Archive for March, 2006

Friday Night Date Place: Vows

A few weeks ago, I looked at having a realistic view of marriage. A lot of people date with the idea of marriage as the end game, so it’s always good to have an idea of what it is you are actually aiming for (and if you should be in all that much of a “hurry” to get there).

As another way of looking at what it is so many folks think they are ready for, I thought that I would look at the vows that my wife and I took six years ago. Today I will post her vows. Coincidentally, tomorrow is our anniversary, which means that you’ll get a special Saturday edition of “Friday Night Date Place” as I post my vows then. These vows were written by my friend and pastor, Rich Vincent, originally for his wedding, but a lot of us who have been under his ministry have co-opted them for our weddings. This is what my wife pledged:

As I await the future resurrection and glorification of the body, I must due to my present frailties, weaknesses, and continued sinfulness, not only say, and not only promise, but rather, I must vow to you before friends, family, God, and government, those things which, apart from the grace of God, I can not fulfill.

As the Church loves Christ sacrificially,
so I vow to sacrifice all for your sake
As the Church loves Christ supremely,
so I vow to ever delight in only you
As the Church loves Christ eternally,
so I vow to love you until my dying day

As the Church cherishes Christ,
so I vow to esteem you my greatest treasure
As the Church submits to Christ,
so I vow to submit to you
As the Church represents Christ,
so I vow to respectfully obey you
As the Church serves Christ,
so I vow to serve you with all humility and patience

And just as the church will forever remain the bride of Christ,
so I vow to never depart from or abandon you,

For Richer or poorer
In sickness and in health
For better or for worse
Until death do us part

By my love, I hope to prepare you for the One whose love
I can only but hope to faintly imitate- the Lord Jesus Christ

***
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Post-Colonialism: The Colonized

In light of looking at the mentality of the colonizers, now it’s time to turn our attention to the mentality of those colonized. Examine at the process of colonization as the forced absorbing of one story by another. Again, the clearest way I can relate this to people is by telling the story of Daniel. Many people are familiar with the story of Daniel in the lion’s den, but the back-story is what I’m interested in. The story is set against the exile of Israel. The Israelites were taken to a foreign land, not all of them, but their best and brightest young men. In effect, the exile robbed Israel of its brain trust, its future. Those men were in turn re-enculturated: indoctrinated with new language, new customs, even new names. Essentially brainwashed as a form of systematic control.

In a lot of ways, the idea of postcolonialism is a reflection upon the struggle for identity in a non-western paradigm/context. Sort of the cousin to the discussion on ontological blackness (identity politics, nigrescence, and race as shared story). Under colonialism, cultures were wiped out, the memories of our histories wiped out (and I say “our” realizing that this was something far from unique to the black story).

In the name of Jesus, what Gospel message was heard by those colonized? You are sinners, you’re going to hell, you need to be saved/forgiven of your sins, and we will tell you how. Had the message stopped there, it still would have been an incomplete Gospel, but one I could live with. Instead, the colonizers brought in and attached their own cultural baggage: trading one sin-soaked culture for the dominant sin-soaked culture. What we heard was a Gospel message clouded by self-interest: “we’ll trade you the Bible for your land and resources. And we’ll encourage that trade by use of the whip if we have to.”

The western imperialist hegemony trust in its own power, its political/economic alliances, its manifest destiny a little too much. When you create and buy into your own mythology, you want to be able to dismiss the lingering effects of slavery and ignore the colonial systematic oppression woven into the very fabric of this country and its systems (and worse, the colonialist mentality woven into our very hearts and minds). Those colonized, the victims, basically have two choices: accept the oppressors value system, being content to remain in their place; or re-define their reality, fight the oppression. You see, such a Gospel can’t help but make the hearers of it feel dirty, ashamed, inferior, afraid … then in Stockholm Syndrome-esque fashion, grateful.

Part of the mental process of colonization is that things are always about knowing or being put in your place. Disobedience has consequences, be it by whippings, lynchings, or separate but equal. If the slave experience shaped how black people see this country and its systems, it is not far-fetched to allow for that same history shaping how we see (and hear) the Gospel. The method was simple: if the metaphor or story that you live your life by can be changed, you will be changed.

“‘Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?’ declares the LORD . ‘Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?’” Amos 9:7

Here’s the rub: this partial, baggage-laden Gospel was REJECTED! It wasn’t true to our (African) heritage, pride, and sense of self-worth. It wasn’t true to the Gospel of the Bible and it certainly wasn’t true to the triune God in whom we all find our worth and identity. God is sovereign and moves throughout history in ways I can’t begin to comprehend. The idea of Christ’s message being brought to Africa by the end of a whip, I won’t lie, I can’t put my mind around that. It’s too big. However I do know that ideas have consequences, and that colonialism had its lasting effects.

