Whatever happened to basic human decency?

The Longview News-Journal recently published a guest editorial that attempted to take on the thorny issue of sexual violence under the title “Whatever happened to self discipline?”

Go read it, if you have the stomach. However, survivors of sexual violence may wish to pass.

Whatever happened to self-discipline? That’s certainly a valid question to ask of any man who presumes to force himself upon a woman. Unfortunately, the author takes the completely wrong-headed approach of asking that question of the “women … whose breasts [are] almost literally hanging out of their shirts or dresses.”

Let me be clear: implying that a victim of sexual violence deserved it because of what they may or may not have been wearing is absolutely wrong. A culture of victim blaming creates a tremendous disincentive to report the crime, and compounds the psychological trauma that accompanies a physical assault. We must do better than this!

The author deals heavily in generalizations and personal anecdotes:

“I knew intuitively what social science now teaches: Men are turned on sexually by what they see. Women are turned on by what they feel.”

This is an insidious cultural lie, because it gives the rapist an out; he couldn’t help it, she was just so hot! But men are not animals; insinuating that they lose their minds at the slightest suggestion of female flesh is incredibly degrading. Whatever happened to self-discipline? This belief would have you think that men are incapable of it altogether. Meanwhile, what science actually says about the difference between male and female arousal is more complex.

Even worse:

“I made sure I didn’t dress provocatively, but that didn’t stop the advances of some men. I made sure I never was in a situation or place where I could be raped. A firm, “No,” was sufficient to stop the inappropriate behavior.”

Sadly, there is no such thing as a situation or place where rape can never occur, and statements like this once again lay blame for an assault at the victim’s feet. Obviously, if everyone just stayed away from the bad part of town, then we’ll have that pesky rape problem solved. How did we not think of this before? As for just saying “No,” well, that’s what Janese Talton-Jackson did. Twice. “No” did not save her.

The remainder of the op-ed is frankly rather rambling, with digressions on inappropriately-dressed receptionists, the Kardashians, and the author’s belief that women who dress provocatively are “missing something” in that they fail to “value themselves as they are.” Adele makes an appearance, too, as an example of how a lady should behave. The author concludes with another doozy:

“Is the rising incidence of sexual crimes, particularly toward children, due to increasing instances of undress in women that turn a man on sexually?”

Lord have mercy. How do you make the logical leap from adult female fashion to child abuse?

Rape is not about sex; sex is a consensual act. Rather, rape is about entitlement; a stronger party forcing their desires upon a weaker party, regardless of the weaker party’s wishes. Breaking down this sense of entitlement is the key to reducing (dare I dream eliminating?) rape.

Men are not entitled to women’s attention.

Men are not entitled to women’s time.

Men are not entitled to women’s bodies.

Men are not entitled to respond with violence when their advances are rebuffed.

Et cetera, ad infinitum.

Let us heap our scorn and shame on anyone who believes or acts otherwise, and regain our basic human decency towards those in our midst who have survived hell.



We were black, beyond the visible spectrum, beyond civilization. Our history was inferior because we were inferior, which is to say our bodies were inferior. And our inferior bodies could not possibly be accorded the same respect as those that built the West. Would it not be better, then, if our bodies were civilized, improved, and put to some legitimate Christian use?

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Letter to My Son”

We live in a culture that is testing the church’s credibility.

Fr. Bob Schelling, homily, July 5, 2015

Before you do anything else, go and read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Letter to My Son”. Block out some time in your schedule if you have to; it’s a long read. Do not look away. Do not put it down. Read it to the end.

I read it this morning, before I got up, and I was still turning it over in my mind when I arrived at church. I therefore owe our visiting priest an apology because the only thing I gleaned from his homily today was the above comment about the church’s credibility.

Now, the church in the United States is a very broad, very fragmented, and, sadly, very segregated institution. We already lack credibility in our collective inability to get along as “one body”. If the American church were to be summed up in one word, “schismatic” is as good as any. However, the more I hear from voices like Mr. Coates’, the more I realize that the white majority of the church has yet to meaningfully reckon with its role in the darkest pages of American history. Until such a reckoning occurs, the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.

One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, white American Christians have a tendency to wave our hands in dismissal of the Christians who argued and fought in support of chattel slavery. We say things like: “That’s ancient history.” “Our nation has moved past that.” “We’re more enlightened now.” “Why bring up such an ugly subject in polite company?”

Even less thought and conversation is given towards what our Christian forebears did to the Native Americans.

But it’s not ancient history; black people have been free for less time than they were enslaved. (And can you even count the years under Jim Crow as freedom?) America has not “moved past that”; we have buried the skeletons in the closet, but their blood continues to cry out from the ground for justice. If we’re more enlightened now, please explain to me why American Christians are more supportive of institutionalized torture than people who are not religious? We must bring up these ugly subjects because otherwise we will never move past them, and our children will suffer their consequences to the third and the fourth generation.

