Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sin Tastes Better With Bacon

After many years of wheedling and cajoling from the boys, my family appears headed down the road towards getting a dog. I never had pets as a kid, mostly as a function of a semi-transient continent-hopping childhood. Now that we've settled down into a stable surburban quarter-acre, it looks like our family will be adding a furry critter to our number come 2010.

Pets are, for many folks, part of the family. Cats, dogs, and the occasional hamster are deeply loved and woven into the fabric of day-to-day family life. That often goes as far as bringing them for pastoral blessings, celebrating their birthdays, and similar schtuff. When they pass, they are mourned...not as deeply as we'd mourn a human, but mourned nonetheless. Folks of faith with pets frequently express the hope that those dear creatures will have a place in God's Kingdom. I am convinced that they will, but mulling over this leads me off on two related theological tangents:

Can a human being commit a sin against an animal? Someone who beats or abuses a puppy or kitten certainly isn't showing themselves as a person moved by the grace of God. Someone who trains animals for bloodsports would seem equally reprehensible, although I'm not sure how many football fans in Philly agree with me on that one. At a certain level, our willingness to vent our anger or hatred against the creatures around us is a measure of our sinfulness. We're meant to care for all creation, not beat it into submission or abuse it. Suffering is suffering is suffering. I am convinced that the harm we cause to our fellow creatures...even the nonhuman part of the measure by which we will be judged.

So if we can sin against animals, where does that leave thems of us who chow down on less-sentient critters? We're outraged at those folks who abuse dogs, but are happy as a clam to munch on a Bacon Double Bacon Burger that's comprised entirely of the flesh of animals that have lived short, brutish existences. The factory farm pigs that give us our delicious crunchy marbled fat-sticks exist in conditions that...were they, say, Golden Retrievers...would fill us with sputtering, pitchfork wielding, Congressman-calling outrage.

But...but...they're different, say you. Pork isn't puppies. Bacon doesn't bark.

Different? Not really, not by any meaningful standard. Both dogs and pigs are omnivorous social mammals. They have similar intelligences. There isn't any valid ethical difference between the process of preparing pork tenderloin and thit cho nuong, or between what goes into gaejangguk and a Mo's Bacon Chocolate Bar.

Yet we are an integral part of a system of industrial food production that inflicts impressively vast levels of suffering on creatures that are, for all intents and purposes, just as aware as those creatures we Jesus folk cherish and hope will somehow be cared for by their Creator.

It's a good thing God isn't just, or else we might be in for a world of hurt.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Forgiveness and Connections

Having wrapped up the Jewish High Holy Days with my wife and her family yesterday, I find myself thinking about the depth of connection between the message of Jesus and the core practices of modern Judaism. That connection goes well beyond my support services as a non-fasting and thus adequately caffeinated shabbas goy.

The essence of Christ's teaching in the synoptic Gospels (that's Mark/Matthew/Luke, kids) can be boiled down to one key phrase: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand." Most of the parables and teachings of Jesus are riffs around that core theme. We are to understand God's authority over us as present, right here, right now. We're asked to respond to God's sovereignty over our lives by turning away from those things that impede our living into a joyous relationship with God and neighbor. Jesus both taught that message and wrapped it up in flesh.

The call to set aside old brokenness, turn to God, and embrace a new commitment to a life lived in grace is the entire point of the most sacred period in the Jewish liturgical year. It's all about a repentant heart and seeking forgiveness and healing. The prayer book is called "Gates of Repentance." Every other prayer is asking for God's mercy and for the strength to do better.

As I sat through the Yom Kippur service yesterday, the parallels between this season and the season of Easter seemed unmistakable. Both seasons present a call to die to sin, and to live new into God's promise. To do that, we must both seek and offer forgiveness.

That ain't easy. Sometimes, the hurts we've experienced seem to go too deep, and tearing them out of ourselves feels impossible. We'd rather hold them close, and cherish the sharp bitter flavor they give our lives. But this is not how we were created to live. We were created to pour out the blessing of forgiveness into the world. Though our darkness snarls and struggles against it, we nonetheless need to open our hearts up and pour out whatever measure of grace God has given us.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Strange Webs

Yesterday, while waiting for my boys outside of religious school, I peered upward and saw a small stick hovering in midair. It floated eight feet above the ground, mostly lost in the background of the tree. I grew curious, and came closer.

It was not, fortunately, floating on it's own. That'd have been a bit too freakish. It was suspended from two threads of spider silk. I followed the strands upwards, and saw that they were connected to the triangular web of a mid-sized orb spider. The weight of the stick was providing the tension that gave the web it's form.

I stood there for a while, marveling at it. How could this have been made? The stick was twenty times the size of the spider, and more than 100 times it's weight. Arachnids are strong, but not that strong. It was far too high above the ground to have been pulled up by the spider, and too heavy. It could not have been intentionally cut from a branch, as spiders generally don't have access to power tools.

Perhaps the stick had been part of a prior web, and had broken off and swung down, inverting the existing structure. But it was perfectly balanced and level, with the two connecting strands neatly placed...and there were no branches directly above it.

I attempted to take a picture, but couldn't capture it with the puny onboard camera of an iPhone. So I drew it, in my clumsy sketching way.

Creation can be an marvelously odd place.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Discerning Light

Three readings seem to be mingling in my frontal lobe today.

The first was in an obit. It included a description of the testimony of Susan Atkins. Ms. Atkins died of brain cancer this week after spending a lifetime in prison for several particularly gruesome and pointless murders back in the 1960s. She was one of the followers of Charles Manson, who spurred his disciples into drug-fueled madness. Though Ms. Atkins appears to have truly reformed in prison, her quotes from the trial about murdering an eight-month pregnant actress were striking. She showed absolutely no remorse whatsoever. At trial, she indicated she "...felt no guilt for what I've done. It was right then and I still believe it was right." When pressed how killing another human being...two, really...could possibly be "right," she said: "How can it not be right when it's done with love?"

Clearly, this was the statement of someone utterly disconnected from the reality of love. The statement is completely incoherent. It is insane.

