Category Archives: Current Affairs

Agree with SCOTUS? Well. You’re a “far right” conservative whackaloon/anti-woman rape apologist who should “call it a day” and shut up about religious liberty already, amen.

It’s been a weird month. Two weeks ago when I called for a sexual predator’s post to be taken down, all the progressive Christians were like: YES! and PREACH! And “thank you!” and #Solidarity and #Sisterhood.

Today when I tweeted that I agreed with the SCOTUS ruling, suddenly I became an anti-woman rape apologist. Because of COURSE.

Among a plethora of bossy, angry tweets, I was accused of believing “that raped women should just live with it.” Another progressive Christian dude suggested I should “call it a day.” Because as long as he’s progressive, there’s nothing sexist about a man telling a woman to shut up, am I right?

To his credit, the guy apologized. But the women? Not so much. Here lies #Sisterhood, she died on Twitter.

Well, maybe the Internet just needs a nap. And a glass of wine.

Still, I gotta take responsibility. Twitter is a difficult place for in-depth discussions. Pretty sure nobody walks away from a Twitter argument and is all: Wow, that TOTALLY changed my mind. So, in that regard, I kinda asked for it because *I* engaged on Twitter and *I* argued on Twitter and *I* tweeted lots of stuff.


But now that we’re here on my nice, comfy blog, I can discuss in depth. Mwah-ha-ha!


A handy little Hobby Lobby Kerfuffle Timeline (all quotes from SCOTUS found in today’s majority ruling available HERE)

ObamaCare becomes law

ObamaCare requires contraceptive coverage. But Congress did not specify which types must be covered (generally speaking, for-profit companies must cover the 20 kinds approved by FDA)

Owners of three, closely-held, private for-profit corporations believe that life begins at conception and thus, mandatory coverage of 4 types of contraception (which, according to current FDA labeling, may have abortifacient properties) are a violation of their religious beliefs.

They sue HHS.

They are denied, courts claiming for-profit companies cannot “engage in religious exercise.”

10th Circuit Court reverses that decision, saying that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the government is prohibited from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion. Under this act, Hobby Lobby qualifies as a “person” due to it being a closely-held, privately-owned, family company.

The Supreme Court agrees with the 10th Circuit court, noting that since HHS conceded that a for-profit company “can be a ‘person’ under RFRA” so can a for-profit company. In other words, just because a company MAKES MONEY doesn’t negate its “person” status when seeking judicial protection from the substantial burden of, in this case, the HHS contraceptive mandate.

The Supreme Court further noted that “protecting the free exercise rights of closely-held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”

The Court made clear that this ruling is for contraceptive mandate only and “should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” In other words, THIS case is concerned with the contraceptive mandate and is not intended to set a precedent for other religious beliefs, which should be dealt with separately.

Reasons Why I Commend This Ruling:

1. I believe in religious liberty. Religious liberty is the source from which all other freedoms flow. I support religious liberty for EVERY religious group, not just the ones I happen to agree with theologically.

2. I grew up in a cult and I have a severe allergy to ANYONE–government included–telling me which religious beliefs I’m allowed to exercise and which I am not. Mandatory ANYTHING gives me hives. Also, my husband owns and operates a small business. We have employees. It would take me like five hours to explain how freaking DIFFICULT it is to own a small business in California. How insane it is to do taxes, pay 8 billion fees, insurances, coverages, workers’ comp, liabilities, etc etc. etc. We comply. But damn. Government makes it HARD. Our country was founded on the principles of small government and I still believe small businesses are the backbone of this country. Therefore, I’m just philosophically opposed to unnecessary government intrusion.


A. Do I think Hobby Lobby is hypocritical for removing coverage of these contraceptives only AFTER ObamaCare is passed? Sure. Doesn’t change my opinion about this ruling. SINCERITY is not a qualifier for religious belief. It just needs to BE the belief. Our Courts are not in the business of determining whether someone’s beliefs are SINCERE or not. There is no litmus test for Sincerity. If there was, I’m pretty sure we’d ALL fail. Because nobody is a Perfect Believer. Amen and amen.

B. Should companies be required to cover blood transfusions and vaccinations despite holding contrary religious beliefs? YES. And again, THAT issue is NOT what this case was about.

C. Am I a crazy Tweeter? YES. But I love this stuff. I realize I’m totally just an armchair Constitutional scholar. I like to read. And I read a lot. I like big books and I cannot lie.