The reality is that America is a country that was conquered through the systematic massacre of its native peoples and built on the backs of slaves, and we, the enlightened white Christian majority who are so grateful that racism is a thing of the past – we have a black President now, you know – every day we reap the tangible and intangible benefits of the pernicious, white supremacist system that our forefathers constructed.

We do not have to concern ourselves about driving while black.

We do not have to concern ourselves about redlining.

We do not have to give our sons The Talk.

Until the majority of the church can figure out how to put our white privilege to appropriate use – until we’re even able to admit that we are privileged by the sole virtue of our whiteness – the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.

You do not have to look far in America to find a church proudly displaying the Stars and Stripes. For many of us in the white majority of the church, our identity as Americans is as strong stronger than our identity as Christians. We put our faith in our Second Amendment rights, drape our crosses and altars with red, white, and blue, and we preach American exceptionalism. How many of America’s churches didn’t incorporate patriotic music into their worship services this July 4th weekend? The ones that didn’t are probably all full of godless liberals, amiright?

Yet America is a violent country, born of a violent heritage. We have a higher violent death rate (10 per 100,000) than any other wealthy country. We don’t even have reliable records of how many people our police forces kill. (At least 1149 people were killed by police in the U.S. in 2014. By comparison, police in the U.K. have killed 27 people so far this century.) Our foreign policy has not evolved much from Theodore Roosevelt’s soft words and big sticks, except these days we don’t bother much with the soft words. Prince of Peace, we hardly knew ye. God bless America.

Until we unwrap ourselves from the blinding tangles of unexamined patriotism, the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.

An American Problem

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in Selma

Selma is the most important movie I have seen in a long time. Everyone should watch it because its telling of Civil Rights history holds a mirror to our present day. It’s an ugly picture, but we must confront it because white supremacy is far from being a vestigial remnant of the past. Jim Crow laws may be long gone, but every black life snuffed out by white police officers and vigilantes—who in turn are not called to account for their actions—testifies that racial equality and justice are nevertheless a long way off.

Two lines stood out to me when I watched Selma this afternoon. The first was delivered by Martin Luther King, and said something to the effect of white pastors who preach the Bible, but remain silent on these matters of racial justice in front of their congregations bear their share of guilt. This is a conversation that we must have in our churches, mine included, and it must go deeper than mealy-mouthed platitudes about what a great man MLK was. If we claim to admire Dr. King and what he stood for, but in the here and now find ourselves more concerned about riots and property damage and respectable behavior than about dead black bodies left uncovered in the street, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

The second line came at the end of the film, as Lyndon Baines Johnson announced the Voting Rights Act of 1965: There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is only an American problem.

There is no them. There is only you and me, only us.

Do we have the guts to look in the mirror and deal with what we see there?

The Weight of Glory

So suddenly it’s November, and one of the projects I’ve been working on instead of writing here is ready to share.

During the past year or so I’ve been collaborating with my good friends Anna Purdum, Gary Belisle, Eric Mittenthal and Rick Watson in a band called the Invisible Kingdom Project, and we just released our album: The Weight of Glory.

It’s an eclectic mix of folk rock with influences ranging from Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd to U2 and Coldplay, so if you’re into any of them I do hope you’ll check us out. And you can do so right now by hitting the play button below to hear a set that Anna, Eric and I recently played at a music and arts festival here in Longview, TX. Enjoy!

Eclectica: Week of August 11, 2014

Oy, what a heavy week. The deaths of Michael Brown and Robin Williams figured heavily in what I read this week, but there are some rays of light in there too.

Rest in Peace Robin Williams

Tragically, Robin Williams lost his long struggle with depression on August 11. This prompted an outpouring of memorials, but also many important discussions about depression and mental illness.

Depression, Robin, and You – my friend Bethany Bassett (who recently joined the crew at A Deeper Story, congratulations!)

Can prayer cure depression? Yes, I believe so. But it doesn’t always. This is an important distinction, because until we stop viewing depression as a spiritual deficiency, we can’t help those in our communities take those first steps out.

And make no mistake—we are needed. You are needed. If someone you know is drowning inside his or her own head, you are needed to function as lifeguard. You are needed to call her up and tell her you’re taking her kids to the park for the day and cooking dinner besides. You are needed to tell him you found a doctor who can help and will be picking him up at 10. You are needed to do the Googling, to pick up the prescription, to find the health food store with the particular supplement, to refuse to give up until a solution is found. You are needed for your perspective and energy and insistence on your loved one’s worthiness. Your presence can be vital, sometimes in the most literal sense of the word.

Thoughts on depression, suicide and being a ChristianNish Weiseth

Those who don’t struggle with depression, who don’t feel the ongoing darkness, or even those who struggle with depression yet still get the occasional bursts of joy or light, they try to understand and make sense of it. Label it as selfish and the easy way out. Call the suicidal “cowards.” But that’s not the mind of a person in the grips of unrelenting darkness. When depression corners you like that, it makes you believe that suicide is joy. Suicide is relief. And in some instances, it makes you think that suicide is a blessing or a gift to others. It can feel like the brave and noble thing to do.

