Thursday, June 17, 2010

on the abominable metric system

Brother David Cloud: "Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the Bible recently to prove that Jerusalem belongs to Israel. At a parliamentary session commemorating Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, Netanyahu stated that Jerusalem and Zion appear 850 times in the Old Testament. He then said, “As to how many times Jerusalem is mentioned in the holy scriptures of other faiths, I recommend you check” (“Netanyahu Turns to Bible,” Reuters, May 12, 2010). The answer is none. Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Koran, for example. It is fascinating to see secular Jews like the thrice-married Netanyahu quoting the Bible, even though they don’t believe it or obey it. They are back in the land, but they don’t know how or why. They have fierce enemies, but they think this is just bad luck, not willing to recognize that the reason, as in days of old, is Israel’s own stubborn rebellion to Jehovah God and her vicious rejection of the Messiah 2,000 years ago. Israel is back in the land in wonderful fulfillment of prophecy, but she is spiritually dead according to Ezekiel 37:8. We are now waiting for the other prophetic shoe to drop, when the church-age saints will be Raptured, followed quickly by the Antichrist’s rise to power, Israel’s conversion after the “time of Jacob’s trouble,” and Christ’s glorious return. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"

Set aside the bizarre use of Ezekiel 37, if you will. Set aside the toxic, piecemeal literalism that would lead one to interpret "I will settle you in your own land" as a literal reference to Jewish people resettling in Israel, but read "you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them" from only one verse prior and not think of zombies. If this had literally happened, post-WWII Israel would have been settled by people who were actually killed in concentration camps, not by people who lost their families there.

At least the bones aren't naked now, because skin literally (and infallibly!) means a parliamentary system of government? Let it go.

Set aside the even more bizarre notion that modern Israelis don't know how they got to Israel. You, dear reader, may or may not be Israeli, but perhaps you know that you can look up things like the British Mandate for Palestine on the interwebs. Set aside, too, the odd phrase "they are back in the land." Who are "they," in this context, when the majority of Jews don't live in Israel? Also, perhaps Netanyahu is married to three women simultaneously- a patriarch, just like Abraham, with a perfectly Biblical understanding of marriage?* I don't think that's the case, though, because I don't think that's Netanyahu's brand of crazy. Somehow, it doesn't seem to be Jewish people who insist upon dragging such nonsense into the modern era.

Polygany for wealthy men- it's in infallible scripture! Ok; let it go.

Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Koran.

What makes something relevant?

I mean, we could point out the obvious: Muhammad wrote the Qur'an, and he seems to have died before the Islamic Empire reached Jerusalem. So, while the Hebrew Scriptures contains lots of passages about being in Jerusalem or wanting to be back in Jerusalem, the Qur'an doesn't have anything like that. Because they hadn't been there yet. This is like trying to explain blue sky to someone wearing orange glasses, though: Look, Chalcedon is important to Christians because Christians did important things there. It's not in the Bible because the Bible was written before the Christians did those things. Similarly, Jerusalem is important to Muslims because Muslims did important things there; those things aren't recorded in the Qur'an because the Qur'an was written before they did those things. How can something so obvious even need to be said?

In bizzaro-orange-glasses world, though, such banal linearity does not apply. Things are not true because they happened; things are true because they can be read about or read into a particular book. Places aren't of importance just because people understand their loving, working, and dying within that geographical context; places matter because they can be looked up in the index at the back of a textbook with gilded edges. If the book can be read or misread to say that the sky is brown, no amount of you pointing out the window at the blue sky makes a difference. The story that Muslims tell is the story of their ancient book, full stop. The story that Jews tell is the story of their ancient book, full stop. And heaven help us all if Christians act as though anything important has happened to the church since John the Revelator was sent to sea.

