Flogging My Art

During the COVID19 spring and early summer, I did a shitload of art. I was just banging the stuff out.

Luke 12 32

Some friends with access to a high quality scanner helped me convert analogue to digital so I could put stuff online. I spent a few days cropping and uploading to my Deviantart page.

Hate Not Have Nots

So now I’m throwing art at everybody.

7 Flowers

https://www.deviantart.com/luthervanwolfen/gallery

Fellow Travelers

Swapping emails with friends in various parts of the country, we tend to send each other links to organizations we found out about that are doing work we think has some kinda value. There are a lot of ’em – some international, some local, all of hem fellow travelers in some way. I threw together a very short list of organizations off the top of my head –

http://www.southernfriedqueerpride.com/our-vision

https://blacklivesmatter.com/

Homepage

https://extinctionrebellion.us/

https://transequality.org/

https://truecolorsunited.org/

My list shows some bias – I thought of organizations I follow or causes that are closer to home for me. There should be a lot more there. All these groups could be working together for common cause. The POC and LGBTQ groups overlap and both are disproportionately affected by poverty, all of which happens in a world that is being wrecked by climate change – well, not wrecked, but made less hospitable for people. None of the issues can be extricated from the others.

I’m all for people choosing a cause and working for it. If you feel strongly about the plight of Latvian sex workers with dyslexia in your town and you want to help them, then I support you in that endeavor. But there is a bigger picture and the reason marginalized peoples are marginalized is they/we haven’t banded together. If all the various subcategories are added up, it forms a majority. The overwhelming majority of people are not rich, white, cis-het and evil. There is no reason whatsoever for the tiny minority of super-rich assholes to dictate the conditions the rest of us must live in.

How do we make it fit together? How do alliances get formed? Recognizing common ground is the first thing. Overlooking minor differences is next. I used to work with a guy who was heavily involved in the local fight against a pipeline. I suggested he link up with Lutherans Restoring Creation, get them to send word to the Lutherans in the affected area and work together. The look on his face told me he wasn’t going to do that – I just checked his groups F’book page, their only web presence, and sure enough, there ain’t nothing there about LRC. So, two things – 1. F’book is a bad thing in itself, and a pretty useless way of reaching people, and 2. Just because you’re a cool Millennial, and therefore an atheist, is a stupid reason to avoid joining forces. We’re talking about our environment here, about whether the George Washington National Forest is going to be torn up for an oil pipeline with the potential to make all those coal slag leaks pale in comparison. (If you don’t live downstream from coal, add that to your list of things to be grateful for.) There’s no good reason a bunch of hippies can’t work with some liberal Lutherans.

Frustrating, yes, but I have so much hope right now. The Black Lives Matter movement is knocking down statues all over. Juneteenth is a thing even white people know about now. (I heard an African-American historian on NPR taking about Juneteenth and pointing out that A) the slaves in Texas who were liberated on 19 June 1865 were not the last people of color held in slavery in the USA, B) the last slaves to be freed were in states that didn’t secede from he Union and C) the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t intended to free all the slaves. Those are verifiable facts and so what? The USA wasn’t founded on 4 July 1776, either. Jesus wasn’t born on 25 December 1. Juneteenth is a holiday that recognizes an important event. The exact date doesn’t signify.)

So many people are up in arms. So much is in motion. I’ve felt like Cassandra for decades – seeing what it seemed like no one else saw. Now I see action. I see …shit, something I’ve never seen. Boomers might liken it to the movements of the 60’s, which I will bite back about. The popular notion of 1960’s radicalism is a bunch of white kids smoking weed and listening to Jefferson Airplane while giving each other the clap. That didn’t work out well. People of color made some progress in the 60’s, but white hippies did fuck all. I’m glad the present moment can learn from their failures – and that many organizations are not being led by them. We need marginalized leaders – people who know what the fuck they’re on about. (Which is why I won’t. I might be a neurodivergent trans-lesbian, but I look a lot like a straight, white male, and nobody needs one of them in charge.)(Also, I’m not really a leader-type.)

Where is this going? I don’t know. Fellow travelers working together. Intersectional solidarity. There has to be a way of connecting it all together.

Cautiously Optimistic

The end of my adult degree program looms. I’ve got a huge paper to write – the capstone project, which is bullshit, but which I’ll knock something together that will pass. COVID19 forced all classes to go completely on line, which makes things a bit easier – it’s more obvious that any token participation is good enough – but eliminates the human interactions which made things more interesting. On some level, it’s always been a token degree for me – I just need a Bachelors to tick a box so I can go to seminary. I’m sure I’ll use some of what I was obligated to learn in some way, but the overwhelming majority of it is twaddle that will never matter to me. A lot of it is twaddle that I wish didn’t matter to anyone, but I don’t get to decide the conditions that many people will squander their precious lives under.

