See Infra

Digging at the confluence of culture and everything else

Category Archives: Morality

Best Interests

A friend linked me to the Judgement of the court in the Alife Evans case. It is an extraordinary piece of writing and done with diligent care. You should read it. For those of you not aware, Alife Evans was a terminally ill toddler, now passed, whose parents wanted to keep him on life support and transported to a Roman hospital for further last ditch treatment. The case is difficult and has affected people profoundly, because at the heart of it lies the key question about how we value life in the face of choice and choice in the face of death.

To many of us, it seems like the question should be simple: if he’s going to die anyway and someone is willing to pay for it, why not just let the parent’s try? What is the cost? Dignity? Alfie’s Guardian ad litem “stated that in her view Alfie’s life now lacks dignity and his best interests can only be met by withdrawing ventilation.” (Paragraph 54). Dignity is a bugaboo that stands in more for the discomfort of the viewer than the suffering of the patient. And so Justice Hayden dispatched that easily. He visited Alfie’s room and seeing him surrounded by loving relatives, gifts from supporters, and dedicated medical professionals found that Alfie lied in “an environment which inherently conveys dignity to Alfie himself. In my judgment his life has true dignity” (Paragraph 56). So no, not dignity.

Yet there was perhaps, a real and horrifying cost. In paragraph 45 Justice Hayden discusses a note given to medical experts by Dr. Hubner claiming that Alfie Evans could be transported to the hospital in Rome. It turns out Dr. Hubner lied to get into the hospital, lied about having read the evidence, and prescribed a treatment plan that was contraindicated by Alfie’s medical history. Justice Hayden was unimpressed:

“I am at a loss to know quite why Dr Hubner fell so far below the standards expected of his profession. I am constrained to say that he has failed the parents, the Court but most importantly, Alfie. Mr Mylonas makes the point that he seemed not to recognise the extent and significance of his shortcomings in his evidence. I agree.”

This is the immediate and real cost of continuing treatment for Alfie Evans that many people, myself included, could not see. A seizure while flying in the hands of incompetent medical care, a painful end, inflicted on a child and those he loves in transit to his last hope.

But Justice Hayden did not rely simply on that, and neither shall we. For this is an argument about what the best interests of a child are and who gets to decide that. Hayden relied in part on guidance from The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health quoted in paragraph 46. I have excerpted the salient bits here:

II When life is limited in quality […] the severity of the child’s condition is such that it is difficult or impossible for them to […] enjoy the benefits that continued life brings. […] Even in the absence of demonstrable pain or suffering, continuation of LST may not be in their best interests because it cannot provide overall benefit to them. […] It is important, here as elsewhere, that due account of parental views wishes and preferences is taken and due regard given to the acute clinical situation in the context of the child’s overall situation.

And here we find the crux of the problem. The conflation of best interests with quality of life. Not only quality of life, but the notion you have to prove some positive amount of quality of life, not merely the absence of a threat to it. Quality of life is a tricky thing and we see wildly different understandings of quality of life in children and adults and we should value them all. And one of the ways we do this is by allowing parents to raise their children to seek a high quality life as they understand it. It is a core values question and not one we can ever outsource to professionals, medical or otherwise. So long as the law demands that we assume that the best interests of a child are to expire rather than risk treatment. Justice Hayden made the correct judgement. But the law is wrong to do so. We – as a society and mediated through our laws – allow adults to cling to life, even futilely, even if we think they would be better going gently into the night. We do not dictate when their life is insufficiently qualified to be considered worth living, they do. We do force people to prove an upside to them being alive a bit longer. We should encourage each other to ask these questions – I know I do not want to be the sort who lives just for the sake of not being dead. But that question is the province of the individual.

With a child we let parents make these decisions for them until there is compelling reason to snatch their children away from them. Some point that the parent loses the wide presumption that they stand in for their children’s truest desires and interests. And here we come to the hidden, and most compelling possibility – that Alife’s choice might be to die. Not because his life was not worth living, not just because he might feel pain – but because he loves his parents and wishes to let them move onto healing. And it is a terrifying, unvoiced thought. I do not know if that is what lies behind Hayden’s fears of Alife dying in flight, or continuing on in futility but it would make sense. A vegetative boy cannot be hurt by false hope, but his interests in his family can be. I think Alfie’s parents should have been given deference on this question, but I take comfort in the idea that their son, had he grown to a man, would have been the sort of man who would have let go of his life for his family.

To truly trust in human life is to trust the choices of the beings that live. For choice to be truly meaningful, it must be something other than merely not being dead a moment longer and it also must be something more than living someone else’s understanding of a good life. Sometimes, it means trusting that our children might be better people that we selfishly wish them to be.