In other words, in bizarro-orange-glasses world, there is no continuing story outside the text, and the text is assumed to contain all the assumptions of the orange glasses wearer. All the important things that have ever been done and ever will be done have been written down in a special orange glasses compatible code. In secular terms, this would be like saying that Gettysburg is an important place because we have a copy of the address that President Lincoln gave there, and then inferring from a literal read of the address that devotion was being physically measured out in cups. And then proclaiming that the point of the Gettysburg address is that we should measure liquids according to the English system, because the metric system is an abomination- if liters weren't good enough for Civil War era soldiers, then they're not good enough for us! And then disenfranchising anyone who thinks that sounds crazy.

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." An interpretative method that disguises importing human created doctrine as 'studying scripture in the light of scripture' is in direct contradiction to this teaching. Ezekiel 37 is given by inspiration of God; the nonsensical interpretations clamped upon it like barnacles on a ship are not.

And goodness, the Muslims don't have to have a proof text for the importance of the Dome of the Rock to them. Being People of the Book doesn't mean that any of us have to be people only of the book.

*This would be a good place to say that I read Bro. Cloud even though I disagree with pretty much everything he writes, largely because he's not a tool. That is, he doesn't criticize Netanyahu's three marriages, but then ignore the fact that Reagan was the USA's first divorced and remarried president. He's not, you might say, a respecter of persons; I like that about his work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Christopher Hitchens picking on Prince Charles: read all about it! The first part is fun stuff- it makes me happy to read someone wholeheartedly defending materialism. Toward the end, he connects the prince's vapid anti-intellectual soul talk (and his desire to be crowned as the defender of all the faiths, instead of just the Anglican one) with the desire of some Muslims to proselytize more in Europe. The prince delivered his speech at the Center for Islamic Studies, which is connected by religion to the Islamic Forum of Europe. He writes:

"I quote from a recent document published by the Islamic Forum of Europe, a group dedicated to the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate and the imposition of sharia, which has been very active in London mosques and in the infiltration of local political parties. "The primary work" in the establishment of a future Muslim empire, it announces, "is in Europe, because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum.""

I think this is supposed to disturb me because a Muslim empire would be scary- and, granted, I wouldn't enjoy living under sharia. I like my cute skirts and driver's license. The creepy thing about the quote from the IFE, though, is that I've heard it all before:

"The primary work is in Europe, because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum.
-Islamic Forum of Europe

"ECM is an international, interdenominational mission that seeks to plant and support local churches throughout Europe... Please contact the appropriate office to find out more about ECM and to see what you can do for this needy continent."
-European Christian Mission

"When it comes to spirituality, Europe is needy. God is using people who are willing to go, live among the peoples of Europe, and tell them about His love."
-Greater Europe Mission, which would also like to tell you about the 40/70 Window of evangatastic opportunity. If you weren't familiar with the 10/40 Window to begin with, you should definitely look up the 40/70 Window, because you are way behind on your world domination strategy. When you've caught up with the rest of the (evangelical Protestant) church, come on back to Europe; it's where the action is. And get excited: studies are being conducted as to how best conquer Europe for Jesus (again).

And from WGM, the missions organization that I grew up hearing about, a plan of attack being devised one country at a time: "Alcoholism and suicide rates in Hungary are the highest per capita of any nation in the world. People are finding that a new job, more possessions, and a new government system are not what they are looking for. They need to know that Jesus Christ is the answer to their problems." I don't know how the Hungarians would assess this description of their country, but it sounds like WGM is seeing their moral and spiritual vacuum as a conversion opportunity.

Oddly, I think I like WGM for some of the same reasons that I like Gülen. The quote from their Hungary page sounds like something he might write; people are abandoning their faith because they have nowhere to seek refuge from their doubts. In a post-Communist world, how can one feel the greatness of faith to God? The answer is not to gain more of this world, but to be transformed by the perspective of the hereafter.

