Sunday, February 26, 2017


Sunday Reflection: A Sermon

Last weekend, I gave the sermon at First Covenant Church here in Minneapolis. If you would like to hear the podcast, you can download it at the bottom of this page:

It felt risky to talk about race, and it was exhausting. Important things are like that, though, in both ways.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


The Speech

Friday, February 24, 2017


Haiku Friday: Breakfast foods!

 Sometimes when I go to bed, I am already looking forward to breakfast. I love that fact that so many good foods come around at breakfast: eggs, bananas, english muffins, juice. Let's haiku about the "Most important meal of the day." Here, I will go first:

It's true; I love you
Egg McMuffin. You charm me.
And I want you now!

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, February 23, 2017


To Sandstone

Today, after class, I will drive north a few hours and go into the federal prison in the town of Sandstone. I've been there before, so I know the way. I will show my ID and fill out forms and show that I am bringing in only what is allowed.

I'm going to visit Robert Shipp. Twice during the Obama administration I worked with my students in preparing a clemency petition for him. Both times he was denied. Just like the people who did get clemency, I have not and will not forget him.  He has remade himself in prison, and has had a remarkable advocate in his sister Veda Ajamu. He has served over 23 years in prison for a crime he committed at age 20. It was, as with my other clients, a non-violent drug trafficking crime.

The political age we are in now is not gentle or rational. Yet there are moments of both, even in the absence of hope. I hope for that today.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


The OG

I got a letter from a federal inmate this week that referred to something I had done as an "OG move."

The termed stumped me. What could that stand for? Old Grump? Organizational Graphing? Maybe Offensive Guard? None of it worked.

So, I asked my clinic students, who informed me that it was "Original Gangster."

I'm still not quite sure if that is good or bad...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


The 54th

I love this picture, one of my dad's, which shows up on his blog this week. My brother is a drummer; I grew up with casually tossed drumsticks.

Plus, the artist is here to celebrate my birthday today. It's a weird thing to celebrate, really, like the flipping of an odometer, but I'll take it. I love the desserts. And the excuse to love the people who share them, and those who can't.

Monday, February 20, 2017


A bad school day?

My parents are visiting. And even if they weren't, I would still highlight my dad's haiku:

Sometimes I can't tell
if my children are sick or
having bad school days.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Race, the eye and the light

This morning at 9:30 I am giving the sermon at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis. The topic is race. Here is the part of the reading I have chosen, Luke 11:34:

Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy it is full of darkness.

It's important to recognize that the "light" referred to here is not "light" color as a pigment, but rather the light of the sun that illuminates all of the colors and is necessary to see what is really before us. 

Our eye is the lamp. How do we see the world? Is it through a lens of racial assumptions, and what can we do about that?

I realize that it is odd to pick a white guy to speak about race (unless it is Bob Darden talking about the Civil Rights movement or something like that). It is  important to hear Black and Brown and Asian and Native voices-- we all need to hear from each other. But white people need to speak, too. If we don't, it is nothing less than asking the victims of racism to explain why racism exists. That's an unfair exercise-- they didn't create it and propogate it. We did. And if we don't try to voice that sad truth, explain how it happened, and set out ways to eradicate it, we are abrogating our responsibility.

I fear that sometimes what white people (including me) want more than anything is to just be told that they aren't racist and be done with it-- regardless of what their actions or attitudes are. Often, we pre-emptively declare it, like President Trump announcing this week that he is the Least Racist Person. The historical focus of our study of race sometimes inadvertently propels this. We watch movies or see pictures from the past-- right up to the 60's-- and feel good that things aren't like that anymore-- and then make an illogical jump to assuming we live in a mythical post-racial world. We are comfortable looking at photos of attack dogs going after protesters in Birmingham (that was the past, thank goodness), but not so much looking at the video of Philandro Castille. 

And that's because there is still racism. Along with our discussions of the past, we need to acknowledge the present, and accept responsibility for creating a different future together with those who have been oppressed by racism.

This isn't the sermon... to hear that, come by First Cov!



Saturday, February 18, 2017


Crazy Warm Minnesota Winter

Yesterday it was 63 degrees here-- eight degrees above the record high for that day. It's really weird. I know there are people who think Minnesota is just too cold (i.e., pretty much everyone else in America), but Minnesota NEEDS to be cold! We have rinks that are melting, ski areas losing snow... it just isn't right.

