Burn, Bank of America, Burn

I started banking at Bank of America in 1998 because my paychecks were through them and they had a location downtown that was convenient. I never really liked their corporateness, but there was one teller – older, local lady – who always remembered my name and was very helpful. I liked her.

A few years ago, BoA closed the downtown location and shifted everything to out behind the mall, which was inconvenient since I never go out there. I thought about changing banks – a local bank took over the downtown spot – but changing banks is a bit of a hassle and I never got around to it. The nice older lady retired. Occasionally, I’d hear about how BoA was in bed with some fracking company or heavily invested in harvesting baby seals or some such and thought “I really gotta change banks”, but I didn’t follow through.

Back in April, I filled out a direct deposit form for my new job at the homeless shelter. The money didn’t show up in my account, so I started looking into it and discovered that, in fact, the money had gone into my account, but BoA took it out immediately. I’m kinda slack about paying attention to my balance, but I started looking and discovered that they’d taken $1800 out in March. At this point, a total of $2300 had vanished from my account. I started calling.

Calling “customer service” at Bank of America is about what you’d expect: a recording gives you a list of options – none of which were “Where the hell is my money?” – then you wait on hold for forty-five minutes, then you talk to someone who doesn’t know, doesn’t care, and isn’t going to try. One time, the “customer service representative” told me that BoA had taken my money because I owed it from 1999, which didn’t make sense, and then offered to transfer me to the appropriate person to help me. They then transferred me back to the starting point: a recorded list of options. After another call or two, I found out that Bank of America had started pulling money out of my account to pay my credit card bill. I’d been using the card a bit more than usual because of the fucking global pandemic which was making getting a job difficult. I explained to the “customer service rep” that I had not authorized these transactions and that I would like my money – not all of it; I understood that I had to pay the balance on the card. I just wanted something to live on, since I wasn’t going to be using the card anymore. They very helpfully said they were doing something and that I’d get the $1800 in “four to six business days”. Obviously, that didn’t happen. When I called again, seven business days later, the call center drone I spoke with told me that the previous call center drone hadn’t done anything, but they surely would and I’d get the money in “four to six business days”. They also said they would cancel the next scheduled unauthorized theft from my account, which was apparently going to be $1600 even though at that point my balance was about $1000. Yeah – they were going to take more money ut of my account that I owed. This drone actually did actually do something because I started getting emails from BoA saying that I had to provide information regarding my claim. Specifically, they wanted to know my account number.

Chew on that. Bank of America needed me to tell them the number that they gave me for the account that they took money from.

During the same period, I went downtown and opened an account at that local bank that had set up in the old BoA location. They are lovely people. When I call, an actual human being answers the phone – a human being who is competent and helpful. All of my interactions with the new bank have been quite positive. I cleared out my account at BoA and put it all in the local.

My government stimulus check arrived around 9 May. I paid the mortgage, sent a child support check and had enough left for tobacco. Then I realized something.

I intended to leave Bank of America for years, but never got around to it. The whole business with BoA jacking money out of my account had given me the motivation to make the change. I was gonna have to pay off the card eventually. I got the government money right on time to pay what I needed to pay on time.

Nothing was actually wrong. Yes, Bank of America pulled some shady, sheisty shit – right in the middle of a world-wide pandemic, no less – but nobody with any sense trusts a corporate bank. I had what I needed when I needed it. I’d also like to add that, at no point did I kirk the fuck out and start yelling at any of the call center drones that I spoke with. Those pathetic slobs are doing a horrible job for minimum wage and no benefits. Of course, they world would be a better place if none of them went to work tomorrow, but they gotta eat too. There’s no reason to take out one’s anger on people who are basically slaves of the corporate beast. They deserve pity more than hate.

I consciously and willfully live on God’s grace. I get up everyday and go to work on time and I try to live in such a way that Jesus won’t be embarrassed to have me in His flock. I fail frequently, though not as catastrophically as I regularly did when I was ingesting meth and vodka. Theoretically, I’d have a whole boatload of faith and know that things were gonna turn out A-Okay, but it doesn’t always work out that way. In actuality, I spend more time in the shitshow we call Trump’s America than in a blissful state of awareness that I am held in the hands of a loving God. It’s pretty easy for me to get anxious, especially when some evil corporation starts taking my money – I think we all know by now that the big banks can do anyfuckingthing they want with no fear of being held accountable.

God had my back. Or maybe it was just a random string of occurrences that fit in perfectly with my lived experience for the twenty-two years I’ve been attempting to have some kind of relationship with the Divine, but which don’t prove anything. Yeah, that.

I am saying that God altered physical reality to make me change banks. That would be ridiculous. The fact is that a big bank like Bank of America trying to fuck over a very small account-holder is the natural law of big banks. I can’t think of any reason God would want me to write my mortgage checks from a local bank, but I don’t waste time trying to figure out the Big Plan. God knows what She’s doing – I don’t need to.

The take away is: things work out better when one relies on God’s grace and does the best one can. Also, Bank of America will fuck you over if they get a chance.

