Tag Archives: culture

Repent…the end is not at hand

My favorite pop psych carpe diem mental masturbation exercise is imagining what I would do with the time I have left if I only had a year to live.  Being “of the cloth,” I fantasize about devoting my few remaining days to delivering desperately needed inoculations to people dying of highly contagious bleed-out diseases in godforsaken banana republics laced with landmines and crawling with the minions of local wackadoo dictators.

But let’s get real.  Like most people, I’d probably spend my last days watching Glee reruns and eating Girl Scout cookies by the sleeve.*  Given an expiration date, very few of us make an about-face, amend our errant ways, and get any more firmly on the straight and narrow that we’ve ever been.  Where genuine repentance is concerned, the last minute isn’t much of a motivator.

In the wake of the latest school-shooting-de la semaine and the inevitable ensuing firestorm about firearms, I’ve read several variations of the following on Facebook:  “Guns aren’t the problem.  People are the problem.”  These gemlike bumper sticker policy statements unleash predictable surges of political and moral controversy and streams of uninformative/uninformed, unkind, and unoriginal responses as people on all sides of the issue weigh in, yet again, on how and why our children are dying in hails of gunfire in their classrooms.  Then, just as predictably, those same outraged authors immediately scroll on to click “Like” on the latest videos of a cat in a shark suit riding on a Roomba.**

I try not to engage in exchanges of verbal gunfire on social media, preferring, as I do, to hide behind a Norton security screen and fire random shots into crowds via this blog.  But I’ll tell you what I would have posted to Facebook if I hadn’t gotten sidetracked by dogs on skateboards.  People are the problem.  People have been the problem since Adam and Eve got dressed and escaped Eden.  All of us bear the weight of sins we’ve inherited from our ancestors – social sins, sins of inequality, systemic “isms,” and systematic injustice; and we bear within us the sins we ourselves have committed and keep committing.  Being human gives human beings a deservedly bad name.

Gun control, mental health treatment, arming teachers, encasing our children in Kevlar; the solutions fly in a frenzy of hand-wringing for about a week after every mass shooting, then we go back to business as usual, acting as if none of this has anything really to do with us until the next barrage of media images showing sobbing teenagers in front of makeshift memorials with stuffed animals and crosses and balloons and handmade signs that say, “We will never forget you.”

Except we do.  These days, mass murder seems to be the cost of participating in our free and democratic society.  It’s positively routine anymore.  And it’s precisely our business-as-usual approach to routine civilian slaughter that makes these catastrophes possible again and again and again.

By itself, all the gun control – or gun stockpiling – in the world will not end events like Columbine, Pulse, Aurora, Las Vegas, Sutherland, Sandy Hook, and Parkland.  Because guns – or the lack of them – aren’t the root of this kind of evil.  Our society, pathologically permissive of violence, is.

Which brings me to repentance.

Popularly associated with hair shirts, self-flagellation, sackcloth, ashes, and consuming entire sleeves of Girl Scout cookies in a single sitting, repentance is one of the most misused theological concepts in the Christian playbook.  The Greek word metanoia, which we translate as “repentance,” literally means “turning around.”  Repentance is a course-correction made possible by the understanding that we are not moving in the right direction.  Unfortunately, the people most interested in repentance – Christians, supposedly – are among those most guilty of failing to do it.

I remember watching professional football games on TV as a kid and seeing a season ticket holder seated behind the goal posts raise a sign during every field goal and extra point that read: “Repent!  The end is at hand!”

Despite the personal satisfaction obtained via such broad-spectrum guilt-baiting (not dissimilar, I suspect, from the satisfaction gleaned from posting things on Facebook such as, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”), to my knowledge, no one in the Bible ever said, “Repent, for the end of the world is at hand.”  They did say repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

One of the other most misused theological concepts in the Christian playbook is the concept of the kingdom of heaven.  Contrary to opinion popular among the “Jesus Loves You and Burns Sinners in Hell” crowd, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven in the Bible, he’s not talking about some heavenly reward for the deceased faithful.  He’s talking about a state of grace in this life, on this space-time continuum.  He’s talking about something we do in this life, not something we earn our way into in the next.

People who truly repent — who take a fearless moral inventory of their world and then make substantive behavioral changes — actually do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven.  Starting today.  Right now.  Not after breakfast.  Not after death.  Repentance, that active course correction, brings the kingdom of heaven to the present moment.  That’s what Jesus meant when he prayed, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is done in heaven.”  Understood this way, repentance is less a sentiment and more a decision; less a feeling than a course of action.

