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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Monday, February 28, 2011

Fulfilling Scripture

Anna Julia Hayward Cooper
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper 
and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright
St. John’s Chapel
Episcopal Divinity School
Cambridge, MA
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
Proctor Scholar, Spring Semester 2011
Elizabeth Evelyn Wright

Please pray with me: O God, take my mind and think through it. Take my lips and speak through them. Take all our hearts and set them on fire with a love of your gospel. Amen.

Not too long ago, I heard Desmond Tutu, the retired archbishop of South Africa – well, the rumor is that he’s retired, but you would never know that to watch him – tell a playful story he told to some school children during Black History Month about the story of how people of different color were created.

According to Archbishop Tutu’s story, when God set out to make humankind, S/he was in the Heavenly Kitchen, mixing up great batches of mud and clay, straw and water, much the way bricks are made. And when S/he had fashioned them just so, S/he put these marvelous creations into the Heavenly Kiln to fire them.

S/he then went about making yet another batch, losing Her/himself in the enormously enjoying creative process. Suddenly, S/he became aware that something was burning. Returning to the kiln, S/he was horrified to open the kiln and find His creations burned to cinder.

God was, of course, disappointed, but God is persistent and persevered. S/he finished the next batch and, this time, hovered over the kiln to make sure S/he didn’t repeat Her mistake. S/he was very anxious to have them come out perfectly, so one might understand that, in haste, God opened the door of the kiln too soon.

And this, Tutu said, was how White people came into being.

I haven’t mustered the nerve to ask the good Archbishop if, when God made the first batch of men, S/he was just experimenting and improved on Her creation when S/he created women. Perhaps S/he realized that S/he needed to add a few more gray matter cells to the area of the cerebellum, and perhaps, add just a pinch more persistence and perseverance.

I want to talk about the qualities of persistence and perseverance this afternoon, as we honor the lives of Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, two of the saints of God who are noted as proposed additions to the Liturgical Calendar of Saints, ‘Holy Women, Holy Men’.

Now, this is a homily, not a lecture or a history lesson. I am also keenly aware and deeply respectful of your time. I want to say a few words about these two women, not so that you will know everything about them, but so that you might use their lives as a lens through which to view today’s scripture – especially this pericope from Luke’s Gospel and what Jesus has to say about fulfilling the scripture – which is the preacher’s task and responsibility and joy.

I suppose Anna and Elizabeth share a place on the proposed new liturgical calendar because they are both women who shared a passion for education. They are both, as well, African American women – born 14 years apart, Anna in North Carolina and Elizabeth (whose mother was Cherokee) in Georgia – both the daughters of slavery.

Despite the formidable obstacles of being women – and women of color – who lived through the Civil War and The Emancipation in the South, Anna became the fourth African American woman to receive a PhD from the University of Paris, Sorbonne. Elizabeth graduated from Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Those are the “facts on the ground” about these two incredible women. As you read more about their stories – and, I trust you will – I hope you will be inspired not only by their intellect and faith, but by the persistence and perseverance required to achieve their life’s work.

I can only wonder if they took for their inspiration and role models some of the women they read in Holy Scripture. I wonder if they, too, were inspired by the stories of Sarah and Poor Ole Aunt Hagar, or Rachel, Leah and Rebecca, or their respective names’ sake – Anna, the mother of Mary – who was the mother of Jesus – and Elizabeth – the mother of John the Baptist – from whom Mary sought solace when, as a young unmarried woman, found herself “full of grace” and with child after she said ‘Yes’ to God.

Perhaps these ancient holy women and Blessed Jesus were inspirations for these two women, both of whom followed God and loved Jesus and served the people of God through The Episcopal Church. I wonder if they, like me, were struck by the persistence and perseverance of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson about what it takes to fulfill the scripture of God for your life.

To today’s gospel, then.

Jesus has just returned to his home in Galilee after he had been baptized by John and “immediately after”, scripture tells us, spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. He returned to Galilee “filled with the Spirit” and everyone was talking about him. On the Sabbath, he went to the Temple in Nazareth, where he had been brought up.

Someone handed him the Torah and he began to read from the writings of the prophet Isaiah about being anointed to bring good news to the poor, and proclaiming release to the captives and restoring the sight to the blind and letting the oppressed go free and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.

Now, imagine it – just let your mind picture this scene. He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone was looking at him. Then he said to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

What an incredibly bold thing to say! How absolutely audacious! “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” If you read the rest of the passage from Luke, you realize that everyone in the Temple was, at first, pleased with him – until Jesus quit preachin’ and went on to meddlin’ – because it became clear that, no, he wasn’t just being clever and articulate.

He persisted in demonstrating that he actually meant what he said when he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people in the synagogue got so enraged that they got up, drove him out of the synagogue and out of town and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But, Luke’s gospel tells us, Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

I wonder if Anna Julia Hayward Cooper recognized in herself something of the persistence and perseverance of Jesus when she was at Saint Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute, in North Carolina, and insisted that she be allowed to jump off the so-called “Lady’s Track” of education and take higher-level courses such as Greek, which were reserved for men. She won that right by demonstrating her scholastic ability. And, she passed through the midst of them and went on her way to earn her PhD in Paris.

I wonder if Elizabeth Evelyn Wright saw something in herself in the persistence and perseverance of Jesus when she started a school for the Black children and adults in South Carolina, only to see it burned down. Undaunted, she started another school until it, too, was the target of arson. So, she started another and yet another, eventually passing through the midst of them and went on her way to secure donations and grants to open the Voorhees Industrial School for male and female students at the elementary and high school levels. For years this was the only high school for Blacks in the area. The school was later affiliated with The Episcopal Church and eventually became a fully accredited four-year college.

I submit to you for your consideration the idea that it was in the midst of the dangers and temptations of the wilderness of slavery and the Civil War, while the beasts of racism and sexism roared and tried to snare them off their paths, that the scripture of the lives of these two remarkable women were fulfilled in their hearing.

It was the same call Jesus had heard and responded to in the wilderness when he was sorely tempted by the powers and principalities of the world. Somewhere out there, in the midst of the wildernesses of our lives, we of’t times find the grace to fulfill the scriptures God has for our lives.

I ask you to consider this notion because it is the scriptural link I find between the lives of Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright and the scripture Jesus asks us to consider today. Actually, I want to quit preachin’ and commence to meddlin’ and ask you, directly: What scripture is calling out to you to be fulfilled in your life?

I want to be so bold and audacious to ask us to consider what scripture or words of scriptural wisdom ground us in the belief that we can actually make a difference in the church – The Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the UCC or MCC church – so that we can use the church as a vehicle of transformation and change in our lives so that we can change the places in the world we see need to be changed?

As Verna Dozier, another blessed saint of our church used to say, "Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe!"

What are we doing with the excellent theological education we are receiving and teaching in this amazing place which is training us to be leaders in Christian community? What will we do with what we learn and teach today – this day – to take all that we are, and all that we have been, and, by the grace of God, turn that into something that will put food into the mouths of the hungry, or clothes on the back of the naked, or bring the light of education to those held in darkness, and give hope and inspiration to those still enslaved by the shackles of racism, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia and religious prejudice and bigotry?

What will we do with the grace bestowed upon us in baptism to grow into the promise we made at Baptism and some of us renewed at Confirmation to grow into the full stature of Christ – with all the risks and challenges and sacrifices that requires?

Grace is a powerful, amazing gift. Don’t squander it.

As my old friend Canon P.D. Quirk says, “Never letteth the grace grow under thy feet.”

Okay, so your probably going to giggle and snicker when I say this, but one of my favorite modern theologians is none other than Lady Gaga. Don’t dismiss her because of the way she looks.