Parallel Invaders, Post-Trump Redux

Much of my life has been a desperate chase for a particular feeling. It’s that moment where the ground shifts underneath me and everything becomes more clear than it was before. It’s as unsettling for me as anyone else, but I still love it. It’s my thrill seeking behavior, my only drug. I’m intellectually bungee-jumping and using this blog as my GoPro. Worse, I keep inflicting it on others, like these (fictional) cartographers did to C.J. Cregg:

I took my first bad trip late on November 8th, 2016. I’m still reeling from it. I’ve said it again and again today: the world has shifted underneath my feet. I have found myself in a place of fear and anxiety that exists entirely in the world instead of the recesses of my defective mind. My fear is bloodless and serious. It is measured, weighted and proportioned to the situation. I am afraid of a small but real subset of Trump supporters. True lunatics that I now estimate to be more frequent that previously supposed who gathered under a now victorious banner of repeatedly promised, repeatedly delivered bigotry.

I’m afraid of one of them burning a cross on my lawn.

That is probably not going to happen. I’m actually in pretty good shape. I’ve got a law degree and the self-protective powers that implies. While Michigan as a whole is probably going to end up in Trump’s column, my precinct is in Clinton’s. My neighborhood is getting browner, younger. It has long been wealthy and safe. The more likely result is that I face just a few more slurs, a few more but still blessedly rare moments of explicit bigotry as my son grows up through a momentarily wobble as the long arc of the universe bends towards justice. But that risk of actual racial violence, that low probability tail risk, involves an event so catastrophic the only rational choice is to take it seriously. My son is due to be born in the first 100 days of a Trump presidency. All existential risk has to be accounted for, and this risk is real.

The risk of being a direct victim of racial violence is real and is executed along a simple mechanism. There are some lunatic white people who hate people who look like me and want to start a race war.They have been partially held in check by strong signals that the rest of America, including the other white people, are not with them, that they do not have a permission slip from the powers that be to do what they want. That, no matter how much they didn’t think people who look like me belong in America, enough people who do think I belong in America were standing in the way. They are now receiving the opposite signal. It could very well be illusory (it isn’t) but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as what they perceive it as. So now I have to worry. Not just about my preferred direction of policy or American identity, but a more basic question of trust and safety. And I don’t know what these people look like. Well, actually I do, it’s telling them apart that’s the problem.

In this post I wrote about how many women reasonably perceive all men with great anxiety because the sexually dangerous men look exactly like the men who are not. Meanwhile, most men instead live in the parallel universe where sexual assault doesn’t happen – and predators use our ignorance to slip in between. I had no idea then I was writing a metaphor for my own sudden transition from a parallel universe where racial violence was mythical and rare to the reality that I am surrounded by the threat of it. I will look every at every new white face with apprehension. I will always be wondering if it is this one that will turn out to be the dangerous lunatic underneath a genteel surface. I don’t like it. I desperately want to go back to the moment before I fell into this awful world. But it’s real, the race warriors are real, and the unfairness to every decent white person I meet is also real.

This would have been true even if Clinton had squeaked out a win. Over fifty-nine million people sent or cosigned a signal that I’m not part of real America, that my job creating immigrant mother is a threat to their livelihoods, that my to be born an American son is a threat by his very existence to their children because of our skin.

I am faced with a choice of leaving my state, maybe my country or facing down the risk of racial violence every day. Of forcing my family to face that risk as I let my loud mouth attract unwelcome attention. If I have to leave America it isn’t because of disgust, but fear. I love my country. I love America. But the America that I’ve been standing in this whole time isn’t the America I thought it was, but instead the America with the shadows colored in, hiding predators. I have a duty to help bring the real America and transform it into the fantastical one, and I have a duty to keep my family safe.

I know I am not the only one who has to make that choice. And I know for many who do not have to make that choice, this sounds like the ravings of a bitter madman. But please, take our fears seriously. We’re not delusional – we just now stopped having our delusions.

Parallel Invaders

Mary Karr has published an extraordinary piece about the entirely too common experience of sexual assault.[1] Karr:

[H]e grabbed between my legs with a meaty claw, big as a waffle iron. He also called me the “C” word with breath that stank of beer. Then he passed on into a sandwich shop with his buddy. [H]e wasn’t dope sick or a flat-out loon.

In case you haven’t been on the receiving end of this sort of assault, you should know the primal physiological response it evokes—in this woman, anyway. The stomach drops, as if you’ve been shoved backward from a skyscraper and are flailing through space. Time dismantles. […] Inside, the Grabber, as I thought of him, was waiting in line to order a sandwich. He was fine; I was the one with the problem.

Please, read the whole thing.

I don’t understand the fear of women in their full #YesAllWomen totality feel. I can’t – I grew up in the parallel universe where the sexual assaults of the real world are invisible, more fantastical than ghosts or gremlins. A universe where all sexual overtures, even of the gross sort, seem welcome on some level. Karr corrects:

One pal joked, “Oh, yeah, try it,” suggesting that for men, any sexual overture is welcome. I asked how he’d feel if a fellow weighing three-forty cornered him somewhere isolated and manhandled him. Suddenly this struck him as way more sinister.

