Archive for February, 2012

Ten Years In Moscow

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

It was February 22, 2002, that the boys and I, fueled by a stop at Starbucks and Krispy Kreme in Issaquah, Washington, hit I-90 east with a truck full of our stuff and, stomachs churning and tears yet to dry on adolescent and third-grade cheeks, said goodbye to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and ministry and prepared to begin our new lives in my husband’s hometown, Moscow, Idaho.

Jeff was to join us that weekend, and for the first six months of our time in Moscow, in a house on Ridgeview Drive whose backyard overlooked the front yard and barn he and his grandfather built up on their family home, he was with us for nine days and “back there” for the next nine, winding up his 22-year tenure as co-owner of Total Landscape Corporation in Woodinville. We had lived in Snohomish County for 18 years as his business took off and my ministry among immigrant workers flourished, and his family all lived in Snohomish and Monroe and Gold Bar, guaranteeing not only that we’d always have a babysitter, but that our sons would grow up knowing as much about being part of a close family as they did about layering outside attire so as to take advantage of every possible chance to be outdoors. Anthony was three when we moved to our perfect little Monroe rancher on a perfect little residential street abutted by cul-de-sacs and filled with preschool-aged boys. Jonah was born while we were there, and, except for an ill-advised move to Snohomish exactly a year before we moved to Moscow — a move that still grieves us, accomplishing, as it did, nothing more than the uprooting of our sons’lives while failing to stanch the tide of work and ministry that had begun to take over our own — that’s the home they grew up in.

But the reality is that a God-prospered business and a God-directed ministry still can spill over their banks and consume a young family not adept at setting boundaries, and so, after much prayer and with equal parts anguish and joy, we decided to move to the place I fell in love with the first year of our marriage, 1984, when we went to a family reunion on the grounds of the little house behind the bank of trees we live in now — the house that’s nestled onto property that’s been in Jeff’s family for 127 years, the house I fell in love with that weekend even without going inside — the house I know with all of my heart I was born to live in, in the town I considered my home even before I began living there.

Lots of big things have happened in the decade since we decided to “simplify our lives.” I’ve tried politics and continued my activism; I’ve suffered loss, worked myself to the point of exhaustion on losing causes, and lost contact with scores and scores of people I worked with for 12 years in Monroe. It wasn’t in the plan, of course, but I’ve gone through the fear and pain of physical illness and a car wreck that changed my life, and I smile at the irony that more sunny days in Moscow came to me when I was first too busy to enjoy them on my bicycle and now not at all busy and yet unable to enjoy them anyway by hiking, bicycling, and doing all of the strenuous things that I always had. It hasn’t all been good; it certainly hasn’t all been “simple.” But through even the darkest days, I know I’m living in my hometown. My family has prospered here in every way. Jeff sold his share of his big, successful business and works now with a partner, his truck, and a bigger smile than I had seen during too much of the mid-1980s and 1990s. My boys grew to like Moscow, but my eldest left even before he graduated from the University his grandfathers did, and my youngest seems more content here than I thought he would. Anthony’s back in Monroe-Snohomish; Jonah’s thrilled to be at BookPeople. The balance of our lives has been demonstrated, I suppose, in my sons, and each is where he should be.

But Jeff and I are here, and I wanted to take this time to thank Moscow for the innumerable gifts its given me. Every sales clerk, pharmacist, grocery store cashier, barista, nurse, waitress, and office administrator who remembers my name has deepened my roots here, making me feel connected and cared for; every friend I’ve made has gladdened my heart. The doctor whose put up with me for ten years, Helen Shearer, is a Godsend, and the teachers who’ve enriched my sons’ lives are as well. This is a lively town, a hotbed of thought and activity. I’ve wrangled with conservatives and infuriated liberals, and I’ve learned that some of the wisest people I know have very little formal schooling. Conversely, my previous awe of the Ph.D and the Ed.D has been . . . well . . . more than a little tempered. I’ve lived well, loved much, lost some, gained more, and been refined, tested, and strengthened by being part of the most wonderful town in the world. I’ve eaten well, enjoyed music and art and theater and poetry, and have been moved to tears by the beauty of the woods to my east and the soft ripple of wind through green wheatfields to my west. I’ve found the church I’ve always longed for and I marvel that they’re glad they found me. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of you here on Vision 2020, and whether we’ve agreed or not, or whether I’ve annoyed you or encouraged you, you’ve been part of my “coming home,” as John Denver put it, to a place I’d never been before. My prayer is that those who know me would see that everything I’ve done publicly in Moscow has as its ultimate goal the betterment of our town. I haven’t always gotten it right. It hasn’t been the easiest, most simple, or least painful decade of my life — not by a long shot. But if life serves up hard things, I’m glad I’ve been rooted here to meet them. Moscow is knit through my husband’s and my family’s history, and I’m beyond grateful that it’s knit through the tapestry of my life and will be ’til the end. I live in Moscow, Idaho, and with all of my heart, I thank God and I thank you all for your part in making this the only place I’ll ever want to live.