After all, how could a person of religious conviction, someone who believes that there is a deep, peaceful order to the universe that transforms the faithful participants in hir faith, look at the state of Europe today and not see spiritual vapidity?* This is certainly how it was presented to me as a teenager, when I went with Teen Missions International on a summer trip to Austria. These people, I was told, had been enthralled** for generations by false religion, and now they were losing hope entirely. Marx and materialism were the only things that Western Europeans believed in now, but we were coming to show them a more excellent way. These poor people were following after secularism like children after the Pied Piper, but we would stand in the streets with our puppets and simple German songs, luring them heavenward instead. Austria would be won for Christ!

We built a garage on an orphanage, so I don't regret the trip. I have to admit of myself, though, that I have personally attempted to recolonize spiritually vacuous Europe with my faith. My own history places me in an awkward position, then, when I hear that the Muslim hordes want to claim Europe for Allah. To be honest, part of me wants to tell them not to bother- you can stand in that square all day singing simple German songs about the Just One and the river of Paradise, but they don't care. As far as I can tell, Austrians just want to do their grocery shopping. Vienna is under seige by Muslims, you say? That's so 400 years ago. And Austria won, so, whatever.

And yet, Byzantium did fall to the Ottomans, which led directly to the Battle of Vienna; for those who closely associate the cause of Christ and the political successes of Christendom, I suppose we've lost these battles in the past, and have come close to losing the war.

"The primary work is in Europe," says the Islamic Forum of Europe***. I think when this is quoted to me, I'm supposed to picture a meeting of nefarious men, perhaps in a dank basement, sitting at a poorly lit table and planning the end of times. I'm supposed to imagine networks of infiltrators with secret agendas, meeting once a week for strategy sessions on how to bring on secularism's demise. The IFE, you see, is pressing their advantage with weak-kneed leaders like Prince Charles, demanding concession upon concession, until eventually Rowan Williams will be handing over the treasures of the Anglican Church to be melted down and carefully gilded on the domes of mosques.

Really, though, I just picture missionaries. With silde shows, and a table full of cultural items: folksy musical instruments, perhaps, or wooden shoes. Maybe a chunk of the Iron Curtain.

Certain sillyheads claim that liberals, for unfathomable reasons, secretly support the reestablishment of the Caliphate. Let me, therefore, make this absurdly clear: I do not want to live under sharia. In the case of Europe: I do not want Vienna to be conquered by Islam, or the Sistine Chapel to be turned into a mosque, or good Christian children to be forced to pray Muslim prayers in school.

Conversely, however, I do not want Vienna to be conquered for Jesus. I don't want to hear R. C. Sproul preaching in the Sistine Chapel. I really don't want good Muslim children to be forced to pray Christian prayers in church, particularly if my tax money is funding that school. And don't be deceived by all the fearmongering about Islam- we Christians have our own version of sharia, and some among us are working, right now, towards implementing it.

None of this regulatory nonsense relates even superficially to creating a society in which one can feel the greatness of faith. None of this provides a refuge for the weary. None of this is infused with the perspective of the hereafter.

More importantly, though, it has to be said, over and over, that what Muslims are not being stopped from implementing restrictive, faith-based practices by Christians any more than Christians are being stopped from implementing restrictive, faith-based practices by Muslims. Fundamentalists are being stopped from imprisoning women in their homes by secularists. Fundamentalists of all stripes are being stopped from requiring religious tests for public office by secularists. Fundamentalists, whose desire to control outstrips their commitment to their faith, are being stopped from reshaping society in their own image by secularists, who claim that public space should be, well, public.

If this field of ours has a pearl in it, it would be that notion of public space.

*Well, huh. Pretty much anytime I ask a rhetorical question like that, I can find an answer if I poke around long enough. Turns out that there is "grave danger" in believing that Europe has become irreligious. The author's distinction between Europe's understanding of religion vs. the way a similarly worded poll question would be answered in the US was interesting, as well as the lists of practices like "church taxes" that not even the most nut-jobby right wingers in the US would propose. Is Europe a spiritual nightmare? Perhaps only if you're evangelistic about USians First Amendment freedoms.

