Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Next up: Christians even more radical than San Francisco!!

As in 1534, remember?

Jan Matthijs and Johan Bokelson then instituted a reign of terror in Munster, ordering the socialisation of all property, and ordaining apostles of revolution to preach throughout Europe. The communist paradise of Munster attracted thousands of Anabaptists from throughout Germany and Holland. Matthijs was killed in one of the early battles with surrounding cities. Johan Bokelson took command and established a dictatorship in Munster. He then issued the order for holding everything in common, including wives.

No priests, no kings, no intermediaries between the individual and God. Individuals loving individuals and sharing all in common. Not bad. Good show, sixteenth-century radicals!

Anyway, for today's revolution, wives in common are (generally speaking) out, as are violent overthrows of government. But -- the good news -- less violent overthrows of hate-filled fundamentalist regimes are in!

Brought to you by the same people who bought you Christian polyamory, you can find the equally politically conscious, less bloody version here at the blog Leaving Munster.

Launch BlogParty!! Tuesday, August 2, 2005, 8pm EST – head to is launching its first interactive blog in a series is a social networking site for progressive and moderates Christians. It was founded by Kety Esquivel, an activist for political hispanic issues and a former member of the Wes Clark campaign. has three goals:

1) to put together a daily schedule of political, progressive, Christian bloggers with insightful commentary on the church in America

2) to build a single site where of progressive Christians can go for
- politically relevant news
- new online activity broadcast from Christian bloggers
- current discussions broadcast from other progressive Christian sites
- a single site linking to other progressive Christian networks

3) to build a networking site where churches and activist groups can announce their events, share strategies, post joblistings, and ask for advice.

Please join us for this exciting launch!

( You can help us by emailing information about this launch with 4-6 family members, church members, clergy, or fellow-activists who you think would be interested. )

Live! Streaming! Progressive Christianity!

So far we have only part of the stream working, but you can find live streaming entries from progressive Christian discussion boards here:Social Redemption - Discussion

SO -- if any of you lurking through here have an rss-enabled blog, webring, newstream, or chatboard on progressive Christian issues, you should let me know! I'd love to add you. Stick the url in the comments section below, please.

Many thanks to FeedShake, and to Barb Dybwad for pointing us to it!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Dark Christianity - 95 Theses on the Religious Right

The blog Lieter Reports has a downloadable (.doc file) of 95 theses of the Religious Right written by philosopher Peter Ludlow. an excerpt:
The received view is that the conservative christians have taken over the Republican Party. I think the reverse happened. The right wing of the Republican Party has taken over the church.

Professor Ludlow invites readers to redistribute it as widely as they'd like.
They are modeled on the Wittenburg Church theses that Martin Luther nailed to its doors that began the Protestant movement. [click here to see them in full]

In the race to build a Christian RSS news site, the fundamentalists are kicking our ass

CrossMap Christian -- the major news aggregator service
Born Again Christian RSS -- a must-read!
Catholic Mass Pollution - Saturday, 02:00 AM -Scientists have now discovered idol worshippers are also damaging their physical health

and then dozens of others

Someone want to help me (and CrossLeft) get our act together?

A Progressive Christian: What do Progressive Christians Believe? Common Elements In Three Approaches (Updated)

Progressive Christianity is in the endless-mission-statement-writing phase of its existence. No Longer Silent has the admirable Phoenix Affirmations, and CrossLeft is in the process of writing its own. Another brilliant endeavor lately from a postmodern blogger on the Christian Left here:

The public stereotype of Christianity must change; what I value in Christianity is in danger of being lost, as Christianity, as portrayed on television, resurrects the heartless, rule-based purity culture that Jesus himself rejected.

Affirming Catholics challenge C of E on same-sex unions - news from ekklesia

Affirming Catholics challenge C of E on same-sex unions - news from ekklesia

Progressive Christian Blogger Network

Just joined! Progressive Christian Blogger Network |

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Plan for Dalai Lama lecture angers neuroscientists

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Plan for Dalai Lama lecture angers neuroscientists

Telegraph | News | Bachelor generation threatens China's political stability

Lack of sex makes men angry revolutionaries, historians find.
One young man in Beijing said yesterday: "People have different destinies. Maybe some people are doomed to be single, like insects which live just one day."

Christian Soldiers descend on San Francisco

“Ok everyone,” she said, and her little voice boomed in spite of her five-foot stature, “We’re going to show this city that God is our king and that the sin of this world and of this city will not stand against His Kingdom!” I cringed inside. Shanna was beginning to sound like an ill-tempered cheerleader whose team was losing.

CrossLeft has an RSS feed!

Plug this baby into your RSS reader : CrossLeft - Organizing The Christian Left

Slobbering Bulldogs of the Right

Maryland Christians for Justice and Peace has argued that there are more important things to talk about than the trimester at which abortion becomes illegal. More important things, like the ministry to the poor, the sick, and the outcast, which Christ preached, and which the fundamentalist Right has done a great job of destroying for American politics.

As reported by the AP, the fundamentalist Right has again responded by attacking progressive Christianity:

Carrie Gordon Earll, spokeswoman for Focus on the Family, a national political action group that rallied evangelical Christians during the last presidential campaign, said … if the organization is being formed "because they want to advocate the killing of pre-born children and approval of homosexual marriage, then they will meet us in the public arena because we oppose those things based on biblical values," Gordon said. "If they are forming this group in the spirit of criticism, I suggest their motivations are misguided," she said.

Okay, that’s really fair. Encouraging loving relationships, aid, and peace is the equivalent of murder, and the correct way to greet a new Christian group is to accuse them of “killing pre-born children”?

[sidenote - Maryland Christians for Justice and Peace isn't weblive yet. anybody have more information on contacting them? drop us a line, leave a comment below...! cheers!]

Separation of Church and State -- Why it's not our issue

A good, recent USA Today article highlights where church and state stands. Liberals often think of it as an enshrined, historical principle that we should go back to so that we can kick the evangelical voters' groups off the air, stop the president from praying for mean things, and keep fundamentalism at bay in the schools.

But as a legal principle, it's not clear that church and state is the fix.

Most Republicans of a slightly libertarian bent would also like to see funding to religious schools and organizations limited -- in the same breath as they'd like to axe public highways, swimming pools, and lunch programs.

Fighting for social and political change on the basis of "church and state" tends to rile up post-40-yr-old liberals who remember gaining ground for pluralism behind the banner of "church and state" when school prayer went out decades ago. But these days it's not liable to draw the loyalty of anyone except rabidly embattled atheists.

And why? Well, because Progressives in general are waking up to the fact that they have *always* had deep spiritual, religious, and humanitarian values in terms of a world view that insists that caring for people is more important than money or power.

If that's a religious values (and often it is), all the more reason that religious communities of progressives should insist on their right to take part in public life, and should do so speaking from a religious point of view.

It's not about foisting one's beliefs on others. Progressive Christians are still loyal to the values of Cultural Pluralism explored by political philosophers earlier in the century, who insisted that the values of one group should never predominate to oppress the minority, just because the majority controls power in a democracy.

Progressive Christians find that their duty to protect minority religious, ethnic, political, and sexual groups echoes Christ's ministry of loving and listening to the outcast.

- - - -

Link: USA Today article. We excerpt:

Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckelis a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.

Bob: A new book, Divided by God, by Noah Feldman, suggests a compromise in the church/state battle. Since religious values are so central to many Americans, Feldman thinks government and the courts should give more leeway to religious expression such as displaying the Ten Commandments and finding a reasonable way for students to pray in school if they wish. In exchange for this latitude, he would "insist on a stricter ban on state funding of religious institutions and activities." I like that.

Cal: He has a point. Besides, God doesn't need government or public funds to advance His agenda. Taking government money inevitably forces the recipient to compromise his beliefs. If religious people want their unadulterated faith taught, they should put their children in private schools or home school them. Yet religious students in public schools and in other institutions should have the freedom to express their faith, while respecting the faith, or non-faith, of others. That's a balance that works in the public square and benefits everyone.
Bob: I think we agree. Government money for religious expression is a bad idea, can compromise faith initiatives and crosses the church/state line. That said, government and the courts need to revisit existing statutes and regulations that punish people of faith from expressing that faith in public. That, my friend, is a fair balance.

