Life and Death and Neoliberal Capitalism

If you don’t believe in good government and the critical importance of the common good, you will not govern well.

Nor will you promote efforts focused on widespread well-being.

Hardened neoliberal capitalism has been the dominant cultural narrative of power for the last 40 years and the ascendant reactionary force for at least the last 75 years. (note: rooted in LONG-standing cultural and economic forces that trace back much, much further – but I can only do so much here in this post)

At best hardened neoliberal capitalism will not support – and at worst it will crush, co-opt, or privatize for the economic benefit of the (very) few:

– independent, deep-thinking, careful researching, publicly accountable forms of media

– genuinely public services for the greater good, including transit, healthcare, education, housing, food access, and educational institutions like museums and libraries

– public regulation designed to ensure that people with great power do not exploit the rest of us for profit, including regulation of healthcare, airlines, pollution of air, soil, ground- and surface water, finance sectors, ecosystem conservation and destruction, workplace safety, and access to and safety of basic utilities.

– independent institutions that build non-transactional relationships, such as (some) religious communities (*and if you ever want to understand why I lean so heavily into the importance of churches, we can have lovely conversation about this particular point over coffee one day), community organizing, non-exclusive connection based on proximity (such as the best examples of friendship and neighborliness), revolutionary social movements of any form, and a broader cultural understanding of the manifest reality of our interdependence.

– creative expression, psychological insight, and human engagement that cannot be monetized – or that at least deconstructs and resists that form of reductionism.

– ideological or material care for diverse, vulnerable human lives that do not embody the potential for profit.

I’m certain I’ve missed something – and you can let me know if you think of it.

This is not a blanket endorsement of a non-accountable public sector. History is rife with examples of public sector power that has been abused and public sector money that has been exploited for personal enrichment.

Power is a dangerous drug.

Higher education using public funding of student loans to erect fancy bureaucratic castles of prestige and consumer appeal on the backs of debt-burdened students is one good example.

The creation of a financial-bottom-line driven healthcare system, bloated by the manipulation of public sector payments to drive profits, is another.

Collusion with the profit-driven mechanisms of perpetual war is another example still.

YET all that takes place within a deterministic (NOT free) neoliberal capitalism framework of culture and economics.

If we want to come out of this difficult time having made real progress, then we must reject the idolatry of this very particular, contextually-driven cultural-economic system.

It convincingly presents itself as the natural order of things.

It is not.

It is a poisonous human construction sold to us as freedom.

The toxic forces that perpetuate this system are already visibly hard at work.

If we don’t want more of the same, – only worse – we TOGETHER have to demand fundamental challenges and changes to the system.

That STARTS with understanding the nature of that system.

That’s my point here.

Then there is more work to be done.

I do not know exactly what the alternative looks like but I am certain that we can collectively figure it out – if we choose to.

I think we can be sure of some its necessary components, but this post is long enough that I’ll save that for another one.

So for now I’ll stop with the critical analysis of the moment and say


Easter and the Capitalist Resurrection

Never mind that
you are gasping
for breath
and still

Come sunrise
on Resurrection Day,
you will surely see
the (dollar) signs
round the
idol’s outstretched

No stone of
to roll

Christ, the
Market is
we are
back in

All Hail the
Power of
Profit as
Elijah and
would surely

Lord we lift your
Golden Calf
on high

Up from the
Grave the
Arose and
We All

Attacks on the Vulnerable: Transgender Youth and Alabama House Bill 303

Yesterday the Health Committees in the Alabama House and Senate advanced a bill that would prohibit doctors from offering appropriate medical care to transgender children and youth. It would force schools to disclose information shared by transgender children and youth with their parents. It also establishes criminal penalties for those who do not comply.

HB 303 is part of an ongoing national strategy to manipulate public sentiment and public institutions in service of the powerful by targeting the most vulnerable populations in our society.

Like undocumented people and poor black people, transgender youth are a convenient target for boilerplate legislation designed to incite fear across difference, so that those with economic, political, and cultural power can maintain that power.

