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January 2022

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Sunday, January 30, 2022

10:32 pm

New York Times Why Churches Should Drop Their Online Services - by Tish Harrison Warren

I was very demoralized in reading this essay, and disturbed that the NYT decided to give this columnist a platform to share a dangerous message --- that religious practice demands that faith communities abandon best practices to fight this pandemic.

But... I also think maybe it is not just enough to express frustration, but rather to unpack this some more. But before I do so, I need to be fair and share my bias and perspective. I am a former Mennonite minister who now practices Humanistic Judaism, hence I am familiar with, but do not share many of the the author's theological understandings. But with that said, I think she and I have more common ground than it might first apear, in that, like her, I also deeply value religious comunity and have for almost all of my life. Still, I want to be fair to say that my understanding of religious community might look different than Rev. Warren's (who is a minister in a conservative Anglican tradition.

So with that out of the way, I will briefly summarize Warren's keypoints:

  1. Warrem believes that online worship is insufficent, that it in some way dehumanizes the human worshipper and disconnects worshippers from the flesh-and-blood human experience, which she explains like this:

    For all of us — even those who aren’t churchgoers — bodies, with all the risk, danger, limits, mortality and vulnerability that they bring, are part of our deepest humanity, not obstacles to be transcended through digitization. They are humble (and humbling) gifts to be embraced. Online church, while it was necessary for a season, diminishes worship and us as people. We seek to worship wholly — with heart, soul, mind and strength — and embodiment is an irreducible part of that wholeness.

  2. In-person worship has known public health risks, but so does virtual worship, which she describes in this way:

    There is still risk, of course, but the goal was never — and ought never be — to eliminate all risk of illness or death. Throughout the past two years, we have sought to balance the risk of disease with the good of being present, in person, with one another. And the cost of being apart from one another is steep. People need physical touch and interaction. We need to connect with other human beings through our bodies, through the ordinary vulnerability of looking into their eyes, hearing their voice, sharing their space, their smells, their presence.

  3. The needs of those who are truly prevented from attending in-person worship can be met fully by volunteers (in her context, eucharistic ministers), so cutting off online worship opportunities does the homebound no harm, and arguably even benefits them from still having some chance for the "human touch."

So I will now respond to these three points, using a technique I learned back in seminary that seeks to find points of affirmation, before moving to points of disagreement.

  1. I agree with Warren that religious experience is about the human experience, and I agree that often the bodily experience of worship and community is important, because it is a a part of who we are. Human beings are not disembodied spirits or brains (I'm thinking Futurama right now!).

    But I disagree with Warren who seems to believe that the only way that humans can have deep and meaningful experiences, is through in-person encounters. Throughout the last few thousand years at least, humans have connected through the written word --- sometimes through letters, sometimes through books, sometimes through poetry and other means. In fact this is where our scriptures come from.

    And humans have connected through non-verbal means as well, including through visual art and music. These kinds of connections are important to me, and are not inconsequential, but admittedly this also may be a place where my own bias comes into play, because I'm autistic, and as such I often find the experience of in-person encounters with others to be draining and difficult. These challenges sometimes are experienced to such a degree that I often feel a deeper connection to some of my friends I know primarily through virtual means, than I do to those who I only know in-person. And I know many other people (both autistic and not) who feel the same way.

    Because of this, I reject the idea that there is only one way to engage with other humans, or that one mode should be seen as superior to all others.

  2. The author's assertion that this is a matter of balancing risks is a fair one. We all (those of who leave our homes) take calcuated risks. But I differ with her on her calculations of risk. I can cite the statistics of how many have been infected in recent weeks, how many have been hospitalized, how many have died, and how many are suffering the ravages of long covid symptoms. These are not small risks, particulary for the many people (myself included) who have health issues that put us more at risk.

    Specifically, I would argue at least from the Jewish perspective, that the preservation of human life is one of our highest ideals, and is not something to be taken lightly.

  3. I strongly agree with Rev. Warren that we need more people willing to do in-person ministerial visits to those who are shut-in. I base this on my past experiences of volunteering in this way, and how I saw and heard how meaningful these visits were to those who were being visited.