It’s the difference between people arriving here to escape tyranny and pursue freedom vs. those who arrived in chains to serve under tyrannical rule. How unless the oppressed, themselves, throw off the shackles of their oppressors, “self-esteem” can’t be reclaimed – self-hatred and a mentality of oppression will be in danger of ruling the day.

However, when you oppress the weak and poor of your own nation, trample on their freedoms, I can’t help but think that there are consequences for both the oppressed and the oppressor. There is this structure that reinforces the story oppressors tell themselves. They move over other cultures to lay down their own, their “idea” of Christianity – as if the culture can’t absorb the Gospel. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – existing in community and love, creating from an overflow of that shared communion. Wanting us to partake of that community and know its peace and love. God’s will not being a “pie in the sky when you die” message, but the reality that His will is being done now. Not that “you” are a sinner, but we all are sinners, but God’s kingdom is available to all of us now. Where faith meets social praxis, the dynamic of reflection and action. All cultures reconciled to Him. Justice to be done for all people. That is a more complete message of the Gospel, one that I can whole-heartedly get behind.

“Let’s conquer the world for Christ!” While I’m sure that Christ appreciates the sentiment, His was not a mission to conquer. That is part of colonial language, the trap of Imperial Christianity, kind of like me saying “go forth and make disciples … by any means necessary.” We use a lot of war imagery in the name of a man who said “those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” Missionary work is about putting the Gospel message into the hearer’s cultural context. It’s about finding ways to contribute to people’s lives without turning them into the missionary’s image of what they ought to be. Guide them without assimilating them. Maybe in how black people in America were able to take the corrupted Gospel message and co-opt it – well, maybe there is something for the oppressors, the colonizers, to learn from their victims.

Post-Colonialism: The Colonizers

“The man who submits himself to a Tyrant in heaven naturally submits himself to the yoke of a tyrant on earth. The bible is a much more efficient and inexpensive tool of oppression than the overseer’s whip. Were I a slave master I would absolutely want all of my slaves to be Christians. I’m sorry but the Black church was no miracle but the overseer’s plan come to it’s fruition. That the conquered inevitably adopt the faith of their conquerors is just one of those sad facts of history. That was an excellent essay however and while I do understand many of the points you were making on how Christianity was used in order to allow communities to gather and organize this is an example of people working with the tools they are given. It’s no different than us making a delicacy out of the feet and intestines of a pig. We survived and thrived in spite of rather than because of.”

“We were able to take a weapon used against us and turn it back on our oppressors. That is no doubt a great triumph. But in the end it still had it’s intended purpose of completely cutting us off from our culture and indoctrinating us and brainwashing us with the culture and religion of our oppressors.”

“Still, historically, the conquerors of one culture have always torn down the temples, demonized the gods, and inevitably forced their own faith on the conquered. It seems somehow unseemly to argue that Black people are somehow better off for this having been done to them.”Wrath James White

Strong words. These comments were made in the wake of my blogs on The Miracle of the Black Church and Ancient-Future African Faith and are arguments well worth considering. I’ve been doing a lot of wrestling over the idea of how to do evangelism and missionary work. For that matter, there’s been a lot of discussion, or at least the beginnings of conversation, about the idea of ministering in a postcolonialism age. I wanted to back up a bit and look at what this means and what it’s implications may be, because I believe a lot of what the idea of postcolonialism is about gets to the root of what Wrath, among others, was getting at. For example:

Evangelism tends to be the destroyer of people. Historically and currently. It’s mostly imperialsim… after all how else does one form a religion to rule an empire based on the teachings of an anarchist… Constantine was many things, but he was a canny politician. Christianity has always, from its inception, been a prosletysing religion. If goes out of its way to recruit and spread, and has a successful meme. Islam conquers. Judaism doesn’t care, join don’t join doesn’t matter. Buddhism under Akosha had something like the Christian missionaries, but nothing like as muscular. Hindus don’t care since they regard most religions as subsets of Hinduism (down to Krishna’s comment on that).

Thing is, one size doesn’t fit all. I’m happy to help with medical aid, but if they stated introducing God bothering cultural modification to it, I’d suggest we let them die in their own time rather than wipe them out with God. But then I suppose their souls are more important than their bodies. –Harlequin

Missionary work during the age of colonialism will be viewed, assuming that it is not already, as a(nother) sad chapter in church history. The church, as a whole, will have to take a long hard look in the mirror and accept the things it has done in the name of Christ and its role in the oppression of people.

