Category: Race

Wednesday Miscellany: Proselytism, Parasitic Morality, and a Punch in the Mouth

I sat in on an attempted proselytism the other day. It was in the chapel at the jail. One of the young women had been pontificating about how she didn’t really believe in God, but she figured there was probably a higher power that was orchestrating things down here. Life was mostly about merging with the energy of the universe and nature and discovering how everything’s connected and all religions basically say the same thing and that it’s all about love and peace (she said this after introducing the word “perping” to my lexicon and talking about how sometimes it’s just so much fun!). She was, in other words, a well-tutored member of the burgeoning SBNR (spiritual but not religious) category of the post-Christian West.
At any rate, another young woman was quite concerned to correct her views on these matters. She wanted to talk to her about Jesus, about reading the bible more, about salvation, about freedom. There was a lot of talking past one another and generalizing assumptions and no small amount of squirming for those listening in. I generally agreed with the girl who wanted to talk about Jesus, but I, too, found the scene uncomfortable. No, don’t say it like that… Ah, that’s going to be a dead end… Maybe you should soften or modify that a bit? On and on it went. I suspect there are few pastors less comfortable with proselytism than I am.
I went home and opened Facebook later that day. I saw a pretty much unending stream of proselytism—everything from specific ways of understanding and advocating for indigenous justice to the moral urgency of embracing climate change to the evils of anti-vaxxers to the immorality of understanding sexuality and identity in the wrong ways to the perils of being the wrong kind of soccer parent to how my leadership style might be failing the church to the wearisome binary antagonisms that pass for political discourse. In each case, there was meaning andwere sinners being condemned and good news being offered. There was one right way to think and there was outer darkness for those who did not conform.
Perhaps proselytism shouldn’t make me so uncomfortable. Everyone else seems cool with it…
(I say all this partially tongue-in-cheek. The world of social media—and particularly those who go to war over ideas there—is, obviously, not exactly a representative sample.)
A few weeks ago, CBC’s Ideas ran an interview with Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith about his new book Atheist Overreach. Smith points out the irony of a cultural moment where some of the most stridently moralistic discourse often emerges from those who claim to be atheists. They certainly don’t have a monopoly on moralizing—this is well traveled terrain for right wing religious folks, too—but the often-atheistic progressive left trades in moral absolutes just as eagerly as those whose views they despise. Smith isn’t convinced that this works very well. The question isn’t, “Can atheists be moral?” (of course they can!) but are their moral convictions and their beliefs that these are not just their own private opinions but public truth coherent? Can anything like an “inherent human right” be produced by naturalistic philosophy? Can a moral imperative be read off of nature? Can an unencumbered “is” ever produce a binding “ought?”
At one point, Smith pointed out an interesting and very timely conundrum. Those who are often most keen to (quite rightly, in my view) criticize and protest against the strong-man politics of leaders like Donald Trump have the fewest (coherent) moral resources from which to draw in their protest. If one is an atheist, what consistent moral responses are there to someone who, in essence, says, “Who cares about your moral convictions? You can have your opinions, certainly, but I don’t have to share them. I happen to think it’s fine to make fun of disabled people and express casual disdain for immigrants and trample recklessly over norms of truth and decency at will. And I have the power, so bugger off, thank you very much.”
In other words, what happens when someone acts like Nietzsche was right—that without God, it really does all reduce to power games? We can talk about inherent human rights and dignity, we can talk about the centrality of truth and the moral duty of civility, we can express our conviction that the vulnerable and the poor and the weak ought to receive special care and attention, rather than being scapegoated. We can and we do, in fact, do all of these things, across the spectrum from morally zealous atheism to morally zealous religious belief. And this is good and necessary. Pushing back against people like Trump with incoherent moral resources is certainly far preferable to not pushing back at all.
But we should at least be honest that absent a robust conception of an Absolute Truth to lend normative force to these convictions, we are mostly just parasitically (and selectively) feeding off of religious morality.
Early in her career, Flannery O’Connor wrote a story called “The Barber.” It is, among other things, a parable about moral and political discourse. The main character, Rayber, is a college professor and a liberal who finds himself in a barbershop full of racist conservatives in the deep south. He sits there and endures an endless stream of vitriol and stupidity and insecurities and fears masquerading as arguments. Inwardly he fumes. He tries to push back here and there, but his responses are halting and ineffective, easily overwhelmed by ignorant bravado.
The barber tells Rayber to come back in a week with his best arguments to see if he can convince him that all the “Mother Hubbards” are right. Rayber takes him up on it. For a week, he crafts his best arguments, he writes them down, he practices them on his wife. He comes back to the barber shop armed with reason and eloquence, braced to do his moral duty.
The barber has almost forgotten about the whole thing. Rayber has to jog his memory about their deal even to get a hearing. The barber and the other patrons laugh and agree to listen to his “speech.” Rayber protests that it’s not really a “speech” as much as an opportunity for dialogue, to “discuss things sanely.” The men just guffaw and tell him to get on with things. He offers his speech. It feels like less than he had hoped it would be. It’s met with mockery and laughter—“I’ll be the first to vote for Boy Blue tomorrow morning!” Rayber seethes, particularly when he looks at George, the “colored boy” who cleans the floor and the basins of the barber shop.
The story ends with Rayber punching the barber in the mouth and the barber staring uncomprehendingly at his enraged customer. I don’t know what you gotta get so excited about… I said it was a fine speech.
I turned over the last page of the story, grimly chuckled, and thought “Well, that’s a good analogy for about 90% of the moralizing proselytism we see on Facebook every day. We yell and and mock and fume and seethe, each one of us flogged on by our moral absolutes, wherever we derive them from and however coherently we do so. And then, we do the equivalent of punch each other in the mouth and stare bewilderedly at those who can’t or won’t see what seems so obvious to us.

