Come in! Come in!

"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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Open Letter to Congressman Rohrabacher

Dear Congressman Rohrabacher,

I happened to catch a rerun of last week's (1/27) episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO. You were on the panel along with Mario Batali, Kennedy, and Martin Bashir.

I was listening but not paying close attention to the conversation - honestly, it was so much of what I've been hearing in the Republican debates that, after a while, it just becomes background noise - until it came to the topic of immigration.

I don't have the transcript, but I remember hearing you say, "The children of immigrants are bringing down the level of education in our classrooms. They come here and they don't speak English and they are taking away time from *our* kids [Note: I am quite certain you said "our kids"] which denies our kids the opportunity to learn".

Rep. Dana. Rohrabacher
That's not an exact quote but close enough, as it is said, for government work.

I was shocked and disturbed by your comments because I have always thought of you as one of the more "moderate" Republican Conservatives in the House. Not a Tea Party Republican but a man after Ronald Reagan's own heart, having served as one of his senior speech writers with input into the development of his "trickle-down" economic plan which has come to be known as Reaganomics.

So, I went over to your webpage to learn a bit more about your political positions. I was especially interested in your posture on Immigration. Here's what I found:
Rep. Rohrabacher vigorously opposes any attempt to legalize the status of millions of illegals and continues to support common sense immigration policies that serve the American people first. This year, Rep. Rohrabacher has co-sponsored bills to end birthright citizenship, declare English as the official language, strengthen the E-verify program requiring employers to check the work eligibility of all applicants, and introduced H.R. 1822, the No Health Care Subsidies for Illegal Immigrants Act. Rohrabacher's bill would prevent illegal aliens from receiving health insurance subsidies under the new health care law by requiring proof of citizenship for eligibility.
In light of all that, I was especially intrigued by your term "common sense immigration policies" and wondered what those might be, exactly.  Especially those that "serve the American people first".

When I read the June 3, 2010 report in the LA Times about your unannounced visit to a Mexican consul's office which had been established in a restaurant on Catalina Island, I began to understand.
The Mexican consul’s office first offered the photo identification cards to local illegal immigrant workers two years ago, setting up shop for a day in the upscale Catalina Island Country Club restaurant. The matricula cards can be used to establish credit, open bank accounts, buy insurance and apply for government services.
Apparently, after being quoted as saying,“Where you have illegal immigration, crime and drugs are sure to follow," you forced the Consul to move out of the restaurant, as apparently the restaurant did not have federal approval to host the Consul’s operations. The Consul then moved to a nearby church. You followed. Here's that report as published in the LA Times:
At 10 a.m., Rohrabacher and an assistant strode into the church to personally express his concerns, raising eyebrows. Rohrabacher was greeted by Deputy Consul General Juan Carlos Mendoza Sanchez of Los Angeles in the middle of a room where Mexican specialists were typing information into laptop computers from two dozen men and women seeking their services.

But all eyes were on Rohrabacher and Sanchez, who launched into a carefully worded dialogue, expressing strongly opposing opinions.

Standing inches apart, Sanchez told Rohrabacher, “We have a lot of respect for you. At the same time, we have certain responsibilities.”

Rohrabcher responded: “I understand that. But there is a problem in our country; there are too many illegals here.”

“This is not done with any type of belligerency,” Rohrabacher added, referring to his unannounced visit.

“Everyone has their own point of view,” Sanchez said. “We are performing this activity under international law.”

“Well, that will be decided in Washington and Mexico City,” Rohrabacher said.
Photoshopped by The Orange Juice Blog
I would hope this incident has since come to some satisfactory resolve for all parties, but I tend to doubt it.

I write all of this to allow the readers of my blog to have some context in which to understand what I'm about to say to you.

I am one of those "immigrants". No, not Mexican. Portuguese. I grew up in an apartment above my grandparents in a tenement house in Fall River, MA. All the men in my family worked in the factories and mills and all the women worked in the 'sweat shops' which were part of the 'garment industry'.

Our neighborhood was, for all intents and purposes, a little Portuguese village transplanted from Lisbon and the Azores where most people who were my family and neighbors were born. We all spoke Portuguese.

When I went off to school, I could only speak enough English to purchase what my grandmother needed at the local market. There was no Head Start or Kindergarten, so I was excited to be learning my ABCs and 123s.

Except, there were no provisions made for immigrant kids like me, so I began my academic career in a classroom for those with "special educational needs".

To enlarge for easier reading, click on image
We didn't really know much about learning disabilities then, so the fact of the matter is that I was in a classroom with high functioning children who had low IQs. Not low enough to be institutionalized, but high enough for the educational system to be compelled to have to do something with and for them.

My parents were mortified. Horrified. They knew I didn't have a low IQ but the tests I had taken were all in English, so I had failed miserably. Enough to qualify me to be in the class all the other kids called "The Retards". I was embarrassed and confused.

My teacher, a feisty Irish woman named Mrs. Kelliher, looked deep into my eyes and said, "It's okay, honey. You will learn English. I'm going to teach you."

And so, while other kids were learning how to identify colors and stack blocks and wipe off trays and tables in the cafeteria, Mrs. Kelliher taught me English. With her help and the encouragement and support of my parents and family, I did so well that, by the end of the first quarter, I was placed into the 'normal' classroom.

Today, I am a productive citizen of the United States. I am an Episcopal Priest with my doctorate and have done post-doctoral work. I have been gainfully employed since I was 15 and a half years old. I pay taxes, mow the lawn, and do not have chickens in my living room nor goats in my front yard.

Oh, and I vote.

Our six children are all gainfully employed and wonderfully educated. Most are married and have blessed us with five grandchildren, all of whom attend public schools. I have no doubt that they, too, will grow to be productive citizens of the United States of America.

I have made certain that they know the story of how their grandparents came to this country and how they worked hard so that their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren - and children of all future generations - could enjoy the liberty and justice guaranteed for all in our Constitution.

Here's the thing, Congressman Rohrabacher: We don't have too many "illegal aliens" in this country. We do not have enough Mrs. Kellihers.

We have immigration laws that are unjust, when they're not draconian, and need to be reformed. And, not to "serve the American people first" but which are in service of the principles of "freedom and justice" which are the foundation of American society.

We have too many "good American" small businesses who are only too happy to hire those "illegal aliens" so they don't have to contribute to payroll taxes, social security and Medicare.

We also have too many "good American" big businesses who "outsource" their employment to other countries so they can keep production costs down and profits up and then get special tax breaks because they are in a higher income bracket.

Which is part of the reason our educational system is in trouble and there aren't enough Mrs. Kellihers in classrooms anymore.

And, don't even get me started on the Evil Twin of the debacle of our immigration system: Human Trafficking. 

I know these words will probably fall on deaf ears and blind eyes, but I wanted you to know that in your righteous indignation and anger about "illegal aliens" taking educational opportunities from "our kids" and jobs from "the American people," your words fall heavily on my heart.

I know you're not a bad person. I'm sure you love your country and serve it with pride. You've simply and rather conveniently neglected the fact that we are a nation of immigrants.

Except for the First People - the Native Americans - and yes, many of the Mexicans who are part of your constituency, everyone is a foreigner in The United States. Everyone came here from a different place. My grandparents did. Perhaps your grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great grandparents did.

Every single one of those people contributed to making this country what it is today. Indeed, they helped to make us who we are today.

I don't want big government either, Mr. Congressman - especially in terms of Reproductive Rights - but the worst of it is that we pretend like we have an immigration policy, we make coming into the United States without our permission illegal, and then we actually don't enforce it because it benefits big business.