    This is not the same as online worship, which includes so much more --- music, teaching, even the chance for conversation and interaction with new people --- to say nothing of the chance to be virtually present in a space. Even little things like seeing the Torah scroll in a Jewish service can be so meaningful.

    In-person visitation simply isn't enough. Most religious communities are lucky if they see their shuts-ins on a monthly basic and very few manage more than a 10 minute weekly visit. --- But even this is often not safe in a the context of a pandemic, which means that without viritual worship, there may be no communal worship possible.

To be blunt --- I believe in virtual religious pratice, because I've seen it play out in my own family's life. Prior to the pandemic we were somewhat involved, attending most Friday night services, but we rarely made it to other stuff because most of the events happened in person, and we live on the outskirts of our metro area, and sadly we sometimes skipped Friday night services because we were too tired after a long week (my wife is a physician in a busy family practice clinic). We often wished that more programming was available online, but it simply wasn't, and so most mid-week inspiration and education came from outside our congregation.

But the pandemic changed everything. Our community, like most others, stepped up and went virtual. And even as conditions changed and we resumed in-person gatherings, our community continued to practice appropriate safeguards and continued to do as much programming as possible in a hybrid/online ways. This meant that our family's level of participation in our congregation went up a lot, because we had many more opportunities to get involved.

Between my wife, teenage son and myself --- we participate in something happening at our syngoague online, several times a week, and it has been wonderously transformational. It has deepened our connections to our community and to our faith tradition. "Going virtual" made deeper engagement possible.

Someday soon I hope we can do more in-person stuff together, but I hope we never abandon the online experience either. It has made life so much better than it would have been, and it one of the unexpected blessings that have come from this panemic.

Lastly, Rev. Warren is not alone in taking this position. I have heard multiple clergy in Oklahoma City express similar sentiments, some even scolding their parishoners in sermons for still watching online when they could be in person. And it disgusts me. Religion (when done well) is meant to lift the burdens of those who are struggling, not kick them when they are down. It's not right and hopefully people will vote with their feet and abandon communities that do not actually value their spiritual and physical welfare.

Friday, January 28, 2022

12:58 pm

I just finished my restoration/editing of my blog posts from the month of September 2001. Due to the historical nature of this time period, I put quite a bit of effort into looking for archived versions of old media accounts and web pages that I linked to, as well as provided some commentary (from today in 2022) on what I wrote back then.

For fun, here's picture of me from that time period...

picture of JMB at age 25, in 2001

Thursday, January 27, 2022

9:27 am

Makiashe.com: Brother Juniper and the pig's foot

I've long been a fan of Ashe's writing, as Ashe tells stories in ways that disarm but also engage the reader, often through telling very old stories in new ways.

This story about Brother Juniper (called the "renowned jester of the Lord") is a must read.

January 24, 2022

12:14 pm

AP News: More migrants seek asylum through reopened Canadian border - by Wilson Ring and Elliot Spagat (Jan. 24, 2022)

So thankfuly that the Canadian government has reopened this entry point for asylum seekers.

12:00 pm

It's now official.

From JMBranum.com:

Since 2016, I have primarily worked in the area of miltiary law. It has been deep and meaningful work, but it is now time for a change.

I have decided to quit taking new cases with the hopes of retiring from doing military law cases by the end of 2022. I still will be working on military law issues in the future, but this work focus on writing, consulting, and teaching, rather than casework.

This decision was not easy, but it is right thing to do for my family. Most of my military law clients are dealing with serious trauma and often are also dealing with mental health issues. Doing these cases takes an enormous amount of emotional energy, which often leaves me depleted when it comes to my time with my family.

If you are needing legal counsel to help with a military law issue, I would encourage you to contact either the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild or the GI Rights Hotline.

January 22, 2022

10:26 pm

NBC News: A Christian-led caucus 'protecting' Jewish values? No thanks.: A group of Christian, mostly Republican politicians have appointed themselves guardians of the Jewish faith. It won't end well." - by Noah Berlatsky, cultural critic (Jan. 21, 2022)

Right-wing evangelical Christians like to pretend they speak for Jewish people. This is not, to put it mildly, generally in the interest of Jews. It isn’t in the interest of a healthy democracy, either.

