The Problem of Heaven

By J.C. Mitchell

    I was talking recently with someone about a novel from the 19th century that we both enjoy and felt it spoke to humanity today as it did then, which led us to say the more things change the more things stay the same.  It is both comforting and extremely frustrating, especially when it comes to stories of human drama. Why is it that we do we not learn from these stories we keep telling each other, but we are comforted by telling these stories of our human drama, and then still see them played out in the news again and again?  

If we could simply follow the ideal narrative there would be no drama, and things would be perfect.  I was asked once in all seriousness if heaven would be boring? They imagined a place of perfection (and I think harps and clouds as well), and it was a true concern for this person.  And should it not be our own concern as well?

Not that heaven would be boring, but that the idealized imagery of heaven has become something we cannot imagine on earth.  In one respect that makes perfect sense that the culture (or more traditionally “kingdom”) of God cannot be imagined in our world, as we are working to bring this reality of the Divine to Earth, but I think we need to be able to imagine  like the writer of Revelation wrote,  

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)

The writer included the images of a city and of marriage, both are filled with stories and many are messy, the stuff that makes good movies and novels.  It is the stuff of life that is included in his imagery of the new heaven and earth we are all working and waiting for.  

This is important: if we truly pray as we are taught and we say, “On earth as it is in heaven” we must understand how our current imagery is a problem. 

It is less about the afterlife whenever we talk eschatology (heaven, hell, and end times), but it is about our life now, so when we think that heaven is unattainable we hear excuses for not working on solving problems for the environment, poverty, race, disability--because there isn’t anything we think we can do that will insure success.  Thus we do not work on these things because we cannot imagine heaven on earth, with all its human drama. 

Heaven must include all our stories, written and unwritten, of human drama, and most stories do uphold redemption and salvation, even if the ending is not wrapped up neatly; that is how we should imagine perfection, or in other words, heaven..  

Most miracle stories I know have been messy and full of drama, but in it God is found and God’s perfection must include our stories. In order to move beyond repeating our dramatic history, let us get to work writing the hard chapters we are terrified to start…


Theology of Disability Brings Down the Roof

By J.C. Mitchell

I was on a dinner cruise with other Seattle area clergy.  Don’t ask me how it is funded or why, but it is a fun once a year event for the Baptist ministers in the area, and I am married to one of them.  Sure enough, I am often asked what I do, and I explain my passion of including everyone in the church no matter their ability.  That at Open Gathering we truly live out the hard welcome.

I will inevitably say that I am interested in the theology of disability, and I did so that night on the boat, and one pastor repeated it as if he never heard the term before.  I began to think of how do I answer the question of what is theology of disability.  I would suggest reading Nancy Eiesland, Amos Yong, and Thomas Reynolds to start with, along with many others, but the best place to start is with the Rabbi we call Jesus.

According to Mark 2, he was preaching and teaching in a home.  It was crowded and others brought a man on a mat who had been paralyzed.  Four of them carried him, and the scripture suggests there are more, but this group of faithful people with their friend who has a disability could not enter the home.  Please note that when Jesus told him to take up his mat later, there is no issue in vacating the house.  However, those that turned around and saw the man being carried by his friends just turned back to the lesson.  I even imagine the ones carrying their friend approached a window after the door, until one had the bright idea to climb on the roof and illegally break through the roof, to lower their friend.

Then, and even today, disabilities have been seen and interpreted as a result of sin.  It was clear that even the disciples struggled with this as they had to ask Jesus, according to John 9, about another man with a disability, “who sinned this man or his parents?” We know Jesus made it clear that his blindness was not a result of sin.  However, these questions still pop up in my reality: “What did I do to deserve cancer?”  “What did I do….?”  They may drop the word sin, but they are clinging to that theology.

So now the attention is on this man and his friends.  These friends did not believe the idea that just because their friend had ambulatory issues he should be ostracized and kept from accessing community.  They were so bold they even committed a civil disobedient act (to the point of property destruction) to create access and include everyone no matter what.

And Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5b).

How many have, historically and even today, read that as if it said, “Son I forgive your sins?”  This question assumes the idea that people with disabilities are being punished and are not whole people.  But Jesus states the observation he knows so well and saw in his friends.  He saw their faith, not in some sort of mystical magical way, but in their actions of being in community. 

There were no sins for Jesus to forgive, but he had a question for the Pharisees in the room, a question for all of us.  Which is easier, to make people not have disabilities, or to change our idea of sin?  This question is well asked by Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey, in his March 6, 2013 sermon "The WE in ME" (Mark 2:1-7)

Which is easier?  To cure the people with disability and woundedness in your midst, to just make them better?  Or to transform your inaccessible, prejudiced, limiting, stigmatizing theologies and practices.  Which is easier to do?  That’s the question.

And that is the answer to the question asked of me as well: the theology of disability is about changing our lens to include all children of God no matter their ability, or any other form of division, for God sees community and love to be our work on earth as it is in heaven. 

The Four Questions of John Dominic Crossan

By Douglas C. Sloan

New Testament authority John Dominic Crossan suggests four questions for Christians:

  1. What is the character of your God?  When you think about God, what are you imagining?
  2. What is the content of your faith?  What do you believe in?
  3. What is the function of your church?  What are you coming together for?
  4. What is the purpose of your worship?  How does God want to be worshipped? Does God simply want prayers said – or is God more interested in prayers that lead to a life?

And then of course, it goes back to, “What is the character of your God?” It is a circular exercise where each question flows into the next. These are the questions we have to face.

The ideas we hold about the nature of God and the language we use to describe God play out in small ways – how or even whether we pray, how we think about our purpose in life, how we relate to those who do not share our beliefs. They also influence how we see the world and, ultimately, God’s role in that world.

Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy

pp. 25-26

What follows are my answers to these questions – as they are for now.

What is not the character of my God?

  • Santa Claus, a magician, genie, leprechaun, fairy godmother, four-leaf clover, wishing well, magic lantern, or birthday cake
  • a vending machine or engaging in “quid pro quo” transactions, trading or bartering, purchasing or selling
  • neither favors nor disfavors
  • a vampire requiring blood
  • a kidnapper demanding ransom
  • an extortionist demanding payment
  • a psychic, medium, fortune-teller, or in any way knows, controls, directs, shapes, or influences the future.
  • a medieval lord requiring the punishment, injury, or death of a vassal or serf to satisfy a perceived offense to an honor code defined by the lord
  • a psychopath cruelly creating a mandatory binary choice between either the tortuous sacrifice of Jesus or a personal eternal punishment
  • a puppet-master pulling every string of every person and every object and every event and every energy
  • a mad scientist experimenting with the universe by manipulating every variable at every level
  • a Greco-Roman deity who needs mindless obedience and endless appeasement and praise
  • a disciplinarian, gym teacher, sport coach, or drill instructor toughening us for the rough rigors of life
  • a referee, umpire, or judge in a court of law
  • the ultimate micromanaging tyrant
  • an avenging wrathful warrior
  • a murderer or destroyer of life
  • an enemy or bully or a source of fear
  • a danger or threat in any way

What is the character of my God?

unrestrained boundless Love 

expressed wastefully and uncontrollably and

unconditional Grace

provided freely with no exceptions and no restrictions and

a persuasive presence of excellence

whose desire is for each of us to live a long healthy life full of peace, joy, contentment, growth, and discovery.

What is the content of my faith?

Engaging in a relationship with the Divine does not require a God

who controls, manipulates, interferes, judges, condemns, punishes, destroys or

who is narcissistic, capricious, sadistic or

who condemns us or abandons us or opposes us or oppresses us or for any reason inflicts death, disaster, illness, loss upon us or

who avenges us or rescues us or rewards us or protects us or provides for us.


the later theologies that are both post-biblical and non-biblical are rejected:

  • Rapture and End Time (Darby/Scofield, 19th century)
  • Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy (17th century)
  • Penal Substitution (Reformation, 16th century)
  • Omnipotence (Thomas Aquinas, 13th century)
  • Satisfaction/Sacrifice (Anselm, 11th century)
  • Ransom (Origen, 3rd century)
  • Original Sin (Irenaeus/Augustine, 2nd century)



God is not characterized as has been previously listed


we need to consider that

  • God is not in charge and
  • God does not control and
  • God does not interfere and
  • God does not intervene and
  • we do not need either to placate God or to be rescued from God.

That what is Divine is neither defined nor measured by

power, knowledge, size, time, any dimension, any quantifiable metric or

any threat or any promise or

any calamity or any good fortune.

That what is Divine

is altogether something other than control or coercion or capriciousness or condemnation.

is relational instead of domineering, manipulative, obstructive, or suppressive.

is participatory instead of observing, criticizing, or judging.

by being relational, is vulnerable to associated relational risks.

by being participatory, is active and creative.

by being relational and participatory, is present, persistent, messy, and immeasurable.

is a Mystery.

That we are called by and to

a deep multilayered complex influential Mystery

that is better than and more and beyond ourselves

and is and dwells in

  • the journey and the learning and
  • the growth and forward movement and
  • the death of old ways of passive being and passive waiting and
  • the resurrection of new ways of active living in the present and active creation of the future and
  • the act of personal transformation

and not in the dogma of death or destination or certainty or finality.

It is Divine

to have a positive growing relationship with and

to have our spirit and actions be persuasively influenced and empowered by our nearness to and association with and

to constantly move toward a total embracing of and complete assimilation by that which is Divine

What is the function of my church?

To be a Community of Peace, Justice and Compassion

Peace that

actively rejects and opposes war and violence and oppression and

actively seeks and advocates for Peace at all levels from individual to global

Justice that repairs, rehabilitates, restores, and reconciles

Compassion that quenches, feeds, clothes, houses, heals, educates, visits, welcomes, includes, embraces, affirms, accompanies . . . 

To be Individuals of

abundant Generosity and

joyful Hospitality and

gracious Service that is healthy for the server and the served and neither obligates nor belittles the served.

As Community and as Individuals

to live, share, proclaim, and provoke the Divine

as joyous and celebratory Good News.

What is the purpose of our worship?

To intentionally gather as a community at least once a week to spend time

immersing in and centering within and nurturing our relationship with and

participating in and sharing the communal and individual presence

of the Divine.

God, Tree Climbing and Infinite Surprise

photo 9.JPG

"It pleased him to imagine God as someone like his mother, someone beleaguered by too many responsibilities, too dog-tired to monitor an energetic boy every minute of the day, but who, out of love and fear for his safety, checked in on him whenever she could. Was this so crazy? Surely God must have other projects besides Man [sic], just as his parents had responsibilities other than raising their children? Miles liked the idea of a God who, when He at last had the opportunity to return His attention to His children, might shake His head with wonder and mutter, "Jesus. Look what they're up to now." A distractible God, perhaps, one who'd be startled to discover so many of His children way up in trees since the last time He looked. A God whose hand would go rushing to His mouth in fear in that instant of recognition that—good God!—that kid's going to hurt himself. A God who could be surprised by unanticipated pride—glory be, that boy is a climber!" (Richard Russo, Empire Falls).

I love this quote from Richard Russo. God as a distracted mother, responsible for so much, but ferociously attached to her children. I like that. Being married to a mother ferociously attached to her children, but responsible for much else, I'm partial to this image of God. Notwithstanding the questions of orthodoxy (the impassibility and omnicompetence of God), I still like to think of God as much less overbearing than we're traditionally given to believe.

