Why the Nashville Statement is fundamentally problematic.

This morning I happened upon John Piper’s introduction to the “Nashville Statement“. Apparently leaders within the Evangelical community found it pertinent to reintroduce, in a sense, what they describe as God’s view of human sexuality. Unsurprisingly, this supposed manifesto takes umbrage with any form of human sexuality that is not explicitly heterosexual, monogamous, and within the confines of marriage.

Never mind the reality that society is still painfully short of granting everyone respect, personal agency, and equality. The Nashville Statement is reckless and tone-deaf, intimating that mainstream Christian views are somehow ‘under attack’ while proclaiming that those that don’t adhere to them are ruining humanity. This is a bigoted declaration that, while saying nothing new, aims to control people and assert a particular view of Christianity as morally superior.

What’s laughable, if not terrifying, is the reality that they even wrote this dumpster fire of a document concerning “sexual purity” when many of its creators voted for Trump. To persistently defend and continue to support an individual that literally bragged about being a sexual predator (I’m looking at you, Tony Perkins!) is bad enough. But then to publish some obscene rhetoric that purports to know the magical truth of what human sexuality is, self-proclaim the authority of knowing God’s vision for humanity, and attempt to control how others live their life? It’s dreadfully hypocritical.

This whole episode angers me for many reasons, despite the fact that it is nothing new or surprising. No one is threatening the way of life of mainstream Christianity. To pretend the faith is threatened creates a false notion of victim-hood, when the truth is that criticizing Christianity where it attempts to discriminate others is an important practice. Free speech, while permitting us to speak our minds, does not allow us to intimidate, condemn, or control others. The notion that Christianity is under attack has no basis in reality; instead, it’s a reactionary ploy because Christian rhetoric is no longer blindly accepted and adhered to at-large in the public square.

That’s not to say Christians aren’t entitled to speak their minds about their faith. That’s perfectly acceptable, even as I (and others) have the freedom to lament such speech when it is abominable and discriminatory. What’s unjustifiable, however, is to attempt to legislate the lives of others based on your values and beliefs. To discriminate under the guise of religious authority is terrifying, yet it remains a tactic that works with overwhelming success.

When Christian doctrine concerning sexuality is publicly criticized, apologists will often insist a couple of things:

  1. Folks like me who clamor for tolerance are intolerant of their beliefs.
  2. Society permitting individuals to marry any consenting adult they please, and allowing people to determine for themselves their sex/gender identity, is an infringement upon one’s right to practice their faith.

I’ll tackle these in order. First, I’m not intolerant for criticizing one’s beliefs when they contradict the notion of equality. As I stated above, people are entitled to maintain whatever beliefs they choose, inasmuch as they do not prohibit or affect the lives of others. But tolerance, by nature, must be intolerant of intolerance.

Secondly, no one’s life is being negatively impacted because two women can marry each other or because transgender individuals are fighting for the same rights and agency as everyone else. Obsessing with how others choose to live their lives, when it has absolutely no effect on your own life, is an awkward exercise to undertake. More awkward still is claiming that your values and way of life is threatened because others aren’t living just like you.

You are allowed to go to whatever Church you choose; to proclaim whatever belief you have concerning marriage; to state your beliefs regarding the concept of heaven/hell and who’s going where; to celebrate holidays that remain meaningful to your faith tradition. You know what you don’t get to do? Claim discrimination if you maintain intolerant views that are criticized or claim that marriage equality, transgender rights, et al. is degrading your personal life. And you especially do not get to create laws that actually discriminate against folks who believe, love, and live differently than you – and then pretend America is a great nation that promotes equality.

I suspect there will be conservative Christian leaders in the future that re-author such beliefs, maintaining fervently that they aren’t discriminatory, but simply echoing ‘God’s will’. If condemning others that refuse to live and play by your rules is ‘God’s will’, you can have that god. I’ll be over here trying to figure out what it means to love and live in community with those your faith rejects, no matter how many times I find I’m still a work in progress.

 

 

 

 

In Defense of Lebron.