Like I said, depression is evil.

But there’s another kind of evil lurking around the halls of the depressed, and it’s the belief that those who are stricken with depression (or any mental illness) are suffering because of their lack of faith in Jesus.

Suffering-WithElizabeth Stoker Bruenig

Pain like this, pain that abuts futility, it’s exhausting. I have thought for sometime this must be one of the many meanings tied up in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ’s disciples can’t manage to stay awake with him while he prays. I can stay up all night for television marathons; I’m sure the majority of us could manage it at the request of Jesus, but agony is exhausting, it’s draining, it’s especially tiring when it all points toward the great black void of futility, when there’s nothing you can do.

It is tempting, as Christ suggests, to drop off into torpor and give up on matters that seem beyond one’s control. I don’t doubt people in the position of considering suicide feel this exact same way, but I do believe there’s value in recognizing that people considering suicide and people who don’t want them to can suffer that together.

And in Gethsemane Jesus’ example reminds us that suffering together matters, that it means something.

The Church Won’t Rein in Misogyny, But Bloggers WillSamantha Field

Not long ago, Leadership Journal published a piece written by a convicted sex offender that painted his assaults of a teenage girl as a consensual “affair.” It took hundreds of people pleading with the editors for five days before they removed the article from the Internet. When it was still live, I contacted all the writers that Leadership Journal has published, which includes some of evangelicalism’s biggest names (Francis Chan, Max Lucado, Rick Warren), and asked them to join their voices with those of us asking Leadership Journal to #TakeDownThatPost. None of them responded.

It is extraordinarily rare for a big-name evangelical pastor to even address misogyny and sexism in the church. Instead, the issue is ignored. It is treated as if the lives, voices, and squandered spiritual gifts of women present a problem so insignificant that it is not worthy of their attention.

This has opened the door to an odd development.

Rest in Peace Michael Brown

Sudden death as a result of sickness is one thing; unjust death at the hands of a police officer is quite another. 18-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO was killed by Officer Darren Wilson on Saturday, August 9. It’s a sickeningly familiar situation: a white police officer initiates contact with an unarmed black man, and the black man does not survive the encounter.

Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By PoliceMia McKenzie (via Dani Kelley)

A Black person is murdered by cops, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes every 28 hours in the U.S. The killing of an unarmed Black teenager named Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, which has resulted in protests in that town and harsh police push-back and brutality against even more of its citizens, and which, via social media, has gotten the attention of people around the world, probably isn’t even the latest occurrence, at just three days old.

Talking to people on Twitter about Mike Brown and what’s happening in Ferguson right now, I’ve noticed (again) how easily folks get distracted when Black people are murdered by the police. It seems as though every detail is more interesting, more important, more significant—including looting of a Walmart in Ferguson, which a local Fox news station focused its entire coverage on—than the actual life that was taken by police.

So, to get folks back on track to focus on what matters most here—the killing of yet another unarmed Black teenager—I’ve compiled this list of 6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.

In which I have a few things to tell you about #FergusonSarah Bessey

Ferguson reminds me of the Arab Spring uprising. The people of Ferguson are rising up against their oppressors and hallelujah for that. I pray for their endurance in the face of state sanctioned violence against their children.

I have hesitated to write about Ferguson because I have preferred to amplify local voices or the voices of those who have been engaged in the real and difficult work of race relations in the United States. After all, Canada has our own issues, particularly with our treatment of First Nations.

But these past four days in Ferguson have broken through my usual resolve: this is absolutely a justice issue. I have waited patiently for more white Christian bloggers to speak up, particularly the Americans, trying to give them precedent to respond, but I have been disheartened by minimal response there. I want to come alongside the African American voices already writing and advocating, even in this small way.

An Open Letter From God to the U.S. on the Event of FergusonMark Sandlin

Dear Loved Ones,

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. As you might imagine, I’ve had a few things on my plate. Thanks for understanding.

I’m also sorry that this letter is going to have to be so direct, but I’m afraid recent events have pushed us far past pleasantries.

Please, throughout the things I have to say in this letter, remember I love you. I do.

I just wish you loved me back.

Oh, I know. I hear you say you love me and that really does mean a lot.

It’s just that…

Well, your actions make me wonder.

Why We’re Still Unwilling to Admit to Systemic Racism in AmericaBenjamin L. Corey

We’re still not ready (at least on a large scale) to admit to the existence of systemic racism in America. Just bringing the issue up got me called a “race baiter”, “ignorant”, and all sorts of other stuff– but whatever.

The realization that we’re completely unwilling to admit to the existence of systemic racism saddens me, but something I believe to be true nonetheless. The piece that completely tipped the scale for me was this piece which illustrates the response to protestors in Ferguson compared to protesters at the Bundy Ranch. At the Bundy Ranch, armed whites confronted the government to stand along side a rancher who’s been stealing from the government. They went as far as having weapons drawn on the police– and the response? The government backed down.

Compare that to Ferguson, where protesters have been met with police who were more armed up than the folks I served next to in Operation Allied Force (and I’m not even kidding).

