Fear Of Whales

Archive for April, 2015

Bible and Rifle Church

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636e879250e927f1435cd14775ae1e93An old sign on a country road in the middle of Kansas reads “Bible and Rifle Church” and that’s why I think the church should stay out of politics.

But Beecher’s Bible and Rifle Church in Wabaunsee Kansas is not what it sounds like. Not exactly, anyway. What makes Beecher’s Bible and Rifle Church different is that it is not making a statement by that. They aren’t rednecks and damn proud of it by design. They happen to be rednecks, but that name is actually a badge of progressivism.

You see, back before the civil war Kansas was poised to be the newest state, and It’s addition would break the tie that was upheld in the Missouri compromise finally deciding whether the nation had a majority of slave-states or free states. It all depended on what kind of state Kansas decided to be, and that depended on who moved there.

Suddenly Kansas was flooded with jayhawkers and bushwhackers all trying to settle the land in greater numbers than their political opponents. Each side saw the other as the embodiment of moral evil and was greatly concerned about the numbers possessed by the other. They settled in towns according to their allegiance and conspired against one another. This led to no small amount of raiding and eventually, killing. This is how the bloodiest war in American history began.

Wabaunsee was a free town, settled by progressives who made great personal sacrifices to try and ensure the country would not make the wrong decision. They were small and underpowered, they were settlers not a militia, they were in danger, they needed Guns! But there was no way boxes of rifles for Wabaunsee Kansas were going to be allowed through slave territories unmolested, so the enterprising Jayhawks came up with a plan.

ed563ad7b72549cf80b9c63d1ed6768dInspired by Reverend Beecher, they began to receive guns in crates labeled “Beecher’s Bibles” which then then proceeded to use to kill the other settlers. Yaaaay!

That model rifle became popularly known as a Beecher’s Bible throughout the civil war and Beecher’s side went on to win, so a church was erected in commemoration of the place where it all began. A reminder of the Christian call to take up arms instead of Bibles and shoot to kill the people who you feel are immoral.

No, I’m not exaggerating, here is a quote.

"He believed that the Sharps Rifle was a truly moral agency, and that there was more moral power in one of those instruments, so far as the slaveholders of Kansas were concerned, than in a hundred Bibles”

Over time the Kansas territory became more and more conservative, but Kansans still love their Bibles and their guns, and send many of their young people overseas to use them on our nations enemies. So the Bible and Rifle church continues to represent standing up for what you (politically) believe in using violence, under the banner of Jesus.

But if they had been reading a Non-Beecher’s Bible they would have seen Jesus say “"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

There is something that makes me deeply uncomfortable with the Beecher’s Bible ideology. It isn’t that it is to liberal or too conservative, it’s both and neither one is the problem. The problem is that it is wrong. Morally wrong. Theologically wrong.

shutterstock_141375874-638x425Further, it isn’t just the killing. The killing makes the point stand out enough to make me notice it, but it would be just as bad if Beecher thought we should put down our Bibles for knives or wet willies or pink slips. It is about trading in the truth of God for something else.

That’s the problem with theologizing your politics. You make an idol of Christ, and you make an enemy of your neighbor. You love none of them authentically.

I fear when I say that I think the church should stay our of politics people think I am making a statement of neutrality, as if the sides are tied. Or ambivalence, as if I don’t know or care. Or perhaps they think I am speaking practically, and afraid to scare away potential members by supporting what is morally right. But I just don’t think pastors should encourage parishioners to put down their Bibles and pick up their rifles. Ever.

I think Jesus offers a way that is wholly different from the dehumanizing political contest. A way that confronts evil directly, but not destructively. A way that loves instead of legislates, that inspires instead of incarcerating. A way that dies rather than kills, but never dies and lives eternally.

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April 29th, 2015 at 5:09 pm

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Awkward People

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For a long time I have looked at the church and felt like more was possible. I wonder often about alternative church forms, and ministry structures that break down some of the archaic barriers we have established by tradition. What if instead of a sermon we had more of a discussion? What if small groups had more authority over their own spiritual development? What if the church became a regular community center for people to meet one another and make new friends whenever they wanted to, all week long?

TechnoPuss_2063961iI’ve done some work starting alternative structures. A swing dance ministry, a paintball group, meetup.com…

But most of the ideas have never actualized because I keep running into the same brick wall. Awkward people.