Link : Jeff Adams, Should Christians be Politically Engaged? in the Sierra Times -- a beautiful essay on the same principle. We excerpt:

I’ll leave the judgment concerning Mr. Reed’s sincerity of faith up to God, and I concede that we all make mistakes and stumble and fall, no matter how strong our faith, but based on his actions over the last few years, I would say that at the very least Ralph Reed has been thoroughly seduced by the power and corruption of our political system. I wonder if he even realizes how far he has sunk in the quicksand of political games and corruption.

Christians, don’t let this happen to you. Yes, be politically engaged. Organize, or join an organization that advocates for the Christian worldview.

Interracial ministry and political imperative

USA Today reports that Hispanics are becoming key presidential swing voters.

And alas, it seems that the Democratic party hasn't been catching on -- not to cultural trends, not to demographic trends, not to providing people with what they need.

Progressives, with their emphasis on cultural pluralism, can reach out where others have failed.

But their answer will be extremely different from Bush's: motivated by the Gospel message of redemption, Progressives can offer responsible solutions to crime, Iraq, and economics, that don't depend on wantonly punishing our citizens and mongering warfare across the globe.

(hey Kety Esquivel! are you out there? want to post some links?)

More about gay theology

From the ongoing discussions on gay marraige at
Thorn writes: HERE are some quotes from JEsus on adultery=
Matthew 5:27 - "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'

Matthew 5:28 - But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:32 - But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 15:19 - For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.

Matthew 19:9 - And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery."

Matthew 19:18 - He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,

Mark 7:21 - For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,

Mark 10:11 - And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her;

Mark 10:12 - and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

Mark 10:19 - You know the commandments: 'Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'"

Fri, July 29, 2005 - 10:09 AM new

Thanks for quoting the scripture that you're working with. That at least gives us somewhere to start from.

In every instance you cite, Christ is clearly talking about forms of being dishonest with other people. Adultery is defined as dishonest because it presumes going around the other person's back. As the Anglican Book of Common Prayer defines it, sin is being in a state of dishonesty with God, oneself, or one's neighbors.

We know in detail what Christ said about a number of things -- handling debts, treating the poor, redressing ones own faults. But he didn't prescribe a church of atonement. He didn't tell us to put together a church that would have as one of its main features the ability to punish members who didn't choose the lifestyles we do. He prescribed the resurrection of the spirit.

I mean, good for you if your sexual practice helps you to treat other people with respect and put God first in your life. But the same could be said of the sexual practice of many of my friends who don't fall into the celibate-until-marriage, one-partner-until-death, opposite-sex-only camp. In the case of my friends, their physical desires are manifestations of intense intellectual and spiritual passions. Most of my friends who fall outside in this camp have suffered their entire lives, persecuted by bigots who frame their private desires and sexual acts as an assault on society. It makes them all the more earnest with their partners, all the more self-examining of themselves, all the more generous with strangers, all the more inquisitive about human nature, all the more accepting of frailty, all the more courageous to embrace the works of Light instead of the works of hatred, cowardice, and wanton punishment.

I refer you for a longer, more informed, and more compelling disquisitions on Biblical passages than what you'll find here at the sites mentioned elsewhere on this list -- and They may not be the style that you're used to, and they take into account a lot of information, a lot of clear thinking, and a lot of long arguments -- much more than can be summarized here. Evangelicals try to win arguments by wearing the other side down with minute arguments about the text. Episcopalians and other mainline Protestants tend to argue with text, and then to confirm that they know what they're talking about by examining their own lives, and then to read the ideas of people who disagree with them, and then return to the Bible to make sure that they read the text correctly.

I doubt that anyone amongst the Christian progressive movement has in mind to convince you of anything in particular about your sexual practice, aside from that if you lie to yourself, your partner, or God about your works or intentions, your relationship with God will suffer.

By all means, be persuaded of whatever serves you best in terms of coming closer to God and treating your neighbors responsibly, governed by love for them as Christ would.

But much of the argument comes down to what the church -- as a community larger than individual congregations, as the community of all lovers of Christ who want to share their experience and understanding together -- should do about individual sexual practice. By all means, congregations often work best among people who can agree on the issues they find most sensitive.

But the issue in the Episcopalian church with Africa is about whether the local congregations in Africa (or indeed those in Oakland) should be able to disrupt the holy, loving, responsible, Christlike, and Biblically-informed ministries of their sister-churches, where talking constructively about how to bring Christ into a good-intentioned, loving, truthful relationship doesn't take the destructive route of telling the individual to unilaterally end that relationship.

Wal-Mart as a pickup scene

Each generation, every new social network has to invent a new place where it can meet eligible new single people.

First there was meeting singles in Safeway (there's a gay Safeway and a straight Safeway, each with a known night where shoppers appear in tight jeans, in forward-thinking San Francisco).

But rural and suburban singles shouldn't despair. They have

Thursday, July 28, 2005

So you really want to know whether Christ likes gay marriage?

Wow. I just got my first chance to write civilly and angrily to a self-pronounced progressive Christian who didn't understand why the church should put its efforts into supporting gay marriage.

Check out the action at the Social Redemption discussion board @

[Thorn writes]

Tue, July 26, 2005 - 11:36 AM new

ok so what is your position?

i dont see gay marraige as an issue Until it tries to happen in a church- that i am against, there is no way to justify that.

at the same time there is even less justification for RE marriage outside of a spouse dying, so i feel the church has already made a mockery of marraige in the Biblical sense.

marraige without sex? as far as i can tell form the Bible, sex is marraige, or it is adultery, but married without sex? what is that? isnt that good friends?!.
this doesnt make a whole lot of sense

[Jo's reply]

Thu, July 28, 2005 - 12:50 PM new
Re: Gay marriage without sex? Blame Africa, again

Ok, so fundamentalists would answer this question by looking at Leviticus and the grand collection of Jewish laws relating to how couples ought to live, and how the community ought to punish them if they fail.

Progressive Christians (like me) tend to answer this question by looking at Christ's teaching about how people are supposed to relate to each other.

Christ had little to say by way of punishment of those who differ from the norm. He had a great deal to say about what supportive relationships look like, and why the community ought to support them.

For Christians, marriage doesn't primarily serve to conserve the status-quo, to make the president happy, or even to create children: it's a sacrament because it essentializes the "two people coming together in my name" that Christ said he would always support (he said that without implying sex); it's a sacrament because it's ratified in front of the entire community; it's a sacrament because the community promises to support the individuals, and the individuals realize that their warm and holy intentions towards each other can only be carried out with the support of the community.

Here's a very intense, personal, and earnest reflection by a gay Christian on his attempt to conduct such a relationship without full disclosure before the community (because his partner is closeted):

I firmly believe that the Christian Church has a duty, not only a possibility, of supporting gay marriage. Gay couples who worship together have sex together as the natural fulfillment of holy, committed love between two people. The church has always recognized that such relationships strengthen the faith and good works of the individuals in them, and the church has always recognized that community support of such relationships helps the relationships to last through periods of financial, personal, or community crises, which all relationships are open to.

Look, anything else is worse than heresy. The church falling short of total support for gay marriage is tantamount to saying, We don't care about the message of Jesus Christ that individuals ought to come to God and love and support each other as they come to God, because we're trying to pretend that we live in a 1950s suburban sitcom where everyone is straight and has no problems.

That just doesn't seem constructive to me. For the people living the lie, for the people they refuse to talk to, for the children bought up taught to ignore anyone who's not like them -- and certainly not for the Church as it seeks to teach love of God and service to one's neighbor.

sidewalk bike

sidewalk bike
Originally uploaded by johnny72k.

Wobbly bleeding-heart liberals strike again

The New Zealand Herald reports that major mainline church leaders in New Zealand are banding together against what they call the 'politics of fear.'

The New Zealand Herald yawns, and quotes to prove why it's yawning. Church leaders drawl on in the most banal and abstract of prose, putting even this rabid radical Christian to sleep:

Underpinning each person's vision for society will be a number of assumptions about what it means to be human ... that can be characterised by two broad emphases. The first tends to regard each person primarily as an autonomous individual, each with his or her own needs, aspirations and interests....

How are progressive Christians to change the world if they can't even wake up their future progressives??

When I spoke several months ago to Mother Jones founder, activist, and Harvard professor Richard Parker, he warned me against just this sort of banality.

This is what the Right expects of us, he said: loose ideas, vague generalities, good-hearted exalting of human potential.