I was planning on going straight from one college to the next – finishing the Bachelors in August and immediately starting seminary. That ain’t happening. Eighteen months of working more than full-time and being a college student, on top of simply living in the current collapse of what passed for western civilization, has begun to be tiring. I need some time to just relax and maybe cut down to forty hours a week. At this exact moment, I’m unemployed – I interviewed at an agency where I’d be doing peer support, working with crazy alcoholics and traumatized addicts, my kind of people. I’m immensely qualified and have a raft of references, but those things don’t always matter. They’re taking their dang time with the process, which creates an opportunity for me to get impatient and stressed. I’m trying not to take the bait. I was qualified for this job four months ago, when they weren’t hiring, and I was provided with an opportunity to work at the shelter, which gave me an income as well as more experience working with the population I want to serve. If I somehow don’t get this peer support job, I’ve no doubt it’s because God has something else lined up.

I gotta remember to tell the candidacy committee I’ma take a break from education. Hopefully, I’ll still get to meet with the committee in August to get the official green light on my road to ministry, a thing which should’ve happened by now, but the pandemic got in the way. I also gotta figure out what seminary I’m going to and get those ducks in a row. Of course, seminaries gotta figure out how they’re going to handle the new reality. And there’s the whole thing of riots and armed militias in the streets, the destruction of democracy from the top, and what may be a much needed re-structuring of the whole American experiment. It’s kinda impossible to really plan ahead.

I’m finally getting internet at the house. The guy is coming today to hook things up and get it going. I expect I’ll be doing more of this thing when I can just post stuff from the comfort of my red sofa. Prob’ly spend more time looking at gifs of cats and whatever other uselessness the internet has to offer. But it has to be done. Access is important.

And I am quite cautiously optimistic about the moment we’re currently struggling through. The possibility exists that things could improve, that we could come out the other side of this shitstorm and find ourselves living a more just, less overtly racist, society. A bunch of unnecessary dumbness will occur, and a lot of people will get hurt, but that’s hardly a change. Most of the revisionist history I’m hearing on the radio is as wrong as the old status quo, but occasionally somebody points out that history is a lot more complicated than it’s usually presented, and the end result will be more egalitarian. (Example: during the recent Juneteenth jubilee, I heard an African-American woman on NPR acknowledge that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves, that the slaves freed in Texas on 19 June, 1863, which has been commemorated as Juneteenth, were not the last people held in chattel slavery in USA, that the last slave states were not part of the Confederacy, all historically verifiable truths which complicate the narrative. I’m waiting for someone to realize that the Union generals who defeated the evil, racist South then went west to lead the genocide of Native Americans.)

I got NPR on right now. There’s a story coming up about how white evangelicals in America corrupted Christianity. Damn straight. The message of Christ is so polluted and twisted in this country, it’s no wonder so many people of conscience believe His church can’t be redeemed. I used to be one of those. Now I see that Christ’s church just can’t be redeemed by people. He is certainly capable of pulling His church out of the ditch.

How will I be part of that? I’m called to minister to the poor, marginalized, crazy, chemically dependent and unattractive. I’ll do that, in whatever capacity He assigns to me.

p.s. Later, after I got the internet hooked up, I got an email informing that the selection committee found a better candidate for the job I was after. So that’s a kick in the teeth. I remain cautiously optimistic. God has something for me.

OT

What a strange time. 2020 could easily be written up like an Old Testament minor prophet rant about the general sinfulness of the people and the inevitable, and deserved, wrath of God. The fact that us post-modern, liberal Christians don’t feel as comfortable as we’d like when we accidentally open the Bible to Lamentations or Amos doesn’t invalidate those litanies of harsh judgment – though we don’t have to take them the same way they’ve been taken in the past. They don’t have to be read as God getting pissed off and delivering a beat-down to His chosen people for the nth time. The writers of the OT were using a form of narrative that made sense to them, which seems a bit unfair to many folks now. They attributed emotions to God that might not have been accurate based on their perspective and understanding. We have more information than they had – specifically, the New Testament, and a different understanding of causality.

God didn’t cause COVID19. We did. Our interactions with the world God made created the conditions for this particular coronavirus to develop and spread, and our systems of social injustice ensured that specific populations would be hit harder than others. Those harder hit groups are harder hit because they’ve been on the shit end of centuries of injustice, and apparently, they’re not happy about it. None of that is God suddenly kirking out and punishing everybody for the sins of a few. All of that is the collective chickens coming home to roost.

God provided clear and concise instructions for how people should live. People have consistently ignored that good advice. Our refusal to follow directions has created the shitstorm that we are currently enjoying.

Personally, though I am certainly bothered about the specific individuals who are suffering right now, I can easily see how this moment of sturm und drang could lead to something better. Racism, the great and enduring sin of the USA, has come bubbling up again, this time within the context of a pandemic which has caused widespread fear and financial insecurity. We have an opportunity to address our collective guilt, to do something deep and meaningful – as opposed to the half-assed bandaid-on-a-bullet-wound bullshit that’s been done in the past – to dig in and look hard, to admit our own part in the oppression and disenfranchisement of people of color. (The fact that you and me are good little progressives who aren’t racist don’t mean a thing. We’re part of it.) From where I sit, systemic racism in America is directly related to capitalism – I’m a “no war but the class war” radical at heart. People of color are oppressed using the tools of capitalism, shut out of economic security, forced into poverty at higher rates than white people. The fact that some white people are also poor doesn’t change that fact. Eliminating racism completely – if one could wave a magic wand and make it go away – would just shift the oppression to a more racially diverse group, which might be more fair, but not right.