D. Let’s all go drink wine. Or not. If that’s against your religious belief. Kool-Aid will do. KIDDING! KIDDING! OH MY WORD, kidding!

E. Lastly, in the immortal words of my husband: “What have you been talking about all day? Handy-Dandy?” #NailedIt


UPDATED! An open letter to Christianity Today & @Leadership_Jnl : TAKE DOWN THE RAPE POST. It’s not an “extramarital relationship.” It’s statutory RAPE. @CTMagazine

UPDATE: Leadership Journal has taken down the post. The CEO of Christianity Today, Int’l has apologized “unreservedly.” You guys, we did it. I am crying SO HARD right now. So much relief. There was a time when women like myself would have been IGNORED forever. But no longer. I am weeping with gratitude and pain and exhaustion. This was a hard battle. Mama Warrior is tired. Thank you to everyone for your support and for making this happen. I love you. I’m with you. I’m going to go take a long nap now.


Today I read an article that made me tremble with anger. Written by an anonymous former youth minister now serving a prison sentence, the story details his predatory grooming and eventual rape of a child in his youth group.

Oh, but wait. That’s not how HE tells the story. Oh, no. He tells it as a mournful I’m-sorry-for-my-sins warning about his “RELATIONSHIP” with a young girl who “adored me” (his words). Oh, he’s very clear about taking 100% responsibility for his sins–except he never once admits that sex with a child is RAPE.

Instead, this sterling model of repentance urges his readers to repent if they are involved in similar situations and submit their lives to God. And make it known to “those who need to know.” EXCEPT THE POLICE, OF COURSE. 

Yes, confess that you raped a child to your accountability partner–BUT NEVERMIND SUBMITTING YOURSELF TO THE LAW for the CRIME you committed.

I’m APPALLED that Christianity Today even published this article. What a horrific lapse in judgment. What an irresponsible re-traumatization of the victim, her family and the wife and children involved. Christianity Today should have known better.

Can you imagine the OUTRAGE if a Catholic Priest was allowed to publish an article describing his “relationship” with an “adoring” altar server? And that outrage would be absolutely JUSTIFIED.


Because a predator loses the right to tell his side of the story right about the time he decides to PREY on a CHILD.

Because the ONLY story that should garner attention is the VICTIM’S story.

Because predators are usually quite good with words–which is exactly HOW they groomed their prey. A predator’s weapon of choice is words. WHY would a Christian publication give him that kind of power again? WHILE HE’S IN JAIL, NO LESS!!!!

Here’s the deal: once you use your freedom to abuse a child? You don’t EVER get to win sympathy points in public–even via a repentant confession.

TRUE confession and amends-making should be done PRIVATELY with the victims. TRUE repentance isn’t about page views via JUICY HEADLINES.


Publishing a post on Christianity Today does NOT make amends to the people damaged–it only brings FURTHER attention and adulation to the convicted sex offender.

Please join me in asking Christianity Today to take down the post. We are CHRISTIANS. We give voice to the abused child, NOT the predator. 

Apparently, sobbing into a pan of brownies waiting for God to fix my feelings DOESN’T WORK (p.s. this is SO unfair!)

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 10.57.26 AMOn Friday I received news that my grandfather–the one who founded my childhood cult (read the full story in my book)–had a stroke and fell. He is not recovering well. The doctors say he has 2-6 months to live. According to my mom who saw him in the hospital, he is not capable of coherent discussion due to increasing dementia. He is dying.

This is not how I hoped the story would end. I wanted a happy ending–or, at least, a happier one.

All these years later and he has not repented nor sought to make things right.

Even though I said my goodbyes eleven years ago when I left the cult and forgave them several years after that–today, I’m surprised by how sad I feel about all this.

To protect myself and my own children, I have kept the relationship with my grandparents closed. The sad truth is that my grandparents left a wide swath of destruction in their wake and cleaning up the wreckage is still a daily struggle for me. Quite honestly, the only way I would have wanted to hear from them was if they were ready to make amends.

They had ways of contacting me–should they ever have desired it. But they never did.

I knew the end would come inevitably, I just didn’t expect to feel so…deeply sad about it.

I also didn’t expect to feel so triggered, so anxious. On the verge of PTSD relapse. Whenever something yucky happens in my family, this sort of brain-scrambling thing happens to me. It’s like my brain fills up with static and I can’t think clearly.