I know of and agree with Karl Barth's rather imperious sounding dictum that "God is not human being said in a loud voice!" Still, a surprised and delighted God is a comforting notion in a world filled with pinch-faced people certain that God's highest vocation revolves around abstemiously policing human indiscretion and rooting out joy from among possible human achievement. Surely God must find some joy in human achievement, even (perhaps especially) at its most outrageously indiscreet.

If God had a hand in creating us, God must take some delight in us—and not just when we're wearing our Sunday best either. Human life, as messy and venal as it sometime seems, offers up moments of true grace and rapture—often squarely deposited in the midst of the messiness and venality, rather than despite it.

My delight in my children, when I can subdue my own pinch-faced abstemiousness long enough, often comes in realizing the amazing extent to which they are infinitely capable and amazingly clever at goofing up. How, for example, sophisticated electronic gadgets when in my children's hands acquire the properties of divining rods, sniffing out water (toilets, the dog's water bowl, etc.) with alarming precision, is an object of true wonderment to me. Why should God be any less amazed at my own stunning penchant for dropping delicate stuff in the toilet?

The clear temptation that accompanies an image of God as slightly harried parent is that it lets me off the hook with respect to my messes—as if to say, I can do whatever I want because God's busy minding gravity. This would, of course, constitute a singularly self-serving picture of God as undiscerning and ceaselessly approving.

But the positive thing this image of God offers, I think, is an opportunity to hold on a little less tightly to myself and to my own need to get everything exactly right—to view my own children, not so much as a project to be perfected but a gift to be enjoyed, to be wondered over, and shared with the rest of the world.

A God surprised by and unanticipatedly proud of tree climbers (and their parents)—that sounds like grace to me.

Exploring Theology of Disability for LGBTQI Advocates

By J.C. Mitchell

I am looking forward to the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I am not very excited that I have to travel from Seattle to Orlando, but traveling alone I will get a lot of reading completed.  I am already creating my list of books I need to know, since I have not figured out osmosis, not from due from the lack of trying to sleep with a book on my chest.  I have a long list but you are welcome to add to the list as well, if you will seriously take this book I just read on your own list.

The book is The Bible, Disability, and the Church; A New Vision of the People of God, by Amos Yong.    In a sentence it is a book that carefully creates a Biblical hermeneutics of suspicion of the presumed ableist perspective.  I believe his method is commendable, especially by admitting in the preface that through thanking Kerry Wynn, “[…] to how deeply I myself was mired in a normate (able-bodied) worldview, and irony indeed […]” (xi),  There were a few places where I may have disagreed; for example, I uphold only the authentic Pauline writings and Yong is fine with all traditionally attributed to Paul.  You would imagine some differences between a Pentecostal Scholar who was born in Malaysia, and a Disciples Minister raised in New England, and that is partly why I recommend this book, because so many of the recent books I have read have been people of European decent. 

Some of you may know that the theology of Disability has been pivotal to my theology and it became very personal, as my son lives with autism and is very limited in communication.  However, I write this book review for those that are allies of LGBTQI persons, for I know those working with the theology of disability is quite aware of Yong’s work.  (I confess I was delayed in reading this 2011 work, but as I admitted, my reading list is long).  I do not know where Yong stands on the issues of LGBTQI, and I started looking for such information, but then realized that the truth I know and the truth I read will not be affected by his stated beliefs elsewhere.  Yes it may be harmful and even wrong, but we cannot only read theology of only those we agree with entirely.

The importance of this work is how Yong handles the scriptures that are and have traditionally been read to marginalize and oppress people with disabilities.  This is of course an issue for the LGBTQI community as well, but truly with less problematic scriptures.  For instance, Jesus says nothing about homosexuality, but the healing passages have been often used against people with disabilities.  And let me note that it happens by conservatives and liberals alike, but the normate worldview blinds one from their insensitive readings of scriptures.  Therefore, I believe seeing how a careful reading that is aware of the able-bodied assumptions will help LGBTQI advocates to do the same with the few scriptures used for oppression.

Not only is it important to be able to deal with the scriptures, but what I really believe people will get from  LGBTQI advocates reading this is how our normate (able-bodied) worldview influences our reading of the scriptures and thus our theology.  By exploring this assumption, it will help in explaining the assumptions of those that have been influenced by hetero-centric assumptions, while learning about another population that needs liberation. 

[T]here is nothing intrinsically wrong with the lives of people with disabilities, that it is not they who need to be cured, but we, the non-disabled, who need to be saved from our discriminatory attitudes and practices, and that people with disabilities should be accepted and honored just as they are. (118)

Go ahead and replace the words disabilities and non-disabled as you want, but know also by admitting you have been influenced by the normate worldview, as both I and Yong are also not immune, will help us all understand how to love the other and include everyone. 

Amos Yong Book On Rainbow Flag.jpg

Work Cited:

Yong, Amos. The Bible, Disability, and the Church; A New Vision of the People of God.  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2011. 

Relax and Dance into Godtalk

              Last week I went to two events to help with my work in ministry.  The first was Thursday night and was a presentation of a theologian who I have read and studied.  It was a great discussion and essential for many present to introduce new ideas.  However, having read the theologian’s latest book and even was on a retreat the week prior with one of the other theologians he referenced, I did not really learn anything new.  I had a great time, and found it very helpful to reiterate some of the theories I am sharing with others.

               The Friday night event I believe was much more essential for my work as a minister.  It was the All Premiere performance of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company (PNB).  As a new minister in the area, I was excited to subscribe to this company’s 40th season, and delighted to realize that my favorite principal dancer from when I subscribed to the New York City Ballet Company years ago is now the artistic director of the PNB.  So yes, I am passionate about ballet, but I have never danced.  The first performance was Cinderella, and of course the curtain will soon reveal the Nutcracker, but I find All Premiere to be essential to me working on theology.  Unlike the dances that follow stories I know so well, these new dances tell a new story, and some without a narrative.

               The issue with being someone that studies and teaches about God, and thus theology--Godtalk, is that we are so often stuck in our head.  You will hear pastors say the longest distance is the 18 inches between the head and the heart, which makes me think that even when we move our perspective to the metaphoric heart, we continue to see it through the head.  I believe this is natural, not negative, but we need to relax into our Godtalk and feel it in the gut.  I understand this may seem like semantics, and sure it is, but I find one of the best ways to practice this is in art, and for me it is ballet and dance.  Music and human bodies cannot get more incarnational than that.

               The All Premiere allowed me to feel the music in a wonderful way directed by the teachers which includes, the choreographer, the conductor, the dancers, and the musicians, (as well as numerous others, including the welcoming person at the customer service that helped with our seat upgrade).  They did not tell me how to feel, what I was supposed to think, what the story was (if there was a narrative); they shared a vision of the music through the human body.  My job was to relax and feel.  They were all new dances, and two were even new music compositions, but I know that traditional movements were incorporated.  I know enough to have even recognized some by name. 

               We need to share our faith more like the PNB shared the All Premiere, but more importantly, understand that even the educated and studied pastor or congregant must be able to relax into the mystical stance of the audience.  Too often we are looking for an answer or a question, and not the experience that moves our gut to respond to what we do know, that the Divine is Love and we need to move and dance in that direction.

Mermaids, Squids, and Christian Reality

Recently a friend of mine mentioned that a counselor had concerns about her daughter because she believed that mermaids existed.  The questioning included why she believed in their existence, and the child responded because she had read about them and had seen a documentary on the Animal Planet, yet admitted to not have seen one in person.  The “professional” was concerned.  The child did ask the interviewer if she believed if giant squids existed and if she had seen one, and as you probably have guessed the answer was, the counselor had read about them and saw a documentary.  This would be funny if the person was not a “professional” analyzing the youth. I had seen most of the mermaid documentary one late night with my brother-in-law, and I must admit I truly understand one believing that mermaids might exist on earth, after viewing the documentary.  I honestly had to choose not to believe this reality when watching the show, and I have to admit the choice is mostly because it may “freak me out” if I saw something while on a boat and that it may open me up to the reality of Bigfoot.  I did just move to the Seattle area, where there are more boats and Northwestern woods in my future, so I have decided on a reality where there are no mermaids and Yetis.

As Christians, are we simply asking people to believe in an historical reality--Jesus’ birth, teachings, death, and resurrection?  Even our Gospel accounts do not match up neatly.  This sets up a reality in which those that believe are in, and those that do not are out.  It is ok to believe in giant squids, but not mermaids.  This is not my Christianity.  My religion is reality, which I find in Christianity.

Humanity did not create God, but humans did create religion.  We must look at our rituals and beliefs with anthropologic and sociological lenses and not simply as a litmus test, such as do you believe….?  And this can be true of the progressive churches as well.  We cannot kid ourselves to think we don’t have litmus tests.  Often we stand there like the professional above, judging other’s beliefs.

“Reality:” that word is itself a question, perhaps even a riddle.  I have been enlightened by the theory of Mimesis, put forth by René Girard.  A one sentence explanation might be that we desire based from the desires of others, and this changes the dialogue immensely.  I would argue it is pre-historical, and cognitive scientists have even confirmed this as desire based off the desire (and actions) of others within our brain function.  As a confessing Christian, this theory has opened me up to Christianity that dare I say, seems “natural” and “scientific.” No longer am I claiming something that others choose not to believe, nor am I stating what I believe they will know exactly like I know.  Rather, I see the reality of religion within Christianity, which I knew before, but now worry only about divine love as an action against our human reality of rivalry from mimetic desire.

Our purpose is to help the Divine we call love be the reality we know.  Violence and rivalry are part of our human condition, and as Christians we know the realization of love by Jesus empting himself without rivalry or retaliation on the cross.  This love is the reality we all aspire to, yet we are tied together not by our individual transgressions, but our universal sin of rivalry and violence.  Thus we don’t need everyone to believe exactly the same way, but to live, what we confessing Christians call the compassion of Jesus, as our reality.  The reality is, who cares if one believes in giant squids and/or mermaids, but rather, are we teaching love--that is, nonviolence, and compassion?

That is the religion for me, religion of revealing forgiveness, compassion, and love without rivalry and violence, as the reality and culture of earth as it is in heaven. That is a transformed world reality here on this globe, not simply an eternal heaven of gold streets, where some are in and others out.


Easter is about resurrection and transformation - today. Easter is not about the torture and execution and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is not about an event that happened one time to one person a long time ago. Easter is not about an 11th-century feudal theology .....of "penal substitution" or "substitutionary sacrifice." Easter is not about a 4th-century theology of "original sin." Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God. Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary God .....whose love and grace are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate .....that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased. Easter is not about useless promises of an eternal post-mortal utopian etherial existence. Easter is not about using the sharing the Good News as a form of conquest. Easter is not about hate.

Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples - all of us who follow Jesus. Easter is about disciples living and being - here and now - the Kingdom of God. Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ. Easter is about the Good News.

What difference would it make if an ossuary was found that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

To the message of Jesus – that God is personal and present and immediate and available and is characterized by love and grace, whose passion for us is to provide justice and compassion and generosity and hospitality and service, and who invites us and welcomes us and includes us and embraces us without exception or conditions – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

Something happened on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first - a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation.

