Showing posts with label #Rant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Rant. Show all posts

Happy holidays!

by K.W. Leslie, 27 November 2023

In the United States it’s the holiday season. As soon as Halloween is over, out come the Christmas sales, and people start putting mint in everything. You know what we’re ramping up towards.

Javascript isn’t working this Christmas!

Some elf overdid it on the sugar.

I get why the holidays bug people. It’s the commercialism. The merchandising. The obligatory traditions which hold no more meaning for you. The mandatory functions which aren’t any fun, like the Christmas pageants where you gotta watch kids and earnest church members, who have no business singing in public, charitably permitted to nonetheless sing in public. Or the naked, unadulterated greed which sucks the soul out of this time of year.

It’s why I advise Christians to redirect our attention to Advent, the four weeks before Jesus’s nativity. Eastern churches start it even earlier, 40 days before Christmas, and make a fast of it, like Lent. Which you could do, if you’re into fasting; I’m not. But Advent’s purpose isn’t to deprive ourselves so Christmas seems way better by comparison. Nor is it to ramp up the pressure to make ready for a super-blowout Christmas Day. Properly it’s the time to set our eyes on Jesus. He came once before… and he’s coming back again.

Happy Halloween. Bought your candy yet?

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October 2023

For more than a decade I’ve ranted about the ridiculous Evangelical practice of shunning Halloween. I call it ridiculous ’cause it really is: It’s a fear-based, irrational, misinformed, slander-filled rejection of a holiday which is actually a legitimate part of the Christian calendar.

No I’m not kidding. It’s our holiday. Christians invented Halloween.

A perfect opportunity to show Christlike generosity—and give the best candy ever. But too many of us make a serious point of being grouchy, fear-addled spoilsports. Image swiped from a mommy blog.

I know; you’ve likely read an article which claims Halloween got its origin in pagan harvest festivals. That’s utter bunk. Some neo-Pagan, one of the capital-P Pagans who worship nature and its gods (whose religions date from the 1960s, even though they claim they’re revivals of ancient pre-Christian religions), started to claim we Christians swiped it from them, and Christianized it. There’s no historical evidence whatsoever for this claim, but they keep claiming it. And every year, gullible reporters repeat it whenever they write about the history of Halloween.

The story has always been hearsay, but it’s been passed around so long, people actually try to debunk me by quoting 20-year-old articles which claim Halloween was originally Samhain or some other pagan festival. But those old articles were poorly sourced. Incorrect then; incorrect now.

Samhain (pronounced 'saʊ.ən) is a contraction of sam fuin/“summer’s end.” It’s a Celtic harvest festival which dates back to pre-Christian times. It happens at the autumnal equinox, which took place last month, at 22 September. It’s totally unrelated to Halloween. It’s as if you claimed the Fourth of July was originally a celebration of the summer solstice… and the fact you barbecue and drink beer on that day, same as the ancients used to cook meat outdoors in the summer and likewise drink beer, proves it.

Oh, and neither neo-Pagan nor Christian holidays involve a celebration of creepy horror movie themes. That got added in the 20th century.

Standing with Israel?

by K.W. Leslie, 17 October 2023

My views on Israel are not conventional. So, of course, they’re controversial.

For the average American Evangelical, the Jews are God’s chosen people. Ek 20.5 There might be more than a few antisemites among us, but for the most part we believe God established a relationship with Abraham ben Terah, and God chose Abraham’s and Israel’s descendants as his particular people. God graciously freed Israel’s descendants from Egyptian slavery. God set up a king over them whom they called Messiah (or as gentiles usually call him, Christ). Jesus of Nazareth is the final and greatest and eternal Messiah. Our religion is a descendant of the Hebrew religion. We even swiped their holidays.

Likewise the average American Evangelical also believes God promised the descendants of Israel a land on the Mediterranean Sea’s west coast, known as the Levant, or Canaan, or Palestine. The promise was conditional: If the Israelis kept covenant with the LORD and upheld his Law, they could live there and prosper. God encouraged the nations round about Israel to support it and ally themselves with it, if they knew what was good for them. Of course this is based on the presumption Israel followed God: When Israel followed God, it and its allies prospered. When it didn’t, not so much.

And because it didn’t, ancient Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires. It was made a client state of them, and later of the subsequent Persian, Greek, Seleucid, and Roman empires. (With a tiny bout of independence between the Seleucid and Roman periods.) Then, in the year 70, the Romans destroyed Israel again. And it stayed destroyed.

Stayed destroyed, most Evangelicals say, until the 20th century, when the Jews reestablished the modern state of Israel in 1948. And here’s where they and I part company. The modern state of Israel is an entirely new state. It’s not the same state as ancient Israel.

It contains God’s chosen people, in that many Israelis are Jews. It consists of a lot of land which ancient Israel occupied. It’s ancient Israel’s successor state. But it’s not the same state. No more than Italy is the Roman Empire, Turkey is the Ottoman Empire, or Russia is the Soviet Union. It’s a new country, younger than the United States.

It doesn’t even resemble ancient Israel. The ancient country consisted of 13 tribes occupying 12 territories, ruled by patriarchies connected by a common ancestry, common God, and common covenant with that God. Later it had a king, whose personal loyalties to God tended to sway the whole country’s devotion, and affected their peace and stability. The current country has a Knesset/“congress,” an elected parliament, led by a prime minister. It has a military-industrial complex which keeps the country always ready to defend itself against its neighbors, fight its dissidents, and suppress a large ethnic minority of Palestinians. None of this current system is spelled out in the Law of Moses; today’s Israel is a secular state which permits freedom of religion, so they don’t follow it. Not that Jewish nationalists don’t try with all their might to make ’em follow it.

So despite what both Jews and Evangelicals claim, it’s a whole different country than the one founded by the LORD through Moses ben Amram in the 1400s BC. Therefore none of the bible’s prophecies and promises which have to do with the country of Israel, apply to present-day Israel. They were fulfilled by ancient Israel. They might look like they repeat themselves with present-day Israel… but that’s only because history repeats itself. That, and Evangelicals really like to stretch those bible passages to suit their ideas, but they’re not what God meant by them.

Pride Month.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 June 2023

A Gallup poll released in February 2022 revealed 7.2 percent of Americans identify themselves as queer—by which I mean something other than heterosexual; either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or any other categories not covered by the first four. The younger the adults are, the more those percentages go up.

  • Generation X (which’d include me) is about 3.3 percent non-hetero.
  • Gen Y, the millennials, is at 11.2 percent.
  • Gen Z is at 19.7 percent.

I didn’t include the stats for baby boomers and silents because—let’s be honest—a bunch of them are still in the closet. Or in denial.

And I have some questions about those Generation Z figures. Because—let’s keep being honest, shall we?—some of the younger adults don’t know what they are. Young people are still figuring it out! Some of them might legitimately be queer. Some might not be, but they’re trying queerness, because being straight hasn’t really worked out for them. I’ve got one coworker who figures he’ll try anything once, and that includes gay stuff, because who knows?—maybe he’s gay. He doesn’t know, and aren’t parents always telling their kids about food, “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it”? So he’s trying it.

Yeah, I can already hear my conservative readers wringing their hands from here: “Woe is us; our nation is going to hell.”

(Relax folks; it was always going to hell. Isn’t that what your favorite End Times prognosticators have always taught? Or were you paying more attention to politicians than them?)

But lemme leap back to that previous comment I made about the baby boomers and silents. ’Cause if you think I was just making a joke about ’em, no I wasn’t. If you think I was just being facetious, I’m really not. There have always been queer people. They’ve been hiding. Those low numbers in those older generations do not mean there used to be fewer of them, but their numbers are growing. They mean many of ’em are still hiding.

Because not too long ago in America, you could get killed over it. Still can. All it takes is someone with hate in their heart, who thinks nobody’s looking, and thinks God’s actually okay with killing people over it. ’Cause you can certainly get that idea when you quote certain anti-gay scriptures.

Leviticus 20.13 KJV
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

There are other countries, like Russia and Uganda and Saudi Arabia, which have made laws based on such scriptures, and will jail and execute you for being gay, and think they’re righteous for doing so. And when you listen to certain conservatives in the United States, they think those countries are right to do it, and wanna know why we don’t do it.

Well duh; because we’re not the nation of ancient Israel. Because their covenant with God is not ourcovenant with God. We don’t even have a national covenant with God. True, one idiot or another claims the Mayflower Compact, or the U.S. Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, is a covenant with God… and of course these things absolutely aren’t. Likewise some Christian yutz might cobble together a statement or declaration or creed, and claim they’re making a national covenant with God, and of course they don’t speak for all American Christians any more than I do.

Our Constitution (specifically article 6 section 3, and amendment 1) establishes no religion nor religious system over this country. The United States may be predominantly Christian, but it was intentionally made a pluralistic society. As such we can have among our citizens and residents Christians and pagans, Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, Wiccans and nontheists, and no covenant is in violation. God’s not gonna smite us with tornadoes because we harbor gay people. Nature will, because we won’t stop polluting.

