Monday, August 29, 2011

The Language of the Left: Rejecting Relativism and Naming Bad Theology

By Garrett FitzGerald
August 2011

Growing up in a nominally Presbyterian household, my relationship with scripture was limitied for a significant part of my formative years, at least compared to many of the folks I was later to meet at Divinity School for whom learning chapter and verse of the Gospels was a matter of course in their youth.

At some point I clearly gained enough familiarity with the strange and sometimes wonderful world of the biblical texts to earn confirmation into the Presbyterian Church, but as youth gave way to the pressures of high school and the unheralded freedoms of collegiate life, precious little gleaned from my scriptural sorties seemed to have stuck, and the idea of turning to the Bible or other religious texts as sources of meaning readily applicable to my own life held about as much appeal for me as my lab science class (Sorry again, Professor Chuck. I know how much those little fish meant to you).

In the years since, as I have revitalized and transformed my own religious associations and sense of spiritual self-understanding, I have begun to cautiously seek out a real relationship with the Bible and other sacred scriptures as well. The process has been, admittedly, a bit slow. 

As a progressive “modern, degenerate, semi-intellectual” (to borrow a line from Orwell), the idea of turning to the Bible for moral support often leaves me feeling a bit insincere. Some of the most inspired and inspiring passages I have ever encountered spring from the Bible’s pages, but these passages are nestled in among other exhortations that provide the talking points for progressives’ nightmares, and knowing that the passages which offer me hope and comfort cohabitate with these other, more troubling passages can still make me feel uneasy. 

These are the passages, the stuff of conservative placards the world-over, that turn otherwise sympathetic progressives away from religion, and function as virtual trump cards in debates about social issues.

And it is precisely because of these passages that religious progressives of all faiths must revisit and reclaim our holy texts.

Arguing scripture no doubt feels like shaky ground for many progressives. Appealing to a document that effectively proof-texts the arguments you seek to overturn has its obvious disadvantages. As with most of the public discourse around religion, discussion of scripture in the public arena has been largely ceded to conservatives, and thus invoking scripture to support progressive arguments often feels like walking on to the home turf of a rival team. 

Many progressives also worry about the potential impact that appealing to scripture might have on the cohesion of progressive efforts, which by their very nature often tend toward pluralism in terms of the belief structures of the individuals and groups involved. Particularly when working with non-religious progressives, discussion of sacred texts can often lead to a feeling of perpetual defense and apology for passages that seem to confirm the worst suspicions of the many progressives who feel ambivalence or even outright hostility toward organized religion. But as daunting as the prospect may sometimes feel, religious progressives cannot afford not to talk about the texts that define our traditions.

When it comes to arguing scriptural interpretation, perhaps the biggest impediment to progressive success is the complicated bond between liberalism and relativism. Simply put, the liberal argument for relativism looks something like this: "Ah, well, despite the fact that certain groups are using their religious tradition to deny the basic rights and dignities of others, there is no way to objectively measure their morality against ours, so who are we to judge?"

Liberalism dreads few things more than the bogeyman of intolerance, and thus the contemporary liberal fetishization of relativism demands that progressives essentially forfeit the right to denounce oppressive moral positions, especially those tied into conservative religious beliefs, as categorically wrong. Confronted with faith communities that utilize our shared sacred texts to justify the denial of the rights and dignities of others, flustered progressives all too often fall back into some sort of flustered Big Lebowski-esque defense - "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man" - while we nurse our own secret sense of moral and theological superiority.

Centuries of inter- and intra-religious intolerance and violence remind us that a certain level of hesitancy when criticizing the theology of those with whom we disagree is well-founded, even if the extremes to which many lefties carry this hesitancy sometimes becomes problematic. As such, progressives are justifiably nervous when it comes to challenging or attempting to delegitimize the way in which different faith communities understand and relate to their own sacred texts.  

But past a certain point, when those relationships begin leaking into the public sphere and negatively impacting the quality of life for those who do not share them, beyond that point we cannot accede to the temptation of relativism. Past a certain point, an unwillingness to condemn oppressive moralities and the theological assumptions upon which they rest as immoral becomes immoral in and of itself.

Progressives need to own up to the simple fact that there is such a thing as bad theology.
And if we are to start naming and resisting bad theology, looking at faith groups who use anachronistic scriptural justifications to actively dehumanize others seems about as good a place to start as any.  

Religious texts, the raw stuff of religious tradition, are themselves some of the most deeply ambivalent artifacts by which humans make meaning. Regardless of how one understands the provenance of these texts, and despite the fact that any conservative religious leader worth the title would argue to the contrary, the notion of a singular interpretation of any sacred text is a fantasy. All scriptural interpretation exists in a state of internal and external contestation, a constantly shifting terrain of fresh understandings applied to scripture evolving into fresh meaning taken from it.

The conscious decision of which part of a scriptural tradition one will honor - and it is a decision, constantly made and remade - is not only a theological decision, but a fundamentally moral decision as well, as it relates directly to the lived experience of individuals and groups in the world. As a decision with moral implications, the selection of which parts of a a sacred text to emphasize or deemphasize is necessarily open to moral valuation.

There remains so much beauty and genuine moral truth to be gleaned from our traditions' sacred texts, and we must not be dissuaded from proclaiming the truth that we find there by the reactionary ends to which certain conservatives would bend these texts.

I acknowledge the real and legitimate fear among progressive and moderate religious people when it comes to denouncing the faith and practice of others. But bad theology exists, it is being used every day in our streets, our schools, our houses of worship, and our legislatures to deny the rights and dignities of our fellow citizens, and no slippery slope argument about the importance of relativism should trump the need to name and challenge this bad theology where it exists.

The next installment of the 'Language of the Left' series will delve even deeper into the vital questions of scriptural interpretation - particularly around the sticky subject of scriptural literalism - and explore ways in which progressives can challenge oppressive scriptural interpretations and their public, and especially political, manifestations. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Our Own 'Hunger Games'

Caryn D. Riswold
August 2011

We had homemade whole wheat oatmeal pancakes with fresh local farmers market blueberries cooked into a sweet sauce right before delivering a donated all beige chicken and starch dinner served in Styrofoam to the local homeless shelter. I ate fresh un-genetically-modified corn tortillas hand patted and grilled in an open air kitchen in an indigenous village in Mexico, and two weeks later sat in the formal dining room of a Holland America cruise ship off the Alaskan coast while Filipino and Indonesian wait staff dance the “napkin ballet” to begin our five course meal designed by an award winning chef. All summer long, brown children stared at us, wide-eyed with famine in the horn of Africa, every night on the evening news.