It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and depression and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive - speaking to them and sharing meals with them - a tangible presence. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak.

In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the dual realization that the character of the one true God is: .....* unrestrained love and unconditional grace - .....* always present and immediately available to anyone anywhere anytime, and .....* that life does not require participation in the empire - .....* not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices, .....* not its imperial civic theology, not its military conquests, and .....* not its greedy and isolating economics.

This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection, this same life-as-if-from-death transformation is still happening today.

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of the personal and persistent 1) unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2) the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual ............................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

This is resurrection and transformation! This is the Good News! This is Easter! Alleluia!

Easter Sunday to Doubting Sunday

Easter Sunday has passed.  Doubting Sunday is around the corner.

I love how the Revised Common Lectionary places the second half of John 20 the Sunday after Easter.  It’s unfortunate for those regulated to always preaching the Sunday after Easter, when many senior pastors take the day off, and as one who has preached many times on that Sunday, it can get tiresome.  Thankfully, it’s a day when even in some of the more formal Protestant traditions won’t bat an eye if you go off-lectionary.

But I love this day because I need it after Easter.  Easter is often a time when long-held understandings (or misunderstandings) of the Christian story are upheld formally, even if every other Sunday strict blood-atonement theologies are challenged.  It’s the Sunday when everyone’s family is in town and the C & E people come and so the same message is often shared.  The tomb is found empty.  Christ is Risen!

It’s not a bad message by any means.  But where is the room to ask the questions?  Where is the space to say, “Could that have really happened?”  Where is the challenge to the old formulaic answer that because Adam sinned, we are born into sin and need Christ to save us, so Christ had to die as a sacrifice?  Is it safe to question on Easter Sunday, either in the pew or in the pulpit?

Thankfully, we have Thomas, who was no different than Peter who denied Jesus or any of the others who fled.  And we have this Sunday, when the C & E people have gone back home, when others are out of town and it’s typically a low attendance day, perhaps there is more space in the pew and pulpit to speak those challenges, those questions and doubts.

In my Christian Faith journey, the questions and doubts have flowed and ebbed over the years, going from the extreme of coming forward to accept/rededicate my life to Jesus about four times in my teen years, to considering forgoing Christ and exploring Unitarian Universalism and Judaism in my first year of seminary.

But Christ always calls me back.  Despite my rejection of theologies presented to me in my youth and at times doubts of the resurrection stories in the Gospels, I have never been able to leave Jesus behind.  Like Thomas, at times I want proof, I want answers, but it is through encountering Christ I am compelled to stay within the Christian tradition, and through relationship with the Body of Christ, I am compelled to stay within the church—even if that means at times facing traditional simplistic explanations and theories.

Christ is Risen!  And praise God for the space and room to doubt, question, and challenge.  And thanks to Thomas, who paves the way for questioning believers, who keep coming back even when the doubts and challenges pester our hearts.

Hunger and Heroines: The Hunger Games and The Book of Judges

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the movie, but I have read the trilogy.  There will be some spoilers from the books in this post. There is a lack of good female role models in both the Bible and in most general literature.  When it comes to heroines, and I’m writing in terms of comparing with male counterparts—the ones who survive, who are triumphant, who despite the challenges and difficulties and limitations they have faced, they have succeeded—there are surprisingly few.  Generally speaking, our movies and books are full of heroes, male leaders who inspire and lead and who we look to and say “I want to be like that” or “I want a leader like that.”  Our Bible is packed with them, from Joshua to David and even Daniel in the lion’s den.

I am a peace-loving activist but I do enjoy adventure stories, specifically science fiction and fantasy, and often the heroes and heroines have to fight to survive.  But there are stories where the heroes are not necessarily heroic in the death and trauma they cause—I think of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins of Tolkien’s creation, unlikely heroes—Bilbo works to create peace behind the scenes, even at the wrath of his friends, and Frodo gives of himself, to the point of sacrifice, to save the world.   There are unlikely heroes in the Bible as well.  I think of Joseph, betrayed and left to die by his brothers, betrayed by the woman he worked for, who rises to power and uses his power to help others and eventually the very family that abandoned him.

Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games trilogy is a heroine who has to fight to survive.  However, rather than as a trained warrior, she is the girl who volunteered to take her sister’s place in a government-sanctioned act of child sacrifice.  She is the girl who hunted to provide for her family and now uses those skills in an attempt to survive, a promise kept to her sister, but all the while knowing that she will most likely die.  Throughout the trilogy, when she acts in violence to save herself or others, she takes no pride or joy in it.  Throughout the books she remembers that it is a system of violence that she has been thrown into that forces her to fight, and it is the system that is the enemy, not her fellow tributes caught in this systemic act of sacrificial violence.

When I read the trilogy, I could not help but think of the Book of Judges in the Bible.  At first, I remembered two heroines from chapters 4 and 5: Deborah and Jael.  Deborah who is a judge, a leader of Israel in the early days, and Jael, a non-Israelite woman who helps Israel gain victory over King Jabin of Canaan by driving a tent peg into the head of Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army.  It’s bloody and violent, but it’s the first and only time a woman—two women for that matter—rule and claim a tactical victory.

As a youth I was drawn to this story in the Bible that was never read aloud in church or in Sunday School—I happened to discover it during a year when I read through the Bible myself.  Heroines presented to me in Sunday School included Esther and Ruth—yes, both were cunning and used their wits to survive, but neither ever led their people the way Deborah did or used a tent peg as Jael.

However, as I continued to read the trilogy, my thoughts shifted from chapters 4 and 5 to chapter 11, the story of Jephtah and his unnamed daughter.  Jephtah, another judge of Israel, in a stupid act of trying to appear pious (my interpretation) makes a rash oath to sacrifice to God “whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me” (vs. 31).  Jephtah has followed God, had claimed victory, has felt the spirit of the Lord upon him, and then he says those words.  And of course, the first thing to come out of his house is not a goat or a lamb, but his only child, his daughter.  She assures him that he must fulfill his oath and after a time of mourning that she will never marry or have children, she is sacrificed to God, the same God who makes it clear to Israel that God does not want human sacrifice, especially of children (remember Genesis 22 when God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac).

The whole point of the sacrificing of tributes in a bloody sport in the Hunger Games trilogy is to remind the people of the last war they fought and that war is pointless (mainly because there is a superior force in the Capitol that will defeat them, but the general sense is that the last war, along with previous wars, were terrible bloodbaths that were also detrimental to the environment, and that war is not the answer—but to remind them of that, they sacrifice children).  Jephtah’s oath was made as an act of devotion, to show God and everyone that Jephtah was true to God’s ways—but his oath turns into the ultimate act against God, a sacrifice of a child.

The use of violence to create peace is the ultimate oxymoron—as evidenced by the “Peacekeepers” in the Hunger Games trilogy.  The sacrifice of children is the punishment of the future generation for the sins of the past.

Judges takes place after the Israelites have entered the land that was promised to them, but before they have a king.  Judges is part of the great historical collection of the Bible that was edited by the Deuteronomist, interpreting the history of Israel through the understanding that when the people, especially their leaders, followed the laws and commandments of God as retold in Deuteronomy, the people were blessed, and when they did not, they faced punishment.   Much of the book of Judges claims that the Israelites did what was evil in the site of the Lord, and therefore they face attacks and wars from other nations, because they did not stay true to God’s ways.  Now, we know as readers we must understand the historical context and the need to explain why bad things happened to the people, and that through historical scholarship we understand that the Deuteronomist editor interpreted the reasons for these wars and battles and tragedies were because the people turned away from God’s ways as dictated in the Law, as recorded by the Deuteronomist.

The same kind of reasoning was used by the Capitol government in the Hunger Games trilogy to support the Hunger Games—that because the people of the districts rebelled in the past against the Capitol, this child sacrifice in the Games was a just punishment.  History gets reinterpreted to justify the violence that has occurred and continues to occur.

But back to Katniss and our heroine.  The Hunger Games is told in first-person narration.  So while we hear the history of Panem, this country that has arisen from the ashes of what was North America centuries into our future, and while we hear Katniss’ account of why the Hunger Games exist, we also get to hear her questions, her objections, and her protests.  And the greatest acts of her protest comes in the times she chooses not to resort to state-sanctioned violence.  Perhaps the greatest act of rebellion she commits in right in the very beginning, when she volunteers in her sister’s place, to save her sister’s life.  Unlike Jephtah, who sacrifices his own daughter, Katniss is willing to sacrifice herself, to give herself over to save her sister, and as we discover, she is willing to sacrifice herself to save others as well, even though the will for self-survival also remains strong, the desire to not participate in the system of violence is even stronger.

And while I could as a Christian write about the similarities between this and the great hero we call the Savior, I choose to write about Deborah and Jael and Jephtah’s daughter.  Deborah, who had the wisdom and guidance of God to lead her people; Jael, who did act in violent deception, which Katniss also falls into (I didn’t say she was a perfect heroine, and there are times she participates in systemic violence, but not without regret, shame, and harm done to herself, which she recognizes); and Jephtah’s daughter, for Katniss is sent for sacrifice by the rashness of a system that does not understand it is doing the very thing it is trying to prevent: by punishing the future generation, they guarantee a future war instead of preventing one.

So what did I learn from this comparison?  Besides the obvious fact that our heroines and heroes aren't perfect, the truth is we still continue to live out the Book of Judges and our own Hunger Games.  At times, we turn away from God and do "what is right in [our] own eyes" (Judges 17:1; 18:1; 19:1 and 21:25).  We create unjust systems for our own kind of retributive justice, punishing the next generation for the sins of the current generation.  But the greatest heroines and heroes, the people we should look up to, are the ones that buck the system of violent retribution and say no more.  They are the Oscar Romeros and the Dorothy Days, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s and Ghandi's and Aung San Suu Kyi's.  They are the former gang members and the Veterans for Peace.  And they are the ones who have seen the face of violence, the pain and suffering in our world, and have said no more to violence.  And we can be like them.


Regarding the future of the church,we have made a mistake.

It is not about Reformation II (or III or IV or V or...) It is about the Second Coming of Jesus

It is not about the coming death of the church. It is about the coming transformation of the church.

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The Second Coming is an inside joke.... ...To those who do not "get it" - The Second Coming is an apocalyptic view that awaits the arrival of a militant Jesus who will violently eliminate evil from the world. It makes for best-selling religious literary fiction, great cinematic special effects, and lousy-abusive-useless theology. ...To those who do "get it" - the joke is that Jesus is already here, peacefully present. Jesus "returns" for each person as they discover and embark on the life-path that Jesus walked. The "Second Coming" is personal - it is neither an apocalyptic nor a global event. The epiphany by the women on Easter morning was that, even though Jesus was executed and buried, the path walked by Jesus still exists - and by walking that same path, the message and example of Jesus is resurrected. Many find this epiphany to be transformative, their old self dies and a new transformed person is resurrected from a dead and buried former life. By walking the path - living The Way of Jesus - they continue and extend the path and message and life of Jesus. In doing so, our lives proclaim:

Jesus is arisen! Jesus is here! Jesus appears to us! Jesus walks with us! Jesus breaks bread with us! Jesus lives! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The church must go the same way as Jesus. The church must die and be buried - and be reborn through an epiphanic resurrection and transformation. The church cannot be rescued. The church cannot be reformed. The church cannot evolve. At some point, the current church structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions must be abandoned and demolished and replaced - existing only in our memory as a history lesson of how not to be church.