Underneath all that makeup and plastic outfits and (God help us) meat dresses, beats the 23 year-old heart of a good Italian Catholic girl who was educated by the nuns at Convent Sacred Heart, 91st Street, on the Upper West Side of NYC.

Her latest song ‘Born that Way’ has a powerful message. She sings,
“I'm beautiful in my way 'Cause God makes no mistakes. / I'm on the right track baby. I was born this way. / Don't be a drag, just be a queen / Whether you're broke or evergreen /You're black, white, beige, chola descent / You're lebanese, you're orient /Whether life's disabilities / Left you outcast, bullied, or teased / Rejoice and love yourself today / 'Cause baby you were born this way / No matter gay, straight, or bi, / Lesbian, transgendered life / I'm on the right track baby / I was born to survive / No matter black, white or beige/ Chola or orient made / I'm on the right track baby / I was born to be brave.”
Now, if Lady Gaga can get that message out there, so can we – in our own unique way (but perhaps not in a dress made of meat).

If Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright can overcome the obstacles of their lives and fulfill the scriptures written thousands of years ago by men who had no idea that these women of color would hear them much less act on them, so can we.

We were born to be brave. Our baptism gives us the sacramental grace to be bold in the name of Jesus.

Oh, people will try to tell us that we can’t because of this or that – how we were made in the Great Heavenly Kiln and we were underdone or overdone or not smart enough or strong enough or don’t have the ‘right stuff’ because our parents didn’t go to the right schools and neither, perhaps, did we.

If we’re baptized, we’ll do it anyway and make people so angry that they’ll drive us out of the church and try to throw us off the cliff. When we’re walking with Jesus, and fulfilling the scriptures, we’ll pass through the midst of them and be on our way.

I don’t know how that works. I only know from my own life, that it does.

We were born to be brave. We were baptized to be bold and audacious.

Let us be persistent and persevere so that we, too, may be raised to the full stature of Christ.

We won’t walk on water, but we’ll walk through walls.

Fulfill the scripture of your life.

Amen.

Proverbs 9:1-6, Luke 4:14-21, Psalm 78:1-7

A Eucharistic Prayer for Justice

Today is the Feast Day, proposed by "Holy Women, Holy Men", of Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Evelyn Wright. I am preaching today at St. John's Chapel at the 12:15 Eucharist. It's an enormous privilege and a decided pleasure.

I'll post my sermon later this afternoon, but I wanted to post the Eucharistic prayer I put together for today's service. The Rev'd Dr. Susanna Snyder, Assistant Professor of Contemporary Society and Christian Ethics, will be presiding.

I packed like a monk to come to EDS as Proctor Scholar, so I did not have any of my liturgical files with me.  I needn't have worried. Dr. Snyder was a rich and generous resource of liturgical material for this service, for which I am deeply grateful.

I am also deeply grateful to Patrick Michaels, pianist and organist at St. John's Chapel, who was so very generous with his time and musical talent in suggesting the music for this service.

I cobbled this service together from a variety of sources: The New Women Included, St. Hilda Community;  Bread of Tomorrow: Praying with the World’s Poor, Janet Morley, ed;  Holy Ground: Liturgies and worship resources for an engaged spirituality, Neil Paynter & Helen Boothroyd - and, I confess, from the rapidly dwindling shreds of memory I have left in my cerebellum.

I would be happy for you to borrow any or all of it, with proper attribution, of course.

A Eucharistic Service
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright
Monday, February 28, 2011


SERVICE OF HOLY EUCHARIST

INVITATION:

Presider:      Come to the living God
                         Come to stand alongside the poor in spirit.
                         Come to struggle with those who seek freedom.
                         Come to resist all that offends God’s justice
                    Come to the living, disturbing God.

+Blessed be God, One, Holy and Living.
All: And Blessed be God’s Beloved Community, now and forever. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE:   “I know the Lord’s laid his hands on me.”   LEVAS 131

Presider: Our God is with you.
All: And also with you.
Presider: Let us pray.

COLLECT:

Eternal God, you inspired Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright with the love of learning and the joy of teaching: Help us also to gather and use the resources of our communities for the education of all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

LESSONS:

First Reading Proverbs 9:1-6

Psalm 78:1-7 (spoken)

Give ear to my teaching, O my people;
     incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
     I will declare the mysteries of ancient times,
That which we have heard and known,
and what our forebears have told us.
     we will not hide them from their children.
We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the powers of God,
     and the wonderful works s/he has done.
S/he established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
     which s/he commanded our forebears 
     to teach to their children;
That the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
     and arise and tell them to their children,
So that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
     but keep God’s commandments;

GRADUAL HYMN:    “Make me a blessing”    LEVAS 158

Gospel Luke 4:6-16

Homily:  Fulfilling scripture” (the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
Note: after the homily, please take a full minute of silence for reflection.

Prayers of the People

Gracious God, we pray for your holy catholic Church;
     That we all may be one.

Grant that every member of the Church may truly and humbly serve you;
     That your Name may be glorified by al people.

We pray for all bishops, priests, deacons and laity;
     That they may be faithful ministers of your Word and Sacraments.

We pray for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world;
     That there may be justice and peace on the earth.

Give us grace to do your will in all that we undertake;
     That our works may find favor in your sight.

Have compassion on those who suffer from any grief or trouble;
     That they may be delivered from their distress.

Give to the departed eternal rest.
     Let light perpetual shine upon them.

We praise you for your saints who have entered into joy;
     May we also come to share in your heavenly kin-dom.

Let us pray for our own needs and those of others.

Silence

The prophet Zechariah has taught us that these are the things we must do: Speak the truth to one another. In the courts give real justice – the kind that gives peace. Do not plan ways to hurt each other. Do not tell lies about each other. Have courage. Do not be afraid. Love truth and love peace. Amen.
Confession

All:      God, you know us as we are:
               you know our selfishness,
               our anger and bitterness,
               our fear and apathy,
               our hardness of heart,
               our deliberate blindness,
               our need to begin again.
          In your mercy and love
          Forgive us, change and renew us. Amen.

Presider: God forgives you. God blesses you. God loves you, now and always.

The Passing of the Peace

OFFERTORY HYMN:   “Come, Eat and Drink for my table is set”
                                              (Words and Music: Patrick Michaels)


Eucharistic Prayers

God is with us
God’s Spirit is here
Lift up your hearts
We lift them up to God
Let us give thanks to God our Creator
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Holy God, who breathes fire into our very existence, filling us with heavenly joy and holy indignation at the plight of our world: we worship you, we praise you, and we trust in your promise to be with us, now and always.

We claim the sign of renewal given to a broken and discouraged community, now as then in Jerusalem. For you came to your people, filling them with confidence. Your Holy Spirit inspired their lives, bringing clarity and vision, perseverance and persistence, hope and peace.

We join our voices now with them and with all those who have gone before us, with Anna and Elizabeth and all your saints who have struggled to bring a glimpse of your kin-dom here on earth, singing this hymn of unending praise:

Sanctus: LEVAS 225

Blessed is Jesus, our brother, who calls us beyond the limits of our understanding of our humanity to seek the divine spark within us all, and fills us with a sense of oneness with God and with each other in community.

On the night he was betrayed, while at supper with his friends, +Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it saying, “Take and eat: this is my body which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

After supper, +he took the cup, blessed it and said: “Drink this, all of you: this is the new covenant made in my blood; do this for the remembrance of me.”

Holy God, we now offer you these gifts, longing for the bread of justice and the wine of the age to come. Therefore, we proclaim the mystery of our faith.

Jesus Christ has died
Jesus Christ is risen
Jesus Christ will come again
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
Jesus Christ will come again.