This reframing, alone, doesn’t let us understand the fear or see the real universe from our parallel existence. But I think we can begin to glimpse it by imagining these overtures not only as coming from a rough, gigantic man[2] but that he is one of countless rough, gigantic men. That there are nothing but rough gigantic men, the ninety-some percent of the human species sexually drawn to you. Some of who are quite decent! But they look the same as the other ones or maybe better. Karr:

a voice rose from the sidewalk. “What’d he do?” It was a man on a rectangle of cardboard you might normally step around.

“He grabbed […] my private zone!” [I said. He] jutted his jaw out, saying, “He cain’t do that” with such fire that I started dialing 911. […] My new friend on the cardboard said, “Go, go, go!” and I started to trot. They broke into a sprint, outpacing me right off.

There also needs to be action with our empathy. The heroes of this story are Karr and the man with nothing but a cardboard home and a sense of righteousness who helped her. The Grabber is the obvious antagonist, as is the system that will fail to end the Grabber’s threat. But I keep thinking of the Grabber’s friend. He, I think, is the true villain of the tale.

There are two ways to exit the parallel universe where men exist without fear of sexual assault. One is to be forcibly wrestled into the real world by the sudden visibility of assault. To have your loved ones become the victims and seeing the world their eyes, or worse, becoming a victim yourself.[3] The other is to catch glimpse of the assaulters as they pass from our world to the real one and back again. They alone among parallel men can transit between worlds – doing their damage and then hiding among the good parallel men still none the wiser. They alone know how to erase the borders between worlds, to seduce us into their conspiracy, that we do not know enough of the real world to see something when their mask slips. They alone among the parallel universe men know we live in is fiction because they help create it.

Of course, our world is better. So we need to bring the women here, where sexual assault is as fantastical as ghosts and gremlins. We need to make our world the real one, freed from the malignant influence of a horrific parallel universe where men destroy women with word every word and every touch.[4] It is our duty to stop the parallel invaders we have been fooled into thinking are friends.

Yesterday, I announced that “all that I am” was in preparation for fatherhood. I hope you begin to gauge the full meaning of “all”.


[1] If you think the numbers are inflated, I challenge you to find a number of sexual assaults you would accept as reasonable.

[2] Especially ones with the impudent swagger of the never-punished.

[3] The double invisibility of male sexual assault victims is beyond the scope of this essay.

[4] The full strategy for how good men can stop bad men is way beyond the scope of this essay. But spoiler: it involves norms and cultural thinking.

It Has All Been For This

I try to tell the truth. I don’t just mean “don’t lie” and I don’t mean “preach the good news” or even “speak truth to power”. I mean that I’m constantly trying to understand the world and then convince other people to understand it too. I’ve been doing it for a painful lifetime. But what has it all been for?

Truth telling is one of America’s great fetishes. Mind you, this is not the same thing as actually valuing and rewarding truth telling. No, plenty of research has proven that truth telling is worse than useless. In fact, it repels people away from you and your ideas. So while I’d love to believe that my truth telling comes from pure motives, I am certain it does not. Maybe it’s a desperate grasp for power in dangerous world. Maybe it’s self-destruction, Churchill’s black dog now hunting me.

I remember meeting the black dog for the first time. It was after one of many sleepless nights at my first undergraduate college. My sleeping patterns had gotten so bad that my biology professor (bless his heart) had to call and wake me up so I could take an exam. Finally, I decided I couldn’t, wouldn’t live like that and I walked over to the student health center. While in the waiting room I look for more truth to assimilate and pick up a pamphlet on depression. I force myself to check off my symptoms. I check off all but two boxes. I see my black dog for the first time, promising the comfort of self-destruction. My past takes on a new cast. My new thoughts cannot be trusted. The black dog is always with me and speaks with my own voice.

* * *

I’m in my first elementary school. I’m perched alone on the smaller of two metal slides, with my feet planted on the top step. I’m watching my classmates run around the field. Someone asks me what I’m doing. I tell her I’m trying to understand why the boys are chasing the girls. I shift my posture and keep watching. They call me Mr. Detective. I’m outside, looking in.

I’m in my middle school. I’m talking to one of my few friends. I brag about being able to talk to almost all of the cliques in the school because I’m not part of them. But inside I know I’m an outsider everywhere and always will be.

I’m in my second elementary school. A special place for children like me, with brilliant but fragile minds, in love with the world. I recognize myself in all three traits. I open up so I can join the Community that will take me to high school and beyond. I have hope.

I’m in my high school. I’m nudging a friend to make the decision that will make her happy. I’m getting worse at listening and better at talking. I wonder again if I’m manipulating people or doing what’s right. I forget to wonder why I don’t take my own advice.

I’m in my room. My dad and I had another fight yesterday. Today he brought me Spider-Man. We don’t talk about yesterday. I read about Peter Parker failing his father figure, about him being hated by his city. I embrace the pain, the power and the responsibility.

