Why Can’t I Be You: Alison Bechdel

Thursday, 17 April 2014 07:00 pm
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Posted by Brodie

Collage by Ruby A.

Collage by Ruby A.

Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist, author, and, it must be said, total hero. Over the course of her career, she’s dedicated herself to asking the wider culture for more dynamic representations of women in books, comics, and film, and to providing them herself. In 1987 she started publishing her landmark comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, which ran in newspapers nationwide for nearly 20 years—chances are, you’ve heard of the “Bechdel Test,” which gauges the visibility and realism of female characters in movies and is based on a DTWOF strip she wrote over 30 years ago. In the past decade, she’s also written two graphic memoirs about her relationships with her parents: Fun Home, published in 2006, and Are You My Mother? (2012).

Alison said during a talk she gave in Melbourne last month, “Telling the truth has always been a compulsion to me.” You can tell when you look at her work, whether she’s telling the truth about her queer friends’ lives in the 1980s and ’90s or about the family secrets that dominated her childhood. She graciously spoke to us about how, when she realized she couldn’t find honest representations of herself and people like her in the media, she decided to create them herself.

BRODIE: What inspired you to become a cartoonist?

ALISON BECHDEL: We’re all cartoonists at the beginning. Like, all children draw. But most people stop telling stories with pictures [eventually]. So for me, it’s not really why I became a cartoonist; it’s why did I not ever stop?

Did you tell people, when you were very young, that you wanted to become a professional cartoonist?

Yeah, I did, until I was 13 or 14 and people started discouraging me by saying, “Oh, you know, there aren’t very many openings for cartoonists. There are the comic strips in the newspapers, and none of those people ever die, so you won’t be likely to get a job.”

And it’s like, “Why don’t you study business? Just in case!”

Or dentistry.

You went to college at Oberlin—what did you study there?

I majored in art, but I was thinking I would go into graphic design or book design—something practical like that.

Is there something now, that, looking back, you wish you’d studied or learned more about earlier in your life?

Huh. [Super-long pause] No. Stuff has worked out pretty well for me in terms of knowing what I need to know, when I need to know it.

What were you doing, life-wise, when you started drawing Dykes to Watch Out For?

I was just out of college, and I had given up on the idea of being a cartoonist. I started drawing [DTWOF] just for fun. I wasn’t thinking about them as any kind of serious, professional effort; I was drawing cartoons about lesbians for me and my friends because I didn’t see images of people like us out in the world, and I felt like I needed to see a reflection of myself.

How did it turn into a published comic strip?

I was showing it to my friends; at the time I was also volunteering at a feminist newspaper. Someone said, “Why don’t you put some of these in the newspaper?” So I did, and then I got a wider readership. It was still just for fun; I wasn’t getting paid for it. But once I got it in the newspaper, I had to keep doing the strip every month, and that was really great practice. Finally, after two years of doing that, I started submitting the cartoons to other newspapers and charging money for it and ; I started to syndicate myself.

Did you ever have someone that you asked for advice before you worked it all out?

Not at the very beginning. I’ve always been kind of a loner; I always think I have to figure everything out on my own. That’s something I would tell someone starting out: Ask people for advice.

I don’t know if I’m a great person to give advice to young people on how to get started, because things have changed so much! Like, there aren’t print newspapers the way there used to be when I was in my 20s; it’s a very different landscape. It’s much more internet-based now, and there are many more opportunities I know nothing about. But the principles of getting your work out there and not being afraid to give it away in the beginning—all of that is still true.

Fun Home what brought your work to a wider audience after years of your working on a niche comic strip. What was that first bit of mainstream success like?

Well, it’s not like it happened all of a sudden…although it did happen kind of abruptly. I knew that [Fun Home] was reviewed very well, and [that] it sold a lot of copies. But it took a while for what that meant to sink in, and I’m still adjusting to it. I’m used to being the underdog, you know? When I was doing Dykes to Watch Out For, I was the outsider, fighting for inclusion. And then, one day, they just opened the door and…included me! And it was disorienting, like, Oh! Now what?

It’s been amazing, and one especially great thing about it, for me, has been that my Dykes to Watch Out For comics have gotten kind of retroactively crossed-over. They’re taken seriously now in a way that they weren’t when I was doing them. That makes me really happy.

I’ve heard that you’re kind of shy. How do you reconcile that with telling really personal stories in your books? Do they give you a way of expressing yourself that you have trouble with otherwise?

For some reason, I have this exhibitionistic streak, despite being a pretty shy person. My autobiographical work is the way I connect with other people. I don’t necessarily do it personally, but through my work, I’m willing to make myself vulnerable.

In researching your memoirs about your parents, you learned a lot about who they were. What did writing those books teach you about yourself?

Those books were projects of self-exploration, definitely. Sitting down and looking over one’s history, from a perspective of decades, is often really productive. I don’t think any of us have that kind of perspective, at the time, on our own lives.

Sometimes, when I’m writing personal pieces for Rookie, I have to overcome a nagging voice in my head that’s saying, Oh, who’d want to read about me? Which is something I think a lot of writers, especially female ones, have to come to terms with—saying, “My story matters, and it’s as important as anyone else’s.” Did you have to get over that voice in order to tell your stories?

Yes. I have to get over that every morning when I get out of bed! It’s tough, but part of how I manage that problem is, I always try to write about something else in addition to myself. My book about my father was also a book about different writers that my father loved; the book about my mother was also a book about psychoanalysis and how therapy helps us. Personally, if I’m reading someone’s memoir, I’m not interested in just the story of their life. Even if it’s the most riveting story imaginable, I also want something larger in that story.

When you’re working on a book, what does your day look like?

I try really hard to get up and be at my desk as soon as I can every day. Even though I’m a cartoonist, I’m not always drawing; I do a lot of thinking and writing before I put my drawings down, and I write best in the morning. So, an ideal day for me is to write in the morning, like, from eight until one, and then to convert [that work] to drawing. I can draw fine later in the day, and even at night, but my writing brain doesn’t stay sharp.

I’ve read that you work straight into [the image editing program] Adobe Illustrator. Did you have to take a course to learn how to use that kind of software?

I haven’t taken a course, because I feel like I would be overwhelmed by all the millions of possibilities, so I very carefully just learn the stuff that I think will help me. In fact, earlier, when you asked if there was anything I wish I had learned earlier in my career, I was gonna say, “All of this computer stuff!” But Illustrator and Photoshop didn’t exist then.

You’ve said you loved the book Harriet the Spy when you were a kid. Why did you appreciate that story so much?

I was just fascinated by Harriet’s notebook—her impulse to write, her adventures. Literally spying on people, going up in that dumbwaiter, observing life, and then writing it down. It just seemed like the whole point of life, you know? Here was a kid who wrote about something real.

I think, as a young lesbian, I was also picking up on this heroine as a lesbian character. But, you know, she was a child—there’s no way to really say that Harriet is a lesbian. As I got older, I was curious about [the book's author] Louise Fitzhugh, and I eventually found out that, yes, [Fitzhugh] was gay. It was something about [Harriet]…she was not interested in boys, she was not interested in dresses, she had zero interest in the things the girls in the other books I was reading were interested in. I think that’s what I was picking up on. Harriet was all about her work.

The 1985 Dykes to Watch Out For strip that became the Bechdel Test. Via Tribeca.

The 1985 Dykes to Watch Out For strip that birthed the Bechdel Test. Via Tribeca.

Over the years, the Bechdel Test, which is based on one of your comics, has become the standard for measuring how women are represented in film. [The "test" measures gender equality in movies according to three criteria: (1) Whether there are at least two women in it, (2) whether those women ever talk to each other, and (3) if their conversation is ever about something other than a man.] I’m wondering if that’s a lot of pressure, or if you’re just proud to play such an important role that conversation.

It’s been confusing to me, because it wasn’t like I sat down and said, “Here! I now decree that this is the Bechdel Test!” It somehow just evolved through this network of feminist film students. But, yeah, I feel really proud—what a great legacy! It does feel connected to my work, [which] has been all about creating women characters who are fully human, three-dimensional protagonists. So I like that.

