Friday, September 21, 2012

In The Blink Of An Eye

I blinked and Summer 2012 was over.

I blinked and my friend Lee had triple-bypass surgery. I blinked again and it was PSR Orientation Week 2012. Then I blinked yet again and 4M Ministries (my ministerial cadre) had done our first full-on production effort for the new students and it went wildly well.

And then, I blinked one final time... and remembered when I used to dream that I would slip the surly bonds of Earth. Thank you NASA. Thank you Dryden. Thank you Ames. Thank you Houston. Thank you Canaveral. Thank you White Sands. A million times, from the center of the heart of this man who was once a boy dreaming of space-flight because of you and those like you... thank you.

And thank you to those who gave their lives in service of space exploration, no matter what their national origin might have been, so that humankind might one day leave the cradle of our birth and reach toward the stars.

Valentin Bondarenko
Theodore Freeman
Elliot See
Charles Bassett
Gus Grissom
Edward White II
Roger Chaffee
Vladimir Komarov
Clifton Williams
Michael J. Adams
Robert Lawrence
Yuri Gagarin
Georgi Dobrovolski
Viktor Patsayev
Vladislav Volkov
Greg Jarvis
Christa McAuliffe
Ronald McNair
Ellison Onizuka
Judith Resnik
Michael J. Smith
Dick Scobee
Sergei Vozovikov
Ilan Ramon
Rick D. Husband
William McCool
Michael P. Anderson
David M. Brown
Kalpana Chawla
Laurel B. Clark

Welcome home, Shuttle Endeavour...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Where Are The Liberal Christians?

This semester I had the privilege of sharing social space at school with non-Christian students who "keep it real" with a lot of the larger secular context in which the outside world turns. One student in particular asked two questions that resonate very deeply in my heart: where are all the liberal Christians and perhaps even more important: if liberal Christians claim any identity as a deeper voice of the Good News of Jesus the Christ, then why are they not speaking up and why are they letting the right-wing control their religion? These are important questions. Let's be real: the media image of Christians, particularly in the USA, is -- in a word -- VILE. If you form your narrative understanding of modern American Christianity based on the story told in the media then Christianity stands against critical thinking, science, education, immigration, abortion, Islam, and most strongly and vociferously against anything that appears like an agenda from the alphabet-soup of sexuality ("LGBTQQIA, e-i-e-i-oh"). I actually, just several days ago, saw a posting from a high-school classmate saying in no uncertain terms that:

1) there is no war on women in America and that the only social war in this country is a war on church being led by Obama (note that this person is a conservative Catholic, so if this point sounds a lot like something Rick Santorum would say, there is a reason); and

2) people on the anti-Christian left just do not understand that there is a basic difference between accepting homosexual people and allowing them to sexualize children by redefining marriage.

What the fuck? The second point really frosted my wookiee. What on God's green Earth does the legality of my access to marriage have to do with sexualizing children? I mean... dude. Seriously. Just stop right there. And who the hell do you think you are, claiming that the left is anti-Christian? I am a CHRISTIAN who lives on a daily first-name basis with Jesus the Christ, and I am also a left-liberal socialist. God decides who is Christian, not you. And furthermore, the Holy Bible contains THOUSANDS of verses about economic injustice and radical overthrow of the social order as a means of redistributing societal wealth and less than one dozen verses that even appear to address queerfolk. Where is your righteous indignation toward capitalism? Toward the banking industry? Toward the 1% of society?

Deep breath.

In with Jesus, out with Satan. Again.
Breathe in Shekhinah. Cast out Haśśāṭān!

But, this is a perfect example of the problem. When I saw that comment on this person's Facebook wall, did I confront him? Did I call him out on it? Did I even attempt to have a dialogue with him, pointing out that aside from the personally offensive and illogical nature of his second point, all I ask is that he respect the other voices in Christianity that might or might not be Catholic but which certainly disagree with his understanding of the Bible as handed down to him via papal edicts and his own reading of the text? Did I take him to task for his blind-spot in seeing that he himself is sexualizing his children when he answers questions like "where do babies come from" and then his kids connect the dots and realize that he has porked his wife?

Well, no I didn't. And ironically, here is one reason why: someone else already attempted to challenge him. And the absolute disrespect with which he responded to her was so offensive that instead of enter the dialogue, I supported my sister in Christ by contacting her directly -- privately -- to offer my voice of support to her. Now, I will also admit something: the individual question was one of the major reasons that I ran away screaming from Christianity in my adolescence. He taught me that 1) no understanding of Christ is correct if it does not meet his understanding of Catholic doctrine, 2) homosexuality is a pit of vipers and as long as I did not let God "fix me" I was going to hell, and 3) he specifically insulted my own grandfather by telling a class we shared that the Masons do Satanic rituals with the blood of Catholic babies.

Lord forgive them for they know not what damage they do. And now that I have come to know Jesus personally, I will add: Lord please help this man, and people like him, to see the handprint of Satan on their lives for they know not that they have embraced the prince of lies, the false teacher, and are under his thumb doing his work for him. Point of clarification: this is absolutely not a statement on Catholicism. It is a statement on extremism and fundamentalism from any sect.


I have a simple answer to the question re: where left-leaning and/or LGBTQ-friendly voices are in Christianity. I believe that they are in two places.