I know I’m one to talk. I can be pretty awkward sometimes, but sometimes speaking from experience may be the only way to break the silence, so here I go.

Why do we have a speech and not a discussion? Because awkward people. One person would sit near the front and dominate the discussion and be offended if you don’t let them ramble.

Why are small groups constrained to curricula about the sermon? Because awkward people. One person would go on a political tirade that offends others in that group unless everyone is only answering yes/no questions.

Why aren’t churches open all the time. Awkward people! One guy would just live there all the time, creep everyone out so that nobody else would come, and it would be extra maintenance and staff hours for nothing.

So when I came upon This Reddit Thread, dealing with a person by the pseudonym of Jack where key strategies were laid out for dealing with people who do not know how to function in groups, I was very excited.

To be clear: It’s not the advice itself that is exciting, The advice is simple, you have a tough conversation with these elements:are-you-socially-awkward-jul-31-2012-1-600x400

  • What’s the outcome you want?
  • What will it require from the person to achieve this outcome?
  • What will you do to help him achieve this outcome?
  • What’s the benefit to the group?
  • What’s the benefit to others?
  • What’s the benefit to the person?

    It will only work some of the time to resolve the problem peacefully. That’s not the point. The point is that the strategy exists. The point is that there are people out there who have spent enough time addressing these sorts of issues (not avoiding them) to have written strategies about it. To get good at it.

    If people can be good at it, then people can get better at it.

    I’m especially excited about the last bullet point, where there is an expressed benefit to the person. What if churches were a place that awkward people could come and learn to hang? What if there was a discipleship process that understood learning to interact in groups as part and parcel of loving ones neighbor? What if helping your socially challenged neighbor was a part of the same?

    20140727_090433Heck! What if there was a pastor on staff, who was known and admired in the community for their ability to help people develop greater social skills?

    If we are going to dream about a better way to do church, we need to put serious intellectual resources into developing strategies for the Awkward neighbor. We need this more than we need market research, more than we need cultural relevance, more than we need radical redefinitions.

    If our churches can figure out how to work with the Jacks of the world such that we remain welcoming to them, but do not close down opportunities for the rest of us, then our churches will find they already know how to work.

    Trust me on this one

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    April 22nd, 2015 at 10:24 pm

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    iZombie is the Feminist Hero we Waited For

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    Geek Culture get’s a bad rap in my not at all humble opinion. It seems popular now to characterize comic book, computer and gamer culture as a male-dominated “neckbeard” stronghold. We have our blind spots to be sure such as Gamergate and the Fappening, and those are embarrassments to our culture, but a large part of the reason they are embarrassments is because we made them public and openly criticized them from within. The reality is that over 50 percent of gamers and 50 percent of comic readers are female, and that number is growing. It’s easy to see why. Geek culture is all about empowerment. It’s about people which society has tended to look down on being proud of who they are…


    Pictured: Not Feminism

    So I get just a little defensive when I talk about my love of Superhero movies and the first response out of someone’s mouth is “no female leads”.  As if that weren’t a problem with every genre of movie and the superhero genre was below the curve rather than above it. Yes, misogyny and racism is a problem in this culture, and comic book movies are not immune to it such that most of the big-name heroes are Aryan-looking athletic 30-somethings with “Man” prominently in their title, and that IS a problem. We have only made 2 comic book movies about a woman and a handful of ensemble pieces featuring women, and I would like to see that number go up. Still, I’m loathe to twist the knife in myself by being too critical of a community that I believe is part of the solution.

    ”So when are we making the Wonder Woman movie?”

    That’s the solution I most often hear presented. We need to support the development of a franchise starring the most famous DC Comic heroine, and if you don’t want that, you are sexist… Well… I’m hesitant.

    Here’s the thing. As a comic reader, I have no idea what Wonder Woman arc is good enough to make a movie out of, and as a Superhero Movie fan, I have no confidence in WB to pull it off and start a franchise with it. She’s just a pretty bland character that works well for Justice League (which is how anyone who knows her knows her) and DC is a pretty bland studio which has been two steps behind marvel for years.