It’s a formula of lies about freedom and the Gospels intended to prey upon the the capacity of those with power to deploy it against those with less power – and to feel self-righteous about doing so, as any proud bully will do.

In Alabama, this little packet of evil is deceptively named the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act. In truth, like its poison kin aimed at other marginalized people, it will result directly in death and sorrow.

More information about the source of such bills can be found here, here, and here.

The fabric of our nation is woven with one of measure of blood, bone, exploitation, manipulation, and violence and one measure of hope, opportunity, respect, liberty, and blessing.

It’s up to us what we make of it going forward.


On the UMC and the Real Way Forward

Well, let’s give up on the illusion that I’ve been able to maintain any significant degree of professional (or personal) distance from the whole UMC situation.

The things I have said that have been meaningful to people have not come from that place anyway, so I’m just going to talk about pain and promise as I understand it. I have written elsewhere of the depth of my lifelong personal connection to the UMC, so I won’t rehash it here. 

Like so many issues, this battle is situated in a particular setting, but reflects a much larger cultural struggle between those who seek to widen the circle of care and belonging and those who seek to preserve their own power for their own benefit.

So . . . as it turned out, yesterday as the global body of the UMC gathered for its final day of General Conference, I had agreed to be a part of a 5-hour community conversation hosted – of all places – at East Lake UMC, a congregation to which I belonged at the time God called me to seminary.

The folks at East Lake and their brilliant pastor have never been anything less than 110% supportive of me and my calling – and the group gathered yesterday were community-engaged folks from all over the city, BUT STILL. . .

I drove over there mumbling about how it was the absolute LAST F—ING PLACE I wanted to be on that day.  And that was the God’s honest truth.

I walked in doing my feeble best at a game face and after registration turned and ran into my friend and brother, Ali. He innocently said “Hey! How are you?”

I promptly started crying and mumbling uttering incoherent things. Ali, baffled but enduringly kind, just hugged me, a perfect gift of peace in a wrenching moment.

It was a shaky few hours, but I was lifted up – as I always am – by the kinship of good people, some of whom knew it was a hard morning and others who didn’t have a clue.

meandli.jpg Me, hanging in there, and Ali

I took a couple of breathing moments in East Lake’s sanctuary, which I consider the most beautiful traditional sacred space in the city (go ahead, fight me).

The smaller stained glass windows that feature the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Talents are my favorites. They sit in what used to be my line of sight when I sang in the choir there and I would often go at other times and just perch in front of them.


The lessons of those parables remain as important as they always have been – perhaps all the more so. And the shattered shards of East Lake’s beautiful current altar setting felt especially fitting.


After East Lake, I moved on elsewhere to  a difficult but restorative conversation with someone with whom I’d had a conflict – and then on to drinks with good, hurting UMC people, followed by conversation with good, kick-ass queer clergy friends.

It was the people who made the difference. Therein lies both the pain and the promise.

For many of us, church is family.

Yes, you can worship God anywhere because God is everywhere.

Yet worship in isolation nearly always tends toward our cultural narrative of self-preoccupation, this noxious attachment to ego gratification and capitalist manipulation of desire.  

Following Jesus – as with other religious traditions – is (blessedly) a communal endeavor.

No wonder the rejection hurts so much for so many people, including me.

It cuts to the deepest parts of the safety we find (or ought to be able to find) in family and community.

It is a devastating refusal of the God-given gifts we offer into family and community.

We are formed in faith and then violently ejected from its circle of care.

It is a sinful, human-driven, patriarchal-power-rooted, grievous misinterpretation of holy Scripture.

(okay, now please DO NOT oversimplify any of what follows. Hear it through before you decide what you think I’m trying to say)

I was given this UCC emblem when I was installed as pastor at Beloved Community Church. I’m not a big accessories person, so it mostly stays in a drawer. I took it out yesterday and slipped it in my shirt pocket before I went to East Lake.


Its weight there served as a tangible reminder of where I have landed – and how I have found a place to use my gifts and honor my calling.

