Archive for July, 2008

The Pueblo Question: Catholic or Christian?

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

The Pueblo Question: Catholic or Christian?


One strange question is usually an aberration. But when you’ve been asked the same weird question several times, over a number of years, it reflects a broader mindset.

The question is: “Are you Catholic or Christian?”

The following conversation approximates what happens next. We’ll call the fictitious person I’m talking to “Jim.”

Jim: “So you’re a church guy, huh?”

Me: “Pretty much, yeah.” Jim: “Are you Catholic? Christian?”

Me: “Well, yes.”

Jim: “You’re Christian?”

Me: “Yes.”

Jim: “Oh, I thought you were maybe Catholic.”

Me: “Technically, I am.”

Jim: “OK, so what parish do you belong to?”

Me: “I don’t. I go to Milagro Christian Church”

Jim: “A-ha! So you’re Christian.”

Me: “Right.”

Jim: “Not Catholic.”

Me: “No.”

Jim: “No, meaning you agree you’re not, or no to what I said?”

Me: “The last one.”

Jim: “I know, I know, you’re one of those lapsed Catholics, but you still call yourself Catholic, right?”

Me: “Nope.”

Jim: “So you’re not lapsed?”

Me: “I don’t think so.”

Jim: “So you must go to a Catholic church somewhere.”

Me: “I told you where I go to church.”

Jim: “But that’s not a Catholic church.”

Me: “Technically, it is.”

Jim: “Oh really? So who is your bishop?”

Me: “We don’t have one.”

Jim: “No bishop? You’re definitely not Catholic.”

Me: “Actually I am.”

Jim: “Look, you need to pick sides. You’re either Catholic or you’re Christian. You can’t have it both ways.”

Me: “Why not?”

Jim: “Actually, I have no idea why, but that’s just the way it is. You just can’t.”

Me: “If you say so.”

Jim: “So we agree you’re Christian, right?”

Me: “Yes.”

Jim: “Good.”

Me: “And Catholic.”

Jim: “You’re impossible.”

Me: “Thank you very much.”

OK, so maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not like being Catholic or Christian is comparable to being a Democrat or Republican.

Technically, I think what people are getting at with this question is whether I’m Catholic or Protestant, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make the answer any less confusing.

I’m Protestant because I go to a Protestant church, but I’m also Catholic, because the very definition of the word “Catholic” is “Universal Church.”

Some within Catholicism might not recognize me as such, but that doesn’t make me any less Catholic in my mind.

It’s not as if modern Christian faith dropped out of the sky as-is. We’ve built upon the histories, cultures, beliefs and traditions of Catholicism, Judaism, Gnosticism, Paganism and others to arrive at our own faith identity.

It doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

So the next time someone asks you about your faith, consider for a moment all of the things you actually are, rather than defining yourself by what you’re not.

Gabriel’s Revelation: Changing faith as we know it?

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

Gabriel’s Revelation: Changing faith as we know it?


A stone tablet, 3 feet high with more than 80 lines of handwritten text, describes what some believe is a messiah who suffers, dies and rises again after three days.

The relic, called “Gabriel’s Revelation,” portrays an apocalyptic scene as supposedly recounted by the angel Gabriel himself.

Did I mention that archaeologists have dated its creation to several decades before Jesus was even born?

The tablet was recovered from the caves in Qumran, where the controversial Dead Sea Scrolls also were found, and whose authenticity have been argued passionately in the decades since they were found in clay jars in the far reaches of the desert. Though some of the writing on the Gabriel tablet is obscured, many linguists and archaeologists are closely studying the piece and its message.

Aside from being written on stone instead of scrolls, the fact that it’s written instead of inscribed in the stone is curious.

However, the message is stunning, particularly if found to be authentic and dated correctly.

“In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you,” says the text, or at least that’s the consensus among those studying it so far.

Some of the lettering is a bit worn and hard to read, and some of the verbiage is curiously hard to decipher, but to date, no one has contended the age of the artifact.

Some scholars, such as Israel Knohl, a professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, have hypothesized that the tablet refers to a man named Simon who lived before the time of Jesus. It’s believed that the author, or authors, of the tablets may have been Simon’s followers.

Did they believe this man who preceded Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy? Did they witness something that caused them to make such claims of his martyrdom and resurrection? Did he predict such a fate for himself, or was this imparted upon him after his death to bestow upon him some sort of mythical honor?

For skeptics of the uniqueness, or even veracity, of Jesus’ divine status, this is a rare documented artifact that may be used to further challenge the claims of sovereignty that some within Christianity make so strongly.