1) They are a silent and totally disheartened majority. They see no point in even confronting hate-speech masquerading as "hate the sin, love the sinner" or "I love you, I just do not support your lifestyle choice" or "Adam-and-Eve not Adam-and-Steve." This is probably the same group of people who take so much of their beliefs on the inalienable equal rights of all humankind for granted -- and as self-evident -- that they do not understand why minority populations need our allies to step up and make noise on our behalf when we are not around to defend ourselves. Many of the people in this population do not even bother to vote, and then wake up the morning after Election Day in shock that so much right-wing hate speech is being enshrined into political offices, being added to the constitution of so many states, etc. And I would be remiss if I did not comment on the voting patterns of the millennial generation: everyone speaks of the "youth vote" and yet, look at the exit-poll numbers... the younger voters, who claim to be so passionate about so many social causes, DO NOT SHOW UP ON ELECTION DAY. My grandfather fought at Guadalcanal. When you do not bother to vote, it is a personal offense to his memory and to the memory of the entire generation of Americans who were willing to die to protect this country from Hitler, from Mussolini, from Shōwa Emperor Hirohito. People DIED for your right to vote. Who the fuck do you think you are to not accept the civic duty to vote as a chance to HONOR THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIFE FOR YOUR FREEDOM?

But I digress.

2) From what I have seen as I pursue my MDiv, it boils down to money. Mainline protestant denominations are not supporting the next generation of seminary students like me who are Christ-followers and are hungry to preach a theology of radical inclusion, unconditional love, etc. Many of the mainline denominations are so busy with internecine throw-downs on LGBTQQI inclusion that they are literally hanging their seminarians out to dry -- yes, this was a direct allusion to the unpleasantness of the recent UMC General Conference in Tampa. And it is even worse for a person like me: I am post-denominational, in the sense that I see denominational polity getting in the way of the Good News far too often, so I am left to seek ordination in marginalized entities like the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. My call takes me toward that kind of radically inclusive theology, but guess what? THEY HAVE NO MONEY. So, here I am, preaching and writing about all these things that Christians need to learn in order to make our religion more Christ-like... and I have NO ACCESS TO MEDIA, NO ACCESS TO THE FUNDING OF MAJOR DENOMINATIONAL BODIES, AND THEREFORE I FUNCTIONALLY DO NOT EXIST. And the sad truth is that there are literally THOUSANDS of Christian ministers-in-training like me. I go to school with many of them.

So, we reach the basic quandary.

I am doing my part -- I am studying for my MDiv, I am working toward some form of ministerial ordination in a church body which will pay attention to me (God bless you, Bishops Yvette Flunder and Bonnie Radden!), I am living on a budget that keeps me perilously close to homelessness, and I am looking for some form of legal employment to help pay my bills.

My question for Christians who claim to support a liberal voice in Christianity is this: will the already-established liberal church body do its part? Will the liberal body recognize that it needs the energy of the next generation of seminary-trained religious leaders to fan the flames of liberation? Will that body recognize that there are thousands of ministers-in-training out here, ready to fight the good fight, who just need help with our educational funding? I will hit the life-time cap for Federal Student Aid debt before I finish my studies and will have to turn to the secondary market where usurious interest rates are the norm. Will anyone help me?

I am here, doing my part. But is anyone actually listening?


Stop talking.
Start helping.

Stop observing.
Get involved.

Vote with your pocketbook to support me and people like me.
And vote with your eyes on Christ in November.

I ask, humbly, in the name of Jesus my Liberator, for increase.
-Philip Tanner, MEd

Reflection: End of Year One

It has been approximately 42 hours since I turned in my last paper from my last class of my first year of Divinity school. I have been in a sleepy haze since arriving home on Thursday night, punctuated with trivialities like making coffee, eating, petting my cats, and sleeping more hours than I care to admit. Since at this point I have only part-time work lined up, it looks increasingly likely that I will have significant time to write this summer. I am excited about that, although I dread the financial implications of part-time work. But that's not what this post is about.

During the course of the Spring 2012 semester, I had a blog post actually get public attention -- albeit "just" at school with a hundred-or-so views. That's plenty-enough "big time" for me, thank you very much. And the amazing thing about it was that my post ("Skeletons in the PSR Closet") helped to move an important campus dialogue forward. That, coupled with my re-baptism on Easter, followed immediately by getting a serious case of pneumonia that absolutely clobbered me for two weeks, then followed almost immediately by the end-of-semester crunch... well, let's just say the aforementioned "sleepy haze" makes a lot of sense.

As time permitted over the last six weeks, I took the advice I often give to other writers: write. Put pen-to-paper, or fingers-to-keys, and just simply write. I even wrote a draft for a followup post to "Skeletons in the PSR Closet" based on some constructive dialogue I had with one particular PSR student who wishes to remain nameless in the blogosphere. I respect that, certainly, although I do wish I could thank her publicly for her principled and personally heartfelt critique of my arguments. So... thank you and God bless you, person who knows who she is.  :)

Anyway, I began the draft of Skeletons Part 2 as well as several other potential posts. And I fully intend to work on them this summer. But for now, I am going to post something that just flowed through me into my text-editor a little while ago. It is a response to both a specific post by a wonderful Christian minister in North Carolina, as well as a part of a bigger dialogue that I have been having with my ministerial cadre as well as several non-Christian friends who are all loudly asking an important question:

Christians are generally depicted as right-wing conservatives.
Where are all the liberal Christians?

I shall address my initial thoughts on that in my next post, later today. But for now...
BBQ potato chips, cheese, and a nap.

Friday, April 6, 2012

אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני

Imagine, for just a minute, that you are a follower of a radical Jewish reformer named Jesus: you believe that He is the Son of God. Imagine that you were so caught up in the power of His passionate entry into Jerusalem that you glossed over the prophecies of death that He subsequently revealed. You did not allow yourself to hear all of His message, because you could not let yourself hear Him tell you what was about to happen to Him.

Five days later, you have witnessed Him accused of treason, "convicted" on paper by the empire, and you have seen your own people turn against Him. You have witnessed Him tortured in public as a reminder of your people's subjugation to the empire and yet your own people are participating in this vile, macabre spectacle. If you are really the Son of God then prove it by saving yourself! You want to keep believing that He is the Son of God -- but why is He letting this happen!?!?

