Archive for November, 2008

But, See, THEIR Sexism is Worse Than Ours

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Christ Church Elder Dale Courtney’s blog, Right-Mind, has a bit on an event five years ago in Pullman that involved Muslim men and boys at a religious service in one part of the Gladish Community Center, with another for women and girls elsewhere in the building. Dale’s sarcastic comment, intended to show his derision for such sex segregation, is “where are the ‘colored’ drinking fountains?”

We’ll trust that Dale and other Kirk elders would indeed have translated their disgust for segregation into direct action during the civil rights movement. However, there’s no need to lament missed opportunities. All he has to do to remain consistent is to condemn Christ Church and Trinity Reformed Church’s policy of sex segregation. Kirk “heads of household” meetings are attended by women only if they are the heads of their households — that is, when no man is under the roof. Heads of households meetings are as sex-segregated as the Logos School Board, which, by design, has been only open to men, as is CC and TRC eldership.

I’m glad to see Dale condemn an interpretation of Islam that results in such limitations on the roles and activities of Muslim women, and I’m eager to see what comes of his condemnation of sex-segregated leadership and activities at the Kirk.
I’ll keep you posted, of course, on what I hear.

A Very Nice Thanksgiv – vegan

Friday, November 28th, 2008

We had a quiet, uneventful day yesterday, for which I’m grateful, and everything I cooked turned out just fine. My son is a vegan, and so for the first time I had to come up with tried-and-true Mix Family Thanksgiving dishes without cream, eggs, butter or any other animal products. The turkey was a given — please smack me if I ever decide to go the Tofurkey route — but the vegan version of mashed potatoes, dressing, and various casseroles was a bit of a challenge.

But my son is as committed to being a nice young man as he is to being a vegan, so the dinner was served with a lot of sincere “Thanks, Mom!” The sauteed green beans with olive oil and rosemary, the soy milk-infused garlic mashed potatoes, the apple-sweet potato-cinnamon-brown sugar casserole, and the vegan pumpkin pie were all a hit — no globs of cream of mushroom soup with the beans, no heavy cream and butter for the mashed potatoes, no evaporated milk and eggs with the pumpkin, and no marshmallows encrusting the sweet potatoes. (Why no marshmallows? Because the gelatin used in making them is, like all other gelatin, made from collagen and stuff from cows, which I don’t really want to think about when I’m eating strawberry Jello, thanks, but which is true nonetheless). My son’s new diet has proved to be a great benefit to his dad and me, even though we still eat some animal products. I have to say that a feast without the benefit of animal cruelty or exploitation was, indeed, a delight to partake of. There’s nothing austere or spare in a table loaded with freshly-cooked vegetables and light, dairy-free casseroles and desserts, and I suspect that this time next year, I’ll remember the joys of not feeling over-stuffed and sluggish from a feast laden with the bounty of the earth, not the takings of an animal.

Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

I hope that I’m grateful to God every day for the multitude of blessings in my life, and yet, like every other American, tomorrow will be a time when I perhaps think a little more of what I have and what I don’t have; who I hold close, even if only in my heart, and who I need to reach out to; and how I can live in gratitude and grace all the days of my life. We’ll have just five around the table tomorrow, owing to my elder son’s recovery from minor surgery Monday, and we’ll each share, as we always do, some thoughts on the things we’re thankful for. I’m pretty sure one of the boys will mention me.

But I’m going to kick it off early, publicly and quite personally by thanking the Lord Jesus for something that, frankly, I really don’t much enjoy.

I have a chronic pain condition, and I have a back injury that also hurts every day. The former is fibromyalgia, which, before I was diagnosed in May 2006, was something I didn’t even believe was real. Armed with a BA in journalism and all, I felt qualified to judge that fibromyalgia was simply the whining aches and pains of women who didn’t have enough to do or didn’t get enough attention. To my mind, it was a non-syndrome or, worse, a symptom of sniveling affluence that could be cured by deciding to snap out of it and devoting oneself to productive ministry at home or in the workplace. May the God who forgives me eternally bless my doctor, who patiently guided me through the realization not only that fibromyalgia is a real chronic pain/chronic fatigue/chronic sleep condition, but also that I had it. Other people I know have far more serious, debilitating illnesses, but we learn from what we’re given. This is what I got.

