Arm the Teachers! Are You F*@king Kidding Me!

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 4.56.26 PMTake a look at this cartoon! We are pretty much the only country in the world seriously talking about turning educators into a freak’n swat team. What the hell, America? What. The. Hell?

Check out the steely-eyed gaze of the teacher, presumably staring down the assailant just off frame. That is utter bullshit. It says a lot about the ignorance (or malevolence) of the cartoonist. At least the person posting this acknowledges that it is not enough to arm teachers. They must be trained. But in order for that training to be effective, they would need to train the way military and police do. It is not enough to spend a few hours at the range. When the bullets start firing, the reptilian brain takes over. One becomes all fear and adrenaline. Police and soldiers drill the same procedures over and over again because they know that that is what is essential to survive in a crisis situation. During a firefight, when life and death are on the line, pulling the trigger needs to become a reflex. You need to bypass the brain altogether. A lot of people seem to have bypassed the brain permanently.

Let me just remind everyone again of how ridiculous this is.

I am not sure what can be done about it, though. I wish I knew. After Sandy Hook, I thought we had a chance to pass the kinds of gun laws that work in every other country. I thought maybe the gruesome mental images of children bleeding out, calling for their mommies, would galvanize some people into changing their minds.


If anything, conservatives just got more radicalized. At a state, local, and national level, laws have been passed that make it easier for people to purchase and carry weapons. The reasoning is that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. When is that going to start working, exactly?

Right now I am just angry. Cynical and angry. This is not a good place to be long term. But it is where I am right now. How do you have a discussion with someone who values their ideology over evidence? I don’t know. I wish I knew the words to say, but at the moment, all I can do is scream.


There’s No Sex in Your Violence

The pleasure that satisfies lust, qua lust, is not the enjoyment, physical or otherwise, of the awesome beauty of another person as the creation of God, because lust is based on pride, and pleasure in someone else’s being as God’s gift to them is rather pleasure in humility.

I have been thinking a great deal about Augustine’s theology of sex in light of all the various scandals involving powerful men and their abuse and intimidation of women. I worry that we may be focusing on all the bad apples to the neglect of the bigger problem of how we think about human sexuality as a society.

Augustine basically said that sex is sinful. Actually, it is more complicated and nuanced than that (check it). The problem, he said, is not sex itself but the way sexual pleasure “activates” pride. The Augustine scholar John Cavadini put it well when he wrote:

To fault Augustine in this context for not realizing that “sexual pleasure” can enrich a couple’s relationship, or to assess Augustine’s views against our own more “positive” view, may be, with all due respect, to beg the question. For Augustine, the question would not be whether sexual pleasure can enrich a couple’s relationship, but whether there is any sexual pleasure possible without a taint of violence or complacency (“self-pleasing”) in it. The question would be, what are we taking pleasure from? Pleasure, as Augustine is at pains to point out, is an affair of the soul, not the body. The pleasure that satisfies lust, qua lust, is not the enjoyment, physical or otherwise, of the awesome beauty of another person as the creation of God, because lust is based on pride, and pleasure in someone else’s being as God’s gift to them is rather pleasure in humility. For example, can we say that any act of sexual delight is completely free from smugness, from self-admiration, from the slightest hint of “self-pleasing” in the mastery of the “skill sets” of popular magazines, in the thought that one is an accomplished, or at least halfway decent, lover? Violence includes the admiration of power or ability as power or ability. [Emphasis mine.]

Continue reading “There’s No Sex in Your Violence”

Liberals Should Stop Mocking Martyrdom

Far be it from me not to point out when “my people” do or say something stupid or evil. But just as irritating are liberals who would rather make fun of conservative Christians than try to understand them. 

In the wake of the Texas mass shooting, RawStory posted an article with the subtle, and not-at-all mocking title, “Conservative writer: God was ‘answering prayers’ of Texas victims by letting them get shot.” Yes, “Step right up folks! And witness another ridiculous Christian saying something ridiculous!”

Of course, the original column was pretty ridiculous. It was naive and insensitive. Far be it from me not to point out when “my people” do or say something stupid or evil. But just as irritating are liberals who would rather make fun of conservative Christians than try to understand them.  Continue reading “Liberals Should Stop Mocking Martyrdom”

Academe Needs More VSA


As some of you know, my money-making job is basically something like an assistant to the academic dean at a summer boarding school for gifted high schoolers. It’s called Vanderbilt Summer Academy. In short, in the fall I recruit a diverse crew of academics to geek out about their respectively disciplines for a few weeks; in the spring I help them turn that geeking-out into a syllabus; and in the summer I do observations, feedback, and general support. It is about 18 months of work for about 6 weeks of magic. And the academy needs more of it.