It’s all just so… insane.

The question becomes, why? Why is it so difficult for us to just stop, look around at our country, and humbly admit, “yes, American culture still exhibits systemic racism”?

Black Bodies White SoulsAustin Channing Brown

I am quite used to there not being enough room in the soul of the white church to care about black bodies. There is not enough room in the service, not enough room in the prayers, not enough room in the leadership, not enough room in the values, not enough room in the mission statement, not enough room in political stances, not enough room for lived experiences of African Americans.

I am convinced that the soul of the white church has yet to be ashamed. It is not ashamed of slavery- it only dismisses it. It is not ashamed of Jim Crow- it only claims credit for ending it. It is not ashamed of incarceration rates- it only excuses it. It is not ashamed of ghettos- it pretends to have nothing to do with them. It is not ashamed of segregation- only silently benefits from it. There is no shame for who America has been. I believe that until there is collective shame for who white America has been to people of color, white America will not choose to be something else. If it is fine with who it is, it will continue to do what’s always done.

Ten Years of Everything and Nothing (a reflection)Bronwyn Lea

Today marks 10 years of our being here, and even though NOTHING has gone the way I planned it, I am filled with gratitude. I look around, and my life is unrecognizable from the way I pictured it would be when I was dreaming 20, 15 and even 10 years ago. This life I now live in suburban America is not at all what i imagined, and yet – if I dig a little deeper, while the form may be unrecognizable, the content has been the same all along:

for we love and are loved,

we have work to do wherever we are, 

and no matter what – we are kept by a good and gracious God.

These things remain the same. And I am so very, very grateful.

Blood cries out

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

Salvor Hardin

Incompetence and malevolence can be difficult to tell apart. Acts of violence are the fulcrum where they intersect and pivot around each other, for if violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, it is the chief goal of the malevolent. From different vantage points one can look very much like the other.

Take for instance a police officer who stops a young man in the street. Their encounter is very brief, yet the officer for some reason draws his service weapon and fires. And fires. And fires and fires.

And the young man dies.

Objectively, there is no reason why Michael Brown should not have survived his August 9 encounter with Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, MO Police Department. He was an unarmed, 18-year-old kid who was 2 days away from starting college. Wilson was a 6-year police veteran with all the training and experience that entails, not to mention ready access to the array of lethal and less-lethal weaponry that all cops have at their disposal.

But Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. In the most charitable point of view, it looks like he found himself losing control of the situation, and despite all his training and experience he saw no other choice than to retreat immediately to his last refuge. But from a different viewpoint it looks more like he deliberately drew his gun instead of his taser (or instead of de-escalating completely and letting Michael walk away) and shot Michael Brown dead, firm in the belief that the world would not care about another dead black man in the street, and secure in the knowledge that his fellow officers would close ranks and shield him from the consequences if that belief proved unfounded.

It turns out that belief was unfounded, but luckily Officer Wilson’s chief had his back and was able to give him almost an entire week to settle his affairs and leave town before the world-at-large even knew his name. Whatever else he may be, Officer Wilson was competent enough to notice which way the wind was blowing and get the hell out of Dodge. He has been conspicuously absent ever since. His neighbors don’t expect that he’ll be back.

The question of incompetence or malevolence does not end with Darren Wilson, however, but extends to every action the Ferguson Police Department has made since the shooting.

  • Why did Michael Brown’s body lie bleeding in the street for four hours? Did nobody think to call for an ambulance? Or was he just another dead nigger, so who cares?
  • Why, when the authorities eventually deigned to retrieve his body, was Michael Brown carried away in the back of an SUV? Was being properly loaded onto a gurney in an ambulance too good for him?
  • Why was a complete incident report of the shooting not immediately filed at the Ferguson Police Department? Why were the eye-witnesses to the event not immediately interviewed? Are there not strict procedures that must be followed whenever regrettable incidents like this occur? Or was Officer Wilson unofficially given some breathing room to come up with a likely story?
  • Why, when it became clear that the residents of Ferguson intended to peacefully protest in the streets, was the police response to roll out the armored vehicles, the snipers, and the masked storm troopers? Are rubber bullets and tear gas really the best way to disperse a peaceful gathering? Mightn’t they be considered somewhat antagonistic, antithetical to defusing a tense situation? Or was that the intention all along?
  • And why, when Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson finally called a press conference on Friday, August 15 to disclose Officer Wilson’s name, did he spend so little time discussing Officer Wilson and his actions, and so much time discussing Michael Brown and a shoplifting incident that had not even been reported? Is Chief Jackson really so unaware of how badly that press conference was perceived by people who still have no answers to any of the questions that matter? Or was he deliberately blaming Michael Brown for his own death, and poisoning the pool for a neutral jury should the case ever go to trial?

The questions even extend beyond the Ferguson Police Department to the St. Louis county prosecuting attorney’s office. Why has Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch not expressed any interest in determining whether it might be appropriate to bring charges against Office Wilson? Is it because he is blatantly and shamelessly already in the Ferguson Police Department’s corner, and willing to ignore any wrongdoing by his heroic law enforcement officers in the name of being tough on crime?