I wasn’t, at this time, a stranger to chronic pain. My back, injured in a serious car wreck in May 2005, was already in bad shape — but it had a cause. I could tell you the story. You could see the X-Rays. It really did look like an about-to-tumble Jenga tower. It’s degenerative — it won’t “get better” — but it was a tangible, specific thing that had a tangible, specific cause. It wasn’t my fault, the accident — but I would bravely bear the pain and plow through anyway, seeing it as my job to glorify God by going just as strong as ever. I was on the Moscow School District Board of Trustees then, and I worked hard, becoming, through the Renaissance Charter School fiasco and the failed 2005 facilities bond election, the most visible trustee and probably the busiest. I had also begun writing on Vision 2020, where the limp I was developing wouldn’t be evident to anyone and the news of my accident would excuse how I walked and got around for anyone who did see me. And, since the accident wasn’t my fault — he got a ticket; I got a trip to the ER — I was not only brave, but vindicated. The Kingdom of God, I thought, needed a Heroic Keely, and if circumstances awarded me a difficulty, then, by God, I was going to make use of it and be a hero.

But now I had a condition that I had callously dismissed in others, and there was no reason for it, no verifiable cause to explain it and no tangible way to diagnose it. Was it the wreck? Or the surgery on my shoulder, which was torn up when it happened? Stress from my Board activities? Fibromyalgia is a condition whose diagnosis is generally one of elimination. You rule out rheumatoid arthritis, a virus, exercise injury or structural impairment, run lots of blood tests, and finally accept that widespread, bilateral, constant muscle and joint pain, accompanied by sleep as restful as those nights long ago with fussy newborns and fatigue that I would describe as “crushing” if I were being honest and “considerable” if I was simply trying to be pleasant, together means Fibromyalgia Syndrome. It took me several months to accept it; it didn’t take long at all for the Holy Spirit to show me an entire host of things, not the least of which was my arrogance and pride. A back injury? Fine. But some mysterious, little-understood auto-immune or neurotransmitter disorder with no specific cause nor any sure treatment? I think not. I wasn’t the kind of person who gets stuff like that — if it was real in the first place.

It’s not that I’d been outwardly judgmental and suspicious of the one or two people I knew with fibro; I’m a nice person, so I just harbored a remedy of “get over yourself” quietly in my mind when dealing with them. And while I lashed out at my doctor when she initially gave me her diagnosis, I had felt justified. I was Keely, plunging through life with a bad back and a host of other stresses, some past, some present, but all REAL. I couldn’t deny that I felt awful, but I damned sure could deny that my doctor knew more than I did if this was the best she could come up with. A diagnosis of fibromyalgia offended me. I wasn’t whiny, or bored, or stuck in a quagmire of affluence. I had important civic and ministry work to do; I was a great mom, married to a great guy and overwhelmed only with affection for my sons. My life was full. And rich. And BUSY. If I was going to have something wrong, it had to be real, and I had to beat it. The Kingdom of God required nothing less; my heroism would testify to God’s goodness.

Or not.

I declined to run for re-election to the Board not just because of philosophical differences between me and my colleagues, but also because I was . . . tired. A month before the wreck, I’d bought a brand new bicycle, one of those funky retro ones dripping with chrome and swoopy accents that embarrassed my kids and delighted me. I couldn’t ride it. I couldn’t do my usual three- or four-mile daily walk, and unloading the dishwasher made me hurt. My life had changed, and while my back was almost guaranteed to get worse — but there was a REASON! — I also now was dealing with a chronic pain and fatigue condition that didn’t respond to how smart I was, how active I was, how spiritually grounded I was, or how well known I was for being bright, sunny, witty, energetic and available. It seemed like it got the best of me, in ways nothing else ever had. And yet, in time, God got ahold of me in ways he never had, and I began to recognize pride where I’d first seen nobility and fear that I mistook for generosity of spirit.