Love Your Neighbor

My daughter came out of the closet yesterday, via text. She is an eleven-year-old pansexual. My immediate reaction was no real reaction at all, and then I realized that this was a big deal for her, so I asked questions and expressed my love and support. I’ve never had any determination that my kid would be straight or anything in particular – I figured she’d figure it out and let me know. “Pansexual” is like what we used to call “bisexual”, but without the binary implication of “bisexual” which starts with “bi”. Pansexuals are bisexuals who acknowledge the existence of trans people – which I always assumed was the case, but now there’s a word for it. There have always been people who were attracted to their own gender, as far back as we can claim to know such a thing, and there have been people going to some trouble to prevent that for about the same period – in the culture that is dominant in USA, at least. From that, I infer that same-sex attraction is a normal thing for homo sapiens sapiens, and that some people are bothered by that fact. Homophobia, to my mind, falls into the same category of stupid bigotry as racism and misogyny – it’s just stupid bigotry.

It’s also mentioned in the Bible, in a pretty clearly disapproving way. It’s in Leviticus, you can google it if you care. Leviticus is one of the books of the Law, which were given to the House of Israel by Moses, at a specific moment in history, in a specific location. The prohibition against same-sex activity is one of 613 mitzvot, the rules God gave to the Israelites. They were not given to Gentiles, of which I am one. My line descends from the Germanic tribes in Europe – it’s possible that there is not one single Jew in my lineage. The Torah, Law, does not therefore apply to me, nor my offspring. Add to that the basic premise of Christianity which is that we are justified before God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, not by the Law of Moses, and it becomes pretty clear that I do not feel bound by the mitzvot.

Some might point out that Paul, in Romans, repeats the prohibition against same-sex activity. It’s true, he does. It’s also true that Paul goes on and on about how the Law does not apply to Christians. That’s Paul’s main theme. The only time Paul appears to adhere to the Law is in regard to same-sex stuff, which makes me think that Paul had a bit of a personal prejudice about it which caused him to contradict himself – or that somebody else wrote that part in later, which is pretty much known about some other stuff that appears in Paul’s letters. Beyond that, if you find a Christian who touts Leviticus as a justification for their homophobia, you will have also found a Christian who eats bacon, cuts the hair on the sides of their head and so on, in joyful disregard of every single one of the mitzvot except for that one which they are determined to hold onto because it seems to support their prejudice.

I say “pooh” to that noise. Nothing in the Bible is there to support my prejudices. I’ll go a step further – everything in the Bible is there to challenge me to examine my prejudices and other sins, to push me to do all that is in me to be willing to let go of any notions that prevent me from hearing God’s voice telling me to love my neighbor as myself.

I have not mentioned my own transbian nature. That identity does not necessarily cause sin. I could, without upsetting the most prudish applecart, engage in a romantic/sexual relationship with someone I am attracted to. Also, my daughter does not know that part of me yet. It never seemed appropriate before. She also doesn’t know that I’m a recovering alcoholic or that I have a mental illness. I just didn’t think there was any reason to tell her those things. Now that she’s eleven and beginning to think about more grown-up stuff, we’ll have those conversations.

This post is not supposed to be about same-sex stuff or transbianism. It’s about loving one’s neighbor. Because that’s what Christianity is about.

There’s a global pandemic going on. People are dying and losing their jobs and running out of money for food. All of those things are happening all the time, but the pandemic has increased the hardships and caused them to affect people who were pretty comfortable before, so now people are noticing. Loving one’s neighbor is more wonted now than ever before in my lifetime. If the bulk of humanity starts actually doing that, we will be living in a world better than we ever dreamed possible. Wouldn’t that be cool?

ELCA: America

Part the fourth of an exploration of the nouns in the name of the denomination to which I am a member of, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Oh, America, modern Babylon. As I write this, there’s a woman on NPR talking about the difficulties homeless shelters are having, getting the funds and materials needed to function in this COVID19 pandemic, difficulties of which I was aware since I work in a homeless shelter. I’ve lived my fifty years in the USA, near the bottom of the economic hierarchy, and I am suffering from no delusions that this is the land of milk and honey. The pandemic is shining a big spotlight on the gross injustices in America that I’ve long been conversant with, but the personalities on NPR seem to have been unaware of – institutionalized racism means that people of color have less access to health care which means they have pre-existing conditions which means they are dying of COVID19 at wildly disproportionate rates; poor whites are no better off than poor people of color; people are buying guns faster than stores can stock them, in gleeful anticipation of finally getting to use them for the purpose they were made for; the wealthiest people in the world, given the opportunity to step up and help those less fortunate, have mostly hunkered down in their palaces, secure in the knowledge that they will not be negatively affected or even much inconvenienced. Tornadoes, earthquakes and flooding have occurred, mostly glossed over by the media, somewhat exacerbated by climate change. And the president has doubled down on the lying, gaslighting, and rambling, megalomaniacal rants that we’ve all come to expect from him. Is America great again yet?

I do not believe that God inflicts natural disasters or pandemics on nations as punishment for their sins. I do not believe that God causes awful things to happen to see how well the faithful will hold up under pressure. I do believe that actions have reactions. I do believe that God gave people pretty clear advice about how to live and organize society, good advice which has been ignored with a vengeance.

COVID19 is the latest corona virus to make the news, and, so far, the most damaging. This time, average Americans are actually noticing. Some are making efforts to reach out to their neighbors, to offer help; others are jumping on the chance to create havoc. The longer it goes, the more extreme the two sides will get – though I cynically expect the bad to get extreme faster and with greater effect.