I’m in a psychiatrist’s office. It’s been years since I beat back the black dog, but it’s back. I beg him to get rid of it. He tells me a truth: I want to change the world so I can be happy. I cry because then I can’t be happy.

I’m in my first elementary school. Someone is doing a presentation. The scotch tape and rulers holding up the prop stand keep falling apart and I keep scooting over to fix it. The teacher tells me to stop. I don’t. They call me Mr. Fix It.

I’m in a Christian home. I’m still not comfortable being one of them. I’m telling them that I’d be bored in heaven. I’m here to fix things. It’s my calling.

I’m in my home. I’m trying to save a friend again by typing the right words or making the right late night phone call. I know that there is a price and it may be her friendship. I can’t think of a reason it shouldn’t be me that pays it.

I’m in my high school. We’re asking if the Community and respect or the individual and self-actualization is more important. I say the right answer, that each serves the other. I instead try to love without being loved.

I’m in my room. I’ve been crushed by my consistent failures. My parents hate me. I’m angry at them for hating me. I’m angrier at myself that I have given them good reason. Then something touches me and I feel totally and completely loved. I call it God.

I’m in a psychologist’s office. I dropped out of college last year. The fog is lifting. I did the right things, wrong. I start to do the right things, better.

I’m in my second college. A long string of failed friendships-turned-romances is behind me. A cute stranger is in front of me. I do something new, something better. I ask her out on a date. I love her. I ask her to love me. She loves me. We get married in a house, in a church, and in a field. Friends and family tell me I finally did it right.

I’m in a physician’s office. A week ago she told us my wife probably miscarried. I don’t dare to hope. The physician spins the ultrasound’s display towards us. There is a heartbeat.

It has all been for this.

* * *

I have never in my life done something for a pure reason. My virtues have served as apologies. My generosities have been desperation. My love has come from self-hatred. But I’ve still done good. I’ve still loved the world. Purity is a crock anyway. Without purity I’ve learned and I’ve grown and I’ve grasped what power I have to change things and tried to change things for the better. I have engaged in the noblest work of lifetimes.

So here, now, I make my claim against the world, and announce my gift to the same. His name is Franklin, due in the second week of February. Take care of him, for I will raise him to take care of you. Let him be born free of kings and bound by righteousness. Help him serve and be served. Help him change and be changed. Help him love and be loved.

All that I am has been for this.

Questioning the Atomic Bombings

We’re collectively obsessed with having the right answers when we should be making sure we’re asking the right questions. It’s an unfortunate tendency, perhaps most obvious in politics. President Obama visited one of our core allies today, a little island nation that, some seven decades ago, we dropped two atomic bombs on. So, of course, we’ve been asking if Obama will apologize[1] (he didn’t) less time on whether he should, and almost no time asking whether the bombing was justified in the first place. But I get it. Questions are hard.[2]

We really do have to ask the right questions, because otherwise we may confuse an argument for a question, and a question for an answer. Whenever the morality of the bombings is debated a host of bad questions-as-arguments-as-answers arise. “Why didn’t we just wait for them to surrender?” “Wasn’t Truman worried about the rising Soviet empire”? “Why did we bomb Nagasaki after we’ve proven our point at Hiroshima?” “Why drop two bombs?” But we forget other, more salient questions. “Should Imperial Japan have been allowed to hold Chinese territory as Manchukuo?” “Should Imperial Japan be allowed to occupy Korea, the islands, and New Guinea?” The Allies[3] chose to answer no; Japan may live on, but the Empire would have to end with Japan’s surrender or occupation. So, let’s ask the right question: in light of what the Allies knew, suspected, and should have known about the Empire of Japan’s intentions, were the atomic bombings justified?

In order to answer that question, we must establish our baseline. Where did the Pacific War stand on August 5, 1945, the eve before the bombs fell? Well, for the Empire of Japan, it was a combination of failure and resistance. Since mid-1944, the Empire of Japan had been in complete strategic retreat, having lost control over several of its holdings. The only possible bright spots in this string of losses were some efforts in China and Indochina, parts of which they managed to control through puppet states or straight up occupation. The Imperial Japanese Army did manage to achieve some victories, but they were so strategically unimportant that they have been mostly forgotten. So in a real sense, all the Imperial Japanese Army accomplished was sacrificing the lives of their men to kill Chinese soldiers and civilians. In June 1944, the Allies stepped up strategic bombing raids. Which is to say they carpet-bombed Japanese cities with bombs designed to cause massive fires, Japanese had few trained firefighters and fewer bomb shelters with which to resist the firebombs, and little apparent interest in making more. In October of 1944, the Imperial Japanese Navy started forcing its young, talented pilots to fly aircraft laden with explosives directly into Allied ships in hopes of slowing the Allied advance. And so it went on. Low on fuel and short on victories, the Empire of Japan fought a bloody, vicious retreat month and month, stealing from its own future by ordering its young men to suicide. All while his cities and people burned without hope of relief.