I just cry. And have panic attacks. Or, you know, eat lots of food.

Upon hearing the news about my grandfather, my first inclination was to park my butt on the couch and eat cakes all afternoon. Because that’s totally how problems get solved, right? Here, God: how about I eat cakes while You Fix It, k??

And then I remembered: I’ve gained thirty pounds. Well, I remembered this AFTER I’d eaten half a pan of brownies but THAT IS BESIDE THE POINT, am I right? Point is: I remembered before I ate the whole thing. PROGRESS!

So, I decided to do something different.

There it is, my friends. The simple, little shift. If I could sum up my recovery in one phrase, that would be it: Doing Something Different.

And doing something different didn’t mean making some big, huge radical change. It was a small thing.

I went out and bought flowers.

photo 6

Then I swept my front porch and dusted cobwebs from the porch lights. Then I arranged the flower pots to create a welcoming entry. Then I went and bought pretty yellow seat cushions (on sale at Marshalls–woot!).

Once I got started, I was inspired. [NOTE TO SELF FOR FUTURE REFERENCE: it's the getting started that's the hardest! But once you're going, you wonder why you waited so long. Just get started already. Start somewhere, anywhere. Start with pots of flowers!]

Before long, a virtuous cycle had taken over. Instead of gorging myself on the rest of the brownies, I was now engaged in life-affirming contrary action: nesting, decorating and cleaning up my little corner of the world.

The twins swirled around me, helping me hose down the stone walkway and hang a St. Francis of Assisi garden flag.

Penelope The Rescue Pit Bull happily watched me while I worked and even agreed to pose for me when I was done. I seriously think she’s smiling in this picture. (p.s. pit bulls are precious and lovable and it’s such a shame they have a bad reputation because she is the sweetest thing ever).

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 1.39.11 PM

Speaking of pit bulls, redemption is a thing. I believe in it. 

I believe in it because it’s happening to me. I’m still thirty pounds overweight, my family is still effed up in thirty-thousand different ways BUT! I’ve built a new life for myself–a life that I’m very happy to live!–a life that I intend on continuing to live with love and service to others.

Just for today, I’m not sitting on the couch sobbing into a pan of brownies.

And that gives me hope.

Shame of my hometown: Fullerton police acquitted of murdering #KellyThomas

Trigger warning: police violence, graphic picture. On a warm July evening in 2011, Kelly Thomas was hanging out at the Transportation Center near The Olde Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton. Someone called the police saying Thomas was looking in car windows and pulling on handles of locked cars. What happened next was caught on video: Fullerton police officers beat Kelly Thomas until he was bloodied and comatose. He later died of his injuries. [You can read the full timeline of events, here.]

Yesterday, the now former police officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, were acquitted of the murder and manslaughter charges. They were found not guilty.

What a miscarriage of justice. How in the name of mercy can we look at the beaten, bloodied face of Kelly Thomas and ACQUIT these police officers?


Full disclosure: I am not unbiased. Fullerton is my hometown. I used to work at The Olde Spaghetti Factory which is right next to the bus stop where Kelly Thomas was murdered. I walked by that spot every day on my way into work. And yes, I believe he was murdered. I have watched this trial from the beginning. And today, I am HORRIFIED.

The Transportation Center is an understandable gathering spot for homeless folks. In addition to the bus stop, the Fullerton train station is nearby. There is shelter, vending machines and the commuters are often generous. As a teenage hostess working in the restaurant right next to the train station, I never felt threatened while walking by the homeless folks. Sometimes I gave them whatever spare change I had. Sometimes I brought a box of leftover spaghetti.

The point is, these people are not violent. They’re homeless. And last time I checked, being homeless was not a crime.

And not to place too fine a point on it but peering into car windows is ALSO not a crime. Sure, maybe the police needed to show up and give Kelly Thomas a verbal warning but BEATING him? Until he’s unconscious? NO.

I read that the defense used Kelly’s mental illness against him–as if THAT justified the use of excessive force?! The defense also claimed he had a diseased heart from drug abuse–as if heart failure–NOT being beaten until unconscious–caused his death! (FYI: the cardiologist testified that Thomas did NOT die of heart failure). And anyway, how does ANY of THAT justify being beaten in the face?! Since when did we acquit murderers because their victim was schizophrenic? Or had used drugs? Apparently, if you’re mentally ill, you’re not really human.