For those who adhere to the importance of the idea that Jesus was God’s “only son,” the very notion of another messiah who possibly could have conquered death is tantamount to heresy.

It’s a stunning proposition, to think that some of our Jewish ancestors just might have believed their savior had come, only 30 to 50 years before Jesus even arrived on the scene.

Of course, there will be those who argue passionately for both sides, and ultimately, we have no absolute way to establish what is truth and what is not.

After all, none of us witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Christ; we base what we believe on Scripture, on God as revealed through a community of faith and through the stories and experiences we share.

What I think is most interesting is not so much the existence of this tablet, but that there has been hardly any mention of it in the mainstream media. Is religion really treated with such kid gloves that a potentially paradigm-shifting story like this is too hot to handle for most media outlets?

Are folks too worried about the potential backlash, being blackliste by Christian activists or condemned in the public forum for calling the Christian faith into question?

In my experience, there is no information that is harmful to one’s faith, if approached with an open but critical mind. People ultimately will believe what they choose to believe, regardless of evidence.

So how can it hurt to explore the possible implications of the Gabriel’s Revelation tablet, and talk about what it makes us think about and how it makes us feel?

Does it scare us? Is it reassuring to know that people have been searching for a manifestation of hope and redemption since the dawn of humanity? Do we wish it had never been found? If it is eventually authenticated, would it change our faith?

All questions worth asking in my assessment – none with easy answers.

Follow-up on Colorado legislation and human rights

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

I got more mail after this week’s column than I’ve ever gotten before, partly because of the content, but also because I was placed, of the first time, on the front page of the paper’s Faith section with my column. Most letters were supportive, and others were simply – and predictably – one-sided rants. However, there were a couple who actually seemed interested in learning more about the law.

Here’s a good explanation:

“Introduced by Sen. Jennifer Veiga and Rep. Joel Judd, SB 08-200 will expand language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, including transgender status, in housing practices, public accommodation, eligibility for jury service, availability of family planning services, as well as many other areas.”

Basically, it expands the illegality of discriminating based on sexual orientation in the public forum, including public services, etc. So, of course, opponents go straight to bathrooms, which was never a focus of the bill, and paint a grim picture of what may happen by giving equal rights. They interpret the law as allowing people of the opposite sex to wander legally into other bathrooms and accost women and children. The points I didn’t go into in the article are that: 

  • Nowhere in the more than 20 states that have similar laws have any incidents of sexual assaults increase, bathrooms or otherwise.
  • Sexual assault is still a crime, regardless of discrimination law, and stalking women and children in bathrooms is criminal.
  • Sexual predators are not particularly influenced by legislation. They are driven by sexual addiction, which transcends logic and reason.
  • It is a parent’s responsibility to watch after their children, not the state’s anyway. If you’re concerned about your kids in public restrooms, for crying out loud, don’t send them in there alone.

It’s another example of lowest common denominator propaganda, dragging an otherwise affirming law recognizing the equal rights of human beings down to a handful of extreme hypotheticals that never have been realized anywhere else in the nation. What it says to me is that people are afraid of marginalized groups, particularly with whom they don’t agree, having the same rights and power as they. We’ve seen this before – same song, different verse.

Bathroom ads indication of slipping grip

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Bathroom ads indication of slipping grip


I know I’ve been on a bit of a James Dobson-bashing spree lately, but I promise this is the last one for a while.

That is, unless he and his crew do something absurd again, which is entirely within the realm of possibility.

I opened The Pueblo Chieftain earlier this week to see a large ad depicting a little girl coming out of a bathroom stall by herself, with the nasty boots of a male, supposed to be a predator, lingering by the door.

The text below the photo goes on to rail against a new anti-discrimination law passed by the Colorado Legislature to include public spaces such as restrooms. Largely a symbolic gesture, the main point of the law, to me at least, was to expand the scope of anti-discrimination law in the public forum.

Further, there are dozens of states that have passed similar laws, and there isn’t a shred of documented evidence that the passage of such laws has done anything to raise the danger of sexual predators in public restrooms. This doesn’t stop Dobson and his anti-gay agenda, though.

The ad points out prominently that one supporter of the legislation is the Gill Foundation, founded by philanthropist and openly gay businessman Tim Gill. The ad implicitly ties those who advocate for gay rights to those who would, for some undisclosed reason, have no concerns or reservations about passing a law that invited sexual predators to descend upon our children.

Am I the only one grossly offended by this sort of fear-mongering?