You witness Him nailed to a cross. You know that death by crucifixion is brutal and horrid, and that it takes up to three days for a person to die by crucifixion. Horrified and demoralized, you sit. The entire Earth seems to be convulsing. It is midday, what is happening? Is that a solar eclipse? A few hours later, Jesus screams up to the sky... and He dies. How is that possible? How did this Jesus only suffer on the cross for a few hours? What has just happened here?

A thought to ponder:
The followers of Jesus did not know the rest of the story that was unfolding in front of them. They were so traumatized by this act of state-sponsored terror that they could not see what was to come after His mortal death.

A challenge to you:
Imagine for a minute that you were one of His original followers and that you do not know the next part of the Easter story. Imagine the despair, the confusion, the horror of what you have just witnessed. Or imagine for a minute that you are Mary and that you have witnessed your child nailed to a cross and that He hangs, dead, right in front of you. How does it feel? What would you do? How would you respond?

This is what Good Friday means to me.

The Crucifixion,
Seen from the Cross
-James Tissot
(c. 1890 CE)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Sounds of Silence

And so it begins.

From Palm Sunday until Resurrection Sunday (aka Easter), I will be under a vow of silence. In this post-modern world, "silence" means: no talking, no email, no Facebook, no tweeting, no cell-TXT'ing, etc., beyond the minimum necessary for functioning and survival. I will be attending all my classes, attending Holy Week services at no less than FOUR churches, but doing so in silence.

I do this in the name of all who have been silenced by people who claim to speak for Jesus. I do this for all who suffer in silence as they come to terms with trauma, abuse, and bullying. I do this, perhaps most importantly, because my default method of self-expression is through my voice and my written word.

One of my spiritual advisors recommended that I give myself permission to write a journal-entry of my experiences this week. I will, of course, not publish it until after the week is over... if at all. Wish me luck; it's gonna be an interesting week. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Remembering Gesa

For those of you who don't know, Gesa Maria Lamers was a friend of mine in high school. She had that uniquely German combination of compassion, intelligence, and hardass-ness. She was a lovely person, shockingly intelligent, loyal, and blessed with a wicked sense of humor. After doing her med residency with a largely Native American population in south-central Colorado (Pueblo, specifically), she had settled into life as a baby-birthin' doctor in western Idaho near Boise with her husband and their belovéd daughter Aylin.

On 26 March 2008, Gesa and Aylin were driving along Piscataway Road near Clinton. A driver crossed the center-line and hit Gesa's car head-on. Aylin suffered substantial injuries but survived. Gesa was not as fortunate; she died at the scene of the accident.

Gesa and Aylin had been visiting Gesa's mother Elisabeth and brother Yermo for the traditional Lamers family Easter Bonfire in southern Maryland; in 2008, western Easter fell on the 23rd, just three days before Gesa's death. While it is perhaps consoling to know that the family had one final holiday together beforehand, I can only imagine the pain which will be with them for the rest of their lives and how it will forever be linked to the Pascha.

As we move toward celebrating His Resurrection, let us pause to remember the pain of the cross. And let us send some love to all who grieve the loss of a loved one; may the knowledge that His sacrifice has given our loved ones eternal life bring peace to us all as we continue to grieve.

Gesa, your friendship made me a better person. Thank you for that.

Ich vermiss' dich, Liebchen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Learn This Name: BAYARD RUSTIN

I have a simple request for you today.
How about today, instead of celebrating a holiday that has degenerated into nothing more than a venue to further the stereotype of my kin as violent homophobic drunkards, we remember that today -- 3/17/2012 -- marks what would have been the ONE HUNDREDTH BIRTHDAY of a man named BAYARD RUSTIN.
Bayard who?
I challenge everyone who sees this text to enrich your understanding of American history by reading up on this hero whose name has been largely redacted from the narrative of the Civil Rights Era for one reason: HE WAS GAY. This American hero created the framework for the 1963 March on Washington. This man led a freedom-ride through the South MORE THAN TEN YEARS BEFORE THE ONES WE LEARNED ABOUT IN SCHOOL. This man was the first civil rights leader to recognize the world-changing potential in the oratory voice of a young hot-headed preacher from the deep South.

We owe Bayard Rustin a bigger debt than most of us realize.
Let us hope that starting today, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, we lift up his name to the heights of names such as Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Malcolm X, etc. Let us lift our voices in remembrance of all who build the Beloved Community -- not just the ones we learned about in school.
God bless ALL of us.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Skeletons in the PSR-Closet

This week at PSR people have been deeply hurt by what Chelsea Handler would call an "whoopsie" of biblical proportion. For those who don't know what happened: the results of a community survey were published, and the publication included all entries within the freeform text fields ("additional comments or concerns" areas). A number of survey respondents wrote less-than-nice things, including naming specific people in hurtful ways. I write this response as a person who did not complete the survey but who has read over the comments and found myself conflicted about what was written. For the record, I did not complete the survey because I have been ill this week and I ran out of time. Had I completed the survey, I would have shared some but not all of the concerns voiced in the freeform text fields but I would NOT HAVE WRITTEN MY CONCERNS IN THE WAY OTHERS CHOSE TO DO. I would have had my say in a far less vitriolic, spiteful, and abusive way.

Let's start with the perhaps-obvious question: how did this happen? I don't mean the technical question; I mean this: how could a community that is so widely praised for so many things do this to itself? Well, it is time for some truth: we have many, many skeletons in our collective scary closet and they have a habit of exposing themselves when people's guards are down. Anonymous surveys are a classic trigger for turning on that light and exposing the things people don't want to say out loud.