Tune: ‘We Shall Overcome’

+ Pour out your Spirit on these gifts, O God, that through them we may be vehicles of justice and compassion and may reconcile ourselves and each other and the world through your unconditional love and abundant grace.

+ Sanctified by the power of your Spirit, may we be better able to proclaim your message, look beyond the obstacles in our path and see new visions, dream new dreams and become your Beloved Community in the Name of Jesus.

+Through Christ, and with Christ, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory be given to you, O Source of all life, now and forever.  Amen.

In the spirit of the teaching of Jesus, let us now pray -

Our Father/Mother, who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name.
thy kin-dom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kin-dom,
and the power and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

The Fraction:

Take and eat, for the peace of all nations
Take and drink, for the love of all people.
     For you have shown us the path that leads to life.
     And this feast will fill us with joy.

COMMUNION HYMN:      “Mungu ni mwema”
                                          (Democratic Republic of Congo)
                                               "Know that God is good."

POST COMMUNION HYMN:   “Justice Round”  
                                            (Words and music by Thew Elliott)

All around me voices sing
Justice is the song they sing, And with-
in this song I'll sing my part; I will
rise and speak what's in my heart; I will
rise! I will rise!

Post Communion Prayer

Let us pray:

Those who work for change suffer resistance
     So make us strong
Those who do new things sometimes feel afraid
     So make us brave.
Those who challenge the world as it is arouse its anger
     So grant us inner peace.
Those who try to love encounter hate.
     So make us steadfast in you.

The Blessing

May the God who dances in creation
Who embraces us with human love
Who shakes our lives like thunder
+Bless us and drive us out with power
To fill the world with justice and peace AMEN.

CLOSING HYMN:   “Glory, glory Halleluiah”      LEVAS 130

Dismissal

Sunday, February 27, 2011

NACC Calls for Fair Process and Honest Debate

No Anglican Covenant Coalition
Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity
noanglicancovenant.org

NEWS RELEASE
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


NO ANGLICAN COVENANT COALITION CALLS FOR FAIR PROCESS AND HONEST DEBATE

LONDON —The No Anglican Covenant Coalition has criticized church officials for attempting to suppress honest discussion of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

"Instead of fostering a free and open discussion, church officials are trying to ensure that this radical document is endorsed without serious debate," according to Coalition Moderator, Dr Lesley Fellows. "Unfortunately, this is entirely consistent with what has been happening throughout the process."

The idea of an Anglican Covenant was first proposed officially in 2004 as a means of addressing divisions among the member churches of the Anglican Communion on matters ranging from human sexuality to the role of women. The current draft, which has been unilaterally designated as "final", has been referred to the Communion churches for adoption. The proposed Covenant establishes mechanisms that would have the effect of forcing member churches to conform to the demands and expectations of other churches or risk exclusion from the Communion. The draft must be either accepted without amendment or rejected entirely; no other options are allowed.

A series of decisions demonstrate a pattern of bias and manipulation designed to facilitate Covenant adoption:
* November 2010 — When the Church of England debated the Anglican Covenant, official materials prepared for General Synod members made no reference to the concerns of critics or to the case against the Covenant. This was in marked contrast to what happened in 2007, when the House of Bishops agreed that an additional briefing document presenting opposing arguments should be circulated to all General Synod members in advance of the debate.

* November 2010 — When Modern Church and Inclusive Church placed advertisements critical of the proposed Covenant in the church press, and when the No Anglican Covenant Coalition was launched, Covenant sceptics were criticized by senior church officials for going public and "campaigning" instead of remaining silent.

* December 2010 — When the draft Covenant was formally referred to English dioceses, the referral document provided a random list of quotations from the last General Synod debate, with pro

‐ and anti‐Covenant remarks mixed up together, followed by a purely pro‐Covenant presentation.

* January 2011 — A request by Covenant opponents to the Business Committee of General Synod to circulate material setting out the case against the Covenant was rejected.

* February 2011 — The Anglican Communion Office issued an official study guide and list of questions and answers for international use that neither provide a balanced look at the issues nor fairly represent the views of those critical of the Covenant
.
"In the history of General Synod, we know of no instance where such an important matter (designated as Article 8) has been referred to diocesan synods without the case for both sides being clearly set out," according to Jonathan Clatworthy, General Secretary of Modern Church and a member of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. "Both sides were represented regarding the most recent plans for unity with the Methodists. That was the case at every stage of the debate over the ordination of women as priests, and now, as bishops. The material concerning the Covenant falls far short of the ideals of justice, of the Anglican tradition. Even in the House of Commons, all sides of an issue are allowed to be heard."

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition website, noanglicancovenant.org, provides a wealth of resources for those seeking to understand the proposed Anglican Covenant. Material specifically designed for use by Church of England dioceses is also available from the Modern Church Web site at modernchurch.org.uk/resources/mc/cofe.

"Diocesan synods in the Church of England deserve to hear all sides of the debate," said Dr Fellows. "We are not afraid of an open, fair, and honest debate. If the supporters of the Covenant had a stronger case, perhaps they wouldn’t be either."

noanglicancovenant.org

Revd Dr Lesley Fellows (England) +44 184 4239 268

Revd Canon Hugh Magee (Scotland) +44 133 4470 446

Dr Lionel Deimel (USA) +1 412 512 9087

Revd Malcolm French (Canada) +1 306 550 2277

Revd Lawrence Kimberley (New Zealand) +64 3 981 7384

Stewards of God's Mysteries

It's snowing here in Cambridge. Again.

That's the view there, above, from my third floor dining area window which I took just a few minutes ago. (Never mind the time stamp. I still don't know how to change it. I'm just pleased as punch that I know how to upload the image from my camera to my laptop so you can see what I can see.)

It's supposed to stop snowing a little after noon. That's the current prediction.

I'm hoping to take a walk around Memorial Drive later today. It's always so lovely after a snow. I'll have company, no doubt. People who, like me, love to walk. Especially after the snow or the rain.

There's something quite uplifting about putting your feet on the earth after it has been ravaged by the elements and feel its firmness. To feel on your face the cold, wet, brisk wind and walk through it. If you're most fortunate, you might even occasionally taste on your tongue the crystalline messages come down from heaven to bless you with their cold sweetness.

I'll have the added company of these words of Jesus from this morning's gospel, which end with these words.
"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6:24-34)
Cold sweetness.

Give up my anxieties? Are you kidding me? I have frequent flier miles on Anxiety Airlines. It's genetic, I'm afraid, as well as carefully taught. My mother was a travel agent for them for most of her life. She taught me so well, I was actually a flight attendant for a while.

I left that particular airline years ago, but every now and again, I do cash in on my mileage. It's so easy to do. The world is such a convenient storehouse of anxiety - especially these days of recession and wars and the insanity of some of the folks who are in power these days - in this country as well as others.

I'm also considering theses words of Jesus in terms of what St. Paul has to say to the ancient church in Corinth:
"Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries
(1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
Servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries.

In my days at Anxiety Airlines, I used to hear these words as a put down of sorts. A sort of biblical "there-there" pat on the head to be a good girl and 'don't worry, be happy' and just keep serving others little packets of peanuts and less than half a can of soda - back in the day when there used to be "complimentary snacks and beverages" and you didn't have to pay $5 for earphones in order to enjoy an in-flight movie.

The operating principle of Anxiety Airlines was to "give and give and give again" without thought to any personal cost because, well, "your Heavenly Father" will take care of you just as He (sic) cares for the birds of the air, and the grass on the ground. Consider the lilies of the field!"

We were not told that there's a difference between "magical thinking" and being a "steward of the mysteries of God". The former is fatally flawed and often leads to disappointment or heartbreak. The later can be the the source of unexpected, unspeakable joy.