Those of us who are Baby Boomers or older - and regardless of whether we participate, oppose, or sit on the sidelines - the church we know, have worked so hard to grow and maintain, has been so important to us, and indeed which we love so much - that church is about to disappear, must disappear - and there is nothing we can do about it or should be able to do about it. As a statement of objective emotionless fact - the generations that come after us will re-create church in ways that will have little to do with church as it has existed since the end of WWII and even less with church as it has existed since the early 19th-century "Great Awakening" revival that birthed the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and other denominations. Do not be surprised when the future church finds it can exist only by abandoning and demolishing the structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions of the 200-year-old American church in all its denominational and independent expressions, colors, sounds, textures, architecture, rituals, liturgies, and self-righteous self-assuredness. Do not be surprised when this abandonment and demolition is completed with no sense of sadness and no sense of loss. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has been completed just in time to be abandoned.

There is no pleasure in being the last of your kind, a breed on the verge of extinction. However, the WWII "Greatest Generation" and their "Baby Boomer" kids will not leave quietly and not without generating rippling resonating repercussions as they pass into memory. We have been faithful generous tithers and - most dangerously and in a final fit of useless spite and exasperation - we will continue to support the church after we are gone. We are wealthy generations who have retained lawyers to write wills that are specific and enforceable. The problem for future lawyers, judges, CPAs, and juries will be how to allocate funds for a church that is closed, abandoned, or demolished. They will have few or no options for diverting those funds to a living congregation or a worthwhile project. Already, we can see that the generations who follow us do not tithe to churches. They support specific projects and missions. Unlike us, they do not want their giving to be for slogans and annual reports and push pins on a map. They want projects and missions that are tangible, immediate, and - most important - participatory. Where we gave strictly of our wealth, these next generations will give of themselves - of their time, talent, labor, and presence - as well as their treasure.

At the forefront of the church demolition will be recent college graduates, college students and the high school students that will follow them. They will abandon (are abandoning) Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, and congregational events as well as mainstream campus ministries, Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ, and any Christian organization that values exclusion over inclusion or has any hint of structural rigidity, hierarchical authority, membership requirements, or dogmatic rejection of or does not live the theology of universal justice and compassion infused with divine love and grace.

Expensive specific-purpose church structures will be replaced with the use of former stores, abandoned theatres, rented warehouses, and individual homes. The traditional Sunday morning worship will diminish and be replaced by conversations in food courts and bars and coffee shops, studies in quiet places inside and outdoors, meditational Taize gatherings, loud Praise concerts, other worship experiences yet to be created - all arranged through social media and sometimes occurring more as a flash mob experience than a scheduled service. Future church will occur while flowing with the stream of life, not alongside or outside of it as a stationary event.

The seminary/ordination track as well as clergy as a profession and calling will be vastly different from what it is now, if it exists at all. There is no justification for ministerial candidates having to bear the crushing burden of a 5-digit (6-digit?) school loan to earn the formal label/prefix "Rev." and to be eligible for employment in a shrinking system and a disappearing paradigm. The concept of clergy will not be reformed, it will be so revolutionized as to be re-created. Future clergy will see themselves as scholars and counselors and project/mission managers and will reject calls to be church/congregational CEOs or mega-entrepreneurs. Clergy will find that their calling includes a responsibility to freely and openly share their formal studies. Denominations that currently have multiple seminaries will collapse them into one. Some denominations will find it necessary to join together to form a cooperative organization to support a single ecumenical seminary. Many seminaries will disappear. One possibility is that ministerial candidates, from the beginning of their education, will serve a sponsoring and supportive congregation. Seminary scholars representing the various necessary ministerial disciplines will hold regional classes or, when the technology becomes inexpensively ubiquitous, hold synchronous video conferences.

A major contributing factor to the clerical revolution will be public access to church knowledge. In an age of Wiki sites, there is no justification for the Catholic church or any denomination or any church institution to have secret archives or to have historical documents or ancient biblical texts hidden from public view. Every document, every scroll, every parchment fragment must be scanned, indexed, hyperlinked, and its high-resolution digital image placed on-line within a single web site. The biblical texts, both Jewish and Christian and regardless of whether they are currently considered canonical, must be on-line and referenced to a source document or source documents as well as being referenced to differing source documents. What will be paperless is not the office, it will be knowledge.

One of the identifying marks of living The Way is fearlessness. In this context, it means not being afraid to die and not being afraid to live. This article is neither a vision nor a prediction, neither a warning nor an advocating. It is a call to the church to move confidently into the future and to fearlessly embrace and enable its coming death and resurrection and transformation and new life.


Technology Postscript: As on-line conferencing and smart-phone/tablet technologies improve and take advantage of increasing transmission rates and bandwidth, virtual worship and gatherings will be normal, common, and expected. As the virtual world is populated and utilized, the realization will slowly sink in that while virtual connections are immediate and easy and global, virtual connections are better at enhancing human disconnectedness than creating human presence and are better at amplifying loneliness than creating community. At some point, it will be generally recognized that virtual connections are an inadequate and invalid replacement for the connections we form when we are in the presence of each other. No matter how much we tweet, text, Facebook, email, YouTube, or Skype - at some point we have to see each other in the same physical space, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. We relate best when our mutual presence is tangible and accessible. Personally and communally as well as psychologically and technologically, at some point the virtual connection will be deemed unacceptable and generally harmful and best reserved for situations that are emergencies or physically remote or both. We will have to discover that pixels and bits are always inferior to hugs and prayer circles.

...and that will be the next transformation.


an expanded and updated version of an article that first appeared inEncounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of 1)..the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2)..the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual. ......................................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

The Good News is about being the Kingdom of God here and now. The Good News does not oppose the Empire. The Good News is constantly engaged in non-violently replacing the Empire with the Kingdom of God. To that end, having only a well-defined theology of love, grace, compassion, justice, hospitality, generosity, and service is not enough. The true measure is how that theology is lived and shared and how it imbues and informs the life of the disciple. The Good News is not about yearning for or being promised a future and distant post-mortal eternal reward as payment for a temporary existence marked by guilt-ridden culturally-acceptable behavior and tightly-held xenophobic beliefs. The Good News is about being and proclaiming and provoking the Kingdom of God here and now in all aspects of our lives. One such aspect is education, especially public K-12 education.


What Is Not Education? Education is not for the betterment of the local economy, the gross national product, or the global society. Education is not about transforming, unifying, or homogenizing society. Education is not a solution for the problems of society – neither problems that are persistent and universal nor problems that are uniquely contemporary. Education is not about providing competent trained workers for future employment. Education does not transform students into either an intellectual natural resource or a pool of human capital – these concepts have no basis or existence in reality. Education is not the means by which we can gain a national economic competitive edge over other nations. Education is not about preparing students for college. It is not an event in some imaginary ongoing international academic competition. Acquiring an education from a public school system is not an act of consumerism (Bracey 2008) because public education is not a product, not a business, not a manufacturing process, and not an industry. Neither competence in passing a specific test nor receiving narrowly focused training qualifies as an education (Houston 2007).

Such purposes and goals are wrong. Such purposes and goals cause a destructive mutation of the education process. Such purposes and goals subject children to treatment that must be labeled and rejected for what it is – criminally coercive and abusive.

The Six Purposes and Obligations of Education First, the most important obligation of any education system is to recognize that each child is a unique individual – there is no such thing as a standard child (Rakow 2008). Any system that has any other primary obligation is neither about nor providing education. The uniqueness of each child requires unique accommodations. Instead of forcing a child into a predetermined or standardized schedule and set of expectations, we have an obligation to adapt to each child’s unique set of capabilities, boundaries, and rate of development. To do otherwise is counter-productive, if not harmful. Children are who they uniquely are. Children are not who we want them to be or who we think they are. Children are not indistinguishable widgets on an education assembly line (Johnson 2006).

The quality of an industrial product can be measured. An industrial process begins with specified and consistent raw materials that meet the requirements of the process. Then, in accordance with a pre-designed detailed plan, the raw materials are incrementally transformed into a finished product. At each step of the transformation process, there are standards that must be met for the process to continue and, eventually, successfully produce the expected final product. The continuous process is constantly producing identical finished products. Each finished product, within very tight tolerances, must meet specifications or be rejected. A specific quantifiable result is expected and each finished product must meet all predetermined expectations with a high degree of measurable precision. The metrics and processes used in industry and business to measure and achieve and control quality cannot and must not be applied to education. Students are not a raw material. There are no rejects. There cannot be a pre-specified final product. Education is not an industrial process.

A successful education can not be measured collectively. It can be measured only individually and only independent of the results and achievements of others. The education process is not a series of assembly-line increments occurring at fixed intervals at controllable rates with repeated predictable results. Education does not yield a predetermined finished product. The success of an education is not measured by how well it matches blueprint specifications. The success of an education is not measured by how well an individual can recall and repeat what has been learned. The success of an education is measured by how well an individual extends and expands and enriches what has been learned and uses what has been learned to solve problems and create solutions, to create new knowledge and new art. The end result of education cannot be designed or mapped. Education cannot use an unchanging collective blueprint expecting to manufacture identical results. Indeed, the end results of education must not be identical or even uniform. The end result of education is controlled by the unique internal, changing and maturing qualities of the individual student and not by any external expectations, designs, or controls. Education is a process of assisting individual intellectual growth, the discovery of personal strengths and talents, and the maturation of the person as an individual and a social being – a process that does not end with graduation from high school or college. Education has no end result - there is no final product, there is no finished inventory.

Education is only a part of an ongoing life-long process. Training and regimentation and indoctrination are used to make people more nearly identical in some skill or behavior or response or thought. Education is about enriching the natural uniqueness of each person (Houston 2007). Education increases diversity, differentiation, and variability among individuals and decreases uniformity and conformity (Eisner 2001). The sole focus of an education system is the individual child – not parents, not colleges, not corporations, not government, not society, not the economy, and not the future of any other single or group entity. The future is always and inescapably unpredictable, indiscernible, and unknowable - the future does not yet exist. It is irresponsibly presumptuous for any adult to choose a future for a child or to preemptively limit the future of a child. The whole spectrum of future possibilities of each child belongs only and entirely to that child.

Second, an education system has an obligation to discover the talents and strengths of each child, then nurture each child’s confidence in and mastery of those talents and strengths, and provide the opportunities and resources necessary for each child to concentrate and focus on their talents and strengths, explore them in-depth (Eisner 2001) and nurture them to their fullest potential - as chosen and desired by the child.

Third, an education system has an obligation to allow, encourage, and protect generous amounts of unstructured time for a child to engage in child-initiated child-organized freely-chosen play, to explore, and to be creative in serious thought and fanciful imagination – both in solitude and in cooperation with other children. (Bergen & Frombert 2009) (Chmelynski 2006) (Elkind 2001 p. xvii) (Ginsburg 2007) (Jacobson 2008) (Satcher 2005) “Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development.” (Ginsburg 2007 p. 183)

Fourth, an education system has an obligation to promote within each child a constant self-awareness and self-knowledge and an independent personality, intellect, voice, and initiative. Education encourages a questioning spirit and stifles blind acceptance. The goal of education is to facilitate the acquisition by each child the capability for logical reasoning and evaluation, and the skills for: locating and gathering information, problem-solving, making plans and setting priorities, cooperating with a group without being subservient to the group, sharing knowledge and skills, and being able to earn respect in other cultures while being respectful toward those other cultures (Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 301).

