Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Celebrating Interfaith Conflict

Interfaith struggles have never made a tremendous amount of sense to me. Given that pretty much all of the world's religious traditions reject the idea of violence and embrace love for the other as somehow central to existence, it remains an amazing testament to human smallness that we continue to use faith as an excuse to have at one another.

This afternoon, in a moment of random faith-based dithering around on the internet, I encountered a lovely little side-scrolling flash beat-'em up, in which you can pit the iconic figures of all of the world's great religious traditions against one another. It's like that online classic Bible Fight, only for Unitarians.

The creators of the game have come under fire, predictably, from Islamic organizations outraged at the image of the Prophet. Why they don't like his nifty-keen flame attack is beyond me. The little game studio that made the game has since taken it off line...but, the Internet being what it is, it's going to be around for a while.

I'm more concerned, frankly, that the creators of the game imply that the Holy Spirit Attack can be used by both the “Father” and the “Jesus” character. That’s clearly taking the side of the Western church in the 880 Council of Constantinople, and exacerbates the filioque schism between Eastern and Western churches that began in the year 1054. The last thing we need to do is open up that can of worms again, eh?

And there is the little matter of the game folks totally misidentifying Krishna as Buddha. Oh well.

Even if it is just a tiny bit irreverent, the game is both funny and intentionally poignant. It clearly is a commentary on the religious hatreds that have torn and wracked humankind…even when those hatred are antithetical to the teachings of the founders of the faiths in question. As a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and a gamer, I’m completely in favor of such truth-telling.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Invasion of the Mutant Dandelions

As I was out and about for my Monday morning walk, I wondered what new thing I might see. One of the joys of getting yourself out of a car and moving at the slower and more deliberate pace that comes from using your legs is that you notice more. You're aware of the light and the heat. You're aware of changes in temperature and shade. And you see stuff when you're not so focused on steering with one hand and texting with the other.

This morning, the "stuff" came as I detoured through a small sun-drenched patch of grass about midway through my five mile hike.

The grass was smattered with dandelions, and walking through them I noticed that several of the little beggars were...well...strange. Their tops were denser and thicker with seeds, and their stems were much broader than any I'd ever seen and strangely flattened. Several clusters in one area all looked pretty much the same.

Once I got home, a bit of googling found that these were, in fact, mutants. They were exhibiting something called "fasciation," which is the term for a type of plant mutation that causes unusual, flattened growth patterns. Botanists are not quite sure what causes it.

Whatever it was that caused this particular mutation, it seemed to be thriving. Who knows? Maybe in five hundred years, most dandelions will look like this.

Learn something new every day.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Westboro Baptist on a Beautiful Spring Day

It was a perfect day for a demonstration.

Warm but not too warm, with a gentle breeze and little puffy clouds scudding lazily across an azure sky. As I arrived at Walt Whitman high school to counterprotest the Westboro Baptist folks, I realized that I was going to be pretty much by myself. The folks from my church and/or from my denomination who I thought might be able to make it...well...it didn't quite happen. And here I was with a little stack of signs. Ah well. I was happy to be out, and curious to see the Westboro show with my own eyes.

After shooting the breeze with some of the law enforcement folks who'd arrived to keep things in check, I settled in across the street from where the cultists were to protest. I struck up conversations with those around me, passing the time with a small cadre of folks from a nearby Unitarian congregation and a fellow from the neighborhood whose kids had attended the school.

The Westboro folks arrived exactly on time, four women and three little kids. Their hateful signs came out. Some painfully reworded hymns were sung. They looked...well...more than a little pathetic.

I began displaying my own signage, a mix of different Bible passages that reiterated the love ethic that is central to the Gospel. For a little while, there weren't many onlookers, and the single largest contingent was three dozen rather bemused cops. Then school let out, and several hundred kids poured over to the police line to have a look. Many were part of the organized counterdemonstration, but most were just curious.