It's the kind of 'self sacrifice' I was carefully taught by parents and grandparents who had lived through The Great Depression and World War II. Now, there's not a thing in the world wrong with self-sacrifice - especially when it comes from a place of altruism and nobility.

When it comes from a place of resignation to "this is your lot in life, and besides, there are children in the world who have nothing to eat, so be thankful and stop being so selfish" - well, that's the kind of theology of scarcity that can only breed resentment and miserly behavior.

All too often sacrificial acts come not from a place of confidence and security - to inspire and celebrate the mystery of God's abundance and our stewardship of it - but rather, it is imposed from an external, often harshly judgmental source. Although, there are many of us with an over-active internal "judge" who can function like a dictator over our normally intact common sense.

I had planned to go to church this morning but the snow kept me indoors. It was a tough decision made easier once I actually went out for a few minutes in the stuff which, at the time was a combination of icy rain and snow.

I came back indoors, put on another 1/2 pot of coffee, made a batch of blueberry muffins, and settled down to read the blogs of some good preachers and gospel thinkers for my Sunday inspiration.

So, first up, let me say that there are no coincidence. Got it? Okay.

I went to the Web Page of Circle Connections: Women and Girls Together Worldwide because I wanted to check in on what Ann Smith is up to at the UN Women's Circle Campaign during the gathering of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, of which AWE, the Anglican Women's Empowerment project is a part.

While I was there at the Circle webpage, I got interested in one of their "Blog Talk Radio" programs, which included an update "on the ground" at the UN with Ann as well as an interview with a woman from UK by the name of Maggie Whitehouse, a self-proclaimed "Prosperity Mentor" for women.

I was intrigued by the last post: "Pure Posterity and Why Women Must Make Friends with Money." I was fully prepared to hear someone like Suze Orman, the "Money Navigator" give gentle rant/lecture about how to "make money" and be rich. I admit to being a little surprised and not too amused that someone like Ann Smith - who is as serious as a heart attack about justice - would have an affiliation with someone like Suze Orman.

Anxiety Airlines, flight 101, was ready for take off.

Not so. Give it a listen. Click on the title above or here. G'won. I'll wait. Then, we'll talk.

So, Maggie Whitehead. I poked around her website, Pure Prosperity, for a bit and she seems pretty solid. Okay, so she's into Kabbalah, but then again, who isn't intrigued by Jewish mysticism? She's also into miracles and seems to have a good "marketing" of her "brand" - blah, blah, blah - but don't hate her because she's rich. Or, prosperous.

I'm neither endorsing her work or suggesting you buy her books - or her "line" - but I was impressed by what she had to say, given what I was hearing from Jesus and St. Paul this morning.

This quote from her page on Money and Spirituality practically screamed at me for my attention:
Paul of Tarsus wrote in his letter to Timothy (1:10): ‘For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.’

That may well be true: covetousness for money as for anything else is not a good idea; in fact it is daft. Money is purely an impartial means for exchange, nothing else, and to make it a god is foolish in the extreme. Even worse is to hate it and despise those who have it — that's just another form of avarice. Money as a balanced aspect of prosperity is a different matter.

Prosperity is not only about money but our attitudes towards abundance and lack—as represented by money—will affect every other aspect of life.
So, this isn't about prosperity as in solely making money. This is prosperity as "health, happiness and joy." This is about learning the three things that will make you prosperous: Inspiration, Celebration and Service.

It's about following a few laws of the Universe. Like, "You can't give away what you don't have." And, "The Law of Attraction" - that is, what you make as a priority in your life with be the priority the universe brings back to you.

She advocates little changes. Like, when you get up in the morning, if the first thought you have is to walk the dog and put on coffee for your spouse/partner/lover, before you start paying the bills, then the first thing you put out into the universe is "I am taking care of others." And, she says, that's generally what you'll get in return.

If, however, before you put your feet on the floor, you think to yourself something like, "I am a full vessel and I have so much to give," you are making a priority of your affirmation of the gift of your abundance, celebrating it, and then offering yourself to the service of God.

The "Law of Attraction", says Whitehouse, is that, with this affirmation, you begin to create more of the same. The universe begins to shift to support you in your abundance so - and this is important - you can teach the world to prosper itself.

Whitehouse says that women - all people, but especially women - need to hear this message of prosperity because we have been so carefully taught, from the time we are young girls, to put ourselves last and others first.

We are socially conditioned, as women, to care for our husbands and children first before tending to our own needs. She says that by over-giving, we require others to receive - denying them the opportunity to know the joy of giving. Which only depletes us - and them, even more.

Someone on the talk show mentioned that mothers often do this with their children, thinking, "I don't want my child to do without like I had to do," and then they wonder why they are raising such selfish, self-centered children.

It's impossible, she says, to heal the world unless we heal ourselves first. You can't love someone - really love someone - unless you know love yourself. Well, you can, I suppose, but how much richer and abundant will that love be when it comes from a deeper place of love in yourself?

Any of this sounding even vaguely familiar to some of you?

Indeed, Whitehouse says that the church only underscores this message of scarcity by its own conflicted views about money. "Money is the root of all evil" - unless you give it to support the church. Then, it's somehow made pure.

Furthermore, Whitehouse says that the Bible is "a prosperity guidebook". She doesn't mention this morning's gospel in particular, but I must admit that, after listening to her and reading some of her stuff, I went back to the gospel and, quite frankly, I understand what she's saying.

Jesus says,
"Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
There is justice written into the fabric of the universe. The Realm of God comes very near to us when we have confidence in God's abundance and there will be abundance. And, when God's abundance is acknowledged and celebrated and shared, God's justice is done "on earth as it is in heaven."

I don't know how that works. I only know that it does.

I suspect this is what St. Paul was talking about when he said we are "stewards of God's mysteries."

It's stopped snowing. As I've been writing this, I've had some conversations with some friends. Done a bit of reading. Considered what I've written here.

I'm about to put on my boots, button up my coat, put my scarf around my neck and gloves on my hands and take a long walk.

As I walk about, praising God for all the good things that have been given to me, I'll be thinking about the words of Jesus and my own "prosperity" and "making friends with money".

I'll be thinking about that tree outside my window, now barren and raw and covered with snow that will - just a few weeks from now - begin to sprout green buds that will - just a few months from now - begin to blossom, producing leaves that will provide shade from the sun and shelter to the birds.

It will be difficult, then, in the midst of God's outrageous, audacious, bold abundance of life and color, sight and sound, to remember that there was once nothing but a white, stark, barrenness out my window.

Just as it is difficult, now, to imagine that soon it will be Spring and there will be a riot of abundance set loose in this part of the world.

You have to dig way deep into your roots to sustain yourself during the harshness of difficult times. You have to know that your roots are enough - that you have been given enough to survive and even thrive - and celebrate that fact in times of scarcity before you can care for others - even if that's just to be a vehicle of hope and inspiration.

It's the way the justice of the abundance and prosperity of God is often symbolically present to us. Look around at the rest of God's creation! Look at the trees! Look at the birds! Consider the lilies of the field!

We are servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"And the Oscar goes to . . . ."

A Queer friend of mine posted on his FaceBook page that he was getting ready for the Oscars tomorrow, adding that "it's our (LGBT community) version of the Super Bowl".

It gave me my first giggle of the morning. He's so right.

And, me without a feather boa or string of pearls! I packed like a monk for my sojourn in Cambridge, and left them at Llangollen. I may have to knock on someone's door and borrow some for tomorrow night.

In Rehoboth Beach, they have a Drag Volleyball Championship at "Poodle Beach" (aka "The Gay Beach") every year on Labor Day weekend. There's a theme to every event. Of course. Not only does the winning team get an award, but there are awards for "best costume". Of course.