Fifth, the purpose of an education is to provide each child with the widest exposure to the best of human knowledge in all disciplines; and the widest variety of the best artistic descriptions and expressions of humanity and the human experience; and to provide ample opportunity to experience, understand, and appreciate the natural environment and learn good stewardship of natural resources.

Sixth, a successful education assists each child in acquiring the intellectual and social tools to traverse the world, retaining at least a cautious, if not enthusiastic, curiosity and become a person who is open to, and even desires, continuous life-long learning. Education enables learning. At its best, education inspires a joy for learning (Rakow 2008). Education does not subvert learning to a test score, a hurdle, an obstacle to be conquered, or just another difficult life passage that just has to be endured (Eisner 2001).

What is an Educator? There is no such thing as “teaching” or a “teacher.” There is no way any “teacher” can force knowledge into the mind of a student who is not present, willing, and engaged. There is no research that demonstrates a humane teaching method that is so universally efficient, effective, and largely and continuously successful that the teacher using the method can be held accountable for the results regardless of the participation and attitude of the student (Ediger 2007). In the way the word is commonly used, there is no such thing as “teaching.” There is only learning – a life-long, complex and multi-dimensional, internal individual process unique to each person (Crain 2008)(Driscoll 2005 p. 2)(Johnson 2006). No matter the education or years of experience, the hours of lesson preparation, the quality and intensity and creativity of the lesson presentation – nothing is learned until the student “gets it” (Driscoll 2005 p. 22) – a task and process over which the educator has no control and for which no educator and no school can be held accountable. There is no such thing as teaching that forcibly, controllably, and measurably inserts knowledge or skills into a student. There is only learning.

Well documented are the many ways in which children, starting at birth or earlier, learn on their own (Crain 2005, pp. 143-145) – for example: object permanence (even though mother is out of sight, mother still exists) (Crain 2005 pp. 120-121, 310-312), eye-hand coordination, vocabulary and grammar (Crain 2005 pp. 69-70, 349-359), walking – to name a few. There is no evidence that this internal ability to learn solitarily is ever replaced or largely supplanted by an external process. A normal healthy person never releases or loses the ability to learn. Learning is solely a capability and responsibility of the individual student. Learning is only in the internal cognitive domain of the individual student. It is the student who has to acquire, retain, and integrate new knowledge. It is the student who either assimilates the new knowledge within his or her existing knowledge set or it is the student who must accommodate the new knowledge by redefining or reorganizing his or her existing knowledge set (Crain 2005 p. 115)(Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 303). Regardless of how the new knowledge is integrated, all of it happens only within the mind of the student – and only if the student is capable – and only if the student makes it happen.

Educators who are well-qualified, caring, and dedicated are critically important and absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the purposes and obligations of education. Educators are knowledge experts and instructional presenters and trainers and facilitators and guides and mentors and motivators (Bartholomew 2007). An educator is the catalyst that makes learning easier (Merkle 2008) and “more intense and lasting” (Smyth 2005). The traditional concept that an educator can – somehow or in any way – shove knowledge into the mind of a student is false and invalid to the point of being knee-slapping gut-busting laughing-out-loud ludicrous. The true role of the educator is to be an astute observer of each student’s level of mastery, make note of what specific difficulties a student had in obtaining that level of mastery, assess the student’s preparedness and receptiveness for new knowledge, and choose the appropriate methodology for either reenforcement of knowledge currently being learned or progressing to learning new knowledge (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240)(Ediger 2007). A good educator is: a responsive coach, an enthusiastic cheerleader for student efforts and achievements, a servant-leader (Greenleaf 2008), an efficient and effective manager and provider of classroom assets, subject-knowledgeable, available, accessible, affirming, supportive, a gentle guide for the first learning step and for each transition to the next level of learning (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240), manages an age-appropriate richly-stimulating learning environment, and provides an atmosphere of joy (McReynolds 2008). It is not about teaching, it is about reaching.

Educators cannot be held accountable for what students learn. Educators can be held accountable for their professional behavior and use of best practices – just like any other licensed professional. Education is not a technical trade. As a profession, education is built upon personal expertise in concepts and rules and expertise in observing and analyzing how those concepts and rules can best be applied to each student. As a profession, education cannot be constrained to predefined sequences and timelines or inescapably bound by externally chosen tasks. As a professional, an educator must have the liberty to take advantage of new tools, new methods, spontaneous opportunities for object lessons or meaningful tangents, or to initiate a new activity – even on the spur of the moment. Professional accountability sets high standards for personal conduct and for the quality of the service delivered. As long as those standards are met, it is the personal expertise of the individual professional that determines which methods are to be used to fulfill their professional obligations. Implicit within professional accountability is trust and freedom, not blame and control. “While you can beat people into submission, you can’t beat them into greatness” (Houston, 2007, p. 747).

SUMMARY Education has an obligation to recognize at all times the unique state of developmental readiness of each individual child, the universal necessity for play, and to protect and enable the right of each child to have a life and future of their own choosing that aligns with their unique strengths, talents, and interests. The purpose of education is to enable the widest and most diverse possibilities for the future of each child. It is only the unique strengths, talents, and interests of the individual child that should limit possibilities or choose a specific path.

References Bartholomew, B. (2007 April). Why we can’t always get what we want. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(8), 593-598.

Bergen, D. & Frombert, D. P. (2009 February). Play and social interaction in middle childhood. Phi Delta Kappan, 426-430.

Berlinger, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis. New York: Basic Books.

Bracey, G. W. (2008 June). Research: Assessing NCLB. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(10),781-782.

Chmelynski, C. (2006 November). Play teaches what testing can’t touch: Humanity. The Education Digest, 10-13

Crain, W. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, 5th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

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Autism Sculpts Divine Desire (ASDD)

Have you ever had to run to the store for diapers?  Well for the first 20 months or so of our son’s life we used cloth diapers, so it was never for diapers that I ran to the store.  At about that time he grew out of the cloth diapers we owned, we figured we would use disposable diapers until he was potty trained instead of making a large investment.  Of course we were quite optimistic, and continue to be.  It truly was not out of the question, for he was already learning things quickly and was sitting well on the thrown.  Little did we know that 22 months later he would still not be potty trained which we attribute to his development of autism. Now I keep a standing order of disposable diapers online so I save money, but this night we were too low before the next delivery, so I went out to Walmart.  It was late evening and busy, but not crowded.  I found myself walking through the section of Christmas items on sale, which was what we packed away earlier that day, since Epiphany had arrived.  Around the corner was another aisle of toys that were on sale.  I began to look for a toy on sale for my son.  I thought I could find a bargain and surprise him.  I must have taken ten minutes looking at all these fun toys that were on sale, but I could not find anything.   I could find many items that were age appropriate, many items that were fun, but none seemed right.

I then remembered that there were still two wrapped presents under the tree that we took down that afternoon.  They were both for our son, and it was not that he had an excessive number of presents.  This three-year-old had really no interest in Santa, or the reindeer.  He met that jolly man three times during Advent, was never scared, but also never interested.  We learned he liked the lights, the tree, and the song “Jingle Bells” (it may help that Elmo utilizes the tune for all his songs).  AJ’s stocking had a few presents, and that included his two favorites: chocolate peanut butter cups and a DVD with the Wonder Pets on it.  After that he was done; the bubble machine was loud, the books were fine,  the clothes fun for his parents, but the change of routine to rip paper off boxes was simply uninteresting to him; honestly he seem annoyed we kept showing him these wrapped items.

I should not have been so surprised, for 5 months earlier at his birthday party, his first present was a book he loved.  He opened it, saw an open place on the couch, ran from my lap where he was the center of attention, and sat right down amongst his party guests to read his beloved book.  We had to give up on him opening presents and had his “friends” open the gifts as he read his book.

Of course as a parent I am responsible to teach him, and have him taught. Of course there is the cliché that children teach us grown people, as well as Jesus telling adults to be like children.  However, there is something unique a child (a person) with autism can teach all of us, especially the church.

I believe there is a theological anthropology which helps our understanding how the Divine works with us messy humans.  An important part of this theological anthropology includes the theory of mimesis.  This theory is based on the fact that humans are social beings and our individuality and desires are based on the desires of others.  Even babies develop by mimicking their caregivers.  “It is made concrete in the imitation, learning, and repetition which is what enables an infant to become a socialized human being” (Alison 28). However, as humans develop we are socialized through  imitation and modeling, which is evident by the draw of a baby to the adult caregivers. “We all take such a draw, such a movement, for granted, though of course it isn’t automatic, as is evidenced by autistic children, who lack precisely the attraction, the draw the movement toward an adult” (Allison 27-28) I agree that my son proves that human beings are socially as well as biologically reared to adulthood, as we are struggling to teach and demonstrate the importance of the draw of socialization, especially communication.  Mimetic Theory  truly has great implication for our development of religion and our salvation through Jesus the Christ, who does not deny these desires, but wants us to model them after the perfect Divine:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

However, our socialization is based on the mimetic relationship with other humans, and not inherently the Divine.  The end result is violence.  This violence can be direct, but often results in scapegoating that happens because humans desire the same object, position, etc.  This violence is exactly what Jesus found Himself hung on a tree from, but is exactly what He saves us from.  Our desires should line up with the new age opened by the Resurrection.  However, we still have one foot in our world that our individuality is formed by the desires of others and often comes into conflict. This, though, brings up the issue of how a child with autism models someone that can avoid mimetic violence.

Walmart does sell basic items for life: fruit, vegetables, and coffee; yet much of the items depend on our desire to have items we do not truly need, but because we desire to be like others, we end up buying these items.  Of course I am not immune, which was very evident when I kept searching for a toy for AJ.  Now a lot of children have enough toys, or more toys than others, but for AJ it is that he does not fully participate in mimetic desire.  He is also still young, but generally a boy approaching 3 ½ years will want toys and not just the box (and he doesn’t even want a box either).  I watched all but one other child in his Headstart class (another boy on the spectrum), get excited and communicate their desires to a wonderful man dressed up like Santa.  That time we did get a good picture of our son with Santa, for in his stocking was an apple.  He was enamored at the apple, for he likes apples and he explored the smooth red surface as we snapped pictures, no idea he was the center of attention, nor was he going to sit with the man in the red suit.

AJ’s desires are not based as clearly on the reflection from others as a neurologically normal child.  Let me be quite frank, it is difficult, heart wrenching, scary, sad, and wonderful.  Wonderful, I write, because he makes us wonder about life.  I realized that I had been sucked into needing to buy a toy, because my desire is influenced by others and I desire to be like others.  That realization came from my son’s modeling of developing his identity with much less care of other’s desires.  What a great lesson.

The work ahead of us is to keep some of the special and unique advantages of his thinking while encouraging socialization and communication.  Honestly, I believe the best way is for those of us that are socialized to realize our desires can be based on the model Jesus suggests, which is the action of love, and that is the one desire my son has, and he has for every human being.  He is consistent and perfect like the Divine parent.  We all learn from our children; yet I believe those with the unique take on mimetic desire can teach us, as we teach them to communicate.  My prayer is that I can teach AJ to communicate, and yet still keep the desire of love the first priority; for if we model Jesus’ love, will that not be the social normative?

