Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas and Safe Travels to All

Christmas in a Bar

Last night was the first time I had spent Christmas Eve away from family in a long time. Perhaps ever? I ended up going out caroling with a group of friends in town. It was a big group -- maybe 30 adults and children -- although nobody seemed to know any of the second verses. We sang "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph," "Silent Night," and "O Come All Ye Faithful." At our last stop, the people in the lobby of the apartment building we visited came out and sang with us.

After about an hour and a half of tromping through the residential areas of Greenfield, we headed to the Rendezvous, a neighborhood bar in nearby Turner's Falls -- one of those rare places that manages to be both friendly and hip at the same time. One of the organizers of the caroling is a co-owner of the bar, so he closed it down for the evening and we had a potluck feast -- with homemade eggnog (made with the eggs of local chickens). Not to mention flan and samosas! Candles were lit. The Beatles' White Album was playing. The vibe was festive, yet chill. I had planned to stay only a few minutes, yet found it difficult to tear myself away.

I have no idea how many of the participants last night were churchgoers (if any). But I am very sure that Jesus would have felt more at home at this gathering than squeezed into an uncomfortable pew. He probably would have asked for a second helping of eggnog, too.

This is what church should be. Walls optional.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fresh from the Blogosphere

We have our first online review! Check us out on Jackie Holness's excellent blog,

Jackie is a close friend, a talented writer, and one of my favorite bloggers on the web. (Check out the story of how we met in her review.) In her blog posts and magazine articles, she writes about faith, family, pop culture, dating, love, sex, and life in the "A" (aka Atlanta, GA) with freshness, honesty, and humor. Full disclosure: I also designed her blog a few years back...

On a related note: Jackie mentions that the book is available for free online, which is totally true! I am, however, doing a small print run this holiday season, mostly for friends and family. If you are interested in ordering a hard copy, please email me, preferably before Dec. 15.

Thanks all! Hope it's been a good holiday for you and yours.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

This I Believe

When I first started this project, my then-agent wanted me to write Southern Cross as a series of 50 short chapters, each beginning with the words "I believe..."
Unauthorized Product Placement
Unauthorized Product Placement
Every chapter would reveal some inspirational, enlightening truth, of the sort known only to 29-year-old freelance writers with time on their hands. The interviews and anecdotes that followed would supply the type of tidy, accessible spiritual answers that could be readily consumed on the treadmill at the gym, or while ingesting a single serving of strawberry yogurt.

There's nothing wrong with accessibility, but that approach didn't really appeal to me -- I was much more interested in the views and ideas of the people I was interviewing than in rehashing my own. Since then, I have had a number of readers of the manuscript ask why I didn't share more of my own beliefs in the text. It's a topic I've blogged about in the past, and I talk about it some in the book's epilogue. I will say this much about my own beliefs:
  • I believe that God is conscious and compassionate.
  • I believe that Christianity is a system of social and psychological control.
I also believe that if anybody starts telling you, "God wants you to do this," or "God wants you to do that," you should probably run away as fast as possible.

This much I believe, unambigously.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Go and Do Likewise

Several months ago, I ran into Canadian academic and activist Leigh Brownhill at a party. She kindly offered me a copy of her book, Land, Food, Freedom, in exchange for a review on my blog. Brownhill traveled to Africa to record the stories of a movement that spanned generations and involved hundreds of thousands of Kenyan peasant women. How could I resist?

Leigh Brownhill reads from her book

The result is a fascinating read, if academic at times. These women fought for their right to reclaim their land and determine their own destinies. They endured concentration camps, rape, and torture during the 1950s Mau Mau War against the British, followed by the "housewifeization" campaigns of the new post-colonial government, designed to impose European standards of beauty, dress, diet, and submissive feminine behavior in the 1960s.

What impressed me was how practical and successful they were in reaching their goals -- perhaps because women did not take their cues from a single political party or charismatic leader, but from a network of social groups organized for resource sharing and mutual support. During the general strikes of the early 1950s, they created an alternative food distribution system that served thousands of strikers. Flash-forward to the 1990s and see Mau Mau veteran Ruth Wangari launch a successful hunger strike and year-long vigil involving more than 10,000 people at "Freedom Corner" to release 52 political prisoners - one of the events that led to the downfall of dictator Daniel Arap Moi. Or recall Wangari Maathai, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work in founding the Green Belt Movement for tree planting and soil conservation across Africa.

The historical person known as Jesus came from a country under occupation, full of dispossessed farmers expelled from their land by the Romans. Christianity is one of the earliest examples of a nonviolent social protest movement that worked. We need more examples.

May Day 2010 - Holyoke, MA

Photos by Peter Palmobella.
Visit Leigh Brownhill's website at

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It Gets Better

I haven't had time over the last few months to post a lot in this blog, but this was one topic I couldn't overlook.

If you are a conservative anti-gay Christian, please watch this video. It could change the way you think.

If you are a gay, lesbian, or transgendered teen or young adult struggling with thoughts of suicide - in part because you are being told by the religion you grew up in that being who you are is wrong and sinful - please watch this video - and more from Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project. It could save your life.

Full disclosure: my little sister is gay. This is not an issue I can be neutral about. If you put her down, I am going to want to kick your ass. Apologies if that is not a very Christian sentiment.

Living in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal and honestly, Not That Big a Deal, it is easy to forget what it's like to live surrounded by institutional church-sponsored homophobia. It's easy to write off all bigots as stupid and ignorant, and thus assume they would have no power over somebody able to think for themselves. Except when those bigots are your parents, your youth group leader, your teacher, or your therapist, they have a tremendous amount of power.