Friday, February 17, 2017


Haiku Friday: Illness

I am sick. That happens this time of year to me. I have a fever and that gives me strange dreams. Plus, my teaching was not so great yesterday.

Let's haiku about illness, and the ways we cope with it. Here, I will go first:

When I get sick, I
Put on my sicky boy shirt
Red flannel; germy!

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Can something unravel if it was never raveled?

There are times that watching a political collapse is like watching a soaring airplane that loses airspeed and then slowly descends, spiraling in the wind.

That isn't what is happening now; the plane never got off the ground. The Trump administration just blew up the engines and then ran around in the flames. 

The latest? Trump aides were in regular contact with Russian spies before the election. This is just... unbelievably bad. Look, I was one of those people who was critical of Hillary Clinton because of her carelessness with data. But what was the worst that could happen with that? That maybe Russia would get a hold of it? But now, it turns out that the Trump people were just calling up the Russian spies directly.

Can it get worse? Will it? 

Here is my prediction: In a few months, we will be looking a whole new crew in the White House around Trump. Chris Christie will be there and a bunch of others, familiar and unfamiliar. And the crazy will continue.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


The Combine

A decade ago, maybe longer, I went to New York to write. While I was there, I saw a remarkable art history lecture at the Met, about Robert Rauschenberg. The lecture was given by John Paoletti of Wesleyan, who spoke with admiration and a wry wit about Rauschenberg and his work.

Rauschenberg, who died in 2008, was a painter and sculptor, but often he combined those things with found objects, various materials, and other art to create "combines" like the one above, his most famous.  Paoletti showed slides of the combines, sometimes in the process of being created, and I leaned forward, fascinated. I still remember that shock of discovery.

We all create combines. We inhabit them, surrounded by the shape and texture and scent of those things we have gathered around us, and the ideas and constructs that frame our view of the world. What I loved about Rauschenberg, as Paoletti talked, was the way that he so intentionally did this, while most of us are haphazard. I was a dog dragging a stick around for no real reason, but Rauschenberg was a careful bird, putting the bit of newspaper below the stick and the leaf to form a nest.  

But now, I try. 


On being disinvited....

In 2008, I got to serve on a committee with theologian David Gushee. He seemed like a thoughtful and interesting guy.  Recently Gushee wrote this:

A few weeks ago I was disinvited again.

To be disinvited is (or ought to be) a rather rare privilege. It happens when first you are eagerly invited to do something, like give a speech or write a book chapter. You say yes. You hold the date on the calendar, do some preparation, decline other invitations.

Then, some time later the invitation is suddenly withdrawn. The event will go on, but it turns out that you are no longer welcome. Something has shifted about you, or about whoever invited you, and now your presence is a problem.

To not be invited somewhere in the first place, that’s no problem. No one has a right to a speaking or writing invitation.

To be invited and then disinvited by the same group, that’s special.

This particular disinvitation was not the first I have received. But it was one of the most surprising.

Here’s the backstory:

From 1994 to 2014, I was one of the go-to ethicists in the evangelical Christian world. If there was a statement to sign (or write), I was usually invited. If there was a major conference on ethics, I was often featured. If there was a book project, I might well be asked to participate. It was a good run.

But then I made a mistake, at least from one perspective. In October 2014, I wrote a book called “Changing Our Mind.” In it, I gingerly explored the possibility that LGBT people should no longer be treated differently from others in the church. They should be welcome on equal terms, not more, not less. I tried to show it might be possible to get to this conclusion without compromising core Christian moral commitments.

From a certain liberal perspective the book was too little, too late. After all, it was 2014. But from a certain evangelical perspective the book was too much, too soon. I had crossed a bright red line that separates evangelical Christians from others of lesser orthodoxy.

The hailstorm of rejection I received after publishing that book will be described more fully in my memoir, which Westminster John Knox Press will be publishing this fall. It will be called “Still Christian,” a claim about myself that my fundamentalist and evangelical Christian enemies might well reject.

In it, I will describe what my life was like from 2014 to 2016. It included a bunch of disinvitations (and worse). Numerous events that were on the calendar were blown right off.

By fall 2016, I had imagined that the wall of rejections, attacks, criticisms, and exclusions had finally come to an end. While I came to understand that there was not a chance in any universe that I would ever again be invited to perform any kind of service for any evangelical body, I had thought the time of disinvitations was finally over.