The magic I am referring to is not the magic of learning. It is the magic of taking all those people you interviewed—engineers, theologians, writers, mathematicians—and having a few beers with them after work, or sitting with them around the lunch table, and listening to the conversations unfold. The thing about academics is that we are naturally curious people, but we spend most of our lives focusing our curiosity into a narrow set of problems or questions. There is nothing quite like watching the enthusiasm on a historian’s face as an environmental engineer talks about water polymers.


It is worth noting that Vanderbilt has a robust culture of interdisciplinary collaboration. Believe it or not, when you are a biologist studying antibiotic resistance, it helps to know a chemist. Even informal collaboration has a creative benefit. We all need to get outside of our own heads every once-in-a-while. During the summers, the faculty I work with have very little time to do their own research, yet they keep coming back. There are a number of reasons for this. Most of them say that working with our students helps them fall in love with teaching all over again. Their students are also very creative, and so a lot of our instructors come away with new ideas for their own work. I would also like to think that those lunch and happy hour conversations have a lot to do with it. At least, they do for me.

Knowledge is its own good. It is divine. I believe this is something most academics intuit (even the atheist ones). The natural enthusiasm that comes from conversations experts have with peers from other departments and other disciplines feels a lot like worship in some ways. It is an eschatological event of sorts. The kingdom of God comes to earth…over beers.

A Letter to My Sister on Her Birthday

Dear Toni,

Or shall I call you “Joan”? Sometimes it’s both. You are 37 now. And you are four months pregnant. Dude! For the record, I have this other open letter I’ve been working on, about how I think about you and pray for you when it comes to your new status as a mom. I just cannot seem to find the words. I have been struggling with that lately—finding the words—especially the closer I feel to a person. I guess it is that the closer I feel to someone, the more I appreciate the mystery that they are. The more depths and layers I see. They become more dynamic, less two-dimensional. Hence my struggle writing something to you. You are very dynamic.

I just want to thank you for making me a better person. You may not know you have. Most of us don’t realize the difference we make in other people’s lives, for good or ill. You have made a very good difference in my life, very good indeed. Apart from the fact that I just plain admire you, over the years you have also helped me to be more compassionate. You helped me to be more patient. You have helped me to face down some demons that I would have rather ignored.

There are a number of fond memories I have of you. Two of them stand out. I remember the night we left Indy. You and Dan helped us pack. You were crying. We had just gotten closer, you said, and now we were moving away. I think that was the first time I saw you cry as a grown-up. Then I think about when you made me cry as a grownup. You sent me a text and asked me to pray about something; I think it was the first time you had asked me to do that. I understand why. When I found Jesus in Junior High, I became kind of an asshole for a while. I felt like we had gotten over something when you asked for my prayers. I did pray for you, by the way, and I still do. Often. Pretty much every day. I’ve been asking Joachim and Anna to watch over you; I have asked the Mother of God to give you wisdom. I have asked St. Nektarios to intercede for you as well. He is credited with at least one fertility miracle. He was also pretty badass, like you.

Apart from my prayers and this post, I haven’t got you a present yet. You always get me such good gifts. You are so much better with that than me. I always struggle. What do I get the girl whose interests and tastes are so beyond me? What can I get you that you need and would appreciate? (Breast pump?) I will come up with something. It will be late, but I know you are okay with that, because you’re cool like that. I want to try to get this right. (Dan, if you are reading this, help!)

For now, Happy 37th birthday! You’ve not yet reached half of your life-expectancy! Congratulations! And my God grant you many, many years!

With love from Tennessee,



By the Waters of Babylon…

“O daughter of Babylon…Happy shall he be who…takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

Some of you know I am a “Nazbeen,” a former Nazarene. The Orthodox Church is the church I fell madly in love with. I had realized long before that that if I continued to be Nazarene, I would eventually become an atheist. The problem was that the God I was told who loved me, and the God I was taught to love, was just so…inhuman.

Nazarene theology teaches that through faith it is possible to be saved by the grace of God from the effects of original sin. They call this the doctrine of the “Second Blessing” or “Entire Sanctification.” The CoN is part of the American Holiness tradition. Rather than talk about the history and theology of that movement, I will skip straight to the effects. Entire Sanctification is the belief that sainthood can be instantaneous. Indeed, it should be. What you get, then, is a lot of people trying to convince themselves that they are saints, and feeling like failures for being sinners. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but it is the gist.