The latest example of the appropriation of Jewish identity is the congressional “Caucus for the Advancement of Torah Values.” It is led by Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska and conservative Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas. Neither of these men is Jewish. None of the other members of the caucus appear to be Jewish, either. Besides Cuellar, they all also seem to be Republicans. This caucus is clearly not an organization by and for Jews. It’s an organization for mostly right-wing American Christians who want to be associated with, and speak for, Jewish people.

Obviously there are more profound things to say about this ridiculous caucus than this, but I do think the symbolism of a supposedly pro-Jewish caucus that being co-led by a Christian politician named Don Bacon (and yes that is his real name) is pretty surreal.

January 21, 2022

11:49 pm

Tags: #Buddhism #Peace #ThichNhatHanh

AP/NPR.org: Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and peace activist, dies at 95

Hopefully there will be more written about his passing in the morning. His book Living Buddha: Living Christ played a very significant role in shaping my life's journey, as it was one of the first books I read that convinced me of the inner connectedness of the great religious traditions --- I think I would have read maybe in 2003?

IMAGE: front cover of the book Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh

6:52 pm

Tags: #DorothyDay #CatholicWorker

NY Times: Was Dorothy Day Too Left-Wing to Be a Catholic Saint? : The Archdiocese of New York has asked the Vatican to consider the social activist for sainthood. But church leaders are not entirely comfortable with her politics. - by Liam Stack

5:00 pm

Tags: #OKC #CityofOKC

This was orginally posted on Facebook:

The Oklahoman: Oklahoma City expands north despite concerns over stretched services - by Hogan Gore

I wrote a longer post but I goofed it up, so instead I'll just say thanks to council members JoBeth Hamon, Nikki Nice and James Cooper for their no votes.

As someone who lives on the edge of OKC (1/2 mile from the city limits), I think it is a terrible idea to annex more land when the city is not providing basic services in this area including mass transit (my closest bus stop is 3.6 miles away), but also not providing adequate public safety coverage (the closest fire station is 4.6 miles away, the closest police station is 5.5 miles away).

All of the residents of OKC pay their taxes, but only some parts of the city receive adequate services. Historically the most neglected areas have been Northeast and Southside OKC, but more and more we are seeing the outer edges also be neglected. The only way to stop this is to quit expanding the city limits and to invest in appropriate infrastructure throughout the city.

By the way--- Mayor David Holt's yes vote on this is another reason that I'm voting for Jimmy Lawson For OKC Mayor. We need progressive leadership, not more of the same status quo.

January 20, 2022

Tags: #Jan6 #ChristianNationalism #racism #extremism #militarylaw

11:00 am

I'm proud to say that I will be one of the panelists at this upcoming event.

flyer for event --- all text from flyer is found below

The Public Service scholars of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law present:


Part two of a two-part series on public service careers and military law.

January 26, 2022
6pm to 7:30pm. EST

Open to the public but pre-registration is required to watch via zoom: https://yeshiva-university.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYsd-2tpj4vHtJjRFNVfKiWrd6pywdORga1


James M. Branum, former co chair of the military law task force of the NLG

Kathleen Gilbert, Executive Director of the NLG's Military law Task Force

Thomas C. Hobbs, Colonel (retired) US Marine Corps.

Dr. Alan Kennedy, lecturer of public policy, William and Mary

NOTICE: Alan Kennedy, a captain in the Colorado Army National Guard has served since 2012. The views expressed are his own and are not endorsed by the Department of Defense, Army National Guard Bureau, Colorado National Guard or William and Mary.

Brought to you by: P*law Public Interest Law advocacy week

10:32 am

Sharing two articles that discuss the troubling ways that an Evangelical Christian-oriented fundraising platform is being used to raise money for the capitol rioters of January 6, 2021.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Family raises money online for ‘exceptional’ son charged in Jan. 6 riot" - by Chris Joyner

Melanie Vaughn-West, pastor at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, said pairing of Christianity with the Jan. 6 riot is another troubling example of what critics decry as “Christian Nationalism,” or the idea that the United States is a specifically Christian nation and that the government should reflect that rather than observe the Constitutional separation of church and state.