Reading Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy this summer gave me a new frame for the many ways that food and social class are interconnected.  In the young adult fantasy novels, the heroine Katniss Everdeen is a fierce hunter and trader, shooting squirrel and other wild game in order to help feed her undernourished community in the Seam, an impoverished part of District Twelve.  Katniss is whisked off to The Capitol to participate in a death match designed to maintain political stability and entertain its citizens.  While there, she eats sumptuous foods, eventually learning that residents of The Capitol have a pill that they can take which will induce vomiting so that they can go on gorging themselves on even more rich gourmet food.  Throughout the novels, food is a key illustrator of privilege and oppression. 
If you pay attention, you can see how it is in our daily lives as well.

A lot of people and institutions benefit when we do not see social class. Progressive Christians like Jim Wallis have been relentless at pointing out how much of the bible talks about poverty. Particularly as a way to hold conservative Christian politicians accountable, perhaps to point out the flaw in their fixation on homosexuality in the bible. But it doesn’t work. They don’t see class, and they don’t want to see class. How else can we explain a massive deficit reduction deal that does nothing to ask corporations and wealthy people to pay more, while cutting social programs and services relied on disproportionately by poor and elderly people? What other reason is there for eight Republicans running for president to stand on a debate stage in Ames, Iowa, and pledge to never accept a tax increase even if it were matched with ten times as much money in budget cuts? How else can we explain the idea promoted recently that poor people need to pay more taxes?      
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett makes people nervous when he sees social class.  He talks publicly and repeatedly about how much less in taxes he pays than anyone else working in his office, including his secretary.  He challenges Congress to tax him and his wealthy friends more.  He makes wealth and privilege visible.

Poverty matters in many religious traditions, and so does food. The Jewish Seder, Christian Eucharist, Muslim Eid feast, kosher and halal rules, along with Buddhist practice of mindful eating are just a few examples. Food symbolizes beliefs, reflects commitments, and reinscribes a traditions. What we do with food matters in religious practice and beyond religious practice. 

One of my first extended forays into theological construction was via the Eucharist. In my dissertation and first book, I focused a lot on two parts of this Christian sacrament that are helpful for thinking theologically about seeing social class. In the words of institution used by many Christian churches, Jesus says “This is my body, broken for you; This cup is the new covenant in my blood; Do this in remembrance of me.” Two key phrases “this is” and “do this” are the indicative and imperative elements of the sacrament. The indicative element means that the sacrament indicates something about the world. This is my broken body. Broken in a world that is unjust, damaged, and violent to the point of death. These are things to see, to name, and to confront. The imperative, do this, is a response. It is a call to action, service, new leadership, care and protest in the face of what is wrong in the world. It is hope in reply to a hard truth. 

So if there is something unjust in the fact that urban food deserts persist, we need to support small businesses that are bringing fresh produce into those neighborhoods. If it is wrong that some of the most affordable foods are those that are worst for our health and environment, then we need to create stronger networks of sustainable local food production. If there is something wrong with the fact that the local food bank sees more needy patrons every month, we need to not only donate when we can, but we must address systemic poverty in our local communities.
But first, we have to see it.

Caryn D. Riswold, Ph.D., is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition, and teaches religion and gender and women’s studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois.  She is the co-creator of three books, many articles, four oversized tomato bushes, a barrel-planter full of basil, and a lot of cobblers featuring Calhoun County Peaches.  You can follow her on Twitter @feminismxianity.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Superheroes: American Muslim Style - Reza Aslan, Suhaib Webb, and Khalid Latif

By Khurram Dara 

Any of us Muslims in America will tell you that we live with more freedom in this country than we do anywhere else in the world.  That said, we would also tell you that never before have we seen the level anti-Muslim sentiment in America that we find today.  While most of this sentiment is fringe, it is starting to creep into the mainstream.  Mosque protests, preemptive (and irrational) anti-Sharia movements, and general suspicion of Muslims in the United States is leading to hateful rhetoric and harassment of American Muslims.

We Muslims try, time and again, to defend ourselves. 

“We are just like you.”
“Islam is peaceful.”
“We love America.”

But sometimes it’s too much for the average American Muslim.  Smooth talking, charismatic, and persuasive commentators, who push these anti-Islam views, often outdo us in arguments over whether Islam fundamentally promotes violence.

Luckily for us, we have a few very gifted individuals in our company.  These are our “superheroes.”  We have the confident Reza Aslan, scholar and writer, who can be found picking apart arguments of Islamophobes with his intellectualism.  Aslan is regularly brought on national television outlets to counter Islamophobic commentators.  (Watch Reza’s TED talk HERE).

Suhaib Webb, the nationally-known Imam who quickly gained a following for his candid attitude and focus on American Muslims, has shown through example that being Muslim and being American are not in conflict with one another.  He has tackled some of the most important problems in the American Muslim community, like attempts at youth radicalization. (Check out Suahib’s Virtual Mosque HERE).

And Imam Khalid Latif, the young and charismatic leader of the Islamic Center at New York University, has turned heads through his service as chaplain for the NYPD.  Latif, who has been writing for the Huffington Post Religion blog during the month of Ramadan, represents the emerging American Muslim youth in our quest to better showcase Islam to the rest of America. (Follow Khalid’s blogging on HuffPost Religion HERE). 

And the list certainly doesn’t end with just these three.  We have plenty more who come from the shadows in times of need, to show and explain what Islam is all about. 

But what’s the moral of the story?

They aren’t really superheroes. 
They are human.
And they can’t be everywhere.

No matter how much we wish we could fight the Islamophobes through discourse, some of us just can’t.  If we American Muslims want to succeed with a strategy to improve our image, it can’t just be through argument, the way our “superheroes” do.  And we shouldn’t just rely on our American Muslim version of the Justice League to save Islam’s image.

Why not?

Because for this to be a successful strategy, a majority of us would need the requisite poise, acumen, and rhetorical wherewithal to be able to defend our faith against the misinformed.  While it would be incredible if there were more people like Aslan, Webb, and Latif, who could do this, the truth is there aren’t.  And even if we did, we can’t fight in every little battle that presents itself - we need something more comprehensive.  Lest we forget, there are many parts of the Qur’an that have varying interpretations and many of elements of Islam that are up for debate within the Muslim community.  If you, like many of us Muslims, do not have a true, academic understanding of many of the moving parts that exist in Islam, you’re setting yourself up for failure in an argument.