We have so much more to offer. The war on terror shows government corruption to be rife. Guantanamo Bay proves that there are regimes that have distorted patriotism, religion, and human rights to an unrecognizable degree.

Progressives need to fight for real issues, and stand on real grounds. Progressive Christians all the more so: we stand not only on reason, truth, and human rights, but also on the text of the Gospels, the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Buddhepiscopalia, the Episcopalian Web Ring, the Christian Left, and the Young Church

Buddhepiscopalia is a neat example of free-lance Episcopalian lyricism. The author has also gotten me to link to the very interesting Episcopalian WebRing, where one can read much more theologically trenchant reflections on current politics than are presented here.

How wonderful that the young church is out there on the web in force, and meeting each other! These are webscapes that i've only discovered recently, as I branch out from and (safe havens) into the wily territory of and (realms of the truly devoted).

In the last week I've had rafts of correspondence (more than I can answer) from young Christians in their 20s who feel like they don't know any other progressive young Christians in their 20s.

May it please God, I hope the internet will quell that awful loneliness of the young, progressive soul.

wilting brick

Kevin Crafts has a very nice collection of photographs of urban decay in Baltimore.

New issue of Sojourner's is out

Confessions of a Blue State Christian, Sojourners Magazine/June 2005: "In fact, she points out, 'a lot of Republicans are
talking faith talk without walking a faith walk. They aren%u2019t
necessarily working for affordable housing, or family values, or
excellence in education for all children' - issues that
followers of Jesus%u2019 doctrines would likely support.

So a war with Iraq - a nation that the Bush administration
falsely suggested was directly connected to the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks - gets put into the faith envelope, despite Christ%u2019s
stated commitment to peace."

Evangelicals harness the internet

"'We provide a comfortable environment for them to learn what the Bible has to say in their own language,' DePaula said. 'We know of several hundreds who have been baptized through our Web site and get 50,000 to 80,000 visitors to our site each month.' "

Will mainline Protestants and thinking Christians keep up? There lies the rub.

Progressives are used to thinking that we own the internet. Moveon and the Dean campaign were our proof. But if fundamentalists get the leg on, they may harness volunteers and money at levels that progressive Christianity can't compete with. Sad day for the gospel. Progressives, where are you??

Christian Discipleship, Cultural Warfare, Teen Suicide, and Genocide

The debate about being a thinking Christian is happening amidst tech-savvy scientists and engineers online.

Oddly, this stream dates from Steve Jobs' now famous commencement speech at Stanford, now being taken up as a serious point of theological reflection on what the "good life" consists of.

"Finally, the ultimate consequences of winning or losing the
culture wars suggest to me that the wars may not be worth fighting.
If we (Christians) win by having conservative judges appointed who
allow more expression of religion in schools and other public
places and reverse Roe v. Wade and by passing laws or a
constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, we will still not
have changed the minds of the people who oppose these views. Worse,
we will be much less likely to be able to effectively present the
gospel to them, because they will feel we are already forcing our
morality on them."

As in the nineteenth century, business leaders are thinking hard about their salvation. They're among the fittest and cleverest, and despite their materialism, entrepreneuers often have the sense to step back and wonder if they made the right choices.

I'm glad to see them engage the debate about Progressive Christianity. They have much to contribute, as this quote especially shows: indeed, the stakes of letting fundamentalists and hate-mongers steal the title "Christian" are huge. Indeed, fundamentalists and hate-mongers have scared away thousands of young, smart people, alienated youth, and well-meaning rebels already.

Whether we let the hate-mongers continue to speak for the church at large is a question of whether or not we allow future generations of smart, well-meaning youth will be able to share their relationship with God with each other in a meaningful way.

Link: Believe it or not, BushCo is FINALLY ready to let that slogan go. And they're replacing it with: (drumroll) The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism.

Youthblog: Christian Youth Work & Ministry

Speaking of exciting RSS feeds on Christian news: the Diocese of Oxford has a list of their own RSS feeds. Way to go Oxford, not normally thought of as the most technological of bastions, for beating out every other diocese in the Anglican communion for your entrepreneurial sophistication.

Among their feeds is the very hip, political, and provocative Youthblog: Christian Youth Work & Ministry

Religious revivals in America

In the Voice of Asia report, Camping with God, we get a glimpse of what revival is like among the Methodists and evangelicals of today.

Just a little sample of good, historically-informed reporting as I add the extremely informative religion rss to my personal ticker...

Flickr for Colors?

Get the colors of the rainbow on your dashboard

...and in the Midwest...

they're fighting in cages?

Konfabulator - Gallery - Mosquito

Texas needs this now:

Konfabulator - Gallery - Mosquito

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Following the ancient pilgrimage of St James

NPR : Christians Trace Pilgrimage of Saint James

Its popularity spiralling among the spiritually inclined, the pilgrimage to Compostella brushes with tourism culture.

And becomes a terrorist target.

Christ had a ministry of healing

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Anglican clergy told to offer healing services

A religious revival of the Left

Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.”
Bill McKibben, writing in "The Christian Paradox" (

What America may need most from the Christian Left is a moral reawakening.

America needs to be converted. It needs to read the Gospel, to hear the words of Jesus, and to work with the Church. It needs to turn away from the mongers of hate who use the Christian message for its own purposes.

As Christians wake up to the fact that their very name has been stolen by radical fundamentalists, they slowly but surely organize a movement for long-term political and social change.

Bill McKibben should wake us up to realize is that political and social change requires a real religious conversion: away from the fake religion of selfishness and hatred, back to Jesus' two great commandments: to love God and serve one's neighbor.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Gay marriage without sex? Blame Africa, again

It should come as no surprise that yesterday's carefully-worded, Richelieuian edict, "gay marriage is ok if without sex," came as Rowan Williams headed to Africa.

America is confused about what marriage without sex would even mean. Scotland is outraged. Canada is ignoring it and embracing loving, responsible, committed relationships .

Rowan Williams, intellectual heavyweight and longtime champion of liberal body theology, has been caught in between two impulses: one, offering a smidgeon of hope to the largely progressive, gay-friendly congregations of North America and Europe; two, standing up for civil society in Africa.

Unsurprising, Williams wanted to act as a peacemaker in Africa. In his visit to Kenya last week, Williams avoided the topic of gay marriage altogether.

Alas, Williams' compromise isn't working for anyone -- not for communities in North America and Europe, and not for Africa.


Since Robinson's infamous ordination, the 70-million strong Anglican Communion has been in a state of flux.

Several developing countries, mainly from Africa, have either cut links or are contemplating doing so with the US liberals. In fact, immediately the Episcopalian Church ordained Robinson, countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda became the first African countries to declare themselves formally separated from the Episcopalians.

Already, a number of the communion's African provinces have declined funding from the American Episcopalian Church to express their disgust at its decision to elect a gay bishop and allow same-sex marriages.

The church *must* take a stance for reconciliation and aid to war-torn countries, this is clear. The church *must* stand for civil society. The church *must* try to reconcile countries and continents that have lost faith with each other.

But to argue for peace among African archbishops who spit at even such humiliating tokens of rapprochement from the larger Anglican church? To cast pearls before swine. Read on:

Since the Episcopalian Church went ahead and consecrated Gene Robinson, we are not going to be with in anything; they have gone against the scriptures and what we agreed all of us as a communion.

-- Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, interviewed yesterday by

Africa needs to get its act together. The African countries that react to Williams' peace offering with disdain are in need of internal healing, and no external healing is possible until intertribal genocide, AIDS orphans, and female circumcision have been rectified. The Western church can only react with kindness: but not, perhaps, with understanding.

But we in the West have dealt with the fallout of colonialism for too long not to have learned that trying to convert other cultures to our own beliefs is a losing battle.

Progressive Christians need to hold fast to their values, and reach out to the torn African churches however they can. But they can't do so at the risk of destroying the chances of a future for their own church.

Archbishop Williams: the young, progressive church, with its many sexually active (homosexual or heterosexual) youth of modern culture, needs *you*. Come back.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Christian Left in the UK: Greenbelt UK @ Cheltenham, Aug 26-29

The Christian Left in the United States may just be gaining momentum, but in the UK they're far ahead of us already. Greenbelt UK, a long-running progressive Christian political festival, should give American progressive Christians something to aspire to.

This annual Christian shindig evolved out of the non-conformist fringes of the church in the early 1970s and, since then, has evolved into a progressive, liberal arts festival, where workshops on protest politics and issues of social justice are just as important as acts of worship.

