More stories of our Government engaging in torture…

The revelations continue to spill out, even if slowly, about how the government of the Bush & Cheney administration in a fundamentally significant way changed for the worse the American culture with regard to our concepts of and interaction with the torture and abuse of prisoners.
Andrew Sullivan, a conservative (although certainly not a neo-conservative) has written a piece about all this. Here is the link. Sullivan strongly urges that those who are responsible for the policies that claimed that the U.S. could ignore the Geneva Convention and that somehow it is justified to allow for torture against our enemies should be brought to justice, no matter how far up the chain of command culpability might go.
One of the strongest criticisms of the administration’s policies and allowances is the effect it has had on the American psyche and culture. This is a very important observation and the ramifications of the change will have even greater impact on our nation’s future than the actual doing of torture. What has happened to the culture is a shift to accepting torture and justifying in our own minds our ability to engage in culture while at the same time we condemn it in others. Our moral strength of the high-road on the world state has collapsed. We can no longer with a straight face demanded on the world stage that those who torture Americans must be brought to justice, because we do not hold ourselves accountable. All of this, accepted and justified by those who claim they are the true and faithful champions of Jesus Christ.
I continue to be dismayed, and I mean dismayed, by what I constantly hear from the politicized American Religious Right as they unquestioningly (seemingly so) support the policies of the Bush administration concerning the execution of the war in Iraq and even presenting justifications for the techniques we used in prosecuting that war – including clandestine prisons and torture. Where are their minds and their hearts? Heavenward? It doesn’t seem like it.
The Religious Right has lost it moorings to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They claim to represent American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists (or all religious people that support their positions – except Muslims, of course, because in their estimation Muslims are just evil, period). They claim to be the true expression of the Christian Faith in America as opposed to the mainline denominations or “Christians in name only” who support more liberal policies (like ones based on Jesus’ command that we love even our enemies). These organizations have become so consumed with the attainment and retention of political power that they have lost sight of what it means to be Christian. Their end goal, even if summed up in religious sounding language, justifies any means needed to achieve the goal of power. They have called evil good, and good evil. They have overwhelmed the Republican Party and instituted a neo-conservative politique that claims God’s complete support.
They changed the moral character of American Evangelicalism away from Jesus’ two great commands and to the corrupting power of secular politics. They have build a golden calf to which they turn, and that calf is the idolization of a nation-state and putting their trust not in God but in the power of the state. Ironic, isn’t it? They have abandoned the call of God to believe and behave according to a different standard than that of the corrupt world. They have ruined their witness to a confused world, because they themselves are profoundly confused about what it means to be a Christian, about what it means to be moral, and about what it means to be human.
I’m not a liberal and I am no secular-humanist, but I cannot and will not support the theory or tactics of the Religious Right. Their ideology is corrupting to the soul and counter to the call of God to redeem and restore the world. The historic and storied framework and beliefs of what was Evangelicalism in this country has been sacrificed on the alter of politics, and it is sad.

A change in descriptions

I’ve noticed over the past few months that there is developing another shift in the terminology and descriptive words used by the anti-gay Religious Right groups, such as Focus-on-the-Family and Exodus, that will winnow its way into everyday anti-gay language and arguments used by those opposed to emotionally healthy gay people.*
The new term to describe gay people being used theses days is: “gay-identified.”
Perhaps this term has been used for a long time, but I’ve just noticed it. Over the past 30 years that I’ve kind of been engaged with and watching those arguing for their cause/agenda in the whole ex-gay movement, I’ve noticed fairly regular changes in tactics, definitions, and terminology as many of their arguments and “facts” have proven to be flawed and going out of favor.
Here is an example from Focus on the Family’s “” e-mail “news” updates. “Extending special rights to gay-identified individuals is set to be debated when Congress comes back in session. “
I’m curious of the round-table conversation that drove them to this most recent change in terminology. What went on, what argument was made, what are the reasons why? I suspect that once again, they determined that their arguments are not winning the day, so they have to mix up things a bit.
* Just to be clear, many people in the anti-gay Religious Right believe that for individual “gay-identifying” people, denying one’s homosexual temptation and realizing that they are truly heterosexual people, as God designed all people to be, IS what makes (ex)homosexuals truly healthy. The only problem is that for them to admit that there can be emotionally and physically healthy gay people, it would completely undercut their primary arguments against society giving legitimacy and acceptance to gay people and same-sex couples. So, the institutions and organizations (and, of course the leadership) must continually change their tactics for insisting that simply being gay is automatically unhealthy in every way and for every one. It is in their best interest to continue to insist that gay people are completely unhealthy, and so have to be opposed to healthy gay people and whatever may for heterosexuals encourage healthy lives – like marriage.