The truth of the matter is that we are a community in transition and we have deep-seated internal conflict. We call ourselves an ecumenical seminary, yet we admit non-Christians and require them to take classes in Christianity when Christian students are not required to take classes on Judaism, Islam, neo-Paganism, etc., on an equal level. Ask yourself this: how would Christian students feel if we were required to take a class on the text of the Qur'an? Are we surprised that our Pagan colleagues might be just a wee-bit uncomfortable being required to take OT and NT?

But I digress.

This week's events do not in any way shock me inasmuch as I myself have been on the receiving end of some of the dysfunction at PSR. And I am sure that I have, whether intentionally or not, been responsible for propagating it. This is the way that human communities work: it is human nature to "dog-pile" emotionally, whether the emotions are happy and loving, or otherwise. It's a hard truth to accept, but humankind are very good at being very bad.

And make no mistake about it: whether we are part of the Beloved Community or not, whether we are gathered together by divine inspiration or not, we ARE a community made up of people by people. We come to the table with just as much baggage as any other community. Actually, no. We come to the table with more baggage than other communities precisely because we draw in those who the traditional church-world has rejected.

But however we got here, here we are.

What I see, under all of the intense feelings that have been called up this week, is an inability or unwillingness to LISTEN. From the first day I set foot on the PSR campus, I felt strongly that it is a community where people talk. And talk. And yell. And scream. And sing. And dance. And evaluate. And judge. Yes, that's what I wrote. JUDGE. We arrive on the hill thinking we are "all that" because we are from repressed communities but guess what, folks: we have fallen into a logical trap already. When I listen to the conversations I hear on campus, it seems to clear to me that the social norm is to assume that we are in a superior position of knowledge on issues, and then judge those who are less informed. It goes something like this:

Just because person-A is a white cisgendered gay man, he knows more about topic-1 than person-B who identifies as straight. Just because person-B is a transgender straight man of color, he knows more about topic-2 than person-C who is a cis-man. Just because person-D is a senior citizen, she knows more than everyone else on campus. And just because person-E is a millennial, he knows more about how things need to be than person-D can imagine. Meanwhile, quietly in the corner sits person-F who nobody has noticed. Person-F comes to campus quietly for dinner and often eats alone b/c everyone else is so busy touting their identity-credentials that NOBODY LISTENS TO ANYONE ANYMORE.

Perhaps it is time that we stop for a collective moment and reframe our community's communication-norms. Perhaps it is time to simply, just as an experiment, STOP YELLING AT EACH OTHER. SEE, IT MAKES YOU FEEL DEFENSIVE WHEN I YELL IN ALL-CAPS, so maybe it is time to lower the volume. Perhaps it is time that we stop telling white-folk that they are "only an ally at best" while we pre-assume that they are racist b/c of the color of their skin. Perhaps it is time to stop telling the cis-folk that they are so steeped in their own privilege that they just "can't understand" trans issues. Perhaps it is time that we stop telling the GenX and baby-boomer folk that they just "can't understand how things work now" in the online world built by millennials. Perhaps it is time we stop telling the people of color that "we're not like most white people" b/c we do activist work in the Global South. Perhaps it is time that we stop saying that we are individuals just like everybody else. If people "just can't understand" then why bother trying in the first place.

Perhaps it is time to realize that what makes us weak is what can also make us strong: us.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we took a moment to recognize that the PSR community contains dozens of social dyads where oppressed and oppressor break bread together, live side-by-side in the residence halls, and take classes together? Is it asking too much for us to realize that our campus community contains both the spiritual children of enslaved Africans and the great-great-great-grandchildren of plantation owners? Can we not see that we are blessed with a divine fishbowl in which privileged cis-gendered people actually do want to learn from their trans colleagues on how to begin dismantling the privilege of the gender-binary? Do the older students on campus not see that the younger students have an amazing ability to process large amounts of information in a way that GenX'ers never imagined when they were that young? Are the millennial-age students on campus not aware that the people honored as spiritual parents were the friends and family of the older students in class?

Are we so focused on being angry about the injustices in the larger world that we have developed myopia on what is right in front of our faces… a local snapshot of the world that we can begin healing RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT? How many impoverished communities living in desperate need do we pollute by marching through without even feeding one person whose street we just marched on? Could it be that we need to remember to ACT LOCALLY while we are so busy with the THINK GLOBALLY?

That, at its core, is my opinion of what is at the heart of this week's unpleasantness at PSR. We are so good at talking, but we SUCK at listening. We are so good at talking the talk of inclusion, but we SUCK at actually being inclusive. Look at the way people self-arrange at the dining hall on a typical day; it speaks volumes. I apologize for the politically incorrect summary that follows, but here are some examples I see on a regular basis:

1. Resident-students have a clique to themselves. No commuter students allowed?
2. A large group of second-year MDiv students does not reach out to others. The larger community shies away from second-year MDiv's b/c they have a reputation for being socially abusive.
3. There are several gender-queer tables, but no men sit at those tables.
4. Separate from the gender-queer tables there is a table with one specific trans-and-allies clique, that never seems to occupy the same social space as others.
5. One table is almost totally African American.
6. A large group of Episcopal seminarians sit together at one table, overcrowdedly, next to an empty table. The group never splits into a second table.
7. One table of students speaks Korean.
8. The next table over is speaking one dialect of Chinese. And only one.
9. Scattered across the dining hall are tables with just a few, or even one, student. Almost always, that student is significantly older than the mean-age of the community and is a commuter student.

Does anyone see a problem here? THIS IS NOT A COMMUNITY; THIS IS A SEGREGATED SOCIETY. It is a balkanized set of sociological silos. And we wonder how it is that such a social location would produce the painful comments we saw on the survey this week? Wake up and smell the dog-poop, folks.