    Pictured: Also Not Feminism

    Also, as a feminist (if I can claim that) and a champion of the geek community to push in a progressive direction. I don’t think Wonder Woman is the ticket. She is a sex symbol invented by a fetishist whose powers are about strength and violence when they are not about being tied up.  She is not exactly the sort of role model we want to be sending to empowered young women about their potential

    All that together tells me we could be looking at another “Catwoman” by the time that film hits theatres. And I’d like to avoid that.

    “Well isn’t that convenient, Ryan? So you will watch a woman in theory but in practice you are full of excuses” I recognize that to someone who is not already a comic fan that discrediting Wonder Woman sounds a lot like discrediting the only good female superhero. but that just isn’t true

    ”Fine then, what bankable woman do you want to see lead a franchise” Is the next very fair question. And it’s a good one. There are plenty of woman out there in comics, but those that would hold up good movies are a smaller pool, and those that would do so in a progressive way even fewer.


    Pictured: Not Quite

    “Thor” for instance, is a woman now, which was a super bold move on Marvel’s part especially after Thor started making waves on the big screen as Chris Hemsworth. But to make a female-led Thor in theaters only serves to perpetuate the tendency to think of female heroes as off-brand counterfeits of their male versions. And there is a myth there. Thor is about the middle stage of life, when the immature and destructive child is behind you, but the responsible king is still in the future and you are free to explore the world on your terms. It’s clearly tailored to male adolescents, more than female adolescents who tend to mature faster, and then deal with external resistance to power ascent rather than Thor’s temporal resistance. It’s not that women can’t relate with Thor (they can and they do) they just do so through a particular lens.

    Of course we are getting Captain Marvel. I’m excited about that, but it won’t come out until 2018. Jessica Jones, same story. Agent Carter is okay, and it deals with sexism directly by placing it in the 1950s but the character has always been second-fiddle material.

    What we really need is an original female hero, who was written that way with no male counterpart, who has powers and mythos that are uniquely feminist, not an imitation of the patriarchy. We need her to be complex: tough but not manly, feminine but not girly, and likeable but not another sex-object. Most of all me need it NOW.


    Pictured: Now We’re Talking

    Meet Olivia, the hero of the new CW show iZombie. Brought to you by the same people who made Veronica Mars. Olivia was a brilliant Medical Student on track to becoming a physician when she undied, now she has to work at a coroners office. What’s that? You say that sounds exactly like the career path of every millennial after the crash of 2008? Why what a coincidence!

    Now a Zombie, Liv eats the brains of the corpses to survive, but finds that she gains some of their memories and personality when she does so, so she uses this newfound ability to solve murders.

    Also, if she is threatened she goes into what she calls “full on zombie mode” with glowing red eyes and rips everything to shreds within a 30 foot radius.

    To review: She’s smart, she’s empathetic, she’s a little creepy, and she kicks ass. She is now showing on Hulu so give her some love with your AdBlock turned off to show the world we are ready for this kind of hero.

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    April 15th, 2015 at 2:21 pm

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    Writing another Faith Statement

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    I’m smiling to myself here at the coffee shop as I begin to write another personal statement of faith. I’ve written at least five previously. One might expect that the process would become easier with practice, or perhaps harder as my faith grows in complexity. In my case however, I find myself slamming against the same hurdle every time.

    The objective is to write something unique, and descriptive. I know that you want to read something that speaks to who I am as an individual in my relationship to God and the Christian tradition. I search myself therefore for descriptions of my unique perspective on Christianity, and then cut myself off at the knees by attempting to focus on those beliefs which are most important.

    For me, the beliefs which are most important are least unique. The essential beliefs of the Christian faith are those about which we all agree. Jesus is Lord, fully divine and fully human, he died on the cross and rose again bodily. I cannot do better in this regard than the great creeds which already exist, they say it more articulately, more accurately, and with more authority than I can.

    On the other hand those aspects of the faith which are most unique to me, and most descriptive of my personality, are those which I regard as least important. They are not convictions, they are preferences. I think a lot, and experiment with new tools and new expressions. Like to engage scripture in group conversation, and I prefer the narrative portions to the poetic. I love evangelism and mission, and my favorite, most transcendent experiences of God tend to come from the gutter, rather than the sanctuary. There is not a word of that however, which is not subject to change and grow as I do.
    I don’t introduce this tension to fill space. Through the process of writing and rewriting statements of faith for various governing bodies I’ve come to see significance in the tension. The most meaningful expression of my faith which I can muster seems to lie in this tension itself. I am a person who is uniquely and particularly preoccupied with this tension. I have a relationship to God which is unlike anyone else who has ever lived, but more importantly, I have a faith which is very much like every other Christian in the history of the world.
    I believe in God the Father Almighty…

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    April 8th, 2015 at 10:45 pm

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    Bus Odyssey Again

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    You may be wondering why, after my last experience with Greyhound Inc, I would ever consider patronizing their services again. Well it’s a long and a sad story, but basically I keep putting myself in positions where I believe they might be the most convenient option.