I’m writing this as someone that has what could generously be called a casual relationship with the NBA. Admittedly, this may dampen my argument – in the sense that my knowledge of the league and appreciation for its history is lacking. Conversely, that I feel compelled to participate in this discussion is telling. Hatred for Lebron lacks merit and falls quite short of being convincing. That hatred is what I wish to argue against. 


I graduated high school in 2003, the same year as Lebron. I feel a connection of sorts to him because of that. I remember first seeing highlights of him my junior year when he suddenly became the can’t-miss future of basketball. I was intrigued, knowing I would be following his career as we both aged. And even though I erroneously claimed Darko Milicic (oops!) would be the best player in that draft, and while I distinctly remember wanting to see Dirk win a title over the Heat (and the same with Durant with OKC), I’ve always felt an appreciation for Lebron. The passionate disdain for Lebron that has built over the years, then, has seemed to me to be both puzzling and unjustified.

I could be wrong, but ‘The Decision’ is typically the starting point for arguments against Lebron. Indeed, that was a circus; a laughable idea that clearly flexed Lebron’s self-importance. And yes, ‘The Decision’ doubled as the creation of a superstar team in hopes of winning a title. (I get he recently claimed he never played for a super team, which was an awkward claim.) There’s also the oft-quoted “taking my talents to South Beach” gaffe. There’s the reality that the Cavs were ill-informed of his decision. In short, it was a poorly played out program that deserved ridicule. While I readily admit all of the above, I find it lazy to stake the foundation of why one doesn’t like Lebron on ‘The Decision’.

First off, not only was this an event that occurred 7 years ago, it has since been nullified by his return to Cleveland, culminating in the 2016 Championship over the greatest regular season team (record-wise) in NBA history. Secondly, it was a charity event that raised $2.5 million for the Boys & Girls Club, with additional monies doled out to other charities. This in no way salvages ‘The Decision’; rather, it enhances the reality that it wasn’t purely selfish and therefore entirely regrettable.

I’ve heard some express their hatred simply because he left Cleveland when he became a free agent, with ‘The Decision’ being the icing on the cake. Simply put: I despise these types of arguments in every form. The notion that athletes are somehow selfish or assholes when they leave one team for another in free agency is absurd and indefensible. Yes, it’s legitimate to feel frustrated or bitter when an athlete leaves your favorite team. But here’s the dirty secret: Athletes owe fans precisely nothing when it comes to making a decision about their future. To think they do objectifies them as merely an entertainer and not a person, rendering the person feeling betrayed as someone who desires to remove agency from athletes. The rules and regulations regarding player contracts are already dubious (at best). So to think someone should be permanently confined to your team because, well, said team drafted them? It’s an outrageous claim.
It’s also highly hypocritical. Case in point: a few weeks back I was serving a table with four middle-aged men, and they were discussing their careers. One of them had announced to the others that he was leaving the start-up company he was with for [enter big-time corporate company] due to the raise in salary, benefits, etc. He expressed this freely, confidently, and with pride – certainly feelings that one might have when such a career change occurs. Not two minutes later, when the conversation switched to baseball, he exclaimed self-righteous disgust that, after 2018, Bryce Harper is going to “sell-out” by leaving the Nationals for the highest bidder. His buddies, who just congratulated him for his career move, supported his claim that Bryce Harper is selling out. This type of fandom is tone-deaf, inexcusable, and irresponsible. Players owe us nothing when deciding what’s best for them, their families, and their careers.

Ancillary to all this is the inherent praise that we blindly give to entertainers – not the least of which is athletes. We desire these folks to be perfect, as if their elevated performance as athletes also means they are humans without character flaws. So we create a hero, for no particular reason, then become appalled when they turn out to be imperfect. Bill James encapsulates this well –

The last argument I want to explore centers around Lebron’s place in NBA history. The immediate question raised is whether or not he belongs in the GOAT discussion. (Hint – I think he does!) And while this argument seems to be more straight-forward, even while remaining nuanced, to disagree where Lebron ranks in the history of the sport is hardly a reason to hate him. I imagine people get defensive when considering Lebron’s status because he came so closely on the heels of Jordan’s career that folks are immediately apologetic toward the almost universally considered GOAT. They can’t fathom another player being better, so no matter what, there can’t be a better player. It’s an emotional argument that feeds off of subjectivity and nostalgia. I can’t necessarily fault people (to an extent) for this, but that hardly makes it fair toward Lebron.