Syndicated from Rumblings


Death of a Convenient Narrative

I am learning that the jail is very often a place where convenient narratives go to die.
This morning’s lesson was ostensibly about learning how to stop blaming parents and take responsibility for our own actions but, as is usually the case, the conversation tends to meander off in all kinds of loosely-related or unrelated territory. There was a younger indigenous woman who was sitting quietly while the lesson was read. She had spiky jet black hair streaked with blond, a few tattoos on her face, one that looked like a tear drop of blood. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she sat in stony silence throughout our time together. She didn’t look like she had much to say.
Turns out, she did. Quite a lot, actually. And it wasn’t what you’d expect. It wasn’t what I expected, anyway. She talked about how she had miraculously forgiven her parents after attending a program which I won’t name but which sounded like (and probably was, I determined after a quick Google search later) one of those wild charismatic Christian programs that use phrases like, “capture back what the enemy has stolen” and “kill every satanic embargo” and “be victorious in your dreams at all times” a lot. She talked at length about demons and strongholds and spiritual warfare. She spoke about the importance of “being in the word” daily. She could recite bible verses better than many pastors I know. Certainly better than the one writing these words. God had turned her life around!
It got worse. Or better, I suppose, depending on your perspective. She triumphantly declared that she had destroyed all of her sweet grass and cultural regalia (she used to be a ceremonial dancer). Ditto for her all materials related to astrology and horoscopes. I half expected her to say that she had burned her secular rock and roll cassettes, as was the familiar ritual in the lives of so many evangelical teenagers when I was a kid. Listening to her felt like stepping into a weird combination of a Frank Peretti novel and a hyper-conservative charismaniac evangelical church from several decades ago.
Like I said, the jail is not a place for convenient narratives. And this one was about as inconvenient as you could hope to find in our post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada and post-residential schools church. A young indigenous woman walking away from her culture and toward a rather extreme form of the religion that has historically done so much to wound and oppress her people. Was this a weird enactment of a kind of cultural-religious Stockholm Syndrome? Didn’t she realize that she had things exactly backward?!
I thought of what my progressive Christian, agnostic, or atheist friends would think if they were sitting around the circle this morning. I could almost hear them gasp with horror. There were times when I found it difficult to listen to! Surely this was an example of a vulnerable young woman being taken advantage of by opportunistic preachers and greedy religious snake oil salesmen. Surely this was another tragic example of the oppressed grabbing on to the categories of their oppressors in the absence of better narratives—another ugly tributary of the rivers of colonialism that had washed over her people. And she was, not to put too fine a point on it, back in jail. So, you know, how well was this brand of crazy Christianity actually working for her?
But there’s a fine line between compassionate understanding and condescending paternalism, isn’t there? Would we really want to find ourselves in the position of saying whatever this young indigenous woman thought was going on in her life, her experience, and her faith, that we (mostly white, mostly well-educated people) knew better? Would we really want to draw the boundaries for her with respect to what real indigenous expressions of spirituality, healing and wholeness look like? Would we want to deprive her of agency in this way? Would not this rather be yet another form of colonialism—non-indigenous people dictating the terms of what indigenous faith and practice ought to look like (or, more importantly, not look like)?
I noticed something else this morning, and most mornings I spend at the jail. When I start talking about God and faith in my usual highly nuanced, careful, non-supernatual, liberal-ish ways, the women usually smile politely, ask a few questions, offer a bit of qualified appreciation. But when one of their fellow inmates starts talking about angels and demons and punching the wall to get Satan out of their room and screaming the name of Jesus to chase the bad dreams away and tearing down strongholds and deliverance and victory, then the heads start nodding a lot more enthusiastically. They have little time for mushy, tolerant, understanding Jesus—they need Christ the victor who exorcises the demons and shatters the chains.
I resonated with very little of this woman’s experience and testimony this morning. I cringed throughout her (long) telling and could have picked it apart theologically in any number of ways. And, again, for all her talk of radical new beginnings in Jesus she was still sitting in a circle of plastic chairs in the prison chapel on a Monday morning, so… Well, so what? She claimed that Jesus had helped her to forgive her parents for abandoning her, that Jesus had set her free from addiction, and that Jesus had given her meaning and victory in her life. And for all my theological erudition (real or imagined), I haven’t walked a single step in her shoes. I have no idea what she has endured, no idea what she has left behind, no idea what she has already conquered or what roads she has yet to walk down. I have no idea the ways in which Jesus has come to her or the ways in which she has found him powerfully faithful.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, I should probably take my liberal-ish theological superiority and shove it. Or at the very least remain sensibly silent.
Convenient narratives die in the jail. Sometimes, it’s because they should.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Our Rachel.