My friend who introduced me to your work told me how affecting it was for him to see your character in Fun Home, who, as a college student, sought out gay literature wherever she (you!) could find it. He said it reflected his coming-out experience of trying to find any character experiencing something even slightly similar to what he was going through. Do you ever hear from people that one of your works has been that text—the book they’ve searched for that actually relates to their lives?

People have told me that, and it’s so amazing. You know, I could just die now and feel like I’ve done something useful. It’s funny—when I think back about that chapter, about my own searches—I was reading really depressing things like The Well of Loneliness [the 1928 novel by Radclyffe Hall]. It makes me happy to think that I’ve provided updated alternatives to some of that stuff. It’s a huge honor, and a deep delight.

Finally, what have some of the highlights of your career been?

Huh! Gosh…I guess one amazing thing was when Time magazine named Fun Home their number-one book of the year. That was pretty huge—not just “graphic book,” but book, of the year. That’s the pinnacle of my career to date. ♦

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Posted by Glenn Packiam

I’m not here to critique the new movie or poke fun at the popular Christian song (which was co-written by an old friend). But since the phrase “God’s not dead” is central to both and thus bandied around a lot by evangelicals today, I’d like to start there. You see, “My God’s not dead…he’s living on the inside” is not what the apostles said about Jesus. In fact, it might be the very opposite of what they said. The heart of early Christian preaching was that God raised Jesus from the dead. This is a hope that is better than you might have imagined.

So, what’s the difference? I mean, aren’t these simply semantics? If God raised Jesus from the dead, then God’s not dead, right?

Let’s a take a closer look.

“God’s not dead…he’s living on the inside.” This makes God a private reality. It says, “World, I’m sorry you think God’s dead, but he’s not to me.” It accepts the very premise of existentialism that reality is only real for the ones to whom it is real. It makes God my truth. It takes the cosmic Creator and shrinks him down to a wee, bitty “know-that-I-know-that-I-know” feeling in my heart. It makes the resurrection of Jesus not an historical anomaly — an event for which we have no pre-existing category — but a nice story that is real to me, true for me whether it happened or not. (Somewhere Rudolf Bultmann is rejoicing.)

But the apostles said something very different. They said, “God raised Jesus from the dead.” What they meant by this is that God has come at last. He has kept his promise. He is at work within his world to rescue and redeem it! Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah — their chosen representative — to fulfill their vocation to be a light to the whole world. He faithfully carried this out and, yet, he was crushed for Israel’s unfaithfulness — no, all our unfaithfulness. Jesus was not simply the True Israel; he was the True Human. He stood with us, as us, for us, carrying the weight of our sin and our brokenness all the way to the cross and down to the grave.

And then all of creation waited. What would God do now? Would he let Jesus stay there? Would he scrap this whole project, this world he had made? Would he forget the promise he made to use Abraham’s family to bless the families of the earth and make us whole? Would he abandon his people who were the chosen instrument of salvation but themselves needed saving? What would God do?

God raised Jesus from the dead!

This is not the grave not being able to “hold Jesus down.” This is not Jesus rising like a mythic conqueror over the enemy of death. This is Jesus fully dying our death and lying in the grave. This is God the Father being faithful to his promise — to Israel, to us, to the world.

The resurrection, then, is not a private reality — it is a public declaration! It is God announcing to the cosmos that he is not finished with us yet. As N. T. Wright has famously written, “What God has done for Jesus, he will do for the cosmos.”

A Great Easter Day is coming. The world will be set right. New life will spring up and swallow death whole. The heavens and the earth will be made new and we will be given bodies fit for such a world.

This gospel is, as British theologian Lesslie Newbigin wrote, a “public truth.” It is not an escapist claim that God is “living on the inside.” It is a triumphant shout that God is faithful to his word, that Jesus is reigning over his world…and that this faithful love and reign will result in the restoration of all things. Yes, there will be those who will refuse such news. But our task is not to defiantly insist on a reality that is true to us. It is to announce and embody this new resurrection reality.

God’s not dead? Sure. But the really striking news is that God raised Jesus from the dead. One is a protest; the other is a proclamation, an announcement of good news for the whole world.


Image via Shutterstock.

The post God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That appeared first on OnFaith.

Behold The Bridegroom...

Thursday, 17 April 2014 01:21 pm
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Posted by Paul Hunter

I had a small thought about Holy Week that I could not resist sharing. By some blessed coincidence, I have been thinking a lot about marriage at the same time as I have been thinking about Holy Week, this year.  A number of things - like doing premarital counselling with a couple, etc., - have happened to come up around the same time that I have had to write a Good Friday sermon and been praying through the events of this week.  The Cathedral provides a quasi monastic setting at this time of year, with daily morning and evening prayer and daily Eucharist, so it is easy to enter into the flow of holy week very deeply.  

There is not any obvious external connection (to me) between the horrors of Gethsemane and Golgotha and the joyful celebration of marriage.  Still, because both were on my mind I realized, perhaps for the first time, something I am sure is obvious to many people. Christ so often speaks of himself as the bridegroom, and we his people, are the bride.  Revelation of course, strikingly and beautifully describes the return of Christ as a wedding feast  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev 21:1-2 ESV)

It occurred to me that as Christ walks the way of the cross he is going to meet his bride, and the way of the cross is also a wedding procession.  Just as God's glory appears in the shame of cross, the joy of the wedding feast of the Lamb appears in the sorrow of Good Friday.  As Our Lady stands at the foot of the cross with St. John the Beloved disciple, Jesus brings them together as mother and son, establishing the new family of God through the cross.  

To my pleasant surprise, it turns out I am not the only one to think about this connection.  It is the primary theme of the Holy Week hymns in the Eastern Church.  
Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.  Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.  But rouse yourself crying: Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God.  Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

The Cross is what Love looks like, and it is in the cross, the new covenant in Christ's blood, that God fulfills his promise to Israel "I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy" (Hos 2:19) This is the hidden joy of holy week, the joy that constantly underlies all the sorrow and horror.  It is the time for the Church, for us, to make ourselves ready for Jesus Christ, who comes as the bridegroom.   
The Icon of Christ "The Bridegroom"

OTW Fannews: Acafans of today and tomorrow

Thursday, 17 April 2014 05:39 pm
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Posted by Claudia Rebaza


Banner by caitie of the OTW logo wearing a mortarboard with the post title written on lined paper

  • For those fans who enjoyed the OTW's academic panel chat you may also want to look at Participations: Dialogues on the Participatory Promise of Contemporary Culture and Politics. This conversation among seven academics included Sarah Banet-Weiser, Nancy Baym, Francesca Coppa, David Gauntlett, Jonathan Gray, Henry Jenkins and Adrienne Shaw. Coppa discusses Welcome to Night Vale: "[I]t looks to me like something that could have been invented by an artist trying to imagine Henry’s definition of transmedia’s best self: radio, so giving fans an opportunity to imagine the visuals individually and collectively, which they have done with gusto; central characters who are queer and of color; an open invitation to make other things for and in the world (I wouldn’t even say 'an invitation to fans,' because, in a way, we’re not fans; we’re explicitly framed as citizens of Night Vale)."
  • Anna Von Veh presented Beyond the Text at the “Books in Browsers IV” conference in San Francisco in October 2013 and it is now available online as part of the Conference Proceedings which were published in The Journal of Electronic Publishing. "The technology of the Internet is perfectly in tune with Jacques Derrida’s notion of 'difference'...where meaning is always deferred; and where, in a postcolonial understanding...meaning and agency are to be found in the gaps between locations of power and certainty. The Internet allows a metaphorical and literal leaking of content from the container and from those who 'own' it. So just as the conventional two-dimensional format of the book (or I believe its digital facsimile, the ebook) is no longer the appropriate technology for content in a networked world, the understanding of the ‘contained’, owned, settled story is no longer the appropriate concept of text in such a world."
  • The Examiner.com paired fandom and education in its report on the Chesterfield Library's Comic-Con 2014. "[T]he concept of a Library System sponsoring a Comicon is unique enough to elicit more than passing interest, especially when that system holds more than 11,000 graphic novel volumes in circulation." In addition to comics vendors, a cosplay contest, and the participation of local artist Chris Otto, of "A Dog's Life" web comic, local teachers and school clubs contributed content.
  • Master's degree student Tara Popp shared her capstone project on fandom where she "created and narrated a PowerPoint presentation on the 6 Cs of fanworks and its impact on youth development from a technological viewpoint." These 6 Cs were Cognitivity, Communication, Community, Contribution, Character, and Cheer. "[F]anwork is a 'spark' for young people. Sparks are special interests and abilities that inspire youth to pursue their passion on their own, and Benson (2008) advocates that parents and other youth professionals encourage them to do something they enjoy. For some youth, their spark may not advance further than their adolescent years, but for others, it is a life-long endeavor."