It’s here… It’s here… Beloit College Class 2013

Every year, Beloit College puts out a student Mindset List that describes the new incoming class of students. When I worked at Kent State, I would always look forward to this list. Here it is for the class of 2013:
The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013
Most students entering college for the first time this fall were born in 1991.
1. For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
2. Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
3. The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
4. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
5. Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
6. Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
7. Earvin “Magic” Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
8. Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
9. They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.
10. Rap music has always been main stream.
11. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
12. Someone has always been building something taller than the Willis (née Sears) Tower in Chicago.
13. The KGB has never officially existed.
14. Text has always been hyper.
15. They never saw the “Scud Stud” (but there have always been electromagnetic stud finders.)
16. Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
17. They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
18. Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
19. They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
20. American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
21. Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
22. State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
23. The European Union has always existed.
24. McDonald’s has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
25. Condoms have always been advertised on television.
26. Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.
27. Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
28. The American health care system has always been in critical condition.
29. Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
30. Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin patches.
31. There has always been a Cartoon Network.
32. The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
33. Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
34. They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
35. Women have always outnumbered men in college.
36. We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
37. Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
38. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
39. It’s always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die of arsenic poisoning.
40. Madonna’s perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
41. Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
42. Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
43. Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on cable.
44. There have always been flat screen televisions.
45. They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
46. Disney’s Fantasia has always been available on video, and It’s a Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
47. Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.
48. Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.
49. Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
50. Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
52. They have never been Saved by the Bell
53. Someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth a war?”
54. Most communities have always had a mega-church.
55. Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
56. The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.
57. Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
58. There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
59. For one reason or another, California’s future has always been in doubt.
60. Agent Starling has always feared the Silence of the Lambs.
61. “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
62. Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank.
63. There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
64. CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
65. Avon has always been “calling” in a catalog.
66. NATO has always been looking for a role.
67. Two Koreas have always been members of the UN.
68. Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.
69. The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends.
70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
71. Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly winding down.
72. Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
73. Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
74. Congress could never give itself a mid-term raise.
75. There has always been blue Jell-O.

Lovers more so than thinkings or believers

An interesting review by Eric Miller of a new book by James K.A. Smith, who wrote the book, “Whose afraid of Postmodernism,” that we are studying this summer at St. Paul’s. This new book deals with what Smith considers to be a misplaced dependence or allegiance to the concept of “worldview.” Smith’s “postmodern” mentality comes through, it seems, and I like it. I think he is onto something!
Book: ” Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation,” by James K.A. Smith, philosophy professor at Calvin College (a Dutch Reformed school).

For Smith, worldview-centered education reflects a continued understanding of human beings as primarily rational creatures, moved and animated mainly by ideas. From this assumption has come a particular form of education—very much in line with the secular academy—that elevates the classroom and privileges fact, argument, and belief. To those who espouse this view, Smith poses one fundamental question in the form of a thought experiment: “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”
If educating is indeed about properly ordering our loves, as Smith (following Augustine) believes, then formation rather than information should become the primary end of our institutions…
“Could it be the case that learning a Christian perspective doesn’t actually touch my desire, and that while I might be able to think about the world from a Christian perspective, at the end of the day I love not the kingdom of God but rather the kingdom of the market?”
The kingdom of God requires a better shape and end. So what kind of schooling must we have? Smith urges an elemental shift in form from the “Christian university” to the “ecclesial college,” the latter distinguished above all by an anthropology that understands that it’s not the cognitive processing of information that fundamentally shapes our identities, but rather what and whom we worship. We are homo liturgicus: “desiring, imaginative animals,” in Smith’s formulation. “Humans are not primarily or for the most part thinkers, or even believers,” he insists. “Instead, human persons —fundamentally and primordially—are lovers.”

When we are called to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves… well, that is being not so much “thinkers” or “believers,” but it is a call by God to be “lovers.” Interesting…

Becoming the Imago Dei in our current Context #1 – Why?