And consider the other side of these arguments - the Islamophobic side - the people who hold signs that say, “Muslims Go Home” and “Islam is un-American.”  Are those types of individuals going to be convinced by what Muslims have to say? 

It’s doubtful.

So what can American Muslims do?

We can start to develop a long-term strategy to improve our image.  We should adopt a strategy that actually treats the root cause of our image problem.  All these instances of bigotry and harassment; they are symptoms of our image problem.  But what causes our image problem?  Terrorism. Fear. Hatred.  So our strategy should try to attack those concerns.

Any American Muslim can openly denounce terrorism.

Any American Muslim can cooperate with law enforcement in the common pursuit of national security.

Any American Muslim can join a service organization in their community.

Any American Muslim can invite their neighbors over for dinner.

Any American Muslim can show (not just tell) our fellow Americans that we are just like them.

You don’t have to be an Imam, activist or a scholar to change Islam’s image.  So instead of sitting back and expecting our “superheroes”, advocacy organizations, or inter-faith groups to solve our problems, we should start taking action.  We have the potential to actually address the underlying cause of Islamophobia.  We have the opportunity to be more effective in the long run than our individual activists or organizations can be.  And we can build a better life for future Muslims in America.  All we have to do is continue to make those personal connections and invest in American society.  Actions will do more to change the image of Islam than anything any of us can possibly say, ever will.

Khurram Dara is the author of the forthcoming pamphlet, The Crescent Directive: An essay on improving the image of Islam in America.  Khurram is an American Muslim from Buffalo, NY and is currently a law student at Columbia University.  You can follow Khurram on Twitter @KhurramDara.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rep. Allen West, "Nuts" Indeed

Congressman Allen West (R-FL) is no stranger to controversy, but a recent letter from the first-term representative to the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization indicates that he might be a stranger to his right mind, or at least his right manners, as well. 

Here's the back story: Earlier this month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent Rep. West a brief letter urging him to sever his connections with a number of known "anti-Islamic extremists" with whom West has made public appearances. The letter singled out a regular rogues gallery of prominent Islamophobes, including Bridgette Gabriel, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and Rev. Neil Dozier. 

The inclusion of Geller on the list is particularly poignant, given her proximity to the recent tragedy in Norway, which highlighted connections between currents of conservative American and European Islamophobia. Geller, who operates the conservative blog Atlas Shrugs, rose to prominence last summer as one of the most vocal opponents of the Park51 Islamic community center and mosque, and garnered fresh headlines (and condemnation) last month for her apparent influence on alleged Norway gunman Anders Behrin Breivik. 

Well, CAIR has now received Rep. West's response, and it must be seen to be believed: 
In case any of our readers can't make out Rep. West's response, let me spell it out for you: "NUTS!" 



Calling the response "the dumbest thing ever written on congressional stationery," the Miami New Times offers the following account of the response's (understandably) bewildered reception at CAIR: 
Executive director Nezar Hamze tells Riptide he's befuddled: "Obviously, I was expecting a little more from an elected official. I don't know if he was calling me nuts or calling my request nuts or what."

(West's spokesperson has yet to explain to New Times what the congressman meant.)

Hamze doesn't think he'll write West back. "How can I respond to this?"
The good folks at ThinkProgress and elsewhere have indicated the possible connection between West's response and that of storied General Anthony "Nuts" McAuliffe during the siege of Bastogne in 1944. After receiving the demand for the surrender of his encircled, out-numbered troops, Gen. McAuliffe immediately replied (and ultimately responded to the German General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz) with the now-legendary retort, "Nuts."

Although the story clearly cements Gen. McAuliffe's status in the annals of military history, it offers next to nothing in terms of illuminating West's bizarre response, evening assuming this was the connotation West intended. If Rep. West was indeed trying to conjure up an identification between himself and the Siege of Bastogne, the implications of his association become fairly problematic. Not unlike the company Rep. West has been keeping, come to think of it.  

While imagery of Bastogne no doubt plays very nicely into some sort of jingoistic conservative siege mentality, Rep. West's apparent identification with the besieged Allied troops at Bastogne also draws an unsubtle comparison between CAIR and, you know, about 120,000 heavily-armed Nazis.

If Rep. West was indeed reaching for some bizarre parallel between WWII and his own poor choice of company, it would not mark the first time this summer that a prominent Republican has made a public comparison between the world's second-largest religion and the Nazi regime. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich drew a similar comparison during a game of Islamophobic one-upmanship with Herman Cain during a June debate between 2012 GOP hopefuls.

Regardless of the intended connotations of Rep. West's letter, his cryptic response to CAIR demonstrates a patent disinterest in dissociating himself from known hate-mongers like Pamela Geller. Whatever his intentions with this bizarre stunt, posterity will hopefully remember that Rep. West was given the chance to denounce intolerance, and his response was, in both form and content, simply nuts.

Buddhism and Class

By Joshua Eaton

On 18 July 2011, Sam Mowe wrote about diversity within American Buddhism for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review's blog in an article titled “Tell Us Your Story.” One of the comments to that post led to another post on Tricycle's blog by Monty McKeever, “Why Is Buddhism So Damned Expensive?” That comment read, in part,
There is one thing about Buddhism that I find disturbing. Why is it so damned expensive? I have missed teachings because I just cannot afford the fees. I'm not surprised that Buddhists do tend to be middle class, they are the people than can actually afford it.
I commented on McKeever’s post in turn, and my commented generated a lot of feedback, including “Zen Finances and Practice” at Dangerous Harvests,  “Pricing Buddhism and Its Personal Cost” at Notes from a Burning House, and Mowe’s “How Important Are Meditation Retreats?” at the Tricycle blog. Mowe also asked me to write a guest post explaining my comment further, which you are reading presently. Here’s my full comment:
I would say two things. First, while it is amazing that there are so many free or low-cost online Buddhist resources, being a Buddhist is about more than just receiving teachings, isn't it? People also want community (Sanskrit, "sangha"), face-to-face human interaction. Second, retreats cost more than just their registration fees. Not everyone can afford to take a week off of work (not to mention caring for children or ailing relatives), fly or drive sometimes long distances to a retreat center, etc.