What fandom research or academic discussion has grabbed you? Write about it on Fanlore! Contributions are welcome from all fans.

We want your suggestions! If you know of an essay, video, article, podcast, or link you think we should know about, comment on the most recent OTW Fannews post. Links are welcome in all languages! Submitting a link doesn't guarantee that it will be included in a roundup post, and inclusion of a link doesn't mean that it is endorsed by the OTW.


Is That the Best You Can Do, WORLD?

Thursday, 17 April 2014 04:10 pm
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Posted by Libby Anne

Preeminent evangelical WORLD magazine has now weighed in on the lawsuit against Phillips, and I have to say, their focus is sadly misplaced.

Beyond the messiness for the families and the local church involved, the case also has implications for the broader church, and it’s likely to draw attention from those outside the church as it gains traction. Without a careful understanding of Christian teaching, a tragic situation could bring derision on Christianity more broadly.

It’s certainly happened in other cases. Media outlets lampooned Christians in the 1980s during coverage of the scandal surrounding Jim Bakker at PTL Ministries in Charlotte, N.C. Other scandals have followed, and have ensnared ministry leaders across the theological spectrum.

In this case, the Torres-Manteufel complaint singles out the patriarchy movement that Phillips ascribed to in his teaching and ministry, and contends this system suppressed Torres-Manteufel from speaking out against Phillips. It also notes a thread of the teaching that discourages women from attending college or leaving their fathers’ homes until they marry.

That’s different from the complementarian view of Scripture that’s far more predominant in broader evangelical circles. This view affirms the importance of the Christian family, and it affirms that the Bible establishes men as authorities in their homes and churches, but it also allows far more liberty in the opportunities women pursue in their lives and callings. (Clearly, many Christian women at some point go to college and have jobs.)

For evangelicals, these may seem like obvious distinctions, but they’re important to emphasize when a scandal erupts within Christian circles that grabs the attention of those outside the church.

In other words, WORLD magazine’s concern is to say “no no, don’t get us confused with those people! we’re different!” Really? That’s the lesson they take away from this? Might this not be a good time to examine just what led to Phillips’ downfall and to draw some lessons from that? Or might this not be a good place to warn people against the dangers of the patriarchy movement? It seems not. No, instead it seems it’s a time to lament “woe is us, they will tar us with the same brush, we are victims here.”

Look, I grew up in a family under the influence of Vision Forum. I also grew up in a family that read every single issue of WORLD magazine thoroughly. In fact, it was a bit of a joke that every family in our homeschool community had the same magazines on their counter or in their bathrooms—the annual Vision Forum catalogues, WORLD magazine, Citizen, Credenta Agenda, Above Rubies, etc. My parents subscribed me to WORLD magazine after I left home, and I read every issue until recently. I don’t recall WORLD ever drawing this distinction before or ever speaking a bad word against Phillips or other leaders of the patriarchy movement.

There are plenty of homeschool families out there, including the Duggars, still reading from the same basic collection of magazines, still under the influence of this loose tangle of organizations and ideas. These families stand to benefit by WORLD magazine calling out the problems of the patriarchy movement and warning against them. And it’s not just they who stand to benefit. It seems that at least a few WORLD magazine writers have been fans of Vision Forum, attending major Vision Forum events, etc. They, too, need to hear these things.

Also . . . wait a sec, let me check something . . . and, that would be a yes.

WORLD magazine published an article by Doug Phillips in 1998. Also in 1998 WORLD magazine also praised one of Phillips’ books and spoke positively of Vision Forum’s publishing wing. It appears that WORLD only allows people to search articles from the around 2011 to 2014 or from 1998, and only allows readers to see full articles for 1998. I have no idea why this is, but it means I can’t even see the titles of articles between these years and I can’t see full articles for any year but 1998. Not surprisingly, there is reason to believe that Phillips wrote multiple articles for WORLD, though on what topics or during which years I can’t say.

What I can say is that I’m sick of this, absolutely and thoroughly sick of this.

I’m not saying that the editors of WORLD magazine hold the same beliefs as Doug Phillips, I’m really not. WORLD magazine, thankfully, generally charts a less extreme course. But they distinctions they may think are so obvious can sometimes blur, creating a bit of a problem. After all, WORLD magazine did promote the recent patriarchal Vision Forum—related movie Courageous up and down. If WORLD magazine is serious about having nothing to do with the patriarchy movement, they need to be more proactive and less ambiguous.

I guess I thought being grown up was about taking responsibility, and doing the right thing, and protecting those who are weaker. I guess I thought being Christian was supposed to be about that, too. I didn’t realize that it was mainly about finding any way possible to extricate yourself from any part of the blame when something goes wrong and people get hurt.

More than anything else, I’m disappointed and a bit more disillusioned.

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Posted by Susan Barnett

I realize I’ve been thinking about Passover differently this year. As Jews around the world re-tell the story of bondage to freedom, despair to hope, this Passover I keep thinking about another story. It’s the true — and truly remarkable — saga of 38 Ukrainian Jews who secretly slid through a muddy hole in the ground and discovered a 77-mile cave system. It became their pitch-black refuge below the even darker Holocaust raging above. With unbridled courage, wits, and will, boys and men put their lives on the line every time they snuck out at night to gather supplies. The women and girls never left the cave, living uninterrupted and underground longer than anyone in recorded history.

This remarkable WWII story of five families surviving underground for an astounding 511 days in southwestern Ukraine, the single most dangerous corner of the globe to be a Jew during the war, is no more poignant than at this time of year. By spring 1943, the lead family, the Stermer’s, were scattered in the forest outside their village after having been discovered in hiding by the Gestapo, and having survived a harrowing escape.

One of the Stermer survivors told me what it was like back then, during that Passover in April 1943. Sonia, now 80, was just eight years old in 1943. She remembers her family sharing the Passover rituals with just two hard-boiled eggs, some beets, and potatoes. She remembers the cold forest, but also the warmth of her father leading her newly reunited family in the Passover prayer. They had no Hagaddah (the written prayer service), but Passover is about re-counting the story of a journey from bondage to freedom. And as Sonia says, you don’t need a book for that.

Sam and Saul Stermer inside Verteba Cave in the film No Place on Earth.

Sam and Saul Stermer inside Verteba Cave in the film No Place on Earth.

But Sonia remembers that long ago Passover for another reason. On that Passover day, as her family was in prayer in the forest, an Aktion (rounding up of Jews) was taking place in a nearby village. Aunts, uncles, and cousins were discovered hiding in bunkers, and they were among the 300 Jews killed when a manmade Angel of Death did not pass over them that day.

Many were buried in the large local Jewish cemetery. But just 25 years ago, something unconscionable happened. In the mid-1980s, rather than take over the adjoining farm fields, the town’s mayor ordered the entire Jewish cemetery to be removed so as to provide land for community soccer fields and a recreational complex, which still stands there today. In a repeat of history, many people objected, but few spoke up. So in the mid ‘80s, the bones of some 15,000 Jews, including those of the Stermer family members murdered on Passover 1943, were literally bulldozed into a huge heap. Today, that heap is a long, grass-covered mound — and the only marker is one erected by the Stermer family.