The first nine months or so was a long tutorial, one I often resisted but endured (and continue to endure, with only occasional resistance). I’ve had to learn how to be . . . different. For one, I don’t often feel bright, sunny, witty, energetic, and available; I feel tired, sore, stiff, and limited. And even if I did, I walk with a touch of a limp most of the time. You’d notice. I get out of chairs in increments of carefully guarded movement, my shoulders hunch, and it’s pretty clear that I’m not moving with grace and fluidity to spare. I’m quite often too tired by 4 p.m. to do much at 7, and some of you know that it’s sometimes likely that I’ll call the day of our lunch date to cancel because it’s a pain day, worse than it was when we scheduled the time the week before. It’s become hard to hide, even if I had the energy to try to. Which I don’t, by the way. Trying to outrun the messenger is exhausting. It’s better to just receive the message.

I’d spent most of my life being the one people called on when they needed help, and I liked that. Much of it was a pure desire to serve; some, though, was because I was completely unaccustomed to asking the very things friends and sometimes strangers would ask of me — a ride to the store, help with a household project, whatever. Now I have to ask for help. Now I’m the one often ministered to. Learning to ask was like learning a foreign language; learning to live while depending at times on other people was like learning to navigate through a foreign culture. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, I thought, and surely God would fix it. Didn’t he need me strong and healthy?

Actually, no. He needs me whole and wholly available — to his Spirit and only then to the masses, and only then when he calls. The Apostle Paul said that when he was weak, the Lord Jesus was strong, strengthening him in grace. I’d preached on that. I’d read it for years. I thought how wonderful that was for Paul and I was glad he got to go through it instead of me. But in the last two years, I now get it. My body may be not as robust, hale and hardy, as it was, but I’m finding that my soul is rich to overflowing. I used to do things to show God I loved him; now, in a beautiful, mysteriously gracious combination of fatigue and faith, I’m learning to let God show me how much he loves me. A dear sister, my “aman cara” (soul friend), came along beside me to support me as I learned to accept a body that was weakened while uncovering the riches of a soul being strengthened, and as the Lord showed me where I had depended pridefully on being smart enough and strong enough, he taught me how HE was simply “enough,” sufficient for the broken things and the scary times and entirely gracious to me as his daughter — not his agent, soldier, or PR team, just someone he loves endlessly, extravagantly, and entirely.

If my back had never been knocked around in a wreck, if I’d never developed fibromyalgia, if I were still slingshotting myself out the door every morning to fight the good fight and exhaust not just the fullness of my gifts, but myself,too, I wouldn’t know rest. I wouldn’t know quiet. I doubt that I would be as focused on kindness as I like to think I am now, and I’m pretty sure I would miss out on all of the things that feed my soul now — things like reading on the couch with my puppy next to me, watching the leaves fall, sipping wine and enjoying the soft gleam of wood floors that I would have just skipped over before on my way out the door. I wouldn’t have figured out that the joy I got from helping people was the way they felt when I asked for help — had I really, even just subconsciously, even with good intent, thought I had a monopoly on the joy that accompanies acts of kindness?

Pain is a drag. Fatigue is a burden. There are, still, days when it feels like chronic back pain and fibromyalgia have gotten the best of me. But they are a gift, a serious of unfortunate circumstances, things filed under “shit happens,” transformed by the Spirit into a new way of living that now feels like being home, and I wouldn’t ask that they’d never come about for anything in the world. Chronic pain hasn’t gotten the best of me. Chronic pain has brought out God’s best in me, and while the fragrant aroma of Tiger Balm and herbal packs probably isn’t what Scripture had in mind, I know that by grace it can be transformed into an aroma pleasing to him and fruitful for me.

May God richly bless each one of you, tomorrow and always, and may we always remember to seek Jesus in sharing with “the least of these.”