In other words, it's possible that the problem lies not with the cost of retreats but with over-emphasis on the retreat model altogether. Retreat is wonderful, [but] there's no reason that Buddhism should be limited to practicing on one's own in between the occasional retreat or sesshin.

Let me also say that I've been very fortunate to be able to attend teachings, go on retreats, and even live at retreat centers long-term for little or no money, something for which I am incredibly grateful.
Before going into more detail about this comment, it might be best for me to explain my own class background. I grew up in Athens, Georgia, a hip little college town that is home to REM, the B-52s, and a 28 percent poverty rate. My parents divorced when I was one, and both my father and his child support checks were largely absent after that. My mom worked a clerical job, sometimes working a second job on the weekend to make ends (not quite) meet. I am the first member of my immediate family to go to college, an accomplishment that was made possible only by scholarships, federal student loans, and my family’s sacrifices on my behalf. Even now, as I apply to PhD programs, I make my living at low-income temp jobs.

I am not qualified to say what is necessary to deepen one's meditation practice or to attain realizations; my own practice is faltering, at best, and my realization is nonexistent. I am, however, qualified to say something of what it is like to be working-class in America. There are an awful lot of people in this country who simply cannot go on retreats, regardless of their value. Some must care for young children, aged parents, or ailing relatives who cannot attend a retreat with them and who cannot be left on their own. Others live paycheck to paycheck and simply cannot afford to take the time off of work to travel to a distant retreat center, even if the center does waive the retreat’s registration fee.

Indeed, many Buddhist events and organizations fail to take economic hardship into account. At one point in time, I lived in a city with four major Tibetan Buddhist centers, three of which were more than an hour from my apartment by public transit and only one of which was located on a major subway line. It is true that centrally-located property is always more expensive, but one wonders how much access to public transportation figured in these centers' decisions on where to locate. Even more striking was a recent week-long Buddhist conference that was open to the public but took place at a retreat center far from any major cities and charged a hefty registration fee. How could any working-class people even have hoped to attend?

One disturbing trend I have noticed in some Buddhism, yoga, and spirituality circles is a belief that either (1) one will be magically blessed with the financial resources to go on retreat if one is truly committed, or that (2) one will let one's financial obligations slide for the sake of going on retreat if one is truly committed. Both ideas ignore the extent of our privilege, something that I have clearly seen in my own life.

Let me give an example. A couple of weekends ago I rented a car to attend a special ceremony at my primary teacher's retreat center, which is five hours away. I had just enough on my credit card to cover the two-day rental, but when I got to the rental company I realized that they also require an additional $300 security hold. Thankfully, a supervisor overheard me talking with the clerk and decided to make a one-time exception. I have no idea whether this had anything to do with the intervention of the buddhas and bodhisattvas—although I did thank the bodhisattva Tara afterward—but I am fairly certain it had something to do with the fact that I'm white and was wearing business clothes. I've similarly benefited from traveling in liberal, college-educated circles where having spent two months at a Buddhist retreat center is a valid explanation for a gap on a resume instead of being an oddity or a red flag.

The question at hand is not whether retreats (or centers, or conferences) are valuable; that ought to go without saying. Rather, the question is how we make Buddhism as welcoming and accessible as possible to anyone who is interested, regardless of their income or social status. The Buddha was exceptional for his ability to relate with people from all social and economic backgrounds, from cowherds to kings. Can we follow in his example? Free online teachings and waived registration fees are a wonderful start, but more is needed if we want to continue to make the teachings of the middle way available to those who are not middle-class.

Joshua Eaton is a freelance editor, a Tibetan translator, and a writer on Buddhism, politics, ethics, and culture. His full bio and more of his writings can be found at his website,

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jedis And Pastafarians: Real Religion Or Just A Joke?

By Jack Jenkins
Originally posted at Religion News Service and Huffington Post Religion on 8/13/11

(RNS) When congregants of West Side Church and the Christian Life Center in Bend, Ore., awoke in June to news that their churches had been vandalized, they expected to be frustrated.

What they didn't expect was to be confused.

In addition to the anti-Christian slogans scrawled on the walls of the two buildings, the words "Praise the FSM" were painted everywhere. Churchgoers were left scratching their heads.

"We were pretty much in the dark," said Jason Myhre, a staffer at West Side Church.

But after a Google search, they learned "FSM" stood for "Flying Spaghetti Monster," the noodly appendaged deity of a fictitious religion called "Pastafarianism" that's popular among some atheists and agnostics. Suddenly, it looked like atheists were on the attack.

"It was obviously sad," Myhre said. "It was more sadness that people would destroy the property to communicate their belief."

But mere hours after news of the vandalism broke, the story changed.

Bobby Henderson, the head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, publicly condemned the vandals; Hemant Mehta, author of the Friendly Atheist blog, posted an online plea for donations to help fund repairs. In less than 24 hours, he had raised more than $3,000.

"We think (atheists) can win in a civil dialogue, so there is no reason to resort to violence or vandalism," Mehta said. "We said, OK, look, we've raised money for other causes before. Why don't we raise money to help clean up the graffiti? This is not what (our religion) is about."

But while the vandalism seemed to be an isolated incident, it and other developments have spurred a discussion among atheists about the usefulness of so-called "joke" or "invented" religions in the nonreligious movement.

Some are wondering: has the joke gone too far?

Pastafarianism was founded in 2005 when Henderson, then a physics student, sent a letter to a Kansas school board satirically critiquing the theory of intelligent design by citing "evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe."

The joke grew into something of a cultural phenomenon for atheists, especially online and on college campuses. Adherents brandish Pastafarian bumper stickers ("He Boiled For Your Sins"), clutch Flying Spaghetti Monster holy books (the "Loose Canon"), and even celebrate holidays such as "Ramendan" (a parody of Muslim Ramadan), all in the spirit of poking fun at religion.

For many atheists like Mehta, the satire is a positive part of the atheist experience and provides a safe haven for nonbelievers.

"If I go to a Christian church, some people have a habit of speaking 'Christianese.' Atheists don't have that," Mehta said. "But you can say 'I'm a Pastafarian,' and people will say, 'Oh, you're one of us.' It gives us a way to bond over our nonreligion."

But Carole Cusack, professor of religious studies at the University of Sydney and author of the book "Invented Religions," notes that members of the eclectic and diverse atheist communities view the sarcasm in different ways.

"The first is as fellow warriors in the ongoing campaign to make religion look ridiculous," she said. "The second is as a nuisance, muddying the waters by proposing parody religions instead of calling for the end of religion."