I can't say I'm convinced, though, that the EU can still be considered the coming of the ten-headed Beast even though the membership has expanded beyond 10 nations. Not that the whole "no really, Revelation is a blueprint of the future" perspective ever made much sense, but saying that the 10 heads are 10 groups of nations? What's the point of having a blueprint if it's not even right? And really, if you have to keep changing "what the text clearly says about current events" in order to match it to how those events actually play out, then talking as though the text has some mystical, otherworldly knowledge about Europe's future just makes you just look like a cheap magician at a child's birthday party. "Look at that pigeon, children, while I stuff a bunny in this hat! Ok, look back- oh hey, there's a bunny in this hat! Admire my hat's infallible bunny producing powers!" That's an insult to a perfectly good hat, which could be quite useful doing hat-like things like shielding the eyes or covering bad hair, but isn't designed to be a bunny machine.

**Enthralled is derived from the Old Norse word thrǣll: slave. To be enthralled is to be enslaved. Enthrall has an overlay of spectacle, though, as though our eyes specifically have been taken captive; we're enthralled by dancers, by orchestras, and in this case, by priests.

Sometimes, when a Viking warrior died, a thrall or thralls would join him on the funeral pyre so that someone could attend him in the afterlife. That's unrelated, except to note that Europe has always been a pretty damn religious place, at least from the time that they started keeping written records.

***Does this sound a little self-aggrandizing to anyone else? Like, maybe the Islamic Forum of South America would be saying that the primary work is in South America, and so on? Am I really to believe that the Islamic Forum of Europe would say publicly that the primary work is, say, in Indonesia? That seems unlikely to me, just on the face of it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

M. Fethullah Gülen (II)

Universalism, for me, is a synonym for humility. When I do universalism well, I do not insist that if I cannot see God in someone's practice, that God is therefore not present. God may well be present, and the trouble be with my own eyes. If I visit someone else's world and do not feel "the greatness of faith to God," as Gülen put it, I must consider the possibility that I'm surrounded by a great faith that I cannot yet see.

Being a universalist, then, means acknowledging that since we all have access to the same Source of Grace, a failure on my part to recognize that Grace might be the root cause of any difficulty I have in engaging in worship with others. That is, if I join an unfamiliar group in worship and do not sense Christ in their* midst, then maybe their worship is not in spirit and in truth; some things called worship are not much related to acclaiming the worth of Christ. Perhaps, though, I simply haven't bothered to learn their language of devotion. Perhaps it's been easier for me to make fun of their carnivals than to be challenged by their understanding of holiness. Perhaps I have been a voyeur of sorts, watching their transitory firework parties without engaging my soul in their deeper joy.

Perhaps, in other words, I'm simply not paying attention to Christ.

Gülen writes: "...we sip the unsurpassable benevolence and joys from the hands of all these tribulations, because we have our beliefs, our connection to the Just One and our hopes! Those who do not recognize the trials and pleasures to be the product of the same will writhe in never-ending agony, while in our own atmosphere we see clearly that everything will be transformed into deep compassion. We taste a whole life, with its bitter and sweet facets like Kawthar, the blessed water of Paradise, in everything that we eat and drink, at every place that we inhabit, with all the beautifully divine discoveries of our own inner world."

It's not clear to me that Gülen would consider me someone who is capable (without converting to Islam) of tasting a whole life, but that is certainly my goal. Now I see through a glass, darkly; now I see in part. The more I see, though, the more compassionate I become- and the more compassionate I become, the more I am able to see.

I would be exaggerating if I said that I experienced a tribulation at business meeting yesterday. A chunk of focus, however, was on what strikes me as the liberal equivalent of handing one's tithe money to a Pentecostal businessman in exchange for specially blessed paper prayer mats: using small polished rocks to open chakras. I don't have much of an opinion on chakras in general, since I find my time rather occupied with trying to take my own religion seriously. Boiling major aspects of other people's faith down into something easily manipulable (and by the look of the little rocks, purchasable at the dollar store), though, irritates me quite a bit. It strikes me as disrespectful.

