Archive for October, 2008

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This Christian’s Thoughts on CA Prop 8

There is an age-old neighborhood prank that I have never executed myself, but have heard of from older, braver pranksters than myself.  The prank goes thusly:

One places dog-doodie in a paper bag and then lights that paper bag on fire on the doorstep of a particular unlucky neighbor.  The elated prankster, after lighting the bag aflame, rings the doorbell of the unlucky neighbor (who is likely the father of some young woman who was probably of of the prankster’s league anyway…) and runs away.  When the unlucky neighbor opens his door, he is left with the unlucky choice of either letting the bag burn, posing what threat fire may be or stomping out the flame, thereby putting his or her foot in the poopous caninous.

The more I read about and wrestle with CA Proposition 8, the more I feel like that unlucky neighbor, left with a choice between two rather unsavory options.  A “Yes” vote or a “No” vote on this Prop equally misrepresent my worldview.  In fact, I am of the opinion that this conversation or debate is taking place in the wrong arena and at the wrong trajectory altogether.

My decision to abstain from voting on Prop 8 is not a matter of the marital rights of homosexuals or even the preservation of the institution of marriage (though I will say more on this later); it is strictly a matter of the relationship between the Church and the State.

That marriage is a union between a man and women, approved by God and held together by His Grace and His People is a uniquely religious understanding.  In fact, part of the sacred nature of marriage is derived from the very fact that marriage’s blessedness is rooted in this religious understanding and NOT the laws of the land.  In the eyes of the state, marriage is not sacred and has never been.  The case for the sanctity of marriage is lost the moment we attempt to make it on the State’s terms.

It is greatly unfortunate (though understandable) that the language in California’s Family Code uses the world “marriage” at all.  I think much of our issue originates here.  The word is culturally convenient, yes; but it is also loaded with a long history of religious context and content.  The State’s definition of marriage does not include this unique context, making the use of it, as it pertains the the States responsibility to its citizens rights, rather messy.  Oh, how things would be if in 1977, when the Code was written they had used any other word… Civil Union… Banana Pancake… Anything.

Tony Campolo simplifies this thought when he writes:

“I propose that the government should get out of the business of marrying people and, instead, only give legal status to civil unions. The government should do this for both gay couples and straight couples, and leave marriage in the hands of the Church and other religious entities. That’s the way it works in Holland: If a couple wants to be united in the eyes of the law, whether gay or straight, they go down to city hall and legally register, securing all the rights and privileges a couple has under Dutch law. Then, if the couple wants their relationship blessed – to be married – they go to a church, synagogue or other house of worship.

“Marriage should be viewed as an institution ordained by God and should be out of the control of the state. Of course, homosexual couples could go to churches that welcome and affirm gay marriage and get their unions blessed there, but isn’t that the way it should be in a nation that guarantees people the right to promotion religion according to their personal convictions?”

I believe in the sanctity of marriage and that the biblical definition of this relationship, including the exclusivity of male and female relationships,  is the most complete and best definition and understanding.  But I do not believe the state’s responsibility extends to the defense of that understanding or definition.  I believe that a case needs to be made for marriage but only in the same way that I believe that a case needs to be made for the whole of the christian life and marriage as a part of that.  But I do not believe that the case is made well by Proposition 8.  A “Yes” vote seems to ask the state to affirm a uniquely religious definition of marriage and that is not the State’s role and, if anything, this lessens the case for the goodness of the christian life by asking the State to affirm and defend the sacred nature of our way of life rather than simply protecting our right to live that way.

Meanwhile a “No” vote makes the issue no clearer and is no progression towards “tolerance.”  It is not in the State’s power to bestow the blessing of God upon a marriage  and meanwhile there are numerous religious communities who recognize same sex unions as “marriage.”  Let me also be clear here in saying that “Yes” voters are not bigots by default.  I realize that it is simpler to rally against a mass of the simple-minded.  But the people who wrote and defend the proposition hold to a particular knowledge of marital relationships. As a believer, I see the world as working in a particular way and believe that when we move in a way contrary to what is designed or intended, we do violence to ourselves and our world.  For the vast majority of “Yes” proponents there is, at heart, a sincere motivation to shape the world around them to the best and healthiest way; for them it is not about hate or bigotry at all.