As long as we give tax breaks to big business, we're going to have big government.

It also seems to me that as the American public continues to focus more intensely on illegal immigration and securing the nation's borders, the number of members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus continues to grow as the situation grows worse.

I'd like to see some "common sense immigration policies," too, sir. Ones that serve the American principles first so that the American people can be served.

I urge you to spend some time with some of those "illegal aliens" in your district. No, they don't vote. Yet. But, they want to become American citizens and if you help them, they will vote for you.

Listen to the stories of their lives. Work with local, small businesses as well as large corporations to hire and pay them fairly. Help their children get a good education so they will grow to be contributing, productive citizens of this great country of ours.

It's called The American Dream. For too many, it's become the American Nightmare - for those who are immigrants as well as everyone else in this country.

We can change that.

It takes equal amounts of common sense and compassion.

I don't imagine I've changed your mind, but perhaps I have touched your heart.

Political dogma without compassion is surely the ugliest blight on 'America the Beautiful' which is reaching epidemic proportions in this country.

Along with Terry Waite, the British envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury who was held captive in Lebanon for four years, I believe, "At the end of the day, love and compassion will win".

I believe that because I have lived it and know it to be true.

If you open your heart, your mind will follow and you'll know it, too.

Monday, January 30, 2012

David Kato: God loves you. God created you. God is on your side.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the murder of David Kato, Ugandan gay-rights activist.

Kato was 46 years old. His life had been threatened for months. His picture even appeared on the front page of a right-wing Ugandan newspaper which bore the headline: "100 Pictures of Uganda's Top Homos Leak" and "Hang Them: They are After Our Kids".

I wrote about his funeral last year in a piece I titled, "Unbearable Sadness". Indeed, blogger stats report that it's the 5th highest read blog post here at Telling Secrets, with almost 11,000 page views.

I had been deeply moved by a video shown on Rachel Maddow that night which depicted scenes from Kato's funeral. Local town and religious officials said hateful things and tried to disrupt the prayers and attempts to give Kato a dignified, peaceful burial.

I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Kato's death has achieved martyr status in many communities around the world.

Which is why there has been talk at the Creating Change Conference, held this past week in Baltimore, Maryland, to nominate a Queer activist for a Nobel Prize.

According to Jay Michaelson over at Religious Dispatches, there are two leading candidates for consideration: Frank Mugisha and Kasha Jacqueline Nagabesera, two Ugandan LGBT activists who have risked their lives to advance the cause of freedom, in one of the most hostile societal contexts on Earth.

Although he, himself, is heterosexual, I would add the name of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Anglican Ugandan bishop who stepped up at Kato's funeral, faced down the angry mob and officiated at the burial service. 

He told the mourning LGBT friends of David Kato: "Do not be discouraged. God created you. God loves you. God is on your side".

Bishop Christopher lost his pension and his ability to function in any ecclesiastical way in Uganda as the cost of his discipleship to LGBT Ugandans.

One way to create change in the hearts and minds of people is for an international committee to recognize the work of these activists to bring peace and reconciliation for people who have long been held in the vice grip of the violence inherent in oppression.

It's about time.

I'm sure David Kato did not want to die at age 46. I'm quite certain that no one wants to be bludgeoned to death by a hammer in their own home.  I'm also convinced that no one wants to be oppressed or feel the cruel sting of bigotry, prejudice and hatred because their very existence doesn't meet the criteria of those in power and authority to be deemed fully human.

How is his death at the hands of people who had been seized by homophobic rage any different than being killed - or threatened with death or life imprisonment by laws enforced by the State and supported by the Church - because they were Irish or Black South African or the Middle Eastern or Polish or Serbian or.... fill in the blank?

A Nobel Prize would recognize on the international stage that a great injustice is being done. It would recognize and reward those who are actively working to relieve the suffering of a targeted group of people. It would also inspire those around the world who are working to create change and bring about peace and reconciliation.

Most importantly, it will bring a form of judgment against those who create and perpetuate archaic and draconian laws and, perhaps, create some change in some of the most hostile societal contexts on the face of the Earth.

No, it won't bring back David Kato, but it might prevent the deaths of other David Katos in Uganda and around the world. It might provide some measure of protection for LGBT people and encourage young LGBT people that their lives are worth living and not ending in suicide.

It will remind the right wing that sticks and stones can, indeed, break bones and names can not only hurt but kill people. The truth of the matter is that right-wing rhetoric leads to right-wing violence, and not only must it end, but those who perpetuate this violence must be held accountable for it.

A Nobel Prize to an LGBT Activist would be a tribute to the life of David Kato and become his best legacy. It won't make sense of his death, but it may instill some sense into those who hide behind Scripture and The Law while they wield swords (and hammers) of hate.

On the first anniversary of the unbearable sadness of his death, I can't think of a better way to honor his life than to continue his work.

At Kato's funeral, Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo said,"Do not be discouraged. God created you. God loves you. God is on your side".

I think a Nobel Prize for an LGBT activist is the best way to embody those words.

Don't you?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The risk of being a brick

The Diocese of Newark, where I am canonically resident, is, at this moment, gathering in Parsippany, NJ at Annual Diocesan Convention.

Last night, Bishop Mark Beckwith gave his convention address. It is a great address. It is both passionate and inspiring. You can read it here.

He begins by telling the story of the Prophet Jeremiah.
The assignment from God to the prophet Jeremiah is a tough one. God asks, no God tells Jeremiah, that he has a prophetic sermon to preach: to “pluck up, tear down, overthrow and destroy – in order to build and plant.”
Bishop Beckwith goes on to say how "a variation of Jeremiah’s dissembling message is just what we have been hearing and seeing for the past several years" - in our economy as well as our educational, religious and social systems.

Yet, the bishop encourages the diocese to "Risk something big for something good."

I'm a risk-taker. I'm no stranger to it. I know it confounds and concerns and yes, annoys, those who have an aversion to risk - especially those who disagree with what I believe to be 'good'.

Oh, I'm sure I've been considered 'abrasive' by some - especially by those who like their women to be pink and soft, sweet and nice and, well, 'good' - by which they mean doing what others expect them to do. You know, like be a 'lady'.  Well, that's not going to happen any time soon, so just get over it.

I'd like to think that I've not be reckless. Rather, I'd like to think that I have been thought-full and prayer-full and care-full in my decisions.

Sometimes, those risks were small. Other times, those risks were big. In each decision to take those risks, I was not always certain of the outcome but I was very clear that God was calling me to take that risk for something good.

Whether the outcome has been good or not-so-good, I have found that 'je ne sais quoi' peace that passes human understanding in knowing that God has been with me every step of the way.

I have found comfort in knowing that, even if I didn't get what I want or that things didn't turn out exactly as I wanted them, it changed me and changed others.

Sometimes, we are God's bricks, building a road that brings us and others closer to catching a glimpse of the Realm of God.

This week end, across the miles to the "Left Coast", the good folks at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the first time their rector, George Regas, presided at the Blessing of the Covenant, this one made between Mark Benson and Philip Straw.

Susan Russell, so-called (by people who disagree with her) the "Archlesbian of the Episcopal Church" writes:
A 1992 editorial in The Living Church wrote of the service : “Undoubtedly similar events have taken place in clandestine circumstances but this is the first known “public” blessing in a prominent parish.”
Well, once again, The Living Church got it wrong. They often do. Mostly because they don't pay attention to things they don't want to see or admit.