On July 26, the Allies had asked – demanded – the Empire of Japan surrender with the Postdam Declaration. The Postdam Declaration was simple: surrender or be destroyed. Ten days of deliberate Japanese non-answer, with no intention to change.

That is where the world stood on August 5, 1945.

The moral worth of a decision is made by weighing the alternatives. So what were the alternatives, from the night of August 5, 1945, to dropping an atomic bomb on August 6? Ending the empire meant victory, and without a new plan, victory meant strategic bombing and invasion. Even for a war that had seen death on an immense scale, an invasion promised to be bloody beyond nightmares. The Empire of Japan had inculcated in its people a sense of desperate resistance, a devotion to the final defense of honor, home, and family. Surrender was not an option for his people, as the Empire chose otherwise. So the Allies had thus been left with two alternatives left. One, spend countless lives, kill countless more civilians, extend the war to obtain total military victory. Two, find a sufficiently dramatic way to force the Empire of Japan to surrender.

So it was that on August 6, 1945 downtown Hiroshima and around 80,000 of his people evaporated into a mushroom cloud. Truman warned of more, saying that if the Empire of Japan “do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.” The Empire of Japan again stayed deliberately silent in non-answer. The heads of the regime wanted a dignified surrender. They wanted to keep control. They did not want puppet governments and occupation.[4] When the Soviets marched to war, they continued to demand these conditions. After all, they had determined only one or two more atomic bombs coming. The Empire could survive the bombs, even if another Japanese city would disappear into ash.[5]

So, on August 9, another bomb was dropped. A miss of 1.3 kilometers during the Nagasaki bombing run meant only tens of thousands of people in the Urakami Valley were annihilated instead of the targeted downtown area. Finally, finally, that was enough to spark the decision to surrender, though that in turn sparked a coup attempt in order to continue the war. The plotters were defeated and the Empire of Japan finally announced their surrender August 15, 1945.

So, were the atomic bombings justified? Well, in the end it did not take an atomic bomb to force Japan into surrender; it took two.


[1] And if how would people interpret it anyway? And how will it affect the upcoming presidential election?

[2] Perhaps it is a feature of our culture that we don’t like asking these questions because we take a question itself as a sign of challenge or even guilt. Somehow the idea that asking if bombing Hiroshima or Nagasaki could have, should have been avoided necessitates the answer be something other than “no.”

[3] The late Pacific War was primarily an American war effort against the Japanese, but I feel it is appropriate to share credit and blame among the allied powers broadly, especially in light of the China factor.

[4] It seems they knew with precision how bad occupation got from one side and had no interest in the other.

[5] This was an estimation by Admiral Toyoda, Chief of the Naval General Staff. He was wrong, many, many more bombs were slated for production.

A Wanderer’s Rest and Reflection in the Moment Between Grief and Joy

From last year, a favorite.

See Infra

Holy Saturday is a pause. It is the narrator of a tragic tale silently waiting on stage refusing to leave. And the Christian watchers have already had the ending spoiled for them. At the Episcopalian service that I attended last night, the liturgical service ends in silence. We were to leave the sanctuary dark like a tomb, but stilled and at peace. The effect was diminished somewhat by parishioners chatting gaily upon entering the vestibule. It was the first time in a long time I felt I belonged, if only for now.

Allow me to recap the end of my conversion story. It has been a long time since I’ve been to church. I mean sure, there have been the stop-offs at an Easter Vigil here and there. (Say what you will about the Catholics, and I have, they know their ritual). And there are the funerals and the weddings…

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Don’t Answer Pain With Doctrine

Something finally clicked for me just now about why the typical small-c conservative Christian responses to  gay, lesbian and transgender people and issues has bothered me more and more over the years. It’s this awful tendency Christians have had to answer pain with doctrine.

Let me be specific.  Jana Riess is a progressively inclined Mormon convert with a great heart for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered. She also loves her church. So the recent business about how the children of those who are same-sex married was obviously painful, especially when a high ranking member seemed to suggest it was a revelation from God, no dissent proper.

I sit here heartbroken that the Church is not only standing by this regrettable policy but enshrining homophobia as God’s will.

It seems that now, by holding these views I am not just objecting to a here-today-gone-tomorrow policy in the handbook. I’m actively resisting the will of the Lord as revealed through his holy prophets.

Elder Nelson closed with dire warnings about people like me. “The somber reality is that there are ‘servants of Satan’ embedded throughout society,” the Salt Lake Tribune quotes him as saying. “So be very careful about whose counsel you follow.”

As I’ve said elsewhere, this is heartbreaking to see. Loyal dissent is doubly painful because not only do you strain relationships with those who you agree, you don’t get any new friends, as they look down on you for maintaining your ties to disreputable people. Keep that in mind when reading one of the first comments:

Yes. In fact, some of us have viewed your writings that way for some time now. But please, continue to kick against the pricks and advocate that this policy is not inspired and that the 15 apostles who prayed about it must have been wrong and you are right. I see no problem there. 😉

It’s the emoji that really seals the deal. I don’t care how right you think you are and how wrong you think Jana Riess is to stand against the leaders of your church, this is an inhuman way of responding to someone in pain. So is this:

Jana wrote: “I don’t believe God is behind this policy.”

