An Inclusive Creed

At an increasing number of seminaries and Christian colleges, it is common to see a policy about inclusive language. Policies like these are sometimes dismissed by conservatives as politicized and heretical, but that isn’t necessary. In fact, dismissing inclusive language can be a stumbling block. Not only can adjusting something as finite and transitory as our words constitute good news to the poor in spirit, it can also be more theologically accurate.

One element of my faith in which I find myself pushing back against the crowd, even in a progressive tradition like my own Episcopal Church, is in the Nicene (Constantinopolitan) Creed. Every Sunday, we stand and recite our faith by saying aloud the ancient creed. When we do, I find myself straying from the prescribed wording somewhat. I have recreated it below, with alterations in bold, followed by some annotations explaining the use of certain pronouns and why I avoid using other gender specific pronouns:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom reign will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Who, with the Father and the Son, he is worshiped and glorified,
He And has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

The Father – I’ve made my peace using the male pronoun for God in the specific sense of being Jesus’ Father (and therefore ours). Jesus has a mother, Mary, who plays prominently in the gospels and in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions as well. Episcopalians have a far softer Mariology, but it is there.

Him/his/he – These pronouns in the second stanza refer to the person of Christ, his humanity. He was born a male and accepted use of the male pronoun by others and often self-referred as male. There’s a lot of nuanced ways to understand how his use of gender actually defied normative expressions of his own day, so much that I trust you can find plenty with a simple internet search.

And was made man – The earliest Greek forms had ἐνανθρωπήσαντα (‘was made fully human’), and Latin translators rendered it homo factus est (‘made man’). Both Latin and modern English forms of “man” imply all of humanity, but also refer specifically to male forms thereof. (This is also true of the line some traditions use; “for us men and our salvation” – linguistic integrity insists ‘men’ is a stand in for “humanity,” i.e. Christ came because of human sin) Because Jesus was, by all canonical accounts, biologically male, I leave this line in place when I recite the creed.

Kingdom – In Greek, βασιλείας, which is also translated as empire. “Reign” is less… coercive. It also isn’t associated with the gender specific word ‘king.’ I don’t see any substantive theological difference to warrant one over the other.

The Holy Spirit stanza is the trickiest. There are two male pronouns used in the current version used by the Episcopal Church, and without any good reason that I can find. The Hebrew spirit of God, רוּחַ (‘ruah’) was decidedly feminine. As texts aged, I suppose, into Greek, Πνεῦμα (‘pneuma’) is gender neutral rather than feminine.  Spiritus, the Latin equivalent, is decidedly masculine… For this part I simply drop the male pronoun and make the last line  a continuation of the one before it by swapping “He” with “And.”

So there you go. If you’re a member of a tradition that uses the Nicene Creed, I hope the inclusive language above is helpful. Even if you don’t use it, maybe it inspires some thoughtful dialogue in the comments below. Sound off, let me know what you think!


Dog Tag Fellowship

I’ve been offered a fellowship to the 2017 cohort of Dog Tag Inc.!


Dog Tag Inc. Fellowship Program and Bakery in Washington DC supports the military to civilian workforce transition through the development of professional skills, knowledge and behaviors for success. The program begins July 5th!

Fellows like me gain experiential learning by participating in a working rotation through storefront and non-profit positions. We’ll learn every aspect of a small business, including operations, staff management, product creation, customer service, and marketing. Successful completion of the program includes a Certificate in Business Administration from Georgetown University.

I am so excited to be given the opportunity to study and network in our nation’s capital as I take steps to start my own small business. Read more about the program by clicking the button below!

Read about the Fellowship Program HERE.

Accepting this amazing offer means that I would commute between Durham, NC and Washington, D.C. four days a week from July to November. (!)  Please keep Laura, Rosemary, and me in your prayers, that our family may be strengthened in this time despite the strain this will place on our family. *Also pray that I find cheap lodging… 

The Chapter House sqA Bookish Dream

My experience at Dog Tag will be put to use helping me start a new business! The Chapter House will be a veteran-operated socially responsible used book store that cultivates thoughtful, caffeinated conversation about religion & politics somewhere in North Carolina…

Read The Chapter House pitch


An Experimentmartins-confections-001

During rotations in the bakery, I’ll be testing syrups for St Augustine’s Confections. Hella Piña was a big hit, so get ready for “Holy St. Basil.” Torani and Monin, watch out!