I played the year the theme was "Country Western Stars". I went as Patsy Cline. Blue gingham print cowboygirl dress and cowboygirl boots. I had this FABULOUS wig. Brown. Bouffant style (out of date but still a favorite in certain circles). Perky bangs. And, on the right side of my head was glued a plane crash.

My team didn't win and neither did my costume but everyone said my hair should have at least gotten "Honorable Mention."

That was about 10 years ago. I'm still not over it.

This year, The Gay Guide to the Oscars is making some interesting predictions.

You can read the whole thing, following the link above, but here's what they're saying:
Movie: The Kids Are All Right (available on DVD)
Gay Interest: This is a movie about lesbian parents whose children have grown up and are curious about who their sperm-donor father is. The children contact the father and he begins to have a close relationship with the family.

Oscar Odds: The odds are in favor of Annette Bening (nominated 4 times) for Best Actress, but more likely as acknowledgement of the work that she has done in her entire career, most spectacularly in Being Julia.
Movie: Rabbit Hole (in theaters)
Gay Interest: Mitchell – best known for Helwig and the Angry Inch – is openly gay, but was unfortunately overlooked for Oscar consideration. Nicole Kidman, won an Oscar for playing bisexual Virginia Woolf in The Hours.

Oscar Odds: Kidman deserves to win as Best Actress. But, partly because of the lack of publicity for Rabbit Hole, it’s not likely to happen.
Movie: Black Swan (now playing in theaters)
          Gay Interest: Very passionate love scene between Portman and Mila Kunis.
Oscar Odds: If Black Swan wins for Best Picture, it will be due to the sum of its parts – not likely to happen. Portman has an excellent chance to win, but Annette Bening will most likely get it for being overlooked for past performances. Aronofsky has a better chance to win for Best Director. But the most likely winner is Andrew Weisblum for Best Editing.
Movie: The King’s Speech (now playing in theaters)
Gay Interest: Colin Firth, a straight actor who played gay to perfection in A Single Man, is at his prime in this interpretation of King George VI.

Oscar Odds: Firth will most likely walk away with the Best Actor award, but it will be for his performance in A Single Man as much as for The King’s Speech. Helena Bonham Carter faces stiff competition in her category of best supporting actress but she might sneak in if the other nominees split the vote. Wins in other categories, including Best Picture, would be deserving, but not guaranteed. Geoffrey Rush (who plays Lionel Logue in this movie, and sexual freedom pioneer Marquis de Sade in Quill) stands a good chance of winning Best Supporting Actor since he is more than supporting here. But Christian Bale is more likely to win for the Fighter because the Academy is anxious to give him an award before something happens to him.
Movie: The Social Network
Gay Interest: Gay icon and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is given cameo treatment.


Oscar Odds: The Best Picture vote will come down to a choice between historical drama The King’s Speech, and computer technology drama The Social Network. If Network wins, it will be because the voters are too embarrassed to cling on to the past. In order for that to happen, David Fincher will have to win for Best Director, and Aaron Sorkin for Best Screenplay.­­
Other Oscar nominees: James Franco is up for Best Actor for 127 Hours. He portrays gay poet Allen Ginsberg in Howl. Javier Bardem is also up for Best Actor for Biutiful. Bardem expertly played a gay lead character in Before Night Falls back in 2000.
You can head on over there and get your Oscar Party Sheet so you can keep up with all the various movies and performances.

My picks? I'm going with:
Best Movie: The King's Speech
Best Lead Actor: Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
Best Leading Actress: Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
Best Supporting Actor: Geoffry Rush (The King's Speech)
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Best Director: Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)
Best Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington (The Fighter)
That's really all I can predict, and most of them are wishes based on personal favorites and based on the movies I've seen. 

I'd love to know what your predictions or pics are for The Oscars.

Okay, I can see some of you scratching your heads and asking why The Oscars are the Super Bowl party for God's Rainbow Tribe.

You know what? If you have to ask the question . . . . .

So, off you go, children. There's lots of preparation to be done. There's creative, FABULOUS canapes to make, a few cucumber and watercress sandwiches to assemble - trimming the crusts just so - some eggs to devil (always a favorite although I'm at a loss to know why) and the imported beer and Veuve Clique Champagne 375 to chill (Alas, no Dom PĂ©rignon this year, kids. Times are tough and the new House Majority says everyone has to sacrifice. So, just one glass for everybody.).

I have a smart black dress in my closet (doesn't everyone?) as well as a sharp black pants suit. Or, I could always wear jeans, a black t-shirt and a black suit jacket (decisions, decisions, decisions), but I simply have to find a feather boa (purple, preferably, or red, but beggars can't be choosers) and a sting of pearls.

I think I have a few doors to knock on between now and tomorrow afternoon.

Remember, after the list of nominees are read, when the Oscars are awarded the announcement is: "And the Oscar goes to . . . .".

That's your first clue to to why The Oscars are the Super Bowl for the LGBT community.

There are no "winners" or "losers". Everyone is FABULOUS!

Have fun everybody! Don't forget to post your 'picks and favorites' in the comment section! We'll check back in on Monday and see how we did.

Friday, February 25, 2011

For What It's Worth

NASA
Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, a grandson of the founding king of modern Saudi Arabia, is the chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company and the Alwaleed bin Talal Foundations.

He has written a passionate plea for reformation in the Arab world which appears on the Opinion Page of the NY Times this morning.

He writes, in part:
The majority of the Arab population is under 25, and the unemployment rate for young adults is in most countries 20 percent or more. Unemployment is even higher among women, who are economically and socially marginalized. The middle classes are being pushed down by inflation, which makes a stable standard of living seem an unattainable hope. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening. The basic needs for housing, health care and education are not being met for millions.
I had to read that paragraph twice. At first I thought he was talking about America. When I moved on to read his second paragraph, I experienced the same disorientation:
Moreover, Arab countries have been burdened by political systems that have become outmoded and brittle. Their leaderships are tied to patterns of governance that have become irrelevant and ineffective. Decision-making is invariably confined to small circles, with the outcomes largely intended to serve special and self-serving interests. Political participation is often denied, truncated and manipulated to ensure elections that perpetuate one-party rule.
As I read the words of this Saudi Prince, I could hear the words and music of the Stephen Still's song "For What It's Worth" as performed by the Buffalo Springfield come wafting back up from the late 60's, early 70's.
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
It was written as a protest song - not about the war, but about the closing of a club on Sunset Strip in Hollywood, CA - and has come to symbolize worldwide turbulence arising from events during the 1960s - particularly the Vietnam War.
May 4, 1970 - John Filo's iconic Pulizter Prize winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio  a 14-year-old runaway, kneeling in anguish over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot dead by the Ohio National Guard

There are many of us who have a close association with this song and the Kent State Massacre on May 4, 1970.

Some of the students who were shot had been protesting against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Richard Nixon announced in a television address on April 30. Other students who were shot had been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.

The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four unarmed students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

There's a haunting familiarity in that picture which calls to my mind some of the images we've been getting over the last few months from Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. It has been feared that we'd see similar pictures from Wisconsin.

There is something happening in the "Big Blue Marble" we call "home". For what it's worth, I think the events in the Middle East and the Midwest are not unconnected.

Indeed, I think what's happening in 2011 is connected to what happened in the 1960s and 70s in profoundly deep and significant ways. No doubt, it is a an image which forms a pattern we can trace back to antiquity.

I remember the first time I visited the Arlington National Cemetery with my father. I was a young child of perhaps 10 or 11.

Looking out over the gravestones, my father asked, "Elizabeth, what do you see? What do you notice about these gravestones?"

I looked them over carefully, then gasped as the commonality struck me like a Rorschach test and said, "Most of them say 'PFC'. What does that stand for?"