Here we have an opportunity to change, to start living as God would have us. Of course, to know how God would have us live, we have to read His instruction book all the way through, seriously contemplating what it says and really seriously questioning what other people say it says. Because it doesn’t say what a lot of people say it says.

Take the whole “Left Behind” franchise. They’ve got a handful of movies and a few books and they’ve managed to convince a significant number of people that Revelation points to a violent end-time battle, when it doesn’t say anything like that. The book of Revelation is about the triumph of Christ, the Prince of Peace, portrayed as a sacrificial lamb, over the forces of evil, there represented by the city of Babylon, which I have equated with modern America.

The Bible tells of God’s relationships with people, who keep getting it wrong. From page one, the people fail to hold up their end, to fulfill their responsibilities, and to behave at all decently. God keeps giving them another chance, another chance, speaking through prophets, finally sending His Son to explain things. People just keep screwing it up. Even after Jesus is crucified and resurrected, God keeps on acting in the world. Revelation, the last book in the Bible, is about God’s continuing communication with people, specifically with a man named John (there used to be some debate about whether Revelation was written by the Apostle John, but it’s pretty much settled that there were three Johns: the Baptist, the Apostle and the Revelator).

Growing up, I was taught that the “age of miracles” was over, that God didn’t act that way anymore. As an adult, stumbling into recovery from alcoholism, I found myself surrounded by sober people talking about miracles like they happened all the time. Eventually, I became one of them. The fact that I experienced direct communications from the Almighty helped that transition. I now live in a world where God acts behind the scenes all the time. I could go into detail about how God has changed me and my circumstances in the past few months, but I’ve covered all that in previous posts and the bald-faced fact is that all the miracles I’ve experienced or head about from friends can be attributed to some other cause by people who really want to deny God’s action. I’m reminded of a joke:

What does an atheist say during sex?

Math! Science! Raaaaaational explanaaaaaation!

Miracles still happen and people continue to act as God’s messengers – the word “prophet” is generally misunderstood to mean someone who foretells the future; it really means someone who speaks God’s words, who carries God’s message. There have been many, and will be many more afore it’s all done.

When it’s all done – when history is finally over – we have some reason to believe we will live with God, here on an earth renewed and made perfect like it was in the first few verses of Genesis. Until then, our mission, if we choose to accept it, is t proclaim the good news that Christ died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, and that we are redeemed through His actions. It’s not a bad life at all – obviously I prefer it to the alternative or I wouldn’t do it.

It’s tough in the US of A though. This land of freedom, home of the brave, beacon on a hill, yadda-yadda, is so far from following God’s very clear directions on how to set up a society that it seems like it was done on purpose. Supposedly, Americans are very religious people, but you couldn’t prove it by me. The Americans I know, when they do get fired up about religion, start shouting the opposite of what I read in my Good Book, and refusing to make cakes, as if that had anything to do with anything. Not all of ‘em, of course. I do know plenty of Americans who really do attempt to live somewhat sorta like God instructed. Yesterday I was generously helped by a pair of American Christians, who also happen to be lesbians, and who are happy to talk about what God has done in their lives, but not likely to start shouting. I’m pretty glad to be part of a quiet, unnoticed, loose collection of Christians going about their business doing little things to prepare the way of the Lord, and sharing His peace. It’s kinda like being in the early church, under the radar in the Roman Empire. I ain’t suffering from any delusions that I’m gonna make a big noise and initiate some kinda new revival in Christendom, and I’m okay with that. I like my quiet life. I try not to pay a lot of attention to the popular culture because it’s depressing as shit, but I hear the news and I know what’s happening.

The pandemic could be a game changer. It’s entirely possible that people will realize that there are more important things than status, sex and violent movies based on comic books. People might decide they like spending time at home, expressing concern for others and breathing unpolluted air when they do go out. The blatant failures of this current orange president might shift the body politic away from a system that only serves the interests of robber barons and racists, leading to a more egalitarian America where people are willing to help their neighbors. (That’d be a lot more likely if certain demographics were killed off, but a lot of those are pretty vulnerable to COVID19, so maybe we’ll get lucky.) (I’m not at all happy about the old coot the Democrats coughed up for their presidential candidate and will probably vote third party.) People could change. It’s pretty unfuckinglikely, but it could happen.

Imagine living in a society based on loving God and neighbor. Wouldn’t that be cool? It could happen, but it’ll take a miracle.

ELCA: Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was of the opinion that the Church was Christ in the world. I am an admirer of Herr Bonhoeffer, but I do not subscribe to his position on this topic for a few reasons, none of which I’m going to bother with, but I will offer the peripheral view that scholasticism is mostly bullshit.

For those who don’t know, scholasticism is the school of big-brain-bigger-ego, rational-compulsive and anal retentive writing wherein eggheads attempt to wrangle some useless theory into as many words as possible. This is the logic that leads to debates about how many angels can dance on the point of a pin and other hogwash. Martin Luther opposed scholasticism, and contributed to it by being a ridiculously prolific writer, though he did break up the monotony with frequent insults directed at the Pope, Cardinals, and anybody else who he thought of when he was on a rant. Bonhoeffer came from a family of intellectuals who thought they were a bit better than the common scum, and was a natural born scholastician, if that’s a word. He certainly would’ve generated volumes of pointless gobbledy-gook if the Lord hadn’t given him something useful to do, which he did, in fact, do and that right well. I have enormous respect and admiration for Bonhoeffer for what he did, not for what he wrote.