So all those conservatives who imagine God’s gonna be very, very angry with America unless we purge every queer person from sea to shining sea? Man have they got God wrong. There’s an awful amount of projection in their interpretation of him: They are upset and hostile towards non-heterosexuals, so they imagine God must share all their frustration and rage. After all, they imagine they’re tight with God; surely he’s at least as pissed and murdery as they.

And that’s where we are this LGBT Pride Month.

Attendance and membership numbers, and institutional dishonesty.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May 2023

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Evangelical denomination in the United States. That’s why I pay attention to its goings-on: What the Southern Baptists are up to, is usually what a lot of Evangelicals are up to. Even though Christians are supposed to follow Jesus, not the crowd, we have a bad habit of following the crowd, and the SBC makes up a big chunk of this crowd.

Lifeway Research is the SBC’s research firm. They do surveys and find out what the current trends are in the SBC and United States. It’s data you can use—assuming you don’t immediately go into self-defense mode or denial when it tells you what you don’t want to hear.

And this week Lifeway Research reported how things are going with Southern Baptist numbers. Attendance is up by more than 5 percent, baptisms are up by more than 16 percent, and giving is up by almost 2 percent. All welcome news. Membership, however, is down about 3 percent—and that was their headline. As was Religion News Service’s headline, when they summarized Lifeway Research’s report.

Attendance is nice, but membership is a bigger deal to Baptists. Because the common belief is members commit. Attendees visit the church, but we’ve no idea whether they’ll still be around after the summer, or if they’re not visiting four or five churches in town at once. Attendees might volunteer to pitch in here and there, and might put money in the offering buckets, but we can’t really count on them to be there every month like members.

Well, that’s the expectation. It’s not been my experience. I’ve been to churches where some members haven’t attended in years. They became members because we were having a membership class, so they went, took the classes, signed the papers, and officially joined. Then they got “too busy” over the summer, or over Christmas, or over tax season, or whatever. They left to go somewhere else. Exactly like the “attendees” supposedly will.

These mayfly members really oughta be removed from the church rolls, but aren’t. Usually because the church bylaws say they can only formally quit, or have to commit some sort of mortal sin, followed by due process… or not. Or they do get automatically removed after a certain period of non-attendance, but it’s an awfully long period, like years. Or there are no official rules, but leaders keep ’em on the rolls because maybe they’ll be back. But they won’t.

And of course there are always dishonest leaders who keep ’em on the rolls so they can claim, “I pastor a church of 500!” when it’s really more like 300 on our better Sundays.

So membership’s in decline. Has been in decline since 2006. There were 16.3 million SBC members back then; there are 13.2 million members now. Last time it was this low was 1978.

Okay, but attendance is up! That’s good news, right? How many attendees did the SBC churches have in 2022? Let’s see… 3.8 million?

They’re fretting about only 13.2 million members, but nearly TEN MILLION MEMBERS ARENT COMING TO CHURCH. Shouldn’t that be the headline?

Okay, to be fair, we just had a pandemic, and a lot of people have been watching their church over the internet instead of attending in person. But by now, if they haven’t come back, if they’re not making any regular effort to stay in contact with fellow church attendees, they’re gone. They quit. Hope they’re going somewhere, but they’re clearly not going to your church. Heck, my church had a board member who did that.

Remember what I said about dishonest leaders? That’s what Lifeway Research’s numbers are revealing. The Southern Baptist Convention is not 13.2 million strong; they’re less than a third of that. The attendance number is the real number. The rest is padding.

Yeah, okay, some of it might be justifiable. Shut-ins who simply have to watch the services over the internet, who stay connected with their churches through email and texts and Facetime and active social media interactions, should still totally count as members. Depending on how interactive they are, I’d even count them as in-person attendees: They’re participating in the service nearly as much as the in-person folks. Sometimes more! But even if we generously add a million of them to the attendance total, we’re still talking about a third of the reported membership number.

What Lifeway Research’s data unfortunately reveals… is that Southern Baptist leadership, beginning at the local church level, is not honest about the real number of people in their church bodies. Maybe this dishonesty is the result of a technicality—“But the bylaws say we can’t get rid of these 200 non-attending members!”—but it’s dishonesty all the same. And if the church is institutionally dishonest about something as small as attendance… what else is going on with them?

Well, a lot actually. The SBC has had a lot of scandals lately. Google ’em. It’ll depress you.

Being an influencer.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May 2023

No, I’m not writing about me being an influencer. I don’t wanna be. I know that sounds weird coming from a blogger, ’cause isn’t that why people blog? To get followers, and maybe nudge ’em in the direction of your thinking? (Or in the direction of your advertisers?)

And yeah, I’ve been writing op/ed pieces ever since high school, so I do frequently write with the hopes I might nudge people’s opinions in the same direction as mine. But I learned long, long ago that opinion pieces don’t actually do that. People never think, “Well gee, I don’t know what to think about this subject… so I guess I’ll go read a few articles by some strident partisans, and whoever’s got the best argument will win me over.” Never. Don’t kid yourself.

Generally they already have a trusted guru who tells them what to think. So they already unquestioningly think like she or he does, and anybody who says different is just plain wrong. Or they’re waiting for the guru to descend from the mountaintop with freshly-carved tablets, and refuse to make up their minds till then. Your average influencer dreams of being one of those gurus someday.

Or, on the other extreme, people don’t care. I’ve found that to be way more common. Pure, blistering apathy. They have other things they care about, like football. Or who’s winning Wrestlemania this year.

So why am I writing? Because I wanna talk about following Jesus better. I wanna be part of the support system for other people who wanna follow Jesus better. You can take my advice, or not; you can take other writers’ advice, or not. Either way, if you’re gonna follow anyone, follow Jesus. If you want to be influenced by anyone, let the Holy Spirit do it. Do what God wants you to do, as best you can figure out. The rest of us bloggers and podcasters and pundits?—either we help or hinder, either we produce good fruit or we’re just venting our spleens. And by all means, ignore the folks who hinder!

But you shouldn’t be elevating any one Christian, or even a team of Christians, to the status of guru. We have one guru. Or as Jesus puts it,

Matthew 23.1-12 (my paraphrase)
1 Then Jesus says to the crowds and his students:
2 “The ‘bible experts’ and the ‘devout Christians’ stand in the pulpit 3 hoping you do and observe whatever they might say. But don’t do as they do. They don’t practice as they preach.
4 “They strap heavy, hard-to-carry burdens on people’s shoulders. But they would never lift a finger to carry such things themselves. 5 All they do is for public spectacle. Obvious, showy Christian hats and T-shirts. Stylish Sunday-morning outfits. 6 They love being guests of honor at your dinners. They love to sit on the stage in your services. 7 They love to be greeted in public, and have people call them ‘the master.’
8 You should not be called masters, for one is the Master, and all of you are sister and brother students. 9 You should not call anyone in the world ‘my spiritual father,’ for one is the Father, in heaven. 10 You should not call anyone ‘my spiritual guru,’ for one is the Guru, the Messiah.
11 “The best of you will be your servant. 12 Whoever promotes themselves will be taken back down to earth. Whoever themselves stays down to earth, will be promoted!”

You wanna be an influencer? You’re on the wrong track.

Christianity needs to be woke.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 April 2023
WOKE woʊk verb Past tense of wake.
2. [adjective] Alert to the existence or presence of racial prejudice and discrimination.
3. [adjective] Liberal.
[Wokeism 'woʊk.ɪz.əm noun]

I first heard the term “woke” in college in the 1980s. It had been around since the 1930s or so, but it was largely confined to the black community. I heard it ’cause I had black friends and employers. They used it to describe people who had “woken up” to problems in society which they previously didn’t know about. Namely about racism.

See, you can live a really sheltered life before you get to college. Which is somewhat understandable. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, when there was all sorts of civic unrest going on. Drug addicts in the local parks. Full-on riots, with the National Guard sent in, in the very same county. My parents didn’t want me worrying about this stuff, so they downplayed it, or made sure I saw little to none of it. I get why they did it; I approve.

The only problem I have with this behavior is when it goes on too long. And a lot of parents think it should. They’ll keep sheltering their kids well into their teenage years, arguing, “Why they’re just children.” Legally yeah; and there’s an awful lot of people who retain immature character traits well into old age. But in a very few years, your teenagers are gonna become voters. They can run for office, serve on juries, and join the military. They can become active, participating citizens, who need to know what’s going on in their world. But if they’re sheltered well into their young adult years, they’re going to have a very distorted view of the world. They’ll be horrified when they first encounter the real thing—as I witnessed many times when I went to bible college, and watched my homeschooled classmates struggle mightily when we ministered to the needy, the homeless, and the kids in juvenile hall. They weren’t at all prepared for the world Jesus calls us to minister to.

