A Strange Day

I’m listening to Pornography by The Cure again, something that I don’t do often enough.

It’s absolutely my favorite Cure album. It’s dark, brooding, and all-out Goth. It overlays the existential crises of the band as they went through a particularly dark time that almost led to their breakup (and Robert Smith’s suicidal ideation) with amazing percussion and that gloomy wall of sound.

And it’s the album that most reminds me of my best friend at the time, Jason, who passed away during my junior year of high school. This was the album that we listened to every morning after he got his car and I hitched a ride with him to school. It was one of the many albums by Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, The Cure, and other 1980s New Wave legends that we spent hours listening to. Jason was the king of the 12 inch maxi-single, and had the best Depeche Mode collection of anyone I knew.

And he also probably saved my life.

My father had left home during my ninth grade year in an addiction laced bender which led to the collapse of his business and the collapse of my illusion that my dysfunctional family wasn’t completely fucked. I spent the entirety of that year ditching school (by pulling the Ferris Buelleresque “I’m sick” card while my mom was at work and my dad too far down the drain to deal with me). And once my dad was gone, the only thing I was left with was the depression. And online Bulletin Board Systems, but that’s for another post someday. Maybe.

So the hours that we spent at his house playing video games on his Atari 800 and Amiga computers, and listening to records, and sharing the most recent acquisitions to our collection were salvation for me. Jason, the consummate optimist, and I, the incorrigible pessimist, whiling away the hours listening to dark, dark New Wave anthems.

And years after he died, Jason also played a big role in the evolution of my faith. I’m not sure whether Jason believed in anything spiritual in any way. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure he was an atheist or an agnostic (as I was at the time). But he was God’s grace in a dark time. And it was that grace to me that made it impossible for me to believe in the days after I had decided to follow Jesus during college that he would end up in hell for not saying a specific prayer during his short life (and all lives are short, regardless of their length). This drove the wedge in my evangelical faith that ultimately led me to re-examine and ultimately reject doctrines such as eternal conscious torment, Biblical inerrancy, and the idea that who one was or who one loved could make them a sinner outside of God’s love.

And so now, as I listen to Pornography once again, I think of one of my favorite pieces of Christian Theology: The Communion of the Saints. And I feel Jason’s presence with me, as I am sure all of the saints who are one with us now and forever are also with me. And remember the lyrics to A Strange Day, my favorite song from the album:

“My head falls back and the walls crash down
And the sky and the impossible explode
Held for one moment I remember a song
An impression of sound
And then everything is gone forever
A strange day”

Here’s to you, Jason. You were one of the good ones.

There is No Church In America

So, today’s shocking/not shocking blockbuster is that evangelical Christian and former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx is coming forward a year too late to tell us that if only we had actually followed the science rather than followed Trump’s calls to “liberate” states last year, we could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives:

“I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse,” Birx says. “There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

Now, this post is not primarily intended as a political rant. Wearing masks and not congregating indoors and temporarily suspending church services to save lives should never have been political issues. But the pandemic made it clear to me that you can’t rely on anyone in this country. There is no sense of the common good. And the church is more guilty than any other segment of the population of leaving people to fend for themselves. Deborah Birx is only a smart part of the problem.

The bigger issue is that there is no Church in this country. In its place, we have the Cult of Religious Freedom. We have the Cult of Christian Nationalism. We have the Cult of the Second Amendment (Molech Worship). And, to be honest, most of the local incarnations of this church are just cults of personality revolving around a host of Christian media stars and local pastors trying to become Christian media stars. And false prophets. Lots of false prophets.

The Church was intended to be the body of Christ. The same Christ who laid down his life for his friends and told Christ’s church to deny itself, take up its cross, and follow. It was intended to be a place that served and loved its fellow humanity because in doing so it was serving and loving Christ’s own self. And it did a pretty good job of this… for a couple of centuries.

But then empire took over, and instead of the cross we got the Crusades. We got patriarchy. We got the Doctrine of Discovery. We got settler colonialism. We got slavery. We got Jim Crow and Apartheid. We got homophobia.

So here we are, in 21st century America, and Christ has no Church. And while I do believe that there are groups of followers of the way of Jesus at the margins of whatever it is that is masquerading as the Church today (the black church comes to mind), I’m absolutely convinced that whatever the hell we are doing in those so called church buildings nowadays, it isn’t being the Church.