No longer exclusively Christian, the bill mixes believers with those who, simply, share Greenbelt's values: Lambchop, UK soul star Jamelia, the Handsome Family.
Tony Naylor, The Guardian, Saturday August 21, 2004

Consider reading something like about a Christian youth rally in the United States:

115,000 people across the world will die prematurely because of poverty during the Greenbelt weekend. This July, don’t believe the hype. Monday at Greenbelt 2005 sees a special MAKE POVERTY HISTORY campaign day.

I'm often surprised that no one in the United States, neither 20-year-old atheists nor 40-year-old Christians, takes much notice of the fact that young people who aren't fundamentalists don't go to church. The liberal church under 40 almost doesn't exist. People tend to shrug it off, say, "they'll come back when they have children."

But a visit to the young Christian progressives in England means, for me at least, feeling a little awestruck as to what can be accomplished when young, spiritual, progressive activists come together.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Postcard: Talking to Muslims in London

It's not bombs they're worried about. It's demographics. Britons think there really is a disillusioned populace of young Muslims, and think that Europeans are worried about the problem of assimilating them ingeneral (consider the Van Gogh murder in the Netherlands), much more than about the threat of some hazily-conceived plan of mass destruction orbiological warfare by the Infidel.

Here, if you press, any given Briton opens up to a string of concrete issue=that make them worry about Europe¹s chances of assimilating Muslims: discontented young Muslim men out of work, traditional Muslim men unwillingto marry their liberated Europeanized Muslim cousins, who instead broker marriages in North Africa (and import their wives here under conditions oflegal invisibility, so that the new wife cannot find out about her legal rights, leave the house, or get a job).

And more interesting to me yet is that the two more lengthy and more revealing conversations I¹ve had on the subject have been with young Muslim women, who express these concerns as grave threats to social and political stability.

Postcard from London: Checkpoint Security

Before the bomb scare, I¹d arrived frazzled from a delayed bus ride at the British Library, where guards are occasionally stationed to check bags.

³What have you got in here?² said a very tall man with a thickAfrican accent, as he raffled through my messenger bag.
"Um, sweaters, a laptop," I said, distractedly, confused.

"No bombs?" he asked.

Coming back through the checkpoint that afternoon, after the trains had bee=shut down by the bomb scare, I headed instinctively towards the same guard.He smiled as he picked through my bags. "Not carrying bombs this time," I said.

In Britain, a sense of irony is not an act of terror.

Postcard from London: Conspiracy Theories and Tony Blair

After the initial dozen emails from acquaintances and family who wanted tomake sure that I was still alive, I got a string of notes from friends whowanted to know if I thought the bombs were real or just a government hoax.

I doubt that there¹s a need to look for the same governmental conspiraciesin Britain. Londoners my age and older still vividly remember the IRA bombings, so much worse, so much closer to home, lasting so much longer.

I don¹t doubt that it¹s interesting to speculate about when a terror strike might be useful a government and when not. But so long as we¹reentertaining conspiracy theories, we need to ask, when is a terror strike useful to business and when not? American corporations may well profit from installing port security projects across the world and paving the roads of Iraq. London consultancies and financiers (more profitable than theirversions in New York) don¹t want to leave London with the rest of the elite in a panic.

Michael Moore¹s thesis (the most colorful and widespread of conspiracy theories) was that Bush steered the war on terror in order to distract the American people from political trouble at home by taking away civil liberties, with the added benefit of enriching corporations to which the Bushes had a personal tie. From the beginningit¹s been easy here to imagine Blair acting alongside Bush to insure his personal political success -- which works only for lack of a political rivalstrong enough to take away power.

Blair *is* the top Labour politician, and Labour is ascendant here -- its views towards the European Union and busines=being clearer and more pertinent to contemporary feeling than the Tories. So who knows, maybe I¹m just surrounded by Blair-haters, but I think Britain¹s involvement in our war has been a sad, old-fashionedbalance-of-power game, and understood as such, rather than anything asdriven by propaganda and faux-idealism as ours.

Link: "Blair Is Unfit to Be Prime Minister" By John Pilger, The New Statesman, UK, 25 July 2005. The British people, who do not take the bombings seriously, do take Iraq quite seriously.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Spontaneous Social Networking on the Christian Left

I've been involved in a couple of concerted efforts to get members of the Christian Left across America to talk to each other. After endless phone conferences and emailing between leaders, several conferences are emerging, along with great plans for websites.

The two I've worked most closely with are linked to abundantly from my sidebar:
Social Redemption

But the rank-and file know what they need, and they're not waiting for someone to make it for them.

Check out the LiveJournal Christian Left chat board.

Visualizing Reality: Art as Therapy

Early modern alchemists tried to combine science, visual art, and theology by freely associating image, natural world, and psychological reality.

How you associate things changes who you are. Who you are changes the world.

Thus Paracelsus claimed that a woman who fantasized about strawberries would give birth to a child with a strawberry-shaped birthmark.

Thus the visual arts pick apart and piece back together again images of a world, which means reconstructing a new cosmology.

Link: Reality Frameworks, where you too can learn employ the ancient art of drawing your own universe as therapy.

OMG The Cloud sucks

Internet access runs about $9/hr from coffee houses. Hoping to save some money, I bought a £35 ($50) month-long pass to The Cloud, which claims to be the largest public network of wifi access in Europe.

I have just spent thirty minutes trying to connect at the Anchor Pub in Cambridge -- my browser crashing or encountering data decryption errors -- only to be instructed that my account is invalid. Could it be that the voucher I contracted at the British Library in London is not valid at Cambridge?

I'm in no way new to wifi access. I live among the technical wizards of Silicon Valley in San Francisco for most of the year, where some dozen freewifi zones exist in a ten-minute walk from my house.

I'm faintly scandalized. They offer phone numbers and street addresses to customers who are having problems connecting (whooppee!), where the nearest human support looks like the bartender.

Silly country.

Oh, "but our mobile phone system is *streets* ahead of yours!!"

This is a dumb country

categories of notable absurdity:

1) if you want to check your email, you go to a pub. coffee houses, not pubs, are the natural habitat for computer work. Who wants to edit their daily papers while surrounded by riotous drunks? Who sends email when drinking anyway? Maybe we'd ought better not ask that question...

2) coffee houses tend to inhabit more modern structures, rather than the wood-pannelled tap-rooms whose infrastructure dates from the height of eighteenth-century inn architecture technology. I've spent part of the last half-hour wandering around the eighteenth-century pub overlooking the River Cam, searching for a power plug. The view is gorgeous, now that I've actually found one -- the only plug in the entire establishment?

3) bartenders are not tech support.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Because it is awesome.

Evangelical fractures

The apostle pleaded to the Galatians, who themselves were misdirected, "as we . . . have opportunity, let us do good to all men ..." (Gal. 6:10). This is the tender and loving spirit that Jesus demonstrated to the harlot at the well, to the repugnant lepers, and to the greedy tax collector. It is a spirit far different from that which insights picketing, sit-ins, public condemnation rallies and righteous terrorism. The mission of the Church is evangelism, carried out in love. It is not social reform inspired by bitter dogmatism.

What will the country be like in 100 years?

Answers here.

Disneyworld's FutureLand, once the site of so many enthusiasms of jet-propulsion backpacks and supercars, couldn't really live up to the cynicism.

When Eurodisney was built, Futurama was remodeled as a Jules-Verne type Victorian future, complete with cannons to shoot you to the moon.

Link: The Virtual Tourist takes you there.

Body Theology

A year ago I got some friends together to drink wine and talk about politics, God, and sex. I had come across some bodice-ripper Christian romance novels in Dallas, and I bought them back. We scoured the internet trying to find evidence of fundamentalist discussions of right sex (beyond, don't do it, ever), and we found nothing.

A year later, all that has changed.

Online counseling for the place of God in married sex

The Yahoo Christian Domestic Discipline discussion group is but one of a flourishing stream of sites dedicated to "Domestic Discipline," or pseudo-Christian sadomasichism, which seeks to employ Biblical texts to more specifically address issues of sexuality in modern culture.