Now there is one core question that it is time for me to examine. I have just ranted about the problem(s)... do I actually have any solutions? It is ironic: I can already hear the woman who castigated me in Spring 2011 for my masculine aggression sharpening her knives to skewer me for splainin' ==> it's that white-person thing of speaking for the whole community. And, of course, my response is obvious: bare my mental claws at her and tear her apart in my mind as a bougie white-privileged re-colonizer but let her "win" the argument in person b/c, after all, as a white cis-gendered man I am absolutely responsible for anything and everything that has ever been done to every person of color, every trans person, and every woman throughout human history. Never mind that the very term splainin' itself comes from a mid-1950s sitcom that was predicated on a hot-headed Cuban immigrant man and his wife, a ditzy red-headed white housewife who always overspent her allowance. It was called I Love Lucy and when analyzed from a post-modern millennial mindset, it was clearly racist and classist. See, some of us older students actually know some shit sometimes.

But, again, I digress. Cutting to the chase: where do we go from here?

I would encourage each of us to take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves: where have we refused to see our own failings in building the Beloved Community? We are so quick to point out the failings of others. Why not take a chance to honestly look at yourself for once? When we are sitting at a table in the dining hall, surrounded by friends, and literally just 10 feet away there is a person eating alone... maybe we should consider reaching out to that person? Just to let that person know that, hey, we see you and if you want to break bread with us then our table is open to you?

And therein is the challenge-question: IS OUR TABLE REALLY OPEN? Do we actually have the collective courage to listen to each other? Could each of us take some personal responsibility to look at where each of us has excluded others rather than just blaming all these problems on the big grad-school terminology we love to toss around as a way to show our moral superiority? Could we have the courage to stop hiding behind big-word labels as a way to justify excluding anyone who doesn't look like a person who understands us?

Could we take a minute to recognize that people have reached out to us and we have rebuked them and hurt them, sometimes without even realizing it? Could we take a minute to realize that when someone says hello to us on the quad, or in the hall, and we barely acknowledge them, perhaps we are propagating the mistrust felt at PSR and hurting someone's feelings?

For, in the end, it comes down to the Golden Rule. Since starting my studies at PSR, I have been accused of being racist, of using masculine aggression to assert male privilege, of enforcing white privilege while trying to get a group-assignment finished, and the list goes on and on. But as I complete this essay, do I end on an accusatory note in response to such people? Do I engage in a pissing contest with them? Or, do I simply state the following:

My name is Philip Tanner. I am terribly afraid of hurting other people, and I wish I knew everything I need to know about how to operate in a more just and loving way. But I don't. So I hope, and pray, that you will perhaps show me a little bit of mercy when I fail. I hope that you will remember that I am here to learn from you. I hope that you will understand my intent to serve Christ in building the Beloved Community, and if I have acted in a way that causes you harm then I ask your forgiveness and your love in educating me. In return, I ask only that you be willing to treat me the same. I surrender to your compassion.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

And Here We Are.

Sunday, 4 March 2012, I took another step forward into that larger world. Of course, the truth is that every step I take is a step into the larger world in Christ... but today was a big one. As of today, I am officially taking the next step toward "in discernment" status with the Fellowship Of Affirming Ministries. For the civilians reading this... let's just say today I took the biggest step yet toward becoming an ordained minister. It's a very big deal.

And then Satan came after me.

One of my sisters in Christ warned me last week that she could sense that the adversary has me in his sights because I possess power beyond my own ability to conceive... and I am stepping up to serve Christ boldly and openly. I know this sister of mine is a natural and blesséd intercessor; I take her visions quite seriously. I did not for a minute doubt the truth of her warning. But what I was unprepared for, was that the adversary came at me in an emotional soft-spot, in my own congregation, during worship.

Let me state this clearly to you, Satan: you cannot have me. I am not on the market anymore. I have laid my burdens down, and I have been cleansed by the blood of the lamb. You do not own me, you do not rule me, you will not take me. I have been taken, loved, cleansed, and forgiven. That holy blood, spilled on my behalf, is stronger than anything and everything you can conjure up. You are a fool, you are a liar, and you are a thief, and I see you for what you are.

GET THEE BEHIND. I cast my lot with Jesus the Christ. His praise will continually fall from my mouth, in gratitude, because He protects me, He is stronger than you can possibly imagine, and I am His now. Period. End of story. GET LOST, MOTHERFUCKER. YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE

I am not asking God to pay attention to me, because I know He already does. This is not about getting God's attention. God has my back. It is YOU, Satan, the deceiver, who came at me and clouded my sight today. Nice parlor trick. But I can do you one better. I have Jesus. I win.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

How Will I Know?

How do I explain how I feel at this precise moment, this One Moment In Time? How do I explain to you, my beloved reader, what I see when I watch the news reports at this very moment? How can I make it make sense to anyone but me that while you see reporters talking about her death, I see a fun-house mirror reflection of myself as a scared, lonely gay teenager? While you see clips of her hit music videos, can you understand that I see a scared, lonely gay teenager whose primary refuge from the fear of being unloved was in the pop music of my youth?

How do I hold on to these now-cherished moments of adolescent nostalgia when they keep getting gut-punched by the reality of mortality? How do I put into words the emotional connection that, to this day, I feel when I hear these trite pop songs from the 1980s? Will you even let me try to explain it to you, or will you just dismiss me as a drama queen who always gets So Emotional? Will you make fun of me? Will you even take a second to try understanding why this music still speaks so powerfully to the scared young gay kid I still am inside?

The truth is that beyond what I have just written above, there really are no words to explain it. If you don't understand how I feel right now then there is nothing I can write that will make it clear. Let us leave it be.

Let her music speak for itself.
Let the dream that gay kid had, of being loved, live on inside the adult he has become.
RIP Whitney: the all-star choir of Heaven grows, yet again.

