Friday, April 24, 2009

Touchstones in Reality

This photo was taken by a friend, Andy Larsen, at the Disney Concert Hall in LA.** It seemed to me to give a metaphorical image of how our perceptions of ourselves, others, and our experiences need balanced and faithful interpreters and interpretation.

There was a person who fought, "won" and lost in a war, lost buddies, ministered to fellows having similar journeys, then suffered greater losses still: almost life (in thoughts of an ending, and then twice accidentally - not counting the long-ago war), memories, connections, part of a limb, and most frightening of all, a sense of self and identity in this world and before God. “Who am I?”

Picture yourself in the middle of this photo's disorienting scene. However, imagine that you have no exterior streets or plumb lines to balance your person, your perspective, or even the knowledge of which direction gravity is taking to keep your feet on any one surface.

There are times when our lives resemble this photographic metaphor. You don't know who tells the truth and who lies, who believes the truth and who believes the lies. The surface of a relationship, or relationships, which had seemed solid and sane suddenly curves out from underneath you and falls away. What is truth, anyway? The lying ones and the credulous ones assert their certainty over you, and you find one image of yourself impaled by a jagged edge you hadn't seen before from your vantage point. You cry out with no voice: Who am I? Why am I here? Why don't I leave this pain behind? Can I stand up, can I escape, or is it safer to crouch as if paralyzed, my back to any surface?

Losing one's sense of self is like going back to the garden, after the fall, before the mercy. Cold, naked and ashamed, a grey day, on that metallic reflective - but not truly reflecting - surface. You cannot trust the blurred "image" you see of yourself in the metal. You understand you're here - wherever "here" really is – perhaps in part due to your own choices, in part due to external forces, and you can't get your bearings. Imagining yourself covered with your own waste, you slip and fall again and again. Is this a nightmare, a hallucination, the process of dying, a real experience, part of a real experience, or all of the above? You don't know.

You have no control. You're immobilized within scene that moves with you but without your direction, volition or control.

You become aware that some persons' presences have entered your disorienting and disoriented world. One laughs incessantly, the sound bouncing back and forth across the metal surfaces that encompass you, and you don't know whether the laughter is directed at you because the surfaces change the directionality of the sound.

Yet another presence, like an angel, stoops to pick you up off the cold, metal surface, cleans you, and gently places you on cushions that both soothe and warm you. You're relieved, but you feel still out of control, as one stuck in an endless loop of the same scene. You fall back to the cold surface. The laughter continues to reverberate around you. Another presence assists the angelic one, and they pull you back up to the safety of the soft clean, warm surface. You survive, scarred, but as one continuing to question what is real, "Who am I?"

Who are the faithful ones? Who is the Body of Christ entering into your brokenness, cold, waste and shame? Who are the faithful interpreters of this distorted reality? Where are the touchstones which orient you rather than disorient you still more, leaving you more confused and ashamed?

We believe that our answer is God-with-us, God entering our world of nakedness, shame, filth and cold, through the Body of Christ then and now. The bodies of Christ are the ones not judging the contours of and events in your world as indicative of your worth or necessarily attributable to your own action. God listens and remains as you discern the how of the shapes around you, the actors and the acted upon, and then gives you back the choice of "what now?" "Go and sin no more." You step out of the endless, controlling and uncontrollable loop. You find a true orientation in the midst of the disorientation through maintaining contact with those around you who remain true and stable. Your vision becomes fixed on a horizon outside your warped world which keeps you centered and straight. You become a touchstone, too, to others who seek the True, though you know the world around each of you remains broken, warped and distorted. You point out the horizon to one another, reminding one another, steadying one another, and sharing strength.

Bodies of the Body, touchstones connected to the Rock, the caring hands when the world falls away around us, the arms that lift the injured from the ditches along the way, the parts mirroring the Perfect, the ones being known by the One Knowing, the “we are” of the “I AM.” This is who we are to one another, reconciled and reconciling, faithfully remaining in Christ Jesus.