On that Passover 1943, Sonia also remembers crying for her murdered relatives as her family re-told the Passover story of bondage and freedom.

But the forest was too dangerous to stay long. Sonia recalls the terror of hearing dogs at night — they were hunted with animals, like animals. The Stermers once again had to find a better place to hide. Sonia’s young uncles thought about building a bunker somewhere deep in the woods. A Ukrainian woodcutter they trusted thought it was too risky, but as a passing thought, mentioned that while hunting he’d seen a fox escape down a hole. Maybe that hole could provide a temporary hiding place for a few people, for a few days?

Armed with candles and rope, Sonia’s three uncles (then in their teens and early 20s) found that foxhole, slithered down through the mud, and unbeknownst to them, discovered the 11th largest horizontal cave system in the world. A few days later, that cave became the refuge for 38 Jews until the war’s end, when they emerged alive. Some of the children had lived underground so long, they were blinded by a sun they forgot existed.

Every year at Passover, the cave’s survivors re-tell their family story of bondage to freedom. Sonia says they tell it because it must be told — because their children and grandchildren have to know. Like the Passover story.

The Stermers’ story is the inspiration behind the film No Place on Earth, which will be televised on The History Channel in the U.S. on April 26 at 6 p.m. for Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. For more information visit www.noplaceonearthfilm.com.


Images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The post An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943 appeared first on OnFaith.

The Case Against "I Believe"

Thursday, 17 April 2014 09:50 am
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Posted by Benjamin Howard

by Lyndsey Graves 

We believe in one God, 
The Father, the Almighty, 
Maker of heaven and earth, 
Of all that is, seen and unseen.

“I think it would be terrible to have to lie in church like that.” A classmate shared an anecdote about a friend who wasn’t sure he could agree with everything in the Nicene Creed, and I felt confused. Does this guy really think that everyone in the room believes everything in the Nicene Creed?

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
The only Son of God, 
Eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, 

True God from true God, 
Begotten, not made, 
Of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation 

He came down from heaven: 
By the power of the Holy Spirit 
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, 
And was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; 

He suffered death and was buried.

I, for one, am expecting a pretty mundane Holy Week; I’m not really feeling very holy. I’ve complained to everyone I know about my Lent fast, which I’m pretty sure is not its point, and besides that, I’m just too busy for Holy Week. I know you’re not supposed to say that, but I’m also too busy to guilt myself into fixing it or whatever, so it is what it is. Maybe this means I don’t really believe in Jesus; in fact, I’m pretty sure it does. I’m pretty sure if I believed, I’d do whatever it took to spend as much time as possible at least for this one week contemplating and celebrating these momentous events. But I’m probably not going to.

Go ahead and whisper that maybe I’ve gotten a little lukewarm if you wish. I don’t think I have. I know what I’ve gotten, actually - I’ve gotten burned out. After moving across the country to work at a church and then going to seminary, I’m quite done playing Christian, completely over doing things because I’ve decided that I “should,” and especially sick of what “I believe.” Various ones of my beliefs have been deconstructed block by block; some have been demolished in an instant. Others are buried and mourned; pushed, pulled, shoved and yanked, all without actually budging; nudged and finessed and nuanced into crystalline precision; and over-defended to within an inch of their opponents’ lives. My beliefs have been treated as if they were of utmost importance in the name of “orthodoxy” and “critical thinking” and lots of things about “context” and “epistemology.”

On the third day he rose again 
In accordance with the Scriptures; 
He ascended into heaven 
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, 

And his kingdom will have no end.

I’m not going to say that beliefs aren’t important. Our beliefs, stated and unstated, do change our actions; our theologies do affect our relationships to God. But my beliefs aren’t nearly as important as some teachers and pastors and denominational officials make them out to be. As one of my housemates said, “Some days you decide that Jesus didn’t actually do any miracles or rise from the dead. And you go on living your life for a day or two, and then things are fine again.”

We’re told, “You are going to be A Religious Leader. You must determine What You Believe.” We wrinkle our foreheads and Critically Think. We start to align ourselves with certain writers or systems and against certain enemies. But it all rings a little bit false.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, 
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

People sometimes believe things based on what they’ve decided intellectually. But mostly, they believe whatever everyone else believes, because that’s the thing that the culture treats as reality. I know lots of churches say their creed this way – Credo. I believe. But there’s rarely any such thing as, “I believe.” There is mostly just “We do. We assume. We expect. We disbelieve. We censor. We remember. We are.”

We believe.

What’s important is that we are reminding one another what, in our moments of greatest fidelity to tradition, underlies the things we do, assume, expect, disbelieve. I don’t have to believe all of it before I can proclaim to my community what we believe. Nor do I even have to say it before I can belong to that “We.”

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

For long months of the darkest night of my still-young soul, I went to church and did nothing but stand. I dragged myself in as the sun set and watched the songs go by, feeling as lonely as ever, with a sort of numb wish to think the songs were true. Some days I silently raged through others’ prayers, prayers they clearly felt so deeply - What does this have to do with me? I used to pray like that. But you just wait till God leaves you, and then we’ll see how you pray. And then I would stand for the creed, say only the words, “We believe,” and cry helpless tears through the list of the things I didn’t believe. And in the midst of it all, the people of Emmanuel Fellowship bore me through that dark night on the raft of their imperfectly-faithful words, the repetition of the creed.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, 
And the life of the world to come.

Let Holy Week be for the doubter. Let Holy Week be for the lukewarm. Let Holy Week be for the burned-out, the sinner, the child, the angry, the bewildered, the bitter, the confused, and the liars. Say what you can; or say what someone else believes; or let the rest of us say it for you.

This is what we believe.

This is what we hope.


Lyndsey lives in Boston, MA where she is pursuing her Master's in Theological Studies at Boston University. She enjoys Community, Mad Men and Beauty and the Beast and her spirit animal is a sloth. She would like to know if this is some kind of interactive theater art piece. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest. 

You can follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OnPopTheology. If you'd like to support what we do, you can donate via the button on the right of the screen.

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The Christian Case for Nietzsche

Thursday, 17 April 2014 09:26 am
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Posted by Scott Paeth


In preparation for Good Friday, it's useful to contemplate the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ, as a spiritual matter, but also as a philosophical matter. The cross is a multivalent symbol, that contains within it a wealth of meaning, and yet, as Guiseppe Fornari argues in his new book, A God Torn to Pieces: The Case for Nietzsche, central to the message of the cross is something that Nietzsche understood and many, perhaps most, Christians have forgotten. "In the end," Fornari writes, "he was much closer to Christ than many who would claim to be Christians.”

As Adam Erikson summarizes at Sojourners, Fornari's analysis is rooted in the recognition that Nietzsche understood the significance of the cross in a way most Christians have not. He saw in Christ's cry on the cross -- "Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing!" -- a message of universal forgiveness, a message that Nietzsche rejected:

Nietzsche’s problem wasn’t his analysis that “we have killed God.” Good Friday proves him right. His problem was that he rejected the alternative of universal forgiveness that Jesus offered from the cross. Jesus’ universal forgiveness seeks to transform us from being murders into being forgivers.

And that’s where Nietzsche consciously rejected Christ, and that’s where many Christians don’t know Christ. To know Christ is to know that in his life, death, and resurrection Christ freely offers forgiveness to all – even to those who have become “murderers of all murderers.”

For Nietzsche, Jesus’ attempt to end sacrificial violence was foolish because he believed that humans need sacrificial violence to survive. To show this he compared the death of Jesus to many ancient sacrificial myths and discovered that they are structurally similar. The god is murdered by an angry mob that is united in their violence against a divine victim. After the mob murdered their victim order was restored. The only difference between the murder of Jesus and the murder of the mythical gods is in interpretation.

