Could ISIS become the Westboro Baptist of jihadism?


Yes, I know, it's a woefully contrived analogy. Hateful Christians with "God hates fags" signs are a completely different phenomenon than terrorists who massacre a whole countryside of people. But it's a wishful thought that I want to have. Because I think Westboro Baptist has played an important role in turning the tide against the religious right in our country. Could it be that the absolute awfulness of ISIS will turn the tide against the religious right in the Islamic world? … [Read more...]

Does Janay Rice’s voice matter?


In my first job out of college, I was the program coordinator of the Nicaragua Network, a solidarity organization founded in the 1980's to support Nicaraguans when our country was trying to overthrow their government. I learned that being in solidarity with people means that they dictate the terms of your support for them. When you engage in activism on behalf of other people without submitting to their leadership, you are not in solidarity with them. So what does it mean to be in solidarity … [Read more...]

How Andrew W.K. messed with my prayer life


The Village Voice in New York City has a weekly advice column by a guy named Andrew W.K. He gives unexpected answers to advice questions that typically come from a secular progressive angle. For example, he went off on the guy who said, "My dad's a right-wing asshole" for the way that he was disrespecting and dehumanizing his father. In this week's column, "Prayer is stupid, right?" Andrew responds to a reader whose brother has cancer and takes offense as an agnostic when his grandmother says … [Read more...]

How I would say what Victoria Osteen said differently


In a video clip that has been making the rounds on social media, prosperity gospel preacher Joel Osteen's wife Victoria goes on a rant about worship that has gotten many Christians up in arms. She said that worship is about making us happy more than it's about pleasing God. While I would say what Victoria Osteen said differently, I absolutely affirm the basic insight that worshiping God is not supposed to be moralistic drudgery but actually a genuine source of deep joy. … [Read more...]

Grace vs. niceness in interracial dialogue


I wanted to ponder the difference between grace and niceness in difficult online conversations, particularly the discussions of race that have sprung up in response to the crisis in Ferguson, MO. Please do not read this as an analysis of any particular conversation that has occurred. It is meant to be a completely generic, hypothetical consideration. The problem is that many of us conflate grace with niceness, and while they have some overlap, they are very different phenomena. … [Read more...]

Teach us to want: the quest to transcend evangelical moralism


"I was beginning to confidently believe that the only way of discerning what God wanted me to do was, in every case, to find the path that seemed least desirable and most difficult." These words, from Jen Pollock Michel's Teach Us To Want, capture the curse of evangelical moralism, the assumption that the only way to ensure that I'm obeying God is to do the opposite of what I want to do. Michel's book is an attempt to get past this moralism by learning how to want things that are good and … [Read more...]

Could you listen to an angry black Jesus?


I know. He doesn't look all that angry. There just aren't any good angry black Jesus photos available on the internet. But the real Jesus in the Bible gets angry a lot more than most Christians really feel comfortable acknowledging. And he definitely wasn't white, physically or culturally. We generally gloss over things Jesus says that are offensive to modern white Enlightenment sensibilities. One of the most offensive stories in this regard is Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman in … [Read more...]

Why I refuse to shame people for social media silence


A few days ago, a friend of mine expressed disappointment that a preacher many of us follow had not written anything about the situation in Ferguson in social media since he's in Missouri. This particular preacher had counseled me a few weeks before to be "contemplative" instead of "reactive" in my activism. I'm not sure how well I've followed his advice in terms of my social media output. I've been a retweeting machine first about Gaza and then about Ferguson. I'm perpetually conflicted about … [Read more...]

Our gated communities and the black bogeyman that haunts us

audubon place

I decided to take a picture of the most violent thing I've seen so far in New Orleans. Maybe that sounds silly to you. How can a sign in front of a peaceful gated community filled with ten million dollar homes far away from the tear gas street battles taking place tonight in Ferguson, Missouri be violent? But the ideology that is articulated in this sign is the source of great violence: the idea that super-rich white people must be kept absolutely safe and segregated from the poor people of … [Read more...]

A brilliant thing Kierkegaard wrote about love


I discovered the Danish Christian existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard my first year in college. He made such an impression on me that I wanted to name my first son Soren, which I would have done if my wife hadn't objected. I left Kierkegaard behind for a long time, but over the past few weeks, I've been flipping through is Works of Love, where he spins off essays riffing on 15 Bible passages about love. And his piece about 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Love builds up," is brilliant. … [Read more...]