Fundamentalists have heard historians claiming that Christianity privileges body over soul, and they want to argue that they aren't guilty. Look:

On hippies (the book was written in 1973):

“This attitude is very much like that of the modern hippy, who despises the flesh and shows contempt for the body and its dress. The hippy, in his sexuality, expresses contempt for the body, either by treating sexual acts as of no account in casual promiscuity, or by a bored denial of sex. There is far more abstention from sex among hippies than is generally recognized. Either in abstention or in casual, unemotional promiscuity, it is a contempt of the flesh which is manifested. Dirty bodies and dirty clothing are other means of manifesting the same faith.” (p. 5)

Rather, fundamentalists have begun to encourage each other to parcipate eagerly in sex within marriage:

B. Pleasure (or Recreation)
This might surprise you, but the Bible speaks a great deal about marital sex as a great pleasure. In fact, Paul even commands married couples not to refrain from sexual activity, because their bodies belong to their partner (1 Cor 7:3-5). I have known of couples—Christian couples—who didn’t touch each other for months at a time. This is hardly the biblical view of sex.

Link: Desiring God, the ministry of John Piper, proclaims, "The sexual life of the single person is of great concern to God." No doubt. Piper thinks that God wants to make sure through virginity (and by warning us with STD's) that we belong to Him, as if to a grim proprietal husband of the 19th century.

[I hasten to add that Piper's views, and the views above in general, run counter to those of Augustine, whose educator-God initiated followers into a world of diverse people. Sin, and sin boldly. Origin and the rest of the early self-castrators were, of course, haters of the body.]

Whether Christ himself would agree with Andy Warhol that every person is beautiful and therefore deserving of (free) love, yet remains a topic waiting to be probed.

Make your blue eyes brown

I am playing around with StockXchange.
Notice how much better my images just got?

On a related note, a friend has just written a brief email about the difference in how blue-eyed and brown-eyed people see the world, with coy allusions to Japanese vision researchers. We humbly beg the scholar in question to submit more information in the form of a comment here.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Terror in London. Standing by St. Pancras.

On Guard
Originally uploaded by ickoonite.
I'm typing from the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, where everyone is huddling around the radio waiting for news about Warren Street. So far it sounds as if everyone was evacuated, but the atmosphere is tense.

I walked here from the British Library, directly next door to King's Cross, where the bombs went off two weeks ago.

As I crossed the few blocks to arrive, I passed St. Pancras's church, a familiar site to scholars, now bedecked with shoals of flowers, photos, poems, news clippings, and banners.

As I walked closer, I realized that the banners announced the Church of England's campaign to "Make Poverty History." Flowers and donations to the war on poverty had transformed seamlessly into a memorial for those dead by terror: a single, coherent prayer for understanding, reconciliation, and peace.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Meet the Christian Left

In recent weeks, the much-awaited website has accumulated a gaggle of bloggers for daily political commentary on the church in America.

In the near future, this website will be making itself a hotspot for Progressive Christian political events, news, and theological debate. Check it out!

Diamonds on the Souls of my Shoes

No, Really.

Step 1: Study Scripture
Step 2: Say the Confirmation
Step 3: Place In-Souls (c) Inserts into your right shoe and stand on the Word of God
Step 4: Meditate on the Word with every step
Step 5: Record your experience in the companion journal
Step 6: Hang the In-Souls (c) air freshener for a daily reminder
Step 7: Complete the In-Souls (c) power walk Bible Study

Link: In-Souls (c) Air freshener and scripture

Monday, July 18, 2005

Salt Lake City is the Future

Chris Abraham's students are moving to Utah.
My students, who are now getting married, are staying in their hometowns. They're getting married and staying faithful. They're joining the church and participating in their communities. Many of them are effectively "straight edge," refusing any drugs or alcohol.

Darker the Despair

Erin is a childhood friend who's shared a lot of the same experiences as I have. I got an email from her yesterday, full of anger and woe.

Raised by Southern Baptists, Erin was fed a steady diet of monogamy and abstinence while she lived in Dallas. Erin buys it. Erin's mother and father are passionately in love with each other, and Erin and I used to dream about the boys we would marry. We both developed our first crushes on boys in high school, and we both stayed away from sex, where the other girls who listened to punk and wore black clothing lost their inhibitions. Both of us were motivated by a mixture of fear about STD's, biblical rhetoric, the example of our parents, and the education of our social class.

But at eighteen both Erin and I moved East for college. At college it was difficult to find other progressive Christians to date. One could, perhaps, date fundamentalist boys who expected their future wives to abandon their careers for reproduction and dedication. One had no interest in the perpetual dating circuit of one-night stands. Both Erin and I ended up dating in college, amongst a run of artists and future politicians, all dedicated to the progressive values of love for one's neighbor, service to the poor, responsibility for the sick and lonely. Among progressives in Eastern colleges, it would be an extreme rarity to have a relationship that didn't end in sex. Erin thought she was going to marry the theater director she first slept with. She's had the idea that she might marry every man she slept with since. The relationships fizzle for whatever reason: inconstancy, apathy, periods of growth or travel. Erin inevitably ends up a wreck.

Going home every year she would go back to church with her parents, sit silently deferent at the kitchen table listening to her parents, undergoing speech after speech about the foolishness of premarital sex in any form, the certitude of death; AIDS linked in her family as a natural punishment by God for bad behavior. The wages of sin are death, and premarital sex, she accepted, was a choice she made that doomed her. Whether by the hellfire of damnation or the risk of infection, sex outside of marriage doomed her, body and soul; doomed whomever she was with, barely if at all countered by her virtuous motives -- affection, intent of marriage, political enthusiasm for righteous causes. Erin doesn't get tested for STD's. The outcome for her is clear already. Talking about STD's sends her into fits of angst and anger.

Most people in Erin's demographic turned angrily against the church. Erin didn't. She still goes to church. She still dreams of a marriage like her parent's. She's riddled with a kind of fear and guilt well beyond anything relieved in confession boxes: she blames herself for every failed relationship, she blames herself for a lifestyle, she sees no real alternatives to her lifestyle that still allow her to have relationships where she is recoganized as a professional woman.

Erin was reading in the paper this weekend how the rate of young women in
South Africa who have AIDS is now 40% for women aged 25 to 29
. It's hard for me not to reflect that these women are my age -- Erin's age. It's hard not to think about jettisoned careers, romances, and dreams, let alone about AIDS orphans.

It's hard to avoid despair about the sadness of death and disease, but despair is the darker when one believes that those dying are cursed. For Erin, the curse is one visited on her by a vengeant God she can barely understand. But the curse also takes the material form of a people to whom the worldwide Church refuses minister : the Church as it refuses to hand out condoms, the Church as it refuses to talk about what characterizes loving relationships before marriage, the Church as it threatens and chides human individuals in love, in despair, and threatened by disease -- and tells them to repent.

The despair is the darker when one believes that one's own community of faith has been actively involved in the spread of the disease through wanton denial of discussion.

Let's say right here that Erin's religious education sucks. I think she survives by not thinking too hard about it. When she considers, she's faced with a cosmological catch-22: God and Erin agree that marriage would be wonderful; God and Erin agree that she finds a spiritual home among progressives; God and Erin exhort intense, shared affection, love of the subcultural and outcast; but God has denied Erin any Christian company among progressives so that she should find a partner who understands her; God has cursed those who break His law with damnation and disease.

When I joined the Episcopalian church I met for the first time a community of religious progressives interested in actively engaging the theology of the body not only from a more *lenient* perspective than conservative fundamentalists, but from a more *godly* perspective about the body. Body theology among conservative Roman Catholics means John Paul II's phenomenological understanding of a body physically designed to declare itself given only for sex inside marriage. Body theology among liberal Anglicans means a body that represents joy in its creation and relation to other creatures, not constrained by the tyranny of reproduction, property relations, or the expectations of social custom.

This is a body theology that reaches out to others, that finds in sex one of the fiercest and most contested of our ways of making war on each other, an endless excuse to defer compassion to other nations and other creatures. When the lamb appeared to Abraham, God promised that human sacrifice was no longer required of man. Christ fulfilled that promise with his blood, shed that we should no longer make war within families, within societies, or across nations merely to vindicate the reign of custom.

What one friend advises another about the best response to her series of failed relationships is one thing. What the Church as an institution chooses to uphold as a model for political and educational structures of guilt and repentence seems to me outrageous in light of these personal activities, fraught with complicated decisions, guilt, love, patience, compassion, and fear. A world-wide plague is quite another thing entirely, and a tragedy. All three are linked together by the way we speak of them in the media. All three of them together are too much despair to face. Christ stopped the stoning of the adulteress: that is all I ask for a friend in despair.