A Hundred Things

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

I recently came across a review of a book written by someone who decided, probably for reasons other than to write a book, to pare down her possessions to a hundred. I haven’t read the book, and I imagine that the 200-pack of Q-tips in her bathroom likely didn’t end the whole project, but I was intrigued.

I’m one of those people who prefers close, tight spaces; I love living in the little cottage Jeff’s great-uncle built in 1941 and especially enjoy the fact that it’s half the size of our former house on Ridgeview Drive. We didn’t need that much space and probably don’t even need this much. The basement is full of stuff, and with the exception of each of the kids’ trunks, wherein kindergarten artwork, birthday cards and stuffed animals are buried, I would be fine, I think, if it were all carted out. I suppose there’s an argument to be made for having enough luggage and extra blankets, and I’d rather keep the cats’ litter boxes down there than up here, but all in all, I’m happier with fewer things and less space. I could live in an RV with no trouble at all, if it had bookshelves.

For someone who still can’t parallel park, driving it would be something different, but that’s a post for another day.

Anyway, the idea of having a hundred or fewer possessions has really tugged at my heart, and while I doubt that I’ll ever hit that number — the heavily discounted set of flatware I just bought kind of makes that unlikely — I have been trying to explore my imaginary inventory of Things I Own and Value, and I find that it’s yielded some real spiritual benefit. I think the Lord is using this to discipline me in a couple of ways. One, I realize that I seek security in being “smart enough” and well-prepared enough to contend for the faith. That, of course, requires that I hold on to every possible book I’ve ever had on Biblical feminism; post-millennialism, Calvinism, and Reconstructionism; eschatology; and the “seamless garment” ethic, as well as Bibles, Bible commentaries, and other reference books (including books that argue against some of my beliefs). My sons joke that I’m single-handedly responsible for the Bible’s position as a perennial bestseller, and it’s true that if two translations are good for the student of Scripture, seven, plus one in Spanish, are better. It’s great to be educated and prepared, but that’s not where my sense of well-being should come from.

I also realize that I’ve bought in to, or relied on, things I learned that have no basis in fact or reality. For example, even at 48, I’m loath to leave the house wearing brown shoes and carrying a black purse. Like washing my hands before cooking or coughing into my sleeve, only not as grounded in common sense, it’s one of those things I learned from my mother, for whom an unmatched ensemble was an invitation to unfettered critical comment. It’s more than a little absurd that someone who wears little or no makeup, maintains the easiest possible hairstyle, and whose wardrobe consists primarily of jeans and sweaters, should concern herself with matching accessories. Even now, I could easily eliminate my purse inventory to two: One brown-with-black trim, another black-with-brown trim. So do I need both brown AND black casual shoes? What about boots for our Idaho winters? Do I get points for having only one pair of dress shoes — which cost $19.99 when I bought them a decade ago? Non-athlete that I am, do I really need athletic shoes? Or are they a “two-fer,” satisfying the requirements of any purse I carry? Should I just carry my stuff in a blue denim satchel to match the jeans I wear 98 percent of the time?

And do I really need to carry four pens, a highlighter, a pencil, a small bag with every credit card I own with all of the insurance cards and “buyers’ club” memberships, plus my wallet, checkbook, cell phone and compact? Will I be forced some day at gunpoint to produce my kids’ photos, a picture of my niece, friends from Canada, my best friend C., and a group shot of tiny little people I barely recognize, but who must be worthy of an esteemed share of my wallet-sized photo space? What about clothes? I’m no longer on the school board, nor am I in pulpit ministry; should I toss out my nice wardrobe, or keep it just in case?

I love to cook and could easily and convincingly argue that I need the full 10-piece set of stainless pots and pans I’ve acquired — but do I? Is my kitchen inventory practical, or is it really just a sign of laziness (why re-wash something when I can just reach for another?) Warm hospitality requires that I have more than four plates, bowls, and mugs; I’m not aware that it requires that they all match, nor that they be presented chip-free. Then we have the dogs, for whom an unlimited supply of rawhide and kibble more than satisfies, but who often end up with toys and other accouterments they neither need nor appreciate. (If Georgia brought to the door some disgusting, dried piece of dead cow, I’d gag. Shrink-wrap it and charge me a couple of bucks, and I’m all over it).