Others, however, think the whole silly discussion is, well, kind of silly.

Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University -- a group of mostly atheists and agnostics who insist ethical behavior doesn't require religion -- expressed concern over how much airtime the banter gets.
"The Flying Spaghetti Monster ... may be hysterically funny, but just cracking ramen jokes ... does not constitute a meaningful alternative to traditional religion," he said.

"If we can take the energy that goes into cracking jokes and put it into positive acts, we could really change the world for the better."

Epstein is not alone: Atheists in Australia are also divided over another parody religion called "Jediism," based on George Lucas' "Star Wars" film franchise.

Jediism gained attention after some 500,000 people listed "Jedi Knight" as a tongue-in-cheek religious affiliation on 2001 census forms in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

As Australia readied for its 2011 census, however, some atheists called for an end to the wisecracking. Arguing that many who listed their religion as "Jedi" were just atheists making a joke, the Atheist Foundation of Australia launched a campaign urging nonbelievers to "Mark 'No Religion' and take religion out of politics."

Their reasoning, they said, was practical since "Jedi" gets counted as "not defined" instead of "no religion," which only serves to undercount the nonreligious population.

"It was funny to write Jedi once, now it is a serious mistake to do so," the organization wrote on its website.

But despite the group's efforts and similar campaigns in the U.K., not everyone agreed. Henderson posted a message on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster website urging Australians to embrace their Pastafarianism, calling it "a reasonable and legitimate choice."

Ultimately, even Epstein admits the allure of humor is a powerful one.

"When (religious) people try to dominate public discourse and dominate the political landscape," he said, "sometimes the humor you find in things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a very subtle and powerful way of pushing back."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tim Pawlenty, Same-Sex Marriage, and 'Respectful Disagreements'

The good folks over at ThinkProgress have a pretty compelling video up this week of GOP presidential hopeful and vanilla ice cream spokesman Tim Pawlenty attempting, and roundly failing, to answer a question about same-sex marriage while speaking at the Iowa State Fair.

During the question and answer portion of Pawlenty's 'Soap Box' speech, 17-year-old Gabe Aderhold, who identified himself as a 'member of the GLBT community,' accused Pawlenty of, among other things, not standing for members of the GLBT community, and treating him as a second-class citizen. Take a look:

Notice that at no point in his defense of 'traditional marriage' does Pawlenty actually offer an even half-way coherent reason for denying marriage rights to same-sex couples. His reasoning is about as vague and bland as, well, Tim Pawlenty himself:
"The relationship between a man and a woman in a traditional marriage is important to our country, our society, our culture. I think it should remain elevated, not just in our words, but under our laws – that's why I've supported laws, in fact have authored laws, to maintain marriage as between a man and a woman.”
While Pawlenty has alluded to his evangelical Christianity while trying to justifying his stance on same-sex marriage, he has never been able to satisfactorily explain the threat he feels such marriages to pose beyond the "obvious reasons." Here's about as coherent an explanation as he's offered:
“I think society devalues traditional marriage by saying all other domestic relationships are the same as traditional marriage, you then dilute and devalue traditional marriage.”
This is, of course, hogwash. If Pawlenty and other conservatives were truly concerned about the devaluation of traditional marriage, there are any number of things (like divorce and The Bachelorette) that pose a greater threat to the institution of marriage than opening the doors for same-sex nuptials. 
But, for obvious reasons, this doesn't seem to be an argument that Tim Pawlenty is interested in having. Just as in the clip above, in this second quote Pawlenty completely misrepresents the argument at hand, and in the process still somehow manages to sound decidedly less than compelling.

Pawlenty's attempt at rhetorical sleight-of-hand relies on his line about "all other domestic relationships," a meaningless phrase which Pawlenty echoed again in the clip above. While Pawlenty is a little more subtle than other conservatives with his implications, by attempting to move the discussion beyond committed, loving, long-term relationships between two individuals (you know, marriage), he opens the door to the imaginary bedroom boogie-men of conservative nightmares. Although he stops short of comparing same-sex relations to bestiality (don't worry, Rick Santorum, we haven't forgotten about you), Pawlenty's ploy obviously implies that, beyond what you may think of as 'marriage,' there are a whole host of liberal, non-traditional, and almost certainly immoral types of domestic relationships which God-fearing citizens are better off knowing nothing about, beyond that they should be feared and forbidden. Again, hogwash.

But underneath Pawlenty's attempts at redefining the discussion is the simple fact that he cannot produce a compelling reason to prohibit same-sex marriages. I grant that it might be somewhat unfair to expect truly dynamic disputation with the wow-factor of a paper bag, but Pawlenty's ultimate rejoinder, after being repeatedly schooled by Aderhold, is "We will just have a respectful disagreement."

Relying on relativism to defend one's stance against same-sex marriage is to be expected, but appeal to a simple difference of opinion cannot form the legal basis for denying whole sections of our citizenry the rights, benefits, and dignity afforded by state-recognized marriages. At no point has Tim Pawlenty, or any of the other GOP presidential hopefuls, offered anything even approximating a compelling legal reason for prohibiting same-sex marriages. Couple this failure with the failure to present a similarly compelling moral or ethical reason ("[T]raditional marriage is important to our country." Please.) and you've got a campaign platform as ubiquitous as it is indefensible.

To respect someone should require, at the very least, the respect of that person's right. As long as the question "Do you think I a a second-class citizen" is allowed to hover in the air, unanswered, there can be no room for 'respectful' disagreements on same-sex marriage. By not answering Aderhold's final question, indeed, by advocating against justice and equality for all people, Pawlenty has demonstrated this disagreement to be anything but respectful.

Adding...It looks like Tim Pawlenty has just dropped out of the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Sorry, T-Paw, but better luck if and when you get some better politics!


By Tom Altepeter
Originally posted at Intercultural Responsiveness
“Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”                – Matthew 25:45 

Someday, we will see a change in the way we view people who are different than ourselves. We’ll look at a brother or sister within our grasp or beyond our sight as just that: a brother or sister. We get upset with our brothers or sisters; however, when push comes to shove, when that really and truly happens, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them. Nothing.

Someday, we will recognize the selfishness we all have. We get very caught up in believing that solely because of who we are, and entirely because of what we’ve done or haven’t done, we have been blessed. Rather, it will become less about what I’ve done to earn what I have to benefit myself, and more about what I’ve gained in order to share with others what’s not mine to begin with.