Starfish International: Turning the Tide on AIDS, an Episcopalian/Anglican charity that takes seriously the Christian responsibility to care for the downcast. Starfish is responsible for caring for AIDS orphans throughout Africa.

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, visits Kenya this week. He will focus on discussions about AIDS, but it is expected that his language will also address the African bishops angry about Episcopalian and Anglican theological leniancy towards homosexuality.

Having visited South Africa this week, Laura Bush advocates sociological research that ties violence towards women with the spread of AIDS

Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, according to a site dedicated to its justification

Sex, Lies, and Scripture: "These groups may have Christian-sounding names, but their goals include reinterpreting the Bible to justify sexual liberalism. Don't be fooled."

Avowed, Practicing and Straight discusses why it's okay to love Jesus and have sex.

Religious Wars on the Web

Democrats tend to feel safe on the web. After all, MoveOn and its like are *our* guys. Republicans may have their Frank Luntz and their think-tanks, but radicals have Palo Alto.

But alas, even this haven of tranquillity and liberalism is not safe from conservative media washing.

Mistyping my own site's address from abroad (hey! I'm in England!), I entered the whacky world of "" I found myself redirected to Amazing Bible, where I read:


What's particularly fascinating to me is that there must be a cabal of web-literate religious conservatives conspiring to find all sites that like mine link to "Christianity" and "the Bible" and divert them from their intended aims.

My dear readers, do not be lead astray. You are safe with me in the very womb of the Christian Left. Please don't leave me now. I'm much cleverer, nicer, and more humane.

But let me leave you by turning their own words against them. Insincere faux-Christians of the Radical Right abound at this political moment. They twist Christ's message of compassion into a bludgeon with which to beat the liberal for his outreach to the criminal, the poor, the sick, the subcultural, and the outkast. Under the name of Christ, they preach hatred of one's enemies, despotism in the third world, the legality of torture, and corporate welfare.

But don't be afraid of them. Even should the radical fundamentalists track us to our trusted haunt on the web, even should all look dark, even while the venom of their hatred spreads, God is on our side, not theirs. After all, He made a sincere and loving promise to the progressives of the world:


(Does this include you,

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Return to Anglicanism

On a friend's suggestion, I worshipped Sunday morning at St. Benet's Church, Cambridge, where the Brothers of St. Francis administer to the college town's most intellectual parish.

What struck me was the prayers for the sick, for the church, and for the world, which followed more or less this formula: Dear God, we are concerned about x issue [where x was warfare, or church splits over homosexuality, or the ordination of women bishops, or world poverty]. Keep us on the road to Your truth, and prevent us from falling into falsehood. Help us to discern Your wisdom, and to avoid controversy over what we cannot know, and to know the difference.

I am always astounded at the Anglican Church as it navigates a course determined to keep left and right in dialogue.

The Mystery Worshipper Review of St. Benet's

Friday, July 15, 2005

Abby has a blog!

One of our very literary, quasi-Anglo-Catholic friends has started blogging in her own right. Good show Abby!

Abby keeps the conversation about visualization and spiritual experience going here

Check it out... Placet

Education and the Modest Miracle

The psalms that speak the most to me are those about pilgrimage: thy word is a rod unto my hand and a path unto my feet. I reflect about the strange facet of Pilgrim's path to Zion, how no point towards Zion is necessarily more easy or more perfect than those before; that the strange characteristic of nearing Zion is that the Pilgrim himself has only his own experience of the road to convince him that he has left the City of Destruction, only his own experience of travel and conviction of being rescued from disaster to convince him that something better lies ahead. It is barely a proof of success; it is the barest of promises of paradise.

The educator-God I am left with, failing evolution towards perfection, is proved only through my own experience of avoiding despair time and again as I encounter new and fresh temptations to give up. The accumulation of experience, wisdom, and courage, may indeed act in an esoteric way towards the perfection of my soul, but it in no way secures me from even greater acts of hubris and even more terrible betrayals of my purpose.

Jung and Blake on pilgrimages

Do Neighborhoods Make You Sick?

A 2000 Rand Study thinks so:

It is also possible that a dynamic relationship exists between people and their environment through which neighborhood conditions and residents’ behavior influence each other. Over time, the deterioration of a neighborhood might cause families with means and traditional standards of behavior to leave the neighborhood or the city, and their departure then leads to the gradual disappearance of individuals who might serve as role models and work together for the common good. In the absence of counterbalancing forces, the norms of the street begin to prevail.

In addition, the lack of an association seen between collective efficacy and lower rates of premature death in highly deteriorated neighborhoods suggests that the physical stigma of poverty and the implied tolerance of deviant behaviors in areas marked by graffiti and boarded-up homes may in some cases overwhelm the ability of people to act cooperatively for the greater good.

Only institutions can respond. Libertarian impulses convince us to opt away from massive governmental interventions in slums on the order of ghetto clearance. Jane Jacobs has proven that massive capital intervention on the order of the recent eminent domain rulings changes a city space so quickly that families can't survive and local culture is annihilated rather than cured.

We need to start thinking creatively about other ways of seeding community.

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone
July 2 CBS story : Eminent Domain Being Abused? - Childhood pastimes are increasingly moving indoors - Childhood pastimes are increasingly moving indoors
Hey Danah -- you've studied gender norms in processing visual information. Traditionally girls like staying indoors and boys play outdoors, which is understood to relate to girls' preference for texture/pattern visual processing, and boys' preference for parallax-based visual processing. (Danah Boyd, who occasionally visits our humble home, has written some fascinating studies about how video games and computer graphics in general are sorted for boys' brains, and are relatively prejudiced against girl brains)

What happens when the boys stay home? Could changes in where children play add up to a generation of boys who see like girls?

Imam and State

al-Zayyat, an international lawyer of the highest caliber, has written a biography of Zawahiri, bin Laden's right-hand man. The story he tells is autobiographical and biting: we were all aristocratic, pacifist activists for democracy in Egypt, he says, until we were tortured. Torture radicalized Zawahiri and sent him running for the border where he met other discontents. The origins of al-Qaeda were forged in the Bastille-like prisons of Egyptian despotism.

But fascinating as this is, more fascinating still is al-Zayyat's real story, the explications of the dialogue between religion and state in Islam. Al-Zayyat says that the point of having imams in government is that religion and religious institutions change with culture, and that for a government to respect the values of its people it has to be in constant contact with the changing nature of political, religious experience. The alternatives he sets forward are secular dictatorship and total suspicion of the church, and islamicist holy law suppressing all other interpretations. Democracy, he thinks, will naturally lead to a fusion of religion and law, and the institution most likely to encourage this fusion is the institutionalization of imams in government.

We are very in love with the separation of church and state in America. But surely he has a point. What would a priest-rabbi-zen-master sitting auxiliary council to congress look like? How would they enrich or redirect the abortion/gay rights question, for example to more scriptural issues of human rights and poverty?

The Road to Al Qaeda at Pluto Press

Seeing Visions :: Seeing Reality

The middle ages, we are told, was an era of sight and smell. Passion plays preached and cathedrals told stories. With the reformation, text replaced vision. In the west, visual culture was more expensive to produce, and the forms of knowledge associated with it were therefore necessarily less available, therefore confined to an elite, therefore esoteric. Is visual culture necessarily esoteric, or is it a question of the market of experience? Of the esoteric in general, similarly, what is that 'soul', 'spirit', 'consciousness', what have you, that leaves the body on morphine, that experiences esoteric knowledge? And is it esoteric simply because of market value, or what value have the esoteric forms of knowledge that can only be experienced by the individual?

Say that web culture is a great clamoring at the gate of the people for access to the arcane technics of visual culture. What does this mean?

McLuhan thinks that visual culture is necessarily less linear than text, therefore has a higher learning curve, therefore in its mass dissemination is more spectacular and enthralling, less liberating than the text: although advanced visual culture breaks down the hierarchical assumptions of the text. Is there a threshold when general knowledge of visual culture goes from spectacle to critical awareness? Will mass dissemination of visual culture change anything? Cure or poison?

The Galileo Project entry on Giordano Bruno

Excerpts from Frances Yates' Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition>

Wikipedia on Marshall McLuhan

Paranoid Airplane

Arrived, jetlagged, in Britain. Lovely to be back.

