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

Monday, April 30, 2012

The New Faces of Reproductive Justice


I've been sitting on my hands for over a week and now it's finally official.

Harry Knox is the new President and CEO of RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice). I was elected to the board of this amazing organization a few months ago and had the enormous privilege of being one of the unanimous voices who voted for his appointment.

I've appended the "official" announcement below. 

It's no secret that Harry has been the Interim Director of IntegrityUSA. This is, of course, a huge loss for Integrity, but Harry assures me that he will be staying on until after General Convention (July 5-12), taking up his position with RCRC on July 16th. 

Harry is nothing if not an honorable man and I know he will continue to work hard for IntegrityUSA until the last seconds of his tenure. Caro Hall, the President of IntegrityUSA and the rest of the board have already been hard at work during this interim period to bring a new Director to this important organization in The Episcopal Church.  Stay tuned.

Since 1997, RCRC has been more than ably led by the Rev'd Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, who initiated Interfaith, Youth and Multicultural Programs, as well as many other programs, including the launch of the Black Church Initiative, which opened difficult but crucial conversations in the Black community concerning sexuality and reproductive rights.  He retired from RCRC last year.

I speak for myself but I know the board members will agree that Dr. Veazey has left us a rich legacy and a firm foundation to continue the faith-based movement for Reproductive Justice.

All of that is important information, but what I really want you to do is to take a close look at the picture above. 

That's Harry, of course, on the left. The woman in the picture is the Rev'd Dr. Alethea Smith-Withers, the President of the Board of RCRC. She is the founder and pastor of Pavilion of God, a Baptist and multicultural church in Washington, DC.  She is also a self-described "overcomer" (vs. "survivor") of Breast Cancer who, in her battle against Cancer has started her own blog "Blessed Breasts". 

Harry is the first openly gay man to lead RCRC. Alethea is the first woman of color to be President of the Board of Directors.

Take a good look, kids. These are the new faces of Reproductive Justice.  This is the expansion of our understanding of Reproductive Justice.

What we've learned about the language of "Reproductive Choice" is that it comes from a decided position of privilege. There must be justice before than can be choice. Indeed, the whole issue of choice is made even more complex by the many tragic injustices with which many women live.

So, what does a white, gay man know about any of that? Well, Harry Knox knows a lot of stuff and he is eminently qualified for the position.  Of this, there is no question.

I want to answer that question from a more generic perspective because it could also be asked why lesbians, bisexual or transgender people are concerned about Reproductive Justice.  

For some unenlightened souls who are....well, let's just use the word 'unaware'....of the fullness of the spectrum of human sexuality and gender expression, this may seem an oxymoron.

The rights of LGBT people to retain custody and visiting rights of the children they already have, or to adopt, to have children in foster care, to give birth to a child either through IVF, insemination or surrogacy and yes, even Marriage Equality, are all issues of Reproductive Justice.

Okay, I'll give some of you who read this blog a moment to get your heads wrapped around all of that. If you think about it for one red hot second, you'll hear some of the old (well, not as old as we'd like to think) arguments about LGBT people and their rights which include such things as:

...... "they can't reproduce so they recruit" (hence, the association in some little minds between homosexuality and pedophilia); and....

..... "they can't marry, they are too promiscuous" (actually, the situation is reversed). 

In the past decade or so - well some of us for longer than that - LGBT people, our families and friends and allies have been working very hard to reverse that stereotype. We enjoy families of origin and families of choice. Some of us even enjoy grandchildren of choice.

We can only fully enjoy the privilege of 'choice' when there is justice and equality.

Women - and especially women of color - have known that for centuries. We've known it because we live it.  In the presence of injustice our choices rapidly diminish, sometimes leaving us the choice between several bad options.

LGBT people also know this truth. The struggle for Marriage Equality and parental rights goes on so that all people - all God's children - can know the liberty promised us by the founders of this country as well as the liberation promised us in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

So, there it is, kids. The new faces of Reproductive Justice: A heterosexual woman of color who is a self-described "overcomer" of Breast Cancer, and a Caucasian gay man who is passionate about health care and justice.

Two passionate people who are deeply committed, along with a strong, vibrant board of many interfaith voices, to strengthen our alliances with other progressive organizations of varied interfaith perspectives who are working for justice and equality.

