On Privilege and Ignorance and "Showing the Work”

I recently read someone on the left decry a right wing commentator by saying his "white male privilege allows him to make sweeping statements uninformed by history and never once question his position". And in the case of this comment, they are substantively correct in their critique, and yet they offer none of that substance in the critique itself. All that is offered is, ironically, a sweeping statement without evidence. In math terms: They get the answer right, but show none of the work. This is a problem. 

And here is why: I am white. I am male. I grew up in the relative privilege of a middle class southern family. Relative privilege because, while I benefitted from the systematic bias of southern society for white folk, we did not have much disposable income to instantiate that bias. Once I came to Jesus, I didn't want to be privileged anymore. I wanted to follow Jesus and "love my neighbor as myself". Thus, as a college graduate I got a nearly minimum wage social work job working with runaway and abused kids (at two places for nearly 7 years). But I still saw life through the eyes of Anglo American privilege. I wanted to see differently, but I didn't know anything different. And I was a social worker, not a banker or executive or IT guru. A social worker.

I heard slogans and anger and criticisms of white male privilege, but never with any content attached. In math terms: They never showed the work, just the answer, just the rage. It was quite frankly indecipherable to me, because I had no idea why they were talking the way they were, why they were so angry, and what I had done to be part of that anger. What else did they want? I made almost minimum wage, was saddled with student loan debt, worked with the poor and abused, and lived in the non-anglo side of town. Yet, I still didn't have the mental apparatus to really get how privilege works. 

And keep in mind: I was actually someone dissatisfied with how things are. I wanted to change. But I literally-- and I mean literally literally-- could not discern what those who were not like me wanted me to change from and to. I did not understand how economics tilts the playing field. I did not understand structural injustice. I did not see how cultural privilege worked. I had only an inkling that history was written largely from the perspective of the winners and the wealthy. And no one who had this knowledge would tell me. They would tell me that they were mad at me ("me" as a category, as a social construct), but not why. 

The only way I learned this was because of friendship: Because of personal relationships with people willing to patiently explain their experience to me. One night as a social worker, a Black single mother colleague spoke to me for hours-- often with tears-- to tell me why I didn't understand, and why I couldn't "empathize" with her. That opened my eyes. Then there was the time I had coffee with my Black professor of liberation theology at seminary. And then there was the long, carefully crafted email reply to me from my Latino professor about structural change of social systems. And then there were long pastoral conversations with parishioners who are gay, lesbian, and transgender. In math terms: They did the work. They not only had the answer, but they showed me why. They let me in on the mechanisms of privilege and entitlement and structural racism and systemic prejudice that I had been blind to, because most of these mechanisms worked to my favor, without showing me their operation or even their existence. 

Because that is how privilege works: Those who are privileged are usually the last know it. 

Once my eyes were opened, then I read. I watched. I listened. To tons of books and lectures and podcasts about cultural criticism, social justice, and liberation theology. This is not to say that I am any expert here. And I certainly do not know what it is like to walk a mile in the shoes of anyone I am not. But I know enough now to be aware, and even to act in ways that counteract my privilege, or to use my privilege to benefit those who would normally be shut out. And I have a lot more to learn and a lot more to do. But if this is the case for me-- someone who basically wanted to change and grow-- imagine how impenetrable the privileged veil of ignorance is for someone who is "change averse". 

Unless your strategy is to kill or silence those with whom you disagree, the only option for social change is for those with privilege to actually learn why and how they are privileged. It isn't enough to aim anger and condemnation at them. Especially when the "them" in question are often young adults who are incredibly naive about the social world they belong to, and thus even more naive about the social world they have never experienced. We must not only have the right answer, but show the work. We must engage at a personal level with people who may passionately disagree with us and may be invincibly ignorant to why they disagree. Without doing this, then all we are left with is the realpolitik of power and coercion. And instead of a society of compassion and mutual care, we will be trapped in a society where, in Chairman Mao's terms, "justice comes from the barrel of a gun". 

