Archive for March, 2009

There’s A Bit O’ Theology Tucked In Here Somewhere

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Well, I’ve learned that when you save a blog post to “edit,” you’re stuck with the date, and order of appearance, of when you first began it. Please read below “Undocumented Workers” for some new thoughts on Biblical mutuality, First Corinthians-style.

Undocumented Workers Aren’t Your Enemy

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

(This is from a Vision 2020 post in response to a Pat Buchanan comment that we’re “losing America” to Hispanic immigrants).

My opinions come from something other than softhearted liberalism or even sentimental Christianity, and I’m a writer and a preacher, not an economist. My views are passionate, and they’re honed by more than a decade in the undocumented immigrant trenches, as it were, or as close to it as a white citizen of the U.S. can be, which is to say, not real close — I was born to a mother on this side of the border, with light skin, an Anglo name, and automatic access to every benefit that middle-class Americans have. I’ll never know, empirically, the suffering that drives the desire to immigrate without papers. Neither will you.

However, I would venture that I’ve had more experience, one-on-one and in community, with undocumented immigrants than just about anyone you know, and very likely more than Pat Buchanan, whose hysteria would, I imagine, not be nearly as pronounced if these were Swedish immigrants with blond hair and lots of kids named David and Allison instead of Fulgencio and Maria de Jesus. I don’t accuse you or other opponents of undocumented immigration of racism, but I’m not willing to cut Buchanan the same slack. It’s clear in his writings that much of his concern is the “browning” of America, with accented English and quincenearas and entire downtown areas taken over by Mexican tienditas and restaurants. That the quinceneara industry in the U.S., fueled largely by immigrants, pumps millions into the economy is, maybe, beside the point, but it’s hard to argue that the revitalization of downtown areas, such as Monroe, Washington, by Mexican immigrant-owned businesspeople is anything other than a boost to those towns’ economies. Empty storefronts are a blight and a drain; their regeneration as successful businesses is no less positive because the business owner’s last name is Benavides.

I don’t doubt that the U.S. spends billions on healthcare for undocumented workers and their children, and a way of recouping that money would be, under a widespread amnesty that would grant legal-worker status to millions, the collection of tax monies currently not paid. By the way, taxes are very often deducted from worker paychecks and pocketed by employers; the employee doesn’t benefit from any workers’ comp coverage and gives up a chunk of her paycheck to bosses who doctor the books. Recognition of the contributions of undocumented workers by legalizing them makes it virtually impossible for crooked employers to cheat the State or the employee. I’m not an economist or a lawyer; I am someone who has made countless trips to small dairies and farms to stand knee-deep in cow manure to plead for a worker’s paycheck. I’ve held the hand of a man whose arm nearly got ripped off in a farming accident that left him partially disabled and without worker’s comp coverage — his boss had deducted but pocketed the money from Ray’s checks and, perhaps in a fit of remorese, told him to go on Medicaid and come back to the farm for a less-strenuous job when he got better. I’ve gone face-to-face with dairy owners who told men that the first month of their employment was “training” — unpaid — and then cut their already-low wages in half because “housing” was provided on-site. I would not keep my dog in what passed for housing for men and their families on such dairies — 24-foot, 20-year-old house trailers with inadequate facilities plopped down in a level space as close to the cows as possible to make split-shifts and midnight milkings easier. I don’t doubt, obviously, that undocumented workers are treated badly, but given their contributions to the economy and their willingness to do work that others won’t, their maltreatment is a clear cry for legalization and protection, not condemnation and marginalization.