Y’see, they’d been asleep. And many of them still choose to stay asleep.

Institutional racism continues to be a problem in the United States. It’s a problem I was far too unaware of when I was a kid, ’cause I assumed—’cause I was taught—the racism problem was solved! The Voting Rights Act was passed before I was even born. Racial discrimination was illegal. I lived near military bases, and lookit all our multiethnic soldiers!—they worked together, race notwithstanding, and proved racism was abolished. (Of course I never asked how many officers were nonwhite at that time. Sheltered kids never learn which questions to ask.)

So how’d I become aware of it? I had nonwhite friends. I saw people discriminate against ’em. Sometimes—but seldom; they didn’t always think they could trust me—they told me stories of people discriminating against ’em. Mexican and Filipino and black friends getting the cops called on ’em just because some white neighbor thought, “Oh they must be in a gang.” Or hearing racial slurs from other kids in our school who moved here from predominantly white towns, and brought their racism with them. Or seeing teachers, school administrators, civic authorities, and pastors treat them with low expectations simply because they weren’t white.

I was already kinda “woke” when I got to college, so the teachers didn’t have to convince me. But man alive, were there some white students who were resistant to the idea racism still exists. “Well I never saw any of that happen in my community.” Well you aren’t the baseline for how “normal” is defined, sweetie. (Plus you’re just a bit racist yourself.)

White people largely hadn’t heard the term “woke” until the 2010s, when the Black Lives Matter protests started up, and the term worked its way into the mainstream. And because not everyone bothered to find out what “woke” means—same as pretty much every new word people stumble across—a number of conservatives presume “wokeism” is just another word for the left-wing agenda. It means political correctness, or identity politics, or liberalism in general; it means anything and everything they don’t like.

Thing is, there are plenty of conservatives who are entirely aware what “woke” actually means, and know it doesn’t mean identity politics, or liberalism in general. They’re entirely aware it’s about anti-racism. We know this ’cause they say so… when they’re put under oath.

Bummed your candidate lost?

by K.W. Leslie, 09 November 2022

Yesterday was Election Day in the United States, and since elections take time to tabulate (and people whose candidate lost will sometimes refuse to accept the tabulations, and demand they run ’em again, and even then insist something went wrong in the counting process, and sue, and bear false witness against the tabulators for years afterward), the results are still up in the air. It agitates the impatient. But eventually we’ll know who won… and one side or the other is gonna mope about it.

And, same as in every election, the losing side is gonna put on a brave face, say the usual platitudes—“God’s will be done,” and “God is in control,” and “God works out everything for our good,” et cetera, ad nauseam. God’s on the throne, even though their candidate won’t be. They’re very bummed, and sometimes there’s even weeping and gnashing of teeth and rage.

But they put their trust in Jesus. So they say… now. They weren’t before. This “God’s in charge” stuff is what people say after they’ve been putting their trust in an idol, and God just smashed that idol. As he does.

But not all of ’em will accept the idea God’s in charge. A number of them are plotting violence, and justify it by claiming God’s will has been frustrated. What comes next? God’s wrath… which looks suspiciously like their wrath.

I heard quite a lot of rightists talk about wrath during the Barack Obama years. Yeah, it’s projection; they’re angry, and covet power, and dream of sweet vengeance. Broken idol or not, they’re still idolaters—coveting and worshiping power.

Some of us are just that dense. I sure was.

Why Amazon is my favorite Christian bookstore.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May 2022

Unless you count all the mini-bookstores found in the larger churches, my hometown has only one bookstore. One. It’s downtown; it mostly sells used books.

We used to have a Borders, a Crown Books, a Book Outlet, and multiple used bookstores. And a Family Christian Stores—which wasn’t so much a bookstore as a one-stop shop for all Christian. They had books, but they had even more Christian tchotchkes: CDs, shirts, toys, art for the walls. “Jesus junk.” Now we have just that one bookstore… and the book sections at Walmart, Costco, Target, the other department stores, and the thrift stores. (And the local library’s monthly book sale.)

Why can’t a town of 102,000 sustain a new-books bookstore? Because those stores, for the most part, didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t realize, till it was too late, their primary competition was Amazon—and that Amazon had ’em so beat, people would shop at Amazon while browsing their stores. I did it myself. I’d browse their stacks, find a book I was interested in, take down its ISBN, and look it up on Amazon. Guess who always had the better price.

No, Amazon doesn’t pay me to sing their praises. Even though I link a lot of the books, movies, and albums I mention on TXAB to their website.

I learned a long time ago, and keep seeing it: No matter the bookstore, Amazon offers a lower price on the same book. Even if the bookstore marked everything at 20 percent below the suggested retail price. Even when the books are on the clearance shelf at 60 percent off. Even when they’re in a $2 bargain bin. Even when I find ’em at Dollar Tree for $1.25. Amazon regularly has ’em beat.

I’m not the only bookstore customer who noticed this. I’ve seen other customers browse the bookstore… then whip out their smartphone, compare prices, go with Amazon, and buy nothing from the bookstore but their coffee. If that. Too often Starbucks is cheaper.

Santa Claus and misplaced, misunderstood faith.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 December 2021

Years ago round Christmastime, one of my 9-year-old students asked me, “Mr. Leslie, is Santa real?”

Oh good Lord, I thought, haven’t her parents had the Santa talk with her? I punted. “Ask your mom.”

This girl’s mom was one of those people with an all too common misconception: The way you keep your kids innocent is by keeping them ignorant. And of course this doesn’t work. As you might know from when you were a kid: When you had serious questions, you sought answers. If your parents didn’t have ’em, or wouldn’t give ’em, you’d go elsewhere.

And these days, older kids won’t even go to their parents for answers: They’ll do as their parents do, and grab their phone first. Wanna find out about anything? Grab your phone and ask Siri or Google. Heck, some of you might be reading TXAB right now because you went to the internet instead of texting your pastor.

I’m old: When I was a kid only academics and soldiers had internet. But when my parents weren’t forthcoming, I knew how to look stuff up in an encyclopedia. We had an old edition of the Britannica at home, and if it had little or nothing, there was always the public library.

And if I had to consult other people, there were plenty of knowledgeable adults around. Pastors, mentors, neighbors, schoolteachers, older relatives. Or when absolutely necessary, school friends—but I already knew they didn’t know anything. Not every kid does.

So as their schoolteacher, this is why I got questions about Santa. And God. And why people are so terrible. And how babies are made. And the definitions to certain words which children’s dictionaries correctly refused to include. And that’s just fourth grade; you should hear what junior highers and high schoolers ask—on the rare occasions they don’t assume they know it all.

I taught at a Christian school, so parents were usually okay with me answering God questions. That is, so long that my answers didn’t undermine their favorite assumptions. But some of ’em deliberately put their kids in Christian school to shelter them. Which is another common misconception: You do realize certain parents put their kids in Christian school because they’re bad kids, and are hoping the school will straighten them out so they don’t have to? So while you imagine you’re sheltering your kids, you’re actually throwing them into the hail. Nice job.

In any event the parents were so not okay with me answering any questions about baby-making. Heck, I didn’t wanna do it either; I kept telling them to ask their parents. I told one persistent girl, whose mom refused to have “the talk” with her, “Tell her, ‘If I don’t know how they’re made, what if I make a baby by accident?’ ”—and that worked.

I likewise knew (from experience; a story I’ll tell another time) parents definitely didn’t want me exposing their Santa game. Problem is, the girl asked me in the middle of class, and some of ’em decided to answer her question before her mom could: “Santa’s not real.”

“He’s not?” asked the girl.

“He’s real…” I fumbled, thinking specifically of St. Nicholas of Myra, “but maybe not in the way you’re thinking.”

“Which means,” insisted one of my very literal-minded students, “that he’s not real.” ’Cause kids know a wishy-washy answer when they hear it.

“You don’t know his heart.”

by K.W. Leslie, 15 July 2021

I got a coworker who loves to talk about End Times stuff, ’cause he’s kinda obsessed with it. (No, this article’s not on the End Times.) He likes to bring up any little thing which might be an End Times harbinger, just to get my take on it. Most of the time I tell him he’s worried over nothing. Yeah, some of those things are evil. Racism’s evil, slavery’s evil, pandemics are evil, wars are evil. And they’re the same evils humanity’s had since the very first humans. Wars happen. Plagues happen. Evil people take power. ’Tis nothing new. It’s new to him; he doesn’t know enough history. Which is the usual reason people claim, “Oh it’s so the last days; things have never been this bad.” Yeah they have. And worse.

In 2020 he asked me if I thought then-President Donald Trump was the Beast. Of course I told him no. Because I checked. Just because Trump still acts mighty beastlike on a frequent basis, and just because he’s managed to sucker a lot of partisan Christians into supporting him, doesn’t make him any more the Beast than Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, James Buchanan, Andrew Jackson, or any of the other various immoral men we’ve elected to govern the United States. Plus, I pointed out, we should never really be surprised when someone who’s not Christian doesn’t act Christian.