P.S. In the hopes of helping us “show the work”, this cartoon, and this video, are perhaps the best short form explanations about how privilege works systemically. For a great essay about how we refuse to "show the work", and thus continue to perpetuate class and culture divides in our education system and in our society, I heartily recommend Bill Deresiewicz


A Brief Theology of Tax Day

I see posts going up for Tax Day which say "Taxes are Theft". I'm proud to pay taxes. I'm proud that my taxes go to benefit the common good in a number of ways, from roads, to water treatment, to education, to veterans, to prisons, to helping the needy, to a thousand other public benefits. Granted, some of my tax money goes to pay for military actions I don't agree with, or welfare for rich corporations, sponsored by corrupt politicians. And of course there are policies I vehemently disagree with the current administration about. But you are never going to agree with others about how every dime is spent. Heck, my wife and I don't always agree about how to spend money. Much less me and a government of, by, and for 350 million people.

So all in all, taxes are a pittance to pay for being blessed by God to live in a Nation like this. Furthermore, as a Christian, it is a God given duty: "For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due." (Romans 13.6-7) And we have to remember that Paul wrote those words about living under Roman rule. The same Roman government that later martyred him.

So we may ask hard questions and debate about what programs are supported by our taxes, and whether tax money is being used efficiently. But to make the blanket assertion that "taxes are theft" and "government is bad" represents a narcissistic devotion to an Ayn Randian idea of self and society, and a denial of God's call to live as contributing members to the commonwealth God has placed us in.

Perhaps this rant is best finished by a Prayer for our Nation, from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Mary Magdalene versus the Patriarchy

So the controversy over who Mary Magdalene was has jumped out of the pulpit and lecture hall, and into the Washington Post. For some on the "Right", Mary is a lowly prostitute who Jesus cast demons out of and saved to be one of the "little women" in the Gospel story. For others on the "Left", Mary is one of the leading Apostles, the patron saint of feminine empowerment, who was unjustly and unfortunately silenced by the growing patriarchy of the early Church. Both sides of the debate paint this as an either-or. Either Mary is a barely redeemable ex-whore, or she is an unjustly maligned Apostle. But perhaps the battle lines have been drawn based upon the logical fallacy of the excluded middle.

I sense in this debate a puritanical streak from the Left which is as pharisaical as the Puritanism of the Right. I grant that the scant Biblical evidence here is far from conclusive, but it is far from conclusive for both sides. John 11.2 identifies Mary as the one who anointed Jesus with oil: And in that culture, to have a woman anoint the Messiah is already a subversive statement against Roman and Jewish patriarchy. Some of the other anointing narratives portray her as a "sinner", which often strongly implies sexual sin (cf. Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 7; John 12). This does not mean she had to be a prostitute, and there is also the question of mixed up traditions being recorded. But Matthew in particular is not shy in pointing out that women and men of less than stellar moral and sexual reputations were key branches of Jesus' family tree (cf. the Matthean Genealogy in Mat. 1). And one of the standard Pharisaical charges against Jesus was that he was a friend of "tax collectors and prostitutes". So, there could hardly be a more profound statement about Jesus' commitment to the equal dignity and redeemability of ANY and EVERY person than if he chose to be anointed as Messiah by a woman who had once been a prostitute. To me that speaks not of slut shaming, but of complete redeeming.

I know how this narrative can be twisted by the Right. I've been to sermons in which it was twisted. But I've also been around a ton of hipster left leaning people who talk a lot about social justice, but get offended and turned off when they encounter actual homeless people, actual prostitutes, actual gang members, actual single moms, actual ex-cons, actual veterans, and actual mentally ill people. The Left can have a strange "don't see don't smell" policy about actual poverty, while talking a big game about social justice. This article smacks of this to me. It's fine to talk about God redeeming victims of sex slavery. But when it might be the case that a person redeemed from sex slavery was a leading Apostle, we vehemently deny it and say anyone who raises the possibility is slut shaming.

The case is, we just don't know. Some of the narratives seem to imply Jesus had redeemed her from sex slavery. Other narratives do not. And we don't have access to the traditions or actual history behind the narrative. But I think that as long as we accord Mary her full dignity as a human, and her full heritage as one of the leading Apostles, we are free to speculate and talk about the story of redemption and transformation that she went through.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

Today is called "Good" Friday

Today is called "Good" Friday

Let us take a moment of silence and remember

Jesus has been murdered on a cross

Jesus has been murdered in a concentration camp

Jesus has been murdered by a terrorist machete

Jesus has been murdered by the Mother of all Bombs

Jesus has been murdered by Sarin gas

Jesus has been murdered by systematic starvation in an underdeveloped country

Jesus has been murdered by a preventable childhood disease

Jesus has been murdered on the Trail of Tears

Jesus has been murdered on a transatlantic slave ship

Jesus has been murdered in a refugee camp

Jesus has been murdered as a sex slave trying to runaway

Jesus has been murdered in Jerusalem and in Flint and in Syria and in Wounded Knee and in Sudan and in Iraq and in Ferguson and in Yemen and in Auschwitz and in Hiroshima

Jesus has been murdered by hatred and by apathy, by neglect and by oppression, by overt acts of terror and by looking the other way

After all, didn't Jesus say "What you have done to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have also done to me"?