In reading through a portion of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion last night, I found his assertions about the truth and goodness of the Bible. To the rhetorical question posed about the truth of the Bible's teachings, Calvin responds:
Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of it's own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.
It does, of course. What is good in Scripture is radiantly good, self-evidently good. The central truths that the great narrative of the Bible...the Torah, prophets, and writings, the gospels and epistles..convey can be clearly discerned. That doesn't mean that we always read it correctly. We like to read in our own biases, to see our prejudices and presuppositions instead of what is intended, or to assume a text says one thing when it clearly says another. But using the Bible correctly yields good fruit.

That means not saying evil is good, and not saying good is evil. We have, in the core teaching of the Christian tradition, pretty solid idea of what is good. When we encounter things that clearly violate the intent of Christ's teachings, we are obligated to resist them. Embracing that which is in opposition to the ethic of love for God and neighbor that defines the Way is simply not acceptable.

That includes where that darkness is found in Scripture. Yesterday I read again the story of the "divinely appointed" massacre of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. I've had many a conversation with Bible-believing folk in which they've insisted...with complete earnestness...that there is no tension at all between Christ's insistence that we love our enemies and the butchery of unarmed women and children. It's all God's Word! It must be a manifestation of God's love!

But that, like the delusions of Ms. Atkins, is not real. It is not coherent. It is not sane.

It is also, rather notably, not Christian faith.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Appearance of Evil

While my little guy was banging his way through his drum lesson earlier this week, I took a few moments to wander down to a specialty store that had opened nearby. It was a Halloween Store. Not a generic costume store, or a party store. The sole purpose of this store was Halloween costumes and decorations, which makes it something like Christmas Mouse for the Trick-or-Treating set.

Unlike the Christians who hide away from this event, I tend to enjoy Halloween a great deal. It's utterly innocuous. In my community and in most communities around the country, it's a wholly secularized time to get to know neighbors and their kids. The candy we hand out to little Yodas and Elves and miscellaneous Cartoon Characters is a source of pleasure for both us and the recipients. The little impromptu block parties and groups of mellow, chatting, friendly parents are a self-evidently good thing, no matter what Jack Chick tells us.

But the store Not..."good." Maybe it was my mood that day. But I got a mild but unmistakably negative feeling the moment I walked in, a soft gnawing discomfort that didn't yield until I left. It was, I think, because of the way the store presented itself. It was too intentionally dark. It was too commercial, too adult, and too fascinated with the macabre, with blood and blade and horror.

One entire wall was full of "grownup" costumes, by which I mean the costume options currently open to women. They can be anything, so long as it's Sexy. To reinforce this, there were plenty of images of scantily clad hotties on display, to the point that it almost seemed like it was another sort of store altogether. Not that I've ever been in one of those stores. Ahem.

The rest of the store was decorated with elaborate models of the mutilated undead, monsters, and howling, illuminated-eye demons. Full-sized rentable mannequins of serial killers and succubi stood motionless in the back, each framed in a black velvet sarcophagus. The effect was not festive, not silly, not outrageous, or goofy. It didn't even feel particularly creative. In it's zealous effort to market All Hallows product, the store managed to come up with an overall feel that was claustrophobic and mildly menacing.

What struck me was the reaction of the kids. Those few who were in there didn't seem excited, or like they were having fun. They weren't scurrying from section to section. They seemed slightly wary. They were sticking close to their parents.

Evil...even just the surface appearance of evil...just isn't something people like to be around.

Honestly, it was the kind of store that would even bug a self-respecting Wiccan.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pushing Acorns Around

As the pastor of a little church, my duties are rather more varied than those of the regional CEOs of AmeriChrist, Incorporated. I'm not just responsible for spiritual guidance and sermons. I'm also the guy who goes up on the roof and cleans gutters. Or who weeds the parking lot. Or who digs trenches in the pouring rain to stop the youth group room from flooding.

Today, I was the guy who sweeps up acorns. We've got a huge oak tree by the side entrance to the church, and every Fall it rains down a squirrel's fantasy, a cornucopia of nuts. The walkway to the office gets completely covered with acorns, and in the interests of keeping older church folks from taking a tumble, I found myself behind a broom today, driving acorns scattering before me.

For an obvious reason, this got me thinking about the new favorite whipping-boy of American conservatism: ACORN. It's the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a loosely organized agglomeration of folks who attempt to get low income communities to engage politically. It is also, if FoxNews and most of the right-wing blogosphere are to be believed, a dangerous radical organization with a powerful influence over the American political process. Even my denomination's ultraconservatives are getting in their licks.

This is hooey. There are other words that might be more accurate, but hooey is the only one that's permissible to a pastor.

I used to have a solid awareness of the American nonprofit world through my work at the Aspen Institute, with a broad sense of who the major organizations were and what sorts of influence they brought to bear both locally and nationally. I once shared a beer with one of the founders of ACORN, which makes saying this a little awkward. not a player. By that, I don't mean it wasn't a player advocating for policy on the national scene. It's focus is too intentionally local for that. But even among the subset of organizations that follow the community organizing model touted by Saul Alinsky, ACORN has never seemed like the most effective entity. Perhaps that's because of my own local experience.

In the Washington Metropolitan Area, the local Washington Interfaith Network seems far more influential, as do other affiliates of the Industrial Areas Foundation. I see the fruits of their organizing regularly in local media...but ACORN has never really reached that level of prominence. Part of that, in my opinion, comes from ACORN's more secular focus. It hasn't engaged as deeply as other Alinskian organizations with faith communities in blighted areas, which means it lacks as deep a connection to organic networks within struggling communities. What is more significant, I think, is the membership composition of ACORN. It's membership is often on the margins of our society, and it can be somewhat marginal itself.

It's not, up until recently, an organization well known to most Americans. And that means it's an easy target for folks who need something to fear. Honestly, watching American conservatism focus it's umbrage on ACORN feels pretty much like watching a bully in action. Bullies look for the marginalized kid, the isolated one out there on the periphery of the playground, and then they attack. Kicking that little kid around does make 'em feel good, but it's hardly a major accomplishment, no matter how much they crow and brag about it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fencing the Table

My Presbytery today moved over to a completely different approach to handling our meetings. For the past several years, the National Capitol Presbytery has run meetings like, well, business meetings. We had an agenda. We used parliamentary procedure. There was debate and dissent and political maneuvering...and the meetings could go on and on and on. It wasn't something I tended to look forward to.