Truth is, "public" blessings had been going on all over The Episcopal Church. It's just that this one caught the eye of the secular media. That tends to happen more on the Left Coast which is 'blessed' by the presence of lots of secular media.

Meanwhile, back - way back when - in Jerusalem, tomorrow's appointed Gospel allows us to witness another event of risk-taking. Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum and spoke and taught "as one having authority, not as the scribes".

He even healed a man with "unclean spirits" - a Schizophrenic, perhaps? - and everyone was amazed and kept asking, ""What is this? A new teaching - with authority!"

Clearly, Jesus did something good in healing the man with "unclean spirits".

The risk is that he did so without authorization from the local authority. 

In doing so, he also attracted the "media" of his day. Mark tells us, "At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee."

I'll just bet it did. And, I'll bet the 'living church' of his time didn't get the story right, as well.

Authority is a big issue in the church. In fact, it's huge.

I've told this story before on this blog, but it bears repeating. When I took General Ordination Exams, one of the questions was, "What is the difference between 'the good' and 'the right'?" One of my colleagues had a brilliant - and correct - answer, "God is good," she wrote, "and the bishop is right."

I think the issue of authority is often the biggest stumbling block to church growth. Bishops talk a good line about 'taking risks' but their job description to "guard the faith, unity and discipline of the church" often renders them highly aversed to risk.

Unless, of course, it is a risk which the bishop authorizes because s/he agrees that there is "something good" to be gained from the risk, and "cost-benefit" analysis is something to which s/he is willing to subscribe.

If not, you're on your own, pal. Which, I don't have to tell many of you, is a HUGE risk. It takes a mature, patient, wise and very courageous bishop to support and encourage her/his clergy (or laity) in endeavors which s/he may not see the good to be gained in outweighing the risks to be taken. Or, in an issue which s/he is in sharp disagreement.

It has been my experience that bishops often use the authority of their office in service of their vision. If your vision doesn't happen to fit in with that of the ecclesial authority, well, my experience informs me that you're in for a journey on some very rough baptismal waters.

Just ask George Regas about the fallout he got for blessing the covenant made between two men.

Or, ask the so-called "Philadelphia Eleven" and the "Washington Four" who felt called to priestly ordination even though it wasn't yet "authorized" for women in the Episcopal Church.

Or, ask The Rev. William Wendt who invited Alison Cheek to celebrate at St Stephen's and the Incarnation in Washington, DC., and was later charged, tried and disciplined for violating canons.

Or, The Rev Peter Beebe who invited Alison Cheek and Carter Heyward to celebrate at Christ Church, Oberlin, OH., and was charged and tried for violating canons.

Or, perhaps you might like to have a little chat with Jack Spong about his ordaining Robert Williams as "the first openly gay man" (tosh, of course) in The Episcopal Church and was formally 'disassociated' from his colleagues in the House of Bishops.

If Walter Righter were still with us, you might speak with him about his heresy trial for ordaining Barry Stopfel, another openly gay man, to the priesthood.

All of these people - and many, many more, too numerous to mention here - risked something big for something good. Each one has paid a very dear price because the highest risk they took was not so much the good they were trying to achieve; rather, the something good was also a direct challenge to the institutional authority of the church.

It has ever been thus in the church.

Just look what happened to Jesus.

The thing of it is that the decision about what, exactly, is "something big" is just as important as deciding what, exactly, is the "something good".

What seems a 'no brainer' for some can prove to be a monumental decision for others.

Here's the thing about authority: You have to claim it. Even when someone won't give it to you.

You decide what's right. You decide what's good. You decide what risk you're going to take for God as you know God to be revealed in Christ Jesus, having been guided by the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, that's a bigger risk than the actual risk itself. 

And, the 'something good' it does your soul may be even better than the good you intended.

Sometimes, we are God's bricks, building a road that brings us and others ever closer to catching a glimpse of the Realm of God.

One brick at a time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dream a little dream with me

I'm fascinated by dreams. Always have been. Probably always will.

The unconscious mind is a vast, mostly unexplored space that often comes to life when we are asleep.

One of the most dramatic, life-changing things for me happened when someone I was seeing in therapy charged me with asking "The Dream Maker" to come and visit me when I was asleep at night.

"Ask her to give you an image of yourself doing what it is you think you are supposed to be doing," she said.

Sounds easy, right? Not so.

Well, first of all, I had to admit that there was something - or someone - known as "The Dream Maker". Well, maybe not 'admit' so much as accept the possibility of the existence of such a being who only exists in an unconscious state of mind. 

Then, I had to get past my sense of the ridiculous in asking this "Dream Maker" to "visit" with me - while I was asleep.

I mean, it sounds positively batty, doesn't it?

Finally, after having the dream, I had to be willing to wake up, write down my dream, and then share my dream with my therapist so together we might be able to interpret the images and symbols and actions in the dream.

It all seemed fairly daunting - when not flat out ridiculous - but I gave it a try.

At first, nothing happened. For weeks, it seemed, nothing happened.

Or, at least, nothing that I remembered or could report.

"Have you ever had a dream that you liked?" my therapist asked. "Or, one that perhaps you're not so fond of but it comes to you anyway?"

Why, yes, I said.

I have had this recurring dream that I am standing on a very tall building. I think it's in New York City but I can't really be sure. At least, I don't see any familiar landmarks, but it must be because that's the city I associate with very tall buildings. It doesn't seem to matter to me in my dream.

I'm standing very close to the edge and I can feel the wind blowing on my face and through my hair. I am not afraid of heights, but I don't especially like them. And yet, in my dreams, I'm without any anxiety or concern or fear.

I don't know what I'm doing there, up so high on that very tall building, but I know that I'm supposed to be there. I'm exactly where I ought to be. Of this, I am quite certain. Nothing else seems to matter.

I look down and I can see people on the sidewalk. They look very tiny, but as I move closer to the edge, I can see some of their faces.

A few people have noticed me, up there on the ledge, and they're talking to each other, pointing up at me, letting other passersby know what they see.

I can hear a murmur of concerned voices. Others are nervously giggling and saying derisive things. I step up to the ledge and stretch out my arms like wings. I hear some of them gasp. I am calm and unconcerned.

Slowly, deliberately, I move forward as the crowd gasps. Someone yells with great alarm, "She's going to jump!"

I wait for just the right moment - the right feel of the wind, the beating of my heart, the lightness of my body - and then, I lean forward as I feel my body leave the ledge and begin to fall into the sky.

I am floating gracefully as the crowd gasps, but as I get nearer to them, I pick up my head, lift my arms just so, and begin to soar upwards. I lean to the left and then to the right, gently swooping and soaring before I begin to return to the ledge.

I circle and circle and circle the crowd, to their gasps of concern and applause of delight. Someone says something about calling the police or an ambulance. Still, I soar and swoop and fly.

And then, my dream ends.

I've had this dream many times. Sometimes, I ask the Dream Maker for it to return. I know it is an anxiety dream. Risk-takers often get them. Well, not in this exact form, but the themes are there. I suspect it's one way risk-takers assure ourselves that we're going to be okay.

It's also quite grandiose, isn't it? I don't know how to take a risk without someone criticizing that you've over-stepped your bounds, or that you've got a 'big ego', or that you're selfish in not being concerned about others who care about you and your safety.

And, it's admittedly, unashamedly narcissistic. Then again, all dreams are. Jung said that we are every person in our dreams, and every person in our dreams represents a part of us.