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


The Hyphen In Between

In memory of Ron Bostian (November 28, 1946 - March 14, 2017)

Today we mourn the death, but more importantly, celebrate the life, of my Dad Ron Bostian. He was 70 years old, stubborn as hell, easy to talk to, and fun loving to the end. It was from him I got my announcer's voice, my cocksure sense of self confidence, my ability to make a joke during any circumstance (no matter how inappropriate), my physical frame, and my stunning good looks. Did I mention he was sarcastic too? I inherited that as well. 


I went to go see Logan 
After my dad died
It was a movie he would have enjoyed
It was a perfect movie to celebrate his life
A perfect movie to mourn his death
Alone in the theater
The smell of popcorn
Assaulting my nostrils 
As I walked through the doors
To childhood matinees
Side by side
The warmth of dad next to me
Buttery fingers
Digging in the popcorn bucket
Or the late night treats
Way past my bedtime
With content rated for eyes older than I 
But he still wanted to take me
Star Wars
Indiana Jones
We keep saying "I'll be back"
Until that one day we won't
Until that one day it really is
Game over man
Game over. 


It's Fundamental

A rap song designed to teach the early history of Christian Theology. Originally written in 2010.

It's the fundamental truths of Christian theology
Brought to your ears by audio technology
So just sit back and embrace the knowledge see
That I'm gonna drop in historic chronology 

Back in the day when Jesus lived and preached 
He didn't write nothin down he just reached the least
He was Love in flesh, the Divine embodied
He didn't have time to draft his own philosophy
He lived. He died. He rose again. 
Then he poured out his Spirit upon his friends
The Jesus movement grew and developed and spread
But the Apostles who led them soon wound up dead
With the apostolic generation close to the grave
They decided to write how Jesus taught and behaved
Now we have Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Acts of the Apostles tells how they moved on
And others like Paul wrote pastoral letters
To help Christians follow the Way of Christ better
To pass on tradition and share the resurrection
To give new believers heresy protection

It's the fundamental truths of Christian theology
Brought to your ears by audio technology
So just sit back and embrace the knowledge see
That I'm gonna drop in historic chronology

The Apostolic writings were copied and shared
And early Christian groups all read and compared
In towns like Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and Phillipi
They read each others letters and kept the archives
Others wrote sermons and tracts to follow the Way
Like Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement and the Didache
Describing the God they knew in Christ
How the Father, Son and Spirit shine forth divine light
They developed a tool called the Rule of Faith
That summarized the Core of what the Apostles say
These Rules all have a simple threefold shape
Around the threefold way that God seems to relate
As the Father who creates, and the Son who saves
And the Spirit who helps us believe and behave 
So they passed down this Faith through the generations
Through teachers ordained in historic succession 

It's the fundamental truths of Christian theology
Brought to your ears by audio technology
So just sit back and embrace the knowledge see
That I'm gonna drop in historic chronology

And so the ancient Church: It grew and grew
But some contradicted Apostolic truth 
Claiming secret teachings and private revelations
They constructed a Christ of their own imagination
But the Church pointed to her Rule of faith
And the public succession of leaders they ordained
From apostle to bishop, from bishop to priest
How from apostolic times they consistently agreed
Secret teachings and new christs were shown to be lacking
And all their forged Scriptures were all sent packing
Because they simply couldn't pass the history test
And they weren't found in what Christians always professed
So the Church made lists of authentic teachings
And compiled a catalog of Apostles preaching
By the fourth century we now know indeed
There was a stable Bible text and the start of a Creed

It's the fundamental truths of Christian theology
Brought to your ears by audio technology
So just sit back and embrace the knowledge see
That I'm gonna drop in historical chronology

Once the Church became legal in year 313
Christians could now gather and discuss publicly 
So the bishops came together from east to west
To decide which teachings would pass the test
To show which beliefs best fit the evidence
In Scripture and tradition and historic precedent
Seven worldwide councils met in four centuries
To examine Christ's life and define boundaries 
One boundary defined the Holy Trinity
God in three persons from all eternity 
Other boundaries defined the person of Christ
Fully God and fully human in one historic life 
Without confusion or division, human yet divine
One with the Father and Spirit from before all time
This Christ we worship in prayer and praise
Through words and icons we see his glory displayed.