I rotated my signs. I chatted with folks around me. I didn't do the Jesus-skeeving thing for a second. I wasn't pitching my church to anyone, or collecting names and numbers and gladhanding. I wasn't doing anything other than presenting what Jesus taught. I was just there to witness to that essential goodness. Nothing more.

Then one Whitman kid asked if they could have a sign. Then another. Finally, I managed to distribute pretty much all of them. There, courtesy of folks who were just volunteering on the spot, was a nice little wall of grace confronting Westboro. Only one part of that wall was me. The rest were folks who may or may not have been Christian, but who responded positively enough to the core message of the Gospel to be willing to use it to confront hatred.

I found that rather reassuring.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Let Them Eat Mud

As one of the four people who still read print media, I was going through the WaPo yesterday, and stumbled across an article on Haiti.

Haiti is and has seemingly always been a total mess. As a kid, my church maintained a partnership with Haiti, sending relief supplies and other support. A good friend recently came back from a medical mission there, and the delightful pictures of suppurating wounds and skin ailments he put up confirmed that things are pretty intensely unpleasant there still. It's a little slice of intractably abject poverty, right there in our own backyard.

What particularly struck me in the article were two things. First, that Haitians have been so impacted by the recent economic downturn that they can no longer afford "mud cookies." Those are a delightful baked confection in which the most significant ingredient is clay. People increasingly can't even buy baked dirt in Haiti.

The second item was a little snippet of "hope" being offered up by our Secretary of State as she toured a garment factory in Port au Prince, the capital.

She marveled at the factory, and hailed it as a model for progress in Haiti. Workers there were making between two and three times the average Haitian's daily salary...which means they were making between $4 and $6 a day. Marvelous! Wonderful! They're being given the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty!

So here we have jobs that used to pay American garment industry workers $6 an hour...and Haitian workers are being paid almost a factor of 10 less to do the same work. Unless you own the factories, how is this a triumph? Six bucks a day isn't going to turn things around. Sure, you can have all the mud cookies you can eat. Haitians can continue to struggle, and be only very slightly better fed, until they get sick and can't do it any more.

What I marvel at as I look at this sort of thing is how perfectly it mirrors the worst elements of late 19th and early 20th century capitalism. Back then, it was Americans who labored for negligible pay and for backbreaking hours. They mostly came from rural backgrounds, and were lured to urban industrial centers with the promise of consistent work. Within most democratic nations, though, the fact that folks could vote and freely organize and associate (more or less) ultimately counterbalanced the worst practices of profit-driven enterprise.

But I struggle to see how this works with globalized capitalism. If those who...ahem...control the means of production are able to circumvent democratic counterbalances, I'm just not sure how the intense imbalances in wealth that the market generates are ever going to be resolved. All one has to do is move industry to places where government is either weak or does not represent it's people.

For some reason, this sort of thing always makes me think of the prophet Amos:

This is what the LORD says:
"For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not turn back {my wrath}.
They sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.

They trample on the heads of the poor
as upon the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.

They lie down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
they drink wine taken as fines.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

God of War

I really do find myself struggling with my own human tendency to violence lately. That doesn't mean I've been getting into brawls at my session meetings or picking random fights with Baptists.

It's that I've bothered comparing my feelings towards the Somalian piracy issue with my Christian faith. On the one hand, I have no patience whatsoever towards individuals who are willing to threaten others for material gain. That is, quite simply, evil. But that's not the only ethos that I have trouble with.

The idea that somehow seizing ships and holding individual sailors as hostages should be viewed primarily in terms of cost/benefit analyses is equally alien. Those ship owners and insurance actuaries who'd rather just pay ransoms seem to just be enabling ongoing violence. Their marketized morality couldn't care less about the terror inflicted on captive sailors and their families. It's all about acceptable risk and maintaining profitability.