I grew up hearing Cinderella sing, "A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you're fast asleep." Like all little girls, we were carefully taught to dream for our Prince Charming to come and sweep us off our feet and carry us back to the Castle where we would live "happily ever after".

What we learned is that "happily ever after" is a crock. And, we learned that you can't live someone else's dream, much less someone else's idea of what a dream is for you.

What I've also learned is that, if you can dream it or imagine it, you have a better chance of making it happen. In many cases, we do create our own reality - through our dreams.

Indeed, what I've learned is that, if you can see yourself doing something and you believe it, others will see it, too.

It's a very powerful lesson about the power of the unconscious and the power of dreams. As Cinderella sings:
In dreams you will lose your heartaches
Whatever you wish for, you keep
Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling thru
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
the dream that you wish will come true
My grandmother would hear me sing that, twirling around in my stocking feet on her kitchen floor like the princess I dreamed I would be, and she'd harumph, "Wishes don't wash dishes."

She was right, of course.

Wishes and dreams don't happen all by themselves. It takes work - hard work, often, a lifetime of struggle - and sometimes even then, life sometimes seems to conspire to render our dreams foolish for even dreaming them.

Without dreams and wishes, however, life is dull and often seems meaningless. Indeed, without hope, we perish.

In one of the Morning Prayer Suffrages in The Book of Common Prayer, we say,
V. Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten
R. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
I'm afraid we in the Church have lost touch with the power of dreams.

Indeed, the problem with the Church is not lack of money or resources.

The problem with the Church is that we lack imagination and creativity.

Don't believe me? Here, read Bonnie Anderson, the President of the House of Deputies, and what she had to say as Executive Council convened today.
I believe that the best way to find out what the future looks like is to invest where we know that mission and ministry is already most effective and closest to God’s people.

Let’s reduce the amount that we ask dioceses to send to the Church Center. Let’s study the best use of the building at 815 Second Avenue with an eye to freeing up for mission the $7.7 million dollars that is earmarked for facilities cost and debt repayment during the next triennium. Let’s expect that dioceses and their networks know best how to build up God’s church and support ministry where it is most effective. And as we change the budget, let’s acknowledge that we also need to change our models of accountability and responsibility to be mutual and respectful of the entire people of God, not just those with ecclesial power.
MKL's 'I have a dream' in 'Wordle'.
Mutuality. Respect for the entire people of God.

This is the stuff of the dream of our baptismal vows.

It's time for us to roll up our sleeves and "follow our dreams to reach our goals and follow our goals to reach our dream."

Yes, it's scary stuff. Sort of like jumping off a tall building and expecting to be able to fly.

Edward Teller, a nuclear physicist once said,
When you get to the end of all the light you know and it's time
to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing
that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given
something solid to stand on,or you will be taught how to fly.
Actually, I think all dreams are little bits and pieces of God's dream in the first place.

Dreams are just an occasional peak into the mind and heart of the divine within each and every one of us. They happen when we're asleep because we couldn't bear the truth of them when we're wide awake.

So, c'mon, church. Have some faith.

Dream a little dream with me.

Who knows? We may just step out on that ledge and, together, learn to fly.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Livin' on a prayer

My children were 'tweens' and teens when the singer Jon Bon Jovi was all the rage.

Frankly, he scared the beejeesus out of me - probably in the same way Elvis and The Beatles rendered my parents apoplectic.

He looked like Jersey Trailer Park Trash - he was born in Perth Amboy, NJ - with that long, scraggly hair, torn, sleeveless T-shirt, tattered jeans, tattoos, and classic Jersey sneer on his face.

And wait. Is he wearing eye makeup?

The girls thought he was "soooOOOOoo cute".  He was a 'poser', they said.

The boys wanted to be Jon Bon Jovi.

I wanted him to just shut up, take that wild hair and his ripped abs and buff delts and go away. Besides, in my envy, I always feel there must be something 'inherently disordered' with people who have less than 0% body fat. I mean, get out of the gym! Eat a sandwich!

Here are some of the words to one of the songs that was a favorite:
Once upon a time not so long ago:
Tommy used to work on the docks
union's been on strike

He's down on his luck - It's tough
so tough.
Gina works the diner all day
working for her man

She brings home her pay for love
for love.

She says: We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not.
We've got each other and that's a lot for love -
We'll give it a shot.

We're half way there - Livin' on a prayer

Take my hand and we'll make it
I swear - livin' on a prayer.
Oh, I liked the song well enough. Still do. It's always fun to sing at the top of your voice, "Whoooaaah - Oh, Livin' on a prayer," remembering the days when you were doing exactly that while you dance around like a maniac.

The words, however, are so 'teen love' they could almost be described as classic. Traditional, even.

Thinking that 'all you need is love'. All you need is each other. Living in the moment and for the moment. Unrealistic but boundless hope that you'll make it (I swear). Even if you have nothing and the future is uncertain but you're 'livin' on a prayer'.

Those sentiments are not confined by time. Change the words slightly, slow down the tempo, add a tinkling piano and an orchestra and you've got:

"I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" . . . .
Gee, but it's tough to be broke, kid.
It's not a joke, kid, it's a curse.
My luck is changing, it's gotten from
simply rotten to something worse
Who knows, some day I will win too.
I'll begin to reach my prime.
Now though I see what our end is,
All I can spend is just my time.

I can't give you anything but love, baby.
That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby.
....... and...... "Let's Face The Music and Dance".
There may be trouble ahead
But while there's moonlight and music
And love and romance
Let's face the music and dance
Here's the thing: Some of us see the dark underside of these romantic songs.

"Just two kids in love" can look frighteningly unromantic when you have no permanent place to live. Not knowing where your next meal will come from. No health insurance and you become ill or have an accident. Not even a suitcase to schlep your clothes from wherever you are to wherever you may be going, so you use black plastic garbage bags.

And then, if (or when) a baby enters the picture, it's not so romantic anymore.

I've been working with a young couple who are really struggling. In their 20's. They met online. She left her home in the North to be with him in the South. He's in construction. The work dried up after a month. They moved to Delaware in search of a work. He found it, though it didn't last long so he got another job but not in construction. Right after Christmas, his hours went from 30-40 to 16. Per week. At $8.50 per hour.

She got pregnant. They lived with friends - a few weeks here, a few weeks there. She got food stamps. They applied for housing. She had a baby. Two weeks early. By C-section. Now, they need a place to live, no longer able to stay a few weeks with friends here and there.  She says she's not afraid to be homeless, but fears "they'll take my baby from me."

Yes, they should have thought of all of these things. Months ago. They didn't. Which happens. More often than we care to think about.  They're both adults with the choice to "live on a prayer". But now, there's the baby. Reality has set it and it is often a very rude visitor.

The thing about life in Lower, Slower Delaware is that there are shelters, I've discovered. Shelters for men. Shelters for women. Shelters for women and their children.

There are no shelters for families. Because, you know, the folks in power have "family values" but do not necessarily value families.

Thankfully, a consortium of churches in the Lewes-Rehoboth area have pooled resources to begin a community resource center which provides families with hotel rooms while the family works with the State to find employment and permanent homes. Which can take up to 24 months.

These kids are the very definition of "living on a prayer". Which is often hard to distinguish from "magical thinking". Which is a short hop, skip and a jump from looking positively delusional. Or, opportunistic. Or, manipulative. Or, religious. Or, all of the above.