The cross then, as Rene Girard argues, is the end of sacrifice. Nietzsche could see that, and yet he believed we still needed sacrifice. Many Christians today fail to see what Nietzsche could, they don't believe that the cross was the end of sacrifice, since they are still engaged in the sacrificial regime that Christ came to end. Universal forgivenss is an abstraction to a great many Christians, and certainly not something that God would endorse. They need God's wrath and God's judgement to make their own righteous self-conception appear valid.  Erikson continues:

Nietzsche consciously chose the way of Dionysus, and the way of violence drove him mad* because he couldn’t accept the forgiveness of Christ in his own life. And yet by clearly seeing the alternative between Dionysus and the “Crucified,” Nietzsche was closer to Christ than many who profess to be Christian. Many Christians are far from Christ because while they profess Christ, they actually believe in Dionysus; they actually believe in a god who justifies their violence rather than leads them in the way of forgive.

And the Christian world is going mad because we don’t believe in Christ who leads us to love and forgive all, including our enemies.

So, as we move through Maundy Thursday into Good friday, let us lift up Christ's prayer of universal forgiveness and pray for the reconciliation of all. But let us also be aware that the spectre of Nietzsche looms behind our protestations of self-righteousness. Until we can break the systems of sacrifice in our own lives, and cease projecting them onto the cross of Christ, we will continue to be closet Dionysians, while understanding both Christ and Dionysius far less profoundly than Nietzsche did.

*To be clear here: Erikson plays with a common Nietzsche myth: That his philosophy drove him insane. It did not. Syphillus drove him insane.

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Posted by Roger E. Olson

I grew up Pentecostal and have now been Baptist for, oh, about forty years. The other day I was talking with students (mostly Baptists) about the doctrine and experience of the “second blessing” that grew out of the ministry of John Wesley. Wesley himself never equated entire sanctification (“Christian perfection”) with Spirit baptism/infilling of the [Read More...]

I’m always failing to connect the dots

Thursday, 17 April 2014 01:07 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Congratulations to the Wayside Community Association on the successful purchase of the land beneath their homes. Bravo! More of this, please.

It’s a simple rule for white men: If you’re invited to be part of a panel, or a faculty, or a board of directors, or a conference, conclave, cabal, colloquy, council, coven or club, it’s your job to first ask whether or not everyone else invited was also white and also male. If so, then you say, “No, thank you,” until that changes. Simple. Follow that rule or else crap like this is your fault.

• No, Bryan Fischer never has read the Gospels. Why do you ask?

• Jennifer LeClaire — news editor and demon-sex beat reporter for Charisma magazine — claims to have gay-dar. Or maybe she just thinks all female artists are lesbians. Anyway, that Honey Maid graham-cracker ad that made most decent people sniffle? LeClaire hated it.

Ex-pastor turned cable-TV host Mike Huckabee says that white Christians like him are being so cruelly persecuted here in the U.S., that “I’m beginning to think there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States.”

He must be right, because you’ll never see a North Korean appear on North Korean television to disagree with Huckabee by saying, “I’m beginning to think there’s more freedom in the United States than there is here in North Korea.”

• If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel: “50 Shades of Grey or Contemporary Christian Music Lyrics: A Quiz.”

• Here’s a pretty good outfield for the next Old-Timers Game: Doug Glanville in left, Ralph Garr in center, Hank Aaron in right. Those links go to three separate stories discussing America’s traditional pastime. And they’re also about baseball.

• “I take the Bible very seriously – hence returning from the States to the UK to do a PhD in theology at Durham University. My support of same-sex marriage comes from respecting the Bible so much, rather than so little. For me it’s the product of much study, hours of reading, and pages and pages of great scholars’ work.”

• Item: “Half of Americans Believe at Least One Conspiracy Theory.” This is bad news for two reasons. First, it tells us that some Americans believe in more than one conspiracy theory, which suggests that such people are ridiculously credulous. And second, it suggests that half of Americans have not yet selected their one allotted conspiracy theory. Everybody gets one. But only one. Choose yours carefully.


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Posted by Timothy O'Brien

I have always felt a certain attraction towards Judas. Yes, that Judas. Judas Iscariot. The betrayer. The Lost One. The bad guy who rivals only Satan in the collective Christian imagination.

Some days, I can’t help feeling that he is just the fall guy for Divine Providence. This makes me cranky, because it strikes me as cosmically unfair.

Now let me be clear: Judas betrayed Jesus. That was wrong. Very wrong. Sinfully wrong. Wrong in a way I hope that you and I are never wrong. But if the Gospel narratives are to be believed (and I think they are), then Jesus was headed to the suffering and death of the cross irrespective of whatever deals Judas cut (or didn’t) with the chief priests. And yet at the Last Supper Jesus still exclaims: “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!” (Mt. 26:24).

Aren’t we being just a little harsh? The dynamite of the last days of Christ was set to blow well before Judas started haggling in the moonlight. From a certain perspective, all he did was light the match.

Not long ago, I spent the days leading up to Holy Week on retreat under sunny Northern California skies, a merciful break from the bleakness of “spring” in Chicago. Despite all the sun, the spiritual and scriptural space that I inhabited was overcast.

My retreat centered on the events of Holy Thursday. In certain strands of Christianity, including mine, this is the day when Jesus “instituted the Eucharist,” or “instituted the priesthood.” Less frequently do we note that it’s also the day when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by his closest friends.

In the Holy Thursday story, none of the apostles comes out looking very good. Least of all Judas and Peter. And my days of silence were a kind of extended engagement with this duo. I spent hours pondering a pretty simple question: what’s the difference between the two?

Premeditation? Because Peter denies Jesus reflexively, while Judas plans his betrayal? This seems an odd quality on which to exonerate Peter, who in the Gospels shows a stunning inability to premeditate anything. It feels somehow dishonest to praise him for doing the very thing that usually makes him the object of our laughter and chagrin.

It seems to me that the line distinguishing the two — betrayal and denial — is no line at all. What is denial of a friend but a form of betrayal, and a pretty egregious form at that?

And yet nobody would deny that there’s a qualitative difference in how we think about Peter and Judas. Peter sits behind the bulletproof glass of hagiography. The Peter we usually invoke is the Rock of unity and not the rock-head; the glorious martyr, not the denier of Christ; the dude with the Keys of Heaven jangling from his toga.

The glass around Judas is often just as bulletproof, and we tend to draw his portrait in black and white, whereas Peter’s admits of gray and a fair amount of rosy shading. No doubt Judas betrayed Christ, a fact on which all four of the Gospels agree. But beyond that, the consensus about him starts to erode. For example, how did he die? Matthew gives us the famous story of his hanging, but Luke gives a different account in the book of Acts. There, Judas falls down in a field and “bursts asunder,” clarified with the helpful note that “his bowels gushed out.” Usually, Matthew’s account and Luke’s are conflated, producing a scene especially fit for Hollywood. (If you’ve seen Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, you know what I’m talking about.)


The reason we revere Peter and revile Judas boils down to faith. By “faith,” I do not mean something simple like “Peter believed that Jesus was God and Judas did not.” No, I’m talking about the type of faith that is mentioned in the Holy Thursday account in the Gospel of Luke:

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.” But Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.”

There’s a bit of a paradox contained in these lines. On the one hand, Jesus prays that Peter’s faith will not fail, even as he accurately predicts the upcoming denial. So what is this faith that Jesus prays will not fail?

Faith in forgiveness. Jesus isn’t praying that Peter won’t deny him; he knows that will happen. Jesus is praying that Peter not lose faith that he can truly “turn back”: that he can repent, rejoin the community, and even strengthen his brothers and sisters. It is faith in the love and mercy of God, which is to say faith in the ministry of Jesus that Peter had witnessed first hand.

And turn back he did. After the bitter tears had dried up, after his wounded pride had healed and he could look fully at what he did, Peter came back (or, maybe, limped back) to the community that had assembled around Jesus.

Judas did not come back. Matthew’s Gospel says:

“Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.”