I freely admit to desiring an aggressive response to the narced up and heavily armed men who've been seizing ships, and to having taken some satisfaction in the Special Forces action that freed the captain of the Mersk Alabama. For all of the reporting on the anarchy, poverty, and tribalism in Somalia, my willingness to accept varying cultural norms runs out well before I'm willing to tolerate hostage taking and the armed seizure of goods. At some level, I'd like to see more intense responses, in the form of a multilateral effort to both take out the land bases that have been supporting pirate activity and re-establish the rule of law.

On the other hand, I'm troubled that I have such a strong positive reaction to the application of coercive power. I'm reasonably sure that the only authentic Christian response to three perfectly synchronized headshots should be sorrow at the loss of life. Here, I tend to fall back on St. Augustine's City of God for my theological framework. Are Christians permitted to use force? Augustine thought so, but only in defense of an innocent. That use of force can't be vengeful, or driven by blood lust. It needs to be guided not by a desire to destroy, but a desire to build up and restore.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Compassion Guidance System

Among the many things I dabble around in, I'm continually fascinated with artificial intelligence and robotics.

I get my fix of botstuff over at this blog, which today served up an absolutely delightful story from New York. It's a little robot called the tweenbot, which is pretty weak by robot standards. Does it clean your house? Nope. Does it explore the deepest recesses of interplanetary space? No. Is it a new form of intelligence? Naw.

All it does is roll forward. That's it. It can't steer. It has no idea where it's actually going, no complex processors and satellite navigation system interlaced with advanced optical scanners.

Instead, it has a cute little smiley face, and a flag on the back which asks passersby to help point it in the right direction. Its creator sets it trundling off, and the only way it can get to it's target destination is with the direct assistance of human beings.

What's most cool about this form of navigation is that it actually works. It doesn't work quickly...but it works. This tiny little insensate thing can get where it's supposed to go, because human beings--New Yorkers, no less--are willing to take a few seconds out of their lives to help.

Perhaps there's hope for humanity yet.


Friday, April 10, 2009

But We're Up To The Third Coming

There was a lovely little driblet of Jesus data served up by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life yesterday. Funny how these things always come out during Holy Week. Drawing from an exhaustive survey of American Christians done back in 2006, the report gives us a picture of what self-professed Jesus followers do and do not believe about the second coming.

As always, I find myself either 1) in the minority or 2) just not on the map at all. The study shows that of American Christians, 79% believe in the return of Jesus, although once you get to asking how and when and why, things get a bit murkier. 21% don't believe in the Second Coming, don't know, or just don't care.

I guess I'm in some variant of the latter category. Though this is not particularly orthodox of me, I can say it without reservation: anticipation of the bodily return of Jesus of Nazareth is not a central part of my faith. If it happens, fine. But it's not the focus.

I tend to feel this most strongly around Easter. As I read through and pray over the story of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection, I tend to become more and more annoyed with the folks whose faith seems to revolve entirely around hollering about his physical return in the mothership. Though Jesus in the Gospels teaches mostly about 1) the immanence of the Kingdom and 2) his interwoven relationship with God, somehow most of Christendom has made itself theologically indistinguishable from pre-Jesus Judean messianic belief. This seems to render all the things that went on in Christ's previous appearance almost irrelevant. Or, to be frank, his appearances.

Jesus comes the first time. He teaches us everything we need to know to live as God wants us to live. Then, he shows us the depth of God's presence in Him by embodying that life right up to and including a particularly unpleasant death. That's...well...isn't that the First Coming?

After that, we hear that even that death can't stand against His grace, and His disciples witness that He returns from death. "Resurrection" means "again-rising," so if you're doing it again, that means you're not doing it for the first time. If we're being fair about it, isn't that technically the Second Coming?

And then we hear that the Spirit that filled him poured out upon his disciples, and that through that Spirit he was present in them and they were all made part of Him. Unless the Holy Spirit is somehow not actually fully God, doesn't this count too? As a Progressive Pentecostal, I'd say this one is much more important than we generally make it out to be. Not only that, but it would take us up to arrival number three, which is still in process.