Work Cited:  Alison, James. The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. New York:  Crossroad, 1998


The great crime against the Roman Empire by the early churchwas neither political opposition nor armed insurrection – it was much worse.

The great crime of the early church was to ignore and sidestep the Empire proving that The Way of the Empire was not absolute making The Way of the Empire irrelevant.

The Way of the Empire is piety, war, victory, peace the Emperor is Lord relational complexity relations as conquests and politics.

The Way of the Empire is, for the individual, success or failure failure as poverty, hunger, nakedness, powerlessness, servitude, slavery, early death success as wealth, well-fed, fine clothing, political influence, military command, long life.

The Way of the Empire is inevitable, inescapable, singular, myopic – there is no other way.

The Way of the Good News is the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God and the feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community and the inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual.

The Way of the Good News is an earthly life of divine wisdom centered in the perpetual presence of God requiring no piety, no war, no conquests requiring no militant victories, no war-won war-worn peace requiring no Empire ignoring Empire responses, dismissing Empire demands making Empire expectations, attitudes, values, requirements irrelevant negating Empire culture, dismantling Empire government displacing The Way of the Empire with The Way of the Good News living fearlessly and simply and together as a sharing Community and a loving Family and a grace-full Kingdom of God.

I am invited to commit the same great crime. The Way I choose is...?

Reading the Bible, Again

On January 1st, in the evening, I picked up my Bible that I had been given at my baptism, flipped to the “Read The Bible Through a Year” chart, and began with day one.  I’ve read the Bible all the way through twice, once taking several years just reading a chapter an evening, and once in our first year of marriage, JC and I read the “One Year Bible.”  But I’ve begun this project many times throughout the years, only to fail for one of two reasons: I get behind in my daily reading about midway through January, or I get bored in Leviticus. I’ve heard a number of mainline preachers over the years say you shouldn't read the Bible straight through: there’s a lot of useless information such as the “Begats” which you don’t need to know, plus all the outdated law codes, and on top of it, the stories may begin in chronological order but it gets messy in the history and prophets—they weren’t written in chronological order to begin with.

Another argument I hear against reading the Bible straight through is from those who came out of more fundamentalist/evangelical traditions, who argue that they were forced to read the Bible this way, as-is, verse by verse, with no study guide or in-depth study on what they were reading.

But I think there’s something missing by not reading the Bible all the way through, at least once in your lifetime. This is how our scriptures have been put together. This is the canon we have now (though one can argue for Protestants this version has been around for much less time than the fuller version our Catholic and Orthodox siblings have).  This is the Bible, love it or loathe it, that we have, that millions around the world read (of course in various languages, translations and paraphrases).

I love the simple fact that I and perhaps thousands of other people have begun reading the Bible together on January 1st.  We may be reading at different paces, with different charts, we may get behind or read more quickly, but almost all of us started on January 1st with Genesis 1:1 and will end on December 31st with Revelation 22:21. Some of us will read the Psalms throughout the year, some of us will read both Old and New Testaments at the same time, but we all are reading these scriptures together, throughout the year, in an individual but collective way, as Christians and as skeptics, as conservative and as liberals, from all walks of life.

There are other reasons for reading the Bible all the way through as well: every time I read it, I understand a passage differently.  I pick up on something I didn’t before (Digression: This time, only eleven days in I have noticed that in Genesis 5:29 Noah is really the first Messianic figure in a sense: “He named him Noah, saying ‘Out of the ground that the Lord had cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.’“  I had never noticed that before—that the curse Adam experiences after disobeying God in the garden, which is the basis of the doctrine of original sin, is overcome with Noah, prophesied at his birth by his name!) I know the context of all those verses that have been taken out of context and use as proof texts for Scripturally-based arguments.  I remember where certain passages and stories are in the Bible more clearly each time I read when someone asks me my opinion or has a question about the Bible.  I gain new, fresh insights on the Scriptures and on their application in my own life.

As clergy, I think the practice of reading Scripture as a spiritual practice is a tough discipline to take on. We have to read the Bible to prepare for Sunday sermons or Bible studies.  We read it as part of our work, part of the job we do, and it’s hard to look at the Scripture without a critical eye for study or how to bring the Scripture to relevancy in our congregational life.  It can be difficult to let go and read the Scriptures in a way that is part of our spiritual life.  I think of all spiritual practices that clergy and lay leaders engage in both in leadership and in personal life—such as prayer, charity, fellowship, etc—devotional reading of the Scriptures may be the hardest to do in our personal life.  This does not mean to take away our critical eye or to not store away and take notes for sermons in the future, but it does mean to allow for the words to simply be sacred, for the words to simply be inspiring, for the words of Scripture to connect us with the Divine.  Lectio Divina is a practice that has become popular again in recent years, in Protestant circles as well as Catholic, as a way of prayerfully reading and meditating on the Scriptures, rather than studying and critiquing them.

So as this New Year is still dawning, there is still time to develop a practice of reading the Scriptures devotionally. You don’t have to do it in a year’s time, just one chapter a day.  Or you can double-up and be caught up by the end of January if you prefer.  I continue to marvel in the new insights I find in Scripture, and at the fact that millions around the world declare the Bible to be their sacred scripture, and that thousands of us are trying to read it all in a year, every year.

The Intersection of Cesarean Sections and the Cross of Crucifixion

Here is the third in our series of “best of” articles for 2011, which first appeared on October.  It was written by one of our editors, Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell.  Enjoy!

The nurses called it the crucifix position.  Lying flat on my back, my arms were stretched out like a T, and I.V. lines were running out of each arm and out of my lower back where the epidural line was placed.  This was not what we had planned.  This was not how we imagined our son’s birth would take place.

I had an uneventful pregnancy.  No morning sickness, no complications, I was as healthy as a pregnant woman can be and so was our unborn son.  Every checkup was routine.  The baby was in the right position.  No concerns.

After our due date came and went and we neared forty-two weeks, the “eviction” date set by most obstetricians, I was told I would need a medical induction and that it would be handled by another doctor in the practice, since my doctor was now on vacation.  I was given instructions to call in on Friday morning at 7a.m. with assurance that I would be at the top of the list to come in for my induction.

That Friday morning at 7a.m., I called in to the hospital.  I was told that every room was full and they could not accommodate me at that time, as if I were a hotel guest and not an overdue pregnant mother.  I was told to call back at noon, and when I did, I was told to call again at 2p.m.  By the time we were admitted, it was 3:20p.m.  I was put on monitors and discovered that I was having contractions at this time, and was progressing somewhat on my own.  However, the on-call doctor did not see me until after 7p.m., twelve hours after I was supposed to have been induced.  When she reviewed my charts, it was clear she was not familiar with me or my pregnancy and upon reviewing the size of my baby and she suggested a Cesarean section.

I was a fairly open-minded pregnant mother-to-be. While other friends of mine were telling me how they were going to have a fully natural childbirth or a water birth and had written birth plans detailing what they wanted, I wanted to be open to the process and understanding that I hadn’t been through this before, I wanted to be open to the possibilities of intervention.  The only thing I wanted to avoid was a Caesarean section.  I had never had surgery, and until this pregnancy I had never even been admitted to a hospital.  I was determined I was going to have a vaginal birth, and had been assured previously by my doctor that there was no reason I would need a Caesarean section.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was on a clock that had been set from the time I was admitted.  This is common in most hospitals in the U.S.  A pregnant woman in labor is put on a clock in which if certain progress is not made in a certain amount of time, labor is augmented.  If this augmentation does not progress things fast enough, or causes maternal or fetal distress, a Cesarean section may occur.  And every hospital is different—most want you to deliver within 24 hours of your water breaking, and some want you to deliver within 36.  Some doctors say you must dilate one centimeter per hour, others are more relaxed.  Around 7:30p.m., the nurse administered Pitocin, the drug that starts or enhances contractions.  And so the minutes began ticking away.

I labored well until the middle of the night when I realized how tired I was and that I needed to sleep—at that point I had been up for almost 20 hours and knew it was going to be much longer.  I hadn’t expected to wait twelve hours before being seen by the doctor and beginning the Pitocin.  I asked for the epidural, and with my lower body numb tried to sleep.  I did not know at the time, as it was not explained to me by the nurse or the anesthesiologist, but the risk of my blood pressure dropping while on the epidural required that my blood pressure be monitored throughout.  So every fifteen minutes the blood pressure gauge would squeeze my upper arm keeping me up.

Every hour the doctor came back, and every hour Pitocin was increased and I would progress a little more, just enough to keep me ahead of the clock and long enough for a new on-call doctor to come on to the scene.  However, as I labored on until the afternoon after being fully dilated, and after pushing for an hour and a half, falling asleep in the middle of contractions, the nurse looked at me and said, “I don’t think you’re going to do this.”

Lying in the crucifix position, exactly twenty-four hours after I had been admitted at 3:20p.m., I was cut open, my son taken from me, and when I did not hear him scream and kept asking questions, they knocked me out with narcotics.  My son AJ ended up in the Special Care Nursery for a few hours, as he was not breathing regularly, and there were a few other concerns.  My husband was almost completely silent as he was not sure what was going on, if his son was fine or if his wife was going to survive.  After an hour I was wheeled into a recovery room all alone, no husband, no son, just a nurse checking in on me.  While I was in recovery I later learned my entire family was able to go into the Special Care nursery and see my son but I was left alone, until I  was finally taken to my postpartum room and they released my son at the same time.  Not only was this “birth” traumatic, frightening and shocking more than normal, after all of that, I ended up with an infection and was back in the hospital a week later, having my incision reopened and later placed on a vacuum machine for a few weeks.  It took me twelve weeks for my incision to heal, when the normal recovery for a C-section is about 2 weeks.

Since AJ’s birth, I have questioned what happened to me in the hospital, not only asking my doctor questions about what went wrong from my point of view, but also talked to friends who had traumatic C-sections and have done some research online.  I viewed the documentary The Business of Being Born (2007), which questions the way the United States has handled birth in the last century, making birth more institutionalized, where birth becomes more of a medical/surgical procedure, rather than a natural process that has been happening to women for as long as human beings have walked this earth.  Produced by Ricki Lake, Business reviews how the hospitals, fueled by insurance companies, attempt to speed up the process of birth artificially as a way of moving women through Labor and Delivery to keep beds open, and how many of these “sped-up” births require Cesarean sections in the end.   The documentary also interviews obstetricians who admit that many of their colleagues will recommend C-sections because it is more convenient for their schedule, at the end of the day or before the weekend begins.  I have read of obstetricians performing them in the late evening before midnight, as it is one less patient during the overnight hours to worry about.

In the months before AJ was born, I had attended childbirth classes and had read several different books on childbirth and some of the medical interventions that might take place, but I had known so little about what would happen once I was admitted to the hospital, how the doctors and nurses would make decisions that I would not understand.  I did not understand the power dynamic that would take place in my role as a patient, how helpless I and my husband would feel in the hospital system, where we were given as little information as possible.

