Friday, June 29, 2012

Cassie from Columbine

I spent  part of today at the Columbine memorial in Littleton, Colorado.  Littleton is great little town with above average incomes, beautiful parks, and roads with shoulders big enough to park 2 cars wide.  You’d never expect something so tragic to come have from here.

The school itself seemed harmless enough.  Giant parking lots all around it, a massive park next to it, where today a national softball tournament was being held.  The screams of teenage girls and metal bats were a strange contrast to the memorial.  But it’s good to know that life goes on for almost everyone.

The memorial has plaques with quotes from parents, students, and a president, most of which just make you think to yourself, “Dammit.  Just.. Dammit.”  There aren’t words for these kinds of events.  There’s no good place to aim our blame.  Certainly no parent could have performed so poorly as to prompt this behavior.  Music, movies, bullying..plenty of people are involved in all these things, and almost none of them turn violent.  Perhaps that’s why sitting there at that memorial hurts so much.  There’s nothing I can DO to change anything.

My daughter Taylor is in love with a band called Flyleaf.  One of their songs is called “Cassie,” which is about one of two students who was killed at Columbine after being asked if they believe in God.  Those 2 plaques especially made me hurt.  I don’t know quite why.  I thought about what it means to be a martyr, in a sense.  Would those girls have been spared if they had lied?  Is the world a better place because their amazing stories are around to tell?  Nobody really knows.  I kind of doubt anyone has changed their religion because of what they did.  But somehow it feels like it matters - the act of dying after professing faith in God.  Their parents probably don’t feel that way, but if given the chance, I doubt they would have answered any differently.

I don’t have any good conclusions about life or faith.  I just felt a lot of things today, and I’m glad I felt them.  I find that most of life is spent with a non-descript feeling, partly sorrow, partly doubt, sometimes a little bit of hope.  Faith might be in there somewhere.  It’s hard to tell.  But for today, I’m pondering those students, that teacher, those killers, and the words my daughter loves so much:

All heads are bowed in silence
To remember her last sentence
She answered him knowing what would happen
Her last words still hanging in the air
In the air

Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
Say yes to pull the trigger
Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
And Cassie/Rachel pulled the trigger
Or, if you prefer your sorrow a little bit louder:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Honorable Death

When I’m bored, I watch documentaries.  I’ve watched documentaries I shouldn’t admit to watching (doc about the world air guitar championships, anyone?).  Last week I watched a doc in which a filmmaker set up a camera pointing at the pedestrian walkway on the golden state bridge (It‘s called The Bridge, and it‘s streaming on Netflix if you want to watch it).  He had it set up for 2 years for the purpose of filming, and then investigating suicide jumpers.  All in all, I believe he captured 8 people jumping from the bridge, 7 of which died.  He was too far away to be able to stop them, but once they jumped, he’d find out who they were, then interview their families, trying to dissect suicide to see what we can learn about it.  Suicide is a fascinating issue.  I deal with it at work on occasion, and have experienced it within my family.

Tonight I had dinner in Boulder with my Uncle Kirk, who is awesome.  He has a PhD in geology, and his house powers itself.  Cool, right?  At dinner, were got to talking about death, geriatrics, health care, that kind of thing, and it brought up something I think is worth discussing.  To put it bluntly, the question goes something like this:

Wouldn’t it be preferable for the very elderly or the very sick to give the people in their lives a break, and take their own life?  Or conversely, is all the money and effort we put into extending the human life really worth it?

If you spend much time reading history books, or watching nature shows, you’ll notice a pattern.  The tribe does not allow an individual to allow the group to perish.  If wolves are chasing a herd of buffalo, and they don’t catch one quickly, one of the strong buffalo will gore the weakest one right in the ass, causing it to fall on its face, and allowing the wolves to kill it while the herd escapes.  In nomadic tribes, the elderly knew when they were doing more harm than good, and would wander off into the woods to die so that the tribe could keep moving.

In today’s society, we’re obviously not nomads, and technology has come a long way.  But are we so different?  Sure, when grandpa breaks his hip, it doesn’t mean it’s time to get him a blanket until he dies like it used to.  But have we gone too far?  Have we become a culture that worships human life, even if that life drags down the lives of everyone else?

My uncle told me that almost every friend he has is either dealing with the recent death of a parent, or is suffering because of the extension of a parents’ life.  Whether it be the parent has dementia, and requires costly hospitalization, or the parent has alzheimers and the child selflessly offered to let the parent live with the child - in either case, the child’s quality of life is being dramatically lessened, and for what gain?  Is this what we want for our children?  Do I want Taylor to spend her retirement money paying for someone to change my bed pan, or to pay for a half dozen rounds of chemo so she can watch me be in pain for a few extra months?  Do I want her to live the rest of her own life remembering how terrible the end of my life was?  I’d like to think I’d put her interests ahead of mine, but I don’t know what that means.

I’m not sure if I think the sick and elderly should commit suicide to ease the pain of their families, but I don’t think it’s all that crazy an idea.  Historically, people knew when it was their time, and took it upon themselves to do the right thing.  But with modern technology, combined with the ridiculous cost of health care, at what point is suicide the morally right thing to do, if only to stop dragging down the rest of one’s family?