Today, the Presbytery meeting was part of the new model, meaning mostly worship. We gathered in small groups at tables. There was a lecture on Scripture, and then small group discussion, followed by a sermon, and more discussion, after which we shared Communion. It was actually sorta fun, and the discussions were both intellectually and spiritually engaging. The focus of the day was Mark 14, and as part of our conversations about the dynamics of the Christian communion meal, I bumped into something I can't quite recall having encountered before.

Meaning, I probably have encountered it, but I just don't remember. One of the great things about getting older is that I get to experience so many things again for the first time.

As we discussed the meaning of the Lord's Supper in the context of Mark and the other synoptic Gospels, I popped over to 1 Corinthians 11 to make sure that the Apostle Paul's perspective was included in our small group conversation. What whapped me upside the head about Paul's description of the communion meal was the very particular way he "fenced the table."

What "table-fencing" means, for thems of you who don't follow the in-group talk of Jesus people, is keeping out the folks who don't belong. The bread and grape juice that comprise the Lord's Supper are part of something sacred, so we need to boot the unworthy. It is, quite literally, excommunication.

Many churches set and enforce particular standards based on Paul's assertion that eating and drinking the Lord's Supper with the wrong attitude is "sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." People who run afoul of those standards are not welcome at the Lord's table. Keep 'em out! No Christ for You!

But if you get past our human love of sticking out our tongues at people we don't like, and actually read Paul, that isn't what he tells us to do at all. He never says, not ever, that our task is to judge others worthy or unworthy of the communion meal. What he says is this:
A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:28-31)
It is not "figure out who doesn't meet our standards." It's "take a hard look at ourselves, to see if we meet Christ's standards."

There's a huge, huge difference there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blades and Bludgeons

One thing that invariably surfaces in any ongoing conversation with a fundamentalist (hi Mark!) is their assertion that every single word of the Bible is the Word with a Capital Wubbleyou. Every last word must be equally important, because it was all written down by God. Therefore, we must all show equal deference to every text, and view every one of the books that make up the Bible as saying exactly the same thing.

They don't, of course, which is why literalism spends so much time creating a swirling defensive frenzy of meticulously interlocking rationalizations. But as I was musing over the repartee I've had recently and in the distant past, I was struck by something. When literalism brings scripture into an argument, it tends to be used as a bludgeon. Because it's approached like a large, univocal mass, it too often gets wielded like a blunt instrument. You must accept all of this! Whack! All of this! Whack! Every! Whack! Last! Whack! Iota! WHACK!

In debates, the literalist approach is typically to just pound people over and over again with the Bible, with the idea that eventually they'll yield. Or run away. Or just carry their deep bruises around for the rest of their lives, along with the conviction that Christianity exists primarily to hurt people.

Unlike some of my progressive brethren, I'm perfectly willing to take up our sacred texts when the time comes to battle. If you understand it, scripture can be a potent thing. But not as a bludgeon. Not ever.

Used properly, it's a blade. It's got an edge. The edge of the blade is...well...the heart of the Bible, it's finest point. It's not so much a club as a sword, or better yet, a scalpel.

And like a scalpel, it's purpose is not to pound folks into submission, but to heal.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Forgive Them, Father

Most folks who spend a great deal of time with the Bible come to have preferred books within it, a writer or prophet or poet whose expression of the story of our faith speaks most deeply to them. We'll also have verses...little snippets or soundbites...that tend to stick with us and resonate with us most intensely.

For me, one of those verses is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter twenty three, verse thirty four. It's from a particularly intense part of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. He's being crucified, and what we hear from him during that moment of physical anguish is this:
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
This verse, more than perhaps any other in the Bible, cements my conviction that Jesus is worth following. He's preached about the ethic of reconciling love...and he means it, to the point at which he is willing to ask God to forgive the people who are torturing him to death. There is a nobility and an integrity and a grace to that moment in the story of Jesus that I find utterly compelling.

But there's a little problem. There's a footnote. See it? Click on it if you like. The first sentence of this verse is...disputed...among the earliest Greek manuscripts of Luke. Some have it. Some don't. The ancient witness is not consistent, and there is no clear majority of accounts. So how do we decide which manuscripts are accurate? Did that phrase get inadvertently inserted? Did one set of manuscripts just neglect to include it? Or was it part of the original story, which some manuscripts deleted on purpose?

I tend to favor the last one, for three reasons.

First, the forgiveness Jesus offers just plain works with the heart of his teachings. It fits. It belongs, particularly in the context of the story Luke tells about Jesus. The man who Luke describes believed passionately in the transforming power of forgiveness, and also taught that our ability to show grace sets the foundation for how we ourselves are to stand before God.

Second, it gets worked into Luke's story of the early church. Where? We find Christ's words of forgiveness mirrored in the Acts of the Apostles, which we should all know...part two of the the Gospel of Luke. When a mob sets in to killing Stephen, one of the first Jesus followers to die for his faith, Stephen echoes the words of Christ, asking that God not hold his murder against those who were killing him. This is a non-random thing. Luke/Acts is an intentionally crafted narrative compiled by a talented storyteller, in which themes and elements are included to provide us with a cohesive understanding of both Christ's teachings and the nature of the early church. Christ died with words of forgiveness on his lips, and Stephen shares the same Spirit and acts in the same way. We are meant to see the connection.

Third, I think the exclusion may have been intentional scribal editing. It is too consistent, and occurs not just in one but in several variant manuscripts. Why would a scribe delete this intense, poignant moment? Because I think..quite frankly...that this depth of grace can seem intimidating or threatening to us. If Christ is extending prayers of forgiveness to those who are killing him, where are those neat and tidy boundaries of grace that make us feel so good about ourselves? How can we get permission we want to turn up our noses at the people we just know must be going to hell? How can Jesus make us look stupid by forgiving people who..glurk...probably weren't even Christian?

We've been misunderstanding the Gospel since the moment we started writing it down. Fortunately, it's still there, witnessing to us and showing us grace that is so immense it can trouble our hearts.

Fox News: Truth in Advertising

I've blogged before about the strange state of advertising here in DC. On the #1 radio station in the area, it's not uncommon to hear ads for major weapons systems. It's a government town, and major corporations buy up lots of ads to hawk their wares to government procurement specialists. There are also political ads, run by interest groups or oppressive regimes, which are intended to fall on the eyes of lawmakers.