I’m committed to exploring my own “List of 100,” and it’ll be interesting to see what comes up. I know that asking these questions doesn’t exalt me as one of the pious ascetics you’ll ever meet, nor does it condemn me, necessarily, as one of the more acquisitive affluent. The danger, though, is far more likely to take the form of the latter than the former, and I’m eager to work through not just a list of things, but a fearless moral inventory that considers what material things I’m attached to and why.

Proverbs and Poverty

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

It’s common in conservative churches to discuss poverty — usually about this time of year — in the context of the Proverbs of the Old Testament. They abound with admonishments to not be lazy, to plan ahead, to model the way of the industrious ants and keep slumber at bay. Good advice there. Few successful businessmen would prescribe laziness and over-sleeping as a way to success, and few pastors would counsel congregants to not work hard, not plan ahead, and not seek financial stability.

Unfortunately, though, some pastors view the complex problems of poverty in the United States and in the world around us through the simplistic, agrarian model of the Proverbs, using generally-true nuggets of wisdom applicable but not infallible throughout the human condition as a way to address the complicated web of economic hardship faced by those around us. Their “Biblical” conclusions, then, result in judgment of the poor undergirded by ignorance of the complexities of their situations, and their conclusions, based on their survey of Solomonic wisdom from the ages, generally excuse the affluent while heaping indifference, if not condemnation, on to those who aren’t.

Well-trained pastors know that doctrinal truths cannot be gleaned solely from the Proverbs. That’s not the intention of these or any other proverbs. Generally speaking, yes, a child trained in the way of righteousness will not likely depart from it when he is old, for example. Some kids raised lovingly in devout Christian homes drift away; some kids raised in non-Christian homes turn out to be devoted followers of Christ. Some kids, like me, keep all around them guessing until they hit adulthood. Does this mean the Proverbs have no value? Of course not. It does, however, mean that we must never ask of the Proverbs what they were not intended to deliver.

Even in agrarian times, farmers would work hard, diligently plant the right crops, tend them carefully, and then suffer total loss from natural disaster or other misfortune. It was easy then, I imagine, for faith communities to understand what, exactly, made this family poor and the other not so poor — sometimes, the parents were wasteful, careless drunkards; sometimes, probably more often, the parents and the children suffered from a father’s illness during planting times, or a wolf attack thinned the flocks, or drought withered the grapes on the vine. The inherent wisdom of the Proverbs wasn’t threatened at all by a realization on the part of one’s neighbors that poverty wasn’t always a symptom of wrongful living or ignorance. My guess is that no one who used the Proverbs as an excuse to condemn the beleaguered poor would survive long in a kinship-based, agrarian community.

To apply the “ways of the ant” and diagnose sloth and slumber when discussing the poor today, however, is an egregious weaving together of pseudo-fidelity to Scripture and ignorance of, if not very real contempt for, the poor. When the plant closes because it’s cheaper to ship orders overseas, what do the Proverbs say to the 20-year employee suddenly out of a job? When a husband maliciously runs up enormous credit-card bills and then disappears, do we cluck our evangelical tongues and remind the wife that “the wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down”? Can we who are reasonably affluent and educated use the Proverbs to remind struggling students working to make a future for themselves that the only “real” wisdom needed is that of God’s? When we encourage large families, do we chirp about the blessings thereof, but then toss out a Proverb about counting the cost and planning ahead when these families need help? Or do we search frantically in the Proverbs to see if Solomon made allowance for us to decide that some families are “ours,” and others aren’t?

We see two billion starving children in the world around us — do the Proverbs offer us comfort that they starve for lack of “seeking Wisdom while she may be found”? When corporations pollute water sources and drought dries up even that, do we apply general truths about Palestinian water use for agrarian communities thousands of years ago, or do we flip through the Proverbs and reflect on the condemnation of the greedy, the oppressors, the violent and the powerful? Do we differentiate between the rural poor of the Third World and the urban poor of its teeming cities before we discuss ant-like industriousness, or do we seek solace in Scriptures that address nothing about a post-industrial, globalized, failing economy other than the hardness of heart that propels it?