I've done what I can. Bought pampers and formula and some high protein, basic groceries - cheese, eggs, milk, peanut butter, sliced turkey, ham, bread. Connected them with community services which is working on finding them permanent housing while paying for a hotel room. I paid for a night's say in a hotel before community services kicked in. Helped to do some problem-solving and reality-checking.

I've drawn some pretty clear and firm boundaries: I won't provide transportation.  Can't. I won't give them money directly. I am not a source of financial assistance or housing but I will put them in touch with agencies that can provide those services.

Need money to take the bus? It's $2 round trip? Try turning over the coach pillows and search for change. I've gotten as much as $3.00 that way. But, the bus stop is about a mile walk? Thank God the weather has been so mild, right? Check the bus schedule. Bundle up the baby, get out the stroller or, better yet, the snuggli, and leave yourself enough time to pace yourself. Women and their babies have been doing this for centuries.

The question I keep wrestling with is: Where is the boundary between Christian charity and enabling dependent behavior and how will I know when I've crossed it?

I don't have an answer. Yet. I think it just means I evaluate each situation as it arises and deal with it as it comes, continuing to stress the boundaries I have set with each encounter. Let the professionals in the community with resources and knowledge take the lead. Advocate where I can.

The thing of it is that neither of these two young people have a mother. Both have died. I think they look to me for advice and counsel and guidance more than anything else.

But there are times when they try to push the boundaries. Because it's scary. And, everyone wants mommy to just fix it.

Oh, they'll do okay. Eventually. She has a job at a local fast food place. Work will pick up again for him. Oh, there will be issues with child care. Juggling schedules. They'll be okay.

I'm living on that prayer.

Okay, they won't do as well as Jon Bon Jovi who has not only done well, he's doing much good.

His band was declared the second richest band for 2011, behind U2, earning an approximate $125 million income. In addition, Jon Bon Jovi is one of the majority-owners of the Philadelphia Soul, a team playing in the Arena Football League. In 2010, President Barack Obama named Jon Bon Jovi to the White House Council for Community Solutions.

A Democrat, he campaigned for Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential election, John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election, and Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election.

He's also given back to the community, starting something called 'JBJ Kitchen' in Red Bank, NJ, which allows people who are homeless or unemployed to order their food restaurant style and pay whatever ever they can. Or, not.

He's also teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in NJ cities like Perth Amboy, Red Bank, and Newark that have long been hard-scrabble places.

He married his high school sweetheart, Dorothea Hurley in 1989. Together they have four children. And, look at him now: clean shaven, well dressed, handsome.

Still got the tattoos, no doubt, but no eye makeup. And, look, Ma, no Jersey sneer.

Who knew?

Who ever knows?

Especially when you are livin' on a prayer.

And then, you may just find yourself living your prayer.

And the the question becomes: What will you do with your prayer?

How will you help someone else who is livin' on a prayer?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A luta continua

Icon written by the Rev'd Dr. Ellen Poisson, OSH
Today's liturgical calendar marks the 68th Anniversary of the ordination of Florence Li-Tim Oi, 李添嬡 , the first woman ordained priest in the Anglican Communion.

Meanwhile, back in the Church of England, the Bishops are busily preparing for a Synod in February in which the issue will be discussed concerning whatever is to be done with these "troublesome" women clerics who feel called to the episcopacy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have whipped up a batch of what The Guardian's Andrew Brown describes as a "breathtaking" fudge.
The archbishops envisage that the Church of England, once it has female bishops, will continue ordaining men who do not accept these women, finding them jobs they will deign to accept, and promoting some of them to be bishops who will work to ensure the continued supply of male priests who refuse to accept female clergy. In fact, the church will pay three bishops (the formerly "flying" sees of Ebbsfleet, Richborough, and Beverley) to work full time against their female colleagues, and to nourish the resistance.
Of course, the good bishops' proposal will run amok of English employment laws but they are, after all, bishops - nay, verily Archbishops - in the State Religion. And, they are, after all, men who know what is best for the church.

Meanwhile, The Rt Rev’d Wallace Benn, the Suffragan Bishop of Lewes on the south coast of England, has written a recommendation for a book supporting the legalisation of marital rape and accusing the Queen of breaking her Coronation Oath.

I am not making this up.

You can read about it here, but let me give you a taste of this ancient porridge of misogyny.
The book in question, Britain in Sin by well-known fundamentalist Stephen Green of ‘Christian Voice’, accuses the Queen of breaking her Coronation Oath by signing into law 57 pieces of what Green describes as ‘unrighteous legislation’ which he claims offend Biblical principles. These include the Criminal Justice Act 1994, which introduced the offence of marital rape. ...... Green claims that “the marriage service of the Book of Common Prayer” establishes “a binding consent to sexual intercourse” and a married woman therefore has no right to refuse unwanted sexual advances from her husband. The book also criticises the 1970 decision to abolish a man’s right to petition a court for “the restoration of conjugal rights”.

Green also supports the economic exploitation of women, describing the Equal Pay Act 1970 and Sex Discrimination Acts 1975 & 1986 as unbiblical. Concering women in the workplace, Green says in Britain in Sin “[t]hat mothers should deprive their men-folk of work is a national scandal.”

Benn recommended Green’s book in glowing terms, saying, “This makes interesting and disturbing reading. We desparately need to understand, as a nation, that our Creator knows what is best for us, and to return to His way as the best way to live.”
If I didn't know better, I'd say that someone from Monty Python's Flying Circus has written an episode of Downton Abbey for Lambeth Palace.

Can't you just hear the Archbishop of Canterbury saying one of the Dowager Countess' lines: "Don't they know that no one wants to kiss a girl in black"?

To which the Archbishop of York will respond, "When she marries, her husband will tell her what to think."

The Bishop of Lewes will sigh deeply and say, rather wistfully, "In moments like these it might be good to send her abroad. One can always find an Italian that isn't too picky".

Canon Kenneth Kearon, never too far from the forces of power and authority but never possessing either himself, will appear distressed and, shielding his eyes whilst glancing up to the chandelier, say, “I couldn’t have electricity in my house, I wouldn’t sleep a wink. All those vapors floating about.”

Li-Tim Oi must be rolling in her grave.

Please allow me to share with you some of Li-Tim Oi's story.

Florence Li-Tim Oi was born on May 7, 1907 in Hong Kong, China. At the turn of the century, China was on the brink of dramatic change that would lead, unpredictably, to a highly-charged political revolution.

In the fishing village of Aberdeen, Hong Kong, however, the old way of life persisted as it had for centuries. At that time - as it is today and continues in many countries - baby boys were highly prized. Not so were girls. A bowl of ash could be at hand to smother unwanted new-born girls.

Not so with Li Tim-Oi's father. He gave his infant the name Tim-Oi, “another much beloved girl.”

Mr. Li also did not have any of his daughters’ feet bound like other girls of the educated and landed class, who, for centuries, had their feet bandaged from a very young age to keep the feet small and delicate, and to mark their station in society, as well as to confine and restrict their lives.

He also provided education for his daughters. Tim Oi completed her primary schooling at 14, but pursuing her studies was out of the question.

Her father had to provide for two wives, five sons and three daughters. And while Tim-Oi was a much beloved daughter, the boys had priority when it came to secondary education.

Tim Oi remained dutiful but fervently prayed that she be afforded the same opportunity as her brothers. She reminisced: “I used to pray to my heavenly father: if my father can afford to educate my brothers, perhaps at the end I could go to continue my education as well.”

Her prayers were apparently heard. After all her brothers finished their studies, her father relented. Tim Oi was sent to Hong Kong for secondary schooling at age 21.