In the midst of the War on Women, which has its foundation and gains its strength and funding from the religious voices on the Right, I can't think of better leadership for this time for progressive voices of faith.

So, rejoice with me. And, rejoice for us.

And, get ready to hear a lot more from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Somebody tell the Boyz on Capitol Hill to fasten their seat belts.

Nah, never mind. They'll find out soon enough.

The Board of Directors of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) is pleased to announce the appointment of Reverend Harry Knox as President and Chief Executive Officer of RCRC, the nation’s coalition of organizations from 15 denominations and faith traditions committed to reproductive rights and justice.
Reverend Knox is a national leader in the progressive faith community and a well-known advocate for reproductive and sexual health and justice. As a compelling moral voice for human rights, Reverend Knox was appointed in February 2009 by President Obama to the President’s Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 

“Harry Knox has advocated for the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in some of the most hostile venues imaginable, including the Georgia General Assembly, and with staunch opponents of human rights in the United States Congress,” said Reverend Dr. Alethea Smith-Withers, Chair of the RCRC Board of Directors.

“In the current climate of relentless attacks on abortion and birth control in the name of religion, our country needs the faith-inspired courage Reverend Knox brings to safeguarding and advancing women’s health and the dignity of all people.”

Reverend Knox says of his appointment: “There is no more vital work to be done in this historic moment than stopping the rollback of women’s access to health care and self-determination. Women need more health care resources and options, not less. Young people are a priority for RCRC and we look forward to an expansion of engagement with youth and young adult leaders through our Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom program. Church, temple or synagogue should be the first place people of faith and their families turn when facing difficult decisions about reproductive health. RCRC will continue to lead in providing faith leaders the resources they need to offer responsible guidance and support. I ask for the prayers of all those who care about reproductive justice as I begin this new role.”

Reverend Knox was the founding director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, where he supervised the creation of a national speakers’ bureau that reached more than 10 million Americans monthly and was instrumental in creating a national network of 22 progressive state clergy coalitions. Since 2011, he has been Interim Executive Director of Integrity USA, the voice of LGBT Episcopalians and their allies. He will begin his position at RCRC July 16,2012.

Reverend Knox’s management and advocacy experience includes positions with the American Cancer Society; Equality Florida; Georgia Equality; and Freedom to Marry. He has pastored churches in Georgia and TexasHe was the recipient of the 2000 Cordle Award for Promotion of God’s Diversity and Lancaster Theological Seminary’s 2005 Robert V. Moss Medal for Excellence in Ministry.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Washed in the Blood of the Lamb

Every time Good Shepherd Sunday comes 'round, I can't get that song out of my head.

You know the one: Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb? If you don't know it, you can hear it by clicking here.

In case you need them, here are the lyrics:
  1. Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?
    Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
    Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
    Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
    • Refrain:
      Are you washed in the blood,
      In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
      Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
      Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
  2. Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
    Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
    Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
    Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
  3. When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
    Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
    Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
    And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
  4. Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
    And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
    There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
    Oh, be washed in the blood of the Lamb!
Not exactly the way I would word my own theology about Jesus the Lamb of God,  nor does it accurately reflect the fullness of my theology of baptism, but there is something compelling about the imagery, isn't there? Maybe it's the words sung to such a cheery little tune that does me in every time.

I understand that the image is one that is familiar to those who raise sheep. When a sheep does not survive the birth of her little lamb, the shepherd will slit the dead mother's throat and pour the blood over another sheep who is nursing her young so that she will smell like the dead mother and her new little lamb will nurse from the one who isn't her mother.

It reminds me of the mythology that surrounds the pelican, an image that is often seen in churches of seaside communities. The myth is that the pelican mother, if she is unable to find enough food to feed her chicks, will pierce her own side with her beak so that the chicks will be nourished with her blood.

I know, I know. The words to this hymn were inspired by words from the Book of Revelation (7:14).

And yes, I know that the scripture appointed for today had nothing to do with Jesus the Lamb of God but Jesus the Good Shepherd.

So, why does this hymn always haunt me every year on Easter IV?

I suspect it has something to do with the seeming juxtaposition of the dual natures of Jesus - the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd.

As incongruous as the two are, I think there is something compelling and truthful about the two together. Leadership, especially in the institutional church, is often sacrificial. I've heard more than one burnt-to-a-crisp presbyter or organist or youth director or parish administrator say, "I've given one pint more than the minimum of my blood to that church. I'm done."