Today's Washington Post had an interesting one. It was a full page color ad from Fox News lambasting all of the other networks for "missing" the 9.12 demonstrations. A major news event! And those pinheads in the Main Stream Media missed it! Included in the ad were pictures. One large one showed folks gathered in front of the Capitol. Another was an aerial shot, which showed a moderate crowd extending five or six blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue. I have three reactions to this:

1) Fox News seems to be misrepresenting...intentionally...the coverage of this event. CNN, NBC, ABC, and MSNBC didn't "miss" the event. Missing an event means not covering it. The other networks did cover it. They didn't give it quite the prominence that Fox News did, but there was a rather significant reason for that, and that is...

2) Fox News was responsible for the event. It was the brainchild of one of their more successful infotainment personalities. Other conservative organizations signed on, sure. But this isn't something that occurred, and that was then "covered" by Fox News. It was whole-cloth created by Fox News. This isn't invective. Just reality. Heck, Fox is still pitching the event.

3) Fox News seems to be misrepresenting...intentionally...the size of the event. The two images in the ad are juxtaposed in a way that implies a huge crowd. The largest image is shot from the mall, and shows a densely packed group on the National Mall. It's not a particularly long shot, though. We're not seeing a large expanse of the Mall...just a block or so. There's then that second shot, which shows the demonstration as it moves down Pennsylvania Ave. towards the Capitol. But that street is comparatively narrow...and filling it for six or seven blocks is something that could be done with a moderate crowd..between 65,000 and 70,000. What the images are *intended* to convey is a significantly larger crowd. They are presented to imply that the Mall crowd extended as far as the one on Pennsylvania Avenue, which it did not. There've been immense conservative demonstrations in pro-life event back in the 90s had at least 450,000. This was not one of them.

Honesty is, as I'm recalling, the first of the "Twelve" principles being pitched by Fox. Evidently "irony" is number two.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Agent Black

Though I have the same deep hardwired love of cars as most Amurrican males, I've always viewed our car-centric transportation system as a bit That comes, I suppose, from having to spend so much time in it. Yeah, I know, there are distractions for when we drive. I should be yammering away on my cell or texting or listening to people scream at each other on talk radio.

But more often than not, I pay attention to where I am, and what I'm doing. I look out across an expanse of tarmac and idling steel and flesh stretching to the horizon, and I think...this isn't progress. Progress should feel...graceful. Progress should be...moving. As our society has grown around the easy availability of petroleum, cities and towns and communities built on a human scale have vanished. The burbs have flourished and spread like a fungus on the inside of an unwashed thigh.

Oil has meant growth, without question. It has driven massive expansions in infrastructure, and underlies all modern commerce and industrial agriculture. It is the engine that made the explosive human population growth of the 20th century possible.

But I wonder: is it the growth that kills?

Agent Orange is my favorite metaphor for growth-unto-death. That narsty substance, in the event that you don't know your 20th century history, was a herbicide sprayed onto the forests of Vietnam by fleets of American planes. To kill Viet Cong, we had to deprive them of we killed their jungles. Agent Orange was the plant toxin we used, and it works in a very interesting way.

It simulates a plant growth hormone, and essentially causes most broadleaf plants to go into a period of explosive and unsustainable fecundity. After spraying, leaves would grow huge. Fruit would be immense, distended, mealy and inedible. A jungle poisoned by Agent Orange would, for a short while, be an alien wonderland of insane, outrageous production...and then, having exhausted itself, the jungle would die.

For 100 years, we've consumed the black blood of ancient dragons, and from that easy but finite energy have grown explosively. But the age of oil is ending. As I look out across what human society has become, I do now and again wonder.

Are fossil fuels our Agent Black?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Standards of Excellence

The missus is a veritable font of information that I would otherwise be unlikely to encounter. She's a bit of a fashionista, which means not just an increasingly intimidating selection of footwear, but stacks of thick image-heavy magazines that exude all manner of floral fragrances. The data therein would otherwise be alien to me, thus depriving me of some primo sermon illustrations.

Through her work, she's also plugged into communities of social entrepreneurs, and reads stuff that appeals to the ethic of capitalist innovation. When she gets her copy of Fast Company, for instance, I make a point of reading it. Some of the bleeding-edge companies it describes are just going to flame out, of course. But some will thrive, and knowing about 'em on the front end seems somehow useful.

This last issue, what struck me for some reason was the term "excellence." It permeated the text in the articles. It was subtly interwoven throughout the ads. Being excellent is, clearly, the goal of these young, hip inventors and startup companies. In this celebration of the joys of corporate creativity, it was the metric of a successful firm. That got me on two related musings about the nature of excellence.

First, not a single company I've seen highlighted in that magazine...meaning the folks who invent, manufacture, and produce things...defines excellence in terms of Montgomery Burns profit maximization. Not a single one. The mantra of late 20th century capitalism is that the goal of business is to maximize profit for shareholder return. Economist Milton Friedman said it, I believe it, that settles it.

But when you look at the people who create revolutions in business, the successful people, the visionaries, the world-changers, not a single one of them has profit as a primary goal. They are almost without exception focused on the new product or service itself. Excellence in business is about being good at what you do. It's about creating quality, and/or delight, and/or satisfaction. Profit and shareholder value are just collateral benefits...and when you focus on them instead of the product or service, the whole thing turns to poo.

Second, I found myself musing about the standard of excellence for Jesus-folk. As a pastor, I get plenty of material about how I could be doing church better. To be excellent, I need an excellent sound system. Or an excellent sign. Or an excellent series of highly produced videos that will draw in that tasty young-families-with-children demographic. Excellence is, I am told, evidenced by the signs of my material success as a pastor. How many thousands come to my church? Five thousand? That might be excellent, but it's 50% less excellent than if there were ten thousand. At some point, AmeriChrist, Inc. decided that excellence was defined by size and sparkle and shine. It is the thing to which we are told to aspire.

The truth is that the standard of excellence in the Christian faith looks nothing like that. It can, mind you. It can be big and exuberant and joyous. Or it can be a quiet little community of grace. Or it can be one or two gathered together. It takes many forms, some of which fly in the face of the world's standards of success. But wherever we find ourselves, the measure of our success as followers of Christ has been clearly established.

We know the Most Excellent Way.
We just have to make sure we don't get distracted.

Dammit, Jim, I'm a Pastor, Not an Economist!

Something's been messing with my head for a few months, and I need to figure out where my thinking has gone astray.