    I went once again in Florida between Couchsurfing hosts with similar results not worth publishing, and now again to get to Mexico. I was given a referral that said the bus was direct, had WiFi, and went straight where it needed to for $60.

    Turns out I got on a 9:30 bus at 11:30 and by 3 am I was packed into a red pickup truck in a border town being assured by someone in a Greyhound vest that this was a great idea in a language I do not understand. This had been the fourth vehicle I had been inside on my journey. Somewhere along the ride I developed Shingles, a viral infection that causes herpetic blisters.

    This post really killed my momentum on the blog that I had just recovered. I feel like it needs to be written. I’m still not sure what it’s for. Whether it’s funny, or a moral lesson. It’s going to be one of my longer blogs, too long to read for many of you. Oh well. I have to get it out.

    It started at the Austin Station, The Customer service reps were as disinterested as I expected, and by the time we got to the front of a long line which was incessantly cut by other patrons we were jostled back and fourth between attendants who couldn’t get the thing to scan. No problem, we left plenty of time. But as we were eventually nonchalantly informed that out ticket was “broken”, and instructed to write as much on a form we had no capacity to understand, I began to doubt that this trip would be what it was promised

    We got new tickets, and held them as 9:30 came and went. No announcement was made that our bus was late, and most of the workers were concerned about another bus that had customers waiting since the early afternoon and had not yet arrived. I tried to talk to someone at the desk again and they had No idea, I was told to ask outside and finally found someone who confirmed we hadn’t missed it, it was late, and there was no ETA.

    The bus station looked typical, about what I expected. It was not tiny like some I’d seen, but it was one room, so reasonably small for a city like Austin. Typical airport style seating, mostly full, a counter of outlets in the corner that offered the opportunity to recharge your phone in exchange for the privilege of sitting (pick one) and some vending machines.

    I chose to seat myself on the floor, and cracked pecans to eat until our bus came several hours late. by that time I already felt tired of traveling despite literally having not left home, but I was thrilled to see the Blue Bus, perhaps things were looking up. Blue Buses have wifi and power outlets. Except the wifi was out on this one, but still! Power meant I could watch movies until San Antonio. This was the only bus that would have it.

    The San Antonio station was REALLY small considering San Antonio. It did not even have slots for bus parking, the buses simply double-parked in a oversized drive through. They had a little café where I bought some overpriced chicken, and we continued on the same bus to Laredo. That’s where things got interesting.

    I didn’t get to see much of Laredo, but it had the feel to me of an old west town that never really left the early 1900s. It did not seem sure whether it wanted to be in Mexico or the States. We did not go inside the bus station, instead we just shuffled straight onto a crappier bus and headed for the border. that’s where things got interesting.

    This bus was empty except for a couple of older Hispanic women and one man, none of whom spoke English. It took us about a half an hour to get to the border which we might have spit on from the bus station, and we got on a line of buses to cross over. Some time passed, and then the driver started speaking in Spanish for some length of time. I followed virtually none of it.

    We returned to the bus station, and piled into a white windowless van with “Grehound Inc” sharpied onto the side. I’d gathered by this boint through broken conversations with other patrons that the line of buses over the border was going to take too long, and this alternate was supposed to be faster over the border.

    Nope. We took the white bus TO the border, and then walked over manually carrying our luggage. Literally thee was a bridge over the Rio Grande that we walked over with the bus driver and all. The actual border checkpoint was nothing, just a handwave, and then we piled into a dirty Mexican truck. I didn’t know if it was headed to Monterrey, or to another bus, or what.

    If I thought Laredo wasn’t sure if it wanted to be in Mexico, Nuevo Laredo On the Mexican side had no apprehensions. Elotes and Tacos for sale, farmacias, and plenty of signs of crime. Exactaly where I wanted to spend the rest of my night beginning around 4am.

