Tag Archives: satire

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.

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Epistle of Marian to the Followers of this Blog

Marian, servant of God,[i] by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ[ii] and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,[iii]

to Constant Readers:[iv]

Peace out.

I have heard of your faithfulness, good looks, feats of strength, and general thingness.[v]  So…good job and keep circulating those tapes.

It’s been several months since you heard from me.  If this was first century Palestine, you’d attribute the hiatus to slow postal service or me getting eaten by lions somewhere, but thankfully, we’re two thousand years beyond all that, except, possibly, for slow postal service.  Lo, these last many weeks, I’ve been immersed in deep and significant higher learning about Presbyterian polity,[vi] creeds, and confessions,[vii] Biblical Greek,[viii] and Paul’s seminal epistle to the Romans.  It is in regards to Romans that I write you today.

The book of Romans has been freaking people out for centuries.  A madcap hybrid fund-raising letter/theological treatise written in characteristically incomprehensible Pauline Greek,[ix] the book of Romans kept Augustine up nights, inspired Luther to pound his historic list of grievances to the Wittenberg door, gave Calvin the idea of dressing up as a doubly predestined sinner for Halloween – a totally depraved act which, as we all know, led him to invent the Protestant Reformation[x] – and gave Barth something to read in his free time when he wasn’t pissing off the Third Reich.

After two months of dogged study, I am now fully qualified to stand shoulder to shoulder with these theological grandmasters and share my view of what, clearly, is the principal take-home message of this famous letter:

Grace, baby, grace.

kitten

I couldn’t come up with a meaningful picture of grace, so I opted for this kitten that looks like a marshmallow.

Oozing through this letter is the theme of God’s grace, which Paul presents alternately as a) God’s faithfulness to Israel and b) God’s justification of Christ-followers’ through forgiveness of sins.  N.T. Wright, an epicure and soldier on the front lines of the new-perspective-on-Paul, doesn’t see much of a difference between the two:  “Dealing with sin, saving humans from it, giving them grace, forgiveness, justification, glorification – all this was the purpose of the single covenant from the beginning, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.”[xi]  Pretty much this means that God had it all figured out for all of us a long time ago and we can just get over our damn selves.

Now, I know that some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but what predestination?”  As a good Calvinist, I turn to Barth.[xii]  He said that humanity’s love for God originates in God, who exists outside chronological time, so a temporal human life can’t predicate predestined outcomes because in the mind of God, whatever we’re hurtling toward is already reality, so we can just get over our damn selves.  And anyway, God gets to pick no matter what and because God’s faithfulness and love surpass human belief or unbelief, we can stop worrying and just get over our damn selves.

Yes, yes, some of you are going to the dark side.  What about double predestination you say?  Paul sums it up best:

Nothing, you name it, separates us from God’s love.  Not even twerking.[xiii]

So, rejoice.  Let’s get over our damn selves and enjoy God’s grace, peace, and general thingness.  Amen.

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[i] Stop laughing.  I’m doing homage to a classic literary form here.

[ii] Please don’t hold this post against Jesus.  He’s been held against enough posts.

[iii] In the cunning guise of Rail Yard Red Ale and Frito pie.

[iv] Or Re-Readers, to which you’ve been reduced to since this blog hasn’t seen two microseconds worth of action in six frickin’ months.

[v] I also heard something about the Guinness people, a deacon clearly operating without adequate adult supervision, and a hot dog eating contest, but since you didn’t break the current record of six hot dogs consumed in under three minutes, I really don’t think that’s something we should broadly advertise.

[vi] Because, loosey goosey as our theology may be, by God, all Presbyterian pastors know how to run a decent and orderly meeting.

[vii] These are kind of like Presbyterian fight songs.  For example:  “Rah, rah, ree!  Total depravity!  Rah, rah, rent!  Limited atonement!  Rah, rah, race!  Irresistible grace!”  We have pompons and everything.

[viii] One of the peculiar hazing rituals to which Presbyterian candidates for ordination are subjected.

[ix] Through an aneurysm-inducing cocktail of participles, serial clauses, and run-on sentences, Paul makes his point in Koine Greek at least as well as I make mine in English with liberal applications of footnotes and semicolons.

[x] And Protestants have been protesting ever since.

[xi] From N.T. Wright’s latest New York Times bestseller, Justification: Twenty Centuries of Low-Fat Cooking on the Road to Damascus, p. 95.

[xii] While avoiding Calvin himself and his five centuries of bad press.

[xiii] Romans 8:38-39, slightly abbreviated and nominally paraphrased.

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(c) Marian the Seminarian, 2014


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.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY

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.

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© Marian the Seminarian, 2013


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