I was trying to say something last night in a text reply about my adopted church and accidentally wrote that the UCC had adopted me.

And once I wrote it I knew that phrase got to the heart of the matter.

The UCC adopted me and loved me. (ain’t nothing perfect, but hopefully you can grasp the grace extended there – that’s the point).  I have learned that one does not have to be a United Methodist to be a Wesleyan. 

To those outside of such a relationship of love and care –

LGBTQIAP CLERGY AND LAY PEOPLE OF THE UMC –  I completely get why you would choose to stay – especially if you feel a particular calling to do so.

I also fully understand why you would leave (that’s what I did  – and it was utterly necessary and second only to coming out as a liberating action in my life). If you need help figuring out where to go, I’d be glad to help. I’m partial to Beloved of course, but not at the expense of wanting people to find places that truly resonate with their spirit – that is my primary commitment.

If you stay, please send out those who leave with your blessing as they seek to follow God’s call on their lives.

If you stay, please understand that you are in an abusive relationship. No matter how good your congregation is (and there are some fantastic UMC congregations locally and globally), as long as it remains in the UMC connection, it is not autonomous.

The relationship of the UMC to LGBTQIAP people is abusive.

So stay if you need to, but protect yourself.

Protect yourself.


Because you are loved fully by God and God wants your wholeness and your well-being so that you may walk in your calling, so that you may be God’s hands and feet in the world.

If you ever need safe space to talk, pray, grieve, or just be, let me know.

STRAIGHT, CISGENDER UMC CLERGY – I begrudge no one the necessity of making a living.

I am heartened by the solidarity and care I have seen expressed over the last couple of days not just by the usual bold souls, but by people whose positions make it harder to make those affirmations publicly. I dearly hope that you have glimpsed God as you have pushed the boundaries of your own courage.

Please remember that there is no neutral here. If you do not side with the marginalized, then you are siding with the oppressor. And when you compromise for the sake of unity, you are compromising the lives of LGBTQ+ people within your congregations (and there are more than you know) and far beyond those walls.

Please remember that in the days ahead and let that knowledge be reflected in your actions.

And if anybody is looking for an exit strategy for themselves or their churches, I’d be glad to connect you with good people not only in my denomination, but in other affirming denominations and with good non-denominational folks who can talk about their experiences.

STRAIGHT, CISGENDER UMC LAY PEOPLE – Many of you are dedicated allies in the struggle for justice – and many of you are hurt and angered by what has happened.

You too have the choice of staying or leaving. If you are leaving and you need a place to land, I’ll be happy to talk to you about progressive churches in the area, including but not limited to my own.

If you stay, please take care of your hurting queer church folk – and please understand that your hurt and anger are a fraction of what they are feeling. Be there for them, but don’t make it about you.

The heavy lifting of change in the days ahead remains with you. If you don’t change the UMC, it will not change.

That must be an active process. You all will have to organize and act to match and surpass the organizing and action strategies of the WCA-types.

Otherwise it will get worse and not better. It may get worse anyway. We do not control the outcome, but we do control our own efforts.

It’s up to you.

PEOPLE IN CHURCHES MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN THE UMC – please just go sit down. If you (or not you personally, but your church) are satisfied by the triumph of homophobia and transphobia in the UMC, I don’t care to hear about it. I think you’re wrong and causing great harm to vulnerable people (which is a sin), but you probably already know that and there’s no point in our discussing it.

PEOPLE IN CHURCHES MORE PROGRESSIVE THAN THE UMC – yes, we are more progressive. Some of us are handling our solidarity and shared pain on behalf of our UMC friends and neighbors with grace and skill. Others of us are being rather heavy-handed in our too-blatant efforts at recruitment or expressions of superiority. The first is good. The second, not so much. If you’re struggling with the difference in your efforts to reach out, give me a holler and maybe together we can figure out a way to word it that sounds loving not sheep-stealing or smug.