( with some rights reserved per

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

sacred cows in American life

Sometimes I wonder why many (not all) of the very folks opposing government regulatory actions - such as financial markets regulation, or gun control - harshly apply Biblical Law in other arenas and speak derogatorily of people holding different opinions (or cheer for surrogates who do trash-talking on their behalf). This disconnection seems completely odd and off-the-wall from my perspective. It's as if they believe that sinful behavior is walled off from particular areas of life because someone somewhere said so, or wrote it down, or was quoted somehow. Then again, they don't believe they can sin with their tongues or pens or computers (cf. James' Epistle, folks).

In my humble opinion, not regulating guns and assault weapons because "the Constitution says so" and never changing that law "because it's the Constitution" is as bizarre as not being able to purchase salt in the grocery store in Italy whenever there wasn't a standing government. (Being Italy, that was rather often.) Their excuse was that salt is and was a government monopoly since the days of the Roman Empire. The Roman law stated that only government-regulated tobacco stores could sell salt, so whenever the governments that had passed temporary laws overriding the Roman laws fell, the law reverted to the days of Rome. Hello?? If the Italians could (and did!) finally figure out that they should make a permanent law regarding the sale of salt, could we please exercise similar strength against this worship of the Constitution? Roman Emperors aren't worshiped anymore, either.

Does anyone else hear echoes of "It is written"? There's only one Book that I refer to religiously when I ask "where is it written?" (Yes, that's a pun and my tongue is in my cheek!)

I left the financial markets in 1987 while working with a Swaps trader who was "making way too much money off of other people's ignorance." (The quotation is from my reasoning, then and since then, for leaving Wall St.) I'm glad that the regulators finally seem to be catching up to what insiders knew was going on for too many decades:

"Regulation should not prevent innovation; rather it should ensure that innovations are sufficiently transparent and understandable to allow consumer choice to drive good market outcomes … We should be wary of complexity whose principal effect is to make the product or service more difficult to understand by its intended audience." -- Ben Bernanke, Chairman Federal Reserve h

Saturday, April 18, 2009

April snow brings life

April snow is heavy stuff. Most of the winter snow here in Colorado is fluffy and light, so that even shoveling a foot of snow isn't overwhelming. However, spring snow is loaded with moisture, and this year we've had a very dry winter, so it's welcome. It was awfully heavy to shovel, though! All things considered, I'd rather be shoveling moisture-rich snow after a long drought than using a broom on fluffy stuff. We expect that the brown tones will turn to green in the next few days because of this blessing of life-nurturing water. May we be the water of life to one another and to the thirsty world this day!

Monday, April 13, 2009

[Re]Writing the Story

It’s there in the texts of Matthew 28:11-15, Mark 16:8-14, Luke 24:9-11, 36-42, and John 20:24-28. Others’ fears and desires to retain power, remain comfortable, resist any change, keep their employment (or heads!) and maintain the status quo cause them to deny the disciples’ stories of the resurrection and to spread lies by creating a false story. Another risk is also written in the texts, too, that the disciples would believe the false story because of their own fears, incredulity, limitations, or lack of ability to see the risen Lord.

False stories serve some purpose. The false stories we tell about ourselves and others justify our actions, rationalize our choices, and deny the affects of what we do or say on ourselves and those around us. False stories usually have some unifying principle that sounds glorious and righteous: e.g., protecting the people (cf. Matt. 28:14), maintaining order, spreading democracy or “free” markets, keeping costs low, ensuring control, “loving” someone, personal freedom, privacy, rights, individual responsibility, forgiveness, peace, group culture, etc. The bass motif underlying all these stories is, however, the justification of a denial or overriding of the truth in another’s life or story. The purportedly “higher” end and principle are betrayed by the process of falsifying another person. Abusers triumph over their victims when they succeed in convincing the victim that the false story is really “truth.”

Massimo & I committed ourselves as parents to do our best to reflect truth to our kids. We told the truth that we believe – we’re each created by a loving God whose love for us is revealed in the self-giving and self-emptying of Christ Jesus. At other times, reflecting truth meant not allowing them to lie or to rationalize their own poor behavior in reaction to another’s wrong; sometimes, it meant confessing our own failures to be loving when we were stressed and our reaction to them revealed more about our immaturity than about their errors or childishness. Reciting the true story to them helps them be grounded in truth and their own identity and worth before God. Reflecting truth also means having the courage to stand against others’ lies and false stories which harm the liar and damage the community.

