It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than to be a soldier on the battlefield.
Last weekend, I sat down with myself to discuss the EasyYolk blog and life in general.
Me:Your posts deal with all sorts of issues: political, social, economic & theological. How exactly would you categorize your blog?
EasyYolk: EasyYolk is a spiritual blog (rooted firmly within the Christian tradition while embracing the beautiful and truthful voices from other faith backgrounds) with a firm conviction that healing and redemption will come when we seek to participate with God in every space of life. As Scripture duly notes, the breath of God blows wherever she pleases (John 3:8). A robust faith is determined to feel God's presence outside the walls of church, temple, mosque and synagogue. The Enlightenment (from 1650 until yesterday) produced leaders from church and government who were committed to dividing life into "church" and "state" and "everything else there is." These men just wanted everyone to stop killing each other over petty religious differences!
EasyYolk represents a post-Enlightenment Christian project that yearns to do what Jesus did in 1st century Palestine: claim a spirituality that exposes and confronts the corruption and nauseating indifference of religious elites (pastors, theologians and Bible scholars) while demanding social, economic and political justice from every sector of society. The establishment (a coalition of media, church, government & corporations) must be called on their bullshit. Hopefully, EasyYolk can do just a little bit of that calling out.
Me: Your posts most certainly do not reflect your grandmother's Christianity. Is there a name or label for this new brand of following Jesus?
EasyYolk: Most white suburbanites see EasyYolk as a strong divergence from historic or traditional "Christianity," but they are basically operating within a white suburban American Evangelical understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. This Evangelical notion is largely oriented around an individual salvation that guarantees forgiveness of sins and an eternal afterlife in heaven. Over the past 3 decades, this "gospel of sin management" is mostly combined with either an indifference to "politics" or a marriage to the Republican Party, largely focusing on the prohibition of both abortion and gay marriage.
EasyYolk represents a prophetic minority report of the 2000-year Body of Christ. The prophetic Christian refuses to blend the cross of Christ with the American flag. Patriotism too often diverts and distracts the disciple from the rigorous challenge of the Sermon on the Mount: the task of praying for and loving our enemies, basing our lives on trust instead of fear & anxiety, humbly serving our neighbors and living simply so that we can give generously. Christians pledge allegiance to the "kingdom of God," a multi-national movement to "save" the world of arrogance, economic exploitation, violence, oppression and wealth-hoarding.
These emphases aren't sexy. They don't preach. That's why the prophetic movement has been a minority report within global Christianity since the 4th century when the Emperor Constantine convinced the bishops of the Roman Emperor to make Christianity the official religion of the Empire, turning catacombs into cathedrals while baptizing militaries and markets.
EasyYolk is also unabashedly Anabaptist. Beginning in the 16th century, the Anabaptists were martyred all over baby-baptizing Europe for their unique dedication to adult baptism. One cannot commit to baptism until one commits to following Jesus' commands. And one cannot commit (for life!) to following Jesus' commands until one is old enough to make decisions for oneself. While most of Western Christianity has defined faith on the basis of "belief" or "belonging" systems, the Anabaptist litmus test is all about a lifestyle committed to simple-living, enemy-loving peace. For Protestants and Evangelicals, this all smacks of "works-righteousness (working your way to heaven!)," dangerously taking the emphasis off atonement understandings of the death of Jesus.
Lastly, EasyYolk is philosophically postmodern. I am completely allergic to both "absolutist" and "relativist" understandings of the truth. I grew up with the Evangelical obsession with The Absolute Truth mined from a self-evident and inerrant Bible. This, I've discovered, does not take into account the obviously interpretive nature of reading Scripture. We inherently read through lenses (what Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann calls "the zone of imagination": socio-economic status, family expectations, vocational identities, gender oppression/privilege, etc) that color all of our readings. We go on a journey to find truth as we critically examine our own life experience, vigilantly reflect on Scripture with others who are humbly committed to the task, passionately engage with social-scientific research and reverently honor the diverse tradition of Christianity. This is one hell of a task and it calls us all to humility, but it has virtually nothing to do with "anything goes" relativism. Not every interpretive option is equally valid and judgements (albeit with humility) must be made. For instance, I'm 99.9% sure that Sarah Palin was wrong when she claimed that the US invasion of Iraq was God's Will. But I might be wrong.
Me: Is there a more popular face to this prophetic postmodern Anabaptism?
EasyYolk: Martin Luther King. In just a few weeks we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his Letter From A Birmingham Jail which was initially published in an obscure Quaker publication, but is now widely regarded as one of the greatest works in the history of Western Civilization. He looked back on a pre-Constantinian notion of what it meant to be the Body of Christ:
In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society...Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?