To my mind, these are among the saddest words in Christianity. Though repentant, Judas has no faith in forgiveness — whether forgiveness of himself, forgiveness from the community, or forgiveness from God. We know he never returned. This is true whether he hung himself, fell in a ditch and spilled his guts, or died an old man in his bed.

The sadness of this is made all the sharper by the fact that as Judas hands Jesus over to the chief priests, Jesus calls him “Friend.” We should take Jesus at his word, even if Judas could not.

This is part of the Holy Thursday story. And frankly, it’s the part of the story that most resonates with me and, I suspect, many of us. Because in my more honest moments, it is easier to identify with Peter and Judas than with Jesus. Sin and brokenness are more familiar realities than self-giving love.


I like to console myself sometimes with the idea that if I had been around at the time of Jesus, a lot of my questions and doubts about him would have been resolved. “It would be easy to believe” — I say to no one but myself, nodding in agreement with my inner monologue — “after seeing him walking on water, or witnessing his transfiguration on a high mountain.” How much luckier were the disciples, who saw him walking around, doing good, raising hell — or at least raising the dead?

Judas and Peter amply demonstrate that the connection between seeing and believing is far from straightforward. So too with us. We see and we believe, as they did. And we fall, as they did. None of us is spared the intrusion of the cold, dark hand of sin that from time to time covers our hearts — the type of temptation that can lead us to betray and deny even the ones we love.

“I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back . . . .” How hard that turning is, and how hard to believe that it will be greeted with: “Friend.”

I might be accused, even at such a late point in this essay, of trying to rehabilitate Judas. Not exactly. What I want to say is: we miss the point when we see Judas as just the Bible villain, the betrayer. He is that, and more. He is who we are, we who also betray in ways small and spectacular, secret and public. And he is who we might mistakenly become, when our faith in forgiveness falters.

Image via Shutterstock

The post Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus appeared first on OnFaith.

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 11:19 pm
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Posted by Craig A. Evans

Biblical fundamentalists often interpret the scripture’s more poetic moments in a literal fashion — understanding, for instance, the Bible’s “historical” stories in the same way they think proper, modern history should be written. This is especially so in the case of the Gospels, those writings that narrate the activities and teachings of Jesus. Jesus spoke every word, performed every deed — and he did these things in the locations and sequences stated in the Gospels. Or at least this is what is assumed.

But there is a problem. When the Gospels are placed side by side and carefully compared, differences emerge. One will notice variations in the wording of Jesus’ utterances, variations in the details of some of the stories, and sometimes variations in chronology and sequence. These differences can shake one’s confidence in the reliability and truthfulness of the Bible. The solution, fundamentalists believe, is to find ways of harmonizing the discrepancies. If harmonization is successful, then the fundamentalist view of the Bible remains viable — all is well. But what if harmonization doesn’t work?

This is where New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman and several of his popular books of the last decade come in. From Misquoting Jesus to his new How Jesus Became God, he hammers away at the pat answers and simplistic harmonizations. Biblical fundamentalism, Ehrman contends, is simply wrong. Therefore, he reasons, the Bible really can’t be trusted.

There is just one problem with this conclusion — it is flawed at its very core.

In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman argues that today’s text of the Bible (and he mostly speaks in reference to the Greek New Testament) does not exactly match that of the original writings and that some of the changes in the text were deliberate, at times motivated by theological dogmas. Therefore, we really don’t know what the evangelists originally wrote. In Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman shows why the Gospel narratives cannot be harmonized, nor their histories trusted. In Forged: Writing in the Name of God, he argues that several books of the Bible were not written by their ascribed authors. Most recently, in How Jesus Became God, Ehrman argues that the early church’s belief that Jesus was divine was not what Jesus claimed, nor what his original disciples believed.

Some of what Ehrman claims is not controversial in mainstream scholarship. All scholars of the Bible, including conservative evangelicals, know that there are some textual uncertainties. All, including most conservative scholars, know that oftentimes we cannot harmonize discrepant details. And all know that there was development in theological thinking about Jesus, especially after the resurrection.

The problem is that, in his popular books, Ehrman is frequently guilty of the logical fallacy of the excluded middle, the idea that there are only two options — either we have every word of the original text or we do not; either we have harmonious accounts of the teaching and activities of Jesus or we don’t.

Bart Ehrman is arguing like a fundamentalist. It is an all-or-nothing approach. If the Bible is truly inspired (and therefore trustworthy), it must be free from discrepancies. But this is not how most seasoned scholars think, including evangelicals. Nor was it the way early Christians thought.


One of the first to comment on the Gospels was Papias of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Writing near the beginning of the second century, Papias says the author of the Gospel of Mark compiled chreiai (“useful, instructive anecdotes”) and wasn’t concerned with exact sequence and chronological order. The scholars and lecturers of this period of time instructed their pupils in the chreiai of the great thinkers, teaching them how to edit, contract, or expand the chreiai, and to give them new application, in order to make clear to new audiences the true meaning and significance of the wisdom of the great thinkers. Creative adaptation was expected. Remaining true to the original idea was essential.

This is what the writers of the New Testament Gospels did. Indeed, this is how Jesus taught his disciples when he said, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matt. 13:52). That is, the disciples of Jesus are to pull out new lessons and applications, as well as the old, from the treasure of teaching Jesus has given them. Why should anyone be surprised that the disciples and the evangelists who followed them did what Jesus instructed them to do? Each evangelist presented the life and teaching of Jesus in his own fashion, using creative ways that made it understandable and relevant to different cultures and settings. The numerous differences and discrepancies we see in the Gospels are the result of the writers doing what Jesus taught — and in many ways reflect the standards of history writing current in late antiquity.

At work in Ehrman’s books is an unrelenting attack directed against the fundamentalist understanding of the Bible. Ehrman is not attacking a straw man, for the object of his attacks does indeed exist. But his books address fundamentalist readings, not mainstream understandings of the Bible and the stories it tells. Christian scholars of every stripe believe that the biblical text, especially the Greek text of the New Testament, is well preserved, that the Gospels are accurate and tell us what Jesus really taught and did, and that the conviction that Jesus was in some sense divine is rooted in Jesus himself, in what he taught, and in the extraordinary things he did.

The post Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism appeared first on OnFaith.

It’s Movie Thursday today at 3:45 p.m.

Thursday, 17 April 2014 11:09 am
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Posted by gloucestercitylibrary

It’s Movie Thursday! To find out what movie we’ll be showing, look for signs inside the library, or call us at 845-456-4181. Movies run from approximately 3:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. No signup required. You’re welcome to bring your own snacks and drinks.

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Posted by Nathaniel M. Campbell

Bronze sculpture at
Church Street UMC.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you…
This I command you, to love one another.

     —John 15:14-17

We know that Jesus should be our role-model in service, but it’s often difficult to know just which Jesus we’re supposed to follow. The teacher, the healer, the broken, dying man—or the Christ and Son of God, Lord of Heaven and Earth? Some of these roles are easier to imitate than others, and we struggle to hold them all together. Jesus’ disciples, too, often struggled to understand just what it meant for their wise and compassionate teacher to be both Messiah and bound to die.

But on their last night together, Jesus’ intimate words and actions finally began to crystallize. He began with an act of service, stooping down to wash his disciples’ dirty feet—Jesus the Servant. Then, he gave them a new and simple commandment, “to love one another as I have loved you”—Jesus the Master. Next, he gave them the bread and wine as a symbol of his Body and Blood, about to be broken and spilt out of that love—Jesus the Sacrifice. Finally, he showed them the place in which Servant and Master meet and Love and Sacrifice kiss—Jesus the Friend.

Despite our best efforts to welcome service and sacrifice, they can often seem burdensome. We grumble about their impositions or avoid the more “dangerous” sorts of service that cause us discomfort. Jesus’ friendship offers us a model of service that transcends these burdens and fears. In the deep bonds of his friendship, to serve is an eager pleasure and to sacrifice is a welcome blessing.