Someday, we will come to acknowledge that we all, each and every single one of us, have prejudice toward others. It’s not that we finally arrive at some place here on earth that makes us enlightened about our prejudices and they then become stamped out for the duration of our lives. No, that doesn’t and isn’t going to happen. It’s that we can come to a realization that allows us to recognize our prejudices, we’re encouraged to face our prejudices, and we work to counter those prejudices.

Someday, we will stop insisting that we have no role in eliminating injustice in our world. We’ll move away from fighting about the reality of it. We’ll step back from making excuses for it’s existence. We’ll recognize the futility in attempting to downplay it. Our resources and energy will consistently be put toward doing something meaningful about it, toward making a positive difference around and within it, toward eliminating it.

Someday, we will no longer speak so much about personal responsibility as something other people need to do. We’ll begin to recognize that personal responsibility isn’t something necessary for others to take if they want to make their lives better. We’ll become invested in understanding that personal responsibility is something we need to take, I need to take, in order to help make the lives of others better.

Someday, all of this isn’t going to matter. But it does now. Today, it matters. And, as long as there is a today, it matters. As frustrating as it becomes, as difficult as it becomes, as overwhelming as it becomes, as unacceptable as it becomes, it matters. Giving up on reality is an exercise in futility. This isn’t something to walk away from; rather, it’s something to race into. It’s worth it, and it will change.


Jesus junkie, husband, and father, Tom Altepeter is a former elementary school principal and present middle school assistant principal in Loveland, Colorado. He is passionate about God, family, intercultural responsiveness, and social justice. He blogs at Intercultural Responsiveness, Maranatha, and Tom's Posterous. You can follow him on Twitter @tomaltepeter (

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Yoga for War: The Politics of the Divine

By Be Scofield
Originally posted at Tikkun Daily Blog on August 9, 2011

It takes a special type of warrior to drop bombs on someone. You have to be able to cultivate a certain amount of mental clarity, presence, focus and inner calm. That’s why for some, yoga is the perfect tool to help get the job done.

In August, 2006 Fit Yoga Magazine featured on their front cover a picture of two naval aviators practicing yoga on a battleship. What pose were they in? Of course Virabadrasana 2, aka warrior pose. At the time even the editor of magazine admitted that it was a “little shocking,” but on second glance she realized that “on their faces their serene smiles relayed a sense of inner calm.”

According to Retired Adm. Tom Steffens the Navy Seals dig yoga too, “The ability to stay focused on something, whether on breathing or on the yoga practice, and not be drawn off course, that has a lot of connection to the military,” he said. “In our SEAL basic training, there are many things that are yoga-like in nature.” And in March 2011 the Military officially added yoga and “resting” to the required physical training regiment all in the effort to “better prepare soldiers for the rigors of combat.”

If you’re not in the Military and don’t have any plans to join up anytime soon, no worries. Just tune to the Pentagon channel’s “Fit For Duty” which is “a show by the military, for the military.” Major Lisa Lourey will teach you all the yoga you need to know to become a highly trained killing machine. It’s my top choice for online asana.

Yoga has also found a home in another surprising place; the highest echelons of corporate America. You know, the big wigs who defrauded people of millions. Bloomberg featured an article about yoga instructor Lauren Imparato titled, “Princeton Grad Quits Morgan Stanley to Teach Yoga to Bankers.” It states, “At Morgan Stanley’s fixed-income group, Lauren Imparato wore power suits and sold currencies to hedge funds in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Now she spends her days in form-fitting Lululemon pants, teaching yoga to former Wall Street colleagues…Imparato’s two weekly classes have attracted traders and analysts from Merrill Lynch & Co., Barclays Capital Inc., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.”
Does any of this upset your yogic sensibilities? Do you think there should be no OM in the office? No bakasana on the battleship? No hero pose in boot camp? Isn’t yoga about peace, compassion and love?

I highlight these examples not because I think yoga doesn’t belong in the army, but rather to question an assumption many yoga and spiritual practitioners make. It’s the belief that spiritual liberation is inherently socially or culturally revolutionary. World-renowned yoga teacher Donna Fahri expresses this idea in the documentary YogaWoman. She states, “Yoga is one of the most politically subversive practices that any person, male or female could do in our time.” In other words, spiritual/psychological/physical transformation is politically subversive. I understand and appreciate how beneficial spiritual practice can be to transform the mind, body and spirit. I know yoga improves lives everyday. It has profoundly changed mine. However, yoga, like other popular spiritualities as they are mostly taught in the West, reflects a cultural obsession with the self, one which is rooted in furthering self-interest. This is in many ways due to an emphasis on an individual and privatized self brought to you by a happy marriage of Western psychology, spirituality and capitalism. Furthermore, as the military and corporate examples above illustrate, yoga or any individual spiritual practice will reflect the cultural and political interests of both the practitioners and the dominant power structures. They aren’t inherently politically subversive. Richard King explains, “The use of an idea such as ’spirituality’ is always bound up with political questions, even when the term is defined in apparently apolitical terms (in which case it supports the status quo). In employing the world, it is important to identify which ideological concerns are being supported.”

This emphasis on the individual is echoed strongly amongst the conscious lifestyle, wellness and new age spirituality circles. While “politically subversive” may not be the common expression for spiritual practices, many people in these communities believe that the transformation of inner states of being, either individually or collectively is capable of changing the world. This is reflected in Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth,” a book that supposedly describes a path to a more peaceful future. For Tolle, transforming the ego and inner consciousness is the best place to address the world’s problems, “A new heaven is the emergence of a transformed state of human consciousness, and a new earth is its reflection in the physical realm.” Some downplay the need for transformation and claim that only the power of the mind is required to change the world. There is even a “Center for Subtle Activism,” called the Gaiafield project. What is subtle activism? David Nicol describes it as “activities of spirit or consciousness primarily intended to support collective healing and social change.” The organization Common Passion, which recruits people for global meditations and prayers claims, “With a rigorous Western approach to practical application of Eastern wisdom, world peace may well be within our reach.” They believe they can create social harmony through “science” and “faith-based applications of collective consciousness.” It’s like The Secret meets the Peace Corps. They just use the power of their minds to visualize world peace and bam! it’s done!

But what if, as Nonviolent Communication founder Marshal Rosenberg states, these types of privatized, mind/body centered spiritual practices merely lead people to “be so calm and accepting and loving that they tolerate the dangerous structures?” If you think about it, the powers that be would be absolutely delighted if we all believed yoga and global prayer were the most politically subversive practices.