For me personally, I am still a follower of the way of Jesus, think that there is an ineffable God beyond my understanding, and enjoy being a part of the local church of which I am a part. But make no mistake about it: The Church does not exist in this country. Jesus has left the building.

Our Babylonian Captivity

As part of my morning prayers, the Psalm of the day was Psalm 137:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the LORD’S song
upon an alien soil?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD,
against the people of Edom,
who said, “Down with it! down with it!
even to the ground!”

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy the one who pays you back
for what you have done to us!

Happy shall he be who takes your little ones,
and dashes them against the rock!

Setting aside the imprecatory last two verses, I was struck by how relevant this Psalm is for those of us who still seek to follow the way of Jesus in 21st Century America.

Like the Psalmist, we live in Babylon, the pre-eminent empire of our time.

The church has chosen the idol of Religious Freedom over the call to love its neighbor as itself. When faced with the gravest health crisis of any of our lives, it chose to flout lockdowns by singing its songs for Babylon in mass worship concerts and to teach its children to burn their masks rather than wear them to protect their vulnerable neighbors. When confronted with the essential dignity of all people, regardless of who they are and who they love, it chose to exclude and file lawsuits to enforce its exclusion. When challenged to treat people of all faiths with kindness and compassion, it whined about a “war on Christmas.” Neighbor love is not high on its list.

Like the Psalmist, we weep for the fall of Zion, the church which has been swallowed up by the original sins of our nation: white supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and patriarchy.

When confronted with the call to affirm that Black Lives do, indeed, matter, it chose to once again sit on the sidelines and offer up a weak “All Lives Matter.” When 10 AM on Sunday remains the most segregated hour in America, we know that the church has fallen. And when asked to just learn about and understand the struggle that BIPOC people in our country have always faced, the church instead made up a strange new theology that says Critical Race Theory is opposed to the gospel.

When we turn on our televisions and see Jesus Saves flags at an attempt to overrun and overthrow the people’s will through an election, we know that the church has fallen. When our fellow congregants are more likely to believe in QAnon conspiracies as in the radical love of Christ, we know that the church has fallen. When adhering to Fox News Conservatism become the marker of whether one is a true Christian, can we come to any other conclusion than that the church has fallen?

And when we see a “good Christian” gunman walk into businesses and murder Asian-American females in order to eliminate the “temptations” he blames for his “sex addiction,” we see the damage the church’s patriarchy and purity culture has done. How it blames women for the sexual violence of men. How it victim shames. How it gaslights. How it infantilizes men by stating that their raging hormones are uncontrollable and so they need to live a so-called “pure” life rather than doing the work needed in order to see all women as equals and not objects.

And so we weep.

But for those of us who still seek out the way of Jesus, “how can we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?” By joining in with the chorus of the captive American church, we forget our Jerusalem. It would be better if our tongue was unable to move than to sing the songs of empire disguised as worship and praise songs.

And so, I would rather leave the captive church than stay and sing its songs to Caesar. I would rather leave the captive church than hurt my very own flesh in my neighbor. I would rather leave the captive church than teach my children to forget who they truly are and how they should be in the world.

A Lamentation

How long, Lord

Will we have to see
Asian women killed in their workplace
Black Christians gunned down at Bible study
Black men and women murdered at the hands of bad cops
“Good cops”, police unions, politicians, and regular citizens covering for those bad cops
Children hiding in terror at an approaching gunman
Those same children dying in terror
Matthew Shepard beaten, killed, and tied to a fence
Emmett Till’s lynched body in a coffin

How long, Lord

We are tired
Tired of a system that values whiteness over humanness
Tired of politicians who inflame hatred to get votes
Tired of inhumanity directed at people fleeing violence and poverty
Tired of Black lives not mattering
Tired of Asian lives not mattering
Tired of Latino lives not mattering
Tired of Muslim lives not mattering
Tired of Native lives not mattering
You see where this is going?

How long, Lord

We wonder if you can hear us
We wonder if you are too weak to fix things
We wonder if you care
We wonder if you are even there

How long, Lord

On days like today, where hope is hiding, all we have is our fears
Our fist-shaking anger
Our pain
Our worry
Our sadness
Our tears that won’t stop falling

How long, Lord, until you make yourself visible?