Christian communities ought to be spaces that ruthlessly commit to afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. We ought to always take the side of the underdog. Chris Hedges quoted Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel And Dimed in one of his recent posts, referring to the overlooked and even demonized working poor in the US:
When someone works for less pay than she can live on—when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently—then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.
Those words deserve to be read once a day for the next 40 days. An MLK inspired Christian takes her cues from below...because that's what Jesus did.
Ched Myers (see photo above) and his wife Elaine Enns are firmly committed to a Martin Luther King prophetic Christianity. I highly recommend it. You can sample their work here.
Me: Sometimes EY comes across as a bit antagonistic and judgmental, especially in regards to more conservative Evangelical voices. Is this a fair critique/assessment?
EasyYolk: Yes. I'm quite sure I've gone overboard with some of my critical posts and I confess that I've been unfair or punchy or just downright rude at times. I will make no justification for this, except that I'm an imperfect and broken man. On the other hand, I want to be clear that my targets for criticism and judgment are pastor heroes and theologian/Bible scholars and political leaders (all white male heterosexuals) within the Evangelical Christian movement. These men have enormous power and wealth and followings and they mostly remain within the provincial bubble of Evangelicalism. They consistently and unfairly bemoan and demean the “liberal media” and basically delegitimize anyone who doesn't agree with them.
I'm not referring to daimyo Bible Belt Bible Beaters like the Koran-burner in Florida, but specifically to those widely known and virtually canonized like Billy Graham (and his son Franklin who does most of his talking for him now), Rick Warren, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Rick Santorum, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee. They are dualistic: everyone is either going to heaven or hell when they die, based on whether one has committed their lives to Jesus. They are reductionist: the Bible is a simple-to-read self-evident encyclopedia of timeless truths and principles of piety. They are simplistic: evil is found in abortions, homosexuals, illegals, criminals, terrorists, non-believers and liberals who over-regulate and over-tax job creators.
Most of the Hebrew prophets (including Jesus of Nazareth) were killed because they took on powerful men who did not give dignity to the most vulnerable and scapegoated in society. I believe that the nature of systemic power has not changed an iota since the days that Jesus walked the shores of Galilee during the first century. This power must be confronted consistently and creatively through nonviolent strategies of many kinds, including teaching, protests, arrests, letter writing campaigns, congressional visits, boycotts, lifestyle commitments, official pronouncements, healings, prophetic singing and comedy, as well as educating and exposing the public through various writings like books, websites, blogs, pamphlets and magazines (EY is just a tiny mustard seed in this last category).
Me: Isn't EY just a form of “liberal” Christianity? Is there anything conservative about you?
EasyYolk: If true conservatism means “honoring tradition” or even “a reasonable resistance to change,” then, yes, I most certainly have conservative tendencies. After all, I am still obsessively devoted to confessional Christianity. Many friends and colleagues have either ditched the enterprise or have hibernated into nominalism, for a variety of reasons (some quite legitimate, some highly questionable). My wife and I participate in a church community, read Scripture devotionally, pray before meals and sleep and for friends who are sick, give up "comforts" for Lent and celebrate Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas (as non-consumeristically as possible) and attribute events and effects to God. In short, it is our goal to be theological about everything, while not over-spiritualizing anything.
If “conservative” means personal responsibility then I, too, am guilty of right-wing ideology. There is far too much blaming and shaming going on in American culture at present. This is why the Christian practice of confession is so underrated. If we all truly took our own personal inventory and were far more transparent and vulnerable in our communities of faith about our weaknesses and struggles, then we would live in a far more gentle, loving and grace-filled world. This can only happen in communities that have the courage to be honest and disciplined about refusing to hide the shit “that so easily entangles us.”
But so much of what “conservative” has come to mean to so many of us who grew up in the Evangelical-Republican marriage is about fear-mongering and the protection of powerful interests. Those who proudly embrace the “conservative” brand boast of being all about “less government” to protect business executives and owners (low taxes and environmental regulations), homeowners (tax deductions), gun owners (against universal background checks & assault weapons bans), drug and health insurance companies (demonizing socialized medicine), religious leaders (tax exemptions on church property and pastor's homes), but actually seek policies that expand the government in their attempts to regulate against workers (anti-union legislation), women (criminalizing abortion), immigrants (increased border security and deportations), gays and lesbians (anti-same-sex-marriage legislation), recreational drug users (ramping up the Drug War) and enemies both foreign (increasing the US military budget and drone-killing) and domestic (PATRIOT Act eavesdropping and wiretapping). These conservatives consistently use the Bible to support all these powerful interests while accusing those with alternative interpretations as “reading their own agendas” into the Bible.
Meanwhile, many “liberals” turn a blind eye when Obama continues and justifies the same unjust policies started by his “conservative” predecessor: drone-killing civilians as “collateral-damage” in the “War on Terror,” deporting undocumented workers while slapping the wrists of employers who exploit them, refusing to hold bankers accountable for fraud and refusing to regulate their economy-threatening risk-taking and doing little to ease bloated military budgets while sustaining a highly unsuccessful and expensive drug war here and abroad.