Finally, I dispute the contention that Mexican immigrants don’t want to learn English. For more than a decade, I taught weekly English classes, in Spanish, to subliterate immigrants with three or four years of schooling and college-educated immigrants who had been lawyers and police officers in Mexico. I developed my own curriculum, distributed bilingual Bibles, and spent up to 20 hours a week, sometimes more, translating and advocating for hundreds of people. This doesn’t make me a hero, and it doesn’t make me the point of the argument. It does give me grounds to vigorously refute the idea that “they” come here to soak up benefits and then scurry back to their enclaves to “stay Mexican” and consciously reject assimilation. I couldn’t keep up with the demand for English-language instruction; at the time, in the 1990s, I was pretty much the only resource in town for people to learn English, receive translation help and advocacy, and hear the Gospel in their native tongue (I also co-pastored with another woman a small Mexican congregation in Duvall, Washington). I never counseled people I knew to be here without papers to benefit from taxpayer-supported services; it was the social worker at DSHS who said her agency preferred to step in with simple, non-catastrophic services before they became catastrophic, and who said that if it would make me feel better, I could drive folks to Safeway and let them walk across the parking lot to keep their appointments with her staff. But very few people I knew then, out of a friend-network comprised almost exclusively of undocumented immigrants, made use themselves of the services offered to them; they simply wanted Medicaid for their children, most of whom were born in the same hospital as my son. I’d like to hear the voices of those on the front lines of service to undocumented Mexican workers, rather than those whose ability to see and feel is energized not by interaction with individuals, but fear.

A young woman I consider to be the daughter I never had, someone I love like my own child and whose husband and children are as much my family as my own brother is, illustrates wonderfully the loyalty to the United States and the hard work and responsibility I’ve seen in the overwhelming majority of “illegals” I’ve worked with. I’ll call her Juana. Her three kids are in elementary school. One is a perennial “top student” award-winner, the other is a mischievous kid who’s very smart and aced reading and math alongside his other third-grade pals, and the youngest has some learning disabilities that make school hard for him. Juana and Guillermo attend every scheduled parent conference and often schedule some in between. The kids are all involved in soccer, their parents work hard, they keep their apartment clean and, to the consternation of their neighbors, act as a sort of neighborhood watch-guild. Juana and Guillermo insist on English in the house, but insist, also, that the kids retain their Spanish so they can help non-English-speaking schoolmates. They consider themselves Americans, pray for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, pay taxes, have driver’s licenses, spend too much on their kids’ Easter and First Communion clothes, and pick up the ticket more often than not when we eat out. Guillermo earns regular promotions and bonuses at work, and Juana cleans houses and manages the budget and issues decrees that Albertson’s has better prices than Safeway and chides Guillermo if he picks up milk at Safeway. They hope someday to buy a house, like scores of others I’ve known who now occupy tidy suburban cul-de-sacs dotted with depressingly identical split-level houses. They held off, though, because what we now call “subprime mortgages” seemed suspiciously easy to them — too good to be true, and too unclear to be trusted. Instead, they saved their money and stayed in their apartment and marveled that so many Americans are losing their homes.

In short, they’re the kind of people you’d want next door to you. Their children will become your grandchild’s teacher, or the police officer who tickets you for speeding, or the independent contractor whose business steadily grows as his reputation becomes known. That is, if they’re not deported. Their story is not unusual in my experience; I’ve seen loyalty and responsibility confirmed over and over and over again in the people I love and worked with. Like it or not, they will become part of the vibrant fabric of America, and the tapestry they help weave will be a more beautiful, more rich, more durable one than the shoddy rag of fear and suspicion woven by Pat Buchanan.

I’ll close with an acknowledgement that much of what I’ve said is anecdotal; my experiences and relationships inform and establish my expertise. But policy decisions can only be based on fear when they’re not made from contact, personal contact, with individuals who represent a threat not because they truly do, but simply because we’re told they do. I also acknowledge that some of the things I’ve done, while wrong to some, may strike others as heroically generous and kind. They weren’t. I’m not a heroically generous and kind person. Hundreds of Moscow residents who know me will testify, eagerly, I imagine, that I’m often stubborn, prideful, and woefully impatient with people. I did what I did by God’s grace and his condescension to use someone like me where the need was evident, and I’m grateful that I got to work among my friends the way I did. So I offer these examples and my perspective to support my views that the United States has much less to fear from Hispanic immigration than Pat Buchanan claims, and to ask that we engage openly and generously with people before supporting policy decisions that not only harm them, but us.