I've also heard them bleat pitifully, "I thought Jesus was crucified, once for all".

Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's because I'm the national convener of The Episcopal Women's Caucus. Whatever the reason, I've been getting more and more calls these days from women - and some men - about being absolutely burnt to a crisp over parish ministry.

They are tired of the constant hum of low-level bickering. Sick unto death of the negativity. Deeply concerned by the pastoral insensitivity and unresponsiveness of their bishop - who is supposed to be the Shepherd to the flock of shepherds who tend the flock of God.

Instead, they feel like dumb sheep. Dumb for staying in that church - or The Church - or that diocese for as long as they have. Dumb for making this vocational choice. Dumb for thinking that they could actually make a difference and turn things around.

Being 'washed in the blood'- for them - means being beaten and bruised and bloodied in the Name of Jesus and they are done.

Jesus the Lamb of God. Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Can there be one without the other? Of course there can. Truth be told, there are lots and lots and lots of healthy, vibrant congregations all around which are being led by skilled, experienced, healthy, stable, psychologically and spiritually mature clergy and assisted by great staff.

I think what draws me to this hymn on Good Shepherd Sunday are the questions. I think they are questions good shepherds need to ask themselves from time to time. 

We need to be real clear about what sacrifices we have made and which ones we are willing to take on so we don't get splattered with our own blood - or cause the bleeding of others.

We need to be certain to keep our baptismal vows at the center of whatever ministry we do - inside or outside the institutional church - so that we are clear that, if there be any savior it is Jesus.

Not us.

Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

Somewhere in the midst of those two very different images is a message for any who would do a work of ministry in His Name.

Perhaps that message can be found in the questions of the first verse of this old hymn:
 Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
I don't know. Maybe that's why this hymn comes to me on Good Shepherd Sunday. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A really bad haircut

There was an interesting article in this week's HuffPo entitled "Silent Clergy Killers: "Toxic Congregations Lead to Widespread Job Loss".

Somehow, this all got tied into the United Methodist General Conference and the proposal to end all "guaranteed appointments". In case you didn't know, when Methodists are ordained "elders" - sort of the equivalent of Episcopal priests - they are guaranteed a position for life - not at all like Episcopal priests. Well, as I understand it, not a position, exactly, but a salary.

As a side note, I've also learned that, during their General Conference, it takes a 2/3 majority vote before bishops can speak on the floor. That's something I could definitely get used to.

Anyway, I found the article interesting in that the argument seems to be based on a focus on the "denominational mission". So, the counter argument, which I suppose makes sense, is that there are "toxic congregations".

Indeed, the article goes on to report that 
An online study published in the March issue of the Review of Religious Research found 28 percent of ministers said they had at one time been forced to leave their jobs due to personal attacks and criticism from a small faction of their congregations.

The researchers from Texas Tech University and Virginia Tech University also found that the clergy who had been forced out were more likely to report lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression, stress and physical health problems.

And too few clergy are getting the help they need, said researcher Marcus Tanner of Texas Tech.

"Everybody knows this is happening, but nobody wants to talk about it," Tanner said in an interview. "The vast majority of denominations across the country are doing absolutely nothing."
The whole argument makes me so sad. I mean, it's not that either of these two issues are not important. They are. Quite. 

But, what does any of this have to do with "denominational mission"?

The analogous situation in The Episcopal Church is that we are talking - a lot - about "restructuring" and becoming "more nimble" in order to do "mission".

What that means, near as I can figure, is to centralize power and authority in the episcopacy and begin to pare down the structures in which the clergy and - especially - the laity have voice and decision-making authority.

But, what does any of that have to do with "denominational mission"?

As I said, it's not that these issues are not important. They are. Quite.

It's like the quote I heard recently about The Anglican Covenant - another attempt at circling the wagons and centralizing power. 

Someone (wish I knew who so I could give them credit because it's a brilliant analogy) said that it was like being attacked with a knife by someone with a very bad haircut.

You keep your eye on the knife, but you keep thinking to yourself, "That's a really bad haircut".

Yes, we need to restructure the institutional church. Jesus warned about pouring new wine into old wine skins. We need to pay attention to that.

We need to take care not to create change just for the sake of change 'lest we end up looking like we did in the 80s.  (Remember how 'cool' we thought we looked?)