Furthermore, whether the prop passes or fails, the opposition will take the issue back to court after which we will see another proposition and then another court case and onward towards the dull eternity of heartless, opposition politics.  The hope of the christian community will continue to rest in a show of strength to stave off the wave of it’s “opposition.”  This is, of course, how we find ourselves here.

I’d like to change the tone here and make a broader statement in the direction of my family, the Church.  Whether you decide to vote “no” or “yes” on this proposition, do not be deceived by the notion that the conversation ends there.  There is a case to be made for the life you have chosen…

A friend of mine who pastors a church in the Mission District of San Francisco where the church’s intersection with gay culture has been greatly publicized and often distorted has many stories to tell about his own church’s involvement in the collision of what many, if not most, would consider opposing cultures.  My pastor friend (whom, in an effort to protect the identity of my subjects I will henceforth refer to as “Thor, god of thunder”) tells a story about his church’s more redemptive role in the relationship between gay culture and the Church right around the same time Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the doors of City Hall to gay marriages.

There had been a series of break-ins in the neighborhood around “Thor’s” church, including a break in at the home of a same-sex couple in an apartment attached to and owned by the church.  The couple lost quite a bit and much of what remained was trashed.  In the midst of all the clamorous noise created by the clash of opinions and agendas focused on the topic of gay marriage in SF, a very quiet, seemingly small thing happened in the direction of healing.  A group of elderly women from the Thor’s church went shopping.  They went out and bought gift cards from bed Bath and Beyond, from Crate and Barrel and from Pottery Barn.  Then they baked some cookies (because that is what women over 70 do when they get riled up… they bake) and paid a visit to these young men, stating simply “We attend the church around the corner and we heard about what happened.  We just wanted you to know that we love you and we’re sorry for what happened here.”

I do believe that the people of God need to make a case for marriage; much in the same way I  believe we need to make a case for the christian life as a whole, and marriage as a part of that life.  I sincerely wonder if, unless we are able to make the statement made by the elderly women of that church, that we are willing to actively share the burdens and joys of life with the homosexual community, we have any right to make any other statement at all.  One of the principles I learned on Young Life staff is that one can only instruct a person (and how much more so and entire culture) so far as we are willing to love that them;  That the effectiveness of transformational discipleship does not hinge on the strength of my case, my ability to make it or the volume with which I do, but on the depth to which the person I am working with knows they are loved.

Put another way

“…when these referendums come up in state after state after state, I think that the Roman Catholic bishops were right when they said, ‘We do not approve of this form of behavior but we will not allow anyone to take the rights away from those who are citizens of this country.’  Because I want to tell you something:  After you say ‘You can’t live in my community’; after you’ve said “You can’t teach in my school”; after you’ve said ‘You can’t go to my church’ and after you’ve said ‘You can’t come to my college’… after you’ve said all of this stuff – don’t think for one moment it’s going to wash when you smile that plastic smile that I see in the Christian community and say, ‘But we love you in the name of Jesus.’

-Tony Campolo

I fear that the case we have too often taken has been one of protectionism and fear rather than a sincere desire to see the transformation of the neighborhoods we live in; too often we’ve acted out of a desire to create an environment in which we feel safer and more comfortable to live the way we have chosen (this is actually the very topic that originally spawned the song “Safe“).  This leads me to a final and brief word on fear…

Much has been made in the case for Prop 8 about the long-term consequences of a “No” vote:  Marginalization of the church, law-suits, etc… The images amount to a picture of persectution.  Have we grown so comfortable?  Were we not warned?

18“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’[a] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

-John 15:18-21

Christians have chosen to live in a way that is sincerely counter-cultural.  There are consequences to this choice. Our King was crucified and we ought to expect no less for ourselves.  I believe that part of living counter-culturally often means making our case in a different arena.  The court and the state are very rarely that arena.

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Song Of The Week 10-27-08

This week’s song of the week comes to us from the same musical hot spot as last week’s selection, Austin Texas.  It is as if that place has some kind of happening music scene.  Who knew?

Spoon’s album “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”, which, despite what you may think, is not a tribute to our beloved 4th state, has been a spirit lifting addition to the rotation here in the McRoberts household.  Any of the songs from this record are worth featuring, but for the sake of keeping with my title, I’d suggest checking out “The Underdog.”

Spoon has a way of making quirky music that keeps its vibe and avoids being awkward.  The Underdog has an almost Billy Joel-esque character to it without taking us all the way back to Allentown.   Of course, any song with studio-recorded hand-clapping makes it to my “heavy rotation” list immediately.