At this another coworker, whom I’ll call Yanni, butted in: “Trump is so a Christian.”

Yeah, no he’s not.

We got into a minor back-and-forth, where Yanni offered the usual arguments for why Trump’s a Christian. Like how he says he’s Christian. As do lots of people who aren’t really. Which is why I responded it doesn’t matter what Trump calls himself; he could call himself a unicorn if he so chose; doesn’t make him one. Calling yourself Christian means you think you’re Christian, but it’s really what Jesus thinks that counts.

“Who are you to say?” Yanni insisted. “You don’t know his heart.”

If you didn’t grow up Christian, “You don’t know his heart” is an old bit of Christianese which means “You can’t read his mind.” The ancients believed humans think with our hearts, and that’s what “heart” means in the bible. The medievals believed humans feel with our hearts, and from the middle ages to today, Christians have mixed up the medieval definition with the ancient one. So when many Christians say “You don’t know his heart” some of ’em mean, “You don’t know how he feels, deep down, inside.”

Either way, Yanni claimed there’s no way for me to know Trump’s true relationship with Christ. An argument, I might point out, which works both ways: Yanni doesn’t know his heart either, so there’s no way Yanni could know he is Christian.

But “You don’t know his heart” is false. Jesus told us how we can identify his followers: Fruit. If you’re Christian, you got the Holy Sprit within you. If you follow the Spirit—as you should!—you produce fruit. And if you resist the Spirit, you produce bad fruit; you’re fleshly. And back before he was banned from Twitter, what did Donald Trump tweet all day long? Hatred. Anger. Partisanship. Rabble-rousing. Separatism. Envy. Divisiveness. Unethical behavior.

Luke 6.43-45 KJV
43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

You wanna know whether a person is Christian? Look at their character. Low character, no Christian.

I am not the baseline. (Neither are you.)

by K.W. Leslie, 10 March 2021

Whenever I have a God-experience—i.e. when he tells me stuff during prayer time, when he confirms stuff through one of his prophets, when he cures the sick right in front of me—my usual response is humility. ’Cause it’s God, y’know. As much as I interact with him, I can’t imagine growing indifferent or jaded to the fact God’s doing stuff. He’s still awesome, and it’s incredibly gracious of him to let me be around, or even get involved in, anything he does.

Of course, I say stuff like this and various other Christians respond, “Excuse me, God does what around you?”

Um… well, yeah. I’m Pentecostal, which means we aren’t just continuationist, i.e. recognize God still talks to people and does miracles. We don’t treat God-experiences like something that might potentially or theoretically happen; we treat ’em as part and parcel of the active Christian life. It’s much like the difference between saying, “Y’know we could go visit Grandma in the retirement home” and never doing it, or calling Grandma every day and planning frequent visits. And sometimes she drops by our house and brings brownies; the homemade stuff, made with the very best medical-grade cannabis. Aw yeah.

Kidding; I don’t do weed. But y’see, depending on one’s expectations, one’s Christian life in practice is gonna look mighty different. So I’m fully aware my experiences aren’t necessarily your experiences. I wasn’t always Pentecostal.

Sometimes the differences are based on higher or lower, strict or loose, iffy or false, expectations. Sometimes sin and fruitlessness. Sometimes a combination of the above. I know dark Christians whose unkind, judgmental, fearful, and ungracious practices turn Christianity into something terrifying, and God into someone to hate. I know unscrupulous Christians who bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate the scriptures so they can justify their desires and excesses. Their response to God is far from humble: If anything, they act as if why wouldn’t God endorse them. They remind me of the spoiled kids of rich people; trust fund babies who were born on third base and act as if they hit a triple. In this case their father is God, whom they totally take for granted. Humility never occurs to them.

Yeah, on TXAB I bring up these people a lot. Otherwise I very seldom dwell on them. I have better things to do. But of course they exist.

And because I seldom dwell on these guys, a few years back I found myself in a bible study, very nearly saying, “When we experience God like that, our usual response is humility…” I had to back up and correct myself: My usual response is humility.

Plenty of other Christians I know, likewise have a good sense of our relationship with God, and likewise respond with humility. But yeah, there are Christian jerks out there who aren’t humble at all. They figure God better come through for them. I can’t relate. But neither should I go around talking about my experience as if it’s the norm. I have no proof of that.

And this, folks, is how we’re supposed to do theology: Don’t go round declaring our experiences, our norms, our preferences, are true for everyone. Unless we’ve done a scientific study or have a properly-interpreted passage of scripture to back us up, we’ve no leg to stand on. We’re claiming a subjective experience is universal.

This is precisely the reason so many people automatically doubt “absolute truths”: Far too often, it turns out they’re not absolutes. They’re just the old prejudices of lazy lecturers—and there are a lot of lazy lecturers out there. Heck, I get lazy sometimes.

But it’s because people like to imagine we’re normal! We don’t wanna be unusual; many of us even fear being weird. So we try our darnedest to find a crowd which is most like us, then claim what we think and like is what everybody thinks and likes. Or what everybody oughta think and like. Our worldview oughta be everyone’s worldview—because we’re “normal” and they’re “not.”

Kamala Harris and religious affiliation.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 August 2020

Kamala Harris. Wikimedia

Kamala Harris is one of my state’s senators, and recently she’s become presidential nominee Joe Biden’s choice for his vice-president. No, this isn’t an endorsement. (Though I confess I’m totally voting for Biden, ’cause Donald Trump is awful.) Instead I’m gonna talk about how the press talks about her religion.

Harris is a regular at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. She considers herself Baptist. Now, her mother’s from Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Madru, India. Her mom was born into the upper-class Brahmin caste, and Harris has been to India many times to visit the family, and go to temple with them. Various news articles claim she was raised Hindu and Christian.

Hence I’ve heard a number of people claim this means she’s both. I’ve heard it from people in both parties: From Democrats who think having multiple religions makes her broad-minded… and from Republicans who think it makes her pagan.

The way certain articles report it, she sounds both Christian and Hindu. But you gotta remember a lot of reporters, including religion reporters, aren’t religious. So they don’t know squat about religion… and presume you’re born into your religion. Just as they themselves were born into the religions they no longer practice.

So if Harris’s mom is Hindu and her dad is Christian, that makes her both. Right?

Following that logic, I should be both Christian and atheist. Except I’m totally not atheist. I picked a side. People can do that, y’know. Harris did.

White Jesus… and those who insist he stay that way.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 August 2020

This is the only physical description of Jesus in the bible.

Revelation 1.12-16 KWL
12 I turned round to see the voice speaking with me,
and in so doing I saw seven gold lampstands.
13 In the middle of the lampstands: One like the Son of Man,
clad in a full-length robe with a gold belt wrapped round his chest.
14 His head and hair: White, like white wool, like snow. His eyes like fiery flames.
15 His feet the same: White bronze, refined in a furnace. His voice: Like the sound of many waters.
16 He had seven stars in his right hand. From his mouth came a sharp, double-edged saber.
His face: Like the sun, shining in its power.

Since it’s in Revelation, a book which largely consists of apocalyptic visions, people don’t take it literally. I find this to be true of even the nutjobs who take everything literally in that book. A Jesus with bronze skin and white hair? Gotta be a representative vision. ’Cause Jesus, as everybody knows, is white.

Been white since medieval times—’cause that’s how artists painted him.
Warner Sallman’s 1941 painting Head of Christ, the one many an American Protestant church has on the wall somewhere. Wikipedia
Arguably been white even longer than that: You know that picture of Jesus I use on the TXAB banner? Comes from Khristós Pantokrátor, one of the oldest ikons of Jesus we have, dating from the sixth century. Painted by Byzantine Greeks… so, no surprise, Jesus looks Greek. ’Cause when people try to produce an image of God, we have the bad habit of rendering him in our own image.

So that’s what we see in every European painting of Christ Jesus: He’s European. Artists wanted to identify with him, or make him more familiar-looking to local audiences, or portray him in church pageants without wearing brownface. Northern European paintings tend to make him look northern European; southern European paintings tend to make him look southern European. Italian artists made him look Italian, French artists made him look French, Dutch artists made him look Dutch, and American artists made him look… well, whatever ethnic background they have. Usually white.

So when I was growing up, just about every picture of Jesus to be found in Protestant and Catholic churches, depicted him as white. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most diverse parts of the country, and even so: White Jesus was everywhere.

Most popular was Werner Sallman’s Head of Christ, which you’ll still see all over the Christian subculture. Even in predominantly nonwhite churches: Black, Latino, Chinese, everywhere. They frame and display it the same way government offices display the President’s portrait. And of course white Jesus was all over our stained-glass windows, paintings, statues, Sunday school materials, Nativity crèches… stands to reason you’d get that idea fixed in your mind.

Plus, all the Jews I knew where white.