My church still exists because it has an endowment. The health of that endowment is tied to the markets, which for a while there were tanking in nail-bitey ways. For a while there, I was spending really unhealthy amounts of time at Now, though, the Dow and the NASDAQ and the S&P500 are all rebounding. The Dow, for instance, has gained around 3000 points since February, as it pinged off of a sub-6,500 floor. Stock market averages are a pretty standard metric for measuring the health of an economy, and so an uptick of this pointitude must mean things are getting better, right?

I'm just not sure. Why? Because I'm not sure the Dow is ultimately a meaningful measure of economic health. The reason for this is...well...perhaps just my own stupidity.

Here's what I don't get. To my understanding, what the Dow measures is a price-weighted index of the market value of 30 major corporations. As the price of those stocks rise, the Dow rises. As the price of those stocks falls, the Dow falls. Simple. Other market averages act in the same way. Where I struggle with market averages as a measure of economic health is best I can tell...the standard against which the Dow assesses value is not empirically meaningful. "Points" on the DJIA are not fixed units of measure in the same way that centimeters or kilocalories are a unit of measure. Those points are tied to the value of a currency, in this case the United States Dollar. And the value of the dollar can vary wildly. It can be impacted by fluctuations in money markets, as investors express confidence or lack thereof in the well-being of that country. It can be impacted by...oh..let's pick a scenario at random...printing trillions of dollars of new currency into an economy as part of a stimulus package.

If corporations were entities that only existed within one nation-state or currency marketplace, then their value would be largely tied to that nation-state's currency. But with corporations now existing in a globalized marketplace, they cease to be meaningfully tied to one currency. So if both the point value and the points themselves are variable, why is the Dow trustworthy as an empirical measure of the health of the economy? It's a measure of the value of a corporate stock in dollars...nothing more.

Sigh. I'd probably better stick with theology.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mailing It In

We were all at home when they came by. I'd seen 'em wandering the neighborhood, a pair of moderately well-dressed Asian ladies with a handful of literature. I was, unlike most of humanity, actually kinda looking forward to them coming by the house. Being a Jesus-mutant already, I actually enjoy those chats with door-to-door prosthelytizers. Pleasantly subversive conversations about faith with bright-eyed young Mormons and pointed exegetical repartee with Jehovah's Witnessbots make for a lovely afternoon.

But though we were all around, they never knocked. They never registered their presence. They just slid a tract into the door, and disappeared. Snif.

The tract, entitled "Where are the Dead," was left abandoned at my doorstep. It's an old one, written perhaps 50 years ago by a Baptist evangelist. The theme is, of course, the Day of Judgment. It's a random buffet of scripture, a smattered mishmosh of verses telling the reader of 1) their sin and the bad, bad stuff that will happen and 2) Christ's redeeming sacrifice. On the back, there was a little form to fill out and mail in professing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

The tract is about the Day of Judgment, and so it focuses, natch-rally, on quotations from the Book of Revelation for all the scrumdiddlyumptious details on the unpleasantness that will befall those who haven't filled in the form on the back of the tract.

What I found particularly interesting, though, was what was missing. Though the tract was almost entirely scripture quotes about eternal damnation and eternal life, it somehow neglected to use Matthew 25. You know. That part of Matthew's Gospel where Jesus talks specifically and at length about the standard by which all humanity will be judged? Where he lays out what the Son of Man will ask each of us? The "did you get off your sorry behind and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner" part?

Funny how they always seem to forget about that one. Perhaps it seems like too much work.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nine Twelve and the Glenn Beck Revolt

Back when I was a young skinny long-haired radical, I used to regularly attend demonstrations for leftist causes. Some of them, like a pro-choice rally during the George H.W. Bush administration, felt intense, as the anticipated 100,000 demonstrators became 500,000, and the march spilled out beyond it's boundaries, flowing through the city four blocks wide like a flood of flowing, chanting humanity. Being in a vast crowd of more-or-less like-minded folks shouting defiance against the Man can be invigorating.

The Tea Party demonstration in downtown DC yesterday wasn't quite on that scale. Eyeballing it, it seemed of decent size...somewhere between 35,000 and 75,000 human beings. Several things struck me about this event:

1) For an event being actively, vigorously pushed by a mainstream media outlet, it was pretty underwhelming. Fox News has significant market penetration, and a high level of visibility. I've known about this gathering for a few days, and it has been aggressively pushed by not just an array of grassroots organizations, but by several well known media personalities. This is the best that they can do? It wasn't a flop, but given how much it's being pushed by MediaCorp, it also wasn't indicative of a major national movement.

There will be a counter-rally. It will be...bigger.

2) It wasn't America. America isn't all white and working class, and the Tea Party movement is consistently whiter than my pasty behind. I live in a highly diverse neighborhood, a rich medley of Korean stores, Latino churches, and a healthy smattering of Anglos. This is, increasingly, what America actually looks like. Looking at the crowd gathered in today was like looking at the Republican Senators and Representatives during Obama's health care speech. As my nine year old said while watching the speech this week: "Why does one side have all sorts of different people, and the other side looks all the same?"

3) It isn't organized. Yeah, people showed up. That's a good thing. The right to freely assemble is vital, even among those with whom I may disagree. But the crowd seemed...well..more like an assemblage of the randomly aggrieved. I've been to demonstrations like that under Reagan and George Aitch Dubya, just a herd of angry progressives with no unifying purpose other than their disgruntlement. They aren't particularly useful. This seemed...equally messy. You have to stay on message. You have to stay on target.

4) It's too busy shouting and frothing to realize that somewhere under all that crazy it actually has a case. Here's the thing: I'm a liberal. I'm a progressive. In many ways, I'm the antithesis of everything that most of these protesters believe. But if you look beyond their recycled anarcho-Reaganite anti-government rhetoric, reflexive nationalism and cain't-spell-to-save-my-life signage, there's a massive issue that needs to be addressed. Our government cannot...just cannot...continue to spend wealth that it doesn't have. Unlike China, which was able to spend from it's reserves to stir itself out of recession, we find ourselves growing so deeply in hock that the future of this nation's prosperity may be jeopardized. Our addiction to deficit spending must, at some point, stop. Period. Stimulus packages are all well and good, but they're like applying paddles to a failing heart. If we can't or won't pay for the government we have, eventually, somethings going to give. Just look at California. It could be ugly.