The concept of Christian Nationalism is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ, Vaughn-West said. Jesus espoused nonviolence and an acceptance of all peoples, even while living under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, she said.

“It’s very concerning. I think we’ve somehow taken the way of Jesus and what Jesus was talking about and connecting it to something that is the opposite of what Jesus stood for,” she said.

The Guardian (UK) "Capitol attack insurrectionists flock to fundraising websites to raise defense funds"

The cash generating platform of choice for alleged insurrectionists is GiveSendGo, which bills itself as the “#1 Free Christian Crowdfunding Site.” Today it is providing a home to 96 fundraising appeals relating to prosecutions following the Capitol insurrection.

Four of those appeals have each raised more than $100,000 for their subjects.

January 19, 2022

Tags: #Music

Today I rediscovered the Noisetrade section on PasteMusic.com and I'm glad I did, as it is a treasure house of free legal music downloads, all from artists who are willing to give away some albums in exchange for you being added to their mailing lists.

CNN: Man who rescued 5 people during Oklahoma City bombing dies

January 18, 2022

Tags: #Archiving #Libraries

3:07 pm

Newly recovered - July 2000 Blog posts - My review of the Cornerstone Festival - This was not originally a blog post, but since I wrote it in a journal like format, I decided to convert it into a blog post of sorts.

It is trippy to read, mostly because it is another snapshot of myself in an in-between state --- moving away from political and religious conservativism but also not having fully made the change either. But there was poignant stuff too. My grandma died that week so I had to head home early to make it for the funeral (thankfully my friend Tim who drove us, was willling to leave early too), and so that definitely gave the review a different feel.

In doing this conversion, I decided to not only make the html code work with this new layout, but also decided to check the 20+ year old links. I then replaced the broken links with either: (1) old versions of the website from archive.org (which sometimes exist, sometimes do not --- the websites that were flash-driven obviously are broken even in archival form), or (2) links to wikipedia articles. But I also added new annotations (marked up in a way to make it obvious what was written in 2000 and what was written in 2022), as well as new links --- the most exciting being the many concert recordings. Many of these recordings were originally recorded by attendees on VHS camcorders, but later converted and uploaded. I am very, very grateful to all who did this.

11:00 am

blog.archive.org: International patrons speak out: “Access to knowledge shouldn’t be for the rich and privileged.”

January 17, 2022 - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (observed)

(Tags: #MLKDay #Judaism #Food #Frugality)

9:47 pm

My son wanted to something special for MLK day, so we delivered some items to donate to got some take-out from a black-owned restaurant. Unfortunately, a lot of our favorites were closed today (either for the holiday or because they are closed on all Sundays and Mondays), but we finally found one open --- Cajun King (near NW 63rd & Macarthur), which was every bit as good as I remembered it being. Everything was good but I was especially impressed with their fried chicken, fried catfish, collard greens and red beans and rice.

Washington Post Rabbi details escape from Texas synagogue as terrorism investigation expands to Britain - I'm very appreciative of the training that this rabbi got for dealing with these kinds of security situations, but deeply saddened that the Jewish community will now (necessarily) be even more isolated, which is a sad thing for not only Judaism but the rest of the world.

Washington Post Can you eat sprouted or green potatoes? Yes, with a couple caveats. - Lots of good common sense thoughts on how to avoid needless waste of good taters.

Washington Post Your food scraps deserve another shot. Here’s how to use peels, stems and more in your cooking.

12:54 am

Mahalia Jackson - I got to hear her recording of "We shall overcome" a few hours ago as part of tonight's combined program for MLK Day (hosted by the NAACP-OKC Branch, OU Hillel, Respect Diversity Foundation and Temple B'nai Israel), and was I deeply moved. And then I looked up Mahalia's story and wow...

Also, if you have chance to watch the program (the 34th annual!), it will be viewable for the next few weeks or so via TBI's livestream page.