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Automated Help? Not So Much

Just before leaving for this most recent run, I was having some very strange internet connectivity issues at home. Calling AT&T is often an adventure, usually highlighted by an interaction with the Automated Help Desk. While I am sure that I am nowhere near being alone in my desire to talk to someone with a heartbeat when I call customer service, my experiences tend to be somewhat unique.

Here is a sampling of a few things I took issue with during my interaction this time around:

“Thank you for calling AT&T. You are an idiot.  How can I help you?”

“I’m confident that connectivity problem is primarily due to your inadequacy as a man.  Please set the phone down and do 50 push-ups before continuing to waste my time.”

“Is your computer on? You may not know this insofar as you are not very smart.”

“Please repeat that; I didn’t understand you.  You don’t annunciate very well.  Perhaps you did not do well in school.”

“Sit up, tuck your shirt in, pay attention and look at me when I’m talking to you.”

“I do not like your shoes.  Please listen to this brain dead music as I attempt to find someone who does.”

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Song Of The Week 10-20-08

I’ve been on something of an ambient rock kick for the last year or so.  My intro to ambient music began where most peoples does, but moved quickly into Sigur Ros (mainly the album Takk..) and most recently the likes of Eluvium and Mogwai.

But the band I have most enjoyed getting to know has been Explosions In The Sky. Something about the grainier, more earthy “people playing instruments” vibe has me addicted. The energy that makes my favorite Sigur Ros moments mafical is far more prevalent in EITS’s recordings.

For a perfect example of what I’m getting at, check out Catastrophe and Cure from the album “All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone.” It’s this week’s Song Of The Week.

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Having Enough Stuff

I recently spent some time at Bluffton University, in Ohio talking about Compassion International. During a question and answer time, one student asked me;  “You are talking about the poor and social justice but you are wearing nice clothes and use a Mac.  What’s the deal with that?”  The student wasn’t intending to be prickly but was raising a legitimate issue that those of us who do live well but are conscious of and morally present to the poor have to face.  How can one who not only knows, but desires to change the conditions of poverty continue to live in what is by global standards, luxury?  Does my standard of living disqualify me from being an advocate?  Is my authority subverted by my wardrobe?

Now, I can’t recall what exactly it was that I said, though I remember thinking that had not answered him very well; I might have said something about keeping his nose out of other people’s business and that he should be so lucky as to find pants that fit him without being hemmed… But whatever I said, this is what I think would have been more appropriate…

It’s not about stuff or the having of stuff; it’s about patterns.  In other words, while I’m not obliged to justify each and every article of clothing I am currently wearing (which, at the moment includes a pair of chucks and christmas socks… For the sake of literary accuracy), I do need to examine and discipline the spending patterns that make up my consumer life.  Yes, I use a Mac.  I am typing on it right now…  The question is, when the “new MacBook” shows up, will I ditch this one and upgrade simply for the sake of upgrading?  In the same way; it’s not about having nice clothes but about whether or not I revamp my wardrobe annually to keep up with cool.
The question I am learning to ask myself is “Do I have enough?”  The deeper question behind that question is “do I know what ‘enough’ is?”  I will be the fist to admit that I am not clear on the answer.  I have started by doing some rather practical examinations such as: when I put clothes on hangers in my closet, am a running out of hangers?  Or, likewise, am I cramming socks into a drawer, particularly on top of socks I don’t wear anymore?  This is where doing the work of justice is most practically and personally challenging to my daily life.  You see, I firmly believe that there is a link between my habits as a consumer and the poor condition of things globally.  And as I’ve been learning and doing my best to communicate, one of the defining characteristics of a truly good work is that it changes the worker.

As might be obvious already, I am not much of an extremist.  I’m not of the opinion that consumer spending is an evil in and of itself.  Just like “having stuff” is not the issue, neither is “buying stuff.”  The Product (RED) experiment has been about the very fact that we are going to purchase things..  at times for fun as well as out of necessity but that we can do so in a way that is redemptive.  I am going to purchase pants, shoes, shirts and even computers; but do I buy into the ‘planned obsolescence’ idea which requires us to purchase a new ‘whatever’ on the Market’s time-table?