An aspect of colonialism is its conquest mentality that works by making other cultures less than human, debasing one while exalting the colonizer’s. The western imperialist colonizers viewed Africa as an untamed land with ungodly people, that there was nothing good in this dark and scary continent–other than its resources–and that its people were entirely under the power of the devil. Ironically, the United States is a revolutionary country in that it threw off the shackles of its own colonial masters. The hypocritical conceit of the country was that while our founding fathers held that all men were created equal, they also held slaves. You don’t think that central kind of hypocrisy doesn’t affect the character of a nation? Finds its way into the system of the society. Finds its way into the hearts and minds of the individuals that make up the system. Becomes ingrained. If all other peoples are members of a subordinate race, created to be slaves, then it becomes axiomatic, part of the consciousness and institutions.

The slave master’s intention was to present “a” Jesus. One to make slaves obedient and docile, a Gospel message to reinforce making faithful servants to white masters. In some ways, missionary work was a Bible and whip theology: we will take your land, profit from your resources, run your lives. We will make you slaves. We will replace your inferior culture with our superior one. To come to know Christ, you have to become civilized, absorbed into the dominant culture. Change your language. Change your names. Change your gods. Change your native ways. Become assimilated.

Integrated.

All of this was mixed into the Gospel package. Religion was a tool, no, a weapon, but the mindset that this came from bled its way into all areas of our religion, life, and culture. Think of it: at the time, missionaries failed to see God already at work in the cultures they traveled to – which He is, as He is already at work in everyone’s lives. Would-be evangelizers could have made bridges between their own faith and the faith of the people they hoped to evangelize, making the final/missing connection to Christ. Instead, the colonizers brought in and attached their own cultural baggage: trading one sin-soaked culture for the dominant sin-soaked culture. Naturally, this had to impact the portrait of the Jesus they were presenting, first in their own minds and next in the minds of the people they were presenting Him to.

Okay, some of it is anti-modern posturing or a hyper-modern reaction, a postmodern look as Western culture calls into question the legitimacy of the European hegemony. It’s easy to see the postcolonialism conversation as some form of guilty white liberal evangelism (though there is too often a certain “these people can’t take care of themselves” condescension to much guilty white liberal thought). However, as one (white) person thinks through the issue:

I am talking here in systemic terms; we have to think about how we contribute to maintaining systems of dominance through our actions and perceptions. We need to see these systems as global, as closely linked to economic and political structures, but expressed in local ways. We also need to bear in mind that systems are constructed from the actions of individuals, and so can be deconstructed by the same actors.

The colonialist mindset tends to creep into our American brand of Christianity. It leads to a mentality of “reclaiming” or “taking back” communities for Jesus. It works its way into our language. We have evangelism “Crusades,” doubly eerie in light of our times and our dealings with the Middle East (as, by general appearances, our two stories simply can’t find a way to co-exist so one is trying to wipe out the other.) Here’s the rub: we are all working under the paradigm and worldview of our cultural age. The missionaries simply adopted the culture and mindset of their colonialist day. Modern missionaries adopt the mindset of their modern age. Postmodern missionaries labor under a postmodern, and hopefully postcolonial, mindset.

V for Vendetta

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…enlarge

Based on the brilliantly prescient comic book written almost 20 years ago by Alan Moore (who has had his name removed from the movie during one of his famous snits), V for Vendetta seems more relevant today than it did when he first feared a Thatcher/Reagan world. As much anarchist manifesto as movie, it takes place during the regime of a fascist England—“Strength through unity. Unity through faith.” Symbolized by a double-barred cross (reminiscent of the broken cross of the Nazi party), the government has declared martial law. The citizens are subjected to fingermen (their own brethren serving as informants to the government), constant surveillance of their conversations, government controlled media, and any undesirable being “black-bagged” (troops bursting into their homes and dragging them off with black bags over their heads to detention camps).

Enter V (Hugo Weaving).

Hugo Weaving (The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings trilogies) uses his voice and body language to convey the presence the character, since his mask, unlike most super-hero characters, doesn’t move. The only problem with the movie, if you aren’t familiar with the original work, is that it is not an action movie. The movie was written and co-produced by the Wachowski brothers (also of The Matrix trilogy) and continues the theme of rebels against the (governmental) system that they like to explore in their work. As the film is as much a meditation on an idea as it is conventional action film, those expecting a spandex slugfest will be disappointed. This movie, like The Matrix movies, is about ideas.

“Violence can be used for good. Justice.”