I have been writing throughout this experience from my own pain of exclusion from the church of my deep roots, so I have an odd insider/outsider dynamic that informs what I say – and that gives me some legitimacy to speak into the conversation (I argue – not all agree). When in doubt, try love and leave it at that.

Concluding lessons as I see them –

The pain is real.

The situation is heartbreaking.

The call to solidarity can take many forms. We are one body in Christ – and there are many ways we can be one body and in solidarity with one another. Those relationships can be – and I’d argue should be – more creative than those we’ve devised in the past.

Justice for the oppressed matters more than unity.

Oppressors are very skillful with the gathering, hoarding, exercise, and manipulation of power. Those who would dismantle oppression need to be equally sophisticated – though more ethical – in their relationship with power.

People make all the difference.

None of us is free until all of us are free.

The work to enact God’s transformative justice and God’s abiding mercy in the world goes on.



Second Chances: Mark 10: 17-31

Jesus has on
ladybug slippers said
sweet Maria, age four
as we discussed the
rich man
squeezed from heaven by the
needle’s eye and his own
love of money.

We agreed cats might be
found within the
Gospel narrative, as I saw
no reason to question that
Jesus would pause to
give the man a chance to
reconsider and while
he waited,
hoping for a
conversion moment to
surpass the weight of
accumulated riches,
there might be cats.

And being Jesus, he could
find them food and would
of course because in this story
no one goes hungry
unless he can’t set
down the
bags of gold to open his
hand to the
real riches
but available only
when we let go and
offer our
unclenched palms to the

Where We Find God: A Thought on the Trinity

I’ve had the good fortune to be outside amid all sorts of grandeur lately – the broad expanses and shimmering blues of the Great Lakes, steep forest trails that lead to great green vistas, massive, looming colorful sections of ancient rock. I’ve seen clouds of all shapes and sizes, storms that shake the earth, and both cool, foggy Canadian days and warm, humid southern nights.


From these and other past experiences, I have no trouble understanding how people claim that they experience God’s presence in nature. I get that sense myself. The wilderness – even the relatively tame woods close to home – inspires awe and respect. A sense of something greater, something transcendent weaves its way through wild places. The act of divine creation feels close at hand.

In reflecting on this sense of the presence of God in the grandeur, however, I realized that accounts – for me – for only one aspect of the Trinity. As a Christian, I’ve been taught the concept of the Trinity – God as the Creator, God as the divinely human Jesus, God as the Holy Spirit – from my earliest days in Sunday School. Nonetheless, it remains a complex vision in its enactment. Christians and non-Christians alike try to puzzle through the seeming paradox of the Trinity.

My recent travels have shed a different light for me on my experience of the Trinitarian God. I’ve long understood the Holy Spirit as that of God that dwells within each of us – the internal manifestation of God. And God the Creator can be witnessed among the intricate, stunning beauty of earth and its ecosystems.

But where does that leave Jesus, the Word made flesh? My epiphany was coming to understand not only that I experience Jesus in my encounters with other people, but that those encounters are in fact – for me – the essential means of everyday engagement with Jesus. I’ve long believed Jesus was all around us. Jesus himself gives us this teaching in Matthew 25 in his admonition to see him among the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned. The call, however, is even greater – and that is to see the face of Jesus in everyone we meet. That is how we know Jesus in everyday life.

WP_20150710_21_18_09_Pro (1)

The act of putting those pieces together – the Creator I experience while hiking through the woods or paddling down a river, the Holy Spirit I recognize internally, and the face of Jesus I see at the gas station or at the grocery store or next to me in the pew on Sunday morning – gives me a fuller sense of the Trinitarian God than I had before grasped or embraced.

I offer that vision here in case it resonates for anyone else.

Wedding Banquet sermon: Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet. But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet. Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

There’s a lot going on in this story. It’s complicated and even confusing when we think about the images of God and Jesus that we typically embrace around here. Jesus starts this out like he does so many of the parables — the kingdom of heaven is like this

There are multiple meanings we could make of the story- and I don’t want to foreclose any for you. But, as with all stories from the Bible, we need to find a way to get a hold of this, to make some sense of it. So I’m going to offer a couple of ideas.