It's also idolatrous witchcraft, in the same way that those silly prayer mats are, but that's a different post.

I won't say that little polished rocks on leather cords make me writhe in never-ending agony.** I am reminded, though, that I am nowhere near tasting the whole life in every place I inhabit. I may be a universalist in theory, but I am far from a universalist in practice.

Christ, I believe that you are in all and with all; help thou my unbelief.

*Even more likely: if I'm looking for Christ in their midst, rather than Christ in our midst, then who am I to criticize them for an apparent lack of Christ? If the group is them to me, then I haven't even shown up yet.

**Although it becomes more true when the oh-so-rustic leather is being displayed by vegetarians.

M. Fethullah Gülen

"In every community and society there are people who are inclined to abandon their faith and there have been many times when such people have spun out of control; other communities and societies do not have such powerful places to seek refuge when faced by these abysses and weaknesses as we have. Indeed, they have thoughts which soothe, beliefs which reconcile, days and nights which tremble with joy, festivals and carnivals; but, these days, these nights, these festivals, these carnivals are devoid of any holiness. They are like fireworks, shining for a moment and then are gone, giving only instantaneous pleasure; they are ephemeral and physical, not promising anything in the way of spiritual joy. Indeed, in their worlds you cannot feel the greatness of faith to God, nor can you feel that souls are free from the boundaries of time and space; everything starts with a false and transitory happiness, and takes place in a delirium of flesh. All is then transformed into painful memories, regrettable dreams, and disappointed hopes, and finally everything simply disappears." (Link.)

Gülen is a fascinating man, and if you aren't interested in him now, you should go to his website and read until you are interested. He is an advocate of tolerance, a friend of peacemakers, and a force in interfaith dialogue. He's a poet and a public intellectual, a prolific author and an inspiring preacher- in short, a face of Islam that I too often forget to seek out.

He makes an interesting contrast, in this section of the article, between secular society and Islamic society. In a secular society, there are no safeguards to protect those who are inclined toward atheism- nothing in the social structure tugs them back toward faith. Islamic society, on the other hand, has what Gülen calls "powerful places of refuge," which my secular friends (and to be honest, probably my religious friends as well) might rephrase as stifling traditions, limits on freedom, or invasive proselytizing. Gülen seems* here to come down in favor of building a social world in which the "greatness of faith to God" is inescapable, so that those who would be tempted to abandon faith can be strengthened by their more faithful neighbors. His portrait of a society without these places of refuge sounds like a blurb on the back jacket of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, next to a picture of decadent flappers smoking elegant cigarettes and wondering why the carnival disappeared; which is to say that, in some ways, it rings very true.

It's uncomfortable for me to sit with Gülen's article, and with this paragraph in particular. I keep rereading "Indeed, in their worlds you cannot feel the greatness of faith to God..." and wanting to ask this man (who has never met me, and knows nothing about my life) for some kind of reassurance that he's not talking about my world; that he didn't move from Turkey to Pennsylvania and decide that, nationwide, you just cannot feel the greatness of faith to God in the USA. I worry that that's exactly the comparison he's making, though. As a nation, we do a decent job of castigating honest atheists, but the dishonest ones? The ones who are willing to bow their heads while Grandpa prays at Thanksgiving, but are peaceably and quietly abandoning their faith? We wish them Godspeed, you might say; very little in our society calls them back to the churches. We call this freedom- Gülen calls it anarchy.

This strikes me as being one of the great ecclesiological questions: is faithfulness ideally a choice to reject the prevailing order to join a righteous remnant, or a choice to construct a more righteous order? That is, are we pessimists or optimists about the possibility of building a God-honoring society? Given that question: if our entire society was entirely focused on God, what would an individual's choice to worship mean? Conversely, can an individual choose to worship without also choosing to remake hir surroundings in honor of God; is remaking the world necessarily a part of proclaiming God's worth?

If you had the option to build a world in which acting righteously was supported at the expense of the individual's freedom to choose righteousness, would you do it?