When I first heard the name Rachel Held Evans, I made one major assumption. I thought she was a white woman writing for other white women. I knew she had a popular blog, and I heard she wrote a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood. But I didn’t pick it up until a huge announcement came from Lifeway Bookstore. They weren’t going to sell her book in their stores. That was major. A prominent white woman not being able to sell her Christian book in Christian bookstores would mean a hit to her sales for sure, but it also was a significant power play. Rachel would have to decide if she would alter her manuscript to make it acceptable or not. She chose “or not”. The prevailing story was that Lifeway wouldn’t sell her book because of her use of the word “vagina”. She later wondered if that was the whole reason… but suffice it to say, the issue was that Rachel was being too extra. At first she was willing to “clean it up” but then she heard from all of you. Bolstered by your adamant voices that she publish the book as she wrote it, she made her decision. She wrote on her website, “I’m disappointed, of course, and not just because I’ll take a hit in sales. While Lifeway certainly has every right to choose its own inventory, I think the notion that Christians should dance carefully around reality, that we should speak in euphemisms and only tell comfortable, sanitized stories, is a destructive one that has profoundly affected the evangelical culture as a whole.” Now, if you read A Year of Biblical Womanhood you know that Rach was questioning a lot about white, evangelical culture before the Lifeway controversy. But I think Rach began to see that if even she was a white woman could be punished, pressured, pushed aside- than what did that mean for the rest of us who didnt carry her privilege? This moment was a spark in Rachel’s unwavering commitment to fight systems of exclusion. When I picked up her book and laughed my through it, I never imagined Id soon hear from her. I had just started this blog. I began so sweet and gentle and here-allow-me-to-teach-you-all-the-things-dear-ones. But as I watched the country treat our first Black president with hatred and disdain, as I read about Trayvon and Mike Brown, as I watched a little black girl get assaulted by police at a pool party and dealt with my own rising fears following Sandra Bland’s case, my writing quickly shifted. And Rachel found me. Back then, my blog was just a baby. I had very few followers on social media. I never really intended to become a writer. I just had no other avenues for talking about the things I was most passionate about. So my blog became my outlet. But I was mostly talking to myself. Until Rachel popped up in my email and said, “Would you be interested in being featured on my blog?” I couldn’t believe it! Overnight my follower count grew and suddenly I had this thing called an audience. I wasn’t just talking to myself anymore. I was writing and people were reading. Then Rachel joined forces with Nadia Bolz Weber. The pair decided a new kind of conference was needed. A conference full of testimonies. A conference that asked, “in light of all the shit in the world, why the hell are you still a Christian?” Rachel and Nadia decided not to ask all of their famous friends to be speakers. Instead they found a bunch of misfits. The only thing we had in common as a group was a fearlessness of dropping f-bombs. Other than that, we were from different backgrounds, different denominations, different family structures, difference races, different, different, different. And the success of the conference was entirely dependent on the audience of Rach and Nadia because they purposefully chose to uplift new voices. Those who attended the first Why Christian conference know what a powerful community those two women created for everyone. What went unseen was the mentorship Rachel and Nadia provided behind the scenes. They brought us in a day early. Gathered us into one room. Sat us down in a circle. And said, “What do you want to know?” For a couple hours they answered every question we had about writing, publishing, speaking, money, travel… anything we wanted to know. They pulled back the veil on how one becomes a “writer and speaker” as a career. Kind. Generous. Funny. Honest. It was my first time meeting Rachel in person. And I was sick as sick can be. Rachel took care of me. She gave me her stash of medicine. She had volunteers go get me more medicine. She watched over me as I slept on the couch in the greenroom between sessions. And when it was my turn to hit the stage, she was right there, steps away, making sure I wouldn’t fall over. That group of women she gathered together have become such faithful friends. We call ourselves The Hedge because we are still a collection of misfits who like the f-bomb. After Why Christian, Rachel didnt disappear. She offered me a personal introduction to her speaking agent, who decided to take me on. When publishing houses started expressing interest because of the blog, Rachel made a personal introduction to her literary agent, who decided to take me on. At every step in my career, she has been there. Cheering and supporting and making shit happen. I have tried to read through all the emails she sent. The advice for marketing my book when you have just given birth to a human. Advice for choosing an accountant. Advice for traveling with kids. Advice for choosing an agent, a publishing house, an editor. Advice for advances and royalties. Advice for calming my anxieties. Celebrations over the little things. Encouragement. Reminders- not only that she believe in my voice- but why she believed in my voice. She was always specific about what made each voice she valued so special. I once emailed her to ask what I should do about all the requests I was receiving for “a quick coffee date”. She gave me some great advice about boundaries. But then she wrote, “Of course there are exceptions. I make a special effort to respond to anyone who is coming out for the first time, because its such a big deal and I want that first time to be a good experience. And I usually take time for parents of LGBT kids. They are special to me. So know who is special to you, even as you think about boundaries.” That’s who my friend was. She was a champion of inclusion- not just in theory… not in some vague sense that writers can often get away with. She was a true champion- in real life- with her platform, her money, her time, her contacts, her access. Just before my book released, I was shooting my shot everywhere i could to get it into the hands of people I admire. I reached out to Rachel. “Want to do something really, really silly with me?” I asked. “Want to DM Ava DuVernay about my book?” Rachel took exactly zero seconds to say, “Yes, I want to shoot that shot with you.” We both knew it was the longest of long shots. She didnt care. She believed impossible things were possible. And she never underestimated the mischievous nature of the Holy Spirit ( a phrase she used a lot). Generous is the word I keep coming back to. And she was a lot of other things, y’all. Funny. Kind. Grounded. Analytical. I mean what a big, beautiful mind. But she was also generous… to me. Just today, I received my very first royalties check. And all I want to do is text my friend who found my blog, who encouraged my writing, who introduced me to a literary agent, who promoted the book endlessly, who believed I could be a writer before I believed it. Im not entirely sure what to do with myself now. So I think what I’ll do is what she did. Here is an author you can support today: Rozella White is a wonderful human who just released her first book Love Big. Her book explores many kinds of relationships in which we can choose to Love Big, but since I know you all love racial justice as much as I do, here is just a sliver of an excerpt: “All too often in conversations about racial justice, people jump immediately to talk of reconciliation. No one wants to directly address the harm that has been done. But true reconciliation requires facing hard truths head-on and giving back what was taken from Black and Indigenous people, honoring the labor that built this country and created generational wealth for white Americans. Any other starting point is bullshit…” Buy this book. Remember Rachel well. Because Rachel loved BIG.(*as always, sorry about typos. You know what i meant.)
Syndicated from Blog - Austin Channing Brown