Sports fans love numbers. Greater still, they love Champions. So when comparing Jordan’s championships (6) to Lebron’s (3), there is the claim that Lebron can’t be considered the GOAT, period. But while this is a telling stat, it’s not an end-all. If it were, Bill Russell (13) would be undoubtedly thought of as the GOAT. Hell, Robert Horry (7) – a fine player with an incredible post-season career – would be in the discussion alongside Jordan. Should team championships be considered as a measure of an individual’s greatness? Yes. But as a stand alone it remains impotent.

A better comparison would be the NBA’s version of advanced metrics. Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), a stat that attempts to measure a player’s overall contributions, is a much more telling stat than championships. (Quick aside, VORP has a major limitation in that it can’t be measured before 1972.) While imperfect, it applies the whole of an individual’s performance, and therefore carries significant weight. Before writing this, I had not looked up VORP leaders, either seasonally or for entire careers. Concerning MJ and Lebron, here are the numbers:

  • Jordan led the league in VORP 7 times, all consecutive, from ’86-’87 to ’92-’93.
  • Lebron has led the league in VORP 8 times, all consecutive, from ’05-’06 to ’12-’13
  • Jordan’s peak was 11.98 in ’88-’89
  • Lebron’s peak was 11.57 in ’08-’09
  • Jordan’s career playoff VORP is 2nd all-time, at 22.85
  • Lebron’s career playoff VORP is 1st all-time, at 29.38
  • Jordan’s career regular season VORP is 2nd all-time, at 104.44
  • Lebron’s career regular season VORP is 1st all-time, at 115.94

I’m not going to claim Lebron is the GOAT. And I’m not claiming VORP is the end-all to determine who is. I’m merely pointing out that advanced metrics suggest that he belongs in the argument. I’m also suggesting that to think he doesn’t remains an incredibly weak reason to hate him.

Outside of basketball Lebron has used his voice/platform to condemn racism. He has given time/energy/money to charities, including the creation of his own Foundation, which will be opening a public school in Akron in 2018. He is far from infallible, but he’s also by all accounts the type of celebrity we should be celebrating, not hating.

I found writing this to be irresistible, not because I have some proprietary knowledge or insight, but because the type of rationale required to relentlessly hate on Lebron runs deeper than the surface argument and needs to be addressed. When we allow our emotions and predisposed beliefs to dictate what facts we consider real and shape our perception of reality, we are hurting ourselves, our communities, and this world. We create divisiveness for its own sake; we disregard the agency and rights of those we disagree with; we forego opportunities to leave this world a better place for the next generation(s). It’s not acceptable to uncritically maintain such beliefs, regardless of the topic. And while I have no particular authority whatsoever, I’m no longer willing to let the bullshit persist unchecked.

What I get wrong about Empathy.

“What if faith is just a false god’s verse?”
– Heart’s Too HeavyJohn Moreland

Empathy has long been an ideal I hold with the highest esteem. I often reflect upon my moral/ethical philosophies and daily actions to assess whether they align with this ideal. And while I attempt to make adjustments where contradictions exist, this is largely a coping mechanism to protect my perception as a decent person.

There’s a tragic irony here, and one I fear proves my faith in empathy to be false; a facade to insulate me from my hypocrisy. For in my attempt to comprehend empathy solely thru my own lens and experience(s) I’ve neglected the very nature of empathy: to identify with the perceptions and emotions of others. In some ways, it’s rather amazing I’ve failed to see this until now.

We can’t escape the impact of our own lived experience; that bias will always remain. We can, however, open ourselves up to the lived experience of others. This requires a willingness to be critiqued, to stretch beyond the comfort of ourselves. Truly seeking that connection with others will deepen our understanding of compassion and justice.