Yes, this is an excuse for being ignorant. You see, we were never taught otherwise. No pastor ever gestured at the portraits of white Jesus and pointed out, “Of course, you know he’s not really white.” This was the image of Jesus, and we unthinkingly accepted it.

More or less. Different artists might render the beard a slightly different color. Conservative churches might insist on pictures of Jesus with hair which doesn’t go past the neck. Movies might depict him with a fringed cloak and tunic—you know, like an actual first-century Jew. But for most Americans, that image from the Sallman painting would kick in: The real Jesus had brown hair, a white tunic, and either a red or blue toga. No fringes. Fringes look raggedy.

We’re meant to outgrow this worldview. But not everyone does.

The subtler type of racism.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 June 2020

I occasionally bump into an odd phenomenon; one I briefly mentioned in my article on white Jesus. In short, it’s racism—the type people tend to get away with because it’s subtle.

But first, a big long bit of backstory.

Robert Edward Lee was the commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the United States Civil War. (The U.S. Army started burying soldiers on Lee’s front lawn during the war, as a way to stick it to him. It’s now Arlington National Cemetery.) Lee was one of the better generals in the war… and arguably it’s because he was such an effective general, the war lasted way longer, and killed more, than it ever should have.

Y’might get the idea I don’t think much of Lee, nor the reputation the American south has granted him in the 150 years since the Civil War. You’d be absolutely right.

Robert E. Lee, 1863. Wikipedia

Idol of Lee on his horse Traveller, erected in Charlottesville in 1925. Wikipedia

When Lee originally joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the man swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. Yet he participated in armed rebellion, supporting a separatist nation whose primary reason for existence, explicitly stated in their new state constitutions, was to perpetuate slavery. Southerners reimagined Lee as a noble man, conflicted ’cause he didn’t want to shatter the union his own wife’s grandfather had created. (Her grandfather? George Washington. Yes, that George Washington.) Despite his moral quandary, Lee simply couldn’t bring himself to fight and kill his fellow Virginians. Marylanders and Pennsylvanians, no problem.

Do I sound harsh? I’ve been accused of that. But even by standards of the day, Lee’s behavior is inexcusable. George Washington had recognized the immorality of slavery and freed his own slaves. His adoptive son, George Washington Custis, had freed some slaves, and the rest of Custis’s slaves also expected to be freed at his death, but that didn’t happen. Hence Lee held these very people, hundreds of them, in captivity. Kept ’em in shacks on his land. Worked ’em without pay. Had ’em flogged when they displeased him. As general, he permitted his troops to enslave any free blacks they encountered. And of course they killed American soldiers so they could continue all these offensive practices. Lee never spent an hour in jail for it; he was graciously given amnesty. If anything I’m being generous too.

Southerners are slowly starting to come round to the fact Lee is an embarrassing part of their history. Not someone to be celebrated.

The reason this process is so slow? White supremacy.

From the end of the war till 1877, white supremacists were suppressed by the Army. That stopped after the Republicans made a deal so they could steal the 1876 presidential election. Back then (before the parties traded worldviews in the 1960s), the Republicans were the liberal equal-rights party and the Democrats the super-racist conservative party. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden had unexpectedly won. Republicans were horrified. Congress had to ratify the election, so Republicans held it up for a bit while they struck a deal with the Democrats: If they conceded the election to Rutherford Hayes, the Republicans would pull the Army out of the south, and let the white supremacists do as they pleased. Whatever happened thereafter, happened.

What happened was Hayes was a useless one-term president. And southern Democrats created racist “Jim Crow” laws which made life utter hell for southern blacks for a century. White supremacists repainted the Civil War as a noble but failed cause, just like Gone With the Wind depicts it: They were just fighting for their slaveholding way of life; for their slaveholding heritage; for states’ rights to perpetuate slavery; nevermind northern states’ rights to not return runaway slaves.

And that’s when all the pro-Confederacy idols cropped up. Yes of course it’s civic idolatry. Racist style.

Including the idol of Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was commissioned in 1917, built in 1925, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Currently the state of Virginia is trying to take it down in response to the Black Lives Matter protest—and it’s about time. But white supremacists have been fighting that for years. A judge is currently blocking its removal.

Back in April 2017 the Charlottesville city council decided to sell it, and rename Lee Park as Emancipation Park. So white supremacists threw a big rally in August at the University of Virginia campus, where one of the white supremacists ran a car into counter-protesters. Some of ’em were waving Nazi flags right alongside their Confederate flags. (Nazis are another group white supremacists are trying to repaint as a noble but failed cause.)

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had tweeted at the time,

I don’t care for everything Huckabee tweets (I don’t share his sense of humor at all), but I liked this one so I retweeted it. Didn’t take long before I got these two responses:

  • “[It’s wrong] for ANY race to think they are superior to another. There are racists on both sides.”
  • “No worse than black racism. Racism is racism. There no runner-up prize.”

And someone who tried to pivot to a discussion of black people’s sins. See, when you can’t defend your own behavior, deflect as best you can.

“Don’t forget there are black racists.”

Of course black racists exist. I’ve met a few. When I went to college in Sacramento, I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood. Worked for a black newspaper. And every so often, someone would come into the office who was a little bothered there was a white guy in there. Shouldn’t the jobs at a black newspaper, they figured, go exclusively to black people?

I tell this story to people and they respond, “Ah, that’s reverse racism.” Nah, it’s just racism. “Reverse” suggests maybe it’s normal for whites to be racist, and I definitely object to that idea.

Some of the racism came from the Nation of Islam. Its leaders have notoriously taught that white people were invented 6,600 years ago by a black scientist named Yakub, who bred people till they turned into white devils. (I’m not kidding.) True, many whites have acted profoundly devilish towards blacks and Muslims, and not just in the past. But their Yakub myth guarantees whites and the NOI aren’t gonna reconcile anytime soon.

And some of the racism came from people who had awful experiences with whites in the past, and didn’t expect me to behave any better. Kind and friendly to me to my face, but I overheard ’em when my back was turned. Sad to say, it wasn’t my first experience with this type of racist: My relatives are just the same. Friendly in public, racist in private. Any people of color they personally know are “one of the good ones,” yet everybody they don’t know is gauged by whatever offensive stereotypes they persist in believing.

Still, Huckabee’s comment is about how white supremacy is evil. Why’re people suddenly bringing up black racists? Yeah they exist; it goes without saying. So why do people suddenly feel the urge to say it anyway?

It reminds me, I told the commentators, of a little kid who’d just been caught disobeying. The parents told him, “Stay out of the cookie jar,” and caught him with his hand in it not two minutes later. As kids do, his defense was, “But the other kids got into it too.” Not too dissimilar from Adam pointing the finger at Eve when God caught ’em eating from the wrong tree. Ge 3.12

I hadn’t accused any of my Twitter followers of white supremacy. I’d simply agreed with Huckabee’s statement. And their response wasn’t, “That’s right, white supremacy is evil.” It was, “Don’t forget not all racists are white.” It’s the reaction of a kid whose hand was in the cookie jar.

Is that the button I pushed? Of course it is. These people identify with white people so strongly, they feel they need to respond to any objection to white misbehavior. They’re speaking up for their race. I never asked ’em to (and certainly don’t recognize them as any such spokesperson). But they felt it necessary.

Pity instead of defending themselves, or joining the condemnation of a sinful fringe group, they chose to point fingers: “Don’t forget their sins.”

Yeah yeah yeah. But let’s return to yours, shall we?

Passive racism.

A lot of racists are entirely sure they’re not racist… solely because they don’t hate other races.

Because they assume hatred is how we define racism. Racists hate. Ergo if you don’t hate, you’re no racist. That’s why the president says racist things, creates racist policies, yet insists he’s no racist: He doesn’t hate other races, so he’s clearly not racist.

These folks don’t love other races either. But all they focus on is how they don’t hate them.

So they imagine they’re not racist. Even as they quietly discriminate between one person and another, for better or worse, entirely based on the stereotypes they hold about different races, ethnicities, nations, religions, and cultures. That’s why my family members believe they’re not racist when they totally are.

At the foundation of all this is total depravity: Humans are self-centered. We primarily think of ourselves, and not so much others. We don’t love our neighbor as ourselves; we love ourselves, and don’t hate our neighbors, and figure that’s just as good. We love ourselves, our own, and however far we care to extend “our own.”

For some Christians, they love their fellow Christians. Or at least their fellow Protestants, or fellow Evangelicals, or fellow conservative Evangelicals. Or pretty much their own denomination. Or not even that; just their church. Or not their church either; just the people in their bible study. Well, a few of them.

For some Americans, they love their fellow Americans. So long that they’re “real Americans,” by which they mean Americans who share their politics. Or who “act American,” by which they mean act like them… or to be blunt, act white. Because white is “normal” and “regular,” and everything else, not so much.

