  My formative influences were anabaptists, liberation theologians, and social radicals.

So here we are...  read these words -
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
I can't imagine a better theological frame for the Occupy movement.  This passage clearly shows that when class warfare takes place (and it is right now), God is always on the side of the poor.  The prophets speak similar words again and again.  From the beginning, God has called for a system that precludes those with power from rigging things for their interests.  The one time we see Jesus angry, it is when those with power and position use it to take advantage of those with none (he turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple as they took advantage of the poor who came to worship as required by the law).  Unfortunately, the Church is not always on the same side as God.

I recently read a powerful article by Kristin Rawls where she shares her frustration at a system that has failed her even as she did and does everything right and she feels that those on the more progressive side of the evangelical church have not stood with her and those like her.  She asks for a church that will be "outraged with me and who practice solidarity by showing up when it matters and advocating for real economic justice.  I want you to use your clout and influence to help..."  Clearly she is asking for us, for me, to do exactly what Jesus would do.  If we do anything less, Mary would remind us that we are standing against the work of God.

I don't know that I have any clout or real influence, Kristin, but I want to stand with you and your sisters and brothers who have been thrown under the economic bus.  Yes, God does love even the 1%... but God clearly wants to bring them down from their thrones, send them away empty, while lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, and seeing the lowness of those under the bus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Carols #2 - gender

We have a gender issue in the Church.  To hear folk like Mark Driscoll parse it, we've become too feminine.  He wants us to get manly and to restructure the church so it is more masculine (as he defines that).  Let me say this gently... he's wrong... in almost every way.

We'll leave most of the argument for another time, but today I want to look specifically at gender and Christmas carols.  For centuries, Christian theology focused on a God who was pictured as a stern, unapproachable father, just waiting for you and I to do something wrong so we could be punished.  In spite of the fact that "spirit" is feminine in Hebrew and neuter in Greek, the three persons of the trinity were universally portrayed as male.  Leadership was segregated to men to the degree that even translations of the scripture reflected that prejudice.  Any images of God that hinted at the feminine were down-played.   It was no wonder that Mary was elevated almost to become a fourth member of the trinity... people wanted/needed a mother figure who would kiss their hurts away and love them regardless of what they had done.  That brings us to carols.

Christmas is the time in the Christian year when the feminine cannot be denied.  Mary moves to the forefront as she is given veto power over the very plans of God, decides to be part of God's plans,  carries, and then births the baby.  Like it or not, biology puts the woman at the center of the story and keeps her there.  This is especially true in a patriarchal culture where caring for children is a woman's work.  Joseph essentially disappears from the story because he is unimportant.

All of this appears in the carols as we remember the mother and her role in the story of salvation... and all of this elicits a backlash.  The Church with its patriarchal understanding of God and of authority could not allow for any portion of the year to be owned by women...  so the carols often reflect the push back.  "Good Christian men rejoice..."  "God rest ye merry gentlemen..."  "Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, from heaven's all gracious King..."  "As with gladness, men of old..."  And also notice the hyper masculine kingly language that is often used.  We must be reminded that this is not a baby, but a king even as he suckles at his mother's breast lest she have too much power in the scenario.

Yes, yes, I know that common English usage when those songs were written didn't provide an easy way to be inclusive, but I am arguing that the entire content betrays a desire to put the woman in her place, to move the focus away from the mother and baby, and to remove as much humanity as is possible from a baby who is dependent upon a woman.

Guess what?  She is there!  She is central!  Without Mary's "yes," nothing happens at all.  It all depends on a woman... heck, in our culture, she wouldn't even be considered a woman.  It all depends on a girl.

So, Mark Driscoll... I don't think we're too feminine... I think we've pushed too hard for too long to disenfranchise women even in our Christmas carols.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adoption Day

my little boy, John
that tree next to him is over 7 ft.
On December 13, 16 years ago, the Donkin forever family enlarged.  The story is long and complicated, filled with frustrations and joys and fears and relief.  After John had been a part of our family for five years, on December 13, 1995,  Cheryl, Alexis, John and I appeared in family court in Albany, NY and finalized the adoption of John.

It probably isn't proper to tell more of the story here but there is one piece that I can tell the world... that day was one of the most wonderful and impactful days of my life.  John is my son no less than Alexis is my daughter, biology beside the point.   I am so blessed to have him in my life and I am so proud of the man he has become and is becoming.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Carols #1

Of all of the sub genres of church music, I find Christmas carols the most interesting for a whole bunch of reasons.

First, the gospel is all about contextualization, but many theologians and many churches try to ignore that.  They'll talk about trying to recapture the shape, style, and government of the Early Church, forgetting that there never was one early church and neglecting that the cultural differences would make it unworkable even if there had been.  Incarnation is all about context.  Jesus was born a boy in a very specific time and place with a very specific cultural setting, politics, and economics.  His ministry becomes universal only because it is so contextual.  The same continues to be true now.  We see this most clearly in Christmas music.

Europeans moved the holiday to the middle of winter both to coincide with the shortest and bleakest time of the year and with pagan holidays that happened at the same time.  One of my favorite carols is In the Bleak Midwinter.  Now, how much more European can you get than that?  "Snow had fallen, snow on snow..."  "Water like a stone..."  Jesus was born in a place where the weather just doesn't look that way.  Still, the image works both for the setting of the singers, northern Europe and North America,  and as metaphor.   Here's a video of me playing this song in Santa Barbara at the Cambridge Drive Concerts Songs on a Midwinter's Night (sorry for the lighting and for the clam in the first verse) -  another place where the weather doesn't fit at all, but the metaphor still works.

My favorite Christmas carol is Some Children See Him, one of the Alfred Burt carols with lyrics by Wihla Hutson from 1951.  I blogged about the way this song reflects contextualism back in '06.  Here are the lyrics.
Some children see Him lily white,the baby Jesus born this night.Some children see Him lily white,with tresses soft and fair.Some children see Him bronzed and brown,The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.Some children see Him bronzed and brown,with dark and heavy hair. 
Some children see Him almond-eyed,this Savior whom we kneel beside.some children see Him almond-eyed,with skin of yellow hue.Some children see Him dark as they,sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.Some children see him dark as they,and, ah! they love Him, too!
The children in each different placewill see the baby Jesus' facelike theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,and filled with holy light.O lay aside each earthly thingand with thy heart as offering,come worship now the infant King.'Tis love that's born tonight!
Those words reflect my understanding of incarnation more deeply than any song I can think of... and in that reflect the gospel in the deepest of ways.  More than once, it has brought me to tears.  Some Children has been recorded by a number of people but my favorite recording by far is by Stacy Sullivan.  She changes the rhythm a bit and moves the melody some but I don't think does any violence to the song and makes it a bit more accessible for most folk.  Unfortunately I can't find a video of her but you can purchase the MP3 at Amazon here.  It is a gorgeous rendition of the song.

In a few days, I'll be back with some thoughts about Christmas music and gender.