Thomas’ last words were utterly heartbreaking. He called for help. He begged for help. Over and over. “Dad help me. God help me. Help me. Help me. Help me.”

Well, even if the jury didn’t come to his help, we can. Please sign the petition for a federal investigation.

What do you think? Is it EVER justifiable for police to beat suspects?
What other methods should the police have used with Kelly Thomas?
Why do you think the jury acquitted the police officers?

I like Dave Ramsey’s ideas but I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey

A few years ago, the recession had taken almost everything: 40% of my husband’s income, 100% of our retirement, 100% of our savings. As a one-income family, we were staring down the barrel of mounting credit card debt and a house rapidly decreasing in value. Our home was still above water and so we decided to sell it and use the profit to pay off our debts and start over with a clean slate. Then we found Dave Ramsey. We went to a cash-only/envelope system, made huge cuts to our family budget and within a year, our financial situation improved. Most importantly, we were able to stay in our home.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t really know he was a Christian until after we’d been using his system. I didn’t really care whether he was a Christian. His little cash-envelope system worked and THAT’S what mattered to me.

Maybe I’m clueless but I never once thought Ramsey was teaching a get-rich plan. His advice was practical and accessible and for someone who hates all things money-related, Ramsey’s system was easy-to-follow.

I’ve had family members and friends in desperate financial straits for whom Ramsey’s system worked wonders. All this to say, I’m really grateful for Dave Ramsey and honestly, I find the criticism against him baffling.

A recent list of “20 Things the Rich Do Everyday” that was posted to his website has stirred up a bunch of controversy. I dunno. I read it and was like: huh, makes sense to me. Sure, I wondered where he got his stats. But for the most part, I didn’t see what was so crazy-awful about it. Reading books and exercising—these are good things, right? There are reasons successful people are successful and I’m not entirely sure I understand why stating these things is Horrible, Awful, Prejudicial and Shaming?

I did find Rachel’s piece on CNN helpful inasmuch as she pointed out that “Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.” Good point!

Still, I’m not entirely convinced this means Ramsey is “wrong about poverty” as a whole. What am I missing? Someone explain it to me? (Long comments OK! Just don’t call me ignorant or immature, k? :) )

Speaking of name-calling, that’s when I started feeling uncomfortable with Ramsey. When he  started calling his critics immature, doctrinally shallow and ignorant and then failed to provide answers to honest questions about where he got his stats for that post (at least, I haven’t seen them anywhere), I suddenly felt queasy. Then he took on the martyr mantle by claiming he was receiving “abusive” criticism. Does he really not understand how social media works? 

To be honest, I couldn’t understand why he was so defensive. If he stands behind what he teaches, why stoop to name-calling? As someone who often gets criticized for her blog content, I understand how difficult it is to respond to criticism. The attacks often feel personal. I’ve made mistakes in how I respond and I’ve learned the hard way that responding with personal attacks; ie. name-calling, getting overly defensive, etc. only makes one problem into two.

I mean, I like Dave Ramsey’s system but now I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey. His debt-elimination plan is awesome but he’s kinda acting like a jerk online. And these days, business is just as much social-media savvy as it is IRL practical advice.

I mean, if Dave Ramsey acts like this online, I’ve gotta guess he might be a meanie IRL, too. Something just smells fishy, is all I’m saying. What is going on, here???

Still, I like my little cash-envelope system. Excuse me while I go check my emergency cash fund.

UPDATED AT 12:20PM PST: I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio this morning. And it’s just really sad. His posture is prideful. He’s refusing to engage the actual substance of those who have questioned him. He’s mocking. He’s mean. He’s only taking calls from people who agree with him. Just whoa. WHOA. Very telling.

Modesty doesn’t live in a multi-million dollar mansion

My three older kids are working through their second year of faith formation in our Catholic parish. Last week, they came home with a packet about physical, symbolic and internal boundaries. As I flipped through the worksheets, I saw the word MODESTY and my heart froze. I could feel those old purity culture ideas rearing their shame-y, blame-y heads. But then I read the definition. And I got all happy because here, read it for yourselves:

Modesty: The virtue that respects, honors and protects privacy:
the quality of avoiding 
extremes of emotion, action, dress and language.
Modesty respects my boundaries 
and the boundaries of others.