Then are you not ethically bound to refrain from sustaining the church leaders?

Jana wrote: “By rejecting this policy, are active LDS church members like me, people who hold a calling and a temple recommend …..”

To be “worthy” of a temple recommend one must sustain the LDS Church leaders. And to “sustain” them one must uphold their “revelations.”

Since the Church is adamant that their anti-Gay policies are revelation, isn’t it an obvious conclusion that any temple recommend-holding member (who honestly answers the recommend questions) agrees with the Church’s policies regarding Gays?

At what point do you say, “Enough,” Jana, and separate yourself from this organization?

I don’t care how wrong you think Jana Riess is to stand by her church, this is an inhuman way to respond to someone in pain.

Yes, yes. Blog comments are the worst. I can attest to that being a frequent maker and reader of blog comments. But it also happens in other ways. Like a two thirds majority of Anglican churches  rebuking the Episcopal church [see update below] over their acceptance of non celibate gays and same sex marriages. Like those same two thirds taking the time to reiterate what we all know to be their position:

 “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union,” the statement also notes. “The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”

Like those same two thirds rebuking the Episcopal Church and making sure to point out how hurt they were that the Episcopal church went and did nice things for gays when we don’t wanna. Wasn’t that mean of them?

I suppose I should add that I’m actually sympathetic to the conservatives and their position on marriage. I burn a lot of time, credibility and friendships defending both the people I know and love who are conservative on marriage doctrine and total strangers who hold the same. I concede they have an excellent case, and I think they might be right as a doctrinal matter. But, but, but, everything seems wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Witnessing a frustrated parent scream at their child in public wrong.

Witnessing has a special place in Christianity. It’s used as a synonym for proselytize, but it really means so much more. Christians believe they are witness to the gospel – the good news about sin and salvation, carrying on the message from Jesus’s apostles all the way to the present. Christian witness is the obligation to speak the truth of such weight matters, as if in court under subpoena. Now that we know, we must speak. And since communication is service, we should speak well. As you well know reader, we don’t.

Witnessing is more than just spitting out your beliefs and calling it testimony. It’s answering the question you’re asked when you’re asked. Witnessing is still communication, and that means witnessing is about listening.

So when gays and lesbians and the transgendered or anyone else comes and says that they are in pain, that is not the time to spit doctrine at them. When gays and lesbians and the transgendered have suffered at the hands of Christian authorities and mobs, specifically because the mob wanted to pick on a sexual minority, that is not the time to point out that Christ said “go and sin no more”. It’s inhuman. Especially since we’re the ones who are causing the pain! If Christians had treated gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people decently, even within the confines of doctrine, since day one, we wouldn’t be having this fight! You think the urge to be marriage is new? Or do you think it has to do with people who have just had it with being abused and suffering and now need governmental protection?

There’s no justification answer pain with doctrine, because the proper answer to pain is about the person in pain, and your answering with doctrine is about you. It’s making sure that everyone knows about your righteousness, your fidelity, your insistence and purity, and your affirmation of doctrine. No one cares about your need to say you disagree. Witnessing is not about you! It’s the good news about Christ, who so loved this world he died. It’s about serving Christ in the poor, the naked, the suffering. It’s about serving people, not changing them.

So don’t answer pain with doctrine. Just don’t. You can be right on your own time. Or when they ask. But not before. That’s real witness.

Update: The body at issue does not have the authority to suspend but can still cause trouble. I relied on news sources that did not have a good understanding of the intricities and I should have known better. I regret the error.

A Wanderer’s Rest and Reflection in the Moment Between Grief and Joy

Holy Saturday is a pause. It is the narrator of a tragic tale silently waiting on stage refusing to leave. And the Christian watchers have already had the ending spoiled for them. At the Episcopalian service that I attended last night, the liturgical service ends in silence. We were to leave the sanctuary dark like a tomb, but stilled and at peace. The effect was diminished somewhat by parishioners chatting gaily upon entering the vestibule. It was the first time in a long time I felt I belonged, if only for now.

Allow me to recap the end of my conversion story. It has been a long time since I’ve been to church. I mean sure, there have been the stop-offs at an Easter Vigil here and there. (Say what you will about the Catholics, and I have, they know their ritual). And there are the funerals and the weddings, including my own religiousish ceremony. But I’ve resisted going back to church for a long time. The last church I got close to “belonging” to disintegrated and in a way I felt relieved. I took a long hard look at myself and I didn’t like what had happened to me there. So I wandered out. My Christianity became, is, always was that of a wanderer through the scrub. I followed the work, or the flock or the mirages. I may enjoy the temporary hospitality of churches and fellow believers, and I must share what I can in return. I named it, I now call it, had always sensed it was, Christian Nomadism.