I heard plenty of horror stories while researching Southern Cross, and if I hadn't found a faith community with the opposite set of values, there is no way I could have stayed a Christian in the South. By grace and luck, I found Christians who were warm, empathic, tolerant, welcoming -- and eager to welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered folk as full and honored members of their community.

Off to church now...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

RIP, Nahani, "She Who Shines"

Wanted to include link for the memorial page for my dog, Nahani. Today marks the one-month anniversary of her passing from a pulmonary embolism. Still miss her a lot...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It Takes a Village to Stay Married

Last Saturday night I attended my first wedding ceremony since my own marriage ended in 2007. Man, that was a doozy... I realized that I had never before in my adult life attended a wedding without being part of a couple.

There is a lot you can say about marriage as an institution, both pro and con. Speaking from my own experience, I think marriage is a dang good idea for the raising of kids, somewhat optional otherwise. But if you're going down that road, remember that marriage is a connection to a larger community, its standards and its expectations. That's a whole lot bigger than two people.

Wedding Day, Tess Gadwa and Blake Thomas
If you are invited to a wedding, as part of the ceremony you will probably be asked to pledge your support to the couple getting married. All I ask you to do is to take those vows seriously. If a friend seems to be struggling, take the time to listen. Don't feel like you need to give advice, immediately take sides, or rush to judgment. Just ask one simple question:

"What can I do to help?"

Not all marriages can be saved. But any marriage in trouble contains two people struggling through different degrees of hurt, fear, anger, guilt and confusion. They are probably feeling more alone than ever before in their lives. If you came to their wedding, if you danced and ate their cake, they deserve your compassion and support.

Two more weddings this summer. Wish me luck...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Proud to be an Episcopalian!

U.S. Episcopal Church consecrates lesbian bishop
(Reuters, Los Angeles)

This has not been an easy or a popular stance for the denomination I was born and raised in, but we are on the right side of history. Of this much I am very, very sure.

That's all for now. Got to get ready to read the lesson at today's 10 AM service...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Difference

Happy Mother's Day, y'all.

I wasn't planning to do a blog entry today, and then I ran across this post. I think it encapsulates the essential difference between fundamentalists (not all of whom are religious) and everybody else:

"After Glenn Beck said “social justice is a perversion of the gospel” and a “code” for Marxism, communism, and Nazism, I invited him to a public dialogue to discuss the true meaning of social justice, which I said was at the heart of the gospel and integral to biblical faith.

In response, Beck promised on his radio show that “the hammer” would be coming down on me and my organization, and that he would devote a week of his television show to bringing me down. I took that as a “no” to dialogue.

But I would still like to have this discussion with Beck..."

Jim Wallis is willing to debate; Glenn Beck is not.

To me, it matters a lot less whether you are "right" or "wrong" on a given issue, than whether you are willing to have a conversation about it. None of us has a lock on absolute truth or righteousness, but we all have a choice in whether to respect and engage with other points of view. Some people might see this as weakness. I see it as an opportunity to learn.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beyond Intelligent Design

Full disclosure: I get pretty frustrated by this entire debate. Perhaps because I grew up with a mother who is both an ecologist and a committed Christian, it always seemed self-evident that God could work through the process of evolution to generate the beauty and splendor of our natural world. I really don't see why Darwin's Theory of Evolution should be any more controversial to Christians than Newton's Law of Gravity.

Chris Carlisle, M. Div. gave the following half-hour talk at my home parish, St. James Episcopal Church, in Greenfield, MA on March 8, 2010. This lecture is a "must" for anyone willing to leave their preconceptions behind and open up dialogue between the religious and scientific communities.

Chaplain at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design Carlisle has strong ties to academia as well as to organized religion. He quickly moves beyond the usual stale debate and offers fresh insight into the nature of God and the presence of God in nature.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Who Dat?

Ok, so I don't claim to be any kind of sports fan, but New Orleans winning the Superbowl last night makes me really happy.

Saints Fans Rally in New Orleans
Photo credit: AMY KIRK DUVOISIN, Times-Picayune

Geaux Saints!!!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Daily Life in Haiti

My friend Peter Daniel made this short video during the year that he spent teaching in rural Haiti:

Even before the quake, most images I had seen of Haiti showed only devastation and extreme poverty. These scenes of baking bread and playing soccer, a funeral procession and a new baby, reveal a different Haiti, one where life is hard (it is common in this village not to eat one day out of the week) but suffering has not extinguished hope.

Thankfully, the village of Bayonnais was not badly affected by the quake, although two students studying in Port-au-Prince are missing. For more earthquake updates and information on how you can help, visit Peter's blog at

Please keep the people of Haiti in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Peace Rising in Charlotte, NC

If you live in or near the Queen's City, check out this event... wish I could be there myself.

Heather is a good friend and has pulled together this event largely out of her own initiative, passion, and vision. On Saturday, Heather and Sean are opening their home for a full-day workshop. Catherine Cadden and Jesse Wiens of the Center for Nonviolent Communication in Chapel Hill, NC will speak at both the film and the workshop.

Visit Heather's blog to rsvp or learn more...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Evangelizing Hate

The line between religiously justified bigotry and state-sponsored violence is whisper-thin.

U.S. Evangelicals’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push

Photo Credit: Marc Hofer

People like Nikki Mawanda may soon face the death penalty in Uganda, due in part to the words and actions of American evangelical missionaries.

Read article.