And when we find those Scriptures, do we unflinchingly apply them to ourselves first?
Or is it simply easier to rest on tried-and-true aphorisms that weren’t always true then and often become stepping stones we use in our pious-looking retreat from the poor?

Heaping Coals, Redux

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Just when I was going to publicly commend Doug Wilson on a fine post in his Blog and Mablog about the importance of children in worship — which I will anyway; excellent points, Doug! — I scroll down only to find that in an earlier one he persists in his demonization of our new president. “A leftist thug from Chicago,” “bad for the unborn,” he says of Obama, tossing in another Ayers/Dorn yuk-yuk for good measure.

Last Sunday I prayed at church for “our brother Barack.” I’d like to think that’s not exceptional; it evinces neither extreme piety on my part nor great theological insight. I’m just trying to obey the Lord, who demands that we pray for and show honor toward our leaders, in this case, a man who claims Christ as his Lord and Savior and demonstrates fruit in keeping with it.

Mr. Wilson may consider this post yet another coal heaped on his head, done so in the hope of his repentance.

OK, I’m Back

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

My, how time flies . . .

I was a bit under the weather this last week and coping with a dog even more under the weather than I was. However, Georgia the Wonderdog seems to be back on track and so am I. Thanks for hanging in there! Also, please tell me if you’re having difficulty leaving comments on Prevailing Winds. I’ve heard a few tales of acute comment-frustration related to this blog, so please let me know — along with any ideas on how to fix it!

In the next few days I plan to tackle poverty and Proverbs, the United States’ health care system, medicinal marijuana, an intriguing thought about possessions, and ministry to the poor, especially during the holidays. A cold, muscle spasms, and a sick dog haven’t dampened my passionate views on all of these, and by Monday I hope to have the keyboard completely worn down . . .

Now, Now, Peter — Take A Breath

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Getting back to my analysis of tweedy British academic and Christ Church pal Peter Hitchens’ analysis of Moscow and the presidential elections . . .

. . . I’m posting, contrary to my policy of using only my own writing for my blog, his breathless — nay, hysterical — summation of the appeal and character of Barack Obama. I don’t care what Peter Hitchens thinks of Obama, or of Moscow. I care greatly that so many on the American Right echo his patronizing, smug, and doom-saying assessment of the man I voted for, and particularly that it not only passes muster with our local Reformed pundits, but delights them as well. Almost as if it were an insightful, reasoned, balanced bit of commentary. Which, as I think you’ll see, it isn’t:

From the U.K. Daily Mail:

Anyone would think we had just elected a hip, skinny and youthful replacement for God, with a plan to modernise Heaven and Hell – or that at the very least John Lennon had come back from the dead.

The swooning frenzy over the choice of Barack Obama as President of the United States must be one of the most absurd waves of self-deception and swirling fantasy ever to sweep through an advanced civilisation. At least Mandela-worship – its nearest equivalent – is focused on a man who actually did something.

I really don’t see how the Obama devotees can ever in future mock the Moonies, the Scientologists or people who claim to have been abducted in flying saucers. This is a cult like the one which grew up around Princess Diana, bereft of reason and hostile to facts.

It already has all the signs of such a thing. The newspapers which recorded Obama’s victory have become valuable relics. You may buy Obama picture books and Obama calendars and if there isn’t yet a children’s picture version of his story, there soon will be.

Proper books, recording his sordid associates, his cowardly voting record, his astonishingly militant commitment to unrestricted abortion and his blundering trip to Africa, are little-read and hard to find.

If you can believe that this undistinguished and conventionally Left-wing machine politician is a sort of secular saviour, then you can believe anything. He plainly doesn’t believe it himself. His cliche-stuffed, PC clunker of an acceptance speech suffered badly from nerves. It was what you would expect from someone who knew he’d promised too much and that from now on the easy bit was over.