Last night, I went to church for the first time in a long time with the hope, the intent of resting for a while. Christian Nomadism isn’t meant to be a denomination. It is both a temporal state of being actively unchurched and a disposition in relation to Christ, whether in church or out of it. And it is meant to keep me searching not just staying away. I’ve long reached the point where the trauma from the last church has faded and I’ve been selfishly keeping myself away from the Body of Christ, my brother and sisters in the ecclesia for too long.

Folks, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Body is in some trouble and the ecclesia is not getting along well with itself. For a bunch of people convinced that on a tomorrow long ago a dead man broke death with love and in a very literal sense lives on, not in but as us (but also outside in the nonplace where there is no outside or inside) you would think that… well I’m not sure. But you’d expect it to be better right?

Well. No. Maybe not. Maybe we’re just that much more aware of sin. To riff on Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s riff on Francis Spufford’s reimagining of original sin, Christians are supposed to be specially aware of that Human Propensity to Fuck Things up Because We Like It. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Because we think we deserve it, whether riches or punishment. We are the reason that we can’t have nice things. You can be “good without God”, says the atheist placard. Well, we think we have God, and we’re still not very good at being good for any length of time. Maybe they should have a sign “It has been 57 days since our last fuck up.” Our signs read 0.

Imagine that group, that team of losers, that International League of the Guilty, that endless meeting of Fuck-ups Unanonymous, if the story ended on Saturday. There was a preacher, he preached, he was crucified as an example to all others who might challenge the Powers, he died, and now we’re really quite sad, but live on following the teaching of our great moral teacher.

Jesus wasn’t a great moral teacher. He was a lunatic. Jessica Kantrowitz at Ten Thousand Places has a useful reminder:

What if their neighbors saw! What if seeing them carrying the Roman’s equipment caused other Jews to think the Roman oppression was okay? What if there was other work that needed to be done — good work, charity work even, but they spent all that time carrying equipment for the evil oppressor? But Jesus is not worried about any of that:

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also,” he said. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two.

Christians, our Jesus said to not only follow the law, but to rise to a higher standard of love. Christians should be the FIRST people baking cakes — for everyone who asks us. We should be known for our cake baking. People should be saying, “There go those crazy Christians again, baking cakes for everyone. They just won’t quit!” Then, when we share the reason for our wild, all-inclusive love, people will want to hear it. “Let your light shine before others,” said Jesus, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

But, but, don’t we hate the sin and love the sinner? No. You can’t hate “the sin” in Christianity and be right with God. You can, at the very most, have a stringent disagreement with sin. You can lament sin. You can identify something as sinful. You can get into vociferous debate about the degree to which sin is corrupting our government and laws. But fingering “the sin” or “a sin” doesn’t work, and hating it definitely doesn’t work, even if you promise to love “the sinner”. Hating the sin and loving the sinners is the sort of thing great moral teachers tell you to do, probably after mellowing out with some great weed, man. It’s the careful virtue of righteous comity. Francis Spufford reminded us about this in Unapologetic. “God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity.”

I’ve been out of church because I wanted to preserve my virtue from the evils of groupthink, of reactionary bigotry, and of the mind-numbing jargon of Christian religion. Well that’s not right. That’s sin too. That’s fucking up by being afraid of fucking up.

Holy Saturday is a pause. A moment I take now for reflection and commitment. Easter is coming.

Jeremy Clarkson, Oisin Tymon, and the Disposability of Men

Several of my Facebook friends, along with the rest of the Internet, have been lamenting the death of Top Gear. Top Gear is not actually dead, but it is losing its biggest star in host Jeremy Clarkson. Why? Well, the BBC internal investigator summed it up roughly like this:

Oisin Tymon was the victim of an unprovoked physical and verbal attack [by Clarkson]. It is also clear to me that Oisin Tymon is an important creative member of the Top Gear team who is well-valued and respected. He has suffered significant personal distress as a result of this incident, through no fault of his own.

I find it a little distressing that the investigator had to go out of the way to underline Tymon’s value on top of his innocence. As if he was predicting that people would savage Tymon otherwise. Well, they did anyway. Let’s lay this out using the commonly accepted facts:

1. Clarkson and the rest of the Top gear team were out and about. A hotel was waiting for them. The kitchen staff was kept late to have hot food ready.

2. Clarkson decides to dawdle and drink at a pub for two extra hours.

3. The kitchen staff goes home.

4. Clarkson arrives at the hotel and is told there will not be any hot food and he’ll have to have a cold plate.

5. At this point he physically battered1  and verbally abused a junior producer, Oisin Tymon.

6. The physical attack lasted about 30 seconds with Tymon offering no resistance, but the verbal abused continued afterward. This included offensive language and threats to fire Tymon.

7. Tymon, ” shocked and distressed by the incident” drove himself to get medical care all the while under the impression he had just been fired.

8. Clarkson apologized.

9. Clarkson was told his contract would not be renewed. He is broadly expected to be able to find continued employment as a television presenter for a rival channel.