I believe in sainthood. Hell! I believe in Entire Sanctification! I just think it takes time. It is long. It is rare in this life. And the true mark of someone who is entirely sanctified is that they will deny being so. (By contrast, one who would become a minister in the CoN must report when they were entirely sanctified and how many people are entirely sanctified yearly through their ministry.)

This past Sunday I was back at a Nazarene Church with relatives. The sermon was good, as far as those things go. It was about how a Christian should deal with adversity. “The world is watching us,” the preacher said (quoting from memory). When pain comes into our lives, we need to turn that pain over to God so that it can become something that God will use to grow us later. (I heard a story along these lines on NPR yesterday, dealing with “Post-Traumatic Growth.“)

That’s all well and good, but it left me wondering, “What about outrage?” The preacher talked about the Psalms, and about how David would face adversity, but trust in the Lord. Naturally this made me wonder about Psalm 22, or what may be my “favorite” Psalm, Psalm 137.

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
 On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
 For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither!
 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, O Lord, against the E′domites
    the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Raze it, raze it!
    Down to its foundations!”
 O daughter of Babylon, you devastator!
    Happy shall he be who requites you
    with what you have done to us!
 Happy shall he be who takes your little ones
    and dashes them against the rock!

Why do I like this Psalm? Because it talks about killing infants? Yeah. Kind of.

Obviously, I am not in favor of infant-killing. What I am in favor of is authenticity. The desire to kill infants is about as base as you can get as a human being. To want to take the child of one’s enemies and bash its head in as vengeance for what was done to your own kin is a disgusting, shameful thought. And that is why I like its presence here. The Psalmist, who had lived through a nightmare, put his own nightmarish thoughts on paper for all the world to see, generation after generation.

This Psalm is why I am no longer Nazarene and why I worry about sermons like I heard on Sunday. Humans can be pretty vile creatures sometimes. Evil! And our evilness does not frighten God. The Psalmist does not apologize for feeling murderous. It is just the way it is. And it becomes part of his prayer. He does not pray, “Lord, I offer my murderous feelings to you.” Maybe he should. But that’s not what he does.

One thing I have learned over my inadequate years as a believer is that being Christian means being human, as human as a person can get, human to the point of sometimes saying, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” We feel like that sometimes. Maybe God will take that feeling and turn it into something better later. I do not know. God knows. What I do know, or at least I think I know, is that God cannot do anything in us without our honesty. I think that means not apologizing for the hatred. Not apologizing for the lust. The things we feel are the things we feel. We ask forgiveness for our acts, for the gaze that lingers too long, and for the hatred that becomes an unkind word or a punch to the throat (the former often being the most traumatic). We pray that God will make us holy, but our lack of holiness is not because of our lack of faith. It is because we are human.

If I believe hard enough, can God save me from the effects of original sin? I don’t know. Can God make a boulder so big that God cannot lift? It is a bit of a paradox. What I can tell you is that I cannot believe hard enough to be saved from the effects of original sin (or “ancestral sin,” as some Orthodox polemicists like to call it) because the effects of original sin are not just in me. They are around me. They are epigenetic. The effects of original sin are everywhere. I cannot cut myself off from them. I am a porous human being. We all are.

What I can do is be sinful before God. I can be honest. In my personal experience, Holiness Theology tends to breed people who “make excuses in sin” (Psalm 141:4). That won’t get us anywhere. So to the preacher who gave the sermon last Sunday, I must respectfully disagree. Or at least, I must qualify. It is true that God can transform our pain into something beautiful, just as God transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord, but my pain must be fully and freely offered. It must be laid bare before God. I am not sure that asking God to change our pain has much effect. That has not been my experience, anyway, because when I ask God to transform my pain, I tend to hold on to part of that pain for myself. I hold part of it back because I feel like there is something wrong with it. Surely, if I were a holier person, I would not feel this way in the first place, right? But if the Psalms teach us anything, it is that we must be honest before God, even—or especially!—about our pain. “God! I am so pissed off at you right now!” “God, I wanna punch that sonnabitch in the throat!” Now those are prayers I can get behind!

The Annual Mother’s Day Post

One day my mother will die. This is a certainty. For her. For all of us.

What a way to begin my annual Mother’s Day post, right? Every year, I try to tell a story about my childhood or young adulthood that illustrates the impact my mother had on me. I’m not sure I have one this year, at least not one in the traditional sense. Honestly, as I write these words now, I am not sure where this is going to go. Continue reading “The Annual Mother’s Day Post”