A pity the "leadership" of this movement can't figure out how to say this in a way that works.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Clergy Sexual Misconduct

Yesterday's release of a study from Baylor University delves into an area of some discomfort for most Christians: the issue of Clergy Sexual Misconduct. According to the study, one out of every 33 women attending a congregation has, at some point in their adult lives, experienced sexual advances from a religious leader. Some folks are resisting these numbers, reflexively assailing the results as anti-church, but from my experience, it sounds about right. It's a real issue.

I do, however, struggle a bit with the definition of Clergy Sexual Misconduct used by the study. It's a familiar one, one that I heard recounted in my pastoral counseling classes. As the study leader puts it:
"Many people -- including the victims themselves -- often label incidences of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with adults as 'affairs'. In reality, they are an abuse of spiritual power by the religious leader."
The prevailing thesis presented in seminary was that any sexually charged contact or romantic entanglement between a pastor and a congregant was automatically an abuse of power by the pastor. While I understand the intent behind this mindset, I think it overstates the case. Every instance of clergy sexual misconduct is not an abuse of spiritual power, and every romantic entanglement between a pastor and a congregant is not clergy sexual misconduct. While recognizing that discernment is necessary for every instance, I tend to parse the issue in three ways.

If a pastor has actively used his or her spiritual authority to coerce a congregant into sexual relation, it's not just an abuse of their authority. It's tantamount to rape. Vulnerable individuals are often identified by predatory individuals, who are willing to use the perception of their spiritual authority to manipulate and control those individuals sexually. These predators are a threat to the integrity of the church, and should be removed from any position of leadership...and, frankly, from the church itself. The dark compulsion that drives them is the enemy of the Way.

But all pastors who canoodle are not predators or abusers. Some are just human beings who screw up. The stressed-out overscheduled pastor who ends up having an affair with a married member of her choir is not a monster, nor is she manipulating that choir member with the power of her position. Pastors can, amazingly enough, be lonely and isolated. When they connect to another human being on a personal level, sometimes that desire for human connection drives some questionable actions. Stressed human beings make crappy decisions. Is such a thing predation or abuse? No. Is it Clergy Sexual Misconduct? Yes. A pastor must be held to high standards of integrity, and one of those standards is a deep respect for the sacred covenantal union between partners in a marital relationship. That standard needs to define their behavior, both within their own marriage and as they approach other covenant unions. If they breach that standard, they need to be subject to the discipline of the church. That should probably involve removal from the pastoral position, and a period of counseling. What they've done, though, isn't predation or abuse. The other individual involved is not a victim. It's just an affair, just ol' fashioned adultery.

Then there are consensual romantic relationships between unmarried pastors and unmarried congregants. These are deep into a grey area. On the one hand, it's nearly impossible to still be "the pastor" in that situation. It is also possible that when such a relationship ends, it can be disruptive to the life of a church. Heck, if it becomes a source of church gossip, it can be disruptive when it's going on. But presuming that pastors cannot actually fall in love with members of their churches assumes that we are no longer human beings. Those relationships need to be approached carefully, openly, faithfully, and with Christian integrity...but they are not inherently wrong.

Though I feel this isn't something that should be described using broad-brush generalizations, it is a real issue...and one that the church needs to take seriously.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Little Boy Who Cried Socialist

Having read the text of Obama's controversial pep-talk to school kids yesterday, one of the most striking things about it is that it was total, down-the-line, unrelenting partisan propaganda. At no point did it vary from the party line. Every talking point, every rhetorical flourish, every turn of phrase...all of it...presented a particular ideology. The speech was a flagrant effort to embed that ideology into the hearts and minds of our young people.

That ideology is, of course, the ideology of American conservatism. Work hard. Study hard. No one owes you anything. To succeed, you have to put in effort. You are responsible for your own success. Listen to and respect your elders.

The intense resistance to this fundamentally conservative speech among conservative ideologues may, I think, be part of a turning point for the American right. Conservative parents, panicked by the fear-mongering of their own media, bombarded schools with calls of outrage. Some opted their kids out of the speech, concerned that the message amounted to the indoctrination one might receive from the Dear Leader in a totalitarian state. While this is certainly consistent with the view of Obama that some folks have been pitching, it poses a problem for the right. Here, with crystal clarity, American conservatives have taught a lesson to the children of America about the current nature of their movement.

It has gone mad.

For the vast majority of kids who listened to or dozed their way through this speech, the idea that there was anything evil or socialist about it will be obviously, basically wrong. Not just a little off. Way off. Paranoid schizophrenic off. "Your mom wouldn't let you watch that? What a whackjob."

That's not to say that one can't disagree with the current administration. I do on a range of fronts, particularly in terms of fiscal responsibility. But the reflexive roaring of the right-leaning media and blogosphere increasingly seems less like legitimate opposition, and more like raving. And if conservatives allow themselves to be painted into that corner, the legitimate critiques they have will no longer seem legitimate.

I think Obama knows this. I think some Republicans are realizing this, which is why the Florida GOP chair publicly recanted his accusations of socialist propaganda after he saw the text of the speech. He even went so far as to say he was going to be sure his kids listened to it.

But the damage is done. If you keep shouting the same thing, over and over again, no matter what, you aren't being consistent. You're being that little boy who cried socialist, and eventually, no one will believe you.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sex and Intimacy

We just got Fios TV. Not just regular Fios TV, but the EXTREEEEME HD version. I'd been fighting it for years. I'm not a big TV fan generally, choosing instead to squander my free time meandering around the blogosphere. Many moons ago, we did have cable, but when we moved into our current residence, we ditched it.

I didn't miss it. Not having it saved us money, and with two young boys in the house, it meant one less negative input to worry about.

After years of gentle pressure, I finally decided to give fiber optic tee vee to my wife for her birthday. This last week, late in the night after it had been installed, she and I waded into the endless depths of pay tv.

Those depths went down to some rather darker places than I'd anticipated, places that provided some pretty compelling motivation to figure out and engage the parental controls.

The wife and I were particularly struck by what appeared to be an ongoing graphic documentary series on the various manifestations of human sexuality. I will not be providing a link here, much to your undoubted disappointment. What was most interesting was how...well...utterly unarousing the show was. It was engaging on an anthropological level, but it was about as erotic as watching someone gut a flounder.