Liberal and conservative, red state versus blue state. This narrative is not nearly as important as asking questions about power and discerning which groups are gaining privilege as a result of the policies instituted by political leaders and supported by faith leaders and their congregants (either overtly or through massive indifference and apathy).
Me: Where do you go to church?
EasyYolk: We participate in a house church that started 3 years ago as a “recovering couples” 12-step group. Two of our founding married couples were dealing with infidelity issues back in the Fall of 2009 and were working to repair and redeem their relationships. Our weekly meetings are about “checking in” with ourselves and with each other to support the ongoing work of healing in our marriages. We begin each meeting with the same “liturgy,” reading the rules that guide our time together, reminding each other that reconciliation is an ongoing process (starting with rigorous personal inventory) and that we aren't there to fix each other. We read the weekly Gospel passage from the lectionary and dialogue it for 15 minutes.
During some seasons we have homework, reading works like Manna & Mercy by Daniel Erlander, A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer and Sabbath Economics by Ched Myers and then discussing them at the end of our meetings. We have worked through our own family histories and patterns, taking the addictive cycle seriously through generations. We have dabbled with a corporate tax, using The Better World Shopper (categorizing industries and ranking all businesses A through F according to their labor, animal, community and environment practices) as a guide for making more conscious consumer decisions (we examine our credit card statements and tax ourselves for making purchases at stores with C, D & F grades). We are attempting (albeit imperfectly) to build into our lives alternative practices, “saving” us from the addiction, image-obsession, materialism and systemic issues (poverty, economic exploitation, ecological degradation) caused by a capitalism that idolizes selfishness, narcissism, affluence and hoarding.
My own recent journey into personal inventory has uncovered a "pain cycle" feeling worthless, devalued and alone. These patterns, since I was a young boy, have led me to cope by withdrawing, avoiding, performing and/or overfunctioning to find value and identity. As I identify these counterfeit moves throughout the day I can tell the truth about my world: that I'm not alone and that I am both worthy and unique (in the eyes of God and friends/family). This re-framing will lead me to live truthfully and peacefully, staying connected, being still and trusting others (especially my wife and those closest to me). The pain cycle is our autopilot. We don't even that we cope in these illlusive ways. As T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves."
Me: A friend recently asked me a really good question that I want to pass along to you. How exactly does the death and resurrection of Jesus reconcile us to God and each other?
EasyYolk: The cross is not a magic formula. It is an event that reveals beautifully who this God is. God is so dedicated to justice that when God became a human being in Jesus, he confronted those who wielded power and privilege by exploiting and oppressing others. Jesus taught that God is accessible outside the halls of power and that he is on the side of those who are vulnerable, abandoned, abused and marginalized by elites. The cross is a constant reminder that the powerful have a god-complex and will even kill God himself to get their way in the end. The cross also exposes just how brutal scapegoating and violence is. It calls us to adamantly end both of those widespread practices.
The “message” or “story” of the cross unveils a God of love, in solidarity with the oppressed while holding up a mirror to the oppressors, eventually forgiving them of their ingrained patterns of hatred, cruelty and injustice. This was not a new message: the Hebrew prophets had been attempting to proclaim this to Israel for centuries—God does not desire animal sacrifices and organized religious rituals (fasting, kosher diets, temple tithing). God wants a contrite heart filled humility, justice and mercy. God doesn't need us to do a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo in order to be reconciled to God. We already are reconciled to God, fully present to us every second of the day, outside the walls of religious buildings. So, therefore, this “story” also inspires us to nonviolent reconciliation with each other.
We rest easy because God equals grace. When this story fills our heads and hearts we no longer have to hoard and hide from our neighbors or compete with and coerce our enemies. All God desires (commands!) is for us to love others quantitatively and qualitatively like God loves us.
The resurrection is a Divine vindication of Jesus' way and a glimpse into the future of what all death will become. But ultimately we see this pattern death-and-resurrection at work in our lives. God is the One who consistently brings new life out of a multitude of deaths. God is the Great Recycler, composting all our garbage to grow newness all around us. We do not need to fear death because it is The Way to a whole new world. When the shit hits the fan we live in a hope-filled tension of love and faith, knowing that God is going to raise up something we never could have imagined...eventually.
Me: Do you have any dietary restrictions?