Have I only recently noticed it, or is it a new phenomenon? I want to know about the visible air released in cabins. What are the legal issues around airlines' decision to not carry more fresh air? What happened to sanitary class-action suits? Everyone knows that everyone gets sick. What would it be like to use the air for warfare? If a hijacker were attacking the plane, for example, to gas everyone but the pilots asleep?

Loving the Enemy

From Baton Rouge, I get a series of strung-out emails. Radio-evangelists are preaching death to all Muslims. My friend reads Sufi poetry, and driving his step-father's cadillac through the sprawling wide porches, he hears things that make him shiver. Guantanamo Bay is an act of patriotic duty and Christian self-defense.

I'm corresponding with a friend who was raised among Southern Baptists. The small-town minister who gave the oration at his uncle's funeral gave a portrait of the alcoholic uncle being hauled off to hell in flames. Forgiveness, love: not a lot.

Parents and friends are challenging his choice to travel away from Baton Rouge, his choice of a different politics, his exploration of a music career, his reading about political Islam, his exploration of his own spiritual life in a variety of directions. Self-development doesn't have much of a place in this society. Forgiveness and the meeting of enemies seems to have even less.

My friend is torn up. He loves his family, he loves the place he's from; he doesn't want to be around them. He doesn't ever want to go back.

He writes me:

> Can their be a difference between love, in the
> Christian sense, and the desire for proximity?

I think it's a good question. Liberal Christians may well see that Christ loves their conservative neighbors, whatever the cloistered, provincial and repugnant practices of political xenophobia. But do they have to live with them?

Maybe affinity, like proximity, describes a natural set of relations. I am naturally proximate to certain people, and I want to be more proximate to others, about whom I learn, towards whom I move. Love indicates this movement: always looking at, moving towards, and intending the thing that neighbors one.

Paul Tillich, the mid-twentieth-century German theologian who fled Nazi Germany and preached a gospel of love in the States, talked about how the Islamic/Judaic/Christian God is fundamentally one that transcends place. Unlike the Assyrian gods who ruled over a certain city-state, or the Greek gods who presided over a grove, or the forest, or the harvest, or Indian gods with their specific natural locales, the Mosaic God claims to be able to demolish separations of proximity, to make all things proximate.

Engaging in Christian love is offering oneself to participate in a kind of proximity that pertains to God's transcendence of space and time, not our experience of space and time. To me, it means embracing the conviction that one can reach farther, relate across more boundaries, than one can in the normal sphere of relating to one's immediate friends and neighbors. One can, for instance, relate to the murderer, the leper, the psychotic: no matter their condition, society may exclude them, but they fall under the canopy of heaven. Jonah is sent to preach to foreign towns where they speak another language and embrace different values entirely.

The Mosaic God still allows us to acknowledge separation of time and space. Christ tells his apostles to leave the town that refuses to hear their message and shake to dust from their garments. "I shall place your sin from you, as far as East is from the West." Christians acknowledge a God for whom our time and space are inconsequential. Yet one of His characteristics is to draw us close to things that are far, and make far from us things that are close.

And yet we remain embodied, in a body, still relating to the natural system of affinities and proximities. I think about the psalms about pilgrimage: "Thy word is a rod unto my hand and a path unto my feet." If learning and love in general are about finding one's way to the things close by, holy learning and holy love amplify the consequences of this normal process. One still reaches for what is close by, but one grasps it more firmly. One still progresses towards one's neighbor, but one reaches the destination more surely with a walking stick. One heads out into the world, and one covers more ground, aided by a fore-ordained path.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Tomorrow, my birthday, is also the feast-day of Saint Benedict, a rather important figure to me — the establisher of rules for monastic orders, arguably the first Christian figure to take seriously the idea that you could use ritual to build a community of people praying and working together, until work turned into a form of prayer.

He’s taken as the first figure who said that it was okay to come off of the mountain and spend time with other people as a spiritual person. Previously the desert fathers were sitting on rocks and waiting for enlightenment alone.

A good icon for evangelical leftist spiritualists who understand the felicity of finding other people to talk to. I take it as a good sign.

Link: The Catholic Encyclopedia on the Rule of St Benedict

Advent ho!

I returned to church for the first time in at least a month — after so much travel and sleeping in of Sunday mornings. I sat in the pew wondering about how my friend James would take the full Sunday service.

James was raised in small-town Louisiana amidst Southern Baptists. The minister delivered a funeral oration for an alcoholic uncle who had died in a car crash by excoriating the audience about the evils of drink and depicting the Devil carrying the uncle away in flames.

I worried a little through the confession of sins that opens every service, for words like sin ring hard for Baptists and have entirely different senses for Episcopalians, who hold sin as a state of separation or untruth before God, oneself, or others, nothing to do with sex or drugs or alcohol.

Confession is the opening ritual, followed by a purification: scattering holy water, more chanting. Cleansed, prepared, the ritual proceeds, and everything that follows is about community, healing, and love: all bound through rituals of eating and rejuvenation that glisten with hints of the esoteric.

The sermon was disappointingly the most 1950s I’ve heard at Advent -- an older priest, hints of moralizing about how often one prays or how much one donates, much scuffling of feet amongst the socialists in the pews. I crack a grin, wondering: is God laughing at us? Does God really care if we pray regularly, or take offense at our brothers' admonitions to us to pray regularly?

Service adjourned, the ritual complete, spiritual bodies cleansed and blessed and fed. We go to the parish hall and drink coffee. Long goodbyes to everyone, quick discussion of Abelard with the rector, great wafts of blessings and encouragement for the journey, admonition to visit various gay rectors in England. It was so good to return, to remember how much that community has nourished me for the past year, how much love and intellectual stimulation I’ve received from them.

Link: The Ship of Fools' Mystery-Worshipper Review of Church of the Advent

Link: The Episcopalian Church of the Advent of Christ the King, San Francisco

Friday, July 08, 2005

Because they're just so fucking awesome

Open two weeks already, Ritual Coffee on Valencia is already swarming with the hip and melancholy. Who'd've thunk that what the Mission *really* needed was yet another coffee shop. Apparently many of us really didn't have anywhere to go.

I blame it on the logo. Every visually aware person in the Mission is like, hey, that's a fucking Russian Coffee Flag.

Way to go, boys. Vertebrae Design, this website salutes you.

Taxis for Homeland Security

The New Yorker this week mentions of the installation of GPS in New York taxicabs for the purposes of surveillance by Homeland Security. It snagged my attention, and off to Google I went.

It turns out that New York doesn't have the only taxi drivers in which Homeland Security is interested. Someone up there is thinking big.

Check it out:

USA Today reports that taxi drivers in Las Vegas are admonished by Homeland Security to report suspicious activity, especially "people who are taking photographs or making diagrams of high-profile targets"

The Las Vegas Review Journal is on it. Video cameras are going into taxis, and libertarian privacy activists are getting antsy.

The Ledge of Liberty quotes a Homeland Security bulletin instructing the wary that if you *must* live in an urban district, it would be wise in these days of code red to cut line out of a taxi cue and hail your own cab.

Fascinating, isn't it? I mean, whether or not it adds up to a gigantic anti-privacy conspiracy, one does suspect that the rural red and urban blue state divide is coming into play in an interesting form during this administration's legislative tenure. Anti-urban conservative security jocks are liable to be more suspicious and less canny about the urban landscape than people who spend more time there.

On the other hand, what do I know about what's going on. Maybe deep in Homeland Security some urban-savvy landscape guru has long since enlisted the trust of dozens of taxicab drivers and paid them off to report tips about suspicious movement patterns. All I'm saying is that Homeland Security pays attention to interesting patterns, and doesn't necessarily interpret them correctly, and that the results of their experimentation will be fascinating for us all.

Democrats Invade the South!!

Just chatting with Chloe Cockburn, who is working on modern-day usury in the form of payday advance loans, from that bastion of far-sighted liberal causes, the Mississippi delta.

Apparently long-haired seven-foot bright-eyed liberal babes like Chloe can meet friends just like them wherever they go in the world, in this era of globalization, so Chloe has been eating organic blueberries at the local vegan co-op, and talking Democratic politics with other people who agree with her on virtually all angles. In the course of such adventures (one really wonders why she bothered to leave Massachusetts at all), she ran across Rose Aguilar, a Democratic journalist from California who has been traveling across the South recording interviews of local yokels.