My own theology is very simple, because Christianity is very simple. Complicating it doesn’t do anybody any good, and kinda contradicts a couple things that Jesus said. As far as the Scripture goes, I go with the rule put forth by Augustine – if the Scripture can be read literally without straining credibility, read it literally; otherwise, it’s a metaphor. So when Jesus said “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, He meant it literally. When He talked about “living water” He was using a metaphor. This should not be taken to mean that I think the Resurrection was a metaphor, though it does strain credibility pretty hard. Really, the whole of Christianity strains credibility. The only way anybody can believe it is by the grace of God via the action of the Holy Spirit. I am able to know that a human being who is dead for three days is well beyond recall, and also to believe in the miracle of Christ’s resurrection without any cognitive dissonance whatsoever because the Holy Spirit makes that possible. I am quite comfortable not knowing everything and have no need to debate, or give a fig, about the various and sundry trivialities that various and sundry monks and professors have yammered on and on about. Predestination is an example. What difference does it make if I or you or anybody are predestined to do anything? If we are, we can’t do shit about it; if we ain’t, there are other things to do – like caring for the poor, which Jesus said to do more than once, and which He surely meant for us to do in a very literal way.

I, therefore, hold that the Church is a very simple thing: those who believe. That’s it. That’s what the Church is.

As a Lutheran, I fully participate in the Lutheran form of worship, with all the reciting, responsive reading and such. I dress up for church. I touch the water in the font and cross myself when I enter the sanctuary. I wear a crucifix. I really enjoy and appreciate all the frippery and décor of the church. I also agree with Luther that all of that stuff is “useful, but not necessary”. One of the big points that Luther fought tooth and nail about was the priesthood of all believers. All Christians are equally able to proclaim the good news and administer all sacraments. Luther also acknowledged that some people are better at some things and there’s nothing wrong with professions. You want shoes, you go to a shoemaker. It makes sense to have some people in the community who are trained and ordained to do the specific work of priesthood – we call them pastors or deacons and I’m still chipping away at becoming one of them.

Luther presented a hypothetical situation in which ten lay Christians are kidnapped by heathens and abandoned in the wilderness. For the duration of their time away from civilization, they appoint one of their number to act as pastor to the rest. That one would be fully “ordained” until the group finds their way back to a Christian land. This seems like an obvious thing to me.

The actual church buildings are certainly good, some of them even wonderful. We moderns can’t fully appreciate what it was like for a medieval peasant, used to mud hovels with six-foot high ceilings and no windows to walk into a high cathedral with light pouring in through stained glass, but we can acknowledge a beautiful church and appreciate the images of Biblical stories in the windows, and all the ornamentation. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have Mass in any other space – we could and it would be equally church.

We frequently recite the Apostles’ Creed, which contains the line “I believe in the catholic, apostolic church”. To me, that line means that I acknowledge all forms of Christianity, I affirm that Methodists and Baptists and all of ‘em are members of the Church. There are some groups who claim to be Christian, but who act like something very different and I stay silent n those as much as possible. My opinion isn’t always necessary. The ELCA is affirmatively ecumenical, so I feel pretty secure in the knowledge that the other members of the congregation are on the same page when we all say the Creed together.

We haven’t said it together for a while now. Church was shut down in early March. This Sunday is Easter, the most important holy day in the Christian calendar. They’ll be doing a live-stream service which I won’t see because I don’t have internet at the house. It’s a bit of a loss – I’ve missed Sunday services and I look forward to being able to go again, but I haven’t suffered. My Christianity has not been negatively impacted. Actually, I feel like this time of uncertainty, when so many are afraid and so many are sick, has given me the opportunity to sit and think and feel more deeply my connection to God. It’s been during this pandemic and shut-down that I got a job which is far and away more fulfilling than any I ever had before.

There was some drama at the shelter yesterday before I got there – one guest had a mental health crisis and another was just fall-down drunk. The guy in charge was in this morning at the end of my shift and he was concerned that the guests’ behavior would “burn out our staff” and cause people to quit. I don’t share that fear. From what I’ve seen, the staff is occasionally annoyed by the shenanigans of some of the guests, but mostly just laugh it off and move on. The staff at the shelter are motivated to work with the homeless and seem to have no illusions. Some are Christians; some I don’t know. One I was talking to last night is a nursing student, so she has some motivation to help people and she’s decided to help the local homeless while she goes to college. I think it would take a lot to burn her out. For my part, I’m slightly amused by most of the drama and not likely to be bothered by a crazy or drunk. I’ll respond as needed to a situation, but when it’s settled down, I’ll let it go.

So my Christianity is not dented. I’d love to get to church on Easter, but I’ll be okay. I’ve got plans penciled in to go hiking with a friend, maybe jump in a creek if it’s hot enough. If it’s raining, we’ll stay in and watch a movie – she’s never seen 12 Monkeys and I’d be happy to sit through that again.