Wise Words

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

“Your critics are your friends, for they show you your faults.”

Benjamin Franklin

“The LORD chastens those He loves . . .”

An Apology

Monday, February 20th, 2012

There’s no other way to put it — words can’t adorn the fact that my comments in my recent column about the power of Wilsonian, Driscollian, Piperian words deeply wounded a friend of mine, who was one of the two women whose conversation I melded into one and then drew my comments from.

S. called me and was very angry and even more hurt that I would take the essence of a private conversation and use it to illustrate a point. While I in no way made it possible to identify her, and I think I correctly represented hers and the other woman’s thoughts on slavery and Biblical literalism, I hurt her. For that, I’m profoundly sorry. I suspect she won’t readily forgive me, nor understand that I didn’t intend to hurt her as I did (not as she thinks I did, but as I DID), but if I sinned publicly against her, I need to apologize publicly. And I do.

There is no issue so vital that I can violate the confidence of friends who disagree with me, and S. believes that I did. While it wasn’t my intent, I apologized and, as is my practice in Prevailing Winds, acknowledge my wrong publicly, specifically, and immediately upon becoming aware of it. I do so now and ask the Spirit to cleanse whatever part of my heart isn’t bringing forth light.

Let’s Get Started With Piper/Wilson/Driscoll’s "Masculine Christianity," But A Few Comments First

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

We’ll get into “masculine Christianity,” but let’s first stop to consider how far-reaching the influence of men like Doug Wilson, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper really is.

I returned from my trip to Tucson last week with a couple of experiences that reminded me of how pervasive — and for now, let’s just stick with “pervasive” — each of these men’s teachings are.

The Internet is abuzz with the horrifying treatment suffered by a young man at Driscoll’s Seattle Mars Hill Church after he freely confessed to one of his cell group leaders that he had been sexually active with his girlfriend. The result was a cult-like, heavy-handed battering from the group leader all the way up the extensive Mars Hill hierarchy that required this young man to sign a contract stating his culpability for his own AND the girl’s sin — because as the male in the relationship, he didn’t protect her sexual purity — as well as his acceptance of a blisteringly un-Biblical program of rehabilitation that would’ve required him to confess his every sexual thought, experience, and struggle as one of many hoops to jump through before being “restored” to full Mars Hill fellowship, plus seemingly endless “pastoral” meetings, confrontations, encounters, and soul-baring exercises in manipulation and humiliation that guaranteed his loss of community and friends. What Driscoll and his fellow spiritual thugs call “church discipline” was, in this case, nothing more than an exercise in patriarchy, where one powerful man “owns” and exercises control over others, men and women, deemed to be “under” him.

I submit to the Scriptures regarding the need to minister to our brothers and sisters when they sin, but Driscoll’s behavior here isn’t even appropriate for entrenched, unrepentant sin, and certainly not for a young man who felt the Spirit’s conviction regarding his sin and brought up the issue himself. Driscoll is being roundly condemned, both within and outside of the Church, although sadly not within Mars Hill, and he should be. Driscoll’s sadistic treatment is worthy of the strongest rebuke, not just for the abuse this young man has suffered, but also for the abusive and cultish control here that is not at all a Matthew 18 response but a spiritual gang-rape of a young brother’s conscience. I pray not just for the young brother involved, who has left Mars Hill under a shadow of shame,trauma, and humiliation, but also that the powerful and fresh wind of the Spirit would topple that and any other church structure that honors bullying and abuse under the guise of following the Bible’s commands for pastoral leadership.

All of this had hit the Internet in the weeks before my Tucson trip, but I was reminded there, too, that bullies with media empires aren’t held to greater account, much less silenced, just because their bullying begins from the pulpit. In fact, their spiritually impotent and ultimately destructive theologies find even a wider audience because of their “pastoral” occupations — not, sadly, because the world expects better from Christian pastors, but because so many of their followers enthusiastically embrace phallocentric and masculinist theology no matter how little it looks like the life and message of Jesus Christ. After all, as Driscoll himself says, look at the numbers. Mars Hill and its church plants and programs are growing like crazy.

Cancer does that.