Is everyone involved in this travesty really this incompetent? Or has this horrible episode merely uncovered for the rest of us what the minority citizens of this country have always known: that black flesh is suffered to live only at the whim of its white overseers, that violent death may be only three minutes away, and that relief for the survivors will be denied as a matter of course.

Meanwhile, Michael Brown’s blood cries out from the ground for justice. We who stand by and do not act are complicit in his murder, and the murders of those who will surely follow him.

If you do nothing else, please sign Shaun King’s petition to enact police reform at the federal level.

in Life | 895 Words

Eclectica: Pre-Vacation Double-Edition (July 15-29, 2014)

You missed out on my favorites from last week, so here’s a double helping of the good stuff to tide you over while I disappear back to the Old Country for the next couple of weeks.

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza has been on my mind lately, and many good words have been written about it. But words are not enough to help the dead, and it seems they do precious little to help the living.

I happened to read this short piece from Zach Hoag the day after I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I found it quite apropos:

The Grand Budapest Hotel and Gaza: A Barbaric Slaughterhouse

The Grand Budapest Hotel is basically a nostalgic film about nostalgia.

I realize it’s quite a gear-switch but the current Israeli invasion of Hamas-controlled Gaza is a reality check that ought to end any illusory nostalgia. But illusory nostalgia is precisely what drives so much of the conservative evangelical fervor and militant advocacy for Israel. As the civilian Palestinian death toll rises, we should all be seeing a barbaric slaugherhouse. Instead, many Christians are seeing something quite different: the fight to defend their eschatalogical Grand Budapest Hotel.

“We oppose the privileging of Jewish lives over other lives” – Eran Efrati, via Carmen Ibrahim and Our Way to Fight

My name is Eran Efrati, I am Jewish, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, and a 7th generation Jerusalemite.

What I’ve seen in Israel over the last few weeks is beyond anything I have witnessed in my life:

  • Like you, I’ve seen the climbing death toll in Gaza, over 192 dead and some 1,485 injured–all by Israeli missiles, with no end in sight. At least 75% of those killed have been civilians and as many as 36 have been children.
  • I’ve seen soldiers lined up at the Gaza border, ready at a moment’s notice to invade.
  • I’ve seen terrified Palestinian children in Hebron and Halhul, sitting on the ruins of their homes.
  • I’ve heard from friends in Tel Aviv who were violently attacked by right-wing Israeli Jews at a rally to protest the ongoing assault on Gaza.

The climate here in Jerusalem reveals a level of hatred and racism in Israeli society that goes beyond calls from isolated extremists for revenge and violence against Palestinians.

Obsessing About Gaza, Ignoring Syria (and Most Everything Else)Jeffrey Goldberg

The Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat, Joyce Karam, was one of the few people to notice the weekend death toll in Syria. She tweeted, in reference to anti-Israel protests in Pakistan, “Syria is essentially Gaza x320 death toll, x30 number of refugees, but no protest in Pakistan…”

I asked her why she thought this is so. Her answer: “Only reason I can think of is Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.”

Gaza is not just about them, it’s about us, tooJon Snow

I feel guilty in leaving [Gaza], and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.

Shifting gears to some interesting theological pieces:

Independence: The False Gospel Destroying American ChristianityJoy Bennett

This American-Christian halfbreed teaches that we can do anything if God is on our side–we can go it pseudo-solo (because we’re not really alone if God is with us, right?). It idolizes independence. And it culminates in the false gospel, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

When Debating the Bible Isn’t Fair for AnyoneEd Cyzewski

You would think that a clear, easily applied blueprint would lead all honest inquirers to the truth. It’s no surprise that followers of Jesus are fragmented and divided over how to read and interpret the Bible, but if we want understand why we are fragmented so much, we need to look at our starting assumptions about the Bible.

We all believe that the Bible is telling us how to do something, but we aren’t agreed on what that something is. If we view the Bible as more of a painting than a blueprint, then we have a place to begin:

The first and really only “how to” the Bible offers is this: “How to meet with God.” Scripture is a series of paintings that show how people have met with God and points us toward ways we can interact with God—through the mediation of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. However, we aren’t necessarily supposed to duplicate the details of these paintings precisely.

Unacceptable: What it’s like to be a Liberal Christian in a sea of ConservativismDavid M Schell

I mention that I’m in favor of marriage equality and people think I’m not a Christian.

I mention that I attend a Presbyterian church and everyone wonders how I can go to a church whose denomination allows (not supports) same-sex marriage.

Friends and family members who once respected me and had high hopes for my future are now praying for my eternal salvation.

I have space for my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ, but far too often for my happiness, they don’t have space for me.

I seriously can’t wait until the subject book of this next one gets published so I can get it for my boys!