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Tonight I attended the evening service at Metropolitan Community Church of Portland in support of my new friend AJ Mendoza.  AJ is entering his senior year at George Fox, and is the president of a student group on campus called Common Ground.  Common Ground is an LGBTQ and straight ally club, formed to support LGBTQ students on campus, and raise of the awareness of LGBTQ issues.  He gave his testimony about realizing he was gay as a teen, and how he dealt with those feelings as a member of a Pentecostal church.  After coming out in high school, he went back into the closet when he started at George Fox, and found the closet much smaller and more painful the second time around.  When OneGeorgeFox started to form, AJ developed Common Ground parallel to, but separate from, 1GFU, and come out of the closet once again, this time in a much more condemning environment.  You can check out Common Ground here:

But AJ’s testimony wasn’t what had me getting emotional.  MCC is what most people would call a “gay church.”  The large majority of its members are gay and lesbian people, most of whom appeared to be attending with their partners.  I know a few of them, but most of them were strangers.  Unlike bigger churches where it’s easy to blend in and hide, when you show up by yourself to a gay church, people notice.  And people hug.  A lot.  It was awesome.

When they took communion towards the end of the service,  the couple in front of  me spent most of it in each other’s arms, faces buried in shoulders.  It wasn’t hard to see what church meant to them.  I tried to put myself in their shoes - a Christian, inter-racial gay couple.  Separately, each of those identifiers mean something different.  The identifiers of being Christian and gay usually mean the two are not the same person.  I thought of how in everyday life, a Christian person may have a hard time gaining acceptance from gay culture.  And a gay person will likely have a hard time finding acceptance among Christians.  How hard it must be then, for someone who is both.  Not being fully accepted by the gay culture because they cling to the faith that has caused so much damage to the gay community.  And not being accepted by the Christian community because they were born a certain way.

But here they were, in a place where all of the things that make them different are accepted and embraced.  It was as if when they’re at church, they don’t have to look over their shoulder to see who might be judging.  When they’re at church, they can enjoy songs and sermons about the God they love, and they can do it next to the same-sex person they love, and nobody thinks it’s strange.  Church seemed to be their refuge, and I found that powerful.

It’s moment like these that fuel my fire to figure this faith thing out.  I might not be able to enter into faith intellectually, and if we got deep into theology, I’d probably disagree with them on most everything, but the fact that there ARE gay Christians inspires me.  Who else has a better reason to reject the Christian faith than gay American Christians?  Who has been treated worse?  But they’re around, and they’ve found a way to hold onto their faith despite the beating they’ve taken from their spiritual brethren.  More than any theology, to me, that speaks to the power of their faith, and the impact it can have on someone.  And isn’t that what we want?  Not to arrive at a perfectly logical set of faith statements, but to find the place where we can finally let go.  Let go of our fear of dying, our anger towards those who have wronged us, our desire to be fully known and fully loved.  Isn’t that really the point?  Those amazing people have found their place, and they give me reason to think someday I might too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Beer Church

Tonight I attended the greatest church on Earth:  Beer Church

Legend has it that beer church started 5 years ago when a guy named Wally invited some friends to the Horse Brass Pub to talk about stuff.  The next week they went again, and each invited friends, and so on and so forth.  For the last five years, a mixture of people have shown up to the Horse Brass each Wednesday night at 8 to talk about religion.  There’s no creed, no denomination requirement, no judgment, and except for my diet coke chaser, no non-alcoholic beverages.

As is my way, I was the first to arrive.  I found Wally, introduced myself, and for about 20 minutes, I had him all to myself.  Not knowing anything about each other, he asked me what my current status is.  Now, when most people ask this question, they’re asking if you’re single or not.  Wally wanted to know my religious status.  Fair enough.  I explained that currently, I’m a discontent atheist.  I went through my story of working backwards from fervent Christianity, ditching hell, then finding no need for a savior if there’s nothing to be saved from, then no good reason to continue believing in God at all, to accepting the term atheist.

After my testimony, I asked Wally what his situation is.  He’s a “recovering fundamentalist.”  He is still very much Christian, and claims to hold a “conservative” interpretation of the Bible.  He talked about his wife of 30 years, and how he misses her right now because she’s on a 5000 mile bike trip, riding 100 miles per day.  We talked for awhile about hell, and his view of it.  Wally believes in hell, but not necessarily in the way most people do.  Wally said there’s no scripture that says the decision to accept Christ or not has to come during this life, so it’s entirely possible that people can make that decision after we’re dead and in the presence of God.  Even then, he says, people will reject God, and will have chosen hell, which is nothing more than separation from God.  He believes those souls will be annihilated, and he thinks he can back it up with scripture.   Interesting!

Others arrived, and we talked about such broad topics as capitalism, utilitarianism, public schools, the role of faith in voting.  It was great.  I don’t have a lot of wisdom to impart on anyone following beer church, but I definitely that feel that this kind of gathering can do nothing but good for people.  To be able to put down our sensitivities, our need to be right, and just listen to other people, and accept them as human beings, no matter what their opinions - that is great.  I told a Christian that I’m an atheist while having no idea he was a Christian, and he didn’t argue with me at all.  We left as friends, and I’m certain I’ll be back again soon.  This was the perfect church for me.  A diverse group of people who aren’t interested in anything more than a good conversation, and some beer.  Amen!