The system has to change. Really change. Little fixes have been tried and have failed. The inevitable result of pruning the branches of the tree of evil is another generation rioting and demanding change.

Capitalism is based on the love of money. It creates poverty because it has to. If some people aren’t poor, capitalism can’t work. If most people aren’t constantly trying to better themselves at the expense of their neighbors, capitalism can’t work. The idea that capitalism can be tweaked to raise all boats is inherently flawed – as should be obvious by now. Shit, the fucking boat metaphor doesn’t even hold – most of us don’t have boats. That whole concept is just a modern version of “let them eat cake”.

This moment, this right now, is a harsh and ugly moment. People are wailing in anguish. Cities are burning. There’s a disturbance in the Force. This has to be. Statues and institutions have to be torn down. There will be blood.

We who wish for a better world, the kind of world Christ described as the Kingdom of the Father, should mourn those who have died to set the stage. We should support those who are fighting – if we can’t actually join them – and bind the wounds of those who are hurt. We should stop defending our egos and get to work.

God tells us to care for the poor. God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. God tells us to give without concern for what we might receive.

– Racism must be rooted out. Every one of us has been affected by it. Everyone of us has integrated some of it. We must look within ourselves, admit our fault, and then do the work to get rid of it. The rallying cry right now is “Black lives matter”. We should affirm that truth and carry that banner, while knowing that brown, red and yellow lives also matter. Ending racism must mean ending all racism.

– All marginalized people should be lifted up. All. That means all. The fact that some people don’t live as we might like them to doesn’t matter. No one who claims to follow Christ can justify not working to lift up the LGBTQ community. No one who claims to follow Christ can say they don’t have to help sex workers because it’s immoral. No one who claims to follow Christ can ignore drug addiction on the grounds that “they brought it on themselves”. No one who claims to follow Christ can pretend the prison system is acceptable.

– Capitalism has had time to work. It doesn’t. As much as I would like to immediately live in a society based on the early church, I know that isn’t realistic. But that should be the goal. We should do all we can to alleviate the suffering of the poor now, while also working toward a better system. Northern European social democracy looks best to me, but I’m open to ideas.

– Health care and basic income for all.

– Freedom of religion and from religion. Those who do not worship as we do, or who don’t worship at all, are children of God and should be treated so. It is right and good that we announce the Good News, but we are not excused from helping those who reject it. We can’t change hearts. God can. If He chooses not to work through some individuals, that is His will.

The way of Christ is not easy. He told us it wouldn’t be.

I am actually quite optimistic – an unusual thing for cynical me. I’ve never seen so much social upheaval, which means I’ve never seen so much possibility. A different world is possible, perhaps even now being born.

Opening my Bible at random, I found Habakkuk, who finishes with

Though the fig tree does not blossom,

and no fruit is on the vines;

though the produce of the olive fails,

and the fields yield no food;

though the flock is cut off

from the fold,

and there is no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will exult in the God of

my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like

the feet of a deer,

and makes me tread

upon the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Beetheism

So I work at a homeless shelter, usually on the overnight shift, which is not as interesting as the evening shift, though that ain’t a bad thing. I’m here now, sitting at the monitor desk. There’s a few people up. Not much. I started messing around on some discussion site a week or two ago, answering questions, commenting on stuff. Gradually, or not really so gradually, it started to take up more of my nights, and I found myself involved in petty, back-and-forth snits with atheists and Trump supporters and then I realized “That’s what social media does”, because I been through this already. I used to have a Facebook. I didn’t do as much with mine as a lotta people, but I did anything with it at all, which means it had some negative impact. So I deleted the account and never regretted it. I am slightly happier and have more peace because I quit Facebook. So I’m done with that discussion site and eventually I won’t get notices that people did whatever they did. Quitting social media is like walking after you take the rock out of your shoe.

But I did find myself laying on the sofa today, not fully awake, and I thought of a metaphor for atheists and then later, in the truck, I thought of another, so I’ma present them here and then the whole sorry thing will be over.

An atheist is like a man who goes to IKEA and buys a coffee table. He takes it home, reads the instructions, and does the opposite of what the instructions say. After a while, he gets angry and sets the table parts, the instructions and the box they came in on fire. As they burn, he says “There is no Sweden.”

Again, an atheist is like a man who attends a free concert in a park – an orchestra performing symphonies by Beethoven. The man sits in the third row, wearing headphones with dubstep playing as loud as possible, so that he can’t hear the orchestra. All through the concert he tweets:

“sheeple think beetoven so great are stupid, beethoven sux #Beethovensucks #Ihatebeethoven”

“Beethoven music sounds like a deaf guy wrote #Sickburn #Beethovensucks #Deafbeethoven”

“u know who liked beethoven? Nazis liked Beethovem #Beethovenishitler #Beethovensucks”

“i’m somuch smarter than all these stupid people who beleive in beethoven #Nobeethoven”

It occurred to me later that there is even less actual proof of the existence of Beethoven than of God, so that last isn’t even silly.

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.