Paul used “standing” in Christ to describe our posture before liars and accusers. “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.” (Eph. 6:14-16) There have been and will be times in each of our lives where someone lies about us to preserve their own false story. As Christians, we need to examine ourselves; we know that truth doesn’t threaten us but heals us. Then, when we face accusations, we don’t have to cower in fear or to attack and create a diversion. If the story is true, we need God to help us change in order that we may conform to Christ in truth. If the story is false, we trust God to deliver us while we continue to stand. Faith in God is expressed in truth and standing, not in running or fighting fire with fire.

Arthur Frank reflected on the thoughts of Vaclav Havel in The Renewal of Generosity. Reformation from oppressive systems has to begin individually, because the nature of oppression that is institutional and structural requires individuals to subsume themselves. To overcome the pattern, the individuals have to reform themselves. “Under [institutional oppression], people were unable to see their moral selves revealed in their actions; instead they could see themselves only as actors in a story imposed on them from elsewhere. …No one should have any illusions about the capacity of institutional reform to bring about a renewal of generosity. It’s the reverse: personal acts of generosity have the potential to affect the values that determine what goals are sought by reform.” (pp. 28-29)

Telling the truth is dangerous business. The corrupted authorities want truth-tellers silenced, institutions want to hoard their positions and resources rather than be generous, and power-brokers want Christ crucified. Sometimes we’ll see the corruption ahead, and sometimes we’ll be blind-sided. However, James told believers that we must never stop looking into the perfect law that sets us free – using Frank’s analogy, I believe that we will always be able to see our moral selves and act accordingly when we’re standing in Christ. Only “in Christ” are we known and do we know the true light who reveals us to ourselves and before God’s face. As we humbly meditate on God’s Word and pray daily, we trust the Holy Spirit to weave humility and truth into the fabric of our being. Whether we live or die, metaphorically, in this particular battle, we know Whom we serve: “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” (Phil. 1:20-21)

Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed!
May Christ arise in every one of us, this day, and in the days ahead.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

only by the Holy Spirit

“O Lord, Remember not only men and women of good will, but also of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we have brought thanks to this suffering - our comradeship, our loyalty, humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen. Amen. Amen.”

a prayer found on a scrap of paper near the body of a dead child at

Ravensbrück Concentration Camp

Friday, April 10, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

civility and laws

A response to Scot McKnight's blog on civility (
He wrote, "I cannot understand why strong-convicted Christians, on either side of this debate by the way, refuse to act with civility. Perhaps it is because they are so passionate about this issue, so convinced it is a matter of ultimate justice or ultimate fidelity, that they think they must become strident and fight this issue to the ground until it gives up the ghost."

Rhetoric is a form of warfare (cf. Eugene Peterson's rendering of Matt. 5:23 in The Message). Our modernist educational system has taught us that it is morally acceptable to kill one another's ideas, demean one another verbally, and chop up one another's understanding; but, it is morally reprehensible and somehow baser to inflict physical harm. This is a form of gnosticism; it is a pretense that a battle fought merely in words has no consequences in heart, body, and spirit. Christians who engage in this type of warfare undermine their profession that the Holy Spirit is the only One who can change hearts, and are seeking to win wars with carnal weapons (however intellectually wrapped they may be).

#1. If we're claiming reconciliation to God and one another in Christ Jesus, OTOH, and verbally bashing people w/ the other hand, we've become law-breakers of the very law we claim to uphold.

#2. Likewise, IMHO, a gay person seeking to follow Christ who can't perceive that their sexual action physically embodies *lack* of reconciliation, and evidences ongoing alienation from the created /other/ in humanity, has elevated their body's inclination above God's creation. Whatever inclinations we have are products of our totality of laws, processing and experiences.