A modest proposal to enter into a process of Re-formation:
Over the past decade, numerous socio-religion studies have shown a dramatic change in the landscape of religious faith and its expression in the United States.[1] Above and beyond generally normal generational changes and changes as a result of human events, there has developed over the past several decades a fundamental shift in the perceptional understanding of our world and ourselves in the world. The move from a “Modern(ist)” understanding of the world and our place in it coming out of the Enlightenment endeavor of “Descartes’ doubt” and the “Cartesian dream of absolute certainty”[2] into the “Postmodern(ist)” understanding that is now the foundational perceptional understanding of Generations X and Y and following. This move is causing growing conflicts within Western Christianity through dramatic shifts in the way the Church and Christianity are understood and experienced within current culture. The “Emergent Conversation” has been instrumental in delving into the significance of Postmodernity to the Church and experimenting with changes in how “church” is done and conceived. In addition, the theological concepts held up by “Radical Orthodoxy,”[3] a theological work to place the Church and Postmodernity in alignment, have laid a new foundation for the Christian endeavor in a changing world.
How do we do “church” and live the Christian Life[4] and how do we become the Imago Dei in these new contexts are the questions asked and is the milieu (mêlée) into which we dive. Within the developing reality of our Post-Christian and Postmodern culture and as our Church is always in the midst of reformation, there is the need for transitional forms of community as the changes currently underway come to fruition. We can foresee what the future holds, and we wish to be in the conversation and in the development of ministry in a changing Christian reality far different than the experiences of the past few generations.
It is our contention that the Christian Tradition[5] as experienced in historical, non-reactionary Anglicanism[6] is primed to take advantage of these shifts. This includes the changing attitudes and longings of younger generations now being realized in a shift in their ascetical sensibilities toward traditional (more ancient and time-honed) forms of liturgy, sacramental expression, architecture, language, music, means of formation, and the search for integrity among the members of the Church. Regarding this last point of integrity, they seek people whose lives honestly reflect the image of God and not just our present cultural norms, conservative or liberal. It is our hope that in the conversing and in the doing we will find again the means to pass on to new generations the living Tradition.
To an increasingly “un-churched” and disinterested population (albeit increasingly lonely and directionless), the way we make known the saving grace of Jesus Christ will not be the same as it has been over the last century. The center of Christian witness will need to rediscover the pre-Constantinian notions that people are drawn to Christ by way of what they see in the lives of Christians. A process of re-formation[7] out of those learned aspects of the present culture that work contrary to the will of God and into the Life in Christ[8] is becoming increasingly necessary.
1. See as examples: Barna Research Group’s study reported in “unChristian;” Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life report, “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey;” LifeWays study on Church Architecture; The Church and Post-Modern Culture Series –; Hartford Institute for Religious Research report on Megachurch Research.
2. James A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, [Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 2006, 116-125]
3. Radical Orthodoxy is a postmodern Christian theological movement founded by John Milbank that takes its name from the title of a collection of essays published by Routledge in 1999: Radical Orthodoxy, A New Theology, edited by John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward. The name ‘radical orthodoxy’ was chosen in opposition to certain strands of so-called radical theology. Such forms of radical theology asserted a highly liberal version of Christian faith where certain doctrines, such as the incarnation of God in Christ and the Trinity, were denied in an attempt to respond to modernity. In contrast to this, radical orthodoxy attempted to show how the orthodox interpretation of the Christian faith expressed primarily in the ecumenical creeds was in fact the more radical response to contemporary issues, and both rigorous and intellectually sustainable. (See entry at:
4. The “life transforming” that results from intentionally interring into the process of Christian formation and discipleship within the World, but not of it.
5. Those aspects of the Christian faith that have withstood the test and trail of place and time for over 2,000+ years and within a mired of cultures, yet remain with us.
6. Our current Episcopal/Anglican troubles might best be described as a war between reactionary “conservatives” and reactionary “liberals” both coming out of Modernist sensibilities and often reacting to the Postmodernist challenge.
7. This is an intentional process where we identify cultural norms accepted by most people that work contrary to the Christian Life, resulting in a mal-formed understanding of who and what we are with regard to God’s design, then to intentionally inter into the time-consistent (ancient) Christian Disciplines so to be re-formed into the image of God through Jesus Christ (otherwise known as Catechesis in new contexts).
8. This kind of experiential and demonstrable life is distinguished from the life caught up within the Systems of the World

