Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Bible: The real horror of Halloween

Ah, it’s that time of year again when the leaves are falling, the mornings are brisk, the baseball season is finishing up, and churches are celebrating Halloweerrr no… they’re celebrating the autumn season with “Harvest Festivals” and “Trunk or Treats” all coincidentally coordinating with that other big holiday of the season—Halloween.

'Monroe Lodge 27 Trunk Or Treat (2 of 18)' photo (c) 2013, Ricky Cain - license: is one of those weird cultural holidays that conservative Christians have had a sort of love-hate relationship with for some time. There is a group that says that Halloween stems from a pagan holiday and is all about worshipping evil and therefore should be avoided all together. Some are uncomfortable with the holiday in itself but take advantage of the tradition of kids and candy by sponsoring “harvest festivals” and such. A third approach that has seemingly become the thing to do is the so-called “trunk or treat” where church members decorate their trunks, then line the church parking lot, creating a gauntlet of candy for the un-churched neighborhood kids to descend upon en-mass.

“Trunk or Treat” has the added benefit of attracting neighbors to the church without them actually having to make the intimidating walk into the church. Out in the parking lot, it’s a lot easier to avoid the overzealous proselytizer with all the open space—pews and doors make for a veritable maze when trying to steer clear of the old timers who look at young families like a tiger drooling over red meat.

Yet, even within the brilliance of the “trunk or treat” lies a dilemma, namely, how should the trunks be decorated? Since most churches are trying so hard to avoid the ghosts and goblins culture of Halloween, many “trunk or treats” mandate that all decorating be biblically themed. What’s comical about this is that in trying to “sanitize” Halloween and make it more kid-friendly, most trunks reveal some of the most horrific, gruesome tales in the Bible.

'Horfield church at night' photo (c) 2006, Rob Brewer - license:’s horrifying about a Bible story themed “trunk or treat?” How about a man getting his head cut off (David and Goliath)? Or, there’s three men being burned alive (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). There’s of course the story of a deity approving a genocidal slaughter of an entire city (Jericho). There’s the story of a young woman forced into marrying and old perverted king (Esther). There’s the story of an entire army suffering an agonizing death by drowning (Pharoah’s army). There’s of course the story of a man getting eaten by a whale (Jonah). And lest we forget, the story of God murdering the entire human population save eight (the Flood). Anyone with any biblical knowledge will recognize what’s meant to be a G-rated, kid friendly event is instead something far more gruesome and terrifying. What we find in these biblical stories and others like them would turn the stomachs of most horror movie aficionados. Forget watching the latest installment of SAW or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, just read a Bible.

This is the problem of a Christianity that tries to white-wash scripture, that tries to sell this book as “the Word of God, inerrant and inspired.” What ends up happening is that same Christianity finds itself defending a book full of rape, incest, adultery, torture, and murder. The story of Noah and the flood is wonderful if you forget about the people murdered by God. It’s fun to read of the battlefield successes of the Israelite army if you disregard the brutal killing of women and children. Ironically, that Christianized Halloween “trunk or treat” looks pretty sick and twisted in the end.

'2002-32-1 Bible, Sunday School Teachers Edition' photo (c) 1980, Naval History & Heritage Command - license:’s the thing. Those are just stories. They are not divinely inspired, they are not sent down from heaven. The Bible is full of stories written by people trying to make sense of their human experience and the divine. The Bible is also full of stories about groups seeking to justify their own beliefs, of overzealous proselytizers trying to prove that a rigid purity is what God desires. The Bible is also full of humans telling their fellow humans to care for the poor, the foreigners, and the outcasts. This mishmash of stories is what the Bible is and we’ve got to accept it for what it is—a book written by humans trying to make sense of their human experience and their encounter with the divine. I take the Bible seriously not because it is “inspired” or “the Word of God,” but because it recounts the struggle of humans throughout the ages trying to make sense of this experience we call life and trying to find meaning beyond it in what we have labeled “God.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Robin Thicke: the dirty bastard who needs glasses

'Blurred Lines' photo (c) 2013, Pat David - license:
= deuchbag
Surely everyone has seen by now the video of the infamous Miley Cyrus “twerking” performance at the VMA awards.  I’m not going to link it here because I don’t want to give it anymore air time then it’s already gotten. That being said, “co-conspirator” Robin Thicke recently did a sit-down interview with Oprah that will air October 13 on her own OWN network. In some of the snippets released, he pleads ignorance as to the events that took place on stage that night.

In the interview, according to Huffington Post, when Oprah questions Thicke as to his level of participation in the action, he responds that “I'm singing my butt off so I'm sitting there, I'm looking up at the sky, and I'm not really paying attention to all that," Thicke says. "That's on her.” First, I thought the events took place indoors, and second, he’s basically claiming to be an innocent bystander in the whole event. But wait, it gets worse.