We're legalistic and legislative beings *because* we're embodied - mind, emotions, body, spirit bundled together inseparably. Everything, everything, everything we do, speak, think, taste and see, is affected by our subjective and individualized laws.

The human "law" according to #1 is that we can win spiritually by verbal, fleshly warfare. The human "law" according to #2 is that we're not called to conform to Christ, die to ourselves (in every area), and embody reconciliation in all our behavior toward one another, male and female, rich and poor, American, African, Asian, or European.

The only way out, we profess, is that of death and resurrection. Let's act, in all ways, on that profession, so that we may know _bodily_ what we claim intellectually.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Alienation, Reconciliation and Power in Gender Relationships

Every time that I see a discussion on the issue of homosexuality, the Bible and the Church, I can't help but wince. (The latest discussion I read was on Scot McKnight's blog, ) The appropriate expression of human sexuality is a tremendously polarizing subject. A couple of months ago I heard a presentation by a Princeton professor which effectively reduced the difficulty men have forming close friendships with one another to homophobia; he drew heavily on Freudian theory. Although the professor heavily nuanced his thoughts with intellectual language, sexual fears and expression were central. In talking with men I know, their response to this thesis was similar to mine. "Not!"

Generally, from my observations of working in male-dominated fields of economics and finance, and from conversations with thoughtful and insightful men I know with backgrounds in diverse cultures and continents, the major barrier to intimacy between us is abuse of power. Sexual power is one aspect of power, but it is by no means the only one.

IMHO, the Princeton professor cannot escape his environment; the majority of his students are unattached, young men and women with rampant hormones. Most of them have yet to experience the realities of the non-academic world, where men and women work side by side in businesses, corporations, and bureaucracies. The practice of their sexuality features centrally in their imagination and/or lives. Furthermore, an academic practices being in his/her mind, and intellectuals may get completely detached from the rough and tumble realities of the world.

Having worked in economics, government bond market, and asset-backed securities while I was putting myself through college, I experienced what, at times, felt to be parallel universes. The academic theory of neoclassical economics has underlying assumptions that just don't line up with the realities I experienced while working at the Federal Reserve Bank, or in Wall Street firms. By the time I graduated with a double major in Government and Economics, some of what I'd learned seemed laughably naive. For instance, the basic principle underlying neoclassical economics is that "people make rational decisions." The problem with that principle is obvious to any post or pre-modernist. What constitutes "rational"? Is there a universal set of "rational decisions"? Is what is "rational" to an American equally rational in Asia, or Africa, or Europe? Is what is "rational" gender-specific? family heritage specific? How do so-called "irrational" emotions such as fear, or groundless euphoria figure into the behavior of financial markets? Can they be accounted for? (short answer, "No!") Alan Greenspan's errors stem, at least in part, from his great intellect which overlooked the way things
really worked on Wall Street!

Although sexual relationships were certainly abused by colleagues in the financial firms, other components of power such as money, status, position, influence, information, and personal connections figured more broadly. As a matter of fact, sexual abuse is a subset of some other power imbalance. Acquiring money and position drove most people, and the means were subject to the end. I was frankly told that women didn't get ahead in "this" business environment unless they were witches (use a "b") or promiscuous with people who "counted." (crude expression omitted) Gender discrimination was the norm. Money, powerful friends, and positions ranked higher in calculations of personal value. Sexual favors might be solicited because of one's comparatively greater power in a corporate structure, but using sex to "get ahead" was only the ploy of the less powerful.

When I left investment banking, I chose another field altogether. I worked as the financial director of a non-profit organization, a shelter for battered women and their children. All our employees were women dedicated to the prevention and reduction of violence against women. Physical, verbal and positional violence against women is endemic to every nation, culture, race, and religion of the world.

So, how does this connect to the issue of homosexuality and the use of Scripture? We read Scripture, naturally, as a series of "laws" because we are legal beings. We read our own perspective and power into Scripture because we cannot escape our bodies. There is no "detached mind" available to any one of us. There is no "disembodied law" accessible to our intellect, which is subject to who we are. Our Savior needed to be God incarnate, God enfleshed, that we may know how corrupted we are, how alienated we are from God and from one another.