The spiritual lives of younger people

In order to know the state of American Christianity, I get a number of e-mail updates from Christian organizations that I don’t necessarily agree with but that provide a good window through which to judge the state of affairs of Christianity in religion and culture. One of those groups is the “Worldview Weekend.” It is an organization that stresses the importance of Christians having a “Christian Worldview.” I agree with that, but I don’t agree with how they define a “Christian Worldview.” On their “Worldview Test,” I came out as a “Secular Humanist.” Well, as one who tends to be more traditional theologically and pietistically, this revelation was quite shocking (and totally ridiculous).
Anyway, I recently got an e-mail update talking about the crisis of young people leaving conservative Evangelical churches in droves. Brannon Howse, the founder of Worldview Weekend, reported on a new book that reports the results of a survey of 1,000 conservative Christian young adults. The book is entitled, “Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it” by Ken Ham, Britt Beemer, with Todd Hillard. The results of the survey I believe, but the analysis of why this is happening or the suggestions to solve the problem I won’t necessarily agree with (just like Howse’s definition of want constitutes a “Christian worldview”).
Here a few points emphasized by Howse from the book:

A mass exodus is underway. Most youth of today will not be coming to church tomorrow. Nationwide polls and denominational reports are showing that the next generation is calling it quits on the traditional church. And it’s not just happening on the nominal fringe; it’s happening at the core of the faith.
+ Only 11 percent of those who have left the Church did so during the college years. Almost 90 percent of them were lost in middle school and high school. By the time they got to college they were already gone! About 40 percent are leaving the Church during elementary and middle school years! [emphasis mine]
+ If you look around in your church today, two-thirds of those who are sitting among us have already left in their hearts; it will only take a couple years before their bodies are absent as well.
+ The numbers indicate that Sunday school actually didn’t do anything to help them develop a Christian worldview…The brutal conclusion is that, on the whole, the Sunday school programs of today are statistical failures.
+ Part of the concern is that the mere existence of youth ministry and Sunday school allows parents to shrug off their responsibility as the primary teachers, mentors, and pastors to their family.

The clergy at St. Paul’s (all two of us) have been talking over the past couple of years about ministry to younger people – Jr. High age and up through college age. One conclusion that we’ve come to is that the problem will not be solved programatically. A vast array of new programs will not solve the basic problem – the giving up by parents of their responsibility to impart the faith to a new generation. We see that most parents are not engaged in their own kids’ spiritual upbringing and Christian discipleship. There are notable exceptions, but sadly not many. The question is, “Why?”
In many ways, over the last 30 odd years we have witnessed the same thing happening with religious education as has happened with secular education – parents have given their children over to institutions to be raised and educated. When I was teaching high school and working with college students, there were constant complaints that parents now expect the schools to teach their kids everything from math to self-disciple. Parents, for whatever reason, relinquished their responsibility in many ways for raising their own children. This has happened with the religious education of children as well.
The Church can’t do it! We can provide opportunities to augment what is done in the home, but if parents expect “raising children in the way they should go” to be the Church’s responsibility and having little to do with them and what they do in the home, then they are frankly crazy and spiritually irresponsible. Parents are the primary disciplers and religious teachers. If they expect Christian education/formation to occur in a one hour Sunday School session and perhaps another hour of formal worship, it won’t happen! As a matter of fact, what the kids hear (if they pay attention) in church or Sunday School makes little difference if they see something very different occurring in the home. If parents proclaim to be good Christians and act as does the world contrary to the Life in Christ, then their children will simply cry, “Hypocrite.” I don’t blame kids for leaving the “faith” when the example is so bad and they see little or nothing of their own parents’ faith in action.
The problem is that so many parents don’t even know or understand their own faith, let alone how to pass on the faith to their children. Many parents place very little importance on the spiritual education of their children, sadly. Music lessons and football practices are more important then their kids’ Christian formation. Church leaders let it happen because the consequences of not showing up for youth group, etc., are non-existent.
Would a coach of the football team allow a team member to play games when the member rarely shows up for practice? No, of course not. Yet, the church places no high expectation on our young people because we are so afraid of driving them away or insulting them or making them feel bad about themselves. Or, we really don’t think that the formation of our young people is really all that important! Yet, these kinds of responses are actually what cause younger people to have little respect for the Church or to not take Christianity seriously. If their relationship with God is truly important, then the standards and exceptions need to be quite high (along with the support to teach and enable them to meet the high standards and know God through Jesus Christ).
We deal with our young people as if they really aren’t important. We speak down to them. We won’t deal with their honest questions and concerns because… well, I think we are afraid to because they make US uncomfortable or appear stupid or hypocritical. For parents, I think they don’t engage with their kids’ spiritual lives because they themselves don’t know or are such hypocrites that they won’t engage out of embarrassment. Maybe not, but that’s what I see all too often.
I think one of the most important things the Church can do for the successful formation of younger people is to make sure parents know their own faith and how to pass it onto their kids. We need to provide opportunities to stress and inform/train parents how to disciple their own children and provide support for them to do so. Successfully passing on the faith to the next generation must, must, must begin in the home!
We could make Sunday School not for kids, but for parents to learn how to disciple their own children through everyday life with constancy and intention.