And yet still we're waiting around, pointlessly dithering about when and where and who and how. I mean, gracious, how many times does Jesus have to show up before we get it?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Walls in the Sanctuary are Bleeding

My church is, by all accounts, far more interesting than it's size would seem to indicate. Often, that's in the Chinese curse sort of way...but I'll take what I can get.

Lately, though, there's an entertaining subthread to the life of the congregation. A growing number of folks are convinced of the possibility that the church is haunted. It's a pretty recent contemporary structure, hardly the sort of medieval abbey or creaky antebellum structure that typically evokes thoughts of bumps in the night.

However, the building is big, far bigger than my congregation needs. We rattle around in it's hollows. It has an oddly consistent history of negativity. It also is oddly structured, built with not a single right angle outside of where the walls meet the floor. First time visitors are usually disoriented by the counterintuitive nature of the layout. And it does have it's share of creepy corners...all of which I've explored extensively over the last six years. There's not an inch of the building I don't know, from the top of the roof to the dank dirt floored subterranean access tunnels. I've been here alone. I've been here alone late at night. Not once have I experienced anything remotely resembling a paranormal event.

Others have, though. The stories have trickled by over the years. There've been voices heard when people were alone in the church. Footsteps in hallways when no-one was there. What looks like a child darting into a darkened hallway.

Lately, things have been picking up. Locked doors leading to empty rooms have been shaken violently from within, as if someone were trying to get out. Folks here at night after a young adult event swear up and down that they heard the sound of a young girl's moaning. Our office manager did some digging into the history of the building site, and found that an abandoned schoolhouse sat for decades on the plot where the church currently stands.

As someone who is inherently skeptical about such things, I'm...um...skeptical. While I don't rule out the paranormal, I tend to think that most such events are the result of our rather impressive suggestibility. There's been an intensely negative spirit in the building, sure. Other pastors who've served here have noted it. But pretty much all of that has come from human beings and our inherent love of conflict.

Still and all, the prospect of doing some ghostbusting after the Easter season has some appeal.

Time for a lock-in!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Anselm's Ontological Proof 2.0

Proving the existence of God is just not something anyone bothers with these days. It's an old, stale, and dated exercise, the kind of pointless pseudo-intellectual dithering formerly undertaken by medieval monks after they'd delved too deeply into their daily allotment of ale.

Sure, fundamentalists claim to be able to do it, but their efforts generally involve a combination of 1) quoting the Bible 2) quoting the Bible some more and 3) assuming bananas were designed for human hands. These things make us sad.

Moderates and progressives have pretty much entirely given up on such quixotic efforts. What's the point? We come into knowledge of God through faith, not through reason. God exists in mystery, and trying to "prove" the transcendent is like trying to "prove" that feeling of awe you get when your first child moves in your belly. Some things just ain't empirical.

Having said that, I am now compelled to offer up my carefully reasoned proof of the existence of God. We small church pastors have time on our hands for stuff like this.

To set the stage, let's discuss the possibility of a multiverse cosmology.

"Quoi?" you say, suddenly speaking French. You catch yourself, and say "What? What does that even mean?" Well, in order to grasp this rather painfully abstract concept, perhaps the best way to approach it is to think about how we understand the universe. The realm of existence in which we find ourselves is bounded by four dimensional spacetime. "You're not helping," you say.