Even if you don’t believe that a person’s sexual orientation has anything to do with their rights as a human being, it’s stunning to me that such a prominent religious leader would assume that these kinds of flimsy fear-based tactics are anything but transparent, hateful propaganda. Even the most conservative-minded among us would be justified in feeling their intelligence was being insulted.

Further, what exactly is the point here? Why on earth is Tim Gill, a gay man, tied to the lascivious photograph of a man purportedly attempting to prey on a young girl? Does anyone who hasn’t lived under a rock since birth honestly think that being gay fills you with an irresistible urge to molest children – of the opposite sex, mind you – in public places?

That just doesn’t make any sense.

The one consolation I have is that this ad has drawn nothing but consternation from people on all sides, at least from what I’ve read. The claims are baseless, short of the basis of illogical fear, and they represent a thankfully waning perspective that is working its own way out of the cultural mainstream by clinging to an angry, fearful and acerbic interpretation of faith.

All of the legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, who supported this anti-discrimination bill were listed in the ad, supposedly to shame them in the public eye for what they have done. Lest they grow concerned that this sort of public opinion manipulation does any good, I recommend writing your local representatives and thanking them for being brave enough to stand up for the rights of all people, and not just those whom they prefer or agree with.

Ultimately, it seems that the fear behind such ads is about something much greater: the fear of diminishing relevance. Hate, fear and judgment are strong medicine, but their effects often fade more quickly than the antidotes of hope, compassion, equality and love.

For this, I have at least some sense of sadness for those who honestly believe that they are doing what is right, yet they see their agendas slipping away from them as the rest of the country turns toward a more just and humane understanding of community.

Spoken Word “Cloud”

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Here’s a cool word cloud I created by compiling all of my spoken word pieces into an application that generates word clouds. Pretty cool.

‘Jesus for President’: Book puts old-school evangelicals on notice

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

‘Jesus for President’: Book puts old-school evangelicals on notice


The evangelical movement is trading in its cleanshaven look for dreadlocks, and starched collars and ties for hair shirts and sandals.

A new book, “Jesus for President,” by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, is yet another defining landmark in the ever-changing journey of Christian evangelicals. Dreadlocked, easygoing and outfitted with a hippie bus that runs on used vegetable oil, Claiborne and his crew are touring the country, espousing what they believe are the critical issues of the age.

“No one will probably ever start a war over used vegetable oil,” says Claiborne, in a recent article on about his travels. Though avowedly pro-life and aligned with many of his evangelical peers on matters such as marriage and abortion, he also is against the Iraq war and takes positions on things like immigration that many evangelical leaders would find troublesome.

The pro-life agenda of many of these new evangelicals should be qualified to some degree, lest it be assumed consistent with the Republican right wing’s current platform. Yes, they are pro-life in every sense when it comes to abortion, but they are less concerned with pressing government to legislate their views, and more concerned about affecting public opinion from the inside-out.

They also are generally against the death penalty and our current military engagements in the Middle East, considering these all as consistently pro-life positions. Along with their pro-life emphasis comes a passion for conservation, touting renewable energy, lowering carbon emissions, simplifying our lives and generally reducing the impact we humans have on our planet. As another recent article in New Yorker magazine points out, this movement is dramatically changing the face of evangelical Christianity, which was once dominated by Pat Robertson, James Dobson and other conservative figures. This new breed of evangelicals does not align itself with a particular political party, and sees the importance of a person of faith’s role as one of action, more so than fighting for or against particular public policy.

“Jesus for President” is not a manifesto of hard-line ideology to which any “good” Christian must adhere, but rather it is a self-described “book to provoke the Christian political imagination.” There is a more inherent sense of trust that one who spends time with scripture and in prayer will find the passion and means they require to effect change to which they are called. There is a sense of urgency and a call to action, though the expression of that action may be widely varied.

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, and author-speaker-activist Tony Campolo have been beating this same drum for many years. It’s not a new movement, per se, but with the disaffection of millions both with the religious and political forums, this is a hopeful breath of fresh air. It gives permission for a difference of views, but lets no one off the hook for enacting change and championing justice for Christ’s so-called “least of these.”

Could it be that Christians can be Democrats or Republicans without guilt, and can – God help us – work together toward fulfillment of our mission as people of faith? Could it be that our love of the Gospel is bigger than Roe v. Wade or our opinions about the role of marriage? Could it be that peace, love and compassion could become the most prominent dimensions of the new face of Christianity?

A new coalition such as this certainly will not be easy, and who knows if it actually will ever work, but the idea that many of today’s evangelicals and I might have more in common than not gives me great hope. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.