Aside from the death threat nuts, there are people who are focused on lamenting that Top Gear will be dead to them, or perhaps unbothered by his assault, or urging that his apology should be taken seriously. All in all, a waffling, nuanced take.

Would it have been the same if Tymon had been a woman? (Bracket the very real problem of whether or not women are believed) Look through the facts again: a popular television host batters one of his staffers for failing to procure a hot meal for him. She is verbally assaulted, and fired. The host apologizes profusely but is still fired anyway. He’s still going to have a job.

I think that provokes a different reaction in a lot of people. It provokes a different reaction in me. It shouldn’t.

As I’ve alluded before, I have a complicated and troubled relationship with feminism. I count self identified feminists among my closest friends, but I’ve never called myself a feminist and I shall not call myself a feminist. I have, however, learned a lot from them, and I owe them an intellectual debt for two concepts found in feminist theory: the Patriarchy and the disposbility of men.2 Let me explain the concepts at the rudimentary level I understand them. At the top of a society are a group of powerful, old men. The patriarchs. The fathers of fathers. And they support and are supported by a series of normative assumptions. They control women by placing them in a lower status and primarily restricting their sexual contact and fertility. They control men by controlling access to women, and thereby access to sex, and thereby access to heirs, all while making production of male heirs the path to status and power. And here is the crucial bit for our purposes they make men who have not achieved status risk their lives for it. The archtypical example is sending young men off to die for King and Country with the promise that if they kill enough of the Others, they come back to riches and a sweetheart. Until that happens, until they have the status of the Patriarchs sending people off to die in wars, they are disposable.

Now, I make fun of the capital P-Patriarchy concept a lot, because like all theoretical superstructures, it takes a core insight and quickly falls off the rails. Also, when your in-laws are part of an honest to good lower case ‘p’ patriarchy, the Patriarchy seems like a stretch. But it, along with the disposability of men, are good-enough models3 of examining how the powerful in a society are going to be invested, overtly, covertly, and unconsciously in certain normative assumptions. That, in turn should remind us that we are often invested, overtly, covertly and unconciously in normative assumptions and some of those are going to bite us in the ass. The fact is we’re not bothered by violence being done to men nearly as much as we are bothered by violence done to women, regardless of perpetrator, the disparity happens to be worse when it is cross-gender violence. 

The problem is not that we make too big a deal out of violence done to women. The problem is that we do not make big enough of a deal out of violence done to men. We, and here men are the primary actors in their own maltreatment, have bought in on some level to the disposability of men. Not to the point where we fling them away to die in foregn wars for glory, thank God, but to the point where we cast aside their feelings, their dignity, and their right to hold a job without being battered. We toss their names out of the stories we write about the perpetrators, men with status.

It isn’t that it is wrong to be sad that a thing you enjoyed will no longer be the same. But you should take a moment to remember that there is a real human being, one in a vulnerable position, that was harmed. That has to matter, at least for a moment’s reflection more than your TV show. And if it doesn’t, maybe you should think about why.


A brief, open letter to Superintendent Joan Carbone: Resign

Ms. Carbone,

In light of your cowardly actions and failure to discharge the most basic of your duties, I urge you to resign. I am of course referring to the events recently reported in local news and humming along in social media. One of your charges, a student, gave the Pledge of Allegiance in a non-English language. This language happens to be the fifth most popular language in the world and is the liturgical language of the second most popular religion in the world.

It happens to be called Arabic.

I applaud all of the students and teachers who arranged for a student to read the Pledge in a multitude of non-English languages, including and especially this one. Our schools are the very place for learning and exposure to the complexities of a large and diverse world. So too it sheds light on the complex make up of the United States of America. At the very least it was a civic exercise in the the basic liberties found in each citizen’s relationship with their government. That is no small thing.

Which you ruined.

As you surely must know, Education is a sacred charge, and the education of children all the more so. Educators, be they teachers, support staff, or administrators are entrusted not only to shape young minds, but to protect them, and their liberties, as they grow into citizens capable of protecting themselves.

In issuing an apology for allowing a student to freely speak you have failed that charge.

I have read that some feelings have been hurt, because these persons have been harmed directly (or indirectly) by an Arabic speaker, or perhaps someone who simply spent time with Arabic speakers. For this, the speaking of the pledge was blamed as being divisive. Your statements said that the pledge managed to cut the school into two.


It was not divisive of a child to speak a pledge in a language of their choice. It was divisive to place the harms caused by countless others on the shoulders of a child. It was their choice to divide the school into those supporting a child who did nothing wrong and everyone else.

And what side did you choose?

Perhaps it is appropriate for a television pundit or histrionic parent to place their particular sensitivities above the right of a child to speak and to partake in education. It is never appropriate for the educator. Your job, at the end of the day, is to defend your students. Instead, you apologized for letting your student do something right.

If you think you failed your job by letting a student speak, you have no business having your job.



Kevin Chen