My father said, "Private First Class. These were all young men - 18, 19, 20 years old. That's about how old I was when I was in the war. About 10 years older than you are right now."

And then, an ancient weariness came over his face and seemed to push his head and shoulders down into a slump. When he opened his mouth again, he seemed to be talking - almost in a reverent, apologetic whisper - to the earth where the bodies of young soldiers lay buried beneath our feet.

"It's the blood of the young that gets spilled to appease the appetites of power of rich, brittle old men."

I didn't fully understand or appreciate his words then, but I never forgot them. I don't suppose I ever will. They haunt me today, as I see images from Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

I was curious about Mary Ann Vecchio, the 14 year old runaway who is seen kneeling over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller. She is married, the mother of three young men who are now older than she was at the time that picture was taken, and works as a Respiratory Therapist in Nevada.

In April, 1995, she met with John Filo, the photographer who took the picture of her, at Emerson College. She is quoted as saying,
"[...] I just wanted to be here, and I'm glad we're getting this all out and [...] all the people that has been affected by this and we can go on with our lives, and teach other people that that's not a way to act. It's not a way to be. And that we've got to have a peaceful society so we can go on and take care of the earth. It's an important place. Thank you.

[...] is all failure to communicate with other people. Communication is the key. That was the problem back in 1970. There was no communication between the government, the people, the students, housewives, steelworkers. There was no communication [then], and this will give us better communication and more understanding so that this doesn't happen again."
It is easy for many to dismiss these words as a simplistic, naive statement. "Communication" has become such a wastebasket term for the ills of relationships - personal and political.

Is it the problem today, in 2011? We text and tweet, facebook and blog, but do we communicate with each other in ways that are meaningful? Will words alone - spoken or written on protest placards carried by people who have taken to the streets - appease the appetites of rich, brittle old men? Or, will only the blood of the young accomplish that task?

Brad Cotton, a Kent State Alumnus who was there in 1970, went back again in 1977. He was, once again, arrested with 192 others attempting unsuccessfully to stop Kent State's construction of a large gym on significant portions of Blanket Hill - the site of the massacre.

He wrote this in 1977:
"A decade ago, during the most difficult time of loss, sadness and questioning I have ever experienced, I came home to behold my own Moses-like burning bush moment of peace. Our forsythia was in full bloom, affirming most clearly with glowing yellowness that life was here, that it is often good, that even on fouler days with frost in the air and snow piling up about the roots, that life itself would flow through its’ branches and burst into color and life. I remain unconvinced, as were Job and Qoheleth, seeing that evil often triumphs and the good undeservedly suffer injustice."
Cotton's words could also be seen as a lovely, sentimental, naive echo of the words of Vecchio. Are they? Or, are these the words of hope that surge through us all - young and old - that provide a buffer and shield against the powers of darkness which threaten to overcome us all?

Where are the forsythia bushes of hope in these turbulent times?

The other night I got a call from one of our daughter's who is in South Africa on holiday with some friends. She was visiting with one of her friends - a college classmate - who had returned to her home in South Africa. At least, she thought it was going to be just a visit with a dear friend she hadn't seen in a long time.

While she was there, she met her friend's mother, a 70 year old woman with a passion for the women in Johannesburg who have died of AIDS, founding an organization that helps women who live in the Shantytowns who care for the many, many young orphans of the AIDS pandemic.

That led to my daughter accepting an invitation to go to the Shantytowns to visit with the women there. She accompanied her friend and her friend's mother to bring food - fresh fruit and vegetables - and clothing and blankets to the orphanage where these kids live with the women who are caring for them.

When she called me, my daughter was sobbing. She said, between her sobs, "Oh, Mom, I wanted to hold the babies but I was afraid to hold the babies because they were so beautiful and some of them had AIDS but I didn't know which ones had AIDS and they had infected mosquito bites with puss on their faces and I had mosquito bites on my arms and they wanted to be held and I wanted to hold them but I was afraid to hold them but all they wanted was to touch me and they were a little afraid to touch me and I was a little afraid to touch them but, Mom, how can you not touch these little ones who have lost their mother and all they want is a little hug. To be held. To be loved?"

When she came up for air, I said, "It sounds like these kids not only touched your skin, they touched your heart, and now your heart is broken."

"Oh, Mom, I almost can't stand the pain!", she wailed. "How can such poverty exist? How can I be blessed with so much? To come here - HERE! - on vacation for pity's sake! - when these little ones don't have food to eat or the dignity of a diaper to wear. What's wrong with this world?"

"It's what's been wrong with the world since the beginning of time, sweetheart," I said. "That's not the question. I hear you asking a question that you haven't yet put into words. I think that question is, 'What am I supposed to do about this?'. Is that right?"

"Oh," she said in less than a heartbeat, "I already know what I'm supposed to do. I've already called my dear friend who is a dentist and he's agreed to send over 10 pounds of tooth paste and tooth brushes and dental floss because, Mom, when I said to one of the women, 'Can I have his toothbrush? I think he's forgotten to brush his teeth,' the woman looked at me and smiled and said, "Oh, my dear, we have no toothpaste. Toothpaste is a luxury here.' Mom, can you believe that? Toothpaste? A flippin' luxury?"

She took a breath and continued, "And, I've already put in a few calls to some of my contacts on Wall Street and Madison Avenue. I've taken some pictures and when I get home they are going to see what I saw here and they are going to come up with some money. Real cash. I promised myself I'm going to raise a million dollars for this agency. I have to do it. I will do it. This is just not right. This is crazy, is what it is. Mom, has the world gone crazy, or have I?"

Did I mention how proud I am of my daughter?

The next day, she sent me an email. One of her traveling companions chided her for her efforts, saying, "All you are doing is keeping them from going out and finding jobs. Getting people to contribute money is to contribute to the problem."

Never mind that there are no "jobs" for people to find in South Africa. Never mind that her perspective is blissfully naive of the reality of global economics. She's too caught up in her own 'rugged American individualism' to see the real causes - or worldwide implications - of the poverty in her midst.

Two young people. Two very different perspectives and two very different views of the world. One looks at the status quo and wants to change it. The other looks at the way things are and wants it to stay exactly the same, thank you very much.

Which one is right? Which one will prevail? Or, is this simply the tension that ultimately explains what Jesus meant when he said, "You will always have the poor with you."?

I hear the last words of lyrics of Stephen Still's song continue to buzz around my ears. It's time we stopped and listen to the sound of the young people around "The Big Blue Marble".

Everybody look at what's going down.
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
For what it's worth, it's not a new sound. It's the ancient cry of the young to re-form and change the world that has been, in the words of the Saudi Prince, "burdened by political systems that have become outmoded and brittle. Their leaderships are tied to patterns of governance that have become irrelevant and ineffective. Decision-making is invariably confined to small circles, with the outcomes largely intended to serve special and self-serving interests. Political participation is often denied, truncated and manipulated to ensure elections that perpetuate one-party rule."

For what it's worth, I'm going to let the words of Mary Ann Vecchio have the last word, "And that we've got to have a peaceful society so we can go on and take care of the earth. It's an important place. Thank you."

Stop, children, what's that sound? Everybody look what's going down.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I have nothing to say

There's so much happening in the world.

The beginning of the end of DOMA - thanks be to God.

The attempt by the Governor of Wisconsin to shut down unions as Democratic representatives continue to boycott the government and the people of Wisconsin continue to demonstrate in the Capitol.

Unemployment rates continue to rise and the deficit continues to spiral upwards and out of control.

The fact that, even as we speak, federal agencies are making plans for an orderly way to shut down nonessential services if Congress fails to pass a budget on Friday which they have not done, as yet.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a Big Speech to the Nevada State Legislature this week and surprised everyone by demanding that the state have an “adult conversation” about its legal brothels. (No, I am not making this up.)