Spirituality and Sexuality?

I grew up in a church environment that was quizzical and afraid about everything sexual. I mean everything! Anything that could be misconstrued as a sex act, or could lead to sex, or could make people think about sex, was forbidden. As a youth this meant purity rings, True Love Waits seminars, and books like … Continue reading Spirituality and Sexuality?
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

Chaplains of Destruction

  It is National Poetry month and all month long, I will be sharing some of the pieces that I have worked on over the last few years. Here is one that I wrote last June, called Chaplains of Destruction.        Here we are doing the best we can Giving all we have … Continue reading Chaplains of Destruction
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna


    It’s National Poetry month and all month long I will be sharing some of the pieces that I have written over the last few years. First one up is a piece I wrote last spring, called Close. I always thought I had to be perfect to approach you That I had to be … Continue reading Close
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

New Fruit

As is terribly obvious to me at this point, I have no longer been updating By Their Strange Fruit. I have attempted for some time to return to this discipline that has been so formative for me over the years, but it has become clear that it's time for me to focus on new fruit.Maybe now that I’m daily living out my justice convictions in my work at UM Church for All People, rather than writing from the sidelines of academia, I don’t feel the same need for the outlet of expression.Maybe in this post-post-racial era of blatant bigotry, pointing out the subtly pernicious manifestations of systemic racism felt too trite.Maybe after the election of Trump, my heart just needed to find new modes of resistance.Maybe after the many repeated unarmed killings there is simply nothing more to say. Simply, "see too many previous posts": Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Tamir Rice, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Ralkina Jones, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, Trye King, on and on and on. Say their names.Or maybe after nearly 10 years, every act of resistance just has its season. Time to bear new fruit.Racism is no less prevalent, Christ is no less relevant.In fact, both are arguably much more so now than ever before.The work continues.I have so much love and gratitude for these years of learnings and relationships that have come out of this space. What began as a simple medium for my own self-education, grew deeper, richer, and much larger than I had ever anticipated. I am so grateful for the many who were so crucial  to the journey.I will leave the site up, both for my own reference and for others’ use, as long as the internets allow. ICheck out the "All People Podcast"may even use it for the occasional outlet to speak up on specific issues as they arise, or as a platform to promote ongoing visibility for justice work happening around the country.As this chapter draws to close, I include some links below to revisit a few of my favorite BTSF posts from over the years. Going forward, I’ll be hosting a new podcast in collaboration with Pastor Greg Henneman, in which we explore being a Church for All People, and the practices that we believe are critical for building the fully just and inclusive Body of Christ. Check it out and subscribe here.I continue to yearn to know how we as Christians can and will get out ahead of this ever-evolving beast we call racism. There are so many brilliant, talented groups and individuals do the work to whom I will always be grateful.And so, what say you readers?How have you been coping in this new era? How do you continue to resist?With so much love, gratitude, and hope,KatelinA few BTSF favorites from over the years:          Is God Colorblind?          White Savior Complex          They Will Know We Are Christians          Timeline of Racism          White History Month          Logical Fallacies: Model Minority          That Mascot Doesn't Honor AnyoneClick here for the full BTSF topical index