*I don't claim to be familiar enough with Gülen to know how this plays itself out across his oeuvre.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


O hai, blog.

In no particular order, these are the factors on which I judge a city:
1) presence of a good co-op
2) reasonably smooth roads
3) fun places to get coffee
4) can be driven out of in 10 minutes or less

Syracuse is a great city by my metric, as far as cities go- although, oddly enough, Richmond is only disqualified by potholes.

One fun thing about Syracuse is that there are so many places to worship. We have Methodists both Free and United, as well as a Unity church if you'd prefer to do without the method. We have a solid smattering of Lutherans, a full selection of Baptists, and a host of homes that have been taken over to house various Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. We have Catholics in at least Italian, Irish, and Polish, and perhaps other flavors as well... and if the Catholics do not fully meet your need for bells, incense, and patriarchy, we have Orthodox churches: Greek, Slavic, Macedonian, Coptic, and Russian, just to name the ones I've seen so far. We have Episcopals all over the city, Presbyterians ranging from the very conservative to the very liberal, and on out further we have a healthy dose of Unitarian Universalists. All this, interspersed with synagogues, mosques, at least one zen center, and I'm sure an even wider variety of religious meetinghouses than I'm able to recognize.

What we do not have, however, is a programmed Friends meeting. Syracuse boasts one Friends meeting, a lovely unprogrammed group that meets in a converted house close to Syracuse University. I've been attending since moving to Syracuse, and the worship there is wonderful. I've appreciated the depth of the Friends I've met there, both in the hour of waiting worship and in the discussions held afterwards.

They are not programmed, however, and do not talk much about Jesus.

Today between worship and discussion, I discovered that I could go upstairs to the First Day room and hear church bells. I sat by the window and listened to the Methodists play:

All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

All the world is God's own field. I'm struggling with that, here in Syracuse. I worry sometimes that I'm looking for my field, a place where I feel comfortable, more than I'm focusing on my place in God's field.

Note to self: the goal isn't to find the right patch of dirt. It's to yield fruit to God's praise.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

reasons to be a feminist, part eleventy billion


We’ve already seen rape survivors being refused emergency contraception, women in the process of miscarriage being refused treatment, and lesbians and unmarried women being refused fertility assistance. So what if a pharmacist wakes up tomorrow and decides that AIDS is your punishment for being gay, or your STI is a punishment for being a big whore, and refuses to fill your prescription for the medication you need? What if a Scientologist decides that he shouldn’t have to leave his moral beliefs at the door, and refuses to write or fill any prescriptions at all? What if an ER doctor or EMT’s religion forbids them from touching someone of the opposite sex and so they refuse to treat half the population, even in emergencies? What if my moral belief is that sanctimonious fuckwits who don’t do their jobs shouldn’t be given medical treatment — if I were a more vengeful person, could I go ahead and let them suffer, like they would do to me?

That's all really bad, no doubt. It sucks to think that I might have to drive around town to get a birth control prescription filled, and it's even worse to think that someone in a more remote or conservative area might not be able to get her prescription filled at all. And it makes me really angry that it's all so clearly about birth control, even though all the rhetoric is about abortion; I'm sure the lies make it more palatable, but they're still lies.

Really, though- I'm mostly just sad for my more conservative Christian friends who think that the Republican party gives a crap about them. Bush II had eight years to screw over American women, and he does it now? When it's going to be undone almost immediately, if not soon enough? I certainly feel disrespected, as a woman who like to make her own decisions about her body, but I also feel like the whole congregation that I grew up in just got disrespected, too. They've been telling each other for 7.75 years now, "Look, he's appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court! I'm sure he'd do more, but he's jousting with Congress/saving us from the infidels/whatever." I wonder what it means to them to find out that Bush could have done this all along, and just didn't.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


This is a close up of snow gathering on my windshield wipers.

This is the beef stew I made to warm up with.

Friday, November 14, 2008

short note

Fafblog has new posts!