Once we finally define those boundaries, whether they’re wide or narrow, we humans figure we’re in competition with everybody outside the boundaries. Us versus them. Our team versus theirs. Needy versus wealthy. Progressives versus conservatives. Christians versus Muslims—sometimes teaming up with the Jews, sometimes not. Whites versus nonwhites.

Usually we’re competing for power. Sometimes political, sometimes economic, sometimes for attention and resources.

So when white people get accused of racism, they defend the team, and counterpunch at the other team: “What about the black people?” After all, if we’re in competition, we’d better not be the only group getting a yellow card. Black folks have their racists too!

Yep, that’s the mindset behind their slogan, “All lives matter.” It’s their tone-deaf response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which was created to address the very real problem of institutional racism: When a black kid walks down the street, far too often white cops don’t think of him as a pedestrian, but as a perpetrator. They don’t know what he perpetrated, but they take it upon themselves to find out. And way too often it ends with a dead kid. All my life I’ve walked through neighborhoods at night, and never once been questioned by police. But my black friends got questioned as they were waiting for the morning school bus. Police departments need to train this mentality out of their cops, and some do… and some don’t. Hence Black Lives Matter.

The “All lives matter” slogan would make sense if all kids were hassled by the cops. They aren’t, so it doesn’t. It’s really just white idiots who don’t understand the issue at all… but they still want equal time. If it’s not about them, they wanna shoehorn themselves in there somehow. It’s more selfishness than racism.

But it does stem from racism: The passive stuff. The subtle racism. Closet racism. Whatever you care to call it: When people don’t love their neighbors enough to identify with them, come alongside them, love them, and surrender their power and privilege if only it might help them.

It confuses people because they realize something’s wrong with this mindset, but they can’t pinpoint the problem. They figure since they tend to see it among conservatives, it must be a form of conservatism. It’s actually not; I’ve known liberal and progressive racists who are insultingly condescending towards nonwhites. The jerkish behavior has nothing to do with politics, although it becomes painfully obvious when politics come up. It has to do with the absence of love. They don’t love their neighbors.

So call it what it is. Out it whenever it’s practiced. Rebuke it.

If Christians find ourselves in any position of privilege whatsoever, we’re meant to use it to help others So do love your neighbors. Speak out. And, in case you don’t figure these people legitimately are your neighbors, love your enemies and opponents too. That’ll work just as well.

Skipping the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 April 2020
I had most of this piece published in the September 2014 issue of Oremus Press. So to my Catholic sisters and brothers who followed the link here: Hi there! God bless.

Another essay I’ve been asked to repost is my bit on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And no, I’m not gonna spell it Sepulchre, like the British and Canadians do. I’m an American. Our spelling makes more sense. Well, slightly more.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher: The massive church building which contains both Golgatha and Jesus’s tomb. Wikimedia

What prompted my original post in 2010 was my brother and sister-in-law going to Israel. It was with some folks in their church, and was the basic pilgrim’s package: You get Jerusalem of course, and a few of the more popular sites from the bible. Provided there’s no open warfare in those areas; the last thing either Israelis or Palestinians want are shot-up tourists. Both sides profit from tourism.

When I went to Israel in 1998, I wanted to see Hebron, ’cause Abraham is buried there. But nothing doing: It was off-limits to tourists at the time. So I had to settle for Beersheba, one of the many places where Abraham camped. Or Tel Dan, where the ancient city of Laish, which Abraham once visited, was being excavated. Or the Dome of the Rock, where Abraham tried sacrificing one son or the other (the Torah says Isaac, the Quran says Ishmael, and the Book of Mormon probably says he did it in North America. Nah, kidding.) Probably these sites were more interesting than Hebron. I suppose I’ll never know.

So before going, the pilgrims at my brother’s church met regularly to discuss the sites they’d see. This way they could look them up in advance. Or, which is more likely, not. And once they finally got to Israel, they wouldn’t need to listen to any spiel from the tour guide. They could just stand there and bask in the awesomeness of where they were… assuming they knew where they were. I know the bible fairly well, but every once in a while, during my own trip to Israel, I’d go, “Where?” Y’see, some of the places today have unfamiliar Arabic names, and other locations are so minor (’cause most of the action takes place in Jerusalem, Samaria, Capernaum, and sometimes Bethlehem) so you can be excused for not knowing every little place where Jesus stopped for a bathroom break and a falafel. But now that you were there, you could stand there and think, “Wow, Jesus stood here.” Then take photos and video. And later that evening, upload it to Facebook.

Me, I’d rather pick the tour guide’s brain. The Israeli guides tend to know way more about the sites than many of the books out there. The Israeli Antiquities Authority educates them well. Yeah, some of it is telling the tourists just what they wanna hear: If they’re dealing with Catholic tourists, they’re instructed to never ever point out the Virgin Mary’s tomb. ’Cause everybody knows Mary ascended to heaven. Except non-Catholics, who don’t care whether she did or not; we figure she’ll be in heaven either way.

But when I saw one of their first itineraries, I noticed they were lacking a trip to the Naos tis Anastaseos—that’d be Greek for the Sanctum Sepulchrum, which is Latin for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It wasn’t there. They were going to the Garden Tomb, though.

“Well, what’s the big deal?” most Protestants are likely thinking. “They were going to the Garden Tomb. Why’d they need to go to that Catholic site anyway?”

Because “that Catholic site” is where Jesus was resurrected. He was never laid to rest in the Garden Tomb.

The Garden Tomb.

In the early days of archaeology, archaeologists didn’t know what the hell they were doing. You’ve seen the Indiana Jones movies.

The first archaeologists were people who were knocking around ancient lands. French soldiers in Egypt, or British soldiers in Palestine. Some of ’em realized, “Hey, this ancient stuff might actually tell us something about history. And when you dig around a bit, you find more of it.”

Most folks knew when you dig around the earth enough—at least in places where humans have settled for longer than 500 years, i.e. not most of America—you’ll find remnants of those previous settlers. Usually junk. A building would fall apart, and someone would finally knock it down, level out the ground (more or less), and build on top of the rubble. After 10 centuries of this sort of behavior you actually wind up with a hill, and archaeologists call such manmade hills a tel. The tel consists of layer after layer of previous civilizations’ junk. In the hands of a knowledgeable anthropologist, you can learn all sorts of things about civilizations by their junk.

But in the 19th century, they weren’t interested in learning all sorts of things. Just the main things. The cool things. Like whether they accidentally threw out any gold. Or whether you might find a slab or papyrus which mentioned someone famous, like that Rosetta Stone which mentioned one of the Ptolemies and one of the Cleopatras. Who knows?—in Israel you might find something ancient which mentions David or Abraham or somebody from the bible. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the nads?

Once they realized this, they started digging around willy-nilly. Not bothering to think there oughta be some method to the process. Like paying attention to all the “junk” one finds which isn’t a major discovery. Like destroying evidence which could indicate the timeframe one’s artifact came from. Of course carbon-dating wasn’t invented yet.

So a lot of the early archaeologists worked pretty much the same way Indiana Jones did: Find treasures and stick them in a museum; destroy everything else along the way. Remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? There’s a bit where Jones discovered a medieval knight’s grave in Italy. And desecrated it like crazy. Just so he could get to the Holy Grail all the faster. Archaeologists didn’t bother dusting sites with paintbrushes and toothbrushes. They’d use a backhoe and dynamite if it got ’em results quickly enough. Fr’instance Jericho: They made a royal mess of it. The site today is considered unreliable for serious research because of how badly those early archaeologists dug through it like a kid digging through a box of Lucky Charms for the marshmallows.

This being the case, when the archaeologists wanted to take a crack at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, d’you think the churches who run the place wanted these barbarians anywhere near it? It was bad enough the pilgrims would take a pickax to these places for souvenir rock samples. No I’m not kidding. Mark Twain wrote about the practice in The Innocents Abroad and I thought he was only exaggerating—but on my own pilgrimage, some of my fellow pilgrims actually tried knocking bits off a Roman aqueduct. I personally saw ’em do it. Archaeologists used to be way worse. So I totally understand the bishops saying no thank you; go away; find another spot to ruin.

Most of the reasons why Protestants say the Church of the Holy Sepulcher isn’t where Jesus was laid to rest have to do with anti-Catholicism and sour grapes. Deny ’em access, and suddenly they “discovered” all sorts of reasons why it can’t be the real site:

  • It wasn’t outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem, and of course Jesus was crucified and buried outside the walls. (It actually was, but 19th-century archaeologists didn’t know how to accurately date any of the existing walls or their ruins. They just assumed the city hadn’t expanded any during the Crusades or the Ottoman occupation.)
  • It fit a little too well into Roman city planning for it to be a totally natural location. (Again, it’s not that the 19th-century archaeologists understood how the city adapted, over the previous centuries, to suit the church’s location.)
  • It wasn’t on the east side of Jerusalem, where Jews typically buried their dead. (As if the Romans cared where they crucified anyone.)
  • It used to have a temple of Aphrodite on it. The Roman Christians likely claimed it was Jesus’s tomb because they were trying to replace Aphrodite-worship with Jesus-worship. (They didn’t buy “the Catholics’ ” story about antichrists trying to replace Jesus-worship with Aphrodite-worship by sticking their own temple atop a known Christian worship site. More plausible to them was the idea it’d been totally lost… despite unbroken generations of local Christians.)
  • It’s too Catholic. And it doesn’t look like a hill anymore. Nor a skull.