The problem remains that empathy is convenient to embrace while remaining difficult to enact. I can justify to myself, perhaps even with a sincere earnestness, that my actions employ my ideals. Yet if my only critique of myself is via my own lens? I’m simply fooling myself into believing I am pursuing empathetic qualities without grasping the lived experience of others. The ramifications of this is startlingly deep.

I have come to see this thru my personal commitment to my life partner. I have made mistakes, perhaps subconsciously, precisely because my perception of what she wants/needs, or what we’ve agreed to pursue, has been limited to my own understanding. I’m grateful that I see this now, and also recognize this aspect of empathy extends in a universal sense – beyond individual relationships. It applies, rather seamlessly, into the narrative I subscribe to in my relationship with the world.

Take, for example, my pronounced dedication to dismantling racism and misogyny. I know my belief is sincere, yet I also limit my consideration of what they are to my personal lens. This is both laughable and dangerous, as I can’t imagine realities that don’t apply to me. The absurdity of my lack of awareness shows that the danger of privilege is most notable as an insidious movement: It belies the very ideals of empathy by deceiving me into believing I comprehend something I can’t relate to.

I’ll never understand what it’s like to be judged – in daily interactions, legal realities, or societal mores – simply for what I look like. Understanding what it’s like to be oppressed is flatly impossible. I can, however, listen to others, identify how my actions/words/perceptions contribute to the structures of injustice, and push myself to become the ideals I proclaim.

Maybe empathy is, to the privileged, nothing more than a fabricated ideal. We uphold it as a virtue because it makes us feel good – not because we are actually willing to pursue it. And damn it, I’m sick of being a culprit, of creating a false god to placate my conscience.

To the Straight, White Men that didn’t Vote for Trump.

I’ll admit this up front: The last thing we need is another (white man’s) tireless perspective on the election. Yet I find myself convinced I should share this. Not because I feel I have something invaluable to offer, but because if I don’t express my feelings in an outward sense I’ll essentially render them meaningless.
Now, more than ever, do I feel convicted to partake in a radical revision of society. One that doesn’t merely recognize the existence of privilege and oppression, but one that actively subverts the former to deconstruct the latter. May such a conviction begin with an introspection I’ve far-too-long ignored.


I’m afforded the space to be outraged without fear. To be silent, only because there is no direct threat on my being. There is perhaps no place more ripe for hypocrisy, self-sustaining remarks, and meaningless gestures that “demonstrate” you’re an ally for the marginalized than right now.

White people – and, especially, white men – need to utilize their our position(s) of privilege and power to actively quell the unabashed hate crimes that are on the rise. White people need to stop pretending that passive acts of solidarity make us an ally. Unless we are willing to fight, unless we are willing to actively participate in the dismantling of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, et al., we can not and should not call ourselves allies. We are not allies simply because we are not hateful. We are only allies if we are willing to challenge the oppressive nature of our society while simultaneously listening to, learning from, and participating in community with those pushed to the margins of society.

A good friend of mine has lamented against the love always wins mantra in the face of the election. And he’s right. While this has been a(n especially theological) phrase that has been meaningful to me over the past several years, it was pointed out that: “unless it’s coupled with something more meaningful — [it] is such a vapid non-response to what’s happening.” Those most prominently displaying the love always wins mantra tend to be (anecdotally, but my experience nonetheless) white folks who, while probably disappointed and dismayed at the outcome of the election, remain entirely unaffected from the onslaught of oppressive policies that a Trump presidency represents. When you are privileged it is far too easy to witness injustice, tell yourself you are outraged, then continue on with life as normal – because you are entirely unaffected. And if you truly care, yes, some guilt might set in. But you know what? The oppressed don’t want us to feel guilty. They want us to listen – to attempt to understand their reality. And when we do, it is up to us to take ownership in our personal culpability and participate in the deconstruction of our oppressive realities.

We can bemoan the election. We can claim that since we didn’t vote for Trump ourselves, this isn’t our fault. We can blame people that actually voted Trump, or that voted third party. We can blame the DNC for pushing a candidate that no one really wanted. We can blame the outdated and erroneous electoral college for twice in our lifetime awarding the Presidency to someone that couldn’t win the popular vote. And there are millions of other reasons we can cherry-pick to placate our political dismay. The reality, however, is that this is our fault.