What a well-rounded, WHOLE-PERSON approach to understanding the virtue of modesty! This is a perfect example of why I love Catholicism–the theology isn’t compartmentalized; meaning, modesty isn’t exclusively about manner of dress but about the WHOLE WAY we live our lives.

The Catholic understanding of modesty is that it encompasses ALL we do.

In purity culture, modesty was exclusively about sexuality; more specifically, female sexuality.

But the true modesty goes far, far beyond that. It’s about how we speak, how we act and it’s about avoiding extremes. Modesty is about moderation, respect for my boundaries and the boundaries of others. It’s about avoiding excess.

Couldn’t we say, then, that all Christians are called to live modestly? I mean, if modesty is a virtue, it’s not just for women. But how often do you ever hear Christians speaking about men being modest?

How often do we speak about modesty in regards to how we eat, how we spend our money, the kind of car we drive, the kind of house we live in?

Oooooh, Elizabeth. Oh, no no no.

Oh, yes. I’m going there. I’m asking the question:

Is it modest for a Christian pastor to own a multi-million dollar home?

As far as I can tell, Pastor Steven Furtick doesn’t answer to any higher authority structure than…himself. This is often the case in independent mega-churches where the senior pastor is The Final Word on everything. But even if Furtick is building his mansion only using earnings from his bestselling books, the question remains: is it modest or is it excessive for a pastor to live in such an expensive home? After all, he is–first and foremost–a pastor.

And to be fair, my own church–The Catholic Church–has this problem, too. Despite the fact that priests are required to take a Vow of Poverty, a German bishop was suspended for overspending on his residence. Then again, that’s my point. The Catholic bishop SHOULD have been suspended and he was! I’m curious to whom Pastor Furtick is accountable?

Furthermore, why don’t we speak more often about the virtue of modesty as it pertains to finances? What do you think?

Military strike against Syria? Dear God. Please no.

Dear God, not more war. I am so weary of war, war, war. I am weary of factions, sectarianism, tribalism, feuding and children being gassed in their schools. And chemical wars and and threats of war and the whole screwed-up mess that is the entire Middle East. I don’t understand what possible GOOD a military strike would do; what possible good it would do to engage ourselves in yet ANOTHER conflict on the other side of the world? I am weary, so weary of U.S. military interventions. Yes, my heart breaks for the children and innocents being slaughtered—and yes, we must do something–but more war? Haven’t we already been down this road in the Middle East? We already know how this story ends, don’t we? And what are the objectives? What solution can possibly come from lobbing a few cruise missiles at “military targets”?

I read a piece at the Washington Post about “Just War” and whether Christians should support a strike in Syria. Here’s an excerpt:

We live in a fallen world of injustices and conflicts without easy solutions. Clearly this does not mean we should do nothing, but we should have a sense of humility about the limits to our ability to perfect the world. The failure to recognize our limitations itself results from our sinfulness and leads to further injustice. As Pope John Paul II pointed out in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus in regards to the moral failures of communism in Eastern Europe, the desire for control without limitations results in the resort to violence without restraint. Violence itself becomes redemptive, the ultimate tactic for restoring order in a broken world.

The call for military intervention in Syria arises from the desire to “do something” when faced with evil, yet it is not clear what intervention will accomplish.

YES! This idea that violence itself is redemptive; that the ONLY option for restoring order and meting justice is through the “ultimate tactic” of warfare? I reject that! It’s so troubling to me that THIS is where we’ve arrived: at a place where shooting missiles is our de-facto approach to helping the helpless. I just…I can’t believe that anymore!!

In his address this morning, Pope Francis said something which I so appreciated:

Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence…I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people…. I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

I know there are no easy answers, here. I’m just heartbroken at the thought of the United States entering yet ANOTHER military conflict in the Mid-East. Dear God, have mercy upon us. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

What are your thoughts? Is there such a thing as Just War? And does a strike against Syria count as a “just war”? Do we have clear objectives?


Well, Miley Cyrus. How predictable of you.

Aaaand cue outrage. Shock. Horror. Pearl-clutching. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs last night was shocking. Oops. I mean. Predictable.

Seriously. Can we all stop pretending to be surprised now? Can we quit with the breathless reporting that even Miley’s team is “freaking out”  about her VMA performance last night? Because riiiiiight. I’m sure her team is just shocked.