And...and...AND... while we're temporarily distracted by that bad haircut, we need to remember that some folks are talking about 'change' and 'trimming budgets' and being more 'nimble' while they are wielding a knife which is aimed directly at carving out more power and authority for the institution.

I, for one, am not at all interested in any restructuring where the lines of power and authority go in an upward direction.

Talk to me about circular structures and shared power and authority and I'm all ears.

Talk to me about what you mean when you say 'mission' ... FIRST... and then we'll talk about all that other stuff around toxic congregations and burnt out clergy.

Until then, I think we should all just take a seat in the hair salon and look through some more catalogues and spend a bit more time in conversation.

I lived through the 80s.

I know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Our sisters

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am the priest I am today because of the witness and example of the Roman Catholic nuns of my youth.  They taught me to love the Gospel of Jesus Christ so much that I would be willing to take the risk of actually embodying it and putting it into action.

I pray for them daily - for their ministry with me and the ministry they continue to do in the Name of Jesus. Often, at great cost to themselves.

For those of us who grew up Roman Catholic, it was the nuns - not the priests - who taught us and our children in schools. They’ve run hospitals. They minister parishes where there is a shortage of clergy, keeping the faith and tending deeply inflicted wounds caused by the scandal of child abuse by Roman Catholic clergy. They’ve encouraged those committed to their care in good times and bad. Perhaps more than any other group within the church, they’ve shaped the faith of families and congregations.

The Vatican last week ordered an umbrella organization representing 80 percent of the sisters of America, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, to reform its programs to conform more closely to the official teachings of the church or face further disciplinary actions. 

It should be noted that the LCWR represents some 57,000 Catholic nuns, whose median age is 70.

To oversee the reform process, the Vatican has appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and given him wide-ranging power to oversee and direct LCWR as he reviews and revises the organization's policies.

No one should be surprised. This "process" actually began in 2008 when the “doctrinal assessment,” as it is known, was aimed at investigating the “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life.”

Mary Hunt, a feminist Roman Catholic theologian and one of my real heroes in the church, has written that:
[The Vatican] is trying to put LCWR in the untenable position of having its every conference, publication, and public utterance subject to episcopal veto.

The real aim, in my reading of the situation, is to replace LCWR with the Council of Major Superiors of Women (CMSW), a group of conservative, habit-wearing, bishop-obeying nuns that Rome has been cultivating all along. That group’s blueprint for religious life is expressed in The Foundations of Religious Life: Revisiting the Vision, a volume that reads like Vatican officials wrote it. Perhaps they did.
Although what is more disturbing is that the Vatican has set women up against one another. Conservative women religious collaborated on the Apostolic Visitation and will be appointed to the Archbishop Delegate’s Advisory Team.

The effort to rein in LCWR is meant as much to scare the rest of us into line as to corral the nuns. I can say with confidence that it won’t work.
I absolutely agree with Hunt's assessment. There are too many of us who were taught or cared for or tended to by these religious women not to see that this is an attempt, much like the Anglican Covenant, to cement the centralization of power within the institutional church.

Have you noticed? When people - especially men - with institutional power feel their power base being threatened - especially by women - they circle the wagons. 

Oh, and if the women don't assent to “the doctrine of the faith that has been revealed by God in Jesus Christ, presented in written form in the divinely inspired Scriptures, and handed on in the Apostolic Tradition under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium,” (or, simply, the fathers know best)? Well, the Vatican will simply close them down.

And, here's the thing: Take their property, sell it off, and pay off all the legal expenses incurred by the scandal of child abuse and pedophilia of their priests and the cover up of the church's hierarchy.

I don't know what makes me angrier - the fact that these men in black (or, red or purple, depending on their own sense of self importance) are doing this to these faithful religious women or that they think the rest of us can't see what's really going on here.

They really think the rest of us are stupid. And, they actually think they can get away with it.

Is there any arrogance quite the arrogance of the institutional church?

Nuns relinquish the opportunity to be wives and mothers and take vows of poverty in order to serve Christ without the pomp, perks and payoffs of priesthood. Many nuns are quite poor, have little vacation or recreation time. Most work very hard for low pay. Many nuns are quite well-educated, but unlike priests, who have always been exhorted to study, nuns have had to fight for education. In the context of medical issues and education of children, it is Roman Catholic nuns, not priests, who work in hospitals as health care professionals and and teach in schools. For very good reasons, the expertise of its women religious scares the Vatican.