I was with my niece in a funky little anarcho-leftist coffeeshop and bookstore on Tucson’s delightful Fourth Avenue when the proprietor and I began one of those, “Oh, you grew up here? Where do you live now?” conversations that flow so easily whenever I visit the place I lived the first 22 years of my life. I told her I was from Moscow, in north Idaho, and braced for what I’d heard before — lots of questions about neo-Nazis, Aryans, and other white-supremacist landmarks of a rotting culture.

But this woman asked if Moscow was the place where “some pastor guy” had written a book a few years ago about the “mutual harmony” that slavery in the American South brought between slaves and masters. Twice before, on visits five or six years ago, strangers who learned I was from Moscow asked if that was where the “Classical Christian education guy” whose homeschooling products their grandkids used was from, and they both seemed only moderately intrigued that Doug Wilson’s view of “classical” Christian education, or any education not the sole province of defenders of the Great Cause and the slaveholding that upheld it, required an embrace of the kidnapping-supplied, race-based, family-shattering and permanent ownership of Black people by whites.

This time, though, the owner of Revolutionary Grounds on Fourth Avenue asked if Moscow was the home of the “pastor” who not only defended antebellum slavery, but applauded it as a culture and spiritual condition more beneficial to its subjects than today’s. She knew someone claiming to be a Christian pastor had written a book that defended the indefensible from the Bible, and while she was clear — crystal clear, in fact — that she was not a Christian, she wanted to know if any other Christians “up there” objected. We talked for about 20 minutes as I explained that no, the evangelical, Trinitarian Church in Moscow from which the only effective rebuke of Wilson’s execrable defense of slavery could possibly come was largely silent in the face of such a Gospel-defaming effort.

Further, I said, Moscow’s “liberals” were too often so concerned about things like the “eat local” sourcing of meat at the Co-Op, and too convinced that all Christians were “just that way,” to really protest — an insipid “tolerance” of things having earned its place as the highest evident value our progressive community holds. I mentioned the eight to ten “Intoleristas” who regularly pushed back against Wilsonian bigotry, but lamented the roar of silence from the larger community and the Church. I told her about Prevailing Winds and my 2008 KRFP debate with Wilson, received her thanks, bought a T-shirt, and left with the task of explaining to my delightful 15-year-old niece that an entire community, and a conglomeration of church institutions, seemed content to let Wilson’s bigoted blather continue largely unchallenged.

My niece thinks I’m a total rock star, but me? I just felt lonely.

The toxic effect of Wilson’s filthy take on history and theology was made clear just days later, when a Christian woman I know commented that she and her husband had taught their kids that slavery was, according to the Bible, not necessarily always bad — and could even be OK, as long as the slaveholders treated the slaves in accord with the Word of God. It was there in the Bible, she said, and any attempt to condemn slavery in the American South was evidence of a Christian culture simply unable to submit to the Scriptures and altogether unable to grasp the importance of complete obedience to the Father. My protests — that slavery in the Old Testament was NOT the same as the slavery in the United States, owing to the latter’s being possible only through kidnapping, racial subjugation, and un-Biblical violence and generational ownership of entire families by white men — was, to her, nothing more than my sad apology for parts of the Bible I just didn’t like. There would be no redemptive hermeneutic, no cultural context, no honest assessment of antebellum slavery, and no reading, even, of Wilson’s “Southern Slavery As It Was” (she was going to give him the benefit of the doubt as a fellow Christian) — Paul’s Epistles never specifically said slavery was a sin, so . . . there you go, and there she went, down a tragic and toxic path of fundamentalism and the illogical, illiterate folly that accompanies it while explaining to her beautiful grade-school aged children that two hundred years ago, they, too, could hope to grow up and own other human beings, as long as they treated them “Biblically.”

Sadly, the reality that her white, Christian sons would never themselves have been owned, and certainly not by a Black man, never occurred to her, never tugged at her mind as evidence of the inherently evil social structure that gave us the slaveholding Wilson — and she — defends. This woman isn’t a Christ Church member, not a homeschooling, quiver-filling victim of fascist fundamentalism, and not a blind sheep gamely gamboling after the first voice she hears. She’s simply afraid to make a mistake in applying Scripture to her and her children’s lives, and the way to avoid that is, to her, to engage in a simple commitment to take the literal words on the page and shove them into her life and that around her. There are hundreds of women like her in the Moscow area — good Christian sisters who revere the Word of God and yet shrink away from the hard work of interpreting and applying it in a Gospel-affirming way that requires more reliance on the Spirit and less on the ink on the page.