The Politics of the Divine

What is the nature of the divine? Do you think opening to Divine Consciousness and Oneness can transform social/political consciousness? If you experience a profound spiritual state do you think it would shift your perspective or beliefs about war, economic justice or human rights ? Can an inner state of bliss turn you into an activist? Will it make you a better activist? Is God, by nature, politically subversive? Can consciousness be used to change the world?

It’s difficult to admit but the universe will treat everyone equally regardless of their political, social or cultural views. Thus, spiritual transformation is morally and politically neutral. No matter how good or evil we are, the benefits of spiritual liberation that are bestowed upon us are all the same. Our conceptions of mindfulness, awakening and spiritual liberation are entirely dependent upon our cultural frame of interpretation. I know you might think that the divine is an anti-war, hybrid car loving, kombucha drinking burning man regular. But, sorry to say, God is not on “our” side. Thus, tapping into the Divine Consciousness won’t change political beliefs and thus won’t affect the pressing social issues of the day. It won’t turn an arch-Republican into a left-wing socialist. The pro-life extremist can also pray, meditate and cultivate states of mindfulness before attacking abortion doctors. Even if the ego is dissolved through practice, the greater awareness to relate to people will still be mediated by the fact that racism and sexism are institutionalized in our culture. In fact ’spirituality’ is rather easily incorporated into any institution as a new regime of thought control, whether it be market capitalism, government or militarism.

If the divine were truly politically subversive and could be experienced via yoga could it be incorporated into the military industrial complex? Why wouldn’t it change the hearts and minds of the air force bombers? How could Goldman Sachs bankers practice yoga and simultaneously defraud people of millions? If any sort of spiritual practice were politically subversive wouldn’t connecting to our highest self mean having our consciousness changed on some political level? When something like yoga and meditation is proudly incorporated into the U.S. Military, Navy Seals and corporate America it is pretty safe to say that it is relatively benign in the department of political subversion.

More evidence that the divine is politically neutral is found in the large population of spiritual practitioners in America. Think about all of the white, middle and upper class people who have been practicing yoga, meditating, doing visualizations, OMing and chanting in the West now for decades. Has it made them more aware of injustice? More concerned about white privilege or racism? Better educated about poverty? Has all of the practicing subverted anything political? No. What about when people come together to transform the collective consciousness and change the world in the name of peace, harmony and oneness? What about efforts to raise the planetary vibration? Have they worked? Many of these collective consciousness raising efforts originate in the U.S. but yet we are still in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Over one million people have died because of this. We also remain Israel’s largest supporter. On numerous quality of life indicators the U.S. ranks at the bottom of industrialized nations. Elsewhere, famine, war and catastrophic suffering can be found throughout the globe. How powerful is “coherent consciousness” and what has it done to address the worst injustices on the planet? If it works why bother with social activism at all? Besides, there are a lot more fundamentalist Christians praying for and visualizing a conservative agenda. Do the liberal and conservative collective consciousnesses cancel each other out?

Furthermore, we should remember that spiritual practices can also empower people to cause harm and support the status quo of any given society. For example, yoga assists the bombers in being more precise with their targeting. Their body awareness, concentration and presence all increased as a result. It gives the Goldman Sachs banker more clarity when trying to figure out how to steal money. Imagine a KKK group who incorporated yoga and meditation. Would it subvert their racism? Change their political consciousness? Would any spiritual practice? No. Rather, because of their cultural context it would merely reinforce their own social and political views. It would make them more mentally and physically stronger. And yet KKK members would still express the compassion and kindness gained on the mat to their loved ones. Likewise, Eugene de Kock, the police chief in South Africa known as ‘prime evil’ for his role in kidnapping, torturing and murdering hundreds of anti-apartheid activists went home to his family every day and expressed love, care and compassion to them. What I’m arguing here, and this may seem radical, is that cultural context shapes one’s understanding of spiritual transformation. I believe wholeheartedly that Eugene de Kock could have practiced yoga, meditated and connected to the divine but because a cruel system had become normalized to him any spiritual insights would be seen through his own socio-cultural lens. Likewise, you and I are part of larger systems, many of which are incredibly damaging to the planet and people. We, along with air force bomber pilots, racists, pro-life extremists, corporate crooks and (you fill in the blank) can all experience spiritual transformation and remain oblivious to the dangers of our surrounding culture. This is why it is so important to understand the limitations of spiritual practice in efforts for social change.

I think it best, therefore, to view spiritual practice as only politically subversive as something like psychotherapy. Connecting to the divine is often a transformative and renewing experience, but merely growing developmentally or awakening to deeper states of being won’t subvert the political structures or change political consciousness.

And finally, while spiritual practices like yoga can help you de-stress, center and cultivate compassion it won’t make you a better, more informed activist on matters of social justice. Yes, self-care and spiritual practice can be vitally important for many social activists and I strongly support this pairing. Finding stillness and inner calm in your day can positively benefit your life and work for social change. By all means cultivate loving kindness, compassion and generosity. We need lots more of this on the planet. However, becoming a more aware, just and informed activist only occurs when a different kind of consciousness is raised; political.

Justice or Presence?

“Why, one wonders is dissatisfaction with social injustice and a willingness to resist exploitation not seen as a sign of ’spiritual intelligence’?” - Richard King

Marshal Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication offers an important critique of what’s found in popular spirituality today.
Unless we as social change agents come from a certain spirituality, we’re likely to create more harm than good…spirituality can be reactionary if we get people to just be so calm and accepting and loving that they tolerate the dangerous structures. The spirituality that we need to develop for social change is one that mobilizes us for social change. It doesn’t just enable us to sit there and enjoy the world no matter what. It creates a quality of action that mobilizes us into action. Unless our spiritual development has this kind of quality, I don’t think we can create the kind of social change I would like to see. [emphasis added]
The activist, writer and spiritual teacher Starhawk also recognizes the limitations of a privatized spirituality. She states, “Transforming the inner landscape is only a first step. Unless we change the structures of the culture, we will mirror them again and again: we will be caught in a constant battle to avoid being molded again and again into an image of domination.” [emphasis added]

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also knew this. His last years were spent challenging militarism, economic exploitation and racism. When he was assassinated he was just days away from leading a nationwide effort to shut down the capital of Washington D.C. until capitalism as he knew was radically transformed. They were going to clog the bridges, jam the streets and set up camp in the capital. He wanted guaranteed incomes, jobs and housing. The plan was to be as disruptive and disturbing as violent riots while being nonviolent. He said, “We must demonstrate, teach and preach until the very foundations of our nation shake.”