May of 1987: within the span of one week, I turned 16 years old, I got my driver's license, I got my first car, and Whitney Houston released this song.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stendhal Syndrome

This week, at the kickoff meeting of my Visual Arts class, the instructor taught us about Stendhal Syndrome. I certainly have experienced it before, and in fact I would argue that fervent ecstatic worship such as Pentecostal praxis is a regimented form of the syndrome.

But I must say, today... Thursday the 2nd of February 2012... Groundhog Day... was a magic day. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that God is alive. Or to put it in terms of Jedi theology: the Living Force is still operating and the Unifying Force is still pulling us together into a state of Oneness.


These two words, without hundreds of words to set them in context, are certainly esoteric in the extreme. But, that's the thing about the Stendhal moment: there are no words that can adequately explain the beauty of the words Sarah and Refuge in juxtaposition. So, I will simply present some words that sum it up:

Praise ye the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary;
praise Him in the firmament of His power!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
praise Him with the psaltery and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
praise Him with stringed instruments and organs!
Praise Him upon the loud cymbals;
praise Him upon the high sounding cymbals!
Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD!
Praise ye the LORD!
-Psalm 150 (21-KJV)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Occupy Oakland Fails. Yet Again.

Ok folks, this is getting old. It is clear from the person-on-the-ground reports that this weekend's Occupy Oakland events definitely have a ring of violent-police-state to them and that shit pisses me off, makes me fear for the Constitution, etc. But while reading the "real truth about what happened" I was flabbergasted yet again by the seeming inability of those who claim to want real social change to wake the fuck up about the problems in your midst as well as the martial-law gestapo tactics being employed by the police.

The person-who-was-really-there reports all seem to minimize and even justify two specific things: the burning of the American flag and the attacking of the KTVU news van. And the crux of the endorsement by acceptance I see comes from the following line of thought:

1) flag-burner guy is a kook who regularly burns flags and it's "his thing"
2) local news media did not stick around and film what was really happening
3) as soon as KTVU got footage of flag-burner guy, their van attempted to leave
4) protestors want us to know that the problems were caused by outside agitators

Ok, let's take these points and look at them in the larger context...

Flag-burning guy:

It's just his thing? Really? And that makes it completely acceptable to let him do it when the nation is watching? Do you actually give a shit what the 99% thinks about how this looks? Do you have any fucking clue what the 99% looks like demographically? Has it occurred to you that nearly half of the 99% are conservative Republicans who, while they are absolutely part of the 99%, will immediately turn against you as soon as they see behavior that looks like Islamic extremism from the streets of Tehran or Karachi? Read these words carefully, please:

I am a socialist and I support freedom-of-speech that includes burning my nation's flag. I support the goals of total social revolution, in fact my position on Occupy is that it is not left-leaning enough! But when I saw that flag, which my grandfather and father fought for, burning on the steps of my county's court-house, I came within a hair's width of turning against the entire fucking movement. The only reason I have not turned totally against the movement is because it was made clear to me that the majority of the protestors on the street last night did not support the act of flag-burning that has now been seen around the nation. But mark my words: if you want more people to join this cause then please, please, for the love of God, the Dagda, or the Great Spaghetti Monster In The Sky, please STOP THIS MAN FROM ASSOCIATING WITH THE MOVEMENT. FLAG-BURNING IS NOT A FORM OF PEACEFUL PROTEST IN THE EYES OF MOST OF AMERICA THEREFORE MOST OF THE 99%! Do you want more people to agree with you? Then stop letting the message get co-opted by such destructive imagery. I am working to change hearts-and-minds of conservatives I know in Washington state, Missouri, Maryland, North Carolina, and Florida. That one image from last night has undone six months of my efforts. Thanks a lot for that. Many of the military veterans I know do lean toward supporting Occupy but the moment they see our flag burning, we totally lose their support. PLEASE stop making my job harder. We are supposed to be on the same side, remember?

Local news media not sticking around:

Throughout the day there was clear evidence of the presence of outside agitators, many of whom were sporting the Anarchy symbol and throwing things toward the police. Could it be that after it got dark and things escalated, the news media folks felt that their lives were at risk? Now, of course, journalists are supposed to be insanely brave and laugh in the face of danger. Sure. But they are human beings, it was a Saturday night, and on the best of Saturdays there is a pattern of violence in Oakland -- independent of the Occupy movement. I have lived on the East Bay for 23 years and frankly, if I were caught in downtown Oakland on a Saturday night and felt hemmed in, I might very-well run some motherfuckers over to get the fuck out of there. Ok, not literally -- but then again, I would never be a journalist because I would never accept an assignment to hang out on the streets of Oakland on a Saturday evening. And, while we're at it, for fuck's sake, these events occurred literally around the corner from where Chauncey Bailey was assassinated. Journalists should not fear for their safety in this country, should they?

It breaks my heart to express such negative sentiments about Oakland. Oakland has tremendous potential, and tremendous natural beauty within its city limits. I lived in Oakland for nearly 7 years, and I have lived in adjacent cities for over half of the time I have lived out west. But let's be honest: OAKLAND IS A FAILED CITY. Perhaps I am digressing here, but thankfully I have the first-amendment right to express my opinion. And yes, I do in fact support the move to recall Mayor Quan and toss her ineffective idiotic ass out of office; the very fact that she was "elected" serves as proof of the anti-democratic nature of ranked-choice voting and even if she weren't a total fucktard I would still question the legitimacy of her election. Do not under any circumstances accuse me of supporting the status-quo. Got it? Ok. Moving on.

And finally, the "don't blame us, it was outside agitators" excuse...

Ok, here we go again. This statement has turned from unfortunate, into pathetic, and is now downright stupid. You can't have it both ways. Let's examine the logical conclusions we can draw from such an excuse for a minute? If you want me not to blame you because of outside agitators then you are either 1) unable to control their infiltration into the movement or 2) unwilling to work on weeding them out or 3) some combination of 1 and 2.