A  History

If it hadn’t been for Spoke’n Polite Co., these other ideas probably would never have taken shape. A new website I built explains why thoughtful conversation about religion & politics is so important.

Check it out at SpokenPolite.Co

Diversify Diversity

The recent commentary in Religion News Service on diversity at Duke University is myopic and counterproductive, nor is it truly the “bigger story.” Diversity is not restricted to race alone, as the author narrates Duke’s “troubles,” but include color, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin, genetic information, veteran status, sexual orientation, and gender as well. The focus on race, as opposed to other protected categories, is counterproductive because it pits protected populations against one another, making diversity a zero sum in which the protection of one population comes at the expense of another. Contrary to the title of the commentary, the “bigger story” is not about race, but about the way protection is not distributed equally to those populations in need thereof.

I know because the Divinity School was reported as a hostile environment eight months before Anathea Portier-Young filed a similar internal grievance in March 2017. This has been public knowledge since September of last year, when Duke was placed under investigation by the Department of Labor, a federal agency. In the earlier case, Dean Heath refused to intervene, as she did when Paul Griffiths derided diversity training as a “waste.” I cannot disagree more strongly with that sentiment, but the tragic reality is that protection is too often a privilege that is not extended to all marginalized groups equally. I know because I am the veteran who filed the complaint which lead to the federal investigation.

Veterans have been promised the same kind of concern and institutional resources that black seminarians have since at least 2009, but they continue to wait for those promises to be fulfilled. One reason may be that veterans cannot organize as effectively as other protected populations because the administration, from the university level on down, has repeatedly obstructed attempts to share information and network amongst student veterans, which is otherwise encouraged as a professional value. Another reason may be the comparatively fewer impacted individuals. For the class of 2020, 16% of accepted students were black, for example, or about 276 of total enrolled undergraduates entering in 2015. For veterans, if they’re lucky, that number may be in the single digits, if it isn’t in fact zero.

Within the field of religious studies and theology, that number drops even more dramatically, and does so across the board. Of all 35 COFHE member institutions, only five have seminaries. Of those that do, only the University of Chicago maximizes their participation in Chapter 33 of the GI Bill, otherwise known as the Yellow Ribbon Program. Without full participation, student veterans often must take out loans even after the promises made to them about military service, which is disproportionately about higher education. Duke Divinity, however, limits the number of slots allocated for Ch.33 benefits, meaning student veterans may be required compete against one another to receive the full benefit for which they served. Of the five COFHE seminaries, Duke offers the least in terms of maximum annual contribution; less than $3,000 per year per student veteran, which flies in the face of their “No Debt Challenge.”

And it this is not just a recent phenomenon. There is a statistically significant number of fewer scholars with military experience on faculties of seminaries and Christian colleges than there should be. This is probably because the generation of theoligians that now occupies tenured professorships long ago received exemptions from the draft during Vietnam as seminarians, and later had no obligation to serve because of the transformation to an “All Volunteer Force.” This creates the exact same problem mentioned in the commentary, that veterans, like students of any marginalized social group, need a space that doesn’t simply affirm status quo perspectives. All students, not just veterans but especially veterans, should receive the full benefit of academic freedom and diversity of thought. What prevails, however, are polarizing, false binary perspectives of either Hauerwasian pacifism or Niebuhrian realism.

The intellectual privation of Christian academia is palpable – as the founder of Centurions Guild I have received nearly one unsolicited email from a fellow Christian soldier or veteran every single month for almost decade. I have counseled nearly 150 people since 2008, the latest coming just last week from a pastor in Louisiana in dire need of support for a veteran in his youth group. He, like innumerable pastors and minsters like him, have been left with atrophied abstractions built upon assumptions which rarely align with the embodied reality of military service. Is it truly any wonder that veterans take their own lives at such alarming rates? If the Religious Landscape Survey is at all represented in the military, if about 70% of American service members are Christian, then it’s dangerously likely that 14 of the 20 suicides every day are committed by Christian veterans who identify as Christian. Or did.