It was not unusual for women to become practicing lesbians after experiencing one or more instances of serious, physical abuse by a man. (85-95% of victims of domestic violence are women.)

Instead of speaking of sexual expression as indicative (or not) of personal identity, as law-breaking or law-abiding, Scripture helps to reorient this conversation. From Genesis, we understand that we are fundamentally alienated, as humanity from God, and primarily as male and female, from one another. Every other alienation seems to be subsequent to those. In Christ Jesus these alienations are overcome; we have been reconciled in the death of Christ to God and to one another. (cf. Eph. 2:13-14) If one's "body" dies, is denied, is crucified with Christ, then the legal and deadly gender differences are gone. Yet, both male and female are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), so there are God-created differences which reflect God together. Without the other gender, there is an intrinsic alone-ness to and incompletion in our fleshly existence (Gen. 2).

As Christians, we affirm that our identity is founded in God's creation. Our alienation from God and each other originates in our sin which is embodied; i.e., the only way out of "this body of death" is the death of flesh and resurrection in the new life of Christ. (cf. Romans 7:21-ff.)

Fallen creatures usurp power - from God (impossible, but an imaginative product of our self-delusion), and from one another (possible, because we are all deluded). Our power builds human kingdoms of this world: kingdoms of money, of status, of physical strength, of domination and control. Simplistically, human responses to human power are to seek to overpower another's power (verbally, physically, influentially), to subject oneself to another's dominance, to hook oneself to the other's power trip, or to try to escape alien and/or destructive exercises of power.

All of these responses omit the exercising of appropriate dominion, truth, justice, mercy, and reconciliation to God and each other.

If the church is to BE the Body of Christ, and we are to be conformed to Christ, then we are to reveal the power of God in the foolishness of the cross to one another and to the world. We are they who are to be reconciled and reconciling, "ambassadors of reconciliation" proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the world. Marriage is the reflection that man and woman are "flesh of my flesh" to one another, together reflecting the image of God, being reconciled through the power of God in Christ, serving one another, looking to the best interests of the other, and creating new life together. The only role we ever model to one another is that of Christ Jesus, who emptied himself, and who came to serve (Matt. 20:24-28, Luke 22:24-27).

It is my humble conviction that the issue of homosexuality in the church is so destructive
exactly because there have been so many centuries of hypocrisy, of the inappropriate rule of one sex, of one gender demeaning the other, undermining or lording it over the other within the Church universal. Appropriate Christian rule, whether of a man or a woman, is always serving of, and always building up every person created in God's image - male and female. Homosexuality merely reflects the power imbalances and alienation present in our fallen world from humanity's first power grab. In Christ, we are to enact reconciliation, dying to our flesh, emptying ourselves, having the same mind-will-purpose as Christ, living to reveal Christ through our lives individually, familially, and corporately. When Paul spoke of there being no longer "Jew or Greek... slave or free... male or female" (Gal. 3, Col. 3) he spoke of the reconciliation that is ours in Christ Jesus; it is not reconciliation enforced by the law!

As churches, as families, as married men and women, we need to embody the reconciliation of Christ to one another in word and deed. "Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." (Rom. 14:17) Men and women have severely wounded one another throughout human history. Although the historical preponderance of the damage seems to have been done by men against women, women should not deny how they have rejected, humiliated and debased men when women have abused any positions of power they've had in themselves. (It's not coincidental that Paul used the word for authority, authentein, in 1 Timothy 2 in the context of Adam and Eve's story. Eve's authority was not from the Author of all who is God the Creator of all, but in and of herself. The root of authentein is the personal pronoun, autos.) Our broken sexual problems and expressions, heterosexual or homosexual, are fundamentally based in the abuse of power which disables true intimacy and reconciliation. The only way out is to seek first the reign of God, to be crucified with Christ, and to live forgiving and forgiven lives, full of grace, and giving of grace to one another.
Men and women will not "know" reconciliation until we do the humbling work of being reconciled to one another, of confessing and forgiving, and being restored in Christ. "...but [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled." (Heb. 12:10-15)