If you are unable to control a relatively small band of violent outsiders then what on God's Green Earth makes you think you will ever be able to bring about change on the part of billionaires and their companies that control the government? And if you are unwilling to work on weeding them out then you are implicitly endorsing their presence and making a lie of your "don't blame us" statement. Because, folks, enough is enough. It is time to ask yourselves: do you actually want this movement to succeed or do you simply want to destroy the status-quo without building a more just system in its place?

Today the Internet is full of yet another round of defense of the movement from people who decry the violence perpetrated by the police: I am on your side with furious concern about the issue of violence. But let me ask you this: did the violent outside agitator-types respect the consensus praxis? Did they show up to yesterday's community meetings? Did they make their case? Did they ask you to vote to support violent anarchistic tactics yesterday? If they did then would you have voted to support their suggestion? If so then you are responsible for their violence. And if not then they have made a mockery of the consensus-democracy that Occupy seeks to implement. Read that last sentence carefully... these outside agitators who you are so quick to blame for the problems that they cause, have taken away your voice and subverted your vote for how Occupy should proceed. 

And let's be crystal-clear on something: I am not calling for armed conflict with the Anarchists. I am not calling on you to turn on them. What I am challenging you to do is to give them a chance to talk. Ask them, please, to stay away from Occupy Oakland. Ask them, as one radical group to another, to let you stand on your own and bring the Occupy movement forward without their involvement.

Several online Anarchists have been quick to reply to my statements against their tactics and beliefs lately, and I thank them for their principled responses. In particular, I humbly appreciate their honest willingness to discuss our differences without attacking me -- particularly with regard to an earlier posting on my blog, and a number of tweets in my Twitter-feed, where I furiously encouraged Occupy folks to turn on the Anarchists.

When it comes right down to it, I am asking everyone to behave like adults and to do better. I am asking the outside-agitator Anarchist elements to respect the will of the majority of the Occupy protestors. I am asking the Occupy folks to initiate a dialogue with the Anarchists and gauge whether they are willing to respect the will of the majority of Occupy folks who do not want Black-bloc and violent tactics in the movement.

What I am asking, in short, is for us to try to get along. Could we try that? Please?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

3 of 3: Interstate 5

I drove home from Glendora to San Leandro late last night. I left Glendora at nearly 10PM and I pulled into my driveway at 315AM. I want to take a brief moment to tell you about what Interstate 5 is like on a Tuesday-into-Wednesday at that time of the night.

It is, essentially, a big-rig highway. At that time of night, a person driving a passenger car quickly figures out that the truckers are in charge of the freeway and you are their guest. I have driven I-5 in this circumstance perhaps 4 or 5 times including last night and I must say that it is refreshing.

Why, you ask? Well, to put it simply, there is a simple but poignant lesson for all of us from such an experience. For those of you who do not know, I-5 carries two lanes of traffic in each direction for most of the Central Valley. The... umh... posted speed limit is 70 MPH, which in California-speak means "somewhere between 60 and 100+" apparently randomly. The propensity of drivers, particularly idiot Bay Area drivers, to hang out in the left-lane can cause real problems when there are only two lanes available. But that's not my point... OK then Philip, what is your point? ==>

What is so refreshing about driving the American Autobahn late at night is that these big-rig drivers know what they are doing. It is astonishing to see how closely they can follow each other. The shared desire for success, the camaraderie, is remarkable to witness. The only way truckers can follow each other so closely is absolute faith and trust in the desire of the guy in front of you to not fuck your life up. We could all take a cue from this, wouldn't you say?

But there is one other thing. Most of the trucks on I-5 late at night during the weekday are doing between 55 and 70MPH... not necessarily because that's the speed they want to drive but because that's the speed that their rigs can do given the environment. I-5 is not flat, despite the folklore about it. Despite this, though, I have found that the truckers are fully willing to let a tiny Honda like mine drive around them like a bat out of hell and they ask just one thing in return: don't fuck with them. And there is something else: they have CB radios! If you treat truckers like their rigs are an inconvenience placed on the road to piss you off then guess what? They will tell other truckers about you. They will describe your vehicle and how you are behaving, so that the trucks up the road will know that you're an asshole and you are coming toward them. And they might even get the attention of the highway patrol.

So, when you're flying up I-5 at 80... 90... 100MPH, and you see a truck pull into the fast-lane, back the fuck off. Don't fly up on them, slam your breaks, and get pissed off. Take your foot off the gas pedal, let your speed drop "organically" to match the speed of the truck in front of you, and stay far enough back that you can see the truck's side-mirrors. Remember the lesson from driver's ed? If you cannot see a big-rig's mirrors then they cannot see you and they do not know that you are there. It really is simple. Just hang back, take a deep breath, wait a few minutes, and just let the trucker do his or her thing. They do not want to be in your way, and they -- unlike you -- do not hang out in the fast-lane like they own it. If they are in that lane then it is because they need to be there. Just wait a few minutes, they will move out of your way. And never, unless physically necessary to save your life, pass them on the RIGHT. Let them move over.

It isn't rocket-science, folks. Really.

And a final point: let's say that a truck driver does pull in front of you and force you to slam on your breaks. I can understand how annoying that can be, and I can understand the temptation to let righteous anger flow through your veins. But ponder these two things:

First, how big is your car? And how big is that truck? They win. Period.

Second, and perhaps even more to-the-point, ask yourself a question: why is this truck on the road? What is it doing? It is moving goods from point of distribution toward point of consumption. The word consumption... related to the word CONSUMER. That's you. The next time you buy... well... anything at a grocery store, drug store, department store, or just about anywhere else, stop for a second and think about how your purchases ended up on that shelf for you to buy. Chances are, they came in on a big-rig truck that drove up I-5. And if it's in the morning hours and it's a fresh consumable product? Chances are that the truck you pissed off a few hours ago was hauling the thing you are buying right now.