–V

enlargeRunning around in a Guy Fawkes mask, V calls for revolution and anarchy, in order to bring down the government. Anarchists, to my mind, have never held a particularly well thought-out position. Mostly because many of the people who call themselves “anarchists” fall more into the chaos for chaos’ sake camp. Anarchy can be a tool, a means to an end, but there has to be a point. It has to lead to something. The terrorist imagery against the backdrop of a totalitarian government leaves a mish-mosh of fodder for discussion, though on the surface it wants to be an allegory for our times.

Moving away from the movie’s political intentions, V is the Christ figure in the movie, a person of judgment (“No one escapes their past. No one escapes judgment.”) and compassion, who calls for a revolution in living and thought. Evey (quite serviceably played by Natalie Portman, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith) is his apostle, and in a lot of ways, represents the humanity of V’s “Christ.” Similar to Christ, V leads her, and by extension, the people of England, on a journey to freedom.

“I wish I wasn’t afraid all the time. … I know this world is screwed up.”

–Evey

The first step on this path to freedom is realization of the dilemma that we find ourselves in. In their world, there is something terribly wrong. The people live lives of coerced conformity, their freedoms curtailed. They “gave away our civil liberties in order to feel safe”; in other words, they gave into the fear in their lives (a fear ultimately created by themselves). Because their world seemed so dark, hopeless, and full of despair, they traded their freedom to secure a measure of order and peace. On top of that, they sensed that they weren’t who they were supposed to be. As Gordon puts it, “You wear a mask for so long you forget who you were beneath it.”

“An idea can still change the world.”

–Evey

enlargeV for Vendetta also explores the power of symbols and the power of art to convey ideas. What the people needed wasn’t another symbol of the government lording over them; rather, the populace “needs more than a building, it needs hope.” This is where revolution begins, with a new idea and faith in a new hope. For such a revolution to take root, it needs messengers to carry the idea forth and converts to live out the mission. His was a simple message, one of hope. The world as he knew it would end and a new world, a new kingdom, would begin.

In this regard, V was joining in Christ’s mission. “I, like God, do not play with dice and do not believe in coincidence,” V says. God is all over this movie. God is in the rain, Evey proclaims as she marvels at His creation with new eyes. God is also in coincidence, one of the themes of the movie: coincidence is like God’s fingerprints.

“You’ve been running from it all your life.”

-V

The next step in the journey is a kind of conversion experience, a paradigm shift as one moves from one kind of worldview to another. It is a wrestling of
faith (vs. doubt). In Evey’s case, her faith had been in society’s structures, government, and institutions. In other words, faith in the wrong things. To accept the revolutionary message of freedom meant that her old way of thinking had do be broken down. Discipleship is not easy; often we share V’s lament, “I wish there was an easier way.” This part of the journey can be the most arduous and means a refusal to give in to the tests/trials of one’s faith and accepting a clarity of purpose.

The final step of the journey of freedom involves baptism into their new life. The interesting contrast was in their respective baptisms: Evey’s was in water (“God is in the rain”) and V’s was a baptism of fire (when he escaped his detention facility).

“You are completely free. You have no fear anymore.”

–V

enlargeV lived by a simple credo: Vi Veni Universum Vivus Vici (by the power of truth, I, a living man, have conquered the universe). Ironically, once you have set upon the path to freedom, the journey never truly ends. You begin life as you should have been living from the beginning, free to live as you were created to be. To be fully human: “ to laugh, to cry, to kiss.”

V for Vendetta is so literate, with such a powerful use of language—you could choke on the alliterative “v”s in the dialogue—this easily felt like one of the best movies I ever read. The Wachowski brothers dialogue still feels a little heavy handed as they are prone to over-writing to highlight the “significance” of the ideas they are trying to convey. I don’t know if the subversive message of a harlequin terrorist will resonate with an audience; however, anarchy has always been fashionable. The revolution will not be televised, but it will fit nicely onto a movie screen.

Post-Colonialism: Mission Trips

Once a year, a church that I used to attend would gear up for their big mission trips. It was a large, wealthy, mostly white church and they’d plan 3-4 trips over a couple month period of time (short term missions season). We’d be deluged with these “moving” videos and power point presentations of how “those” people are. How “they” are living. How the Gospel can be used to transform “them.” All to the steady drumbeat of “now give us money so we can send our youth/members over there.” Now I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this kind of missionary work (as opposed to being a missional church). It always smacked of being more about the outreachers than the outreachees. When people came back from the trips, the reports were all about what God did for me, what God showed me, here’s how I was impacted. And how was this justified? “If just one soul was saved, then it was all worth it.”

Expletive. Deleted.