Why, It’s Mutual, Thanks

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Every good student of Scripture knows that the clear teachings of God’s Word are the standard to which unclear (difficult, puzzling, incongruent) messages must be compared. The unclear passage ought never be discarded, but it can be harmonized with the clear teaching and tenor of the rest of the Bible. An example of this is the New Testament admonition that all believers are to greet one another with a holy kiss. We know that no guys in our fellowship do this, and most women don’t either (I’m a cheek-kisser because I was raised in Mexican culture and have spent most of my life with cheek-kissing Latinos; I’m entirely comfortable with it, but I know most of my friends aren’t). Because the point of Paul’s letters recommending male-to-male holy kisses is simply, and obviously, that we should greet each other warmly, we easily discard the literal in favor of the culturally appropriate “spirit” of things — a hug, a hearty handshake, a slap on the back, whatever. Ours is not a culture of “guy-kissing,” whereas Middle East cultures would have no problem with it. We understand the point here, and no one accuses the non-kissing, or non-foot washing, or non-communal living, of possessing a sinfully low view of Scripture.

The New Testament, particularly Paul’s writings, has been used to limit how Spirit-gifted women serve in the church, in society, and in the home. Some of those, while seemingly clear on the first read, are difficult to understand when compared to the massive evidence in the New Testament of male-female equality and mutuality. The hermeneutical principle that the less-clear be translated and applied in light of the more-clear has been too easy for hierarchialists, patriarchs, and traditionalists to jettison in favor of a wooden interpretation that, not coincidentally, favors them. These few verses, puzzling in their apparent incongruence with Jesus’ ministry and the bulk of NT teaching, are bandied about like so many police whistles and batons to stop women from assuming positions of leadership and to insist that they maintain constant submission to their male “head.” The application of these verses, then, becomes an exercise in How Not To Interpret And Apply Scripture, an exercise we would all shudder to find employed by church leaders in other areas.

The passages in the Paul’s New Testament writings that, on first read, prohibit women from teaching men, prophesying in the church, and serving as pastors and elders are very few in number: 1 Timothy 2 12:15, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and the passages in 1 Timothy 3 that describe elders/bishops/overseers in masculine terms. Lifted from their cultural context, they do seem to limit women, even to rebuke them. The idea of male headship comes primarily from Ephesians 5:22-33; an argument for headship from Ephesians 5 usually forgets 5:21 (“submit to one another out of reverence to Christ,” which confers absolute reciprocity and mutuality on the command to submit and doesn’t excuse either gender. Nor does it compel; the Greek word translated “submission” is one that indicates a self-giving, volitional manner of relating to others, not a dutiful response to command. And churches that insist that they don’t want their women to submit to EVERY man, just their husbands, may sound as though they’re incrementally more enlightened than other male supremacy groups, but the idea of submitting “only to their husbands” is presented as a duty and a command, and keeps women from accepting the “authority” of, say, male doctors or teachers. I’ve yet to hear Doug Wilson preach that men don’t have to submit to EVERY woman, only their own wives — but any limits on submission require reciprocity and mutuality to be faithful to the Scriptures.

Frankly, I’d love a world where there’s a whole lot more submitting, wildly and lovingly and volitionally extended one to another by a Church passionately seeking to live like Jesus. I’d also love to see widespread and enthusiastic acknowledgment that Ephesians 5 is written as an analogy, and not one that prescribes a husband’s priestly authority over his wife but a loving admonition for women and men to be conformed to Christ in the priesthood enjoyed by ALL believers. If a wife behaves badly, it is she who must go to the Lord in repentance; a husband behaves badly when he presumes that her spiritual “condition” is his responsibility, something for which he, as a husband, is solely held accountable for. We are each members of the Body, and each of us is accountable for our own walk with God while RESPONSIBLE for not harming others’. There is one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, and he is more than sufficient. Regular guys need not apply for mediator status; the position is already taken.