Christ is in the world, and He is present in the church – or Church, I never know whether to use the capital ‘C’ or not. I guess it might be proper to refer to the Divine Presence in the world as the Holy Spirit, since the Creed says that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father”, and Jesus, Himself, said that the Holy Spirit would be in the world when He was gone. But there again, it ain’t necessary to be all proper about it. But the church is not the same thing as Christ. Christ is Christ; the church is the church and as such it is something that people make. We can make it better or worse, depending on whether or not we adhere to the Bible. Luther was adamant about sticking to the Scripture, and I’m pretty sure he was right about that.

So, I’ll be back in church as soon as I can, but I’m not not in church now. My soft butch friend who I might be going hiking with on Sunday is another Lutheran, and we might invite some other folks to go along, some of whom might be Christians and some might not, but we’ll invite ‘em anyway and at least some people will be aware of the reality that Christ is risen among us everyday, and we acknowledge it on a particular day which is this Sunday this year. I carry my own church like a snail carries its house, though I depend on God to make my church Church.

Alright. Wash yer paws. Don’t get sick.

ELCA: Lutheran

Part two in a series exploring the nouns in the name of the denomination to which I am a member of: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

All Hallows Eve, 1519, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, in what would become Germany, and started the Protestant Reformation. He didn’t mean to do that, of course. What he wanted to do was get people talking about certain practices of the Church which he felt were unsupported by the Bible, and contrary to Christ’s teaching. The main one was the selling of indulgences, but he was also troubled by the worldliness and avarice of the Pope and other high-ranking clergy. The Pope ignored Luther for a while, but he wouldn’t shut up, and many of the peasants supported him, so something had to be done. It’s possible, if not probable, that Luther wouldn’t’ve developed his theology as much as he did if he hadn’t had to defend himself against the Pope and Cardinals.

But he did develop it. Luther was generally pretty happy with the forms of the Mass and didn’t change much there. The medieval Church served the Mass in two ways – the wealthy got bread and wine; the peasants only got bread. This was a cost-cutting device: bread is cheap, wine is expensive. They justified it by pointing out that there is blood in flesh, so the bread contained the wine. They also had the doctrine of transubstantiation, which meant that the bread and wine were literally changed into the body and blood of Jesus, though they still looked, tasted and in every way appeared to be bread and wine. Luther said that the bread and wine were bread and wine, though they did contain the real presence of Jesus in a mysterious way. He also insisted that peasants get wine with their bread.

He thought priests should be allowed to marry, that scholastic debates about how many angels could dance on the point if a pin were useless, that the Bible should be translated into the vernacular so everyone could read it, and that the clergy should make some attempt to lead moral lives as an example to their congregations. This all seems pretty reasonable to us now, and none of it was new – other people had floated the same opinions. The new idea that Luther brought was that good works don’t matter – that is, you can’t earn salvation. This was a dangerous idea because the Church had gotten pretty fat on the idea that people had to do good works to avoid Hell and shorten their time in Purgatory. Obviously, the Church had the say in what exactly “good works” were, and they made sure that everybody knew that giving money to them was a very good work. It was actually called the “holy trade”. Rich people could buy indulgences in advance, so they were pre-forgiven for sins they hadn’t committed yet, but intended to.

Luther asserted that salvation, or justification, was an unearned gift of God, and he supported his position with Scripture. There was absolutely nothing, he said, that any human being could do to earn justification. That’s why Jesus was born, lived and was crucified – to do what people could not do. Through Him, the human race was saved – and only through Him. That meant that one could never give a farthing to the Church and still get to Heaven. This is the defining belief of the ELCA.

The Lutheran tradition has not remained unchanged for the past five centuries. The most radical developments have happened in the past fifty years – the time period when all the major Christian denominations have had to face up to their sexism, homophobia and racism. Different denominations have taken different positions, and some – including the ELCA – have been split by disagreement.

The ELCA welcomes everyone. We ordain women and LGBTQ members. I can’t imagine that Martin Luther would’ve been cool with that. The letters of Paul refer to female leaders in the early church, so he might’ve been able to accept female clergy, but the entirety of LGBTQ would have horrified him, and sent him running for his Bible – which he translated into German – to point out that Paul clearly opposed “degrading passions” (Romans 1:18-32), by which he meant anything that would’ve fallen into any of the LGBTQ categories. Luther was a man of his time, and no less a sinner in desperate need of God’s grace than anybody else. He wrote some pretty awful stuff about Jews, Anabaptists and peasants who opposed their own oppression, that the ELCA has since rejected. We’re in the Lutheran tradition, but we’re followers of Jesus. And He said we should love everyone.

So, the Lutheran tradition has evolved in ways that Luther couldn’t’ve foreseen or appreciated. And some would say that the ELCA has lost the way – members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod would definitely say that – but we haven’t taken any positions that we can’t find Scripture to support.

I was talkin’ with some womenfolk earlier. One of ‘em, a lesbian, said she wanted to find a church, but hadn’t been able to shop around because all the churches are closed at the moment due to COVID19. I asked what tradition she was raised with. She said she’d gone to Catholic and Church of Christ services at various points, but had felt like she wasn’t totally welcome. I was so glad I could tell her that my church was “sorta like Catholic”, and that her lesbianity wouldn’t be a problem. I said I’d be glad to take her to church when they open it back up. She said she wanted to go.