The rioting in Libya and the almost incoherent ramblings of Muammar al-Gaddafi, which is Really Scary because he does have nuclear warheads in his possession.

The rising price of oil as a direct result of the unrest in Libya and the Middle East, which provides the United States with as much oil as that which is produced in the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, as we continue to be dependent upon fossil fuel which is decidedly not good for the environment comes the sad news that, because the Federal Government has now mandated "energy saving light bulbs" (CFLs), rendering the old, traditional incandescent light bulb obsolete, the E-Z Bake Ovens, which used to produce little (albeit bad tasting but fun to make) cakes by the heat of an incandescent light bulb, will be "collateral damage" to the War on Environmental Pollution and no longer be made.

The devastating earthquake in Christ Church, New Zealand.

The continued, sustained attack on Reproductive Rights in particular and women in general by the new majority in the House.

JLo's meltdown when Chris Medina was eliminated from the "Top 24" on "American Idol".

And, as if that wasn't enough, the news that Christine ("I Am Not A Witch") O'Donnell is being considered as a contestant on "Dancing With The Stars."

It's all too much for one mind to process.

I really have nothing to say.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Beginning of the End of DOMA

Download the Protest Poster: OBAMA DON'T DOMA

The President of The United States is finally making good on his promise to end DOMA - Defense of Marriage Act.

Wiki reports that:
Defense of Marriage Act is the short title of a federal law of the United States passed on September 21, 1996 as Public Law No. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419.

Its provisions are codified at 1 U.S.C. § 7 and 28 U.S.C. § 1738C. Under the law, also known as DOMA, no state (or other political subdivision within the United States) needs to treat as a marriage a same-sex relationship considered a marriage in another state (DOMA, Section 2); the federal government defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman (DOMA, Section 3).

The bill was passed by Congress by a vote of 85–14 in the Senate[1] and a vote of 342–67 in the House of Representatives, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.
It was a major turnaround for Obama, who for two years has tried to have it both ways, declaring his personal opposition to the law while insisting that, as president, he had no choice but to defend and uphold it.

This is from the Dept. of Justice statement:
After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that [...] classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit.
Can I just say, "YAY!!!!"

Oh, and, it's about time.

As Martin Luther King, Jr famously said, "The arc of history is long, but it always bends toward justice."

The sound you hear is the arc of history.

Bending.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The New Old Misogyny

I might as well admit it upfront: I am outraged. And, angry.

You may have heard that yesterday, the House of Representatives voted 240-184 to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, on the argument that taxpayer money shouldn't pay for abortions (the Hyde Amendment put a stop to that in the mid 1970s), but on the conviction that taxpayer money should not go to organizations that provide abortion services, regardless of what else they might do.

This would mean the end of federal support for an organization that each year provides more than 800,000 women with breast exams, more than 4 million Americans with testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and 2.5 million people with contraception - which, in case you, like Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who sponsored the bill, failed Reproduction 101 - is the stuff that prevents unintended pregnancy, and thus abortion, to begin with.

I know. I know. The bill will most likely stall in the Senate and, if it does find its way to Obama's desk, will never be signed into law. In that way, the vote is "symbolic" - much like the like the repeal of the Health Care Reform Act which they also passed a few weeks ago. Or, the reading of the ENTIRE Constitution of the United States which they read on the opening day of Congress.

Still, I'm outraged. And, angry.

Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican had taken to the floor to read aloud a description of a second-trimester abortion procedure he'd found in a book. You might remember that Smith is the "genius" behind another bill that would limit federal funding only for abortions that were the result of "forcible rape", leading one to ask for a definition of "non-forcible rape".

But, I digress.

In response, Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California described a second-trimester abortion procedure she'd had in her life. Speier told of a procedure she'd had at 17 weeks pregnant, when something went wrong with her pregnancy. "For you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous," Speier said, directing her comments at Smith.

She also said, "The last time I checked, abortions were legal in this country ... I would suggest to you that it would serve us all very well if we moved on with this process and started focusing on creating jobs for the Americans who desperately want them."

Here is Rep. Speier's full statement

Well, I suggest to you that the present majority of the House can't get off the dime, as it were, and work on creating new jobs or work on reducing the deficit because they are weighed down by the "new old misogyny".

Make no mistake. This is an ancient evil. It's been around since The Garden. Indeed, I believe it to be the Original Sin. And, guess what?

It's baaaaaak........

If you had any doubt in your mind, MoveOn.Org has provided a list they call "Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP's War on Women", which includes:
1) Republicans not only want to reduce women's access to abortion care, they're actually trying to redefine rape ("forcible" vs. "non-forcible"). After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven't yet. Shocker.

2) A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to "accuser." But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain "victims."

3) In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)

4) Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids.

5) In Congress, Republicans have a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

6) Maryland Republicans ended all county money for a low-income kids' preschool program. Why? No need, they said. Women should really be home with the kids, not out working.

7) And at the federal level, Republicans want to cut that same program, Head Start, by $1 billion. That means over 200,000 kids could lose their spots in preschool.

8) Two-thirds of the elderly poor are women, and Republicans are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.

9) Congress just voted for a Republican amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic health care and family planning in our country.

10) And if that wasn't enough, Republicans are pushing to eliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But Republican Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses. You can't make this stuff up).
Did I mention that I'm outraged? And, angry. Yes, well then you'll excuse me if I don't think it's hyperbole to say that this legislative agenda is prima facia evidence of the 'forcible rape' of justice for women.

Are you feeling outraged yet? How about some good old fashioned anger? Yes?

Good.

Here's one thing you can do. Head over to MoveOn.org and sign their petition. You'll find it here.

That's one step. It's a first and it's important. But, there's more.

You can call and/or write your Representative and Senator. Personally. Let them know what you think. You voted for them - or not. Either way, let them know that they represent you, too. And, your voice - and your vote - matters.

Me? I'm thinking we need a Million Woman March on Washington. It would be an opportunity for women to show the boys and girls in The House that we know. We see. And, we expect them to "respect the dignity of every human being" - and that includes women.

Yes. I'm angry. Here's what I know about anger. It's always a secondary emotion. It's a response to the fact that something Very Important to you has been insulted and assaulted or is being compromised.

I also know that anger, turned inward, leads to depression. And depression can lead to complacency. And complacency allows injustice to flourish.

Anger can also be healthy. Indeed, there is biblical precedence for holy, righteous indignation. As Abraham Heschel once said, “Patience, a quality of holiness, may be sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.”

Anger can be transformed into passion. And, passion is a vehicle of justice.

Here's what I know about outrage. If you look around and see what's going on, and you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention.

Remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892–1984)
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Pay attention.

The new old misogyny is on the rise.

And, it's coming soon to a legislative session, Planned Parenthood Center, low income preschool, Head Start Program and low income Health Clinic near you.

What are YOU going to do about it?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wounded Healers and Collective Bargaining

Sharon Stillwater
While 'the unrest' continues throughout the Middle East, some of us have also been watching 'the unrest' in the Midwest of this country. Madison, Wisconsin has been named the "Tunisia" over the debate about organized unions in general and collective bargaining in particular.

This has led to important discussions about treating serious budget deficits 'symptomatically' or 'systemically'. If someone has a cough, treating the patient with an cough suppressant may temporarily take care of the problem. If the cough is due to pneumonia, an antibiotic may be indicated before the cough subsides. If the cough is due to lung cancer, a different, more complicated and rigorous treatment regime is in order.

It's really easy to take out a red pencil as one peruses the budget, looking for the obvious higher numbers and slashing them. That doesn't take a great deal of skill or ability, much less basic education in economics or finance. Any 4th grader can do that.