Don’t get me wrong, obeying and doing should always have an impact on a the person doing the doing. If more people would shut up about how Christian they were and live it out instead (letting their good deeds replace their often empty rhetoric) then we’d be a lot better off. On the other hand, so you go over “there,” build your school, orphanage, or church, come back all *changed*, give a weepy report, read the “thank you o rich and gracious American” letters and give Jesus a good pat on the back. Typically, depending on where they are going, a 20 person team has to raise about $1000 each in order to go on one of those trips (the last letter I received from a would be missionary was for $1500, but I want to keep the math simple). That’s about $20 K to send folks to essentially vacation for Jesus. I would be willing to bet that whatever group you were going to help could do a lot more in Jesus’ name if you just cut them a check for the $20K. It’s not like locals can’t do the work of 20 teenagers. Admit that these are cheerleading sessions for the church–“Go Jesus! Look what we did! Yay us!”–and call it a day.

This still left a couple things that troubled me:
1. What sort of impact are we having on “them”? My contention has been that for missionary work to have lasting impact, it has to be long-term and incarnational. Wherever it is done. Lasting transformation on the “missionary,” which we all are, and on people they are evangelizing. Discipleship is a process, an often longer process than we are comfortable admitting in our “ten weeks to know Jesus” culture. If I am on a STM for a week or doing a day-long “project,”it’s more about making us feel better, like we “did” something. One-time gifts, one-time labor is easy. It doesn’t really cost us anything. Follow up, building relationships – those things are true investments.

2. Where does this “us” vs. “them” mentality come from? Missionary work has become so about “over there” that we’ve become convinced that that’s the only way missionary work can be done – as opposed to being incarnational, living among the people you want to minister to. You know what? I’m glad when anyone in America takes an interest in Africa. Rwanda. Sudan. The AIDs epidemic. We are conveniently silent about a lot that goes on in Africa. However, it’s the whole idea of the “otherliness” of the people we want to evangelize that got me thinking today.

The same suburban church that I used to attend–which mind you, does a lot of good things–decided that it wanted to do missionary work here in town, in the inner city. Good! I’m all about evangelizing in your own backyard. It was going to be an every week ministry. Good! That would allow relationships to be built and true discipleship to be done. They want a lasting impact on the workers. Good! We are transformed by doing. They want to reclaim the neighborhood for Jesus. Good. Uh, reclaim? Because “they” need Christ, too. “They”? Who “they”? When did “we” become “they”? “They” derived their same identity and worth from the same Trinity that “you” do.

Maybe I just like to complain about stuff. You know, maybe I woke up on the grumpy side of my Christian bed. That’s not beyond the realm of possibility. However, I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion on the topic of post-colonialism and what that means. So I thought that I’d examine the topic and figure out what all the chatter is about.

Sunday Boozin’ Sunday

“‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.’” Exodus 20:8-11

I don’t keep the Sabbath.

It’s one of those commandments that doesn’t get a lot of play. When you ask people to name the Ten Commandments, they can usually get the big “Thou shalt nots” – Adultery. Lie. Murder. Steal. – you know, the ones most likely to impact them. People struggle to name “keep the Sabbath”. For starters, my day job requires me to work seven days a week. Even if it didn’t and I was a faithful keeper of the Sabbath, then I would certainly depend on a lot of other people not being particularly convicted by it. I can rest a lot easier knowing that police officers are still at work (because most criminals I know are great respecters of the Sabbath); and with my kids being accidents waiting to happen, I’m glad doctors still report to work on weekends. For that matter, I know that plenty of folks have rolled out of sermons, even ones on the importance of keeping the Sabbath, only to go out to eat – keeping their convictions at the expense of others. While at home, resting, I still need to be entertained. You don’t expect me to hang out with my family all day – football must be played. For that matter, I began writing this blog on Sunday.

In my mind, there’s always been this kind of divide between the Old and New Testaments. Like the Old Testament is about the harsh, judgmental God, while the New Testament is all about the loving God. The Bible has become seen as two different sets of promises made to two different groups of people or at least people wrestling within two different circumstances or paradigms.

Too often, we’ve reduced, misused, and missed the overarching point of the Old and New Testaments. Most teachings explaining the relationship between the Old and New Testaments present the Old Testament as all about the law, impossible to live up to, and, well, “bad” with the New Testament being all about grace, possible to achieve, and “good.” This leads to the practical application that the Old Testament is a lot of wasted ink and we should concentrate on the New Testament.

“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5

The Bible is one story with two covenants. The Old Testament (Covenant) was the story of God saving the world through a specific people, the story of the nation of Israel. In Christ, we have the fulfillment of the story. The New Testament (Covenant) was the climax and conclusion, if you will, to that story. Jesus fulfills the story–without undermining the necessity and vitality of the Old Testament–bringing the story to its ultimate end. We are all adopted/grafted into the story of Israel. So what we have is essentially two acts of the same story.