    We pulled into a bus station, not a greyhound station, another one, and the driver hit us up for tips as some other vultures played porter with our bags. I waited in a bus station in Nuevo Laredo (the Mexican Side) for several hours after the pickup before getting on a slow buss to my destination in Monterrey. If the other stations were poor, this was distinctly worse. a large circumference trashcan was a prominent feature in the room, the toilets didn’t flush and the chairs were mostly broken. I did not dare leave it’s sanctuary until morning however.

    That last bus ride was long and slow. There is a toll road to Monterrey but we did not take it. We took a slow and often unpaved path through numerous tiny pueblos. At one point we stopped inexplicably in what looked like ruins of a town that once was. I saw a horse, I wondered if this was some old town and we had arrived. But no, the bus driver has a sweet tooth and simply stopped the travel to pick up some dulces on the roadside.

    Once you got used to it it wasn’t so bad, they put on Downton Abbey in Spanish and I fought to get some sleep. All in all what should have been an overnight trip, 6 hours by car, had taken the better part of 24 hours. I arrived in the Monterrey Bus Station just in time for my back to start hurting with blisters that looked like I had fallen into a mosquito nest. It was big and cosmopolitan, much more what I Had expected, but with plenty of culture and color in the form of street salesmen. I was not there long, a friend picked me up, and to this day I do not know how he happened to arrive 4 hours late to meet us on time.

    But my sores, and the concern they might be contagious, meant that upon arrival in Mexico I needed to navigate the maze of the Mexican medical practice. A good system to be honest, one I’m impressed with. It allowed me to see a doctor several times for about $4 and get the prescriptions I needed that day at similarly reasonable prices. Still it was not a system I was in any way familiar with, and it required me to learn Spanish words for phrases like “Herpes Zoster” and “less of a burn, and more of an ache really” I eventually got it though, and saw some great things in Mexico.

    On the return trip we resolved not to get off our bus for any any any reason. The first leg was incident free, watching most of Man of Steel in Spanish until it was inexplicably turned off. Then we arrived in that same damn Nuevo Laredo bus stop. I did NOT want to be back in that damn Nuevo Laredo bus stop.

    The longest leg of the trip was the 7.5 miles from that bus station to the one in Laredo on the American side. We boarded somewhere around 10 or 11pm. The sun rose about halfway across the bridge. Long line of busses proceeded one at a time over the border. The bus driver got to the point that he would stop the bus, get up and sleep in one of the passenger seats until the bus in front of us moved. Then return to his chair, pull forward one bus length, and go to sleep again. For Hours and hours while I tried to sleep with open sores on my back and the need to take large Mexican antiviral pills every four hours (I took several courses on that bus)

    When we finally got to the border everyone got out and herded into an informal cattle line to show papers one at a time, we pulled our luggage, and the bus was inspected. I recalled youth trips back when the attendant would shine a flashlight and wave us through, not so here. Everyone shows a passport or a visa to the worker. That said, the quick look at my ID and the 1 or two questions I was asked hardly justified my 6 hour wait (are we really that sure that I’m that much safer for having done that) It felt like an authentic immigration experience. Coming from Monterrey, being treated poorly. Not the White-person border crossing that is imagined when white people talk about immigration.

    After that there was the negotiation with the greyhound attendant in America to get him to speak English. We arrived in the not-so-early morning, but had obviously missed our bus from the previous night. He told us our next bus to Austin was at 1, and it took some convincing that leaving on the bus to San Antonio which left immediately would be a better choice.

    The bus was literally shitty. the toilet in the back smelled pungently and water spilled out into the aisle. Several women approached it and decided against it before resigning that they couldn’t hold it any more in an hour or so. The driver did not speak a word of English, and a waited with baited breath for the San Antonio stop, the flushing bathrooms, and the overpriced chicken. When we arrived he said 10 minutes.

    So I peed, I got back on, and watched the mostly empty shitty bus have every seat filled with Austinites. The patchouli mostly covered the smell, and very suddenly the same driver began to speak English. It felt like a whole new bus. I spent the vast majority of the ride however trying to make sure I could get picked up straight from the station and not have to wait in another bus station ever again!

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    April 3rd, 2015 at 7:22 pm

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