Let’s talk for a minute about this in the context of Jesus’ time, about the world into which Jesus offers this parable. What do we know?

First of all, we know Jesus is not all sweetness and light here. This is not warm fuzzy Jesus. Jesus is angry. This is the beginning of chapter 22 in Matthew’s gospel, right? At the beginning of chapter 21, Jesus enters Jerusalem — it’s the narrative we traditionally think of as Palm Sunday. He’s been traveling around the countryside, preaching, teaching, and healing. And then he comes to Jerusalem. He enters with crowds shouting Hosanna and cloaks and branches on the road. He’s got his disciples with him. And Matthew tells us the city is in a clamor, in a turmoil wondering about this man Jesus.

What happens after that – he goes to the temple and turns over tables and turns out money changers, he withers the faithless fig tree, he gets into it with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. These are the people who have sold out their faith to the empire. Then we get a parable about a vineyard. And then we get another parable about a vineyard. All of these are pointed at the Pharisees, the religious authorities beholden to the Romans, the servants of empire.

The Pharisees are already ready to go after him – they want to have him arrested, but Matthew tells us they were afraid of the crowds. Because the people believed Jesus to be a prophet. This story we’ve heard is the final straw – because verse 15, the aftermath, reads “Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.” He has been getting on their nerves, threatening their power, and after this, they’ve had enough.

And then we come to this story  —  this hypothetical situation that Jesus is posing:

We’ve got a king with a son who is getting married – we’ve got an invitation to all the best people — to this fancy event. The king has gone all out to prepare. But his invitation gets mocked, gets ignored. He sends an emissary or two and they get messed up, even killed. This is all wrong. So the king deals with them — in terms that would make sense to the people who are listening — to those who were listening in Jesus’ time and to the audience that Matthew had in mind later, which was also probably a Jewish one.

Then we get a turn that we’re more comfortable with — the king says  “Invite everyone.” Everyone. No conditions — last week we were talking about conditions, right? Or the lack of conditions? Everyone is invited. That sounds like the God we preach in this church, right? All are welcome.

There was a story a year ago about an Atlanta couple, Carol and Willie Fowler, whose daughter Tamara cancelled her wedding at the last minute. The reception dinner for 200 was paid for and planned, so the couple prayed about it and then turned to an organization that works with the homeless. They invited 200 homeless men, women, and children to a celebration.  It was a grand event.

We get that. What an incredible parallel to the banquet Jesus describes. Everyone belongs at this table. Pretty incredible message for this weekend. Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, an annual event where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are encouraged to tell their stories. Tomorrow is Columbus Day, where we paradoxically celebrate the “discovery” of this continent — and the genocide of the native peoples who had been living here for centuries. We live in a world where people have to somehow prove their worth, to prove their very humanity. We measure people based on their wealth, their looks, their productivity.

That’s not the measure God takes. We are all invited to the table.

So if Jesus had just stopped there, we’d be in pretty good shape. Let’s put ourselves at that banquet okay? Close your eyes for a minute. Get a vision of yourself at that banquet, gathered around that table. You can see it, can’t you? This works, this inclusive vision. Right?

But Jesus, does he stop there? Nope, he does not.

Somebody gets singled out here. The King comes out and there’s a man without a wedding robe. Now, our first question would be – okay, people invited in off the street, what’s the big deal. But most sources seem to agree that it’s pretty likely that provisions were made – people had access to wedding robes, whether their own or those provided by their host, the king. So regardless of interpretation, the general agreement is that this is a deliberate act by this person.

My father has been known to describe me as contrary. So I feel for this person a bit. He is being contrary. But if you look pretty closely, it could even be considered an act of treason – this being the king and all. The whole story comes together to suggest that the stakes are pretty high.

So here comes the king:  “Friend” – how’s that for a loaded word? not sure whether he really means that, but it’s a civil way to address somebody. We don’t get the tone, but regardless, this is pretty restrained. The king’s giving ‘em a chance.