Probably about as SHOCKED as discovering that lyrics like: “trying to get a line in the bathroom” are NOT about a long line to use the toilet. What? WHO KNEW?!

Here’s the truth: Miley Cyrus doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t care that you’re outraged, disgusted, offended and horrified. In fact, she likes having “haters.” It motivates her.

Miley Cyrus set out to shock everyone and she succeeded. The only surprise, here, is that the adults are asking stupid questions like: “How did this happen?”

Everyone knows how this happened. It’s not like her song “We Can’t Stop” is subtle or nuanced. It’s not like it’s some hidden mystery of the universe that  Miley is singing about doing drugs. Of COURSE she is.

It’s been obvious for awhile that Miley is going off the rails…er, I mean: GROWING UP. Shaking one’s ass on national TV is, after-all, the time-honored way for former Disney stars to shed their squeaky-clean image and take ARTISTIC CONTROL of their careers. And by artistic control I mean: rocking the stripper pole. Or, in Miley’s case, the foam finger.

I don’t know about you but when I saw Miley’s performance, I couldn’t even twerk-up the energy to get outraged. I just felt sorta sad for her because her whole deal seems stupid and derivative and annoying as hell.

The only shocking thing, to me, is that anybody is watching her at all.

A former religious extremist explains how radicalization happens {plus, a theory of how suspected Boston Marathon bombers were radicalized}

How do two sons of a political asylum refugee grow up to be terrorists? Their father loved America. Their uncle and aunt and everyone that knew them–including their neighbors and school mates–were shocked to hear these young men were suspected terrorists. In fact, it was so shocking, that the aunt and father quickly began saying the boys were “framed.”

The suspects in the Boston Marathon were brothers. Their father, by a neighbor’s account, was brutually beaten by KGB and fled to the United States. He loved America.

So, how did they become suspected terrorists?

A neighbor described the boys as helpful, the family as hospitable. She said when she saw their picture on TV, she fell on the floor. Her only thought? Somehow they were “poisoned along the way.”

The suspects’ uncle, in a brief appearance on CNN, said his guess was that “somebody radicalized them.” He said this had nothing to do with Chechnya. And historian Charles King agrees, citing reports from journalists interviewing family members in Dagestan:

In other words, the focus now should be on the Tsarnaevs as homegrown terrorists, not on the ethnic or regional origins of their family. Journalists’ initial conversations with family members in Dagestan amplify that point: a sense of shock that two nice boys who had gone to America for their education could have been involved in such a brutal act.

So, how did these young men become terrorists?

The best article I’ve read is from a Reuters journalist who spent seven months in captivity in Pakistan. And although the radicalization process he saw happened in Pakistan, the underlying conclusions are, in my opinion, spot-on: 

militants had created a sophisticated system of schools, training camps and indoctrination videos that slowly severed young men’s bonds with their families.

The only relationship that mattered, recruits were told, was their relationship to God. The only cause that mattered, clerics preached, was stopping a vast – and nonexistent – Christian-Jewish-Hindu conspiracy to obliterate Islam from the face of the earth.

No matter how long I spent talking with him, I could not alter his attitudes. Radicalism gave him a cause, a community and an identity.

My own extremist religious past resonates with this. Here’s how radicalization happens:

  1. Cut off from family. New recruits to my childhood cult found our extremist way of life attractive because they had never made a genuine connection with the “dead” Christianity of their childhood. It was easy to persuade new members to cut off their families because outsiders were “worldly, hypocritical and compromised.” Outsiders didn’t appreciate the HIGHER CALLING that our TRUE religion offered. Effective radicalization requires a rejection of the outside world which many times includes family members.
  2. Relationship with God is the only thing that matters. Extremist religion is narrowly focused. It elevates one thing; ie. “relationship with God” above all else. The trick, here, is that what ACTUALLY matters is the group. The group becomes God for the new recruit. Whatever the group leader says and believes is what the new recruit says and believes. Effective radicalization requires a rejection of previously held values; ie. the American dream is no longer valuable but martyrdom for God IS valuable.
  3. Radicalism gives identity, cause and community. For those disaffected by the disappointments of modern life or crushed by poverty or suffering a heartbreaking loss, extremist religion provides a nearly irresistible solution. Identity, cause and community are a POWERFUL trifecta–especially for young recruits.