If you press me on the topic, meaning, if you make me argue this using Scripture, I would say that Sabbath restrictions don’t apply to Gentiles. The Mosaic laws were about defining a people, a nation. That was their point and their focus. In Christ, we have freedom. I’d say that there is wisdom in taking a day to relax and not burn yourself out. God bless weekends. And, I’m glad that we have weekends to worship as we feel led. However, the Sabbath equals rest, and my rest is in Christ.

Hoosiers who favor keeping state laws that prevent most Sunday alcohol sales outnumber those who oppose the restrictions, according to a new poll. Fifty percent of those surveyed favored keeping the current laws, while 43 percent supported allowing more Sunday sales of beer, wine and liquor, according to a poll commissioned by The Indianapolis Star.

Pam Ingram, 49, from the southwestern Indiana town of Bloomfield, said she doesn’t see anything wrong with having one day without alcohol sales in stores. “I just don’t see a purpose for the sales,” said Ingram, who added that she does not consider herself anti-alcohol. “If you want it on Sunday, there are six other days you can get it.”

This is what got me started thinking on the topic of the Sabbath and how we go about “keeping” it. I understand and appreciate the sentiment of wanting to respect Sunday as a day of worship (though, apparently Jews and Seventh Day Adventists aren’t similarly respected); however, what does this accomplish? When all is said and done, I have to plan ahead to get my drink on. Seriously, this is a relic of a Puritanical time. If we are honest with ourselves, we’d acknowledge that this represented a day when one religion was privileged over another. Don’t put this on God or the Bible. Let me tell you, I’ve sat through many sermons where afterwards I really wanted a drink. Plus, I follow the party Savior: Jesus knew how to keep a party going (and it was wine: no matter how you twist the Greek, it cannot be rendered Welches Grape Juice). Buddha never turned water into wine.*

Plus, I may have to buy communion wine on short notice.

*I have it on good authority that Buddha was more of a beer guy.**

**I’m sure that I’m going to find out who actually reads these things to the end.

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I don’t have time to always check the comments all the places where this rant is posted. If you want to make sure that I see it or just want to stop by and say hi, do so on my message board.

Moving on Up

I’m not a hood guy.

My brother informed me of this when I told him that I had to move. Some people, according to him, are hood people, but I am not one of them. I am the kind of person that the hood chews up and spits out. How I’ve managed to stay alive without annoying the piss out of one of our neighborhood drug dealers is apparently proof positive of the existence of God.

Apparently my neighborhood scores higher on the ghetto quiz than I thought. I’ve never really paid attention, really. It’s always simply been home. Oddly enough, I’m only moving five minutes away, but there is a peculiarity about living in Indianapolis. There are serveral invisible dividing lines in the city that somehow separate good and bad neighborhoods. Judging from the weight of living above my means, I’m officially middle class. I already miss being poor and debt free. So …

Good-bye Big Momma. Candy Lady. Crazy Neighbors.
Good-bye the 1, 2, 3, … 4 liquor stores on the corner.
Good-bye check-cashing places (one for each liquor store).
Good-bye beer bottles on the corners from evenings of “lamping”.
Good-bye pawn shops.
Good-bye plasma place.
Good-bye wearing your portfolio around your neck, on your fingers, or in your mouth.
Good-bye parking your 401K in front of the house.
Good-bye gun shots on the 4th of July, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve.
Good-bye “soul skate” night that have the police locking down every street when it lets out.
Good-bye police helicopter searchlight that I no longer have to explain to my kids as the police coming by to say “hi.”
Good-bye pizza places that won’t deliver once it gets dark. Yes, I’m looking at you, Domino’s.

Um, coincidently, we are moving today – right now, as a matter of fact. Spring officially began earlier this week. Oh look: hail, then rain, then sunshine, then snow. I love Indiana. I am occupying myself by blogging. This is why God created wives. Mine’s abnormally strong. She looks so cute hefting our new couch. Well, we’re moving on up …

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Friday Night Date Place – Making the First Move

(Or “I was asked “is it alright for a woman to ask a man out?”)

Since I speak of the pompatus of love (will someone PLEASE let me know what that means), I am dedicating my Friday blogs to the topic of dating. So far, I’ve looked at why folks bother to date, whether or not you are ready to date, taken a more realistic view of marriage, and defined dating (which led to looking at what I called “the couch dilemma”/DTRs). Now to examine a topic that, oddly enough, sparks a lot of debate.