On reading my book to my daughter for the first time …Ben Irwin

I think one of the reasons we reduce the gospel to a handful precepts or sound bites is because we’re not sure our kids are up for something bigger. Or because we don’t think of the gospel as being primarily a story. Or maybe we worry our kids won’t have the attention span for something more than a few quick bullet points about sin and salvation.

I want to prove these assumptions wrong—because, frankly, this kind of gospel doesn’t work. It doesn’t stick. Stories stay with us for life. Bullet points, not so much. Our kids need a better story.

Last night, my daughter stayed with The Story of King Jesus all the way through, even though it’s longer than most of her bedtime books.

And let’s wrap this up with two powerful, personal stories.

Hope and friendship on the slippery slopeCarly Gelsinger

“Remember the revivals?” my friend Dee asks me.

We are drinking iced coffee on a Sunday morning in the small town we met, the town of our fiery Pentecostal days. The last time I was at this coffee shop, I was a teenager, sipping a strawberry smoothie and listening to my youth pastor talk about how I need to Press In to God more consistently to see the release of miracles in my life.

Everything has changed since then. Today, I have come to this coffee shop to unpack the damage of those Pressing In days.

Leaving Home: Escaping the Stay-at-Home Daughters MovementSamantha Field

My freshman year in high school, I mentioned my dream to become a marine botanist to my best friend, our pastor’s daughter, and she laughed.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “You can’t be a scientist. You have to be a keeper at home.”

Keeper at home.

It’s a phrase from the King James translation of Titus 2, and we interpreted it to mean that it was against God’s laws for women to be employed. Our church, however, took it one step further: if all a woman was allowed to be was a “keeper at home,” then it was utterly pointless for her to try to be anything else. Pursuing an education, or longing for a career could do nothing but harm her with shattered dreams. For that reason, young women in our church were asked to be “stay-at-home daughters.”

If you like the mix of what you just read, follow me on Twitter to get more. Peace be with you until we meet again.

That Dreadful Courtesy

I am upset.

Lately there is so much to be upset about. Thousands dead, and thousands more fleeing from Syria’s civil war. The Islamic State crucifying and decapitating any and all dissenters in its annexed corners of Syria and Iraq. The worst outbreak of Ebola ever in West Africa with hundreds dead and a 50% fatality rate, only gaining traction with the U.S. news machine now that two Americans have been infected. Tens of thousands of children at the U.S. border, fleeing violence in their Central American home countries, and being met with stern faces and angry voices.

All of these things are heartbreaking in their own way, but right now my heart keeps getting drawn back to be broken in Gaza.

So much rubble. So much destruction. So many dead children.

I’m not entirely ignorant of the troubled recent history of the Middle East. Today’s pictures of black smoke rising above ruined streets are not new, and don’t have much to distinguish them from pictures taken in the same region two years ago, five years ago, fourteen years ago; but this time around I find them much more disturbing.

In years past, I felt that Israel was generally doing the right thing in seeking to protect itself. No nation can tolerate a situation where its citizens are blown up at cafés or buses on a regular basis. The walls and military actions may have been distasteful, but they were necessary for the security of Israel’s citizens. The effect that they had on everyday Palestinians was lost on me at the time.

Things are different now.

Israel is still under siege from Hamas’ rocket attacks and tunnel incursions, and I acknowledge that I, sitting comfortably half the world away in Texas, can never appreciate the psychological burden of living under those conditions. However, in a real sense, the Iron Dome anti-missile system seems to have almost completely neutralized the threat of significant damage from these rockets. The most recent suicide bombing in Israel was in 2008. Being able to effectively keep Hamas at arm’s length should give Israel the luxury of pursuing peace, however slow the process may be.

Instead, the Israeli government cynically used the violent death of three teenagers as a pretext to resume bombing Gaza and crush Hamas once and for all. Never mind that we have now learned (and Israeli intelligence knew along) that Hamas was not responsible for killing those boys. Never mind that Gaza is the most densely populated area on the planet. Never mind that the millions of Palestinian civilians, when warned to evacuate their homes mere seconds before they get summarily demolished from above, literally have no safe place to go.

Justified actions. Proportionate response. Regrettable collateral damage.

These words do such violence to their dictionary meaning that we should call them what they are: lies.

What’s the body count since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, 2014? As I write this on July 29, more than 1000 Palestinians have lost their lives. At least 70% of these casualties were civilians.

There is no moral justification for these numbers.

What is a proportionate response when an inbound rocket is intercepted by Iron Dome, or raiders attack Israeli soldiers from a hidden tunnel? Israel believes that leveling an entire neighborhood is acceptable. Too bad, so sad if the residents disagree.

There is nothing proportionate about the recent action in Shejaiya.

And about that collateral damage. Israel’s response to the butcher bill it has inflicted on Gaza’s civilians does not even rise to the level of regret. Israeli shells killed four young boys as they played football on an empty beach in front of a hotel full of international journalists. Multiple reports from these journalist witnesses state that they were killed as they were running away from the first shot. When your demonstrated strategy includes deliberately targeting children, you have thrown away any possible claim of occupying the moral high ground.