Just look at his sermon by the shores of Lake Michigan. He really did talk about a ‘new dawn’, and a ‘timeless creed’ (which was ‘yes, we can’). He proclaimed that ‘change has come’. He revealed that, despite having edited the Harvard Law Review, he doesn’t know what ‘enormity’ means. He reached depths of oratorical drivel never even plumbed by our own Mr Blair, burbling about putting our hands on the arc of history (or was it the ark of history?) and bending it once more toward the hope of a better day (Don’t try this at home). (Peter Hitchens, UK Daily Mail, 11/13/08)

My goodness. I can’t imagine what Peter had to say 30 years ago about American visionary and conservative icon Ronald “Shining City on a Hill” Reagan, but my guess is that the rhetoric of one dedicated to enshrining into policy the privileges that Peter’s new friends in Moscow enjoy — the privilege of white, male, Protestant affluence and influence — likely inspired him. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect that the election of a man who wants to extend those societal privileges to everyone else would cheer Peter, but it’s hard not to suggest a little “methinks thou doth protesteth too much” as the U.S. works to right some of the wrongs from which men like him have benefited.

Peter Hitchens’ Report On Moscow

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Peter Hitchens, the Christian brother of atheist and Doug Wilson debate foe Christopher Hitchens, has found his social and ideological niche here in lil’ ol’ Moscow, Idaho. That his niche is a sterile, carefully crafted pod of overblown pseudo-insight shouldn’t really bother us, of course, because — golly! — Peter Hitchens is a cool, tweedy, British academic. Women want him; men want to be him; children will remember the moment Peter Hitchens recognized Moscow as a political bellweather of the American West.

He likes us! He really likes us!

He hasn’t a clue.

But, of course, it’s unlikely that he would, given that his hosts and tour guides are the men of chest of Anselm House, those powerful Calvinists who see the Palouse as a strategic post in the battle of Patriarchal Reformation Good vs. Girly-Church, Sodomite-Loving Evil and Hitchens a “get” in the war of public opinion. Hitchens is flattered by the attention, the Kirk is flattered by the prestige — we’ve got Hitchenses coming and going! — and we’ll all be the better for it, whether we’re blue collar, public school-educated, Maxwell House quaffing rural folk or washed-up old hippies with their effeminate men and ugly, liberal women. Wilson, et al, won’t have to actually engage with any of us, but the rising tide of Wilson’s Hitchensian Exposure will elevate us all.

I think, though, that I’ll opt out of the whole deal. First, I can’t be impressed by the observations of a man whose exposure to my beloved town is shaped by the ones who do the most damage to it. Second, I’d be infinitely more thrilled if a national Christian leader — Ron Sider, perhaps, or Jean Bethke Elshtain — came to Moscow and declared that THIS was a place where the Church spoke out courageously and prophetically against evil, starting with the evil within. The Church has failed miserably in confronting the misdeeds and malice of one of its own; the stakes here are considerably higher than the question of “How blue or red is Moscow?”

Finally — and I say this as a genuine Intolerista, albeit, perhaps, the only Trinitarian one — Obama’s vote totals in Moscow were encouraging. I’m glad he won. But until Moscow’s true-blue liberals and courageous red-heart conservatives join together to confront the garish tartan of ecclesiastical error and offense that covers the Palouse, there will continue, for me, to be another division Hitchens can’t possibly understand: Those who love truth, justice and mercy and refuse to consider tolerance of bigotry a virtue, and those who don’t get the significance of it all and continue to look to others to tell them that, no, it’s really not that bad, not such a big deal, and not anything to get riled up about.

It is. I pray that the next big name who comes into town is someone with the guts and wisdom to tell us what we need to hear — as evangelicals, as neighbors, and as pawns in the great Wilsonian chess game of dominion.

A Gospel of Liberation

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Over on another local blog, a man not terribly fond of mine refers to “inane” Christians who read all the wrong things into passages like Galatians 3:28, which is sort of the Prevailing Winds motto — “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” His concern, it seems, is my insistence that a Gospel that doesn’t liberate everyone cannot liberate anyone, and he asks, rhetorically and pointedly, what THAT has to do with sodomites and abortionists and murderers.