Fair enough. Let's go through the dimensions for a moment. Zero-dimensional objects are singularities, infinitely small "points." A bit like the dot below...only infinitely bitty:

A one-dimensional object can be conceptualized either in terms of Ann Coulter, or more traditionally, a line. It's infinitely larger than a point, as an infinite number of points can exist across it's span:

A two-dimensional object is a plane, which contains an infinite number of lines within itself:

A three-dimensional object is a solid, which, again, contains an infinite number of planes:

Here's where I've always hung up conceptually. As we move into considering four dimensional "objects," most theoretical cosmologies describe something that expands spatially outward from a cube, taking up infinitely more "space." This has always struck me as...well...silly, particularly given that the fourth dimension is empirically staring us right in the face. Rather than noodling around in theoretical folderol, why not just call it the way it self-evidently is: the fourth dimension is time. "Tesseracts," as some theoreticians call 4D objects, are nothing more than three-dimensional objects put into motion:

Apply change to a 3D object, and at every instant, it is infinitely different from the moment before...while simultaneously remaining completely dependent on the 3D object that "came before." Philosophically, the seemingly infinite nature of change across space-time was perhaps earliest noted in Zeno's Paradox, which I always thought would make an excellent excuse for showing up late to work. "You know, according to Aristotle, I shouldn't even be here at all." This only works in academe, I fear.

As physics goes deeper into the nature and structure of spacetime, what they're finding is that that the structure and movement of spacetime itself integrates seeming randomness into itself. Predictive models just can't seem to quite capture exactly how change will occur, even in some apparently simple systems.

What some cosmologists think...although it is admittedly and by necessity entirely within the realm of speculation...is that the universe we perceive is in fact just a single manifestation of an infinite array of spacetimes, within which all possibilities for being are manifested. To the spatial dimensions and to temporality we would then add potentiality as an aspect of the structure of the universe.

By that line of reasoning, there could be universes that vary from our own in impossibly minute ways, by a single twitch of a subatomic particle. There could be more significant variances, like the universe in which Sam Harris is a closeted lesbian who sings lead vocals for a megachurch praise team in Topeka, Kansas. Then there would be universes that had radically different structures from our own, in which the very physics that ordered them was different.

While that all exists within the realm of theoretical cosmology...we can no more truly grasp it's depth than we can truly grasp the nature of singularity...I think the possibility of such a "multiverse" or "omniverse" or "allverse" is likely. Shoot, if you believe in the omniscience and omnipotence of God, I'd argue that's it's even necessary theologically. That, however, is another argument for another time.

If you are open to a multiverse cosmology, in which all possibility of being is manifested, then you must also by necessity be open to the possibility of the existence of God. Why, you may ask?

Well, because an omniverse cosmology effectively eliminates the only valid objection to St. Anselm's ontological proof for the existence of God. As just saying that probably doesn't clear things up for you, let me unpack that a tad.

St. Anselm, a philosopher/archbishop from the tenth century, was famous for arguing that God's existence was necessary because God was that than which nothing greater can be conceived. As Anselm conceptualized it, God must exist. His line of reasoning was as follows: That which exists is inherently greater than that which does not. If God only existed as a concept within the human intellect, then God would not be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." Therefore, God must exist. The obvious problem with that is that...well...we can think up many things. That doesn't mean that they by necessity exist. There is a difference between possibility and actuality.

Unless...unless... you think that the universe is a multiverse of infinite possibility. In a multiverse, suddenly Anselm's ontological argument has purchase, and the empiricist counterargument becomes essentially irrelevant.

Within this cosmological framework, an omniscient and omnipotent being...of God...becomes not just probable, but likely.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Unfenced Tables

This last Sunday, as I served up the Eucharist, I found myself presented with what for some pastors would be a bit of a dilemma. The elder who was serving the Lord's Supper with me had in her charge an insanely cute two year old. She was endearing, and totally working it...but by two year old standards, she was surprisingly well behaved. When the time came for communion, she had to tag along with us as we served up the bread and the Welches.

As the line came to an end and the congregation had partaken of the elements, she wanted some too. She held her hand out. Not demanding or snitty or imperious in that I'm-Two-And-The-Universe-Revolves-Around-Me sort of way. She was just asking.

So we gave her some. We did the dipping for her, and she ate.

This, of course, would mortify many Jesus people. She's a tiny child! Little better than an infant! She has no idea what she's doing!