So many dead children.

Here’s what is different for me this time around: as I see picture after picture of distraught men holding the lifeless husks that used to be their daughters and sons, I picture myself in their shoes, holding one or both of my boys.

I can’t deal with that line of thinking for very long. Palestinians are forced to live with it, day after bloody day, waiting for that dreadful courtesy knock on the roof, wondering if today it will be their turn to gather the pieces of their children from the rubble.

Hamas has plenty of blood on its hands, no doubt about it.

But Israel, acting from a vastly superior position of strength, is exacting its vengeance on the people who have the least culpability while being the most vulnerable. This is immoral, unjust, and will do nothing to improve the long-term prospects for peace.

So I offer my small voice on behalf of the besieged Palestinian civilians. Israel must end its campaign of unrestricted violence and terror. The innocent blood in what’s left of Gaza’s streets cries out for justice. Without justice, there will never be peace.

Eclectica: Late Edition (Week of July 7, 2014)

I got tied up writing an actual article over the weekend and didn’t get a chance to gather my favorite links from last week. No worries though – we run a flexible publishing schedule here at duncalfe.com!

The mainstream news hasn’t been devoting much space to it, but bloggers have been picking up the slack on the subject of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge air strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Here are two from Ben Irwin:

If you think “standing with Israel” means never criticizing them, you’re going to have to get a new Bible

The prophets routinely condemned Israel and its leaders for wishing destruction rather than mercy on their enemies (Jonah); for wrongly assuming that their military advances and territorial expansion were signs of God’s favor (Amos); for murder, theft, and adultery (Hosea); for coveting and seizing other people’s fields and houses (Micah); and for relying on military power instead of trusting God to protect them (Isaiah).

Why evangelicals should think twice about equating modern Israel with Israel of the Bible

If you’ve been told that unconditional support for Israel is the only “biblical” position, that the modern-day state enjoys the same kind of “most favored nation” status with God as ancient Israel did, then here’s another question. If Israel today is entitled to the covenant blessings spoken by the Old Testament, what about their covenant obligations?

The Bible never spoke of Israel’s covenant blessings apart from their obligations. It’s no use trying to have one without the other. And at least one of these obligations poses a bit of a problem for the modern state of Israel, if it is indeed the same nation as the one in the Bible.

Ancient Israel was not supposed to have a standing army.

In Light of the Current Events in GazaAaron Niequist

I’m learning that this conflict cannot be reduced to “good guys vs bad guys”.

One of my heroes (Christian peace activist Sami Awad) explained to us that this conflict is NOT simply Israeli vs Palestinian or Jew vs Muslim…but it’s ultimately a conflict between those who want peace and those who don’t.  There are wonderful, peaceful men and women on both sides (I’ve met many of them), and dangerous saboteurs on both sides (which we see on the news all the time).

And so, personally, I’m not trying to decide which nation is 100% right so I can 100% support them AGAINST the other nation.  It’s just not that simple.  But in the name of Jesus, I want to find and support the peace-makers on every side. These are really dark days, but we can’t give up.

I’ve Had Enough of the Spilling of BloodCarmen Ibrahim

I’ve had enough of the spilling of blood.

Especially that of children.

On June 12th, three Israeli teenagers (Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach) went missing near Hebron. Their bodies were later found in a pit in a town north of Hebron.

And I held my breath, waiting and knowing hell would break loose.

I’ve been watching and reading the news, wanting to talk about it, but not knowing how.

One of the overarching themes across Micah J. Murray‘s Redemption Pictures is recovering from growing up in an abusive fundamentalist Christian cult. Last week, he published a guest post from Heather Corcoran, and it’s one of the hardest-hitting stories I’ve ever read.

Dear Mr. Gothard

A few months ago, Heather shared this story with me. I sat motionless reading the words you’re about to read, my heart breaking at the horror of it all. My mind didn’t want to believe it, but I knew in my gut that it was true. I recognized the places she speaks of, the phrases she recounts, the life she describes. It’s a story that’s all too familiar by now. I’ve carried Heather’s story in my heart these few months, hearing it again and again whenever Bill Gothard and his teachings are mentioned. I invite you to carry her story in your heart too.

The Complexity of Loving Your NeighborNate Pyle

Here’s what I believe. I do not believe that loving God with our whole being ever has to be in conflict with loving our neighbor. If, in our love of God, we fail to love and serve our neighbor, then maybe we are misunderstanding what it means to love God.

John Piper, Two Mommies and LGBT HamburgersTim Fall

Jesus spent a lot of time with people others rejected. He loved them, knowing that there was no way these people could ever act in a way that would please God but that he, God incarnate, could do that for them. He’s done that for me too.

It looks like Mr. Piper has forgotten that this is the gospel we are called to preach.

That makes me weep.

Will American Christians Fail the Good Samaritan Test?Ed Cyzewski

Loving our neighbors isn’t a matter of picking and choosing which people get to be our neighbors. Isn’t that the whole point of the Good Samaritan parable? Vulnerable people cross our paths unexpectedly without announcing themselves, and sometimes they simply need our help. Loving our neighbors involves stepping in to help when the chance to show love presents itself, not when neighbors meet a government-specified checklist.