 If that wasn’t enough, he claims that not only did he not know what was happening, the act itself was non-consensual.  "People ask me, 'Do you twerk?' I go, 'Listen, I'm the twerkee,'" he continues, laughing. "I'm twerked upon. I don't twerk myself, OK? I'm just twerked upon." Poor guy. Clearly he’s the victim here. Excuse me while I throw up.

'Blurred Lines Robin Thicke Sang Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing In 2012' photo (c) 2013, Zennie Abraham - license:
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Thicke has escaped nearly unscathed from criticism after the events of that night while Miley Cyrus has faced near-universal condemnation. Not that I would judge Miley’s actions as commendable in any respect, but I’m pretty sick of Thicke playing coy in all this, like he had nothing to do with it and was just the poor, faithfully married man being twerked upon.  Yeah, I imagine it’s just like in his R-rated music video for Blurred Lines in which topless women prance around while he sings about pressuring uncertain young women into sexual activity. As one writer has said, “the sex being sold in this song is not inspiring, egalitarian or sensual like sex should be, but narrow and non-consensual. What this song promotes is an extremely constricted view of women’s sexuality defined entirely by the male singer.” Thicke is hardly the innocent “twerkee” he portrays himself to be and rather seems more a perverted sex addict who *conveniently* blames someone else.

This just goes back to the whole rape culture here in America, where unwanted sexual advances by a guy were seemingly the result of him being “led on” by the female.  Guys in this country have got to stop viewing women as objects and as willing recipients of whatever sexual advances they so desire; in other words, the sort of behavior which Thicke advocates in his own song.

There’s a story breaking just today about a young woman in Missouri who was allegedly raped, with the local police having what they felt was a “case that would ‘absolutely’ result in prosecutions.”  Conveniently, the young man accused got let off the hook without even a trial while the young woman and her family were run out of town. Worse, parents of the accused think “Our boys deserve an apology, and they haven’t gotten it yet.” Do those words ring a bell?

Does Thicke wear contacts? Because it seems like he’s gotten a vision problem. Perhaps someone should get him some glasses, so he could see that those “blurred lines” aren’t really as fuzzy as he thinks them to be. His hypocritical words and actions are absolutely the wrong message of our society and simply contribute to the so-called “slut-shaming” and blame-the-victim mentality which so disgustingly pervades our society of which Thicke represents the most vile, reprehensible, dirt-bag of all.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What if you had to live with your trash?

A few months back I watch the documentary Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home. In the film, one family decides to store up all their garbage for three months just to see how much stuff they throw out.  After the 3 months and their garage filled with their garbage and recycling, the point is made that our consumer economy produces a huge excess of trash.  In case you haven’t figured it out for yourself, the average American produces tons of garbage!
'Evil blue horse of doom. Weird public art choice for airport.' photo (c) 2011, Amy Gahran - license:
If you’ve ever flown into Denver, along with seeing the creepy blue horse, you’ve probably seen the pyramid-shaped landfill just east of the airport on PenĂ¡ Boulevard.  Yep, that’s where some of the trash from this thriving metropolis goes after getting tossed into the trash can, loaded into big trucks, and hauled away, out of sight and out of mind—unless one happens to drive to DIA. 

This is sort of a problem in our society. We can just get rid of stuff conveniently, without ever having to think about the consequences. Now sure, is it better than the Middle Ages where trash and sewage just was tossed in the middle of the street, allowing disease and sickness to run rampant? Of course. But is there perhaps still a better way? I think so—it’s called recycling.

I work for a retailer of composite decking, and we throw a lot of stuff away. I mean A LOT.  Since it’s the slow season and I’m often bored at work, I decided to calculate just how much trash my company has thrown away—and what that might actually look like.  The warehouse I work in is 148’ x 300’ x 19’ approximately—roughly the size of a football field minus the end zones. I asked some of my co-workers, and they approximated that we fill an average of 4 dumpsters of trash each week.  The warehouse is approximately 843,600 ft³ with the dumpster about 83ft³.  So, based on 4 dumpster loads a week for 52 weeks that’s about 17,000 cubic feet of trash a year. If one were to pile up all the trash from the time the business has been open, it would fill nearly one-quarter of the warehouse!  Imagine a pile of trash 19 feet high, to the 25 yard line on a football field!

It's a BIG building!
VERY spacious inside!
Now, one might say, that’s a business in the construction industry and therefore goes through a lot of materials.  I think we’d be surprised by the amount the average household produces in a year as well. I have a trash container which is approximately 24” x 27” x 42” which is emptied once a week.  That container can hold about 15 cubic feet of trash.  If I fill that up every week, which thankfully I don’t because I recycle, that add up to 818 cubic feet of trash!   Two years of trash would completely fill my rather spacious 12’ x 16’ x 8’ bedroom!
'Trash Recycling with Disposal Containers' photo (c) 2011, epSos .de - license:
Our leaders talk a lot about what kind of world we want to leave our children and grandchildren. Do we really want to leave them a world with huge trash piles everywhere?  There’s much we can do to limit our waste: recycle things like metal, paper, plastic, plastic bags, etc. We can compost our organic waste such as food (Americans throw nearly 40% of food away yearly!) And we could always—GASP!—stop running out and buying stuff we’re eventually just going to throw away. Life is more than just stuff. What matters is our relationships. We can’t take anything with us when we die, so rather than spending all your money on stuff that’s just going to end up in a landfill most likely after you die, invest your time and money in those you love.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Why Ayn Rand has EVERYTHING to do with the Government shutdown