It’s the ink on the page, the words on the blog, the voice from the pulpit, and the chatter of thousands of fellowship groups, Bible studies, and Christian media that promulgate the worst of heresies, the most toxic of teachings, the most prurient and puerile sermons, and the seemingly endless stream of horror — patriarchy, slavery, hierarchy, inequality, violence, villification — pouring from the Church. Words carry, and they carry with them an assurance that they contain the truth, that any deviation from them is disobedience to God and any criticism of those who speak them an ungodly exercise in tearing down the Church. But to be silent in the face of this tide is to sin. Public error must be confronted publicly, personally, strongly, Biblically, and comprehensively.

That’s why I write, and that’s why I won’t — cannot — stop. It doesn’t matter that Wilson, et al, are unlikely to change because of what I write. It does matter that I do, and to expose, as Scripture says we must, the deeds of darkness around us is a simple matter of obedience to the Holy Spirit, through whom I am being conformed daily to the character of Jesus Christ. It’s his Gospel, and I love it.

So when it’s trampled on, abused, and dressed in filthy rags by those who ought to know better and don’t care to, don’t expect silence from my corner. There won’t be any. Know this, however: With the criticism and protest, there’s an underlying song of praise to the One who is truth. Don’t miss it, just because the words are stronger than you’re used to hearing. The Church is doing battle. Unfortunately, the casualties are untold millions of Christ-loving women who want only to serve as the Spirit leads, the men who love Christ more than they love their masculinity and are bruised and battered because of it, and the children among them who look to Christ Jesus and too often see masculine superheroes, soldiers, and sages who belittle the very things that the Gospel compels. The stakes are high, the words are strong, and the way is clear.

I hope you’ll join me.

I Thought I Knew Tucson …

Friday, February 10th, 2012

OK, I’m pretty sure I had fond memories of cavorting about in the neighbors’ pool in February when growing up in Tucson. It was a bit nippy, but theirs was heated and we were willing to risk a tad bit o’ chill anytime our parents decided that a mid-winter cocktail party at the Beebe’s was a good idea.

There was a time when our parents, all of the parents on the cul-de-sac I grew up on, had frequent spontaneous and lush cocktail parties with the neighbors, and life on my little cul-de-sac was ideal once I got out of my house. Ours reigned from the top of the loop, enabling me, after innumerable tries, to become the only girl in the neighborhood who could skateboard all the way down my sidewalk to the street pole six houses down. No fear of frost heaves or ice in Tucson in the ’60s and ’70s, and miraculously no broken bones either.

So my thought of a quick trip to Tucson in the early days of February prompted me to bring lots of short-sleeved things and Birkenstocks — which my mother once remarked were shoes worn only by lesbians and pot dealers. To which I, a snarky little thing, replied, “OK, wanna guess which one?” Alas, I was only a Birkenstock wearer, but I felt the need to stand up for my tribe, as well as for my more fashion-conscious lesbian and pot-dealing friends who would never be caught dead in ugly footwear.

Anyway, for those of my readers pondering some February fun in the sun in the desert Southwest, a note of caution: It gets cold down there. Most mornings are in the low 40s, and even the afternoon mid-70s don’t seem as mid-70s-ish as I remembered. I spent much of my time wishing I was warmer, and I wasted twenty bucks on a necessary hoodie, and article of clothing that, oddly enough, has never flattered me.

Of course, many of my memories are tainted by the rust of decades following and the light of perspective that age brings. I’m guessing I wasn’t a knockout in my first, or even my last, bikini, and I probably didn’t wear one in February. My memories of late-winter sunburns have been gently nudged to a more likely late-spring, and the one winter the four of us descended on Tucson in late February and DID spend hours in the hotel pool was clearly a late-’90s anomaly.

I know, however, and know without a doubt, that I truly did skateboard all the way down the block — an early memory of empowerment and achievement time can’t take away . . .

I’ll be back blogging in mid-February, and I hope all of you are well. There’s MUCH to discuss: the emergence of Rick Santorum as a plausible presidential candidate, which I had predicted months ago before Cain, Bachmann, and Perry dropped out, the moral vacuity demonstrated by the Religious Right-influenced GOP, the reality that, in 2012, we’re discussing the right of women to avail themselves of contraceptives, the continuing and pitiable Doug Wilson obsession with manhood, fatherhood, masculinity and patriarchy, and all sorts of issues both vexing and valorous. So stay tuned,readers, and get ready for a mid-February gust of Prevailing Winds that I guarantee will be fresh, focused, and funkier than words can say.

It’s gonna be a wild ride.