21 March, 2009

About Those Bonuses

The national discussion of late has been about the AIG executive bonuses. Much outrage and political posturing all around. For me, it is hard to imagine the kind of money these folks (and lots and lots of others, who don't make the news) seem to take for granted.

I'm pretty tired of hearing about, thinking about it, reading about it.

So I am offering a proposal: Let the AIG executives keep their bonuses, down to the scroungy last penny.

All they have to do in exchange is follow this man's example.

Maybe there are two versions of the "American dream."

One looks like executive suites, vacation homes and the "good life" provided by wealth. Another looks strangely like a story Jesus would tell.

Give me Jorge Munoz's version.

much peace, much love, etc.

19 March, 2009

Of Plays, Divorce Court and Dangerous Grace

A few things've been bumping around the old noggin of late.(1)

One is a conversation I recently had with a friend and ministry colleague here in the L.G. He's more conservative than I am and so we disagree frequently about the Christian faith. But we do so agreeably. We call one another heretic, laugh and move on; it's good fun and we do this every Wednesday.

But this particular conversation is sticking in my craw.

At one point, talking with yet another colleague about how denominations can tie themselves in knots trying to issue statements about social issues, my Amigo Conservativo suggested that the Church shouldn't get too worked up about such things. After all, we have bigger fish to fry, what with telling people about Jesus and all. The particular topic under discussion was the war in Iraq.

Granted, we serve the Prince of Peace, who said things like "turn the other cheek" and "if you hate your brother, you're guilty of murder." But maybe Jesus didn't mean these things exactly that way. Fine. You say the Church should focus squarely on the proclamation of the Gospel, offering an alternative vision of life rather than being entangled in the things of this world. I don't agree, but maybe that's a defensible position.

But not half an hour later, the topic of the Play That Shall Not Be Named(2) came up. And this colleague was glad that some churchy people had got together and got the thing stopped, if only from being performed on the high school campus. "After all, someone has to stand up for what's right. And if the Church won't do it, who will?"

Hmm. I'm not sure I can add anything here. Except to say, "Really?"

Two stories d'news news stories caught my eye of late, as well.

Everyone's favorite VERY NOT GAY former megachurch pastor, Ted Haggard, and his wife are appearing on Divorce Court, to counsel folks that divorce is not the best option available to them. Again, what can you say? Life (and life in the Church, particularly) is funny.

And finally, on the topic of "Grace and forgiveness are GREAT! Well, for me, not you...."

A pastor in New England is facing threats and intimidation for making like Jesus. And you know that's gonna rouse the rabble.

After the conversation with my colleague and the story on the Formerly Reverend Haggard, I was tempted to blast our conservative bretheren and sisteren for their weirdness and hypocrisy. But, Lo! and behold!, the pastor of the River of Grace Church steps up to the plate in the name of Jesus and belts one out of the park. Good for him.

And, dear God, forgive my arrogance.

Honestly, I'd rather that life in the Church was easier to untangle: my guys are right, everyone else is wrong. Agree with me and be saved, disagree and perish. But it doesn't seem to work like that. It seems that the Kingdom may be larger than our ways of understanding, that neither progressives nor conservatives have the market on righteousness and that we may just be in this thing together.

Silly God, being bigger than we think.

much peace, much love, etc.

(1) I have a sizable noggin, so there's lots of room for things to bump around in.
(2) As an update, in case you've missed it in the national news: Steve Martin, whose play is at the center of the tempest here in the L.G., wrote a letter to the editor of our little paper and has offered to pay for an off-campus production of the play. I sometimes wonder if the nice lady who got the play banned in the first place realizes that, had she said nothing, a few hundred people would have seen it. I suspect that, thanks to all the free national publicity, this may be the best attended high school play in La Grande's history.

12 March, 2009

Sneaky Jesus

It's long been an article of faith for me that Jesus is sneaky. Not Dick Cheney's Merry Band of Secret Assassins sneaky, but sneaky in a different way. A good way. Just when you least expect it, Jesus comes busting through the door of your heart like a heavenly CIA agent, sans search warrant.... but, I digress.

To be slightly less theologically cartoonish about it: my experience has been that God speaks into my life in strange and surprising ways. Usually quiet ways, unexpected ways. But seemingly always at the times when I most need to hear something from El Bosso Muy Grande Del Cielo.(1)

My shorthand/smartalecky way of talking about the subtle ways that the Holy Spirit whispers into our lives is "Sneaky Jesus." Partly, I like coopting simplistic theological language for my not-so-conservative ends. Mostly, I like the mental image of Jesus hiding in some shrubbery or around the corner of a building, making the "sneaky-eyes-looking-left-and-right" face from cartoons.

I've had two grade-A, USDA Prime Sneaky Jesus Experiences of late.

To Wit:

#1) A friend from a certain southern state (known for its BBQ and as the home of our most recently former President) was fired from his church job. He's a super cool, incredibly gifted pastor, hired not 3 months ago to lead children's ministry for this church. Did he abscond with money? Perhaps he kicked a little kid? Maybe he was just generally incompetent? Nay. He got fired because he has the queer notion that God loves God's gay children just as much as the straight ones. And he had the gumption to say so. To people. IN CHURCH! Well, we can't have that kind of a radical Gospel floating around, making us uncomfortable. So, via an email at 5:00 am (!), Mike got offed.

Mike being not only a friend and colleague, but a mentor and inspiration, this got my knickers in a twist. I was mad at the Poopy-head senior pastor who fired him, at baseless paranoia and bad theology and at the Church for being so small-hearted and stupid. And I said so via my Facebook status update.(2)

A few folks commented on my status, including one friend from back in the day: elementary through high school days specifically. She asked what church it was, seeing as she and her partner were looking for a church and wanted to make sure she didn't accidentally go to this one, where she would clearly not be welcome.