I’m starting to stray into the “C” of ELCA, which I don’t want to do yet. Lemme back up and finish the “L” part. Luther loved music. Here’s a song that he probably wouldn’t’ve enjoyed, but I love it:

Luther’s big premise was that Christians are freed from the Law of Moses, that we are saved by grace alone. He got that from Paul, who goes on and on about it – the only point of Law that Paul holds onto is the Levitican prohibition against homosexuality, which seems a little more like homophobia than logic to me. The ELCA holds onto the freedom part. We also look to the Bible as the authority on anything – but we follow Jesus’ instruction t obey the spirit over the letter. Our Bible is Christ-centered. That means we read everything as related to Jesus, even the old Testament. We use Luther’s Catechism and Small Catechism. We eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. It’s true that we’re still a very white church, but we’ve made some little effort to attract people of color.

We’re all about that grace.

ELCA: Evangelical

This is the first part of a four-part series in which I’ma ramble on about the four nouns in the name of the denomination to which I belong: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Evangelical comes to us from the Greek and it means “good news” or “proclaiming the good news” or something like that. The “good news” in this case is that God, through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, liberated us from sin and death. That’s what it means.

It does not mean that we adhere to any kind of political position. This is a thing I can easily get het up about because it seems so very simple and obvious and I know from experience that no matter how much I explain to people that the good news of Christianity ain’t got nothin’ to do with being a Trump supporter, they will continue to believe that Christians hate gays and want to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s such a wrong idea, and so deeply entrenched, that I kinda have to suspect that some sort of very powerful and evil force is behind it. That’s right, I’m talkin’ ‘bout Satan.

This is where the liberal humanists roll their eyes.

Satan is the pervading force in the world that opposes the love and peace of God. Satan can be depicted as a red guy with horns and goat legs, but that isn’t necessary. Satan is a way of referring to something very complicated and impossible to put into words. In this case, Satan can be said to be the force behind the utter perversion of the word “evangelical”. The human agents are (A) the people who started referring to themselves as “evangelical” and who then started linking that word to their own political opinions as if they automatically went together; and (B) the people in the media who reported on the political actions of (A), reinforcing the association of “evangelical” with homophobia and the NRA. It’s not accurate. But it’s so firmly entrenched that there are folks in the ELCA who think we should drop the “evangelical” from our name, which I think is giving up ground. I always oppose giving up ground. I think the ELCA should double down on the word “evangelical”. Like we should launch a full-on campaign to take that word back. It’s a good word and should not be given up to Satan.

I wonder if I should explain where I stand on the main political points associated with “evangelical”. Sure, why not.

Abortion: I am pro-life and pro-choice. I think terminating a pregnancy is a sad and serious thing and I would prefer to live in a world where it didn’t happen. The way to achieve that is absolutely not to overturn Roe v. Wade. Prohibition does not work. Making abortion illegal would do as much to end abortion as the criminalization of marijuana prevents people from smoking pot, which is not at all, though it does create a black market. You want to give the Mafia a massive revenue stream? Overturn Roe v. Wade. You want to decrease the number of pregnancies that get terminated? Change the conditions which cause women to terminate pregnancies. That means provide access to birth control, eliminate poverty, completely overhaul how people think about sex, and accept that some things can’t be controlled: there will still be abortions. All of that is hard work, which is why most people won’t even consider it, but that’s what would decrease the number of abortions.

For as long as the fight centers on Roe v. Wade, no progress can be made. It’s a stalemate. The way to move forward is to secure the right to safe, legal abortion and then address the other issues.

Guns: I have a gun. It’s a .410-.22 over-and-under that my grandfather gave to my father who gave it to me. I’ve fired it a few times, but I’m not a hunter and shooting isn’t so much fun that I want to spend the money on ammo. I have a lot of relatives who hunt. I also have a few who are stockpiling guns and ammo for the right-wing revolution. I’m in favor of what are called “common sense” restrictions on access to guns, but, like with abortion, I don’t think the law can be written that will solve this one. There are underlying causes that would have to be addressed to make any progress toward solving America’s problem with gun violence and I don’t see it happening soon. I don’t even know where to start. Actually, I do – promoting the kind of compassion and loving kindness that Jesus taught – proclaiming the good news – is the first thing. Other issues would have to do with the glorification of violence in the media, toxic masculinity, racism, alienation and hopelessness. You might notice I didn’t mention mental illness. People with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, so while I certainly do think America could do a whole lot better with mental illness and the people who have it, I don’t see it being related to guns.

LGBTQ+: Hello! Trans-lesbian here. The ELCA has a very good statement on this issue. I have never understood why anybody would care what other people do sexually or romantically or who they do it with. Obviously, I’m for consent, which means the ability to give full, informed consent, so don’t touch children, people who have profound intellectual disability, or anybody impaired by alcohol or drugs, but otherwise, do what ya want. As long as you ain’t hurting nobody why would I care? And I’d like very much if you did the same unto me.

There has to be a lot of acceptance here, because people have different comfort levels. Some people are bothered when they see two men holding hands for example. I, personally, don’t like public displays of affection no matter who the people are. I don’t mind hand-holding, but I don’t wanna see anybody making out in public. It’s gross. If I can accept that people will do it whether I like it or not, then other people can accept two men holding hands.