'US Capital' photo (c) 2013, Ed Schipul - license:

The United States Government is now past day 4 of what will most likely be a long government shutdown. Basically, the government
can’t spend money without congressional approval, therefore, with no money to spend, the government can’t continue to be open for business as usual.  The GOP controlled House (or more specifically the influential Tea Party representatives) sees this as an opportunity to “bargain” with President Obama and the Democrat controlled Senate.  The House has decided they will only fund the government if all or part of the President’s landmark health legislation is de-funded. Being that Obama has no intention of decimating his only substantive legislative achievement as President, and the Tea Party Republicans are likely to face basically zero consequences from their gerrymandered deep red districts, the lines are set and we could be in for a long slog.

On a related note, I recently finished reading Ayn Rand’s influential novel Atlas Shrugged.  With over 1,000 pages it took me about a month to finish. Though Rand certainly had skill as a novelist, Shrugged is terribly long winded, creates a “straw man” of epic proportions, and is a caricature to end all caricatures. So what does Ayn Rand have to do with the government shutdown? Well, basically everything.

One must first understand that Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” as so illustrated in Atlas Shrugged has become the intellectual foundation of the Republican economic policy—especially of the Tea Party wing—with GOP big shots and Tea Party favorites Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz endorsing her ideology. Where this gets especially problematic is that fact that the Tea Party is also a de-facto evangelical Christian movement. This unholy matrimony of conservative Christians and Rand’s Objectivism began after her death as her ideology became separate from the controversial character she herself was. So, basically what we have here is conservative Christians proudly proclaiming the ideology of an avowed atheist. If you find this peculiar you are not alone.

'Ayn Rand FU' photo (c) 2010, monkey_bob99x - license:
I don't like expletives, except where appropriate.
Family Research Council Rep Ken Blackwell demonstrates this dissonance well when he said that “there was ‘nothing more Christian’ than ‘not locking people into a permanent dependency on government handouts, but making sure they are participants in their own upliftment and empowerment so that they in fact through the dignity of work and can break from the plantation of big government.’” If only he was alone in his ideas.  More troubling is the trickle-down effect these ideas have had, with one Baptist pastor and seminary student telling me in an online conversation that the answer to our problems is “to have the freedom to create something for ourselves, our children and others around us, and it is within the system of free market capitalism.” He also chided me for decrying the rich as “these are the very people you are asking to do something for you” and “have been capable enough to parlay their talents…into wealth.” This is CLASSIC Ayn Rand.

What’s really frightening is that fact they these two people—both conservative Christians—are completely oblivious to this.  Folks who claim Christianity as their religion care more about following the teaching of an atheist Russian immigrant than the teachings of a man who they themselves claim to be the very Son of God.  As Jim Wallis has said, what’s happening is that people’s politics is driving their theology rather than their theology driving their politics. This entire government shutdown is based on the ideas of an atheist.

I could list quote after quote demonstrating the unbiblical ideas strewn throughout Rand’s work. I could list out her blatant mocking of God and Christianity. I could demonstrate Rand’s utter disregard for human life. Instead, I will simply quote the iconic line from her book; “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” No matter the denomination or affiliation one is from, any Christian should recognize such as utterly un-Christian. 

As an ordained minister and as someone holding an advanced theology degree, I could proceed to quote verse after verse which contradicts such an ideology. I could delve into church history and demonstrate how the theme of undeserved grace from a benevolent God has been central to Christianity throughout the centuries. Instead, I will simply let the scriptures speak for themselves.   Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13 KJV).” One of these two is not like the other.

The philosophy being spewed from the mouths of many conservative politicians these days is nothing short of heresy. Further, the ignorant repetition of such viewpoints represents a biblical ineptitude downright shocking.  Those who cling to their Bibles most dearly have no clue as to what it actually teaches. What’s a biblical attitude toward government? Cue Jim Wallis:

The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good — protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a society — and even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts. The scriptures also make it clear that governmental authority is responsible for fairness and justice and particularly responsible for protecting the poor and vulnerable. Read Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor. And it wasn’t just the kings of Israel who were held accountable for the poor, but also the kings of neighboring countries — all governments. That’s what the Bible says.

Please save your critiques about how brilliant Rand’s system is. The point isn’t to bash Rand—though I did find it quite odd that she spends so little time in Shrugged painting a picture of what the world would look like if her theory was in place. I’d be glad to have the debate about whether or not Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is actually a worthwhile economic theory—just don’t dare try to neatly wrap her atheistic ideals into a Christian worldview and then try and tell me you believe in the Bible, because you don’t.