Well, long story slightly longer, we chatted via Facebook messages for a bit and I pointed her to another UMethodist Church that will actually, you know, treat them like, you know, people. Shocking. Offensive to Jesus, surely. But that's what this church does. Crazy damn liberals.

So, here I was, stuck up in east Oregon(3), being irked about my friend Mike's situation when, Lo! and behold!, Sneaky Jesus shows up and says, "Oh yeah, that sucks. Here's something you can do: help your friend and her partner find a church that will love them. Maybe not so much a karma thing as striking a small blow for the Kingdom." And then, like that, he was gone.(4)

#2) A few days later, it's a Wednesday. And since it's Lent, that means it's time for our church's simple supper and Taize service. But no one has signed up to bring food. And not as many folks are coming this year as did last year. This all led me into a few hours of bummed out self-pity. Bemoans me to myself: "Why should I even do this? No one really appreciates it. It's just my own little worship fetish that makes me want to start Taize services wherever I go..." That sort of (really attractive) crap.

So a few hours before I need to head to the store to get food for the ingrates so that we can eat sandwiches before sludging though a half-hearted worship, Sneaky Jesus shows up. (But, of course!) Only this time, SJ looks like my friend Sue from England and s/he's chatting me up through the Facebook instant message program. We're catching up on one another's lives and I'm getting all the gossip from North Molton, Devon. It seems things are still pretty much as we left them 4 years ago. This is part of North Molton's charm.(5)

Then, Lo! and behold!, SJ-as-Sue, apropos of nada, says, "We still do those Taize services." Oh yeah. The ones I started there. During Lent. The ones that always left me feeling like the good people of North Molton were just playing along to entertain their nice American minister. Damn.

So, I went to our La Grandian Taize service, had a great sandwich and maybe even felt the Spirit moving a bit during worship. I certainly left there feeling a tiny bit less navel-gazingly self-involved, which is clearly a plus.

So that's why I think Jesus is sneaky. 'Cause he is.

But the real moral of the story is this: God is down with Facebook, apparently.

much peace, much love, etc.

(1) (a) Some really bad, faux Spanglish for you. Me gusta faux Spanglish. (b) I think that using asterisks for these ridiculous footnotes is unweidly, so I'm trying numerals. Standard, not Roman, because Roman would have been unwieldier than multi-askterisking.
(2) "Clay is blogging/working/watching TV/going to bed." It's important that my friends/people-I-haven't-talked-to-since-high-school know this! I love our narcissistic culture.
(3) Thank you, Mr. R.E. Keen.
(4) You know, like Keyser Soze.
(5) That, and the sheep. Lots of sheep.

04 March, 2009

Playing Dirty

Well, well, well, well, well...

We have quite the little storm brewing here in La Grande. And now it's on the verge of blowing up into a hullabaloo in our once-quiet little hamlet.

The tempest, you see, is all because someone at the high school wants to put on a play. A bad, dirty play. By Steve Martin, he of the arrow through the head and (gasp!) banjo-playing. By all accounts, this is a play that, were it subject to the MPAA's rating system for moving pictures, would warrant a PG-13.

Well, we can't have that kind of nastiness working its way insidiously into our little cupcakes' delicate little heads, so someone did something about it: Got herself a petition together and got the play banned by the interim superintendent. And upon appeal, the meeting room was packed and the school board rejected the appeal, 4-3. So, no play. But then the Young Democrats at EOU (Go Mountaineers!), our local university, caught wind of the brouhaha and decided to rent university space for the banned play; so now the show, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, will indeed go on.

That might have been the end of it, but the story got picked up by the AP and then found its way to Fark.com (and quite possibly other news aggragate sites) and so now folks from faraway and exotic places (like upstate New York and western Oregon and probably even the South Pacific) have their knickers in a collective twist about the censorship efforts of our repressive, backwoods school board members/nazis. This is the kind of thing that happens in Oklahoma (or red-state places like it), not very blue, very libertarian Oregon!

It's moral outrage all around. And lots of letters to the editor.

Maybe in a few years we'll all look back and realize, as we often do in retrospect, that this was much ado about nothing. But for now, hoo boy!, is it much ado about something. It's now about the twelfth night since this all started, and still, every evening the local paper has at least two letters about this play.

Honestly, the whole thing has been amusing to watch.

Or sad. Everyone seems so invested in something so minor, as though this play is the last bit of grease necessary to send us down the slippery slope into either an inescapable moral abyss or a religio-fascist society worse than anything the world has ever seen, depending upon whom you listen to.

I kind of have a hard time working up too much passion for either side of this. I look around at spring awakening in our little valley and it is beautiful. And maybe that's reminder enough that life goes on, that this too shall pass, that there are bigger problems (and bigger blessings, too) in the world than whether our high schoolers perform a play with slightly off-color humor.

What I'm left wondering, though, is this: Does the nice, sincere lady who started the petition (ostensibly because this play offends her Christian values) let her children read the Bible? 'Cause that stuff will make your hair stand on end.

much peace, much love, etc.

Director's Cut: Alternative Ending
Since all of this began, something like 360,000 children have died of preventable causes. But there's been nary a letter to the editor about it, and zilch in terms of moral outrage. Maybe there's nothing we can do for those kids. But at least we've saved our children from making jokes about drinking and sex. God must surely be glad.

Director voiceover: Ultimately, we decided that this ending was a it too dour for the tone of the blog so we went for the "wry observation" ending instead.