Cherry-picking verses from First Corinthians in an attempt to silence women in church is a fruitless exercise in hollow proof-texting that ignores, as it must, the stunning mutuality Paul describes in the chapters before Chapter 14. Chapter 11 discusses women praying and prophesying in the church, which makes it puzzling, for those who seek to understand, why Paul seems to say later that women can’t speak in the church. In one place, they pray and prophecy; in another, they seemingly can’t — and the reason is clearly the cultural baggage that presumes shame on women whether they speak, don’t speak, or do much of anything else. Further, Paul’s “marriage manual” in First Corinthians 7 is a beautiful picture of marital mutuality, not unilateral authority:

Each man should have his own wife. Each woman should have her own husband.

The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs. The wife should fulfill her husband’s needs.

The wife gives authority over her body to her husband. The husband gives authority over his body to his wife.

Couples should not deprive each other of sexual intimacy.

A wife is not to leave her husband. A husband is not to leave his wife.

If a Christian man is married to an unbeliever, he must not leave her. If a Christian woman is married to an unbeliever, she must not leave him.

Husbands might be saved through the wife’s faithfulness. Wives might be saved through the husband’s faithfulness.

(I see a pattern here, and it continues ’til Chapter 11, the “prohibitive” chapter:)

v. 11 For among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God.

Does this sound like a prescription for unequal freedom and authority in marriage? If so, methinks that your theology is shaped not by Scripture, but by culture — by guys, not Christ Jesus, himself human.

Macho Christianity, As Pointless Now As It Was Then

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

The more things change, the more they stay, lamentably, the same:

“That characteristic of the school which has been . . . termed “Muscular Christianity,” appears liable at every turn to degenerate into most obnoxious qualities — bluster and dogmatism, and a perpetual talk about manliness, which is as much the reverse of real manliness, as the talk about purity… is the reverse of real purity.” Frances Power Cobbe, 1864

Broken Lights: An Inquiry into the Present Condition and Future Prospects of Religious Faith (1864), Quoted in: Larson, Janet L., “Skeptical Women V. Honest Men v. Good Old Boys: Gender Conflict in the High Victorian Religious Wars,” in Victorian Religious Discourse, edited by Jude V. Nixon.

Aunt Betty’s Hip

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

I’m going to start this by saying that we, like every family in the United States, have seen our health insurance premiums continue to increase year after year, regardless of what medical adventures have passed us by or caught us up. Fortunately, with thanks to God, we can afford health insurance — even with high monthly premiums and high deductibles.

That said, I envy the medical system in Canada. I cannot imagine what a blessing it would be to know that I and my family would be able, as Canadian residents, to receive good quality care without the very real possibility of losing everything we own. The stress of health care costs, I honestly believe, creates illness and despair; ill health or injury still visits people, but what a burden would be lifted if, when sick, all we had to deal with was the illness and its treatment, not the enormously high cost of simply getting to a doctor with some sort of coverage. Canadians agree, and most wouldn’t change their system — designed, believe it or not, by the actor Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather — to save their lives. And I mean that literally: Lives are lost, many thousands of them, when access to medical care is denied or made too expensive.

And yet, there’s always Aunt Betty.

Aunt Betty, or my cousin’s husband, or the neighbor’s friend’s chiropractor’s husband, gets trotted out as an example of the purportedly dreadful care in Canada that requires her to wait six months for her hip replacement while demanding that my cousin’s husband wait three weeks for his diabetes test. I don’t mean to be flip. All of us want to be able to go to a doctor, be taken seriously, be treated well and be treated as quickly as possible, and as someone who’s twice had to wait even a few days for biopsy results (both negative), it’s a painful process, physically and emotionally.