From Gordon’s Calvary, taken round 1934. That look like a skull to you? Me either. Library of Congress

So the 19th century archaeologists went looking for an alternate site, and found one. It’s called “Gordon’s Calvary” after British war hero Charles George Gordon, although he didn’t personally discover it. He just promoted it in his 1883 book Reflections in Palestine. The archaeologists guessed Calvary/Golgotha, where Jesus was killed, was so called because it physically looked like a skull. They found a rock face which looked remotely skull-like. True, it was north of ancient Jerusalem instead of east… but location is only an argument used against the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

View of Gordon’s Calvary, which you can observe from a little platform at the Garden Tomb site. (’Cause the city buses block the view.) Wikimedia

First time I saw Gordon’s Calvary was a photo in my Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. It didn’t look at all like a skull to me. You have to look at it at just the right angle. Even then it’s iffy.

When you go there, the Garden Tomb docents have kindly put up a photo, taken in 1880, which shows you just the right angle of the rock face. It’s the very same photo as in my bible. It might resemble a really elongated skull, like the Neanderthal skulls they show in science textbooks. But I’m pretty sure 19th-century Christians weren’t subtly trying to promote evolution with their alternate crucifixion site. (Gordon himself believed in reincarnation, but that’s another issue.)

Two reasons they have to include the photo. The Garden Tomb folks bought the land with the tomb on it, but not the land with “Calvary” on it. There’s a bus station there now. The lower part of the “skull” now has a bit of asphalt in the way. So when you go to the Garden Tomb, you don’t get to see “Calvary” up close; you have to go to this platform which allows you to see over the buses. Not very inspiring, but like I said, it doesn’t look as much like a skull as you’d want it to.

The other reason is erosion. For the most part Jerusalem’s rocks are limestone, a sedimentary rock—really, superdensely packed sand—and over time, and not a lot of it, it turns back into sand. Yeah, there’s granite here and there, but even granite erodes, as any of the folks who work on preserving Mt. Rushmore will tell you. When you look at the 1880 photo you can see just how much “Calvary” eroded over the past 136 years. Now, add another 1,847 years of erosion, and tell me how much this hill looked like a skull in Jesus’s day.

Well, it’s possible it did. Then again, if you look at any other rocky hill in the area from just the right angle, it might look just as skull-like. But if you remember your bible, the Hebrews were in the habit of naming places after what happened there. Not after what they looked like. You didn’t name a hill Golgotha because it looked like a skull. You named it that because, regardless of what it looked like, skulls were involved. The skulls of a thousand crucified Judeans perhaps; in one of the many previous Roman over-reactions to a Judean revolt.

Anyway. After the archaeologists found this new “Calvary,” they found a bunch of “tombs” partly concealed by a garbage dump. Included in the garbage was an ancient winepress and cistern. From this, archaeologists concluded there used to be a garden here. And hey, Jesus’s tomb was in a garden! How fortuitous.

The Garden Tomb. With lots of plants around so it looks more gardeny. Wikimedia

One of the “tombs” has a groove in front of it—big enough for, say, a large round stone to be rolled in front of it. Thus the archaeologists concluded this must be Jesus’s tomb, ’cause his tomb had a stone in front of it which needed rolling.

Problem is, this “tomb” didn’t look so much like a tomb as a big gaping space in the side of a hill. With sort of a shelf to sit upon, and a trough in front of it for (they assumed) rolling a stone. So they built a wall to close up the gap. It’s why part of the Garden Tomb looks like a wall: It is a wall. Otherwise it wouldn’t look like a tomb. It’d look like a bench, for people who are waiting for a bus.

More recent archaeologists have looked the Garden Tomb over and found it lacking. Yes, it was a tomb once. But a tomb from Isaiah’s day, back when they put bodies in it and left them there. Not Jesus’s, when they’d put bodies in a tomb, let ’em rot, and collect the remains later to be put in ossuaries. Since Jesus’s tomb is described as newly carved, this can’t be it. Apparently the Crusaders had discovered it during the middle ages, and turned it into a stable. The cistern, which dated from that time, was only 600 years old.

The groove in front of the Garden Tomb. Impractical for rolling stones, but great for watering donkeys. Holyland Christian Souvenirs

The groove in front of the tomb was shaped inappropriately to roll a stone in front of the door—if it ever had a door. Notice the diagonal slant on its lip, in the photo. It wouldn’t hold up any stone; the stone would just fall over. More likely it was a water trough for donkeys.

The Garden Tomb trustees know all this. And they’ll freely admit it. When I visited, they were very quick to point out that no, this isn’t actually the place where Jesus was laid.

“It’s not?” said one of the surprised pilgrims in our group.

“No,” they said. “But it looks like a tomb that Jesus would’ve been laid in. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher doesn’t. So that’s why we have it: It’s so you can see what a first-century tomb would look like.”

More or less. It’s what 21st-century Christians think a first-century tomb would look like. That is, after you doctor up a 8th-century-BC tomb which had been altered a bit by 11th-century Christians. But if you don’t know any better, and most Protestants don’t, it looks “real.” Which is good enough for them.

Our pilgrim was a little bothered about visiting a fraudulent tomb. She wanted the real tomb. Which we got, later, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The docents will point you there, as will every other local. They know better.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built in the year 326 by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. The emperor had this idea in mind to build himself a nice impressive church in the Roman Empire’s new capital of New Rome (today’s Istanbul, Turkey). He wanted to inter all 12 apostles in it, plus some actual biblical artifacts on display, so he sent his mom to the Holy Land for souvenirs. Helena quite reasonably left it to her local Jerusalem guides to point out where everything was, and they did. Despite Roman persecution, the Christians had never left—during the destruction of Jerusalem, they did as Jesus instructed and ran for the hills—and after the Romans were finished crucifying everybody, they came back down.

The Christians pointed out how Aphrodite’s temple was built atop Jesus’s tomb. It was deliberately put there by Emperor Hadrian around 135 to piss off the Christians. But it definitely marked the spot. And it was still the direction Christians faced when they prayed. Every Christian church in the area has the front of its building pointing toward the Holy Sepulcher.

So Helena excavated it. While she was at it, she had her building crew hack down the entire hill which surrounded the tomb, and then they built a little sanctuary on top of it. So it doesn’t look at all natural.

The Kuvuklion. Photo taken with a wide-open aperture, ’cause it’s a bit darker in real life. Note the covered Copt section on the left of the building. That’s where Jesus’s head rested. Wikimedia

Today, Greeks call this mini-sanctuary the Kuvuklion, and Catholics the Edicule: It’s a church building, and they built a rotunda of the bigger church building over it. You go into the smaller building, and there’s the slab of limestone where they laid Jesus. Or at least we’re told the slab’s there: It’s underneath another slab, of marble, put there in the 12th century to cover up the massive erosion of hundreds of thousands of Christians kissing it. So you don’t get to actually see the slab itself.

Now, if you wanna see the part of the slab where Jesus’s head rested, you have to go round back of the Kuvuklion to a chapel run by the Copts. I glanced back there, but no one was on duty and it was all locked up. No way to see it. If the Copts are wise, they don’t let anyone touch it either.

That’s the biggest problem with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It doesn’t look like Jesus’s tomb. Or any tomb, really. The hillside of Jesus’s burial cave? Gone. The hill of Golgotha? Gilded. The ancient Romans weren’t interested in preserving the environment. Preservation—keeping things as they are without coating everything in gold and gaudy decoration—is a 20th century idea. But in the fourth, and for 15 centuries thereafter, the natural environment wasn’t considered esthetically worthy enough for God. So it was lovingly, beautifully paved over.

It’s been completely covered and decorated, then fought over by six different churches. To this day they’ll start throwing punches at one another if anyone messes with anything. Seriously, anything. Somebody left a ladder outside in the 1750s, before the then-current don’t-mess-with-anything treaty went into effect. It’s still freaking there. (Although some Protestant jerk took off with it for a few weeks in 1997 as a prank.)

The decorations are starting to crumble around them. The Kuvuklion needs repairs, and everyone agrees it does, and wants to repair it. But they don’t want anyone else to repair it. So it doesn’t get repaired. If anyone dared, it’d trigger a war. I’m not kidding. Heads would get caved in. If spiritual climate says anything about which site is the real site, it’s sad to say, but the possessiveness of the Christians who run the Church of the Holy Sepulcher make it obviously the correct site.