O Lord Jesus, we remember now the pain and death you suffered as our servant. Grant us the grace to be with you, as you are present with us in your Body and Blood, a memorial of that sacrifice. As your friends may we receive this token of your Love and gladly keep its commandment, for by your service and sacrifice, you have made its burden easy and its yoke light.

This appeared in the 2014 Lenten Devotional Book, “A Season of Service,” for Church Street United Methodist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Podcast with On Pop Theology

Thursday, 17 April 2014 05:00 am
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Posted by Richard Beck

Just a note to alert you to the podcast I did with Ben Howard over at On Pop Theology. Many thanks to Ben for the opportunity.

In the podcast Ben and I talk about my fit within the Churches of Christ (Note: there are now two streams within the Churches of Christ, the ecumenical stream and the sectarian stream), how psychology influences my theology, why I'm not on Twitter, why I blog at blogspot.com and about some of the topics from my book The Slavery of Death.

You also learn what was my last Google search at the time of the podcast.

It was...this: "effect sizes for small N designs."

For better or worse, I am a social scientist.

You Don’t Say, Mr. Farris? On Making Exemptions

Thursday, 17 April 2014 09:00 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

In spite of his recent decision to speak out against patriarchy in the homeschool movement, Michael Farris will be keynoting alongside Voddie Baucham at the Home Educator’s Association of Virginia’s annual convention this June.

In case you’re wondering what he’ll be speaking on, well, Baucham’s keynote address descriptions are available for viewing. Everything in them, from his focus on feminism to his invocation of “multigenerational” thinking, comes straight out of the biblical patriarchy playbook and straight off the now defunct Vision Forum website.

The Role of the Father in Home Education and Discipleship

Many homeschool dads view their role as little more than providing money for curriculum. The results of such passivity are devastating: marriages are strained, homeschool boys are feminized, moms are frustrated and isolated, and feminism exploits the opening. The homeschool movement risks becoming feminized altogether, and you can (and must) do something about your own home. Hear how homeschool fathers can be more than sideline spectators or bullies who demand results. Dad will learn how to cast vision, set goals, offer support, and get involved. Mom will learn how to apply biblical principles to encourage her husband, without using manipulation or guilt, to assume his role as leader in the home. 

Multigenerational Vision

Before we can do right, we must learn to think right. We all act in accordance with what we believe. Unfortunately, many Christians believe things about marriage, family, and children that are grossly unbiblical. As a result we simply live for today, with no thought for the consequences to coming generations. Once we grasp a multi-generational vision, the pieces begin to fall into place.

Baucham is one of the leaders of patriarchy movement that grew out of the Christian homeschooling movement. Indeed, Baucham was a close associate of Doug Phillips until recently. He has had ties to Vision Forum, speaking at their conferences and publishing his books with them. Baucham’s daughter Jasmine is a stay at home daughter who writes for Ladies Against Feminism, a website promoting biblical patriarchy.

Speaking alongside Baucham at a major homeschool convention grants him silent approval, especially in the wake of Farris’s statements about speaking out against patriarchy and no longer remaining silent. How, then, will Farris justify speaking alongside Baucham? Or will he instead decline to speak as long as Baucham is there? I can’t answer this question for sure, but I can say that Farris has already laid the groundwork for making an exemption for Baucham.

This comment was made in response to a woman arguing that there are good reasons not to send your children to college, and then citing Baucham. Farris replies by saying that, actually, Baucham has recently enrolled his daughter in college. But you can see where this logic may lead—if Baucham has enrolled his daughter in college, after all, surely he can’t be part of a movement that argues against college attendance for daughters—right?


College Plus is a Christian program that allows students to earn a degree through a state college in New Jersey that specializes in online education. The program offers students a coach to walk them through the process and encourages students to earn credit through CLEP tests. The program includes character education alongside online college courses, and has been promoted by leaders of the patriarchy movement as a way homeschool graduates can earn college degrees while remaining at home under their parents’ authority. The program has ties to ATI, and until recently its biggest promoter has been Doug Phillips. Yes, that Doug Phillips.

Until recently, Vision Forum had an endorsement page on the College Plus website, with this message from Doug Phillips:

Why I endorse CollegePlus! 

CollegePlus! has my full support and recommendation as the college option that protects our children from the divisively liberal, humanist, and anti-family college system.

CollegePlus! gives students the freedom and flexibility to pursue entrepreneurship, apprenticeship and ministry opportunities while earning college credit in conjunction with high school or pursuing their fully accredited degree. CollegePlus! is the cost-effective approach to earning an accredited Bachelor’s degree without debt, compromise or dismantling the family.

You can still see the page via the Wayback Machine. You can also see College Plus’s landing page for Vision Forum visitors, complete with a special message from Doug Phillips (now defunct).

As recent as this past January, College Plus offered an exclusive webinar with five Christian leaders, Doug Phillips among them. In the past, College Plus has featured numerous webinars Doug Phillips, all now conveniently scrubbed from the College Plus website. Doug Phillips promoted College Plus avidly on the Vision Forum website, though those posts are hard to access now that that website has disappeared.

Who founded College Plus? How did these ties develop? I don’t have all of the answers to that, but I’ve done some digging. Brad Voeller, a homeschool graduate, founded College Plus in 2004 (read more here). Brad was the son of a prominent ATI family. If you have a look at this link, you’ll find that Brad’s mother Lori advocates spanking babies (“we use a 1/4 inch wooden dowel when they are 6 months”) and severely limiting her children’s playtime (“we’ve adopted the old-fashioned idea that children play on Saturday afternoon only”). Brad’s father, Jim Voeller, was ATI’s head of homeschool curriculum. The Voeller family was engulfed in scandal when Brad’s father was caught having an affair with his secretary, and his parents subsequently divorced.

Vision Forum was not involved in the founding of College Plus, but at some point Doug Phillips discovered Voeller and took his project under his wing. This shouldn’t be surprising given that it appears Voeller grew up attending Doug Phillips’ church. In fact, the ties between Vision Forum and College Plus have been so close that the two have held an annual tackle football gameYou can see pictures here.

Indeed, note which organization is listed first in this listing of College Plus partners, as shown in a screenshot from last year:

That’s right, Vision Forum Ministries.

If enrolling a child in College Plus is all it takes to avoid being labelled as part of the patriarchy movement by Michael Farris, Doug Phillips is not part of the patriarchy movement either. In fact, I’m not sure who is.

Yes, Voddie Baucham enrolled his daughter Jasmine in College Plus. He did so, though, as part of the culture of the Vision Forum—dominated patriarchy movement, not as a rejection of patriarchy. I’ve written about Jasmine Baucham and College Plus before. Jasmine is doing College Plus so that she can get a college degree while being a stay at home daughter, has has been very clear about how difficult it has been for her to give up her dreams of a career to accept her future as a stay-at-home homeschooling mother.

I’ve heard stories from homeschool graduates I know about siblings kept at home for years by controlling parents, enrolled in College Plus but in practice afforded little freedom or space to mature and become independent. College Plus enables parents in the patriarchy movement to keep their children at home and under their control while keeping up a tidy front.

In fact, I’m going to come right out and tell a story I don’t think I’ve told before. My parents wanted to enroll one of my younger brothers in College Plus rather than sending him away to college. They tried to talk him into it with promises that he could get a bachelor degree in only two years, but the real reason they wanted him to do College Plus was that he was the “rebellious” son and they were afraid that if they sent him off to college they would lose control over him completely. At this point my brother came to me, and I became his high school guidance counselor. I helped him choose a brick-and-mortar college and find a way to pay for it. He is in college today, living away from home, and is excelling by every measure.

If anything, Baucham’s decision to enroll Jasmine in College Plus only confirms is positioning in the center of the patriarchy movement. Like Phillips, Baucham too has webinars on the College Plus website, and has endorsed College Plus on his own blog. “We’ve got to stop making the pagans in the college system rich while they make us dumb,” he wrote.  Or was that Doug Phillips?