Now, here’s my theory about how the two young terrorist suspects experienced their self-radicalization:

My guess is that the older brother was disaffected first. His father had returned to Chechnya. The older brother had a criminal record–beating an ex-girlfriend. Perhaps he’d become disillusioned with the American dream, with American values. Perhaps it felt like no matter how hard he worked or no matter how good an education he had, he was not going to Make It in America.

There was a vacuum in his soul. Moderate, peaceful Islam was no longer attractive–or perhaps, he had never truly connected with his Muslim faith.

Slowly, religious extremism began providing answers. He began watching terrorist YouTube videos. He was looking for something purposeful, some kind of higher calling.

The only relationship that mattered, recruits were told, was their relationship to God.

My guess is that the older brother’s values began shifting. A good education, a nice house and a car, a good job–these things no longer held value for him.

Radicalism gave him a cause, a community and an identity.

Slowly, martyrdom and/or jihadist insurgency became increasingly attractive to the older brother. He started talking to his younger brother about it. They didn’t want to die, necessarily, but they wanted to inflict righteous judgment on the Great Oppressors–the United States.

Whether or not the older brother had real connections to terrorist groups remains unknown. I agree with David Rhode, the Reuters journalist who spent seven months in Pakistani captivity. The enemy is not religion. The enemy is extremism.

And let’s be clear, extremism isn’t just happening in Islam. It happens in all religions. In fact, what has disturbed me the MOST since leaving my childhood cult is that Christian fundamentalism is growing in popularity. My cult used to be considered “fringe” and “weird.” But now, fundamentalism is hip.

Contemplative, mystic, “moderate” Christianity is derided and dismissed just as contemplative Sufism is dismissed and derided among fundamentalist Muslims.

The enemy is fundamentalism because fundamentalism is very attractive to people looking for Definitive Answers. Extremist religion provides a rigid, black-and-white framework for understanding the world.

For those disaffected by the disappointments of modern life, extremist religion provides a nearly irresistible solution.

**DISCLAIMER: although my childhood cult didn’t promote violence toward outsiders (we just beat up each other, ugh), it’s not a huge leap of logic to see the similarities between hard-line religious groups. Also, these are just my opinions and theories based my experience in extremist religion. When new information comes to light, I’ll probably change my theories and opinions. WHICH IS TO SAY, no need to get all crazy up in da combox, k? Good. Thanks.**

The price of religious shaming, the redemption of love {review of “The Whale” at South Coast Repertory}

The Whale logo courtesy of South Coast Repertory

I took a break from book writing this week to catch a play at South Coast Repertory. I walked into The Whale knowing nothing about it and walked out feeling completely known. And more than that: unconditionally accepted—simply for being human, for being here, for being me.

I laughed, I wept and I trembled all the way home. I woke up the next morning with scenes still running through my mind and snippets of dialogue still wrenching my heart. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop talking about it.

The Whale is the story of a morbidly obese man trapped in his apartment and dying of congestive heart failure. It the story of being trapped in one’s body, trapped by shaming religion, trapped by failure, trapped by mistakes and miscommunication, so helplessly trapped that all Charlie can keep repeating is I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Helen Sadler and Matthew Arkin in South Coast Repertory's production of The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter. Photo by Scott Brinegar/SCR.

On the surface it seems like a depressing story. But like Charlie’s body, outward appearance belies inner beauty. At its heart, The Whale is a story of ridiculous hope and a relentless longing for true connection—a connection that can happen against all odds when we simply allow ourselves to be radically honest and unconditionally accepting.

It is a story that rejects the superficial standards by which our modern society measures honesty, faith, love and success. It is a story that asks us to reach beyond what we see and value the truth within.

Rejected by his hateful, rebellious teenage daughter, blamed by his ex-wife, suffering from the heartbreak of losing his partner and having eaten his way into moribund obesity, Charlie shows us that devastating setbacks are not what define a life.

What matters in life—what truly matters—is being so totally honest with ourselves and with others that we see through to the beauty within each human person and accept them just as they are.

The Whale is graphic and raw and desperately honest. It is at times brutally heartbreaking, also irreverent and unabashedly LOL funny. But as Charlie lurches across the stage toward his daughter, we find ourselves gasping for breath along with him and suddenly we understand: love conquers all.

If you’re local to Southern California, go see “The Whale.” Shows run through March 31.