But the debate about Aunt Betty’s hip replacement delay in Canada misses a larger point, albeit a point only important to those who believe that the “rightness” of a system isn’t based solely on how they’re benefiting from it. The complaint of Aunt Betty and the neighbor’s friend’s chiropractor’s husband, valid as they are, are the complaints of a relative affluence and security unknown to millions in this country. Millions of hard-working women and men, and millions of children with no economic or political power, can’t imagine having to wait six months for a non-immediate procedure. They can’t empathize with someone who sweats out a week of waiting for test results, and they can’t fathom the anger directed at a system that prioritizes patient care based solely on one’s medical condition, resulting, often and necessarily, in a delay in some treatment — like Betty’s worn-out hip — so that others, like the migraine sufferer who suddenly experiences stroke-like symptoms, can receive immediate diagnostic care and treatment. For a family that can’t even afford to take their child, themselves, or even their own hip-stricken Aunt Betty to the doctor, period, these complaints seem utterly foreign.

And they are. The United States has a deplorable health care system that disenfranchises the already disenfranchised, leaving them to languish without care until they’re often too sick to be cured. It prioritizes care on the worst possible basis, morally and medically, by making access to medical treatment as closely aligned with financial resources as by immediacy of need. The hypothetical six-month wait for necessary but not immediate care is not hypothetical to the uninsured poor, for whom a six-month wait pales next to the lifelong, and often life-taking, denial of even basic care. A delay in guaranteed, quality, available treatment has as its primary feature the delay. For the poor, a delay in treatment has no qualifiers, no “guaranteed,” no “quality,” and no “availability.” You have to have medical care to complain about its faults, and those complaints, while significant, must be part of a system available to all.

The system doesn’t work terribly well for me and my family, but it’s designed to work at least better for us than for most. That’s what’s wrong with it, not what’s right with it.

It’s Been A Wild Ride . . .

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Just two weeks ago, I felt ready and able to start blogging again, and I did so with gusto. The last couple of weeks, though, have been what we Spanish-speakers would call a “Gran Fiesta of Utter Chaos,” a time of great testing and stress accompanied by great comfort and peace in the Lord. Still, I’ve felt like a circus plate-spinner, and the poles have been unusually wobbly.

I’ll write more today, but I wanted to comment on two events I heard about in the news. The first is the tremendously generous offer of an elderly physician in Indiana to offer his patients free medical care for the rest of the year. He’s practiced in that town for 45 years, he says, and he’s got enough money. Too many of his neighbors and patients don’t, and his faith prompted him to give in a way that not only directly benefits the poor around him, but might also encourage others living in privilege to give extravagantly to those in need. May he be forever blessed.

I also want to commend New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson — my first choice in the Democratic primaries — for ending capital punishment for all future crimes committed in his state. I am unalterably opposed, and, I think, Biblically opposed, to the death penalty. I’m pretty sure Richardson would disagree with some of my arguments, but the courageous and moral stand he took this week is a good one. I hope other governors follow him, and I pray God’s blessing on him as he seeks to do the right thing as a matter not just of public policy, but, as he said, of conscience. In a bleak news cycle, that story was a shot of bright light.

So, What Went So Terribly Wrong?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

In my last post, I lamented that since the “very good” creation by God of women and men in His own (non-gendered, not male) image, the plight of women throughout the world, and largely because of religion, including Christianity, has been dreadful. I quoted a silly little man, a “Christian intellectual,” who claims that the category of the “holy” is — must be, can only be — the masculine, and I said that something went terribly wrong in Creation because of such thinking.

At the risk of “beating the snot out of a straw man,” one of the more poetic offenses I’ve been accused of, I’d like to offer a Biblical explanation for what the Fall did to men and women and their relationship. In short, it utterly ruined and debased it, introducing both domination and oppression to the mutual honor and affection of the Garden and fulfilling the Lord’s observation that men would, indeed, now face a fallen world by subjugating women. I realize this explanation isn’t satisfactory to patriarchs, complementarians, and traditionalists, and that even if Biblically sound evidence of God’s original, pre-Fall, intention for women and men were offered, many men — and women — wouldn’t accept it. Entrenched ideas of power, domination, subjugation and inequality are difficult even for the Spirit to dislodge from a person, and women continue to suffer.