We have allowed hostile attitudes, words, and beliefs to exist unchecked in both our private conversations and within the public discourse. Normalizing oppression by remaining silent has allowed insidious hatred toward those not like us to mature. And it has matured into an openly-hateful-man-without-a-fucking-clue-how-to-govern to become President-elect.

White supremacy has been ingrained in the fabric of American life since its inception; its removal is daunting at best, seemingly impossible at worst. This is hardly an excuse from attempting to create change, however. In fact, this is the very reason we must commit ourselves to change if our beliefs have any muster.

In my lifetime specifically, those of us with privilege have claimed racism is dead, I’m not racist, or other vacuous nonsense. Racism, at least from within the bubbles we protect our egos with, wasn’t a direct, obvious thing. We could look back on our history with all of its (nominal) ‘progress’ and maintain that society is somehow an equal playing field relative to the past. What Trump means, however, is that what once required impressive mental gymnastics is now impossible to justify.

That Trump won the presidency is a wake-up call, indeed. Now we must confront the very issues we’ve dismissed as non-existent. We must come to accept that the recent uptick in hate crimes, that the legal protections and social programs that will (likely) be gutted is possible because of our tacit approval. In ways both passive and dismissive, we’ve ignored injustice that does not affect us while pretending America is a place everyone can succeed, if only they try. We pretend that the reality we experience and embrace is an umbrella that everyone is afforded. We cloak ourselves behind the facades of the church, our non-profit activity, our professed beliefs. We comfort ourselves because confronting the truth is terrifying.

And that’s the rub. We can comfort ourselves. We didn’t vote for him, but the damage this will inflict upon the oppressed will have utterly no impact on our personal selves. And god-forbid we actually look beyond ourselves, take stock of how absurdly stacked the deck is in our favor, and conjure up ways to participate in the fight for equality.

I don’t have any answers. And I fully accept my own responsibility for this mess. I just hope we all begin to honestly look at ourselves, our behaviors, our actions, and think critically about whether or not we are the people we tell ourselves we are.

 

A few thoughts on misogynistic language.

Last night, as Tulia and I were discussing the rampant and multifaceted realities of injustice/misogyny/white privilege (and how to combat them), she informed me of a new approach to confronting oppressive language:

Rather than branding something as offensive, identify it as something that is harmful.

While this may seem to be merely an exercise in semantics, there is an appropriate and meaningful rationale behind such rewording. In our current political and social climate, the term offensive is derided. Individuals often respond dismissively when they’re told their words are offensive – ‘your skin isn’t thick enough’, ‘you’re too PC’, etc. Conversely, the use of harmful conveys a direct and effective point. Its use identifies and calls out language that is actively negative; language that perpetuates injustice and oppression.

Take, for one example, how men mindlessly call others a “pussy”. It’s almost exclusively used to belittle and goad others for a perceived weakness, and is clearly done so in a forcefully emasculating manner. Unfortunately, calling this offensive – and, anecdotally speaking, I know this is a reality – is easily dismissed. Common retorts include “I’m just kidding!”, or “shut up and grow a pair!”. Both are dismissive, and both reinforce implied misogyny. But what might happen if someone was told their words were indeed harmful to women? Might there be an opportunity for advanced dialogue regarding real (and latent) misogyny? At the very least, it stands to reason that it would be a lot more difficult to dismiss.

To be truthful, endeavoring to confront misogyny in social settings is challenging. As someone who deftly avoids confrontation, I know this all too well. And I also recognize that this is hardly an excuse. Those of us with incalculable privilege (read: men) have a direct responsibility to confront misogyny wherever we encounter it.

Oppressive words matter. Actions, in response to oppressive words, matter even more. They either reinforce the notion that oppressive dialogue is normal and accepted, or they can confront verbal injustice, correct it, and create the space for a more just world to exist.

 

A theological dilemma.