Programs, and the employees who staff them, are often the first to go - especially when either the program or employee is "controversial" or the program has lost its political expediency. When they're not the first to go, the red pencil seems to have an affinity for their compensation packages - especially things like health care benefits and pensions.

It's 'financial cough medicine'.

It's infinitely more difficult to see the budget as an important statement about what the agency or organization (or state or church) says it believes. If money is being spent in an area that is not part of the core values, then that ought to be circled in red for the first consideration for cutback or de-funding.

A more 'systemic approach' is more difficult but the treatment plan is more accurate, and the possibility of a 'cure' more favorable.

The question to be asked is "What is our mission and how are we supporting what we say we believe in with our time, talent and treasure?"

That approach rarely plays well in politics which relies on various 'favors' to translate into votes. However, what we're seeing in Wisconsin is the people rising up to claim their fundamental right to have a voice at the bargaining table with the corporate players who have the most to profit from the workers.

Wisconsin has also sparked other interesting conversations in ecclesiastical parts of cyberspace raising central questions about the biblical foundational ideas and values about unions in general and collective bargaining in particular.

Should the church become involved in this battle? Why or why not?

These questions, in turn, have raised equally serious questions about the fair business practices of the institutional church.

I have at least some initial thoughts about this, which begin with the fact that our seminaries and schools of theology have trained generations of clergy and lay leaders on the idea of the the "suffering servant" and the "wounded healer".

The "suffering servant" notion comes, of course, from Isaiah, whom Christians believe was speaking prophetically about Jesus.

This concept of "wounded healer" was made popular by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born Roman Catholic priest who has enjoyed - and continues to enjoy, even after his death - immense popularity as the author of some forty books on spirituality.

Actually, the concept of the "wounded healer" was first used by psychologist Carl Jung, who derived the term from the ancient Greek legend of Asclepius, a physician who in identification of his own wounds creates a sanctuary at Epidaurus in order to treat others.

Jung used the term to describe a phenomenon that may take place in the psychoanalytic relationship, and warned of the potential danger of this dynamic. He felt that the analyst is vulnerable to being "infected" by his patient's wounds, or having his or her wounds reopened. He cautioned that the analyst must have an ongoing relationship with the unconscious, otherwise he or she could identify with the "healer archetype", and create what he called an "inflated ego".

Using an old rabbinical story about where the Messiah might be found - the leaper who sits at the gate, binding and unbinding his wounds - Nouwen used this archetype to describe his understanding the role of the priest or trained member of the laity in the pastoral relationship.

There is a miraculous paradox in that those with broken wings which have mended can not only fly again, reaching heights they could never before have achieved, they are often the very ones who are best at teaching others to fly.

Unfortunately, the term "wounded healer" sometimes became an excuse for mediocrity or substandard behavior in clerical performance. As Jung pointed out, the analyst/physician/priest must have an ongoing relationship with his/her unconscious and use the places of wounding as vehicles of healing.

If that relationship with the unconscious is not clear, not only can it result in "savior behavior" (inflated ego), but become an excuse for behavior which falls far short of what is expected as at least 'standard' - including inappropriate behavior and serious boundary violations in relationships.

It can also set up a Catch-22 situation of calling those with "broken wings" which have not mended to teach others to fly, setting him/her up - unconscionably but undeniably - to fail.

Meanwhile, this keeps the "suffering servant" in a situation of disempowerment and, oh by the way, poor compensation packages.

So, it becomes a matter of sending ordained leaders into congregations to "dream the impossible dream, fight the unbeatable foe," tilting swords at windmills and then paying them a pauper's salary while criticizing them for not doing a good job with any tangible results.

Wendell Berry once said that the goal of all Christians is to "plant Sequoias".

We love the poetry and romanticism of that, but the Sesame Street generation that was brought up on "Minute Rice" can quickly loose their taste for the complex maturity of poetry and romance - especially when it comes down to "the bottom line" and decisions have to be made and negotiations discussed about budgets.

Of course, the "wounded healer" clergy/staff person is often ill equipped to negotiate/bargain. Which was precisely the point - consciously or subconsciously or unconsciously - of hiring said broken-winged clergy/staff person.

"Aw, but, it's the church!" has become the statement which, like wall paneling, covers a multitude of the sins of our romantic notions about everything from vocation to poverty.

Years ago, a male clergy colleague said to me, "I never got it before, but now I understand what it means to be a 'wife'. That's how the institutional church treats clergy. They make us dependent upon the system. Some of us are living in substandard housing with salaries that qualify some of us for food stamps. As bad as that is, it doesn't come near to the injustices done to my staff who are laity. And, we're supposed to be 'grateful'."

That priest left parochial ministry years ago. He's doing wonderful ministry in a community-based organization where his salary is not much better than in the parish but, ironically, he says, the principles of justice embedded in the organizational system are more deeply honored and lived out than his experience of the church.

There were some interesting comments over at Episcopal Cafe which posted an ENS story about COO's Linda Watt's recent report to Executive Council. You can find the link to that story here.

Allow me to quote the cogent piece:
Episcopal Church Center Chief Operating Officer Linda Watt . . . began by saying that a human resources consultant hired by the Episcopal Church Center (located at 815 Second Avenue in New York) in 2006 "reported his impression that we were a place of broken wings where the primary focus was placed upon caring for individual staff members and less attention was paid to the work those individual staff members were accomplishing."

She said that "this inward focus was troubling" to Jefferts Schori, who was just beginning her term, and who "also recognized that there were dangers inherent in a staff that consisted in considerable part of individuals whose working style was fundamentally isolated in silos."

"Many mission staff considered themselves to be in charge of an area – to be the expert – individually in control of events and budget and information," Watt continued. "Bishops and others in leadership positions around the church expressed annoyance and even hostility toward 815, and some staff members exhibited some patronizing attitudes. There was really very little accountability on how money was spent, or if events had to take place or if goals were met, if indeed goals were set."
While I'll not quibble with Watt's desire for greater accountability - indeed, I'll strongly support it. Her dismissive, snarky tone, however, is deeply troubling and disturbing. As one commenter noted,
"One thing you can say about corporate America is that it has some etiquette around reductions in staff: chief among the norms is that you don't blame people who lose their jobs in a reorganization. Particularly distasteful to me is that those who were let go are now publicly shamed five years after the fact. "
And, another:
Ah yes, "The church is the only army that shoots its own wounded." Sad.
Hmmm . .. .didn't Jesus say something about eyes with splinters and logs?

Granted, there are those clergy who do quite well, but that is becoming less and less the norm. In the circles of the Episcopal Church which I travel, it is often quoted that the average salary for clergy is somewhere around $84,000 per year.

Sounds shocking, doesn't it? I would argue that this number reflects the cost of the total compensation package, which includes salary, housing, health care benefits, pension and travel/business expense.

That presents a very different picture, doesn't it?

Are there clergy who make - as salary - $84,000 per year? No doubt some make that, and more. Don't get me started on the salaries expected by and ascribed to those in the episcopacy. The huge discrepancy in clergy compensation is part of a larger problem which needs much closer examination.

As this conversation about unions and collective bargaining and the role of the church continues, don't be surprised to hear more and more bits of it filter through the church in ways that may surprise you even more.

The slogan of companies like Target may be "Expect more for less" but I don't recall those words coming from the lips of Jesus. As I recall, He said stuff like "the worker being worthy of his wages."

Justice is one of the foundational cornerstones of the church. Perhaps it is time for the church to manifest that sense of justice in the bottom line of its budget, lest its own 'profit and loss statement' becomes a statement of the loss of the authenticity and effectiveness of its prophetic voice.