We are called to repent because the end is NOT at hand.  But for those of us who do repent, the kingdom of heaven on earth may be.  In any case, keeping on keeping on for American society should not be an option, especially for people of faith.  Keeping on keeping on will not usher in the earthly rule of the Prince of Peace.  It is, however, successfully managing to make life hell on earth for far, far too many.


* I’d also book a trip to Hawaii so I could scratch “spit off the rim of a live volcano” off my bucket list.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I fucking love this one.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2018



I am not Spartacus

Most of my posts are written with a fairly general readership in mind: mainly agnostics and atheists and other non-Christians looking for some straight-shooting about American Christianity and Christians, and those faithful few who feel strangely liberated by theological musings liberally peppered with profanity.

But today, I want to address a very particular group of you: white, progressive, American Christians.  First let me say that I know you’re trying to help.  I am, too.  I know you scratch your heads and feel culturally superior to conservative, Bible-believing Christians who see Donald Trump as a second King David, rather than the latest King Herod. I do, too.  And I know that you want to do more than simply say you value the lives and civil rights of non-Christian Americans; you want to act.  So do I.

So, since we are in agreement, let’s also agree to avoid acting in ways that replay the worn-out worldview of the white man’s burden. The particular action I’m referring to is that of well-meaning non-Muslims donning hijab with no understanding of what hijab means to Muslims and no intention of embracing the principles – and bearing the prejudices – that wearing hijab entails.

Non-Muslims wearing hijab as a symbol of political protest and social solidarity makes about as much sense – and is potentially as offensive to the party we are trying to support – as men dressing in drag in order to advocate for women’s reproductive rights or equal pay in the workplace.

Appropriating the symbols of another gender, race, or religion isn’t support; it’s a misdirected and subtle expression of cultural superiority. Are you listening, liberals?

Rose HamidTo Rose Hamid, who stood up in silent protest at a Trump rally in South Carolina and who endured vicious racist and nationalist invectives and the humiliation of being ejected from the building – I am in awe of your courage to stand up for exactly who you are and for others who identify with you because you share the same experience.

To CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad, who CNN quoted as saying: “Donald Trump should issue a public apology to the Muslim woman kicked out of his rally and make a clear statement that American Muslims are welcome as fellow citizens and as participants in the nation’s political process,” I agree that Trump should make that apology, but it’ll be a very, very, VERY cold day in hell when he does.  Allow me to suggest that Trump’s supporters – those happy few with a shred of decency and basic moral fiber – should issue that apology on behalf of their candidate.  He’s not king, for fuck’s sake; voters, at least for the moment, have a say in what kinds of behavior they will tolerate from an aspirant to “public service.”

And to all good-intentioned non-Muslims…and non-blacks…and non-Spanish speakers…and non-immigrants and non-women and non-disabled people out there who think that slogans like “We are all Charlie Hebdo” mean something to the people who actually ARE Charlie Hebdo…we need to rethink our strategy.

Trump must be challenged by the people he’s not directly attacking – white, Christian Americans who don’t want Trump pimping out the Constitution to suit his corporatist, oligarchical ends.  And we same white, Christian Americans need confront our (selectively) Bible-believing sisters and brothers in Christ who seem to have forgotten what it means to be patriotic Americans, devout Christ-followers, and rudimentarily decent human beings.

My fellow progressives, “I am Spartacus” is a terrific sentiment when Spartacus himself is standing next to you and a Roman officer holding a mallet and nails is itching for a crucifixion. If some dickless, Uzi-toting moron suddenly bursts into the Piggly Wiggly demanding that all non-Christians line up in front of the cigarette display for a first-hand experience of what the 2nd Amendment allegedly means, then yes, you should be a Muslim that day.

But the rest of the time, let’s proudly and publically claim our Christian faith in the spirit of the God who came among us as the least of these: an uneducated man of the laboring class, born of a woman of questionable virtue in a backwater town in a country occupied by a brutal foreign power, who lived as a refugee in Egypt for the first few years of his life and as a transient for the last three years of his life, and who, per the late, great, and inimitable Douglas Adams, was “nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.”

Jesus was an observant Jew up to the last night of his life. He spent his ministry confronting a corrupt Temple establishment and the Roman government as a faithful Jew. If he could do that, surely we Christians can confront the likes of Trump and his devotees as observant, faithful American Christians.