Syndicated from By Their Strange Fruit

Unveiled and Unfettered

  I am seminary trained and have spent my entire adult life working with the biblical text in my preaching. And yet, life has also taught me that God’s image and God’s Word is bigger than the Bible (or any of our other ancient scriptures from other faith traditions) alone. Many of our ancient narratives … Continue reading Unveiled and Unfettered
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

In Search of a Soul

It’s a rare thing indeed to observe members of the media from across the left-right spectrum offering something like a collective mea culpa in response to how they reported something. But this is, incredibly, what is happening in the aftermath of the storm generated by the already infamous video of the encounter between the Covington Catholic boys, the Native American elder, and the Black Hebrew Israelites at the Lincoln Memorial last week.
A relatively ordinary dustup at a protest that probably wouldn’t even have been news before the dawn of the smartphone touched off a quite predictable conflagration of outrage and virtue signalling and the reinforcing of moral and political narratives. When the story turned out to be a bit more complex, a bit more resistant to tidy narratives of obvious good vs obvious evil, some journalists did a peculiar (and commendable) thing. They said, effectively, “We should have resisted the hot take. We were too quick to judge in ways that served our preferred version of the story.” In some cases, there were even calls to withhold judgment (can you imagine?!) going forward. To take a step back. To ask inconvenient questions. To be the adult instead of the reactionary child.
Of course, these sober pleas probably won’t live long in our collective memory. Like everything else on the internet, they will disappear after their few hours on the online shelf, to be replaced by the next shiny digital object. “Cold takes” don’t sell, obviously, and as long as there is money to be made on online outrage, people will continue to be shepherded toward snap judgments and the stoking of inquisitional flames. Our dopamine-hungry brains will continue to obediently trawl the internet for vindication of our views. These calls for more measured responses to the news of the day (or what passes for it) will bounce around for a while in the aftermath of the Covington fiasco, but I doubt we will learn much from them. The next viral video of the next outrage-worthy offense will offer us the next opportunity to perform and parade our righteousness online. And we will, I suspect, gladly seize it.
This is the point where I often pivot to a plea for a lowering of our collective anthropology. We are all self-interested, all biased, all stupid and sinful. We should be more suspicious of our virtue and our rightness, etc., etc. But today, I find myself inclined in a different direction. It’s not that I don’t have a low anthropology. I do, certainly. I think it’s vitally necessary to make sense of ourselves and of the world, and to act with the humility appropriate to our station. But I also think we have lost something vital when it comes the inherent value and worth of each human being. This is evident in how we speak about our enemies, how quickly we leap to hammer their every transgression (real or imagined), how eagerly we shame and mock them, particularly online. Very often we don’t think nearly as highly of one another as we ought to.
I sometimes take pictures of quotes in books when I have nothing to write with. I found a note on my phone today with a snapshot of the following quote. I had no idea where it came from, initially, but I sleuthed out the source as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The quote itself is from the nineteenth century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle and is approvingly cited by one of the characters in the novel:

Does it ever give thee pause, that men used to have a soul—not by hearsay alone, or as a figure of speech; but as a truth that they knew, and acted upon! Verily it was another world then… but yet it is a pity we have lost the tidings of our souls… we shall have to go in search of them again, or worse in all ways shall befall us.

I don’t know the specific context of the quote. On one level, I imagine it is probably a religious argument for the eternal destiny of human beings. We’re not just the accidental products of biology and sociology, little more than a quiver in the dirt destined to eat and breed, make a bit of noise for a few decades and return to the dirt. We have souls, damnit! We are more than that! It’s probably a plea for an exalted view of human uniqueness that many in our day are quite keen to (inconsistently) leave behind.
But today, I’m also wondering what it might be like for us to, as Carlyle alludes to, act upon the idea that we are en-souled creatures. We might cast a thought toward God now and again, certainly, but we might also pay more attention to our fellow en-souled human beings. If we really believed that our neighbours, whether insolent teenagers in MAGA hats or Native American war veterans or Black Hebrew Israelites or whoever else, really had souls that could be shaped toward goodness, truth, beauty, eternity, even… That they weren’t just object lessons in the reinforcement of our worldviews. That they were particular and precious, not just placeholders in some irredeemable category in our brains. How would that change our discourse? Our behaviours? Our judgments? What if we actually believed this? It is indeed a pity that we have lost the tidings of our souls.
I’m not naïve. I know that people have always behaved in beastly ways toward each other, even when most people were convinced that they had a soul. But I’m with Carlyle. I think we shall have to go in search of them again. Bad things are befalling us and we need healthier and more life-giving ways of understanding ourselves and our neighbours if we’re ever going to find a way out of all the ugliness, both of the news of the day and of our reactions to it.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Writing for My Liberation