But there was one last chance to make me pay for my sins.

I was scheduled to speak this coming April to the Protestant Church-Owned Publishers Association. This is a trade group of about three dozen Protestant denominational book publishers. In 2016, their representative invited me to be the keynote speaker at their annual trade meeting in Nashville, Tenn. I put the date on my calendar.

But then the other shoe dropped.

I received a note about a month ago from the same person who had invited me. I was now being disinvited to this event. The reason? One of the publishers from a conservative denomination had threatened to resign from the organization if I was allowed to speak to it.

This publisher also suggested that other conservative publishers might join them in walking away if I gave a speech. They wouldn’t just boycott that meeting; they would take their ball and go home. Forever. And ever. Amen.

This was apparently too much pressure for the organization to bear, and so they folded like a tent. I was disinvited.

I can relate; recently I was disinvited from a long-ago-scheduled date (yesterday) to speak at Baylor's chapel. I wrote about that on Sunday in the Waco paper; you can read it here.

Like a lot of things coming out of Baylor lately, this mostly left me feeling sad. Sometimes bad things happen with slashing and burning; other times it is a stain creeping slowly outward, consuming what is good little by little. 

Monday, February 13, 2017


Wow! You go, IPLawGuy!

So, there were a lot of great haiku about a Panda President last week, including the triumphant return of CTL. Welcome back!

However, this batch included one of my favorite haikus ever to appear on the Razor, for its succinct wisdom. It is this, from IPLawGuy:

Panda President
Manuchurian Candidate?
Already got one.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Sunday Reflection: On Oaths

Next Sunday, I will be giving the sermon at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis-- all are welcome, and the service starts at 9:30.

This week, though, the liturgy for many churches will include a challenging passage from Matthew:

"Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

To me, this is a pretty straightforward instruction not to take oaths, and I take it seriously-- I don't say oaths. It is awkward sometimes, but important to me.

Am I wrong? Do others read this passage another way?

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Also this week, THIS happened....

Friday, February 10, 2017


Haiku Friday: A Panda President

I keep wavering between politics and pandas these days. So why not combine them? Our theme for this week will be "What if a panda was president?" (It is a theme we have previously explored, though not in haiku).

Here, I will go first:

President Panda,
The nation loves your AG:
Yogi's friend Boo-Boo!

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!

Thursday, February 09, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Judicial Branch

Donald Trump is doing a lot of (mostly dumb) things that no president has done before, but being angry at the judiciary for halting his plans is not one of them. Sure, his language ("so-called judge") was unusually dopey, but his tweeting out dumb things is not the same as undermining the judicial branch. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was right in describing Trump's comments as "disheartening" and "demoralizing," but we must distinguish between that and gutting the power of the judiciary.

The danger of exaggerating and saying that his ignorant comments equate to undermining the judiciary is this: Trump is fully capable of actually undermining the judiciary, and it will be important to mark that moment when it occurs, to spur a full-fledged counter-movement.  Here is what can happen: If a court, even the Supreme Court, orders that the President cannot do something (like bar Syrians from entering the country as refugees under any circumstances) Trump has the ability-- not the right, but the ability-- to ignore that order and just direct his administrators to go ahead with the policy deemed unconstitutional. The courts don't have an army or police force. The executive branch controls both.

THAT's when we will have a real constitutional crisis, and this administration seems fully capable of that terrible mistake. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2017


Black and White and Asian...

So, I was all worked up for a political rant and went back over the events of the day, and it all was just too depressing. Then I started looking at panda videos. And that was better. So here is the best panda video I found:

Tuesday, February 07, 2017



So... I had a piece in the Waco Tribune Herald on Sunday, which basically recaps how I was wrong about Donald Trump.  You can read that here.

But, two other things really made the weekend. First, the Super Bowl... yeah, I did watch it. The whole thing. And I'm glad I did!

Second, there was this:

Monday, February 06, 2017


Thank you, rest of the world...

Sleepy Walleye got to the heart of it:

There are a couple
Key global commodities
Clean air and water.

While I knew EXACTLY what Craig A was getting at:

Mini-Cooper S
German owned, Brit inspired
Too much fun import.

And the Medievalist spoke for many:

I love Spanish wine,
Dark velvety red opaque,
Pleasure in a glass.

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