Since I gave birth and recovered from the infection, I have researched labor, delivery, and Caesarean sections.  TheUnited Stateshas the highest Caesarean section rate in the industrialized world.  As of 2006, the C-section rate in the US was 31% of all births, or about one in three.  The risk of a C-section doubles for a first-time mother when a medical induction occurs.  The World Health Organization recommends that countries have a rate of 15% or less, and countries with rates higher than 15% are at greater risk of soaring maternal and fetal death rates.

There are times C-sections are necessary: when the baby is presented breech and attempts to turn the baby fail, when there are risks to the mother’s health such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure), or risks to the baby’s health such as premature placental detachment, or prolapsed cord (when the cord emerges first in the birth canal).  However, there are many more C-sections that are made necessary due to standard medical practice in hospitals that are drawn on artificial conclusions, such as “the clock.”

The convenience of C-sections for doctors and/or hospitals is that C-sections are quick: from the time it takes to prep the room to the time the patient is sewn up and off to the recovery room is less than an hour and a half.  The procedure itself takes about twenty minutes.  Because every woman labors differently, from a few short hours to days, C-sections end the need of doctors and staff to constantly monitor the mother and baby’s health and progress.  In facilities with limited number of beds in a maternity ward, the need to turn over rooms can sometimes compromise the need of time for the mother to be in labor.  Things have to be sped up.  The clock is set.

Time ticks away.  Pitocin is started, increasing the strength and intensity of the contractions.  The contractions increase and the pain and intensity often become too much to bear, so the mother is given an epidural to numb the effects, but also makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the laboring mother to change positions to help the baby move further down the birth canal.  Often the epidural calms the effects of the Pitocin to a point that it slows down the labor, and so Pitocin is increased again.  This cycle continues, with the epidural or other pain-relieving drugs administered at a greater measure to combat the intensity of the contractions, all the while creating an environment in which a baby undergoes great stress.  That stress can manifest itself in drops in heart rates or other vital signs, causing an emergency which requires a C-section to save the life of the child.  And if that were not enough, after twenty-four hours of labor most women are taken in for a C-section anyway because “the clock” has wound down from twenty-four to zero.

There are many risks involved with a C-section, which are rarely explained because there isn’t time, though the patient is given a waiver to sign.  It is up to the patient to ask questions.  I was not informed that the C-section could actually cause great risk to the baby as well as me.  I was not told that one of the outcomes may be that my child would have difficulty breathing, as my son did.  I was not told about the risk of infection, nor was I ever told that one out of every two C-sections has complications.  However, as one doctor friend of mine said to me off the cuff, “No doctor has ever been sued for performing a C-section.”

I believe in the end, my C-section was necessary.  The second on-call doctor during my labor who delivered AJ said the reason for the C-section was my fatigue at the end, not his size.  I had labored for almost 24 hours after being up for 36 hours, and I was utterly exhausted after the Pitocin and the epidural which was supposed to help me relax.  I was falling asleep between pushes.  Once AJ was born it was clear he was having trouble breathing.  The C-section ended up being necessary, and I was left with an infection and a twelve-week recovery.

All in all, as the saying goes, if I only knew then what I know now.  If I had known all the risks of the medical induction process, I would have asked to delay my induction.  At my last ultrasound, there was no cause for concern.  If I had known that my induction would be delayed by twelve hours by the hospital, I would have asked to come back the next morning.  I cried when the doctors began the C-section because I felt set up.  I do believe my C-section was necessary, but I also believe it was entirely preventable.  It ought not to have happened.

Jesus’ death by crucifixion was also necessary, and it should not have happened.  When I prepared for Holy Week the spring after my son’s birth, I found myself wrestling with these questions with a wrench in the stomach feeling: Why did Christ have to die for our sins?  Why did Christ have to die on the cross?

Perhaps I had been reading the story wrong.  I remember going to camp as a youth and being explained in a formulaic way, that Adam’s sin caused God to put Christ on a cross, which equals our salvation.  At the same time I remember at the same camp learning the verse by heart:  For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.  There seemed to be more to it than a simple equation of sending Jesus to die, much more than I could understand at that impressionable age.

It is clear in the Gospels that Jesus is innocent.  Jesus is falsely accused, there is no basis for the accusations, and Pilate even wanted to release him, but for fear of the crowds hands him over.  Jesus has done nothing to deserve death.  Jesus’ death does not appease a wrathful God but rather appeases the bloodthirsty crowd that demands his blood.

Jesus tells a parable during the events of Holy Week about the owner of a vineyard and his tenants (Mark 12:1-9). The landowner has sent servants who have returned beaten and abused.  It is clear that the landowner did not willingly send his son to die—that was not part of the plan of the landowner—but sent him because it was the necessary thing to do, the only thing to do, so that some would listen to him.  God sent Jesus to the world so that the world would learn and have relationship with God in a new way.  God knew, however, that our sinful ways would cause us to kill him.

When Jesus entered Jerusalemon that day, he knew what his end would be.  But the same crowds that would shout “Crucify him!” did not know this; they shouted “Hosanna!”  The same disciples that would flee from him, deny him and even betray him did not know this, they accompanied him.

Joseph was told in a dream to name the child Jesus because he would save his people from their sins.  What we forget so often is how many times Jesus healed people, restored people, and said, “Your sins are forgiven.”  It did not require his death to forgive our sins, but through Jesus’ death on the cross, death was conquered forever.  The paradox is that Jesus’ death was entirely preventable, but entirely necessary.  He was innocent and yet his death subdued the violence brewing between the Romans and the people; it quenched the blood thirst of the crowd that was not satisfied with Barabbas.  We remember that it was only after Jesus was handed over for death that Pilate and Herod became friends.

Jesus died in a system of violence resolved by violence.  The priests wanted him arrested but didn’t want to be responsible for his death, so they handed him over to Pilate.  Pilate didn’t want to be responsible for this innocent man’s death, and in Luke’s Gospel he tries to send him back to Herod, but eventually hands him over to the soldiers to be crucified, to please the crowds.  No one wanted to claim responsibility, but they all wanted him to be killed, to be rid of him.  To bring peace to the crowds, the priests, and the government, an innocent man was killed.

However, before we get to death, there is another birth we speak of in the Christian story.  When Nicodemus came to visit Jesus, he was told that no one could see the kingdom of God without being born from above.  Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can I crawl back into my mother’s womb?”  Jesus told him he had to be born not only of flesh, but of Spirit.  There is another birth that happens, a birth that has no death, and that birth is triumphant because the cross conquers death.

I was exhausted when AJ was born.  I had slept very little in thirty hours and at the end, the Caesarean section was necessary for him to be born.  Despite what I went through and because of the research I’ve done I still believe it was necessary at that point, to give my son life.  But it ought not to have happened.  It was not at all what I expected when I became pregnant or when I prepared for the induction.  In the end, I have my son, born alive and healthy.  There are many women who have uncomplicated pregnancies that end up with Cesarean sections, surgical procedures that ought not to have happened, but because of the medical interventions that occurred, the artificial clock set up of the hospitals, the introduction of Pitocin and epidurals, many of those mothers and babies end up with complications requiring a life-saving Cesarean section, though not without its consequences.

All too often the decision to have a Cesarean section is made as a life-or-death decision.  It has to be made almost right away.  It has to be made to save the life of the child and/or the mother.  The responsibility of saving the life ends up upon the family caught in the process of birth, for ultimately they must sign the paper to give consent, even if not all the risks are shared.  However, had the hospital not put the laboring mother on a clock, had the doctor not decided that the contractions were not fast enough based on insurance policies and not medical necessity, had the anesthesiologist given all the risks to the patient ahead of time, perhaps a number of Cesarean sections would be avoided, and the health risks for both mother and baby could be reduced dramatically.

My hope is that as the World Health Organization puts pressure on the medical institution in the prevent unnecessary cesarean sections, to get off of the artificial clocks placed by insurance companies and hospitals.  Perhaps in the future we will have learned from our past C-sections.  It is time to end the systemic way women and children are put in danger, created by an artificial clock placed by hospitals and insurance companies in a system more concerned about turning over beds than the risks involved.

My hope goes beyond the operating room in Labor and Delivery to the side of the hospital bed.  The entire time I was recovering from surgery in the hospital, I was never seen by a chaplain.  I was never asked the question, “Do you want spiritual support?”  My hope goes beyond the side of the hospital bed into the churches and homes where friends and clergy will ask how you feel, but rarely want to hear what you feel, especially if you have any negative feelings about the birth process.  “Well, your baby is healthy, that is all that matters.”  “Your son is alive, you can thank God for that.”  Those statements, however true, are hollow and empty and allow the caregiver to ignore the feelings of the mother.  And I have barely mentioned what my husband went through in all of this.  My hope is that pastors will learn how to reach out to mothers who have given birth by Cesarean section or who have had other traumatic birth experiences to understand that not every birth results in a happy experience.  My hope is that clergy will recognize the emotional pain and trauma that has occurred for all parents involved, to not only recognize but honor and give validity to the multitude of feelings surrounding birth.

I cannot tell the story of the birth of my son, Anselm John, without telling the story of my C-section.  There are many women who can identify with the experience of Jesus on the cross, when their arms are strapped down in a T, when they are told this must be done to save a life.  They, too, are caught in a system where responsibility is pushed off, where a scapegoat is created, whether it be the mother for not making quick decisions earlier, or even the child, for not descending the birth canal fast enough.

We cannot tell the Christian story without telling of the crucifixion of Jesus.  We cannot tell the story of God’s love for the world without the sending of his only son and his death on the cross, a scapegoat for the system of violence.  I am reminded of what theologian Mark Heim once said: “Jesus’ death saves the world, and it ought not to have happened.”  That is exactly how I feel about my C-section: it saved AJ’s life, and it ought not to have happened.

Saving the "Saved" language

Language is a complex concept to begin with.  Add in culture, another complex concept—with regional, ethnic and socio-economic facets—and then generational understandings, speaking to another person even in technically the same language may result in garbled nonsense when trying to have a dialogue.  Then throw in theological language with all those understandings and facets and you begin to understand why two Christians of the same denomination, even the same church, can sometimes believe that they believe in two different Gods, or two different Jesus’. Even though I grew up in a liberal mainline small congregation, in my high school and college years I got very concerned with “being saved,” and with others “being saved.”  Now I have to explain: for some “being saved” means being saved from hell and going to heaven.  For me, “being saved” meant being acceptable to God because somehow I believed in my original state—in other words, who I was—was somehow not good enough for God.  I grasped on to this concept of “being saved” through the end-of-the-week altar calls at church camp, summer after summer.  In college, this manifested itself in the Campus Crusade for Christ meetings and other such gatherings where, most of the time, older men told us that the things we were doing as typical teens and young adults were sinful, that we were separated from God and therefore unworthy.  To make matters worse, often young, charismatic adults were recruited in these gatherings to reach out to us to tell us how we needed to “be saved.”

So nevermind the teachings of my church.  Nevermind the feeling I had when I was thirteen of God moving in me that someday I would be a minister.  Nevermind that I had been baptized when I was thirteen.  I still needed to be saved.  And more than once.  It seemed like I was never good enough for God when all these people kept telling me I needed to be saved.  And I felt that I wasn’t doing my part because I wasn’t out trying to save others all the time (actually, I did try, and I strained a few friendships because of it—people who still to this day won’t set foot in a church, and I played my part).