For me, writing is about sharing the stories that I want to tell. It is about finding a sense of purpose, of liberation even, in communicating my truth with the rest of the world. Through writing, I attempt to make sense of my experiences in the past and also begin to speak into existence the … Continue reading Writing for My Liberation
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

I Am Not Sin

It’s been a while since I blogged. This is not because I haven’t been writing, because I have journals and manuscripts full of solid content. But it is because my focus in blogging online has drastically shifted. At one time, I was most concerned with the intersection of faith and justice, and trying to convince … Continue reading I Am Not Sin
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

2018 in Review

Another year has nearly come and gone and this liminal space between Christmas Day and the start of a new year seems inevitably to provide opportunity to reflect back on the year that was on this blog. Blogs are, I am told, becoming something of a relic. Not many people are writing on or reading blogs anymore. Not many people are reading period anymore if the stats are to be believed. Who has or wants to make the time? People’s clicking and sharing seems to have migrated over to less wordy platforms.
I’ve been writing here for nearly twelve years now. Sometimes I feel like that’s about enough. I think back to some of the blogs I was reading back when I began and very few are left anymore. Perhaps I’ve overstayed the internet’s welcome. Other times I feel like I’m simply running out of things to say. I’ll start writing a post and then halfway through discover that I’ve almost literally written something identical three years ago. But there are other times—fewer than in the past, I grant, but they still come around now and then—when the conversation around things I write here is stimulating, generative, corrective, even rewarding. Which is good.
At any rate, if I haven’t discouraged you from reading on by now, here are the five most viewed posts I wrote in 2018 along with a brief description of each.
For Those Who Want to Grieve in a Religious Way
I wrote this after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash back in April. Few things capture Canada’s collective attention like hockey, and the deaths of junior hockey players in their prime on the way to a game was national news for weeks. It was all anyone could seem to talk about across the Canadian prairies and beyond. This piece about the language and categories we use around collective grief in a post-Christian context seemed to resonate.
Why Appreciate a Pastor?
This was a bit of a personal reflection on the experience of being a pastor in a cultural context where the news for the church is more often discouraging than encouraging. In hindsight, it seems a bit more woe-is-me than it ought to be, but it does give a sense of what it sometimes feels like to inhabit this strange role during these strange times.
Believe in Something
Nike’s advertising campaign featuring outspoken former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick raised temperatures (and revenue for Nike) when it came out and it highlighted how deep our cultural divide is when it comes to issues of racial violence. This piece wasn’t really about race or identity politics—it was about the slogan itself (“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”), whether or not it was coherent, and what it says about our cultural moment—but it quite quickly and predictably became about these things in conversations online.
The Disconnect
Another post on the state of the church in the post-Christian west and the disconnect between a culture that claims to be almost literally dying for lack of community and meaning and a church that claims to be offering these very things.
Somewhere to Be
I broke a self-imposed blogging sabbatical in spring to reflect on ten days spent in Palestinian territory. This post was a juxtaposition of the experience of walking through an Israeli checkpoint with Palestinians and listening to a Zionist Christian tour guide sketch the geography and the theology of the end of all things.
So, there are the “top fives” from 2018. As I’ve said before, though, the main benefit of compiling these year-end posts is to provide an opportunity to thank you for actually reading what I write here. I am grateful for the engagement and connections that take place in this space. I wish you all the best in 2019.

Syndicated from Rumblings


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