Did she comprehend what was going on? I'd doubt it. Then again, I'm not sure how many of my congregants entirely grasp the conceptual foundations of the Eucharist. The distinctions between the Aristotelean substantive approach, the Zwinglian mnemonic understanding, and the Reformed pneumatocentric model aren't often topics of my sermons, and my efforts to impose a multiple choice clearance test at each Lord's Supper just made the worship way too long.

Then again, I'm not sure any of us totally grasp what's going on with the Eucharist. It's something we take on faith, with the same kind of hopeful trust that that tiny one showed last Sunday.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

Westboro Baptist is unquestionably insane, but as I've spent a chunk of time going over their web presence in anticipation of their arrival in my neighborhood, I'm struck by a few things.

Their infamous signage, for one, is mostly remarkable for it's stark and iconic simplicity. It's a potent meld of basic primary colors and washes, coupled with brutishly simple messages that articulate their dark vision of the universe.

Second, as someone whose spent a small chunk of time recently trying to revamp the web presence of my own tiny little church, I can say that they've...well...got an impressive new media presence for a church their size. The Westboro website is clean and well designed. It gets right to the point, letting any visitors know in no uncertain terms that no matter who you are or where you're from, they hate you.

They've got an array of blogs, which express the viewpoints of a variety of different members of the extended Phelps family. Though each is somewhat different from the others, they all are remarkably good at staying on message. You've got current events related hate. There's a "Dear Abby"-esque hate-advice blog. There's a blog that angrily discusses their current schedule of hate-related picketing. Even more impressive, the folks at Westboro seem utterly committed to open-sourcing their material. Every page on their site boldly announces that there is no copyright on the text. Anyone can use it in any way they see fit. Why one would want to is beyond me, but I'm sure with some thought I could come up with some entertaining options.

As I've dug my way through their single-minded sea of festering bile, I've found myself wondering if it might be possible for a little church to become the Bizarro World Westboro Baptist. Could a congregation of 35-40 individuals be as intensely monomanaical in their expression of God's grace to the world as Westboro is in expressing their pathological hatred? Would it be possible for a small church to become as notoriously joyous as Westboro is notoriously horrid? Such a church would have to be more than a tiny bit insane, sure.

But it'd be a good sort of crazy.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Cultic Echo Chamber

What amazes me most about Westboro Baptist is just how "successful" they've been by cult standards. Like most psychotically insular communities, they honestly don't care about convincing anyone of their position. Instead, the purpose of their demonstrations is to gather attention for themselves and affirm their sense of "chosenness."

Their sense of self-importance and of being a central player in some great cosmic struggle requires constant collective ego-massaging. As the communities into which they forcibly insert themselves recoil in horror at the cruelty and small-mindedness of their message, that recoiling is interpreted within Westboro as an affirmation of their righteousness. The whole world is evil. They are the righteous elect. From that perspective, every creatively multisyllabic curse shouted from a passing car is another sign they must be right. Every Holy Finger of Rebuking raised in their direction reassures them that only they know the truth, and everyone else is hell-bound.

By setting themselves in a consistently adversarial position against everyone who is not part of their incestuous fellowship, they strongly reinforce the bonds within their community. They share in the "hardship" that they themselves have created, and in doing so, they create a powerful and deeply internalized bond of shared suffering. They know they are pariahs. They embrace their "alienness," and rejoice in it.

The danger here, of course, is that the bonds of self-inflicted oppression that unite Westboro Baptist are not all that conceptually different than the bonds carefully nurtured in other corners of the Christian world.

The human beings who go from homeschool to youth group to Christian college to young adult ministries to family ministries are taught a deeply embedded sense of otherness. The world is evil. It does not understand us. So we close in on ourselves.

On one level, that's because a society reared on greed and onanistic self-obsession can't grasp the deep grace and love of Christ.

But it's not always the fault of the culture outside. Sometimes, the message can't be conveyed because unlike the apostles, we choose to express it in ways that mean nothing to folks who aren't part of the inner circle already. We see this in many threads of the evangelical community, like the "Way of the Master" scripted evangelism of Ray Comfort, where every person offended by his message of hell becomes an affirmation of his rightness.