That wasn't because of the absence of nekkid people. There were plenty of nekkid people, sometimes large piles of nekkid people. There were nekkid people on stage, nekkid people in boxes, nekkid people hanging from the ceiling, all while doing the things one would expect, and occasionally things one would not.

It was because of a total absence of intimacy. Human sexuality is a complex thing, and something deeply hardwired into our nature. It's part of our animal nature, but it's also part of the way that we relate to other beings. Though "having relations" is inherently relational, much of the way our culture approaches sexuality now is utterly depersonalized. Oh, desire is there, in a meat-self sort of way. But the desire is utterly indiscriminate, disconnected from any interest in the person inhabiting the flesh. Folks who engage in this sort of sexual expression will argue that they are liberating sexuality from shame. Do what you want! Whenever you want! We're free!

But while the ethic of shame has no place in a healthy sexuality, our society is well on the way to losing a sense of the importance of intimacy. Though we've found all sorts of ways to "know one another Biblically," we increasingly decouple this intense, passionate, and fundamentally creative experience from healthy emotional and spiritual connections with others. We are not interested in knowing them.

In doing so, we haven't freed sexuality. We've rendered it meaningless. And that's a significant loss.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Eve's Fallen, and She Can't Get Up

Some recent blog-reading among my conservative brethren has stirred up an old issue for me.

One of the more challenging things about being the progressive Anglo pastor of a congregation that is now almost entirely Korean is coming to terms with some of the cultural expectations of gender. Even among second generation Korean-Americans, there can be a deep personal and spiritual segregation between the sexes. Roles and expectations that were programmed heavily into Korean culture die hard, and drawing out the full gifts and leadership skills of the young women of my church hasn't always been easy.

This is, in large part, because the traditional cultural assumptions about women in Korean society have been given a potent theological edge by Christianity. I grew up in congregations where women were both pastors and elders, and the realization that most Christian churches in both the U.S. and the developing world have a problem with this always struck me as bizarre. But the attitude is there, and it's real. It says:

Women should be submissive to men. They should be subordinate to men. Why? Because that's the way Jesus wants it. Bible says it, I believe it, so shut up and go get me a beer. Oh, and when I was coming down for my ESPN, I noticed that little Tyler's been puking in the upstairs bathroom. You might want to deal with that. After the beer, woman.

That is, of course, not how evangelicals generally conceptualize the relationship between men and women. It's also not how their healthy traditional marriages work, and unlike many of my progressive counterparts, I'm fully aware that they can work. There are relationships in which the male plays the traditional breadwinner role and still manages to be respectful and gracious towards his wife. Problem is, the ethic of a mandated power imbalance between one half of the human race and the other just does not jibe with the foundational ethic of Christian faith. Love involves being a gracious servant to all, even to one's enemies, and requiring fifty percent of the species to be subordinate just doesn't reflect the presence of the Spirit. It is also an ethic that's repeatedly abused by those men whose desire isn't Christ, but worldly power.

So why has this way of looking at gender relations stuck around? People who feel this is a Biblical mandate root the submission of women to men in the later texts of the Epistles, in texts like Ephesians or 2 Peter. More deeply, though, they use the same core justification for their assumptions about women that can be found in the writings of Paul's disciples or the pseudo-apocalyptic Peter. That assumption goes way back, back to the very beginning.

Why are women to submit? Because they are weak. Why are they weak? Because of Eve, and because after the Fall, her punishment for shattering the relationship with God was as follows:
To the woman he said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you." (Genesis 3:16)
There you go. God is mad at all of us for the transgression of Adam and Eve, and so men have to dig endlessly in the dirt scrounging for a living, snakes get stomped on, and women have to accept that "he will rule over you." While progressive Christians have major issue with the whole idea of our fallen nature, and cringe at passages like this one, I think it's more constructive for us to just accept the foundational argument of conservatives. That argument, in a nutshell, is that the submission of women to men is a part of our fallen nature. To which I say, sure. Yes. I believe that. I'm willing to cede that point, because in ceding it, it is logical to then ask:

Does Jesus not save women?

According to the great story of the Gospel, the purpose of Christ's life, death and resurrection was to reconcile human beings to both God and one another. For those who are moved by Christ's teachings and transformed by the Holy Spirit, the curse of the Fall is lifted. We are, in declaring Christ's Lordship over our lives, part of that great struggle to lift the yoke of all fallen "dominion, authority, and power."

And yet in the great majority of the Christian world, we Jesus people allow ourselves to be instruments of that curse over fully half of humanity. The reasons for this are primarily because of the incursion of cultural values about the role of women into the faith. That incursion is most intensely expressed in societies where women have been traditionally subordinate, but it begins, to be frank, in the Epistles. The influence of Greco-Roman culture grows strong as the early church moved further and further away from Christ. That's why the Gospels and the seven undisputed letters of Paul take a radically egalitarian stance towards women, and the later Epistles start to reflect both Roman and first century Jewish views on the roles of women.

That variance in the teaching of Scripture leaves folks who take the Bible seriously with two options. The first is to continue to embrace the cultural power imbalance between men and women. We take those texts that affirm us in that belief, and make them the lynchpin around which we approach gender. To do that, though, we must also believe that Jesus metes out uneven salvation, and that when Paul says Christ tears down the boundaries between cultures and genders, Paul was just blowing smoke. It also means we reject the servant ethic least the last time I checked...ain't just for Christian ladies.

The second is to realize that there is a powerful case in Scripture for moving away from the subordination of women. We mainliners grasped this a while ago, and throughout our churches, women's voices are now heard and their leadership is recognized. It ain't perfect, but we're getting there. Unfortunately, while we've done some important stuff spiritually, we're not very evangelical about it. We too often talk about gender equality in terms of "fairness," or using the language of academic feminism.

In reality, what we are doing goes way, way deeper than that. It's a part of that great battle against human brokenness. It's about redemption, and the transformation of humanity by the presence of Christ.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trolls and the Holy Ghost Dialectic

One of the things the emergent church gets pinged on a great deal is our relentless focus on conversation. We chat. We gather. We discuss. We convene. The idea behind those conversations is to get to know the other, to open ourselves to who they are. In those exchanges, we find understanding of the other. More importantly, it is in conversations with those who are not exactly "us" that we can find the deepest and most potent movements of the Holy Spirit.