Jesus doesn’t give legal loopholes for “illegal immigrants” when loving our neighbors.

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer, and the American ChurchGeoff Holsclaw

We often think of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the church, but I think of him more as a cautionary tale.

The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that we should all strive to be more like him, but that we should strive to be a church that wouldn’t need him!

Emily Timbol tweeted this thought-provoking screenshot of a Facebook post that re-interpreted what it means to be a “sodomite”.

Today she published Religious Exceptions Have No Scriptural Basis on Red Letter Christians. Since I’m late with this week’s linkage, you get to read the full article instead of just the idea behind it.

It is true that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. He spoke about marriage and divorce, but those are completely separate issues than that of employment discrimination. Again – same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the discussion on employment discrimination. What does have a lot to do with this discussion though is Jesus’ warnings to His disciples about Sodom. Stay with me.

And here’s a funny I’d never seen before, and it made me laugh. (As does Misty P. on a regular basis.)

Throw-Away Freedom, Disposable People


If you’ve spent any time traveling through the rural United States, you will likely have seen a pickup truck belching thick clouds of smoke every time the driver guns the accelerator. While unpleasant, I have always written this off as one of the ills of a poorly maintained vehicle. I can relate; keeping cars in tip-top shape is expensive, and as long as your wheels are rolling, it’s easy to find more important things to spend money on than routine maintenance.

My charitable attitude went out the window this week when I found out that there is a sub-culture of diesel pickup drivers who purposefully modify their trucks to blow as much black smoke as possible. They call it “rolling coal.”

This is what freedom looks and sounds like. I’ll leave the smell to your imagination.

This is throw-away freedom: the opportunity to literally burn the excess of my abundant resources for nothing more than self-gratification and let others pick up the tab. Freedom ain’t free, but I came by mine cheaply and to hell with you. What right have you to tell me anything different? Anyone who dares to disagree is a filthy commie, am I right? Global warming is a liberal conspiracy, cancer is something that happens to other people, and I don’t know how to spell “myopic”.


This selfish, short-term view of freedom manifests itself in more than a bunch of rednecks attempting to help their rural communities achieve air quality parity with Los Angeles. It is also evident in the attitudes of many people towards the tens of thousands of children who are attempting to escape gang violence in Central America and find refuge in the United States. There is no denying that 53,000 unaccompanied minors arriving at the border presents logistical difficulties for U.S. government officials at the local level, but there is no good reason why they should present political difficulties at the federal level. The response of the good citizens of this country who took it upon themselves to travel to the border and scream at busloads of frightened children is shameful.

It also reveals a cynical, fearful view of human nature.

America used to be known for its optimism. Millions of would-be immigrants who come to these shores each year still believe it, and share that optimism to the extent they think their lives would be better within the United States than without. Then they arrive at the border and encounter the xenophobic locals who greet them with fences, armed patrols, shouted slogans and a deep-seated certainty that if these people – these Others – are allowed in, these great United States will somehow decline and fall. Give me your huddled masses, indeed.

People with a healthy attitude towards freedom do not regard it as a limited commodity or a zero-sum proposition. It need not run short as demand increases. True freedom does not suggest that I ask what’s in it for me, but rather what can we accomplish together?

When a communal desire for freedom for everyone is fractured into an individual desire to take as much as I can and hoard it for myself, I view other people not as fellow members of the human race but as members of competing tribes. Aliens. Others. Those who are not as important as me. Worth less than me. Less human than me.

When I lose sight of other people’s humanity, their welfare is no longer my concern. I care about them only to the extent that I expect my pet politicians to keep them far away from me and my hard-earned and well-deserved luxuries. Why should I worry about their hardships, or pay for their food or healthcare? They have nothing of value to offer in return, so to me they are worthless. Disposable. Let them die.


Once we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s kosher to be indifferent to the suffering of Others, we find ourselves on a diabolical highway to a destination where we actively cause the suffering and death of Others. Humanity has been doing this for a long time. Anyone who ever started a war is guilty of this line of thinking. These Others represent a threat to our god, to our race, to our resources, to our very existence. Let us do unto them before they do unto us!

The Middle East has an especially rich history of people doing unto each Other. In the narrative favored by the evangelical Christian West, Israel is the scrappy underdog: a beacon of democracy, surrounded on all sides by neighbors who are hostile to its very existence. Militarily, however, any nation that has enjoyed the support of the United States for the entirety of its history is never the underdog. Whatever the proximate reasons (or excuses) for its current actions in the Gaza Strip, Israel cannot credibly claim to be acting proportionally or morally when the body count after six days of Operation Protective Edge is 167 dead Palestinians, of whom 70% are civilians.

But to the Israelis, and by proxy to their American supporters, the Palestinians are Others. Worthless. Disposable. Let them die.

I have a modification I need to make to my truck.