It's called the Golden Rule.

Try it out sometime. It works.

2 of 3: Queer Youth

When I was in Glendora last night, CJ's foster-mom told me about a number of young gay folks she has met in her days as a teacher at a local university. She told me, in particular, about one young gay man. This entry is for him -- and for all of God's children who have ever been rejected, or told they are less worthy of love, or abandoned by their families, or told that they are ugly, or denied access to a church that claims to be Christian.

In Matthew's Gospel, there is a short three-verse pericope that we must lift up. We must, as Christians, shout these words of Jesus from the rooftops, from the mountains, from the cities, from the ocean, and from the very cosmos itself.

Read these words carefully, queer youth. I say this to you as a minister:

If there remains even one child on this Earth who thinks that you are unloved because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, who thinks that salvation in Christ Jesus is not available to you, and who questions even for one second whether God loves you exactly as you are and that you were BORN THIS WAY, then Christians have failed you and by extension we have failed Jesus. I will not back down on this, and I will never apologize for preaching a theology of RADICAL INCLUSION. The words of Jesus Himself...

Then people brought little children to Jesus for Him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' When He had placed His hands on them, He went on from there. (Matthew 19:13-15 from the NIV)

Read this text carefully and picture this in your mind: Jesus saw children in need of love and hope. His disciples failed to acknowledge the worth of the children. In response, Jesus rebuked His own disciples. Jesus bitch-slapped his own disciples in order to tell us that THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BELONGS TO CHILDREN.

Could it be any clearer? If Jesus loved these children as they were, for exactly how the Holy Father made them, then how dare anyone claiming to be a Christian... a Christ-follower... stand between Jesus and His gay children?

To all queer youth in the world:

And that is the Gospel According to Philip Tanner. AMEN.

1 of 3: Faith + Works

It comes down to this: I am a hardcore deconstructionist Protestant. My theology begins and ends with the Cross and expresses itself with the term πίστη μόνο (písti móno)... better known in its Latin form sola fide ("faith alone")... but the words of the Book of James about this issue ("faith without works is dead") have been resonating anew in my spirit. I cannot ever see myself abandoning my písti móno theological bedrock, but it seems to me that I have a new understanding: salvation by faith-alone is only real when it shows itself through good works.

I don't think this really conflicts or contradicts the písti móno doctrine per se. The key is how Pastor Melissa Scott phrases it: once we have accepted the deposit of the Holy Spirit into our otherwise empty and cracked vessel, we will be driven to do good works. Ok, this makes sense.

And it provides the framework for what I did yesterday. Tuesday 1/25/2012. I drove from San Leandro to San Leandro... by way of Long Beach and Glendora. Why on Earth did I do this? I did it because two friends of mine needed my help and one of their pets, an adorable cat named Captain Jack (aka "CJ"), needed to move from Long Beach to a home where he will be fostered indefinitely.

The amazing thing is that CJ's foster-home is with a woman who I had not met in person until I arrived on her doorstep in Glendora. And my friends have never met her. This awesome Christian woman, acting on FAITH ALONE, who is a friend-of-a-friend, literally 48 hours beforehand, stepped forward to make this happen.

The coming-together of different threads here is simply, indescribably, beautiful. The words of Jesus in John 12 have been resonating in my heart lately... where He speaks that when He is "lifted up" He will draw all people toward Him. It's an amazing image. Yet, in the original Κοινή the verb is even more pointed. The verb is ὑψόω (hoopsá-oh)... a better wording would be exalted or even held up as a shining light for all time (that's my intensified wording).

It is amazing to me to ponder... the more I examine my personal theology, the more I learn about the Greek language, the more I realize: I truly am a Pentecostal Christian. I guess donkeys do fly, after all.

Ok then... but... this is where things get hairy: I see a number of people in my life saying "I get it" about faith, and yet, when God presents them a chance to step forward in faith and spread the love of Jesus Christ through action towards those who are in need, those very same people revert to form by thinking only of their own welfare -- and thereby functionally they are claiming personal Lordship over the love of the Holy Spirit for themselves. Why, God oh why, can they not see: the gift of the Holy Spirit only grows into maturity when we allow it to flow through us to the next person who needs to be liberated and freed from bondage? When will they see that the freedom bought for us on the Cross asks once thing of us and one thing alone: love your fellow refugees and let the world know us by our love for one another! How can you claim to be doing that when you sit back and remain so focused on yourself that you ignore the pain in front of you that you can help relieve?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA. PIPA. Santorum. Internet.


I post an entry on my blog at and in my post I *defend* Rick Santorum against attacks by radical-left anarchists who are slandering his family and stealing a third party's copyrighted material to accuse him of being a closet queer. I include a hyperlink in my blog entry showing you where the specific web site is and I ask you to contact the owners of the web site is to ask them to stop using material they do not own in their quest to slander Mr Santorum's family. I ask you to focus simply on the known public facts, such as how Mr Santorum is obsessed with gay sex, and I exhort you to draw your own conclusions on why this is so. Santorum's campaign staffers discover the slanderous material; while looking on the Internet they also find my blog entry linking to it. If SOPA and PIPA are the law of the land at this point, then the federal government will have the authority to shut down:

1) the slanderous web site to which I linked in my blog entry
2) my blog which was arguing against copyright infringement
3) Blogspot for providing me with my blog space
4) Google for providing links to Blogspot
5) Twitter for allowing me to post a link to my blog entry
6) Facebook for allowing me to post a link to my blog entry
7) YOUR blog for any response that includes a link to my blog

Is this really what you want? Really?