But the pre-Fall testimony of Genesis is clear: Both men and women were given the command to “subdue the earth;” there was no indication, in any translation, that men were to subdue and women were only to submit. The Hebrew word for “help,” often translated “help meet,” is ezer, which is almost always used in Scripture as a description of a helper-rescuer, a completer, a greater strength — in short, God Almighty. To accept the use of ezer in reference to the help that comes from On High in most instances, but reduce its meaning to “helper,” “assistant,” or “subordinate” does violence to the Scriptures. It also leads to violence against the woman, the “flesh of my own flesh” given to Adam to complete and cooperate with him.

Fortunately, most theologians today don’t come right out and say that women are ontologically “less than” men, nor do most blame Eve for the Fall and its horrific consequences. There is no evidence that Eve had been instructed to not eat of the fruit; Adam was. Eve was deceived, yet took complete responsibility by acknowledging that she, the one to whom the command had not been given directly by God, had been tricked. Adam, on the other hand, having received God’s specific command, not only ate of the fruit, but blamed the woman. Clearly, as Romans 5 illustrates, the man brought sin into the world; just as clearly, the “second Adam,” Jesus Christ, reverses the effects of Adam’s sin, however imperfectly that reversal is demonstrated by sinful humankind. It is also foolish to say, although it’s said often in complementarian/patriarchal circles, that Adam’s sin was to bow to his woman’s “leadership” or “authority,” thus abrogating his “headship.” There is nothing in the text that says that and much in the New Testament that argues against it. Some may want to argue for authoritative headship of men over women, but that argument cannot be confirmed in the Old Testament, and it cannot be sustained in the New.

I’ve studied the writings of complementarians — those who deny the mutuality of women and men in church, home, and society — for more than a decade now, and I find that arguments that limit women’s freedom to lead and to fully exercise their gifts in the church, home, and society are based on male-supremacy presuppositions — culture informing hermeneutics — as well as an entirely false, even heretical, view of the Trinity. In short, an argument that apart from the Incarnation, Christ was and is and forever will be subordinate to the Father in the Trinity is not only bad theology, but a tree from which only poison fruit can develop. I’ll discuss subordinationism in a future post, and I invite comments.

Until then, I am privileged to identify as a Biblical feminist. It’s the illuminating Spirit of God who gifts me and who expects my God-given gifts to be used in His service. As time permits, then, I’ll write about the subordinationists’ error, the stark mutuality Paul describes in the New Testament, and the Gnostic heresies that influenced the culturally-bound limitations he prescribes for women living in a culture saturated by bizarre and un-Biblical views of men and women, flesh and spirit, creation and sin. I’ll also ask why complementarians really hate when egalitarians claim Galatians 3:28 for their cause, even though I suspect I know the reasons. The fruit of the sinful partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil became rotten to the core, and the fruit of the patriarchal Tree of Bad Exegesis and Male Supremacy is just as ruined — and ruinous.

International Women’s Day

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

And why in the world would we need such a thing?

I could reel off statistics that show that among the poorest of the poor, women are almost invariably poorer still; I could point out horrific abuses perpetrated against women today in the name of religion, including Christianity; I could argue that women are oppressed socially, economically, theologically, and psychologically even in cultures where they themselves feel just fine, not knowing anything different.

Or I could quote one of today’s “leading Christian thinkers,” a man named Dr. Leon J. Podles who is an editor of Touchstone magazine and an expert in Old Icelandic, not to mention a fierce defender of patriarchy. In his book “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Spence Publications, 1999),” he lets fly with this:

“The holy is a masculine category . . . A masculine God is both fully transcendent and fully immanent through love. Such an immanence through love is possible only to a being who is transcendent and separate from creation, that is, masculine.”