Is homosexuality a sin? That’s above my pay grade. Either way, all human beings sin and all are redeemed by grace. God came to earth and made that happen.

Death penalty: ya know, I feel like I’ve established a pattern. I’m sure that all the political positions associated with the word “evangelical” are straw dogs that block us from addressing the actual issues. By the time anybody gets to the point where the death penalty would come up in conversation, the damage has been done. It’s too late. Fix the conditions that lead to abortions and gun violence and the death penalty ceases to be an issue.

History shows us that government won’t solve our problems. As a politically engaged Christian, all I can do is vote for whoever is gonna make things less worse.

The good news: a better life is possible. When I lean into God, I am able to let go of the conditions that cause me to have anger, guilt, anxiety and fear. I can accept that I am a child of God, that I am loved and worthy of love. I don’t need material wealth, status symbols, power over others or any other false idols. I don’t have to become something else or buy a product to become happy. I don’t have to do anything, but I want to – I want to address the needs of the poor, comfort the distressed and generally relieve people of their suffering. Not because doing such will get me into Heaven – my ticket is bought and paid for – but because I have been lifted out of Hell and I want to help others.

At this writing, there is a global pandemic – coronavirus/COVID19 – in full force. People are isolated in their homes. Fear is widespread. The expectation is that tens of thousands will die in the USA – perhaps millions worldwide. In the midst of this, I volunteered to serve at the local, low-barrier homeless shelter. In return for showing up and hanging out, I received a wonderful sense of purpose and usefulness and a new appreciation for what I have. It was so fulfilling that I volunteered again. Due to the pandemic, the shelter became unable to accept volunteers, and therefore needed to hire more staff. I applied and was hired after a ten-minute phone interview.

There is some little risk in this job, of course, but I have no fear. I have been called by God to serve the poor. I experience this service as a blessing. I would rather eat mashed potatoes with the homeless than caviar with kings. (Not saying much – I don’t like caviar.) I can’t imagine I’ll get COVID19, but if I do, that’s fine. I’ll pull through and then go back to the shelter to help.

God has given me a new understanding, a new perception of reality. God has shown me how I can experience abundance in any circumstance, love other people, feel satisfied and happy, and absolutely free from fear. This is available to anyone and everyone.

That is the good news.

Another Bruised Violet

A post or two ago I wrote about an exchange I had with someone – ghost305 – in the comments section under a Babes In Toyland video. I thought that was the end of it, but today, when I went out to poach internet because I can’t afford to have it at the house, she – I’m guessing ghost305 is a “she” – had responded, so then I responded again. So now I’m writing this and tomorrow I’ll go find a coffee shop that’s open and post it. And I’ll invite ghost305 to come to this site because it seems weird that we’re hashing things out under a video.

First, I’m so used to the “comments” section being the place for trolls to pick fights that I just assumed that’s what ghost305 was doing. I may’ve been mistaken.

Next, I am a confused mass of contradictory elements and identities. It all seems to fit together in my head when I’m home with nobody but the orange kitten, but it is dang nigh impossible to get anybody else to understand. I mean, I have the kinda body anybody would describe as “male”, but I feel like a “female”, or what I guess females feel like based on my observations. I never really gave any thought to surgically changing my body to be more like one that other people would describe as “female” because surgery would not give me the experience that I would want and that would seem worth the trouble, which would include menstruation, not that I don’t think people who do have surgery are “really” what they have surgery to become, because I do, but surgery wouldn’t give me what I would want, so I never really wanted it, although if it were possible to switch bodies with a woman who was about the same age and who wanted to be male, sorta like Freaky Friday, I would seriously consider doing that. But then again, that would still be, in some way, reacting to the society I live in – and that is what I would want to change. I genuinely hate the pigeonhole I get put in when people see me as a white male of a certain age (50). And I’m just as likely to be stereotyped by young people who know all about diversity and make a big production of displaying how open-minded they are as anybody. Actually, those are the people who do it the most. There is definitely a reason I enjoy hanging out with lesbians who grew up in the rural south with PTSD and anxiety disorders. Them’s my people. (I got to hang out with Katy and Tori t’other day and we agreed that cranky old rednecks who cuss about everything are a lot easier to get along with than politically correct college kids.) So, yes, I would prefer to have the wider hips, boobs and internal organs of a woman, but it isn’t that problematic for me. I accept the body I have – the specifically male parts and the weak chin and the extra wide feet. It’s a good body. It allows me to do a lot of fun stuff and my immune system is so strong that I ain’t worried about COVID19 or COVID20 or any of the COVIDs.

I just don’t like the assumptions. I think one reason none of my relationships lasted is that the women I got involved with expected a man. I know that I frequently found myself feeling like none of them understood me, that they were treating me like someone I wasn’t. I see that I failed to communicate who I was. That certainly had something to do with how I was socialized, because I was raised to be male and taught to act a certain way and it’s been a long slog unlearning that.