During my junior year of college when I took a course titled “Fundamentals of Sociology” I began to understand the complexity of social structures, culture, and other layers of our communities.  Even though I am quite certain my professor wanted nothing ever to do with Christianity or religion for that matter (except to study it in research), I credit her with my understanding of systemic sin.  Through that course I began to understand the role of power and patriarchy at play in the Christian church tradition in general.  I began to see how the systems and structures in place in our world kept the power out of the hands of the poor and oppressed.  And I began to see how this power play was at work in the very language of my faith.

I abandoned the term “saved” at that time.  I wanted nothing to do with being saved.  I was definitely a follower of Jesus but I was no longer trying to coerce others to think and believe the way I wanted to.  I stopped using much of the language of the Christian youth gatherings I had been a part of.   I stopped singing the praise songs about redemption and sacrifice.  I stopped going to any gathering where crying would be part of the worship experience.  I wanted to get away from anything that was emotionally charged, where power played on the fears of others, where emotions were manipulated to get us to commit to a relationship we already had with God.  I refused to use the word “saved.”

Even in seminary I avoided the term “saved.”  I argued with my field education supervisor who told me that there may be times when I need to “speak the language” that I still could not bring myself to use a word that had been used in such a manipulative, even abusive, way.  I would not ever make someone feel that they were not good enough for God.  I would not ever use a word that had made me feel that I was hopeless, helpless, and unworthy, the way I had perceived others telling me I needed to be “saved.”

Then it happened.  A family started coming to my church, a blended family with unmarried parents.  One of the parents came to me and asked me about what they needed to do to be “saved.”  I was taken aback.  At first I tried to explain that God desires relationship with us and that we can be in relationship with God and others, but as we talked, I realized she was very concerned about wanting to be in heaven.  She needed the reassurance.  She needed the hope.  And I realized I could not have a different conversation about Christ without her having the assurance first that she was “saved.”  So I did something I hadn’t done in years.  We prayed a salvation prayer, similar to the ones I had learned in my conservative youth group days.

But the difference this time was that the journey didn’t end there.  This was the beginning.  We were able to continue to meet, dialogue, and pray together, and her understanding of relationship with God through Jesus developed far beyond just a doorway into heaven.

I’m still not a fan of saying one needs to “be saved” or “get saved” in terms of talking about my own faith journey.  But I recognize that while for me, that language seemed damaging and hurtful, for others, it is familiar and comforting.  And having known people coming out of addiction or out of prison, people who have been able to come out of the darkness of depression—sometimes, people really are “saved” by Christ, in the real sense of the word: without relationship with Christ, they would have been lost, dead.

There is a danger, and I know I am guilty of this, in allowing language to be co-opted by another group, to the point one refuses to use it anymore.  In the liberal/mainline church, we have begun to abandon the language of our tradition and have allowed it to be used and misused by others.  Evangelical basically means “eager to share the Gospel.”  The Good News of Jesus the Christ.  But we have allowed evangelical to mean a particular theological/political slant.  We have abandoned the language of redemption and salvation at times to leave behind blood atonement theologies that don’t work for us, choosing a friendlier language for Jesus (remember “Buddy Jesus” from Dogma?) as if Jesus went smiling to the cross, instead of suffering, and dying.

Language matters.  And sometimes we in the liberal/mainline church have given over the language of our tradition to the point that our language cannot cross social-cultural boundaries.  We cannot reach out to those looking for a more progressive church home who still value their faith in Jesus, who understand their Savior as one who has really saved them from a life of sin, or from a life without meaning, or from hell itself.

As our 21st century church cultures continue to shift and transform, I think we will find many more who have grown up in the evangelical or fundamentalist churches looking for congregations that are welcoming and affirming of GLBTQ folk, congregations committed to social justice, congregations truly trying to make a difference in the world around them, here and now.  But can we learn their language and even have a conversation, or do we assume that they are abandoning their concept of relationship with Jesus as Savior as they abandon the prejudices their old churches may have held?  Can we speak the language of “being saved” by Christ, and understand our own faith journey in a language that we have once shed?  Can we share our language in a way that is not condescending or judgmental of the variety of theological backgrounds we come from?

My response to an anti-emergent manifesto

If there’s one thing emergent Christians can’t stand, it’s being categorized, or worse, stereotyped. It kinda goes against the whole idea that the emergent movement can’t be nailed down or quantified. The funny thing is, most folks who are emergent would deny it if asked, not out of shame, but rather out of principle. It’s kind of like the old saying, “If you meet The Buddha along the road, kill him.” If it’s distilled down to a handful of component parts, it loses something…maybe everything.

Anyway, my wife, Amy, sent along a passage which pretty much describes me with about ninety-percent accuracy, which is impressive. And given that it’s from a guy who is down on emergents, it does lend him a little bit of credibility to offer a critique.

Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) notes that, “After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement.”

Aside from the fact that he seems to use “emerging church” and “emergent Christian” synonymously, he does have a good sense of what I’m about, if no one else. Following are some excerpts from his list, of signs you might be an emergent:

  • if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;
  • if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;
  • if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;
  • if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;
  • if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;
  • if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;
  • if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus;
  • if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;
  • if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;
  • if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us…

Yeah, color me busted. I’m a lot of that stuff.

I’m not sure why exactly he compiled this list, other than to help promote his anti-emergent book. But DeYoung’s criticisms of emergents raised a lot of thoughts for me. Here are what I see as a handful of his central problems with emergent Christianity, followed by my responses.

Emergents throw away doctrine, and thus don’t stand for anything.

Agreed, we tend to reject doctrinal statements and systems of authority that impose them on others, but to say we don’t stand for anything is simply wrong. At the risk of generalizing, I would argue that ALL EMERGENTS are unified by the Greatest Commandment, which was offered by Jesus himself as the perfection of the sum total of all law and doctrine:

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (from The Message, an interpretation of scripture)

Good enough for Jesus; good enough for me.

Emergents criticize atonement theology because it’s not easy to stomach, or not cool.

From my perspective, hanging your theology on the idea that “Jesus died for your sins” seems like the easy out, rather than the other way around. I understand where the whole “blood atonement” theology, and Paul proposes it a few times in his New Testament letters. But if we look at where he’s coming from, he’s surrounded by sacrificial cultures, including Judaism. But as far back as the story of God stopping Abraham from nearly sacrificing Isaac, it seems to me that the message throughout scripture is “Enough. No more blood.” And if, indeed God can’t tolerate sin without a blood sacrifice in the form of Jesus, then all the forgiveness of sin that Jesus offered in his lifetime didn’t count. And if we want to get slippery and argue that his death retro-actively took care of the sins of the past, then why did he bother forgiving sin throughout his ministry in the first place?

And frankly, I don’t find this easy, convenient or cool to say in a nation where evangelical theocratic values still prevail, but if God felt the need to kill his own child to make things right, I’m not sure I’m interested in modeling my life after such a God.

Emergents focus on “easy” issues to get behind like poverty and diversity, while downplaying the tough stuff, like abortion and homosexuality.

I will agree that some of the more prominent voices in emergent circles have yet to take explicit, strong stands on issues below the belt. And I agree that just not saying anything is not good enough. Hey, it’s not a perfect movement! That said, there are many of us who take issues of sex and sexuality on directly. In fact, I’ve written, edited and contributed to several books that deal directly and explicitly with pornography, sexual addiction, abortion, homosexuality and a host of other uncomfortable topics.

Maybe that’s why I don’t sell many books. Anyway…

Yes, emergents don’t take “a stand” on abortion, because we’re all over the map with what we believe about it. And one of the beautiful things I appreciate about emergents is that we don’t agree on lots of things. We believe that there is a love that is the connective tissue, holding us together regardless of our differences. It’s an ongoing discussion, for sure. And as for homosexuality, most emergents are pretty clear that saying it’s a non-issue isn’t acceptable. Namely, there’s a growing consensus that GLBTQ folks are denied equality, both in the church and elsewhere, because of who they love and how they identify with regard to gender. Even for those emergents who may still not be sure how they feel about the moral implications of homosexuality, I expect most – if not all – of us can agree that we’re called to advocate for all people to have equal standing in the eyes of the church, government and one another.

Emergents reduce the Bible to just another good book by not upholding its perfect inerrancy.

This whole argument about the divinity and perfection of scripture is so tired, I almost didn’t even respond to this. We’ve all heard the debate. But suffice it to say that God doesn’t need a Bible. God didn’t have an ego issue to be worked out in a 66-chapter memoir. and if the Bible was intended to be perfect, it stands to reason we would have been inborn with such understanding, rather than depending on sometimes-contradictory stories, passed down orally through generations, then written, rewritten (and so on), translated and interpreted. I’m sorry, but if the Bible was perfect, there wouldn’t be more than one version and one interpretation. And for anyone says they don’t interpret scripture, you’re kidding yourself.

Just because I may not deem everything factually, historically accurate in the Bible doesn’t mean that I don’t find divinely inspired Truth in its pages. If that’s not good enough, once again, I’ll just go ahead and tap out now.

Emergents don’t like to talk about things like judgment and hell because it’s not attractive.

Actually, we talk about hell quite a bit, but it’s usually helping de-program the deep fear, guilt and paranoia drilled into folks at a younger age about why they HAD to believe and do “XYZ” or else. Again, not all emergents will share a common theology on hell, judgment, etc, but for me it’s clear that the modern notion of hell came from the Greek myths about Hades. Even Jews didn’t have a theology of hell; they believe in Sheol, which was a place of rest for the dead, not of fire and eternal suffering.

Rob Bell’s argument in his book, Love Wins, is salient. He notes that most who embrace a theology that leans on hell also believe there’s an “age of accountability” for children, before which they are not held responsible for their own actions in God’s eyes. Bell says then that the compassionate thing to do is to kill off all of our children before the age of accountability to ensure they will live forever in Paradise. What’s a few lost decades on earth, after all, compared with the possibility of eternal damnation?

There are few who would suggest that God’s love doesn’t exceed that of human beings. So let’s see a show of hands of those who would kill their own child out of love for someone else? And yes, I’ve heard the argument that it shows God loves us more than his own son, but keep in mind, Jesus is supposedly “one of us,” in that he was fully human. And Jesus said that whatever is done to the “least of these” is done to him, and therefore, to God. So who could argue that Jesus wasn’t among the “least of these” while being crucified? Totally vulnerable, betrayed, poor, humiliated. Sounds pretty “least of these” to me.

Finally, who is this sacrifice for? Supposedly for us, but actually it’s to satisfy God’s intolerance of sin. Do we see God as so weak or intolerant that God can’t handle us just as we are? Are we really so powerful in our sin? This seems like hubris to me, to even suggest that we can do ANYTHING that can’t be handled, forgiven or tolerated by the One who made us.

One thing I think the author was spot-on about was his criticism of the emergent movement largely holding up white, straight middle class males, while also praising the idea of diversity. This is very true, and we have a long way to go if we’re not going to end up looking like a bunch of hypocrites or opportunists. If we value diversity in all its forms, we have to be much more aggressive about helping this movement more accurately reflect the makeup of those in our midst.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Un-American in the Name of Jesus?

Un-American in the name of Jesus? By Christian Piatt (Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.


Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.