January 16, 2022

(Tags: #PirateRadio #Music #Austin #Judaism #Terrorism #Peace)

2:45 pm

This afternoon I have been continuing on my project of converting my old wordpress-powered blogs/websites into static pages, which means I'm having the chance to read again my past blog writing, as well as to do some light annotating and link-fixing (often linking to archived versions of long-dead websites).

So, today I have my blog posts from August 2001 to share. Here are a few highlights:

2:00 pm

Yesterday started off as a lovely Shabbat with lots of downtime and getting to play a few rounds of Azul with Becky (and of course working on the conversion of this blog to the static-website you are reading right now), but then horrifying news came out. There was a hostage situation at a synaoguge in Texas, which began during the middle of a morning zoom shabbat service.

Over the next few hours we got a few bits and pieces of news, and around 5 pm one of the hostages was released, and then around 8 pm (central time) we joined a zoom prayer service from the Union of Reform Judaism and then another zoom gathering for our own synagogue (both for comfort but also to discuss security measures that we need to consider in all Jewish spaces)... and then a few hours later the word came that all of the hostages were saved, but that the hostage taker was dead, after what believe was a 10 hour standoff.

The next day we still don't know much. So far, it sounds like the hostage-taker chose a random synaogue to target and that he may have been motivated by an arguably troubling story about potential prison abuse of .... We also have seen around the nation a united response to this horror from the Jewish community's interfaith partners in the Islamic and Christian communities which has deeply touched me.

We do not know any details yet about the identity of the hostage-taker or the circumstances of his death.... was he killed by the police or by himself? Why did the police decide to move in when they did? We do not yet know, but I have to admit that it sounds like a horribly difficult situation.

It is hard to know what to do to contribute to shalom (peace, harmony, healing, etc.) right now, but sometimes even small actions can take our prayers/intentions and make them more than just statements of aspiration.

If you are considering making some monetary donations, here are few organizations (directly affected by yesterday's tragedy) to consider giving to:

January 15, 2022

(Tags: #HTML #WebDesign #Austin #Religion #personalhistory)

Looking back at 1999

As I've started working on the conversion of my once wordpress-powered websites to static html, I'm having fun going through much of my old content. It is trippy to read, seeing how much I have changed over the years --- but also how much I did not change.

So as I'm doing this, I have decided to do a little bit of reflective writing about what I'm reading, which brings me to my first real blog posts (I count 1995 as the start date of this website since some of my content goes back that far, but as far as the blog format goes, that began in 1999) from September 1999. Here are a few observations I have about this time of my life:

  1. This would have been during the fall semester of my last year as an undergrad.
  2. I was perpeptually broke and discussed having to borrow money from a friend to attend a campus ministry retreat, but also rhapsodized at length about how excited I was to get to eat so much meat on said retreat!
  3. My classes at ICS (then the Institute for Christian Studies --- it has changed its name two times since then and is now the Austin Center of Lipscomb University) were throught-provoking.
  4. Work-wise, I was doing web design (as part of a work study job) but also I tell some about getting hired as private security officer for a company that provided security to UT sorority houses.
  5. I was definitely a night owl, so my getting hired to do overnight security was a good move.
  6. I was definitely a religious explorer at this point. I was still maintaining ties and connections to the Churches of Christ, but was also very enthusiatic as a member of Hope Chapel in Austin (a non-denominational/charismatic church), but also was occasionally attending Catholic mass. I wasn't yet ready to consider non-Christian traditions, but I was exploring further afield than most folks I grew up with.
  7. This is funny to see now, but I was rather worried that I was becoming "old and set in my ways" at age 23!

January 14, 2022

(Tags: #HTML #WebDesign)

Going static!

After a few frustrating days of dealing with the aftermath of hackers targeting my wordpress-powered websites, I've decided to start implementing a plan B --- a move to convert my blog (with many posts, going back to 1995) to a static html driven website. I think I can still keep the appearance fresh (through stylesheets), but I'm sick of dealing with the headaches, security issues, and long-term lack of survivability of dynamic websites. It's time to do something new!