I am a heretic and I talk to my cat, Gustavo — It’s on the internet, so it must be true

Usually, I do not respond to folks who engage name-calling. When folks attach words like “apostate,” “heresy”  or “theological celebrity” to me, especially when left by people named “guest” or “anonymous,” my guess is that they are NOT interested in having meaningful conversations. Also, I know that there is no way I can respond with, “I know you are, but what am I” with any modicum of graciousness.

Yesterday, though, I received an alert from Wikipedia that someone had just made some edits to the article about me. The word “Heretical” caught my attention.

It was corrected pretty quickly by a friend on mine who I will now refer to as Wiksignor Landon Whitsitt. But oh yeah, I screenshot it before it could be corrected.

The first change was in the description of what KIND of minister I am:

And the second was describing the kind of heretical work I am involved in and why.

And then this morning, yet another change was made. This one is one more absurd than the first two; while I may talk to my dog, I am allergic to cats ;-)

Now I have no idea who is doing this. All that he article history says is that these updates are being posted by an anonymous user with the ip address: 151.201.12.39. My guess is that the person probably knows me or has some connection to me. I am not that well-known, so I also bet that it is a member of my own denominational family . . . though that would make me very sad.

In any case, I lift this up not because I want folks to defend my honor. Heck, I DID work on a controversial collection sacred texts. Plus, I’m working on another new book project, so this is buzz-creation with which I have no issue. I just wish somewhere he/she included some reference to a past affair with a troubled movie star or told of the time that I risked my life and ignored my allergies to save my grandmother’s kitten from a burning building.

Oh a boy can dream.

Anyhoo . . . I lift this up because I think whoever this is missed a prime opportunity to actually lift up the fact that some may indeed believe that my work is controversial, even heretical. You see, wikipedia is NOT about trying to win or lose, but about a group of people doing their best to get as close as they can to the objective truth about any particular subject. I have edited my own article to correct or add information, others have approved or rejected those changes and in the end there is a decent view of me.

So 151.201.12.39 , if that is indeed your real name, you could have put something like:

Bruce was part of a church council who has compiled a controversial group of ancient texts titled “A New New Testament” by Hall Taussig. These texts and his involvement have been characterized as heretical by some and welcomed by others.

There could be links back to other wikipedia or published articles on the publication, the author and/or the word “heretical” — all helping the reader to discern the truth about this person named Bruce Reyes-Chow. In some contexts, passive-aggressiveness and mean-spirited snark are the norm and might persuade, but on wikipedia, 151.201.12.39 has probably undercut any chance to actually convince people that I am indeed a heretic, which I assume was the hope all along.

So if you want to leave snarky comments and call me names on my blog, I have no problem leaving up them for people to see, but that kind of of unsourced opinion does not play on Wikipedia. Conflict and disagreement are not bad and I do not believe that I am above any of it, but the kind of arguing and discourse that goes on in most places on the internet is simply not part of the wikipedia experience . . . and I wish the rest of life.

Again, I am not looking for people to defend my honor with colleagues or pile on the trolls. What I hope for is that, even in times when we disagree with one another so deeply on issues of the Christian faith, we can do so always knowing, believing and living the challenge that it is to be the Body of Christ. This is my prayer and I’m sticking to it.

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My Sunday Sermon, “Would Jesus Have Said Vagina?”

Photo by joethedork - San Francisco Bay to Breakers, 2005

[Photo By joethedork]

Okay, I am not preaching anywhere this Sunday, but feel free to “liberate” the idea, should you need a sermon starter. That said, I do hope that more than a few preachers out there are going to somehow use the recent Michigan State Legislature vagina kerfuffle as fodder for some good conversations on power, community and discernment.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about but have noticed an increased use of the word “vagina,” you are not imagining things. The increased volume of verbal vagina usage can be attributed to Thursday’s rebuke of Michigan State Representative, Lisa Brown, after her use of the word “vagina” during a debate on abortion the day before. According to the Detroit News, at the close of her argument about an abortion bill she said these words,

“Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no,’”

The result was that she was barred from speaking the next day.

“What she said was offensive,” said Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville. “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

This was apparently not out of character for this particular legislative body as Rep. Barb Byrum was also barred from speaking because of what she said during her failed amendment to the abortion bill banning men from getting a vasectomy unless the procedure was necessary to save a man’s life.

“If we truly want to make sure children are born, we would regulate vasectomies,” Byrum told reporters Thursday.

Wow. Just wow.

While there are many directions one could go with this, I think this situation raises some good questions for bodies of people who strive to engage in debate, discernment and decision-making. There have always been people who seem to cross the lines of appropriateness, decorum and social norms, but in this case we are again reminded that part of the discussion always has to be about who gets to determine those rules and to what end.

I am all for appropriateness in large groups and helping people to avoid unnecessarily over-sharing about their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I still remember during one meeting that I was leading when, during a debate on sexuality, a father shared with the body – and webcasted community – about his daughter’s sexual activity. He was trying to make a point, but I am not sure that it was very effective NOR did it get to the heart of his position. Instead, attention was drawn away from the point he was trying to make and the energy of the whole body was deflected away from debate.

Now some might say that Brown’s and Byurms’s comments did the same thing, but I would disagree. I do not think that their use of “shocking” language drew attention away from the debate, instead, their comments got the heart of the actual debate on abortion AND challenged the enforcement of random rules like “decorum” and “civility” that are meant to stifle voices and preserve power. There are few things about which I agree with the Tea Party, but one thing that I have appreciated is that they have used their place of authority to speak into systems that have lost touch and/or have used sets of unspoken rules to control and maintain power. I rarely agree with the content or tone, but they get it. Sometimes, you just have to call horse manure when you perceive it being unnecessarily spread. There may be repercussions for those actions, but speaking truth to power, by it’s very nature, will illicit reaction and rebuke.

So the burning question for me and I hope for preachers the world world over this Sunday is, “Would Jesus have said, ‘Vagina’?”

Jesus healed in the Sabbath and said to those in power… Mark 3:1-6

4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Jesus was a tad bit bold, shocking even, and said to those in power… John 6:25-59

48 I am the bread of life.

Jesus sometimes had enough, got pissed and said to those in power… Matthew 11:20-24

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

All of this goes to say that there are times when shocking words that defy decorum and civility are needed in order to hold accountable the very people who have the power to define the rules of decorum and civility. These acts help bodies to reflect on whether the rules and expectations of behavior help move a body forward with a sense of integrity or if they are a means to maintain power, silence the minority and lessen the positive influence of the body.

Jesus was not always about speaking shocking words to power, just as I am sure that not all of the representatives involved in this case are always the inappropriate or uptight caricatures that they are made out to be. But at the same time, just as Jesus called us to prayer, compassion, service and love . . . in order to make a point about an issue and to speak truth to power when needed, he did so with a prophetic and often shocking word.

So yes, Jesus would have said, “Vagina.”


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