The church has an intellectual and practical crisis on its hands. Affirmative action and sensitivity trainings, I grant to its skeptics, are finite solutions to an infinite problem ingrained in human nature. But a finite solution is infinitely better than no solution, or an improperly and inequitably distributed solution. My own attempt at protection as a (white, cis-male) disabled veteran was undermined by none other than the senior Vice President of Institutional Equity at Duke, shortly before classes began last fall. So I know the “totalitarian tendencies” of diversity cliques. But the answer is not to jettison protections and trainings, but to distribute them more justly.

*Originally published at HuffPost on May 25, 2017 at 

Yellow Ribbon Funds – Maximize for GIs

I spent a lot of time as a student veteran, and the biggest headache was always my GI Bill. For some reason, I only attended private universities, which meant I became very acquainted with what is known as The Yellow Ribbon Fund (or Program). I want other student veterans of every stripe and rank to learn from my mistakes rather than their own, so I sat down one day to begin learning how this program is utilized by private liberal arts schools like those I attended. Unfortunately, I learned that few prestigious schools maximize their use of this program.

US_News_333x233Most prospective students, veteran or not, learn about how their school is ranked in order to assess the value of a degree. Many of the most prestigious private liberal arts schools are members of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE), which I’ll get to momentarily. U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) has one of the most popular ranking systems, for public and private universities alike, and I recently learned that they have a school ranking specifically aimed at veterans. I was pretty excited to learn that one of my alma maters even placed third on the 2017 list.

Then I read their methodology, which read like someone pencil-drilled it, and that doesn’t reflect well on the USNWR commitment to prospective student veterans. “Schools reported on their benefits”? That’s neither objective nor reliable! For one, if a school habitually preyed upon vets for government subsidized tuition, then they could lie in order to get themselves on the list and thereby attract more veterans. Secondly, ranked schools don’t always keep verifiable records of veteran students and their use of benefits (including that third ranked alma mater of mine).

Nor is the method employed by USNWR very critical. All that is required to be on the veteran specific list are three boiler-plate criteria;

  1. The institution is certified for the GI Bill.
  2. The institution participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program or is a public school that charges in-state tuition to all out-of-state veterans.
  3. The institution is in the top half of its U.S. News ranking category and had 20 or more students who used GI Bill benefits to partially or fully finance their tuition the prior year.

2985409e14b986ad9dd997fb1ba59fa19e1cd8f175b726109763a8b7bd85621eThe above three points are all pass/fail; there aren’t any measurables specific to veterans at all. Read closely and you’ll find that the list is just the regular national breakdown without any actual reassessment whatsoever; “U.S. News ranked qualifying schools numerically and in descending order based on their 2017 Best Colleges ranks.” USWNR could have been more honest by calling it “The Best Colleges we picked that also happen to accept free government funds for enrolling students with a proven track record for maturity and high achievement.” I award USWNR no points, and may God have mercy on   Eric Brooks‘ and Robert Morse‘s souls.

Fuck it, this is stupid, let’s move on.

_4884926_origThe Yellow Ribbon Program (sometimes called a “Fund” by financial aide administrators) is part of Chapter 33 of the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act” that FDR signed into law in 1944, in part to settle the lingering complaints of the WWI veteran “Bonus Army.” Since then college tuition has exploded, especially with private universities, and the law has not kept pace. Because private colleges almost always charge more for tuition than public schools, Chapter 33 provides funds to split the different between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the university in question; the VA pays half the difference, and the university forgives the other half.