EasyYolk: I'm a vegetarian trying to make the leap to vegan territory. 3 years ago, my wife and I gave up meat for Lent and we've never turned back. We've seen some documentaries (Food Inc, Food Matters) and read some books (Food Rules by Michael Pollan and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran-Foer) about the factory farm system in the United States. Our diet is a component of our discipleship. We are boycotting meat (and most animal products like milk, cheese, butter, etc) because the way that it is brought to market. Animals are grossly maltreated. Workers (mostly immigrants) are exploited in dangerous conditions. The land is saturated in shit (literally), methane spewing into the atmosphere. Cancer rates and food-borne illnesses are rising due to hormone injections and the cultivation of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Of course, the industrial food system affects poor people the most. They don't have the convenience nor the coin to choose “organic” or “free range.” They are stuck with the cheap options on their plate. And poor folks are the ones who have no other choice but to work the “shitty” farms and feed lots. Not everyone in our house church has committed to vegetarianism, but we've all made a conscious effort to eat less meat. If everyone ate less meat, our world would be more kind, clean, gentle and healthy.
Me: Who are you reading these days?
EasyYolk: I always come back to my trifecta: John Howard Yoder, James McClendon and Ched Myers. They are like my canon. This Anabapist tradition of scholars is seasoned with Martin Luther King and Walter Wink, Walter Brueggemann and, of course, Cornel West. More recently, I've been reading the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr and the creation spirituality of former priest Matthew Fox. Fox brings out voices throughout Christian history (especially Hildegaard of Bingen and Meister Eckhart) to combat the fall/redemption brand of Christian faith that has dominated Western Christianity since Constantine. I've got Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach and Dave Zirin's The People's History of Sports waiting on the shelf to read during Spring Break.
Me: Are there any good news sources available anymore?
EasyYolk: Not many, but I think Democracy Now is doing a great job of critiquing power whether Democratic or Republican, corporate or government and a whole slew of interest groups from across the political spectrum. Glenn Greenwald has consistently exposed Presidential power abuses, starting with Bush and now with Obama. Matt Taibbi has committed himself to investigating the fraud and abuse of the banking industry (and the governing class’ refusal to do anything about it). Other voices like Dean Baker, Joseph Stiglitz, Michael Hiltzik and David Korten.
These journalistic voices are not neutral, but the goal of journalism has never been about just laying out the facts for the world to see. The real objective is to keep “the powers” accountable which, in the end, doesn’t make any friends. If they are doing their job, people in high places are going to get seriously pissed off. Corporate media (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, MSNBC, CNN and most radio stations) are motivated by profit and will cater to the interests of sponsors and viewers/listeners. They are not committed to telling the hard truth.
I personally still enjoy reading the New York Times and I get the LA Times delivered to my home every day. Both of those publications print commentary/opinion pieces from across the political spectrum (whereas the OC Register and Washington Post skew hard to the right). But I do read them critically. Spending a half-hour every day “catching up” on the action of the world is a worthy spiritual practice. But real journalism is vital today because our world just keeps getting more and more complicated: 2000+ page legislative bills, “sequestration” and “fiscal cliff” negotiations, the 2008 financial crisis sparked by a housing bubble (“credit default swaps” and “sub-prime mortgages”). We need voices we can really trust and we most certainly will not find them on cable TV.
Me: What do you think about the record performance of the Dow?
EasyYolk: No comment.
Me: You used to be an athlete. Do you still think sports are important?
EasyYolk: I still watch and read about sports a lot. I still read the sports page first. I’m a die-hard Kansas Jayhawk fan and I get too emotional watching them play. Sports can be such a beautiful art form. The creativity, athleticism, team work, discipline, strategy and sacrifice all blend together to make sports a legitimate leisure activity. But athletics is overemphasized and much of it is quite violent and glorifies hubris.
In the suburbs, where I’m from, sports takes our eyes off the real pain of the world: the income inequality, the joblessness, the homelessness, the disease and debt of the Third World, the killing over ethnic hatreds, power-games and oil, the patriarchy of our families, jobs and governments, the racism (especially with jobs, loans, the entire “justice” system from questioning to arrests to trials and prison sentencing) and ecological degradation. The whole ESPN 24-hour network turns the drama of the Lakers season into something far more important that any of these tragic struggles of real life.
Professional athletes make too much and owners make WAY too much. One of the most absurd spectacles in our society is the rampant public-funding of stadiums and arenas. Taxpayer dollars going to subsidize already over-privileged sports owners. The whole notion is genuinely a circus.
But there is something about sports that grabs my heart. Watching Game 6 of the 2011 World Series when the Cardinals came back in the bottom of the 9th to beat the George-Bush-owned-Rangers or watching the 2012 Kansas Jayhawks come back from 27-down to beat Missouri in the final game of their 100-year rivalry—these events are unscripted. These things are not supposed to happen. But they do. They bring out faith, hope and love in forms that ought to be mirrored in lifestyles and protests of peace and justice. These events give us a glimpse into the kind of mentality that Rebecca Solnit writes is required of real activism:
To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.
Sports is filled with open hearts and uncertainty. We all need to learn how to live more like this.