That we're not all Westboro Baptist doesn't mean there aren't lessons to be learned from their example.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Westboro Circus Is In Town

During the shared time for joys and concerns this last week, one of my young congregants shared that we're going to have a visitor in the neighborhood in late April. The good folks from Westboro Baptist are showing up for one of their demonstrations. Yes, it's the God Hates Fags "church." Right here! Less than a mile from my teensy little church!

They're here to demonstrate in front of our local high school, which they've targeted because it's named Walt Whitman High School. Beyond their likely being offended at the whole concept of poetry, they've chosen Whitman as a target for their endless fountain of bile because Walt Whitman most likely was gay or bisexual. That means, or so one of the blogs at Westboro puts it:

"The children that attend that high school are taught Rebellion Against God 101 every day in every way. "

I wonder if you can get college credit for that. I think you need to score a 4 or higher on the Rebellion Against God AP exam in Virginia, but I'm not quite sure about Maryland state universities.

As Fred Phelps and his clan continue their Quixotic assault on all things that they perceive as homosexual, I find myself feeling motivated to show up for a little counterwitness on the day they're in town. It's not that the Westboro Baptist Church represents any significant movement in Christianity. They don't. They're a tiny little cult, whose fundamental failure to understand the core of the Christian message radiates from them like fever-heat. They loves them some attention, and their "pickets" are more like an attention-seeking tantrum than a real protest.

Problem is, they've also become something of a poster child for folks with an axe to grind against Jesus people. "Look," they say, pointing at the signage. "This is what Christians believe! How could you be a part of such an evil thing?"

That's absurd, of course. Anyone who's bothered reading the Bible knows that this kind of hatred is utterly out of keeping with the foundational principles of Torah and the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. But if you've already been put off by the intensely exclusive anti-gay, anti-"unbeliever," anti-science rhetoric of fundamentalism, it's easy to think that somehow Westboro represents what most Christians really believe.

So on Friday, April 24th, a little counter-witness seems both decent and in order.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Monetizing Your Jesus

Given that my blogging is more personal journaling than it is a public resource, I rarely even notice the repeated nudgings from Google, which suggest I consider "monetizing" my blog. That means google ads, targeted specifically to the interests of the dozen or so human beings who stop by here on a daily basis. There are two reasons I just don't want to do this.

First, the practical. I just don't have enough traffic to justify it. My technorati rating is functionally nonexistent. If I "monetized" my blogging, I'd be surprised if it generated enough income in a year to get me a cup of coffee. Seven Eleven coffee.

Second, I just don't want to go that route. I do not blog because I expect it to be an income stream. I blog because I want to blog. I enjoy the occasional dialogue it generates, and writing helps me frame my thoughts. Pastors are supposed to journal, and supposed to make their thinking and meditation public. That's the point of writing and preaching, after all. If you're serving a community as a pastor, my strong feeling is that you're already kinda sorta committing yourself to doing this...and getting paid to do it, too.

There are those that do run ads, of course, and I don't begrudge them their income. Going ad-based certainly does provide a significantly higher level of motivation. But at some level, I just can't quite accept putting advertising anywhere near writing that frequently takes the form and function of articulating or proclaiming the Word. It feels a bit like interspersing ads in the different slides in your sermon Powerpoint, or dropping a few egregious product placements in your worship service.

"And when the meal was finished, Jesus took the Glen Ellen Cabernet Sauvignon, and poured it out in their presence, saying 'This is my body, which is inexpensive and surprisingly rich and full flavored.'"

If I'm talking about God, I'd really rather not go there. Advertising inherently desacralizes (ooh, a new word) both physical space and human discourse. Nothing wrong with it in the secular world, but I chafe at it's presence in conversations about our Creator.

That, I guess, is the challenge of blogging with your pastor hat on.