One would think the cost-benefit analysis of forgiving some (already exorbitant levels of) tuition in exchange for attracting the nation’s top student pool would be a no brainer, that private schools would jump on board, but they don’t. According to a report by Student Veterans of America, private universities enroll just 17% of veteran students; lower than both public and proprietary schools. Proprietary, for profit schools are often predatory toward veterans because of a loop hole that allows them to bypass certain regulations. But somehow, predatory educators graduate more student veterans than private schools! Private universities are also collecting less GI Bill money than public and proprietary schools as well, which just makes bad business sense.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 14.51.04Making matters even clusterfuckier, every large private university that I looked at pushes implementation decisions to subordinate colleges and graduate or professional schools. Those schools often restrict the number of slots, meaning student veterans essentially have to compete against one another for financial aide. But I’ll get to that in a second.

There are a LOT of private colleges out there, and I can’t look into all of them. To limit my focus, I turned my attention to COFHE, a research organization whose 35 member institutions are all “highly selective, private liberal arts colleges and universities.” I chose COFHE because its research is organized around enabling its members “to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of admitted students.” Since the Yellow Ribbon Program funds are about financial need, I figured COFHE members would be all about helping qualified veterans get into our nation’s most elite colleges. That was my first mistake, but it won’t be yours because I’ll be blogging about it all summer!



So where did I get my data? The U.S. World & News Report ranking is here, and they explain their own shoddy excuse for a methodology here. For usage statistics, rather than simply trust colleges at their word, which is just lazy, I went to the source of the funding – the good old Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA keeps an extensive list of all universities and subordinate entities to which it sends Yellow Ribbon funding, which is organized by state here. That is the list of 2014-2015 academic year, which is the most recent I can find (if you find a more recent list, don’t tell me; let me just live in peace. I don’t get paid for this shit). I plugged the data for each and every COFHE member school into a complicated Google Sheet here so I could start to make some sense of it. If you do too, then I’ll sleep a little better at night. TO make sense of the data as I’ve organized it, I’ve created a Little Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin Spreadsheet Key which can be accessed here (there’s also a link in the upper left corner of the spreadsheet). Read it before you ask me questions, I will get ornery.

I’ve outlined a rough order for the summer blog series below. Numbers in parentheses (these things) indicate veteran ranking. Nationally ranked COFHE schools that do not appear on the veteran ranking are indicated below by their national rank (indicated by “N”). Many of the smaller COFHE schools are ranked on USNWR in the Liberal Arts category (indicated by “LA”), but not the National category. Where necessary, I’ve group small or uncomplicated schools by state, while large schools with multiple distinct colleges or professional schools will get their own post. Asterisks indicate a tie within Veteran, National, or Liberal Arts lists.

I’ll write a dedicated post about the Ivy League colleges (indicated in bold below), all eight of which are COFHE member schools, as well as the Seven Sisters (indicated with italics throughout), five of which are members. Most Ivies, five of the eight, aren’t on the vet ranking, but I found them all on the 2015 VA database (meaning they satisfy criteria one and two from above). Most likely, they and other prestigious schools didn’t meet the threshold of at least 20 students using GI Bill benefits in 2016.

Here’s a link to the blogs I plan to write based on the VA data for COFHE members;

Professional Schools & Other Groupings

  • Undergraduate programs
  • Ivy League
  • Seven Sisters
  • Divinity
  • Medical & Health
  • Engineering
  • Law
  • Business & Management

By Veteran Ranking

  • Stanford (1)
  • MIT (2)
  • Duke (3*)
  • University of Pennsylvania (3*)
  • Dartmouth College (5)
  • Cornell University (6*)
  • Rice (6*)
  • Vanderbilt (6*)
  • Washington University (10)
  • Rochester (19)
  • Amherst (44)

By National or Liberal Arts Ranking

  • Princeton University (1N)
  • Harvard University (2N)
  • Yale University (3N*)
  • Columbia University (5N)
  • Brown University (14N)
  • University of Chicago (3N*)
  • Johns Hopkins (10N)
  • Northwestern (12N*)
  • Georgetown (20N)
  • Women’s Colleges Barnard (27LA) & Wellesley 
  • California – CalTech (12N*) & Pomona (7LA)
  • Connecticut – Mt. Holyoke (36LA*), Trinity, & Wesleyan (140LA*)
  • Massachusetts – Smith (12LA*) & Williams (1LA)
  • Pennsylvania – Bryn Mawr (31LA) & Swarthmore (4LA*)
  • Other – Bowdoin (6LA), Oberlin (24LA*), & Middlebury (4LA*)

I’ll also set up a page under Advocate that can act as a hyperlink hub to access each post. I might be a bit OCD about this shit, but at least I’m high functioning, so I may as well make my eccentricities productive.