It's the fundamental truths of Christian theology
Brought to your ears by audio technology
So just sit back and embrace the knowledge see
That I'm gonna drop in historic chronology 

Explaining Anglicans: A Guidebook for Exploring a Tradition-rich, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, Balanced Faith.


This is a short booklet (or a long essay, depending on how you look at it) written from 2005-2010 designed to introduce you the history of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. This history is messy yet magnificent, wacky yet wonderful, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes holy. But it is always a love Story about how a particular God has reached out to a peculiar people to knit them into His plan of salvation for the whole world. As such, this is my take on the Story. It isn't objective. It is often biased. But I hope I have used the facts accurately to give anyone who reads this a short overview of an immensely complex and winding history. As such I know there will be things I have left out, and judgments I make, that others will find unfair. For that I am sorry, and I offer a bibliography at the end for anyone who wishes to read a more "reputable" version of the Story I am re-telling.

This book is intended to be used for seekers, or those going through confirmation, in the Anglican or Episcopal Church. It is specifically made for those who may be looking at the Episcopal Church from another Church background, especially from non-liturgical Protestant Churches. I make no claim that this book is a comprehensive history or theology of Anglicanism, it is merely a short introduction. This book is designed for group studies in confirmation class, used with older teens and adults. If you are doing confirmation with young teenagers or below, this book is probably not for you.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: How the liturgy shaped the worldview of early Christians

A 2004 paper written to fulfill the requirements of History of Christian Doctrine.


Chasing Falsifiability down the Rabbit Hole to Transcendence

In my Philosophy of Religion class the other day, a student brought up Karl Popper’s principle of “falsifiability” as a criteria for whether a knowledge claim is valid. The way that my student put it: A claim that is empirically sensible is thus falsifiable (it can be refuted by empirical observation), and thus counts as real knowledge. But knowledge claims that are not empirically falsifiable— such as claims about God, ethical value, aesthetic value— do not count as the same kind of knowledge. Perhaps they are a lesser, derivative kind of knowledge. But they are not the kind of absolutely true knowledge one would want to build their world view upon, because they cannot be empirically falsified. And thus, while God, might be an optional or extra belief added onto a scientific worldview, God could never be essential to a worldview, or even a necessary explanatory hypothesis for the nature of Reality, because the idea of God cannot be falsified scientifically.


Stay in the conversation!

Just found out that an old mentor of mine, who has taken a hard swerve to the Alt-Right, has blocked me on Facebook. I thought they had left FB, but a mutual friend said they are still on FB posting Alt-Right memes daily. It saddens me that political propaganda can make us so brittle, and our relationships so fragile, that we retreat into our safe spaces of only people who hold to the same dogmas we hold.

Now I have blocked people on FB too, but I think I have only blocked people who (a) were super-argumentative but not my friend in real life, and/or (b) were verbally abusive to me personally, and/or (c) advocated violence against persons they despise or disagree with. But as long as someone doesn't cross these boundaries, I stay in the conversation, even if I find most of their posts to be complete bovine excrement.

So, it saddens me when someone exiles themselves from relationships so their ideology will remain unchallenged. It can even mean a loss of memories and experiences that were only shared with that person. So, as I have said many times: Stay in the conversation, and learn how to debate using evidence and reason, instead of memes and insults.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


Do Moral Values change over time?

It is often claimed that moral values change greatly over time as societies “advance”. For instance, it is often claimed that modern societies are morally superior for not killing witches or shunning homosexuals. But perhaps what this apparent progress actually shows is that while we are scientifically superior, we may actually be morally similar, to ancient societies. Surprisingly similar moral values often underlie very different historical manifestations of morality. How can this be so? It seems to me that when we combine traditional moral values with increasing scientific knowledge, we actually get changes in cultural practices that are more just and compassionate. Let me unpack this with some thought experiments:

What counts as "Christian"?

Recently I was in an online discussion about whether a group of people and the ideas they represent are "Christian". My initial response was that if they have been baptized into Christ, and they do not renounce that baptism, then they are Christians. They may be faithless Christians, bad Christians, hypocritical Christians, uninformed Christians, unjust Christians, but they are still Christians.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.