Of course there’s context here; none of it helps Dr. Podles, however, to appear anything other than batty. Batty intellectuals have, unfortunately, inspired legions of men over millennia, and the havoc they wreak upon women isn’t confined to plush, leather-chaired dens filled with pseudo-intellectuals smoking pipes.

Male and female, in the image of God, they were made . . . and something’s gone terribly wrong.

"Christianity Today" Spotlights Wilson

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

The iconic Christian magazine “Christianity Today” will feature a profile in April’s issue of Doug Wilson, written by freelancer Molly Worthen. Worthen’s NY Times article about New St. Andrews two years ago represented a fawning, poorly-written and shallow account of her discovery of “classical education” in the midst of Idaho, of all places — I mean, who’d have thunk it? I sincerely hope her NSA article, as well as the CT piece, isn’t representative of the future of journalism, given that she stayed with NSA chief Roy Atwood during her time in Moscow two years ago. (Some of us journalists remember the good old days, when such an ethical breach would render a freelancer as close to un-hireable as possible).

I’m disappointed that CT would highlight Wilson and his work with anything other than a hard-hitting, unflinching investigation by a real journalist, and I’m puzzled at how a dilettante like Worthen landed the assignment. What I’m most curious about, however, is whether or not Moscow’s male, ordained, and congregationally-supported pastors will suddenly decide that, by golly, they feel, finally, “led” to condemn the words and work of a man whose misdeeds evidently torment them in private but cannot be examined by them in public until God frees them to do so — or until Christianity Today comes a-callin’.

It’s amazing how wide exposure encourages good men to take up a fight that some of us have taken on and endured for years. My hope is that the amateurish and misguided work of Molly Worthen is not mirrored, much less affirmed, by the amateurish and misguided words of those she chose to interview.

This Poor Guy Would Never Make It In Christian Music Today

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

When Jeff and I were married almost 25 years ago, we couldn’t afford much in the way of entertainment — it was movie (matinee) OR dinner (half-off coupons), rarely movie AND dinner. We gratefully accepted dinner invitations from older, more-established friends, and I perfected my recipe for fettuccini Alfredo largely because it was so rich with cream and butter that no one complained that it was meatless. Those were good times; I wouldn’t give them back for the world.

One of our favorite things to do was to sit on the couch, watch the cats play, and listen to our cassettes — John Denver and Don Francisco, Heart and Journey and the Doobie Brothers, Second Chapter of Acts and Led Zeppelin (just not in the same evening!). The cassette that got the most play, though, even before we’d heard that it was considered The Most Important Christian Album Of All Time, was Larry Norman’s “Only Visiting This Planet.”

Larry Norman, for those of you who haven’t been exposed to his brilliantly prophetic lyrics and lovely, hard-folk music, was one of the Jesus-Freaks-With-A-Record-Label in the early 1970s. He had long blond hair and a sleepy voice; his bipolar disorder, diagnosed late in his life, didn’t temper his brilliance but sometimes made his life a bit messy, and when he died a few years ago, I remember pulling out the cassette and listening through “Visiting” again. It was remarkable, and its arrival this week in CD form has occasioned several play-throughs as Jeff and I reminisce about a guy whose life was too short and whose ministry was too stark — too uncompromising, too controversial, too hard-hitting, and too honest to ever find a home in what passes for “Christian music” today. (Disclaimer: My idea of eternal conscious torment involves contemporary Christian FM-radio music . . . ). I’m struck by how insightful Larry Norman’s work was, and how it applies just as much to today’s church and the world around it. Here’s a sampling from “The Great American Novel:

I was born and raised an orphan
In a land that once was free
In a land that poured its love out
On the moon
And I grew up in the shadow
Of your silos filled with grain
But you never helped to fill my empty spoon . . .

You are far across the ocean
In a war that’s not your own
And while you’re winning there
You’re gonna lose the one at home.
Do you really think the only way
To bring about the peace
Is to sacrifice your children
And kill all your enemies?
**************************************

A Christian musician singing anti-war, anti-poverty stuff? How weird is that?