At last. Thomas Frank's call to action has paid off. The Democrats are surging upon the South, clipboards in hand, taking careful notes on the rituals and kinship structures of the local tribes, carefully trying to decode the brain genome of the Southern conservative. All along, these open-minded Hipsters have, true to their gospel of diversity, opened the door to the possibility that the native Southron is, despite appearances, *not* necessarily *total* *evil*.

To their shock and awe, both Chloe and Rose seem to find Southerners easy to talk to. They have relatively open opinions about proprietally East-Coast concepts like "diversity" and "tolerance." Southerners even largely seem to acknowledge that Bush lied about the war. It's just, well, that they don't know about the agendas of these foreign populations... foreign populations like gays, and Jews, and other East Coast intellectuals, thinking too hard for their own good, trying to derail every honest debate about values with the silver-tongued rhetoric of "issues" and "human rights."

How will it end?? The conversion of numerous general store owners to Paris-Review-reading, organic-blueberry-eating crypto-Marxists? The seduction and brainwashing of these find young hopes of the Democratic party? Perhaps a hybrid, pidgin-speaking culture will emerge out of these missionary forays, long-haired, trailer-park-living nomad people who read the Bible via Derrida and refer to their daily ration of corn grits as "polenta."

The stakes are high for both sides. The only thing clear is that the two worlds are only just beginning to figure out how different are the languages they speak.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Big Plans

Everyone is calling me today for news of England, wondering if I know whether everyone is safe in London after the attack. I've heard nothing from London, and suspect that everything will return to normal too soon, a handful of deaths allowing Blair and Bush free rein to whatever stupid ideas they aim for next. It should be an interesting weekend to go to a conference on terrorism in Britain. It sticks in my mind as I scour the blog of one of James's friends and find a prognostication of warfare on American soil by August. The last ten years have held a lot of anticipations of radical change from all corners, and everyone seems to be in a mood to speculate about how ill-prepared we are to anticipate any future that isn't just like the past. Even Chomsky says that America is so ill-prepared for revolution that if one occurred now it would certainly be fascist.

So I wonder about what sorts of large, structural changes are ahead, and I find myself anticipating what they might mean for my future. I've struggled with academia for a while, and there are terribly petty little institutional battles about being an academic who might default for politics or the church. So I wonder about mock-ups that start, when the fracture comes, and when people are looking around to build what comes next, let me be there; let the few people who have to make decisions quickly trust me. A friend of James's told me that she was surprised at how despite talent and training, I didn't think I'd be able to do anything that mattered in my lifetime. So I've been wondering about how much my refusal to communicate or dream big or make plans is a decided hesitance about being able to do something in the world, versus primal fear, versus engrained feelings of unworthiness.

I've been struggling with my life as a toy of the meritocracy for a long time. True, everyone wants me to work for their agenda. But they give me precious little freedom for my own agenda. And I do have little faith in doing much until such a break: the professional advice for rebel academics is always essentially, Shut up for another ten or fifteen years until you have tenure, and then you can start whatever revolution you want. I also remember that what I've been saying to my closest friends for years is that the current system can't hold, that no one has clear ideas about how society can or should change, that eventually it will break and someone will start looking for a person to teach and write and preach about the missing bits -- where soul meets politics, where landscape meets culture, how cabals and conspiracies of elites work... All the stuff I study, in short, little as it applies to getting a job in a History Department (yes, I'm doing fine; but compared to where my advisors would like me to be, I'm considered charmingly and perhaps self-destructively eccentric). So the best I can do is maybe drift aimlessly through grad school proper and prepare myself to be that very different and eccentric and strong-minded person when that time comes.

So I was dreaming about big plans last night. Rafts of them. Mockups for structures to be in place when fractures come so that the right people want my advice, so that I give them the right advice. Politics is such a tiny ingredient of making it work, the way I see it unfolding: it's about how individuals are to treat each other, and the kinds of structures in which they abuse each other less.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Discourse on Miracles

Last week I acquired a spiritual advisor -- one of the monks with whom I'd been working on Episcopal church issues, who finally took me aside and asked me if I'd correspond with him. So we've been writing each other about miracles, and I began to tell him about my jellyfish experience (see below). He replied, Anglicans base their teachings on the theology of experience. You're having experiences. Have more.

Being of a secular/rationalist education and temperament, I always tended to circumscribe my miracles pretty severely : in the realm of life-changing events without precedent, or providential path that marks the whole course of a person's career, or idiotically sentimental moments of warmth. We professional historians tend to quarantine the miraculous in the pitifully every-day or the macrocosmic -- that is, in the realms of causality that we can't measure. So long as we can't measure cause, we're happy to acknowledge that superhuman forces may be at work.

But I've been feeling recently like this list simply won't do. Or better yet, that the realms of what we can't measure extend to slight changes in perception that cause one to radically recategorize all sorts of other phenomena: that the causal influence may be personal, but that the tweaking of God in my head ought very much to force me to look for new kinds of signs in whatever form they are capable of attracting my notice.

My conception of an educator-God (o Augustine and Derrida), the Great Communicator, is always trying to wake me up. So I shy away from remarking that *just* warmth or joy is a sign of God's presence: warmth or joy that wakes me out of my habits, that forces me to remark upon it is miraculous in a way that Hallmark sentimentality isn't. A bed of roses is a bed of roses, but a bed of roses in the course of a deep request for continuity of instruction in experiencing warmth is something like an answered prayer (at least part thereof).

God doesn't care, I'm sure, that a car license plate with "ESP-7890" appeared outside the café in Philadelphia in which I was drinking coffee as I looked up after finishing a remarkably strange 1930s book of essays on coincidences as I was processing those in my life. But if God is trying to wake me up, how better to do so than to make me attentive to an unlimited array of jokes in my own head about what I do and don't know.

I'm working with synchronicity right now, part of a prayer for open communication with God. I'm also working with a year-long arc of continuous experience of communication and direction in personal and professional activities, counting on synchronicity to vouch for the fact that I'm not making this up.

Discernment, calling, and direction are more elaborate and sustained messages than mere admonitions to pay attention. I compensate by trying to make sense of a specific narrative of causal divine intervention before I make boasts to myself about understanding God's influence in my life from the day of my birth. Increasingly the fundamentalist claim sounds to me like a kind of intellectual hubris -- have they *really* examined each part of their life, the downturns and temptations and missed opportunities, for a kind of celestial influence more sophisticated and meaningful than 'Satan tempted me with booze and God made me put it away'?

I mean, I'm sure God did intervene, Mr. Fundamentalist, but in terms of rules to follow in the world of mixed good and evil encountered daily in the confusion of well-educated good intentions in San Francisco, *I* seem to have the most awful time instantly telling which drink, book, romance, friendship, and ambition comes from God, and which doesn't, whilst still acknowledging the historian's rule of unforeseen consequences, and that indeed the unforeseen consequences of each drink, book, and romance are not yet played out even now as I cast a tentative judgment about them. God can't be against all drinks, books, and romances, not an educator, ecumenical God who wants us to love one another *and* learn from one another. Furthermore, as a professional historian (surely God doesn't forbid me from this), I am forced to forebear judgment about the final influence of any given drink or book on any given individual until the end of the day when both have driven him to more critical self-understanding of his designs. This law of hidden workings surely leaves all the more room for the workings of providence through them, trailing in unforeseen consequences, influences, people, reflections, all the way down through one's life.

I want to stop short of saying that all causality is unknowable or that God is only in one's head. I have indeed noticed that I'm back to forebearance to name divine intervention in any one event. Which is maybe appropriate for the miracles I've been naming: coincidences that snap me back into reflection in my head, moments of warmth that make me acknowledge that I don't know what I'm doing but that I crave the chance to embody and act out of love, unforeseen kinds of healing out of people and situations I didn't expect to act that way. I resist the idea that talking to God about miracles should make me a narrow historian, only interested in personal histories about Bubba turning away from alcohol. Talking to God about causality ought to make me *more* perceptive about how individual experiences (like drink or love) lead individuals towards or away from the ultimate good of Christian compassion.

Lest this lead me unto utter moral relativism, it seems clear to me that political movements are in a different category than phenomena. Education is not merely for the soul but also for the city, so that a godly individual should be seen and emulated by others. Along with coincidences and personal surprises in my sentimental education, I've been listing as miracles anything having to do with success or encouragement in line with shared political endeavors.

How our personal and professional lives stay quarantined is always a source of frustration to me, and the causality/miracle problem has been shelved behind Collingwood for the last year, kicking to get out.