And what happens – okay – put yourself there, standing in front of the king – nothing. Not a word. Speechless. Are you there? Can you feel it? Maybe you’re watching or maybe that’s you. Doesn’t say a thing.  Talk about awkward.

I write thousands of words each week for my online classes. It’s what I’m required to do and most of the time it’s not a problem. But every once in a while, I find myself staring at the screen and going “I don’t have a single thing to say.”

That’s not the only time I’m speechless. I logged on to the New York Times – the newspaper’s – website yesterday – and here was the breaking news that greeted me

Four Bombings Kill Over 50 People Around Baghdad

Some Remains in Mexico Are Not of Missing Students

Football Clouds Justice at Florida State, Records Show

Hundreds Attend dictator Duvalier’s Funeral in Haiti

Stray Shot Kills a Child in New Jersey

We know I could keep going. Sometimes we just stand there, struck mute by the pain and horror of the world.

This is different from silence, which can be restorative, nourishing. Sometimes we just need to hush, right? And listen. It’s not always better to say something than to say nothing.

I don’t think that’s where we’re going here. Silence can be valuable. But it can also be deadly.  Sometimes an answer is called for. And we’re not talking about excuses – we’re talking about taking this seriously, being real.  Our language – and our silences – shape the reality we live in.

We preach a loving God around here – and I absolutely believe that to be true. But what I hear here is that there are things that matter.

It’s not just the absence of a robe that gets this guest in trouble.

It’s the absence of an answer.

It’s a failure to respond. To speak to the needs and the heart of the community.

We are talking about lines to be drawn, behavior that is acceptable — or unacceptable. Not belief. We’ve turned Christianity into something that’s about what we believe or don’t believe. For Jesus it’s not a question of belief. That’s not the standard he’s talking about.

It’s not about what’s in here, up in our heads.

It’s about what’s out here, all around us.

The offense is in the behavior – this unexplained refusal to participate in the life of the community. The king has opened his table to all, welcomed all — and this guest showed up, but refused actual engagement.

We serve a loving God, but it is okay to let. Jesus. challenge. us.

This is what makes us different from the fire and brimstone people — we know this invitation and table are open to all. Just look at the literacy event we just had here  — what a perfect banquet, totally in the kingdom’s vision — young and old, gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor, good and bad – okay, I ain’t going to call anybody bad, but we all have our good days and our not so good days, right? Gathered in God’s name to celebrate our common mission, to learn, and to join together in God’s work in this world.

But this story is also what makes us different from the prosperity gospel people — those who look at all this as what we can GET from GOD. This whole Christianity thing is not just about what GOD does for US. It is about OUR responsibilities in the COMMUNITY. It about how we function in RELATIONSHIP to ONE ANOTHER. Here we are – God is telling us to PARTY with one another – and somebody is going to say no.

In those terms, there is a wide range of acceptable behavior. And then there are forms of disrespect, of I’ve-got-my-rights-and-my-freedom-and-to-hell-with-you, of I’M-GONNA-STAND-MY-GROUND-EVEN-IF-YOU-END-UP-DEAD, of contempt and ignorance and flat out ugliness to one another.

So God says no. That is not acceptable. Talk to me. No? Not going to talk to me? Not going to enter a conversation about this? Then no.

So this guy gets hustled out and cast out. Through his actions, he separates himself from God’s presence and from the company of those who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus. It’s a refusal of fellowship of community.

He’s cast out of the light and back into the outer darkness, back out onto the streets with all the other folks who decided to ignore the invitation, those who chose not to participate.

Those who not on condition of belief, but by their behavior, separate themselves from God’s promise.

Because many are called. The invitation is there. But few are chosen. And you know why? Because they opt out. They refuse to engage with their neighbors. They turn up their nose and reject the fellowship and the conversation. They opt out of the community.

They don’t know what they’re missing. WE know what they’re missing. We’ve gotten a look at the fellowship of the table, one that calls for the generosity of spirit for all.  But they elect to go another way.

They are missing a great party.