Tim Oi and other students from Union Theological College 

While a student she joined an Anglican church of Saint Paul. She was also baptized and took the Christian name Florence, because her birth-month, May, is a month of flowers, and for Florence Nightingale whom she admired.

Responding to a call to ordination after she heard a sermon in which the preacher asked, “Here today we have an English lady … who is willing to sacrifice herself for the Chinese church? Is there a Chinese girl who would be willing to the do the same?", she was awarded a scholarship by the Anglican Church and took a four-year course at the Union Theological College in Canton.

During her third year, peace was shattered by war with Japan.

Along with her fellow students, she served the thousands who were wounded and displaced by the incessant Japanese air raids. Li-Tim Oi experienced the horrors of war.

In response to the great need at the time, she was made deacon in 1941, and was given charge of an Anglican congregation in the Portuguese colony of Macao, which was overflowing with refugees from war-torn China.

When a priest could no longer travel from Japanese-occupied territory to preside for her at the Eucharist, Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong asked her to meet him in Free China, where on January 25, 1944 he ordained her a priest in God's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

In his mind, Bishop Hall was merely confirming what he and many others witnessed - that Tim-Oi had the gift of priestly ministry.

After World War II, Tim Oi tried to diffuse the controversy surrounding her ordination by surrendering her priest's license, but not her Holy Orders, the knowledge of which carried her through Maoist persecution.

Diaconal ordination with Bishop Mok and her parents
She suffered from the Red Guards who made her cut up her vestments with scissors and humiliated her in many other ways.

The life and work and ministry and witness of Florence Li-Tim-Oi stands as rebuke of the good Archbishops and Bishops and churchmen of the Church of England and institutionalized sexism and misogyny everywhere.

Vocation is something which is heard by an individual, witnessed in her life and validated by the community of faith.

It begins with the individual but ends with an ever-deepening, self-sacrificial journey into the mystery and intimacy of community.

To turn a blind eye to the witness of the Spirit moving and acting in the life of another speaks more to the spiritual and corporal arrogance of those in power than it does of the validity of the person's vocation.

I have to believe there are consequences for the continued practices of injustice in the church and in the world.

Would that every man were like Li-Tim Oi's father and might be able to see the birth of each infant girl-child as a "Tim Oi" - "another much beloved girl" - capable of hearing the call of God to take on the mantle of servant leadership in the church as well as her place in the councils and corridors of institutional power.

A luta continua - "the struggle continues". May we be inspired by the life and witness of Florence Li-Tim Oi as we continue the work of justice for all God's children in the church and in the world.

I hear another conversation between the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, one that mirrors a conversation in one episode of Downton Abbey between Lady Cora and the Lady Grantham:

ABC: “I might send her over to visit my aunt. She could get to know New York.”

ABY: “Oh, I don’t think things are quite that desperate.”

Then again, gentlemen, considering the remarks of the Suffragan Bishop of Lewes, perhaps they are. Perhaps they are.

The story is far from over.

The struggle continues.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22, 1973

Norma McCorvey was 21 years old and pregnant with her third child when two young female Texas lawyers recruited her to be "Jane Roe," the lead plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade class-action lawsuit. The "Wade" was Henry Wade, the District Attorney in Dallas County, charged with upholding Texas state law.

McCorvey never had an abortion, delivering a girl that she gave up for adoption. But the landmark decision she championed proved a critical - but far from final - chapter in the great abortion debate.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional, by a 7-2 vote, a Texas law prohibiting abortion except for the purpose of saving a woman's life.

What the Supreme Court said, in simple terms, is that women have a constitutional right to privacy to make decisions about whether to have an abortion. Because this decision involves moral as well as medical considerations, the Court ruled, a woman has the right to consider her personal circumstances and the dictates of her conscience.

"Abortion raises moral and spiritual questions over which honorable persons can disagree sincerely and profoundly. But those disagreements did not then and do not now relieve us of our duty to apply the Constitution faithfully," said Associate Justice Harry Blackmun in the majority opinion.

Honorable persons - as well as nefarious scoundrels dressed in religious garb - have, in fact, disagreed both "sincerely and profoundly".

For the past year, zealots in Congress and state legislatures – many of whom preach the sanctity of privacy and freedom from government – have relentlessly waged a vicious war on women’s access to health care.

"Family values" they call it - a term they like to pull out and apply 'liberally' (/sarcasm) in opposition to everything from Reproductive Rights to Marriage Equality.

Can you say, "hypocrite"?

More than 1,000 bills were introduced in state legislatures, including the Ohio “heartbeat” bill banning abortion after the 6th or 7th week of gestation, and numerous bills requiring pregnant women to have ultrasounds.

In 2011, ninety-two (92!!!!) anti-abortion provisions were enacted – the most in any year since Roe v. Wade was decided!
In the U.S. House of Representatives, radical and repressive legislation was introduced, including the “Protect Life Act” which would allow hospitals to let a pregnant woman die rather than provide her services (see also 'hypocrite' above)

Lawmakers also launched a full-scale effort to defund clinics that provide reproductive health services, including Planned Parenthood clinics, where thousands of low-income women and children benefit from health programs on contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and more.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled a scientific panel and rejected broader accessibility of emergency contraception on store shelves.
It is not a coincidence that these efforts come at a time when there is a Black man in the White House, and an 'uppity' former First Lady as Secretary of State.

But there were victories last year, too.
Voters in Mississippi defeated by 55% to 45% a personhood amendment that would have conferred legal rights at the moment of fertilization.

The governor of Kentucky refused to permit the merger of a publicly-funded institution with a Catholic health group that would have restricted abortion (even to save a woman’s life), sterilization, contraception and emergency contraception.

Just two days ago, HHS Secretary Sebelius eased our worst fears by reaffirming contraceptive services without co-pays or deductibles in new healthcare legislation, and permitting only a narrow exemption for religious employers.
Like the struggle for Civil Rights for People of Color, sexuality and gender-identity, the fieriest battles are on religious fronts.

People have often used scripture as the rationale for their prejudice, bigotry and oppression.

Proponents of "natural law" point to The Bible as the reason that "the way we were" is good enough for "the way it ought to be".

Read: 'Man on top' as the metaphor for the structure of society wherein everyone who isn't White, male, heterosexual and well-monied is in control of everything.

It boggles my mind that there are women - many, many women around the country - who support this position. My only response is to say that either these women don't understand their own potential or, if they do, they have consigned themselves to be underachievers.

Which is their right and their choice. I would never deny them that.

I would only ask for the same right and the same choices for myself and my sisters and our daughters and granddaughters who think differently.

Actually, I'm not asking. I'm insisting on a right that is mine - and, all women - and guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States.

In the 39 years since Roe v. Wade, many things have changed. Many more options are opened to women than have ever been previously available.

Many on 'The Right" are crying, "I want my country back."

Well, as Bill Mahr says, I want my country forward. 

Let's use the observance of the 39th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade to renew our commitment to keeping information about human sexuality as well as early intervention and prevention of pregnancy widely available to women.

Let's try to reduce the number of abortions by reducing the factors that contribute to the reasons women choose abortion, which include but are not limited to poverty, poor education, and inaccessibility to affordable health care.

And, yes, let's keep abortion safe, legal and free from moral scrutiny and religious judgment and government interference.

It's been 39 years since Roe v. Wade.  It's time to move the political, religious and cultural battleground somewhere other than a woman's body.

Like, let's say, Congress. Or, the Vatican.