Do you represent a school named above? To submit evidence (and I mean hard evidence, I’m a skeptical son of a bitch) that any of my findings need updating or revising, feel free to use my Contact page, and be sure to identify yourself as an official and which school you represent. I reserve the right to be wrong, and I invite your help in keeping me accountable.

Do you like what you read and have a desire to support me? As a 100% disabled veteran, I am able to do this and other stuff because I receive compensation for my service connected disabilities. My VA income gives me a lot of flexibility, but I always appreciate the support of my readers. I would LOVE for you to turn that support into a recurring donation for Centurions Guild, a nonprofit providing religious dimensions of care for soldiers and veterans (full disclosure: I founded it). If you really want to help me directly, then you can always support my writing on Patreon.

Exclusion (cont’d)

Recently, I discovered that the Exclusion of veterans by Duke administrators at every level extends beyond just the lack of a center or dedicated veteran staff. The exclusion, which may be totally unconscious, was maybe most egregious in the university’s “Bias and hate Taskforce” final report, but it reaches seemingly to every corner of Duke imaginable. I keep stumbling upon basic violations or noncompliance with the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act (VEVRAA) and even a modicum of awareness that veteran status is a federally protected category just like race, color, sex, religion, age, disability, genetic information, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

By chance, I found a news report and policy document that would have affected me directly as a contract employee in the Fall 2016, right in the middle of my own OIE inquiry. The “Review of Duke University’s Grievance and Complaint Procedures for Fairness and Related Requirements for Contractors” outlines treatment of contractors (like preceptors and TAs) so that the procedures for reporting harassment and discrimination are more fair.

The report, from Duke Today, cites a change to policy that the university was to have provided an external arbitrator if when my dispute was not resolved at the local level. In that event, furthermore, “representatives will be assigned to give procedural advice to the employee and the supervisor.” I had no such representative at any point in the 4+ month process of the inquiry, the product of which was a flimsily drafted and clearly partial “Final Report” riven with errors and false assumptions.

The document itself, signed by Charlene Moore Hayes, fails to mention veteran status in any way over its fourteen pages. The list of protected categories is laid out twice, on pages one and five, and each appearance omits a population suffering from an widely reported epidemic of suicide, which touched Duke directly in April 2008, when an enrolled student veteran committed suicide just off campus. Within months after PhD student Alex New took his own life, Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta promised veterans his office would

  1. “formalize veterans’ programming as part of Duke’s new student orientation”
  2. “add military status to the admissions information collected by Duke’s schools”
  3. design “a campuswide half-day workshop on serving veteran students.”

There is no hard evidence that any of the above promises have ever been successfully implemented. It has been eight years since the above promises were made, during which time roughly 58,400 veterans have killed themselves.

This exclusion of veterans from formal Duke policy decision-making is eerily similar to the report produced by the “Taskforce on Bias and Hate” just five months before the “Review” was signed by Moore, and to the “Townhall” convened by President Broadhead that served as the task force’s genesis. The kicker? Veterans have been a protected status since 1974 under VEVRAA, revisions for which went into effect in March 2014. So it isn’t that the law has been sitting on a warehouse shelf collecting dust for the last 40+ years. It’s that Duke has remained ignorant of it, as have most ‘elite’ educational institutions. In the end, any claim of ignorance on the part of the university or its staff is ignorant at best, but unlawful and discriminatory at worst. Either way, veterans lose. What will it take for Duke to come around, another public relations disaster suicide? Statistically, it’s just a matter of time…