Well, actually, quite a lot. First, though, I refuse to discuss “sodomites” with a man who has previously written some of the most vile, hateful, obscene things I’ve ever read about gay men and lesbians. “Sodomites” is a term guaranteed to provoke hostility in the one it’s aimed at, just as it confirms the hard-heartedness of the one who uses it. I require a level of decency from people before I engage with them on controversial topics; he hasn’t met it. Not that he cares, but he lost me at “sodomite.”

I’m sure, in referring to abortionists and murderers — same thing, he says — that he would understand my contention that people truly transformed by the Gospel and by the Spirit of God are no longer murderers, having been liberated from the sin nature that caused them to murder in the first place and having been forgiven for those and all other sins by Christ’s atonement. But I’m quite sure that’s not what he’s getting at, since his question was prefaced by how stupid I am to believe that God loves abortionists, et al. I’m happy to answer that question.

“Does God love murderers?” Uh, yeah. Just like he loves me, my best friend, Billy Graham and the man who raped and murdered more than 50 sex workers in B.C. a few years ago. God takes no pleasure in the loss of any soul. My Calvinist critic would disagree, believing that the third petal on Calvin’s TULIP is a limited atonement, sufficient for all but provided only for the Church. As a non-Calvinist, I believe the atonement of Jesus Christ was not only sufficient for every sin ever committed ever in the world, but was actually offered to all humankind. I am not a five-, four- or any point Calvinist, and I reject that theology based on my understanding of the Scriptures. (I’m not Arminian, either, and find “Openness Theology” repugnant in its apparent negation of God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence).

So, having taken care of that, I’ll address why I believe that a Gospel that doesn’t result in the complete liberation of all those transformed by it is no Gospel at all. Jesus Christ came to reverse the effects of the Fall; we don’t see that reversal in its full fruition yet, but we will at the parousia, Christ’s second coming. As his disciples, we are supposed to live it out and work to establish that reversal in every corner of our lives. If a person is redeemed, if that person is forgiven his or her sins and assured of eternal life in Christ Jesus, and if that person is transformed into a Spirit-filled child of God, that person is truly free, and no one can deny him or her access to God, access to his Word, or the free, full, fruitful expression of the gifts God has given them.

If the Gospel results in the strengthening of old divisions or the establishment of new ones — divisions that keep some people elevated and other people diminished — then that Gospel is merely a religious attempt to construct a “new” life in Christ with his power or blessing. When the veil in the Temple was torn, it symbolized the utter banishment of restricted access to God or reliance on mediators, priests, or authorities; each person in Christ is now freely able to approach her Lord, freely able to serve him as he gifts her, and freely able to claim all of the liberation that only Christ can provide. When circumcision — a ritual that, by definition, excluded women –was no longer the mark of covenant membership, that membership in the community and covenant of the people of God became as freely offered to women as it was to men. And when Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy of Joel, women and men were assured the right to exercise those gifts as given by the Holy Spirit, gifts that, as listed in the Bible, are never designated by gender — only by the will of the Giver.

There are “Christian” churches that would deny leadership, membership, and expression of Spirit-giftedness to certain races or other classes of humankind, and we would rightly conclude that they are operating contrary to the Word, contrary to the Spirit, and contrary to the boundaries-shattering Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unless, of course, those churches were denying leadership and the full use of their gifts and talents to women. That’s seen as Biblical — a peculiar contention, given the evidence of the New Testament, and one that relies on an inconsistently literal interpretation of three verses in Paul’s letters. For the Church to encourage a return to the ugly circumstances and conditions of the Fall in this area while worshiping the One who came to fully redeem us from it is tragic. It’s tragic because it denies the power of our Savior and the intent of his death and resurrection, because it hamstrings the church by denying full use of the gifts given it, and because it places obstacles to the Gospel that prevent people from receiving it, laying out a rutted, twisted, treacherous way that is no Way at all.