Neither of which I trust with either a choice or a child.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A New Norm of Greatness for the End Time

Painting by HiQi
I've been reading over tomorrow's lectionary texts for the Third Sunday after The Epiphany.

It's the 'end time' for Jonah in Nineveh (3:1-5, 10) as well as for Paul in Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

In tomorrow morning's Gospel (Mark 1:14-20), Jesus says, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

And then, he calls two more disciples: Simon and Andrew and James and John.

Last week, we heard him call Philip and Nathaneal.

I'm struck, once again, by the choices Jesus makes in calling some of The Twelve.

Well, all of them, actually.

Maybe because the end was, in fact, near, and pickin's were slim, but consider His choices:
Peter had a tendency to speak before thinking…

James & John had quick tempers… (Jesus nicknamed them Sons of Thunder - Mark 3:17)

Simon (the other one) was affiliated with a known terrorist group… (the Zealots were a pro-Israel terrorist group who attacked the Romans)

Matthew had a bad reputation as a tax cheat (and he was collecting the taxes)…

Thomas had, shall we say, "faith issues…"
They were uneducated, unsophisticated, and untalented.

The only possible exception is a fellow named Judas Iscariot.

I'm reminded of a little letter I found in my files the other day. I first found it when I was a member of the Commission on Ministry and used to use it when working as a consultant with Search Committees.

I suspect I'll have occasion to use it again, soon.

It's a little something from from Greg Ogden, in his book "Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time."
Jesus, Son of Joseph

Carpenter Shop


Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the 12 men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.

They do not have the team" concept.

We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.

Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership.

The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.

Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau.

James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings. They registered a high score on the manic depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man.

All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new Venture.

Sincerely yours,

Jordan Management Consultants
Hear me, now: This is not an argument for serving up yet another helping of mediocrity in the church's leadership.

I'm simply shaking my head at the choices Jesus made in selecting The Twelve and wondering, yet again, why He called the people he calls.

Then again, God called Jonah - a reluctant prophet if ever there was one - to deliver a message to Nineveh. Even so, he was successful.....
"And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it."
......but Jonah was not pleased and sulked under a withering Fig Tree.

And, somehow - for whatever reason - after his death and resurrection, Jesus called Paul who had been actively persecuting the Jews - and especially the new followers of the man named Jesus.

Maybe that's why he had a penchant for overstating his case and being just a tad obtuse:
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
"The appointed time" is always short.

"The present form of this world" is always "passing away".

Thanks be to God.

The only constant is change.

I keep hearing that wonderful quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's your new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it, by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
I think that's the message Jesus was giving us in the calling of The Twelve.

I would add, "You don't need to be ordained in order to serve."

And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people."

Sounds so easy, doesn't it?

So, what are you waiting for?

Drop your nets - or, pick 'em up - and follow Jesus.

Just be sure to fasten your seat belts and make certain your crash helmet is on your head, securely strapped under your chin.

This Jesus-guy will turn your life upside down - especially with his 'new norm of greatness'.

That's a promise.

And, a warning.

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Finding the Messiah

As the election year grinds its way forward, one is either completely aghast or thoroughly amused by the Republican nomination process.

As Agent J in "Men in Black" said, "This definitely rates about a nine-point-oh on my weird-shit-o-meter".

I read a quote somewhere that President Obama, in response to a question about his re-election campaign strategy, said, "Perhaps we'll just run transcripts of the Republican debates."

Democrats would be too quick to snicker.

I remember - oh, way back to 2004 - when "The Democratic Johns" -John "Swift Boat" Kerry and John "The NC Scoundrel" Edwards - ran for election and lost to Dubya and The Dick?

I know it's painful, but remember when the Democrats were in the driver's seat of the Political Clown Car? You know your election process is in the crapper when there are two Johns in the lead.

In 2008, the Democrats bested the Republicans by beating them at their own religiously-based political game.

We ran the Messiah.

I cringed then and I cringe now at the thought that one man could be the savior of The Democratic party in particular and the abysmal state of this country in general.

"Change we can believe in" and "Yes We Can" were two of Obama's campaign slogans.

We read the "we" and substituted "he".

Even Obama himself was uncomfortable with that slogan and said, "I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington . I'm asking you to believe in yours."

"We are the ones we've been waiting for," he said.

Still, we didn't listen. Or, we heard what we wanted to hear.

We don't listen today. Many are 'disappointed" with the President. They feel betrayed. He didn't 'save' us like he promised. Note: That was never a campaign promise. Salvation was not the issue. Change - and hope for change - was.

Granted, there has not been enough change for my taste, but after 26 years of activism, mostly in the church, I have a much better understanding of the political process.

Change is the thing we say we want most but resist best.

Many young people who voted for Obama in 2008 say they aren't going to vote for him in 2012. They say they may even vote for a Republican. Ron Paul is, apparently, the new hero for many in the younger generation.

Which makes my head spin.

As Stephen Colbert said, "Yes, Obama duped young people by not doing every single thing they want. So now, they’ll all vote Republican. It’s like when I want some bread, I won’t settle for half a loaf. Instead, I will have a muffin made of broken glass".

Barack Obama is neither the Messiah nor the Anti-Christ. Neither is Ron Paul.

They are politicians, people. Get a grip!

Rabbi and author Harold Kushner retells a story in his book, “Living a Life that Matters.” It’s a legend about a young boy who receives a bar mitzvah gift of a beautiful scarf that he uses as a prayer shawl; it’s a gift that he absolutely cherishes and treats as sacred.

One day, when the boy passes a beggar in the street who is dressed in rags, he recalls the ancient teaching that the Messiah will appear on earth as an outcast and stranger, waiting for “someone to recognize him and reach out to him, at which point he will reveal himself and redeem the world from sickness and misery.”

The boy gives away his prized possession, so that the beggar has something with which to wrap up his bare and bleeding feet; the boy is hoping, of course, that the beggar is the Messiah, and that he will have helped usher in the age of redemption.

As it turns out, though, the beggar is not the Messiah, just a person grateful for the care from another human being.

Rabbi Kushner preached about the legend at his own son’s bar mitzvah, and offered this interpretation:
“…no matter how much we would like to, we can’t bring the Messiah and solve the world’s problems. Nor can we bring the Messiah for ourselves and solve our own problems.

But maybe we can bring the Messiah for someone else. We can be the supporting actor who gives someone else’s life story a happy ending, and we can hope that someone will come along and do the same for us.”
I've always loved this story, because it has many applications for the human condition. I think it speaks quite well to our present political climate.

I think it's important to see ourselves as "supporting actors" in this life who try to give someone else's life story a happy ending.

I think it's also important to elect public officials who can, to the best of their ability, work to give our life story a happier ending than we could imagine right now - for ourselves and for our children and our children's children.

Let's not be distracted by the media circus which is leading us up the the "Deal-breaker" primary in South Carolina.

We need to stay focused on the issues as well as our own personal responsibility in our own lives and the quality of life of this nation.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Get involved.

For Christians, there is only one Messiah.

Note to Ron Paul: Jesus was a Jew. Remember?

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

The sooner we learn and understand that, the healthier our lives will be.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

WoW: News from the front

Two pieces of news crossed my laptop screen this morning.

MSNBC is reporting on the law suit brought by fourteen current and former members of the U.S. military on Tuesday which charged that the Pentagon turned a blind eye when they reported being sexually harassed, assaulted and raped by fellow service members while on active duty.

MSNBC reports that it is more likely for a woman serving our country in the Armed Forces to be raped than to be attacked in the line of duty.