I was at a Super Bowl party when a guy came up to me, regaling me with polite chatter while dancing around what he wanted to talk to me about. Eventually he got to his point. It seems that he found himself in the situation where a woman was interested in him and asked him out. He told me that this made him uneasy because he believed that if a woman initiates a relationship it sets a pattern that interferes with the man’s ability to lead, so he turned her down. This has been bothering me for a while.

I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t know why people come to me with questions. They know, or some part of their soul should cry out in knowing protest, that I am only going to make fun of them. I looked him in the eyes and wondered aloud why he wasn’t thankful that someone saw something in his crusty behind worth asking out. What I’ve come to realize is that this problem poses more of a dilemma for some folks than I initially thought. This is a question that polarizes singles, splitting them between traditional and modern schools of thought (I’m quite serious, by the way):

1. This is a good thing. A woman asking the man out takes the guesswork out of things. Look, the number one (and if not number one, at least top three) issues I hear from guys is that they can’t tell if a woman’s interested. So, as a general rule of thumb, if she asks you out, she’s probably interested. If he’s afraid of rejection, again let me emphasize that her asking him out reduces the chances of him being out on a limb and risking rejection. Let’s face it, some people don’t thrive on always being the risk-takers and anything that reduces risk is preferred.

Some people say that they are tired of outdated notions of male and female roles. I have the suspicion that there are some guys who like to say things like that in order to sound like, well, they don’t revel in their Neanderthal ways. Such guys may believe this non-traditional “forwardness” is okay in theory, but they would be put off or at least caught off guard in actual practice. In fact, it is my guess that many of the same guys who applaud this defiance of outdated notions are the same guys who, once the “I dos” have been said, immediately want a marriage of traditional roles.

Sadly, some guys will see the woman asking them out as a demonstration of her assertiveness and independence (read: threatened by), and they are more comfortable in the other school of thought.

2. This is a bad thing. This view comes from the traditionalists among us. Of course, this puts guys in a particular Catch-22: if they believe that men should do the asking, but they don’t want to risk rejection by asking someone out. These guys–when they come to me for counsel–again, get openly mocked.

But you never know which type of guy you’re dealing with. So, women, apparently your safest course of action is to hint broadly and loudly, but stop short of asking him out. This is one of those (silly) rules of the game that there is no point in complaining about, that’s just the way it is.

In general, men love the thrill of the chase and women love, want, and need to be desired.

There, I said it.

Do you know what all of this stems from? There is quite the debate in Christian circles about how leadership in the home should work. I’m not going to wade into this debate (since we’re almost at the end of our time together), however, I will say this: the church does a poor job of communicating what male leadership/headship will or is supposed to look like in marriage. Is it supposed to look like the man takes the lead in all things? Does this mean that the guy makes all of the decisions? Does this mean that every time the man speaks, the woman jumps?

Don’t get me wrong, this is how it is in my marriage. Oh yeah, whatever I say, my wife is quick to jump to it.

There is all of this pressure to be a leader, and no instruction on what this is supposed to look like. And no matter how nuanced the pastor thinks that he is making his teaching (your might remember such sermons on passages like Ephesians 5:22-32 or First Peter 3:1-3), what gets heard is “he commands, she follows.”- despite the context of the passages being a discussion of mutual submission.

Here’s what is rarely emphasized enough: being a leader means being ready to serve.

To the ladies who ask me “why do guys” questions: why would you want a guy too gutless to ask you out? If you are the kind of woman who “can” ask a guy out, then I wouldn’t worry too much about the “what if he’s a traditional guy?” dilemma. You’ll be butting heads on all sorts of issues. And if you put into the “only the men are to do the asking” camp, be prepared to wait. You can put your faith into a guy’s ability to pick up on cues and hints. Good luck with that. You will have to do something to stand out from the pack.

This is how the game starts.

Now I’m off to do the dishes. Cause I’m the head of my household and I rule with an iron fist, baby!

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Addicted to Key Words

In yesterday’s blog, I pointed to JA Konrath’s suggestions for making a better blog. I wanted to come back to his suggestion number 7:

7. Link to Other Blogs. Go to www.sitemeter.com and sign up for free. It will let you see where your traffic is coming from. This is often an eye-opening experience. The more sites that link to you, the more hits you’ll get. If you want to see who is already linking to you, visit www.technorati.com.

I love finding new ways to focus on me and God bless the internet for providing new ways to do it. I periodically like to find out how much my blog is worth though more often than not, googling myself leads to new levels of blog humility. You know, all of this started because I was whining about people not reading my blog. Okay, truth be told, there could be thousands of people reading my blog, and I’d still complain that not enough people are reading me. I’m a writer, I’m always looking for a larger audience. This led me to go to www.statcounter.com. It’s another site that lets me do what Konrath was talking about, see how many readers I have and where they come from.