Two weeks ago, we had a death in my family. My maternal grandmother died at the age of 87. She hadn’t been doing well for a while (several years, actually). She died relatively quickly, which frankly was a blessing because these kinds of things can often last for many, many months and become quite agonizing in the end. I remember my paternal grandfather’s death. He suffered.
For the past few years, she lived between Bedford, PA (her and my late grandfathers home for 40 years) and my parent’s home in Lima, OH. She would demand to be in her place – her home with her things and her memories and her life dependent on no one else. This was her place where she could just be herself and do what she wanted. This was her home where she had remaining friends. Everything was familiar.
When I was a child, I would spend a few weeks each summer with my grandparents, first in the mountains of Kentucky’s coal mining region (Pike County) and then in Bedford. I knew those places (as best I could as a kid and now). I remember vividly the smell of coal on fast moving, big coal trucks and slow moving, creaking coal cars being pulled along the railroad tracks. They were right there – I could touch them… mountain, train tracks, house, road, house, creek, mountain. I remember shucking White Half Runners and my great aunt making Apple Stack cake. Eating a piece of icebox cold Apple Stack cake on a sultry summer day was wonderful. I remember the sound of cicadas coming like waves from the mountain trees. I remember the aftermaths of terrible floods that ruined everything in the valleys. I remember driving on the curvy roads between Williamson, WV (their “downtown”) and up the holler to McAndrews, KY, where my other grandparents lived (the house my dad grew up in is still there). I remember my grandmother’s house in Kentucky, where I spent most of my time. That house suffered through one too many floods. I remember going to school with my paternal grandmother – she was an elementary teacher. I first learned to eat mustard on my potato chips that day.
I remember the poverty – tar paper shacks next to mansions, literally. Coal made some people quite wealthy. I remember the closeness of neighbors and the overpowering sense that this place was very different from my place, my home town along the southern banks of Lake Erie.
Then, it was to Bedford – a quintessential New England kind of town. “George Washington slept here” signs on the downtown buildings. The old, stately Bedford Inn and gold course was a short drive away, but seemed like it was worlds away. My grandfather used refer to gold courses as “cow pasture pools.” Why, I don’t know, but he was an avid golfer. One year, during the Bedford County Fair, I was walking through the grounds with a neighbor boy my own age (we actually got to walk to the fair on our own!), and I got on TV for the first time. Just a local station interviewing a couple boys at the fair, but I saw myself on TV. They talked funny there in Bedford. Not quite as funny as they did in Kentucky, but more kind of like Canadians. Then, of course, there was Shawnee State Park and the cool lake we used to swim in. It was a place different than my place in Vermilion, OH.
My grandmother always wanted to be in her own place. She would insist on being there (sometimes to the point of getting a bit violent about being taken back home). It didn’t help that she wasn’t remembering very well, either. She would be there a few months, but her health would deteriorate to the point when my parents had to go and bring her to Lima. She did not want to be in Lima! She did not want to be in my parent’s home, but her own. She would get well enough and then demand to be taken back. This cycle repeated itself for a few years. It was very tough on my parents.
She just wanted to be in her own place (and she was used to getting her way). I can understand wanting to be in one’s own place.
Now that all my grandparents are dead, I sense this loss not only of them but also of their places. I have no reason to go back to Belfry, KY. All my relatives are gone (except for a great aunt up one of the hollers). The train tracks have been pulled up as the coal mines closed. I didn’t even smell coal in the air two weeks ago. I was sad. I have no reason to return to Bedford, PA. Those places are gone to me now with the passing of those who made them real and available to me. Particularly in Kentucky, I no longer belong to that place… the place that is so terribly different from were I now live. There is a different kind of living, a different way of living, down there that is frankly more sane and civil that here in New York City.
A sense of place is important to us, I think. It helps define us and form us. Part of my formation happened in Kentucky and in Pennsylvania in my grandparents’ homes and in places very different from my own. I regret that with the passing of my grandmother I no longer have not only her, but the places she represented and the way of life found only in those places. It is a loss of connection, a loss of history, a loss of a bit of who I am.