The problem for emergents, as I see it, is that we don't really quite grasp how significant the thing we're doing is. While this approach is a foundational and roots-rock approach to both proclaiming and living into the Reign of God, we keep it in house. We like to talk grace amongst ourselves, but often don't realize that the same grace needs to be intentionally applied to our more challenging relationships. It needs to be expressed outside of comfortable places, in relationships that go beyond cups of coffee or tasty microbrewed beer shared among like-minded people.

We need to be graceful to our trolls.

Trolls, as anyone in the blogosphere knows, are those true-believing souls who take it upon themselves to attack and subvert those who fail to meet the pureblood standards of their particular belief. I've had several over the years. I've had hard-core neoatheist trolls, who have mocked my faith and my stupid fake Easter bunny God. I've had hard-core fundamentalist trolls, who have hurled snippets of scripture and bitter invective in equal parts. I am currently in between trolls, although there are some recent promising prospects. Hi Mark!

It's easy...and, in it's own way, hammer on these folks when they show up. What is not quite so easy is to realize that when Jesus told us to love our enemies, he was talking about trolls. It's a tough thing to do. Our immediate and human desire is to go to war, to open up the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.

This is what the trolls want, although it isn't what they need. They look to the troll-lords on shout radio and shout-tv for inspiration. Trolls want to rant and bellow. Trolls want to find self-affirmation in a seething and closed-circle hatred of those who are different. As such, they are part and parcel of the cult of baseless self-esteem that has come to define our increasingly blighted society. But what they need is the same thing that we all need: the transforming grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

So...get to know your troll. Hold on to what is good, and defend what is right, but still be sure to show 'em a little lovingkindness. When they spit on that grace, offer up some more, and then some more after that. The font of our grace is, after all, infinite and without measure.

Evil is, after all, not overcome with more evil.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pour Yourself a Cup of Ambition, Ladies

After many years at her current place of employ, my wife left her job this last week. Unlike so many others in this rather difficult employment market, she's moving on to another job. It's a good move. Her departure was amicable, and her new position is a significant and positive step up in her field. Work, for Rache, has always been an important thing. She's a smart, capable, and intensely committed staff person. That means that after two decades in the same field, she's on a path that will lead her deep into primary breadwinner territory. While we could live simply on what I earn as a pastor, her work now provides a significant majority of our household income.

Interestingly, the issue of women in the workplace has surfaced in the Virginia governors race. Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate, is catching all sorts of flak for his Master's thesis. He got his graduate degree in public policy from Regent University, which used to be called CBN University. Oh yes it is. It's Pat Robertson's grad school. In that thesis, McDonnell runs through a series of familiar conservative themes. In particular, he argues that having women in the workforce is bad for families.

This has not played particularly well.

McDonnell has been doing a great deal of backpedaling and counterspinning over the last few days. He's pointed out that he wrote the thesis two decades ago...although he was hardly a kid at the time. When you're 34, you're a grownup. Is he saying that his graduate study didn't matter? I'll admit that any masters thesis that includes condemnations of homosexuals and fornicators probably isn't going to make it's way into the Journal of Public Policy and Management. But it still formed him.

He's also pointed to his legislative record, which is a mix of practical politics and conservative social engineering. He's not quite the fascist that the Huffington Post would have us believe, but then again, he's not anywhere near the political center...even in the conservative state of Virginia. He knows this. His campaign theme for populous and moderate Northern Virginia appears to be: "Hey Guys! I also grew up in Northern Virginia! How 'bout them Skins! How 'bout them Redskinettes? Aren't they hot? Man, don't you wish you could marry one too?"

As the political backpedaling goes on, I find myself wondering if perhaps we should look more closely at the statement that got him in the most trouble. It's not politically expedient, but perhaps we should critically consider McDonnell's most challenging assertion.

Are women in the workplace bad for the American family?

If you look at the historical statistics for working women in the United States against the statistics for divorce, they sure do seem to be trending the same way. Both are an arc, and both arcs point strongly upward. Of course, this is just a correlation, and correlation is not causation. They may not teach that at Regent's Public Policy program, but it's a reliable axiom for anyone else who studies statistics. But for the sake of argument, let's say that here is something to that correlation. Let's cede McDonnell his point. Women working has a major and negative impact on the stability of the traditional family unit. But why? I see two major reasons.

First, when women are able to work and support themselves, the dynamic of the household becomes radically different. Women who work cease to be economically dependent on the largesse of a man. Wealth is just a societal instrument of power, and where individuals become culturally detached from the ability to sustain themselves, that power imbalance can become a means of coercion. If you don't stay married, you starve, so you better stay married, little missy. That dynamic of oppression is not necessarily the case, of course. Couples where one partner works and the other cares for offspring work just long as each partner views the others interests as equivalent to their own. Marriages that hew to the Christian ideal of mutual care can manage that dynamic just fine. But I think ultimately "traditional" relationships that weren't founded on mutual respect just can't survive the transition of women into the workforce.

Second, I think the dynamics of the American workplace make two-income families a desperately challenging proposition. The demand for endlessly rising productivity and the expectation that we'll all be full-time employees who are constantly on call place an often unmanageable amount of stress on the family unit. The combined net income for the household may allow for big houses and big cars and a gutbusting cornucopia of consumer products. But that stuff don't count for nothin' if you're stressed and screaming at each other about who's going to take the kids to soccer this Wednesday, because I've got a deadline, dammit. As women have entered the workforce, those old expectations about work have remained. Where couples could be working less than two full-time jobs and maintaining balance in their lives, we are instead driven into much harsher emotional terrain, and it's doing damage.

So McDonnell's thesis is, on the one hand, correct. The dynamics of a marriage in which the wife is subordinate to and economically dependent on her husband cannot stand in the face of women in the workforce. He is also correct in that our expectations of work have not changed to permit for healthy two-worker families.

On the other hand, and here I come at it with my pastor hat on, McDonnell's thesis is ironically unscriptural. While many conservatives seek out texts here and there to argue for the divinely ordained subordination of women, they're not really paying attention. Where scripture speaks to the issue in the most sustained way, it says something very different. The most pertinent passage is in Proverbs, which makes a profound and sustained case for married women as an active and honored part of the working world, and declares that their work is a sign of a healthy and blessed family. If anything, a Bible-based approach to public policy should be making sure our workplace dynamics make room for both women, men and healthy families.

Guess they must not have bothered much with the Bible in that master's program of his. Oh well.