“And if Heaven was all that was promised to me why don’t I pray for death?”
‘When My Time Comes’, Dawes

For awhile now I have felt disconnected from (what I perceived to be) my ‘natural’ theological disposition. I’m uncertain as to when this started, and I often feel debilitated because of it. Whether this was a (subconsciously) calculated decision, sheer laziness, or something else, I’m not sure – but the process of removing myself from actionable and sincere theological exploration feels like a significant departure from my being. I don’t think this is something that can be returned to thru force; I do, however, believe that I can recommit myself by confronting the spiritual apathy within me whenever I feel it.

This troubles me precisely because one’s sense of divinity directly impacts the way(s) in which they interact with the world. Belief matters – not in the sense that it defines who we are, but because it creates the space to perceive, think, and feel in a manner that has the potential to transform the individual, and therefore, the communities in which they interact.

It is important to emphasize that I’m not focused upon a traditional theological notion of right belief, i.e. maintaining a spiritual framework that is orthodox. Indeed, orthodoxy demands adherence to a certain set of beliefs in order to belong, which has all-too-often established an unbending dogma, the separation of ‘the other’, and an intolerance for questioning and doubt. Orthodoxy, while not something I would brand as inherently negative, has been insulated to the extent that in defending and protecting itself it has become inflexible and has lost touch with the world. Instead, I’m arguing (via Peter Rollins) that the transformative power of theology is embedded in believing in the right way. In other words, our beliefs aren’t focused on a binary sense of right/wrong; they challenge us to perpetually seek out ways to love others. Inasmuch as belief compels us to act with humility and grace while constantly seeking out ways to improve ourselves and the world, it is believing in the right way. Whereas the former tends to be concerned with a correct interpretation of the divine the latter is fluid, allowing the divine to transform us everywhere we encounter it.

The traditional Christian narrative – the relative theological premise here because it remains the prevailing religious declaration in our society – tends to affirm life negatively. That is, the ubiquitous Christianity we see today maintains its theological disposition as concrete and unchanging, with an unbridled focus on the after-life. Therefore, what we witness is a dangerous concern with right belief, where one’s explicit views of heaven/hell, incarnation, sexuality, biblical literalism, et al. are highlighted in a legalistic and absolute sense.

I won’t argue that orthodoxy isn’t sincere. I will, however, argue that it is often misguided and detracts from focusing on the one thing that truly matters: loving others in the here and now. To believe in the right way is to expose oneself to empathy without excuse – to change one’s perception as life experiences compel the individual to do so. This is what creates communities that believe in radical change, that insist on and fight for equality, and that breathe life into humanity in new ways.

My goal here isn’t to create a sense of right or wrong – theologically speaking, I have little concern with that. I’m only aiming to rediscover for myself the connection to the divine, so I’ll end with this:

Divinity is neither distant nor untouchable. Divinity dwells within us all.

 

 

Hey everyone, I made a crossword!

When Tulie and I first started dating she piqued my interest with solving crosswords. Because I tend to take an all-or-nothing approach to hobbies everything – if I like something I’m going to obsess over it – I quickly became addicted. We enjoy solving crosswords still today with a fair amount of frequency, and this enjoyment even led me to create a quick and easy crossword as part of my proposal. While I appreciate what I created then, it instilled in me a desire to create a real crossword, despite how impossible, maddening, and painstaking it might be.

I finally decided to try my hand at creating a crossword, from scratch, a few weeks back. I went old-school, using nothing more than graph paper, a pencil, the entire gamut of curse words my vocab could allow… and of course, Google. There are some healthy resources available for those curious about the art of constructing, and if one is so inclined, there are also computer programs that help with grid creation and the word fill after you place your themed answers. While those programs are no doubt handy (and something I may purchase in time), I take a great deal of pride having created this on my own.

Below is the crossword that I created. Despite it being a bit rudimentary as far as crosswords go, and though the theme might be lacking some, I’m ultimately quite proud of the finished product. A HUGE thank you to Tulia for sparking my interest and encouraging me to try constructing, and also to Mae for transposing my creation into a digital format.

For those interested, I plan to make constructing a hobby of mine, hopefully posting them (in)frequently here.

If you try to solve it I would love some feedback!

It’s All In The Lyrics (2-11-16)