And so we come to the question. Will Farris speak alongside Baucham, keeping silent about any disagreement he may have and explaining Baucham out of the patriarchy movement? Or will he put his money where his mouth is?

Literally the Best Thing Ever: The OC

Thursday, 17 April 2014 03:20 am
[syndicated profile] rookie_feed

Posted by Monika

Last summer I had all my wisdom teeth pulled out, and in the aftermath I washed down painkillers with a liquid diet and slept strange, fitful hours. Thankfully, the week before this, my mom had been sorting some boxes of old stuff and found the first-season DVD set of The OC. Did I want to keep it?

Um, duh.


Bad boy Ryan Atwood meets girl-next-door Marissa Cooper in a scene surely inspired by when James Dean and Natalie Wood meet in Rebel Without a Cause.

I spent my post-op week on the couch, eating chocolate pudding and watching all 27 episodes on those DVDs, which weren’t mine to give away anyways. They belonged to my seventh grade BFF, Kiera (not her actual name). She was the leader of our girl gang, one of those friends who hold a strange social power: When you’re together, it’s magic. Like, even if you’re just sitting on the couch eating Ho Hos together, you’re having the time of your life. When the show was on the air, between 2003 and 2007, we used to call each other before each episode and stay on the line for the whole hour, gasping into the phone each time Marissa and Ryan broke up or made up, and gossiping through the commercial breaks.

If you haven’t seen The OC, you’ve probably seen a show it inspired: Laguna Beach, Gossip Girl, and Pretty Little Liars all have the scandalous legacy of The OC to thank for bringing some major teen drama to the small screen.

Basically, this kid Ryan is abandoned by his mother after he’s caught helping his brother steal a car; he is subsequently taken in by a wealthy family in Orange County, where he lives the charmed life alongside their adorkable son, Seth Cohen. Ryan falls for the Cohens’ seriously troubled next-door neighbor, Marissa, while Seth pines for her best friend, Summer, whom he’s loved since forever. The foursome have a pretty crazy school year that first season, what with Marissa’s substance abuse issues, an almost-shooting, and lots of fancy parties.


Marissa Cooper: charismatic, beautiful, mysterious—but not the best preteen role model in the world.

The OC was our seventh grade bible on how to be 17. “I want to BE Marissa Cooper,” Kiera would sigh into my ear every Tuesday. We all did. She was the epitome of cool to us, and we loved every scandalous thing she did on the show: day drinking, shoplifting, throwing tantrums while toting Chanel bags. Marissa Cooper played beautiful-but-damaged so well that we somehow managed to look past all the truly awful things that happened to her character and focused instead on the thrill of spiking drinks at a charity ball or hiding out in a half-built house with the boy you liked.

We wanted thrills, too. Every Friday our little group of friends called Kiera to find out the plan for the evening, and she would arrange for five or six of us to meet up at Starbucks or Peace of Pizza at the mall or in town. After that, we mostly just wandered around, stood or sat on various street corners, got Frappuccinos, and giggled at groups of boys sitting on opposite street corners. We dared one another to ask for their numbers. Once one of us made out with one of them behind Trader Joe’s. This development was good for at least two weeks of breathless discussion over the phone between Kiera and me.

Though we weren’t in any classes together, she and I were in constant contact. When we weren’t on the phone, we were on AOL Instant Messenger. For some reason, it felt really important to be friends with her. When we were talking or hanging out, I felt like we were inseparable, but as soon as I was alone again, I was struck with fear: fear that she would forget to call me, or decide tomorrow that another one of our friends was a better choice for a BFF. I told her everything about me, but she always held part of herself back. While I could go on for hours to her about every new crush, she never told me about hers. I worried about what that meant: Did she not trust me? Or (worse) did she not need to share every detail of her life with me, her best friend? Was she sharing that stuff with someone she liked more?

Seth Cohen, after his first time. Or me, after my first high school party. (Via Yellow Means Go Faster.)

Seth Cohen, after his first time. Or me, after my first high school party. (Via Yellow Means Go Faster.)

By the end of middle school, our girl gang was rolling into boys’-prep-school dances in sequined tops and tight jeans. The stuff I saw go down on those waxed gym floors was definitely R-rated. We were trying to become the teenagers we were meant to be: cool, sexy, reckless. We wanted to be more than just viewers.

And I wanted it, too, to be all those things. I wanted to be cool (no chance) and sexy (Kiera teased me for being “a prude”) and carefree (see EVERYTHING above for the likelihood of this). None of this threatened our friendship, though—until we got to high school. There, everyone was a little older, and at parties there was more than just seventh-grade-dance orange soda to gulp down for courage.

Once, the summer before ninth grade, our group got a ride from some older guys to a party near the city, at a house somebody’s parents had left for the weekend. When we walked in, there were a bunch of dudes sitting on a dirty mattress drinking forties. I tried to sit so you couldn’t see up my skirt and prayed that we’d find a ride home later. I couldn’t think of much that was scarier than the idea of having to spend the night there, with those guys. I was also terrified that my mom would call and ask me to come back early. I was terrified that the cops would come. And I was super terrified of disappointing Kiera, whose main goal at that time was to be popular with the older crowd and who was therefore always on the lookout for the next party, the coolest party. I was the opposite of Marissa Cooper, which meant I was the opposite of cool.

Kiera and I had become close on the sidelines, stealing her sister’s Cosmos and watching reruns of Sex and the City. But when we got to the age where we felt like it was our turn to live out all that stuff, it became clear how different we’d become in the interim. I’d started listening to Death Cab for Cutie (ironically enough, Seth’s favorite band on The OC) and wearing plain T-shirts and (less tight) jeans. I read thick books—for pleasure. I decided I was “too serious” for pink. And then, inevitably, the thing that I feared the most finally happened: Kiera stopped calling. I was devastated, or at least I thought I was until I realized that I’d stopped calling too. We grew mutually apart, and by the time The OC got cancelled we never hung out and rarely spoke. I knew it was officially over when she had a mutual friend ask for her DVDs back.

Why couldn’t she just ask me? I wondering, getting progressively angrier as I let my thoughts gain momentum. Didn’t she remember all those nights we’d spent dreaming up the perfect flirty tank-top/skirt/flip-flop combination? All those times we’d gossiped well past the end credits, prompting my mom to ask what I could possibly still be talking about? I felt bad about the end of our friendship for a long time. I put on a brave face, but there was a stubborn part of me that still wanted to know that I was important to her. At first I forgot to give her box set back, but then I kept it stubbornly, spitefully, as if her tugging at this one thread had unraveled our friendship.

When I revisited The OC last summer, my face covered with ice packs and my jaw throbbing where my wisdom teeth had once been, I watched it with my mom. While Marissa was throwing down at the beach house, I was throwing up from pain meds, and my mom was spoon-feeding me yogurt. I still really enjoyed the show, maybe even more now the “teen lifestyle” it portrayed was no longer something I aspired to—it was something I’d lived through. (Marissa Cooper, as she slinks and sulks her way across the screen, seems as glamorous to me as ever, though.)

When I was 13, my mom walked in on me watching the scene where Ryan and Marissa kiss at the school fair and told me the show was IN-appropriate; now she wants to order season two from Amazon so we can keep watching together. I know it seems so cliché to say, The show hasn´t changed—I have. But I think that’s the best way to describe what happened! Rewatching the episodes I was obsessed with 10 (!) years ago, I can really feel how much time has passed. Since the show’s cancellation, I’ve had two real, serious relationships (no more flirty standoffs on suburban street corners), landlines have become a thing of the past, and I´ve come full circle to love all things pink and girly (in the end it was my ideas about what was or wasn’t “serious” that were too precious). I’ve also had at least three other best friends post-Kiera and countless bad role models post–Marissa Cooper. Now, finally, that whole heady period of my life feels like ancient history, so remote I can hardly believe the details: We had Xanga blogs? I wore flared jeans? We drank half a beer behind the pizza place?

We flat-ironed our already-straight hair. We went to the beach. We imagined 17. ♦

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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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