Fun with Calvinism: Total Depravity

I recently preached a five-week sermon series on what I figured was a generally safe subject for Christian consideration:  sin.  Most specifically, sinful temptations that are, in many ways, life- and faith-limiting.  Things like pride and avoiding risk and applying Meyer-Briggs analyses to Biblical characters.  Okay, so, that last one only applies to me, but in my defense, I didn’t realize the full gravity of the temptation until I mentioned the idea to a couple of retired pastors and one of them laughed so hard, he spewed beer out his nose.

Two things occurred to me that evening.  First, there are some topics that no one, not even a seasoned second-year seminarian with 18 whole sermons under her belt, should tackle from the pulpit.  (Judas Iscariot’s Meyer-Briggs type being at the top of that particular list.[i])  Second, I seriously need to bone up on my party-line theology.

So, as a service to my readers and in an effort to avoid more tragicomic self-humiliation, Marian will begin periodically posting robust theological reflections on some of the most compelling points of Calvinism.  All are welcome to bring your most pressing theological concerns to Marian by replying to this post.  Rest assured, Marian will address your questions before the End Times (unto itself, a theological topic deserving attention.)

To kick off this sporadic series, then, we shall begin at the beginning.


Picture the scene.  Twilight descends like a lover upon a verdant land replete with trees of every type.  The river of life winds through the tall grasses and birds and animals abound…okay, okay, what we’re really looking at here is a benignly neglected suburban lawn with a couple of flaccid Chinese elms and a garden hose that someone forgot to wind up.  But it’s the closest thing to Eden most of us can aspire to, so stick with me.

A couple, who we’ll call Adam and Eve, tends the garden (meaning, they just bought the house and a new lawnmower).  And lo!  Behold their friend from out of town, who we’ll call Sophia, emerging from the house, having just put her toddler, who we’ll call Lilith[ii], to bed.  The three friends gather in the purpling nightfall, feeling the brush of soft cool wind on their faces, savoring a quiet moment of mutual affection before retiring to the house to watch “Reservoir Dogs” on Comcast On-Demand.

And that’s when the snake enters the garden.

Eternal temptation of the reptilian brain stem...

Eternal temptation of the reptilian brain stem…

Having been informed of Mommy’s intention to spend the evening with her grown-up friends, a plan predicated on Lilith’s going to sleep now, Lilith goes berserk.  She screams bloody murder that makes Quentin Tarantino look like Nora Ephron.  Adam, Eve, and Sophia are helpless in the wake of Lilith’s total body meltdown.  Lilith’s shrieks continue until she’s too hoarse to shriek anymore, whereupon the sobs start.  This goes on for forty-five minutes.  Finally, Lilith collapses in a soggy heap in her bedroom where she basically sleeps it off for the next six hours.

The End…or is it Only the Beginning???

This tragic object lesson illustrates where Calvin’s idea of total depravity must have come from. Children come into this world with a hyena-like mentality, although, based on what I’ve witnessed in the cereal aisle, that analogy is rather unfair to hyenas.  Face it.  The reason kids raised by wolves do so well[iii] is because, like wolves, if given the chance, kids would prefer to run around naked, pee on everything, and eat raw voles.  THAT, my friends, is how we know total depravity is rooted in the human condition.  It comes into the world full-formed and expresses itself in tantrums, stealing cookies, not sharing toys, and diaper-escape artistry.

Now, my theory actually has nothing to do with whether or not, spiritually speaking, human beings come into the world stained by the original sin of Adam and Eve (the Genesis ones, not the ones in today’s story).  Rather, I think the reason Calvin came up with the idea of total depravity is because it’s just so frickin’ obvious when you watch little kids.  They’re savages, for crap’s sake.  And the fact that kids are like this only reinforces the old idea that the sin of Adam and Eve must have had something to do with sex:

So, although I realize I’ve shed far less light on whether or not Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity is correct than on the obvious fact that I have no children of my own (and it’s probably best that I don’t), now you know why the idea actually makes a lot of practical sense.  It’s a social coping mechanism.  So parents don’t feel so alone in the cereal aisle.

[i]  Although I’m sure you’re just dying to know what type he is.

[ii]  One of religious history’s more complicated characters.  Check her out here.

[iii]  Plenty of kids with wild animals for parents have turned out just fine.  For example: Mowgli, Romulus and Remus, and Moon Unit Zappa.


© Marian the Seminarian, 2013

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