Now a long time ago, a friend of mine warned me not to get addicted to my blog. It’s one thing to post fairly often; it’s another thing entirely to obsess over who is reading you and where they come from. Well, I know how you people find me. I’m the number one destination for people googling “White trash weddings” or “black people fried chicken.”

Some other keys words that kind of stuck out to me (and the blogs they pointed to): Shia Labeouf. Nigrescence. “Dark night of the soul” poem based on sermon. Nerd hierarchy. Slavery and dehumanization. Nick Mamatas or Brian Keene. Though my favorite word searches involved “kids peeing outside” and, well, lyrics to a song that amused me.

The second part of my whining involved people not commenting on blogs. I’ve been having the same conversation with a few blogging friends of mine. The same lament is repeated over and over. “No one’s reading me. I can tell because no one’s commenting.” However, once I got to thinking about it, I realized that it takes a lot to get me to comment on someone’s site. I have close friends who I simply like to harass on their blogs. I read about 50 or so livejournals regularly, and rarely, rarely comment. Same with the dozen or so xangas and myspaces I subscribe to. On top of that, I have another dozen or two random blogs that I read. And don’t comment on.

Just like I’m betting I have tens of readers right now, and none of you will comment on this.

Tens, I say!

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Turning Over a New Blogging Leaf

Welcome Intake readers. I’m now blogging over there (as well as on Xanga, LiveJournal, MySpace, Friendster, as well as the original blogger site). I thought now would make a great excuse for me to allow me to (re-)introduce myself a bit. I’m a horror writer, though I also do reviews for Hollywood Jesus and have a review blog there. My day gig, besides being a productive writer (in other words, the one that pays the bills), is as an environmental toxicologist for Commonwealth Biomonitoring. I am the facilitator for The Dwelling Place (for those having trouble finding the office of facilitator defined in the Bible, if you check the original Greek, the word we translate as facilitator comes from the word also translated loosely as “semi-meaningless title so that we don’t have to explain to church visitors why one of the church leaders writes scary stories”). Because I know that you want to get to know me better, I’ll highlight a few choice previous blogs: Namely how I’m a Christian horror writer and my spiritual journey thus far, though you might remember me from my profile in Intake not too long ago.

So, with introductions done, I thought that I’d get to the point of today’s missive, namely why am I turning over a new leaf when it comes to blogging. I’d been doing some whining about my limited readership, um, reassessing how to make my blog more popular/accessible. I’ll admit it: I’m an egotist – I write to be read. It had been pointed out to me that, frankly, some of my essays can sometimes take the turn of being long as well as … esoteric. Well, writer JA Konrath (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing) recently had this to say about what makes a good blog:

1. Content is King. It’s what brings people back. It’s what draws new readers through search engines. If you share important information, experience, and wisdom, you’ll build a readership.
2. Lists, Tests, and Bullet Points. A text-heavy blog is a turn off. Pay attention to negative space. People like to absorb information in bite-size pieces. The easier it is to digest and read, the more return visits you’ll have.
3. Stay Focused. Stick to one topic per entry, and make sure this topic is different from previous topics so your readership doesn’t get bored. What is the reason for your blog? Do you have a reason?
4. Ask Questions. A blog isn’t a monologue. The best ones ask questions to provoke feedback.
5. Be Friendly. This is the community watering hole, and you are the bartender. Be welcoming, friendly, and accommodating. Answer questions, be polite, and be genuinely glad people have shown up.
6. Be Controversial. Arguing is good. Disagreement is good. As long as everyone remains civil, encourage debate.
7. Link to Other Blogs.
8. Free Stuff. Periodically hold contests or give away free things. Everyone loves free things.
9. Keep Yourself Out of It. Unless the focus of your blog is your personal life, your personal life doesn’t have much of a place in a blog.
10. Strive for Perfection. An occasional typo is harmless. Every other word spelled wrong is annoying. Most blogs have Spellcheck. Use it.
11. Limit Self-Promotion.
12. No Blog is an Island. Besides linking to other blogs, you should reference other blogs in your blog entries.

Do you see suggestion #3? I have yet to pick a topic or even a focus for this blog o’ mine. For the record, I tend to focus on the three ‘R’s: race, religion, and writing. As with any craft, you have to learn the rules for doing it so that you know when to break them.

In other words, the rules can bite me and everyone can just swim in Lake Me!*

*And yes, sometimes my blogs will run a little long. Love and kisses to John A. Burks.

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