But we needn’t look at their bad example as evidence. Historically and archaeologically, and according to the testimony of the locals, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the correct resting place of Jesus.

The stuff we wanna believe.

But tell that to Protestants and they won’t believe you.

“That’s amazing!” a former boss told me, after I told him I’d gone to Israel. He hadn’t been there himself. “So didja go to the Garden Tomb? Didja see where Jesus was buried?”

“Yes and yes,” I said. “You know they’re not the same place.”

He didn’t. I tried to explain.

He objected. ’Cause he’d seen some video.

There are always videos. And books, and magazine articles, and newsletters, and blogs slapped together by cranks like me, who can claim any dumb thing with no evidence to back it up. Just so happened he had one of those videos which stated, quite clearly, that Gordon’s Calvary is the real Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb the real tomb.

He lent it to me. It was produced by these two crackpots who were clearly treasure hunters. They weren’t connected with any university or government, and they had actually attempted to dig a tunnel without the permission of the Israeli government. In Israel, of all places, where any excavation—even for landscaping—has to check in with the government, lest you uncover something of archaeological significance. ’Cause people have been living in the land for the past 50 centuries. There’s so much history there, you can take ancient pottery shards home for free. (Well, maybe not legally, but I know a few folks who took advantage of all those shards just lying around in Beersheba.)

Anyway, Israel had caught ’em burrowing away, and rightly kicked them out of the country. But not, they claimed, before they captured some really blurry snapshots of what they claim is the Ark of the Covenant… buried directly under Gordon’s Calvary. Apparently the Israelis nabbed ’em before they could turn on the autofocus.

So their dubious claim is Jesus, when crucified on Gordon’s Calvary, his blood seeped through a crack in the ground, and dripped all the way down into a secret chamber beneath the earth, and dripped directly onto the atonement seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

Now, before you get chills down your spine like every other gullible person who bought this video: If they’re correct, so did the blood of a thousand other Jews whom the Romans crucified on this particular hill. Jesus wasn’t their only victim, remember? The Ark would’ve been caked in blood. Eww. (Unless it was doing that Raiders of the Lost Ark thing where it burned stuff off. And hummed. And when you opened it up it melted you. And if you took photos of it melting people, and included it in your cheesy video, it’d melt your viewers.)

Obviously I have my doubts. There are too many looneys in Christendom, and you can usually tell ’em by the fact they go digging illegal tunnels through a place where the entire city is an archaeological treasure trove. God knows how many sites they’ve wrecked on their way to raid the Lost Ark.

But again, your average Christian doesn’t know the difference between historicity, science, or proper archaeological provenance. Doesn’t care, either. Back in 2002 there was a major flap about the so-called James Ossuary, the box which used to contain the remains of Jesus’s brother James. (Some fool dumped or swiped the remains long ago.) Or so it appears, ’cause the box was labeled Yaakov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua/“James bar Joseph, brother of Jesus,” and might date to the first century. People were so jazzed about its existence—hey, evidence which supports the New Testament!—they didn’t care it’d been stolen by a treasure hunter, hidden by a relic collector, and no specialist had even examined it yet. They didn’t bother to withhold judgment till scholars could take a serious look. They figured if it supports the bible, it must be true.

This is how Christians have been scammed throughout the centuries into buying slivers of Jesus’s cross, relics from Jesus’s followers, pottery fragments and rocks and sand and other “archaeological” items from Israel, and so forth. The lack of spiritual discernment we see among Christians becomes ridiculously obvious when it comes to history. There, we’ll believe anything we’re told. Unless it came from the “wrong” church.

Imagination over reality.

My brother and sister-in-law’s tour wasn’t the first I’ve seen which gave the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a miss. My mom used to work for a Protestant prayer ministry in Jerusalem, and they’d offer weeklong tour packages to their guests—which only went to the Garden Tomb. ’Cause they know their audience. Protestants would say, “The Church of the Holy Sepulcher? No no. I wanna see the Garden Tomb. That’s on the itinerary, innit?” They’d pitch a fit if it wasn’t. Like so many in the church, we prefer what looks real. Actual reality is disappointing and messy.

Well, my brother had been to Israel before, and knows better. The pilgrims on his trip actually did make it to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Would’ve been a shame otherwise. I mean, if you go all the way to Israel to see Jesus stuff, and don’t go to the actual place Jesus died and was raised, you’ve wasted your money.

Yeah, go to the Garden Tomb and see the facsimile. It looks neat. For that matter, you can go to the Holy Land Experience in Florida, see their facsimile, and an actor playing Jesus will even pop out of the tomb once a day, see his shadow, and we’ll have 10 more weeks with no Second Coming. (What, you didn’t know that was why?…)

Or you can wait till Easter, when we build papier-mâché facsimiles for our church productions. The only differences between the mockups and the Garden Tomb: The Garden Tomb is older, more popular, and made of stone.


Oh, and they sell belts outside the entrance to the Garden Tomb.

Any tourist trap has official souvenir booths, where they sell pretty much the same stuff: Same postcards, same videos, same books, same everything. Priced in sheqels, which at the time were worth an American quarter, so it was easy to calculate the exchange rate. But so many Americans visit Israel, some shops price things in U.S. dollars. It was disappointing: You’d think you found a huge bargain, and it turns out they wanted four times as much. In any event, everybody took American money, and most cash registers converted everything to dollars. I know there were pilgrims from other countries—I ran into a group from Mexico at Gethsemane—but I never saw anyone accept pesos.

The pilgrims’ joke was everything was “two dollars.” It seemed to be the price most often quoted. Photo postcards were $2. Bottled water was $2. Maps of Israel were $2. Other things, like film (it was the 1990s), cost more. But the two dollars would hook you in.

Then there are the unofficial souvenir booths, which are less-conveniently placed, and the vendors have to make noise if they want to make sales. They’d be out at the parking lot. All the tour guides were connected with both the Israeli government and the official souvenir booths, so they wouldn’t give you a lot of time to find the unofficial booths and buy stuff from them. But I found, while they’d have some things the official booths didn’t, the prices were the same. Well, on their face: You could haggle the prices down, if you had the time. We didn’t. Our tour guide was a pro.

On our way out of the Garden Tomb, we walked past an unofficial booth. This shopkeeper’s specialty was belts. Big gaudy leather belts. Almost wrestler-size. As far as I could see, they was leather. They were on display; they were worked over with a relief image of Jerusalem, with “Jerusalem” in English along the sides. I could picture some of my Texan friends wearing such a thing. Not me.

“Belts!” the shopkeeper shouted, ’cause he knew you wouldn’t find them anywhere else. Not that you’d look. “Belts! Twenty dollars!”

“Belts, two dollars,” joked one of the Americans. Probably one of our pilgrims; I wouldn’t be surprised. The shopkeeper ignored this. He’d likely heard it before.

Since I had briefly described these belts to you, you probably guessed I looked at them. If you know anything about middle eastern social conventions, you’ll immediately recognize this as a faux pas: You never casually look at a shopkeeper’s wares. Only look when you intend to buy. They don’t abide people who walk in, browse around, then leave. That’s teasing them.

It’s been said, “Since they encounter Americans so often, you’d think they’d be used to how we behave.” Yeah, maybe. But Israeli and Palestinian shopkeepers are far more used to how their fellow citizens are. They deal with far more locals than they do tourists. And why should they change for us? We’re in their country, after all. We didn’t change for them; we still insist on shoving our American nickels into their vending machines, and beating the machine silly because it won’t accept money which is supposed to be good everywhere.

Tangent over: I’d looked at his booth, so he singled me out, ’cause he figured I telegraphed to him I wanted a belt. I most certainly did not. If I was gonna buy any leather in that country, it would’ve been tefillin [prayer straps], although good luck finding tefillin for less than $200. (And half the shopkeepers would’ve wondered what on earth a gentile wanted with teffilin. Though they would have sold it to me anyway, ’cause money is money.)

“Twenty dollars!” he said, as I kept walking by. “For you, 18 dollars! … Sixteen!”

“No thank you,” I said.

“Fifteen!” he kept going.

So did I.

“You want me to give it to you for free?” he said, giving up.

For a second—but not more—I thought of turning round and telling him, “Sold!” But again, I couldn’t imagine wearing any of those belts. Even if they were free. And of course he’d withdraw the offer, and we’d wind up haggling until we hit a price closer to $12. And afterward, I’d find out the quality of leather would make ’em worth more like $5 or less. It’d be like gift/award bible leather: The thinnest layer of leather, pasted on top of nylon.

Here’s the twisted thing. If, instead of working images of Jerusalem into belts, the leather manufacturer instead chose to make authentic Roman-style whips, just like the ones they beat Jesus with, you know plenty of demented Christians would totally buy them. “For sermon illustrations,” might be their excuse, but the real urge would come from wanting to own a weapon. Still, they’d sell far better than belts. And he’d get way more than $20 for them.