Imagine if there were places like Omega Center and Spirit Rock or community organizations which instead of being only about a privatized spirituality were dedicated to unmasking the dominant power structures and teaching people how to resist them. These places would prioritize justice over presence and uncover the political and ideological forces that shape our notions of spirituality. Low-cost workshops, retreats and trainings would be offered in the spirit of the Highlander Folk School, a civil rights and labor organizing center where Rosa Parks and Dr. King briefly studied. In the true spirit of interdependence and solidarity as is reflected in many of the world’s religions the center(s) would empower individuals to collectively address racism, the prison industrial complex, poverty, militarism, patriarchy, environmental injustices and more. These systems of domination keep us separate, and thus dismantling them is a spiritual priority. Dr. King said it best when he stated, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.”

I leave you with Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretation of the second precept of generosity:
“Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in real need.”
Robert James Scofield, "Be," is a San Francisco based activist working to combine spirituality with anti-racism and social justice. Be is the founder of God Bless the Whole World, a free online resource with hundreds of videos of leading visionaries related to social justice and spirituality. He writes for Tikkun magazine and his work has appeared on, IntegralWorld and FactNet.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


By Tom Altepeter
Originally posted 8/4/11 at Tom's Posterous

I’ve reached my tipping point with the anti-government crusaders. The lack of understanding, the pervasive inconsistency, the blatant hypocrisy, and the never-ending excuses have pushed me to the brink. Those two sentences alone will have likely turned away any readers who may have actually been challenged by this blog post, but onward I will march, preaching to the choir or not.
There’s a general feeling among those who rail against government that it is actually that – an “it.” All cynicism aside, government is no different than any institution in that “it” is comprised of people. And, like it or not, all people are broken. Because of that, nothing (and I do mean nothing) will run smoothly all the time. I urge us to at least take the step of halting the fantasy that government is somehow this thing that runs absent of people – this “it” that does stuff to us. The government, folks, is us.

Citizens of The United States, in relation to many people throughout the world, are privileged beyond comprehension. Even with that truth is another layer of reality that exists in which the disparity of the privilege among people within our country is beyond comprehension. I won’t even embark here on a conversation about the up sides and down sides of capitalism, or the harsh realities of our lack of intercultural responsiveness; rather, I will keep it focused on this: If we think our government has too much of a hand in our lives, and if we think we are somehow oppressed by our government, and if we think we are on some kind of path where we will lose our freedoms in sweeping waves, then we have no idea whatsoever what it means (let alone feels like) to live in that type of situation. Get out of your bubble, wake up and smell the coffee, and look just a few inches beyond yourself. We’ve got it good, and when I say, “good,” I mean really, really, really good.

The railings against government and how “it” intrudes in our lives is seemingly endless, but some key areas seem to consistently include money (no taxes) and guns (no restrictions). Interestingly, however, many of those same individuals actually yearn for governmental intrusion in our lives when it comes to our bodies (abortion and euthanasia issues come to mind) and our relationships (marriages and unions come to mind). We want the government to stay away from our belief systems, but we want to bring our belief systems into government. We promote the idea that life should be valued by the government, but then dismantle lives advancing the death penalty, promoting war, denying healthcare, and avoiding the shared sacrifice that would allow others to survive. Arguments abound that healthcare and education are not “rights” that people should expect, and yet those same arguments tend to include statements related to the belief that our “rights” to our own healthcare and educational options are being eroded with government involvement.

We have created a system of “haves” and “have-nots.” Because we have created this system (again, I won’t even embark here on a conversation about the up sides and down sides of capitalism, or the harsh realities of our lack of intercultural responsiveness), we also have a responsibility to give at least one hoot (if not two or more) for the “have-nots.” Now, I recognize people actually exist who believe we have no responsibility at all for the “have-nots.” I also recognize those people have not just a wildly distorted perception of what Jesus Christ teaches us (my Lord and Savior, as well as yours if you choose to accept His free gift of grace – yes, I’m an evangelical Christian and unashamed to share that), but they also have a wildly distorted perception of some basic human principles related to love. What I’d rather focus on is the much larger percentage of the population who truly do believe we have at least some responsibility for the “have-nots,” but simply disagree on how we support one another.

What I often hear is that it’s people who should be helping others, not the government. I’ll state again here, with all cynicism aside, the government, folks, is us. Furthermore, if you truly believe it should be an individual’s choice to help, then I beg you to continue to do just that. As you do it, though, I also beg you to not continuously interfere with what people are collectively attempting to do in order to help others. You know, collectively, like the government. Oh, and by the way, collectively, like philanthropic or service organizations. Oh, and that’s right, collectively, like churches. Oh, and I almost forgot, collectively, like families.

Finally, allow me to simply scratch the surface of the immigration issue. There’s a somewhat common feeling among people that we want the government to intervene. The difference is typically focused on how we want the government to intervene. Some would like to believe all immigrants who aren’t here “legally” should be thrown out, that “our” taxes shouldn’t go to help “illegal” immigrants, and that “those people” don’t pay any taxes, take “our” jobs, and are a drain on “our” system. Buckle down for a moment and face this reality: If anyone is here “illegally,” then we all are (absent, of course, Native Americans), the complexity of the immigration system isn’t even remotely the same from when many of our ancestors invaded this land to when our family and friends tried to make a new life for themselves in a new country to when our brothers and sisters of the world join us presently, all people pay taxes in one form or another, our workforce is extremely diverse and all people contribute in various ways, and nothing – absolutely, positively, nothing – is “ours.”

I’m not seeking anything beyond our capabilities here. I’m just looking for some simple things, and even in a broken world with broken people, I truly believe it’s possible. Let’s be willing to reach out in love to, and sacrifice some for, others. I mean, after all, He loved us so much that He sacrificed His life for us. A little perspective goes a long way.

Jesus junkie, husband, and father, Tom Altepeter is a former elementary school principal and present middle school assistant principal in Loveland, Colorado. He is passionate about God, family, intercultural responsiveness, and social justice. He blogs at Intercultural Responsiveness, Maranatha, and Tom's Posterous. You can follow him on Twitter @tomaltepeter (