Of course, all this about my confus(ing/ed) gender identity is just part of the picture. There’s also the alcoholism, the traumatic childhood, the abusive relationships, the various mental disorders, and the fact that the society I live in is all fuct up. All this mess swirls around in my brain and I kinda get it because I’m used to it and I know all the backstory, but communicating it to anybody is such a daunting task that I don’t even want to try. The kitten doesn’t care.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I’m also a Christian, of the Lutheran persuasion, but I wouldn’t be one of those if God hadn’t specifically told me to become a Lutheran minister, which shows how little I know because the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is definitely the spiritual home that I was looking for for twenty years and didn’t even know it. It seems really easy to be a Christian with all those other things. I find it really easy to just lean into the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and ignore what the politically correct college kids I used to work with think a Christian is. Actually, there’s a whole heckuva lotta people whose idea of what a Christian is differs wildly from my own – and a lot of them are Christians. It’d be fine for me to just show up to church, get my bread and grape juice and go about my business, but there’s that thing about becoming a minister. I’ma have to learn how to communicate with people to do that.

I did another volunteer overnight gig with the local low-barrier homeless shelter t’other night. This time, the shelter was located in the dining hall at a Brethren church in Briery Branch, which is the corner of the county where they still make moonshine the old fashioned way. There’s a lot of good hiking spots down there. I really like being part of the shelter system. I’m hoping to get hired on when they start hiring again. The homeless are easy to get along with. I have a little more trouble conversating with the other volunteers who generally seem like “normal” church people. Ya know what I mean. The kind of minister I’m headed toward is “deacon” as opposed to “pastor”, which, in the ELCA, means I’d be ministering to people in the world, as opposed to in the church. Deacons and pastors minister to people anywhere, of course, but generally the person you see up at the front of the church on Sunday, preaching and proclaiming forgiveness, is a pastor. I’m not really interested in doing that. On Sunday morning, I’d rather sit in a pew and take it in. What I wanna do is serve people in the world, especially the people who generally get the shit end of the stick, which from where I’m sitting looks like alcoholics, addicts, people with mental disorders – all of whom make up a large percentage of the homeless – and the LGBTQ+ community – who are disproportionately represented among the homeless – so working with the homeless is a really good place for me to get experience and make connections. When I say “serve” I mean provide them with food, shelter, clothing and a bit of dignity. I’d be happy to talk with any of ‘em about how I got clean and sober, how I found ways to deal with the troublesome things my brain tells me occasionally, and how much peace and joy I get from having a relationship with God, but I don’t feel like I have to change them. That was a problem back when I was getting my Associates degree and doing internships – I really wanted to change people and was bummed when I couldn’t.

Jesus said “Care for the poor”. He did not say “Care for thepoor and convince them that they should change in the same way you changed so they become what you think they should be.” And that’s what I was trying to do. I no longer have that problem. Now I’m happy just caring for the poor, talking with ‘em a bit, and going outside to smoke.

I was gonna write more in response to ghost305 and then I started free associating. Hm. I guess that’s fine. The reason she and me got off to a bad start is that I said something and she doesn’t know me so she took it the way she did based on her assumptions and then I did about the same thing right back at her. The solution seems to be to kick out the assumptions and get real. As I said, I’d rather live in a world where everybody did that all the time, including me.

What else would I tell her? I use “Luther” because I’m Lutheran. “Von Wolfen” means “of wolves” or “from wolves”, a reference to being metaphorically raised by wolves and taking on some of their characteristics, which I’m currently sussing out and letting go. I have the typical punk rock attitude about “selling out” and I learned a long time ago to spot one before it happened, which is why I saw Hole going in a direction I wasn’t gonna like when I heard their first full-length. I did like L7 for their guitar noise and throaty vocals, at first. Their lyrics were too dumb to really keep my attention and they got up to some really gross shit later. I haven’t loved everything Kathleen Hanna did after Bikini Kill, but I don’t think she betrayed the spirit of Riot Grrrl or anything. Team Dresch contributed to the Butchies who are good, though not as much for me as Team Dresch. 7 Year Bitch took some hard blows, and I don’t know what they’re up to these days. Babes In Toyland have been on and off since the 90’s, and Kat Bjelland is also the front for Katastrophy Wife. I’m a huge fan of Kat’s voice which I tried to describe to Katy and Tori as “a female Tom Waits screaming bloody murder and giving full throttle to everything that misogynists hate about women’s voices” or something like that. She’s deep, raspy, shrieking, shrill, incoherent and terrifying like some kinda warty, one-eyed banshee hag with teeth in her bloody vagina. I fuckin’ love that voice.

Yes, intersectional feminism is very complex and requires nuanced and thoughtful actions, but occasionally I just wanna hear an angry female shred her vocal cords. And I totally envy her ability to just let it go – even to embrace the awfulness, like on the Babes’ cover of “All By Myself”. My own bad singing voice was another reason for my parents to belittle me when I was little and I have not yet gotten over it enough to sing as freely and badly as Bjelland does there. I was not surprised to read that she’s schizo-affective. Also, she’s hot. I really dig those eyes.

See – there are people who would be offended that I said she was “hot”. As if feminism meant I couldn’t acknowledge that I find Kat Bjelland very pleasant to look at. There are other people who would say that a Christian shouldn’t say such things. I find both positions ridiculous. I wasn’t objectifying Ms. Bjelland or reducing her to nothing but her appearance. God knows that I find women attractive and I don’t think He minds if I mention it – ain’t like I went off on a big rant about her body like I did about her voice. If I did sin, well, He knows I’m going to. That’s been taken care of.

Okay. I’ma go read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Maybe the kitten wants to play fetch.

Bless you, too.