They're calling it "The Invisible War". Last year there were 3,191 rapes reported in the military but the Pentagon itself estimates that there were actually a total of over 19,000 rapes.

Only eight percent of these reported rapes were prosecuted with an abysmal 2% conviction rate.

Here's one story of one woman who is breaking the code of silence about this despicable behavior:
Mary Gallagher, a former sergeant in the Air National Guard, says that within weeks of being deployed to an air base outside of Baghdad in 2009 she was brutally assaulted by a fellow sergeant who burst into the ladies' room, pushed her up against the wall, pulled her pants and underwear down and ground his genitals against her, talking the whole time how much he was enjoying it.

"I thought he was going to kill me that night," Gallagher told NBC in an interview. "I felt completely isolated and alone and really scared. Here I was, in the middle of a foreign country in the middle of a war."

When she reported the attack, she says her commander’s only response was to reassign her assailant and tell her "this stuff happens."
If that doesn't make you ill, here's another story:
Rebekah Havrilla, a former Army sergeant who served as the only female member of a bomb squad in eastern Afghanistan, said she was attacked by a colleague at Salermo Forward Operating Base near the Pakistani border on her last day in the country in 2007.

"He pushed me down on the bed and used his body weight to hold me down and proceeded to rape me," she said in an interview. While holding her down with one arm, her fellow U.S. Army sergeant took photographs of her, she said. She was later horrified to discover the photographs had been posted on a pornographic website, she said.
None of the alleged attackers named in the lawsuit was reported to have been convicted. In most cases, the charges were either never pursued or dropped.

In one case, an Army officer who denied one of the alleged sexual assaults was charged with "lying on a sworn statement." In another, an Air Force serviceman who was alleged to have broken into the room of a female coworker at 3 a.m. at Nellis Air Force Base was charged in a court-martial, but on the eve of his trial got off when a a new commander came in and ordered the charges dropped. The alleged rapist was later given an "Airman of the Quarter" award and his accuser transferred to another base.

Anyone got any questions about whether or not the War on Women is real?

Okay, here's the second item to come across my laptop screen.

First, the good news: A global analysis by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization indicate that, after a period of significant decline in the global abortion rate as a whole, researchers found that those numbers had begun to plateau.
"The stall in the abortion rate coincides with a plateau in the level of contraceptive use, which had been increasing in prior years," said Dr. Gilda Sedgh, lead author of the study and senior researcher at the Guttmacher Institute in New York. "Before the abortion rate stalled, it was declining, and contraceptive use was increasing.
Now, the bad news: Unsafe abortions are on the rise across the world. Researchers defined unsafe abortion according to the WHO description when analyzing data. The WHO considers an abortion unsafe when a procedure for terminating pregnancy is performed by a person who is lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards.
The report continues:
While almost all reported abortions were deemed safe in North America and Europe, nearly all abortions (97 percent) in Africa were considered unsafe in 2008. Nearly all abortions were performed under safe conditions in East Asia, but 65 percent were considered unsafe across south central Asia.

Over the past three decades, about 20 percent of all pregnancies around the world have ended in abortion, according to the research.

"What we clearly know is that making abortion less available does not make it performed less often," said Dr. Lauren Streicher, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It's just more unsafe. Condemning abortion is a cruel and failed strategy."

Even in the U.S., where abortion is currently legal, Streicher said access can be limited based on someone's insurance plan and where they live.

"Fifty percent of undesired pregnancies are due to failed contraception," said Streicher. "Of those unplanned pregnancies, 50 percent resolve in abortion, so the need for abortion is always going to be there. By criminalizing it, you're just increasing the amount of women who have poor and dangerous outcomes.
I'm waiting for some state to introduce the concept of capital punishment for any woman who has had an abortion. Now, that would be a "cruel and failed strategy" - but when has that stopped the Tea Party fanatics?

Overstating my case? If more Tea Party candidates get elected in November, watch for it in a southern state close to you.

I'm not writing this to be an alarmist. I'm writing to be an informant.

We have a little over 10 months to the next election process, including the election of the next President of the United States.

An informed electorate is comprised of people who will check to be sure where each candidate is on the important issues. I mean, besides employment and the economy.

And, the War on Women may be invisible, but it's real.

Very real.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

War on Women

Oh, I know what you're thinking.

It's just a little hyperbole from 'what's left of the Left'.

An over-reaction by women who know....well....'emotional'.

The so-called 'War on Women' is a bit of an overstatement, isn't it?

Why, no, actually. No, it isn't.

Incidences of domestic violence are on the rise all over the world. Human trafficking - especially of women in the sex trade - goes on unabated. Girl children do not receive the same education as boy children in many countries around the globe.

And here, in this country, two powerful forces have combined to restrict and erode the Reproductive Rights of Women: The Republican Party and The U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Over the past two years the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has launched one of the most extreme assaults on women's choice the U.S. has seen in decades.

Republicans voted twice to slash federal family planning funds for low-income women, moved to prevent women from using their own money to buy insurance plans that cover abortion, introduced legislation that would force women to have ultrasounds before receiving an abortion and, most recently, passed a bill that will allow hospitals to refuse to perform emergency abortions for women with life-threatening pregnancy complications.

But the erosion of women's rights didn't begin with the GOP takeover. President Barack Obama's health care reform law contained some of the most restrictive abortion language seen in decades.

While the bishops have always been vocal on the issue of choice, they have emerged since the 2009 health care reform debate as one of the most powerful anti-abortion advocates on Capitol Hill.

Now, they are stepping up their attack on women's choice with a new, high-intensity campaign aimed at the latest front in the national anti-abortion battle: birth control. There is growing concern that they might have just enough sway over lawmakers to succeed.

I share that deep concern which is why I am delighted to let you know about my recent election to the National Board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) for a three-year term.

RCRC is a coalition of religious leaders - lay and ordained - representing over 40 denominations and faith groups. I will join John Vanderstar, who serves on the Strategic Planning Committee and has represented the Episcopal Women's Caucus for many years on that board, as the only two Episcopalians on the Board.

For the past four years, I have served as national convener of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus and past president of the New Jersey chapter of RCRC. I have participated in and coordinated training sessions for “A Peaceful Presence” at several outpatient clinics in Northern New Jersey and participated in the state chapter’s lobbying efforts in Trenton and Washington, D.C.

Episcopal News Service ran a story about my election. You can find it here.

In it, I am quoted as saying,
“I believe that the ‘war on women’ is real. Reproductive rights — from education to prevention and early intervention — are being eroded by the very people who say they believe in God and Jesus as well as ‘smaller government,’” Kaeton said via e-mail. “The work and voices of RCRC have never been more important. I am excited and honored to join this stellar board. My sleeves are rolled up, and my running shoes are on.”
I'm writing this as fair warning. Not only will you be hearing more about this important issue of growing concern, I will be enlisting your help to get the word out about the various marvelous programs being sponsored and coordinated by RCRC.

The War on Women is real. It's being waged in a legislative session - or Roman Catholic or Evangelical Church - near you.

I don't like the war-imagery either but we are fools if we don't arm ourselves with information and education. We must use the weapons of our hearts and minds and voices to work against this silent, stealth assault on women.

Go over to the RCRC web pages and check out where your denomination stands on Reproductive Rights. Learn how to be in touch with your law makers. Discover some of the wonderful educational programs that are available for your congregation.

Stay tuned for 'Messages from The Front' of the battle.

I'm going up to the front lines in DC.

I'm glad to know you've got my back.