Likewise, I am not of the opinion that wealth is an evil or even a problem in and of itself. Rockefeller’s roll in India’s Green Revolution, the powerful charity of the Gates Foundation and the would not be possible were those men not in a position to do so much with the much they had.  (Of course, some would argue that in the growing of their wealth, damage had been done that warranted some kind of generous action anyway.. I’m not sure I agree with this assessment.  Those same people may even go so far as to say that Batman is necessary because Bruce Wayne’s wealth leaves the poor to choose crime and that’s just foolishness).

Still, there is something to be said for the distance between a mindset rooted in the Marketplace and one rooted in the Kingdom.  Where the Market teaches us to ask “What can I gain?”  the Kingdom teach us to ask “What can I do without?” or “What of mine can I offer?”  In both cases, the implication is that one HAS, the understanding of where to go from there is a matter of wisdom; wisdom I am asking for above all else.

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Song of the Week 10.13.08

I picked up The National’s album “Boxer” after Paste Magazine rated it one of the best albums of the year last year.  It took me a few listens to start to appreciate Matt Berninger’s voice, reminicent of Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies) without being as much of a characiture.

While the whole record should be emraced as a whole, the song that hooked me (and many others, it seems) is the song Fake Empire.  This is one of the records that informed my decision making during the production of Deconstruction.

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America and the Soul

The heart of the church-state separation is the protection of the church from political poison, rather than the other way around.  We’ve spent so much time recently scratching and clawing our way to what we see as our “rightful place” at the center of American culture, we’ve failed to see how deeply the political poison has penetrated our vital organs and how very sick we are.

As an example, a proclaimed christian political figure recently made the statement publicly that “We see America as the greatest force for good in this world.”  Can we see the distortion in this statement?  The GREATEST force for GOOD in the world is one of its nations?  This idea is rooted in the notion that America’s particular way of being is, as a whole, beneficial to the entire globe.  Is it the American way of living and being that we are committed to multiplying throughout the earth?  Is this what is good?

As responsible citizens we have a responsibility to be culturally critical.  It should be a given that our first allegiance is to a King and a Kingdom, yet somehow being a follower of Jesus has come to be equated to being a patriot, while in the meantime, being a patriot has come to mean having a nearly blind allegiance to and defense of “the American Way.”  But even the briefest critical look at the Way of Jesus and the “American Way” makes clear that there are some rather large gaps between the two.

As an example, the emphasis on productivity and growth as a determinant of worth and success has gone greatly unchecked here in the States.  While this characteristic is not entirely unique to America (China seems to hold its own in this regard), I can only speak to the length of my own experience and understanding, which is with American culture.  While the size of the average home in the US has grown almost exponentially in the past few years, the number of people living in those homes has declined by an equally alarming rate… Fewer people needing more space; is this a life-principle worth passing on to the rest of the globe?
Even the sacred concept of freedom we find at the center of much patriotic conversation has morphed into an idea more closely tied to limitlessness (and that limitlessness tied to consumer greed) more characteristic of gods than humble, responsible human beings.  As Wendell Berry writes;  “Hell is the place where we believe no limits apply, where we believe our power and knowledge to be limitless, and thus become slaves to our appetite and lose freedom in the name of false liberty. “ (Read the rest of this article here.)

The US victory over the Nazis reinforced the idea that America was on the side of good by its very nature.  It is this dangerous mixture of political and religious zeal that certain political elements have seized in an effort (and a successful one at that) to solidify political allegiance among evangelical christians.  “Good” in this light has come to be closely and deeply tied to “American” and has us held so closely to it’s bosom that we cannot see our beloved nation from a sufficient distance to judge its health.

Now, besides the fact that empires who claim the will of God moves upon their moving have a rather nasty track record, the people of God living in a nation gone awry have often had much explaining to do when they’ve assimilated to that nation’s ways.  In this light, being critical IS being a patriot.

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Song of the Week

This week’s song of the week is The Broken West’s “Terror for Two” from their newest release “Now or Heaven.” As a fan of 80’s New Wave, the record touches on some of the same melancholy tones as The Smiths or The Cars, but does so while engaging in larger subject matter than ones own broken heart.

I was originally captured by the mod-rock meets alt-country vibe of their 2007 release “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On” and was really pleased to hear them experiment even further outside with “Now or Heaven.”  Melody holds the new album together just as it does “I Can’t Go On…”

If you’d like to “Dig Deeper,” Check out “Down in the Valley” from “I Can’t Go On…”