Nuns are best and brightest of Roman Catholic religious.

So, why should an Episcopal priest - albeit one who was formerly Roman Catholic - care? Why should anyone - lay or ordained - of any denomination be concerned?

Well, can you say, "baptism"? Like it or not, admit it or not, they are our sisters.

Okay, can you say "sexism"? Or, "misogyny"?

How about these words: "War on Women"? It's not just for Republicans, you know. Indeed, they are emboldened by Evangelicals and ....wait for it....The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who have been the four-star generals of local skirmishes as well as on the national battle lines.

What can we do? Well, I intend to continue to pray for them daily, and will do so more fervently. I invite you to join me. All you have to do is simply shoot them a few "arrow prayers" a few times a day. I do that and read the Magnificat every morning, dedicating it to them.

Go over to FaceBook and "like" the group "Support Our Catholic Sisters". Leave a supportive message every once in a while, just so they know they've got wide ecumenical and interfaith friends.

I've also written a letter to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Delaware, telling him of my distress. I don't think it will make a difference. Indeed, I'm sure it's already in the "circular file," but if enough of these letters come in, maybe they won't be as smug.

I'm going to write to my Episcopal bishops and ask them to work this issue into their conversations with their Roman Catholic brothers. Again, not that I think that, alone, will make a difference, but because, cumulatively, I believe it may have a 'softening' effect on the way the process is implemented.

If you know of anything else we can do, please post it here and I'll support it.

I am the priest I am today because of these religious women. I am deeply grateful for their lives, their witness and their ministry.

If your life or the life of someone you know has been touched by a Roman Catholic nun, please show your gratitude. Please pray for them daily. Pray for God's justice to be done.

As the nuns of my youth taught me, "God hears the prayers of the righteous".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Uh-oh: No logo

General Convention, 2012, is almost upon us. It will take place in Indianapolis from July 5-12.  That's just seventy days from today.

This is the image for it. But, where's the theme?

I remember "Ubuntu" in Anaheim, 2009.  Lovely image, as I recall. Wish we'd have practiced more of it in our discussions and deliberations.

In 2006, in Columbus, it was, "Come and Grow". And, wow, did we ever! That was the convention where Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected the first woman to be Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church and our first Primate in the Anglican Communion. And, Bonnie Anderson was elected President of the House of Deputies. All in all, I think we followed our theme.

In remember we were in Minneapolis.  I remember General Convention confirmed Gene Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire. Everything else is pretty much a blur.

In 2000 we were in Denver, CO. I remember that one. It was "Jubilee". Frank Wade was Chaplain of the House of Deputies and gave daily meditations on the theme. They were absolutely stellar. I have it on tape. It's one of the reasons I still keep a tape recorder in the house - so I can listen to it from time to time.

I'd have to look at my coffee mug collection to tell you about 1997 and 1994.

I think there is an "unofficial" theme for General Convention, 2012: "Mission, Structure and Budget".  Clearly, that's what we're going to be talking about. A lot. Probably in reverse order.

Oh, and some on The Covenant. And, a bit on the proposed liturgies for Blessing Covenants along with some red hot resolutions from dioceses in states where there is Marriage Equality to change the marriage canons. And, some on Title IV in the Canons which deal with clergy misconduct. Oh, and there may be a bit of a stir about finally adopting "Holy Women, Holy Men" - mainly because there aren't as many holy women listed on the calendar as there are holy men.

Honestly? I think we're going to be elbow-deep in talking about the budget. Unfortunately, we'll also be talking a lot about restructuring so we can be "more nimble" in order to focus on "mission" (read: save money we don't have anyway).

But, as near as I can figure, there's no "official" theme for this General Convention.

Quel dommage! (What a pity!)

And, what a GREAT opportunity, right?

I mean, nature does abhor a vacuum and I'm mischievous enough to try and help fill it.

So, I've decided to have a little fun on today's blog. I'm going to start a contest.

Let's create our own Theme for General Convention 2012.

There will be three categories:
Theme song.
You can make them serious or funny, taking a few gentle jabs at our beloved church at the national and international level, just to let off some steam.

My serious theme is "Transparency and Transformation".

My not-so-serious theme song is .... well, I'm torn between two. Both are from The Stones.

The first is: "You Can't Always Get What You Want (but if you try sometime, you just may find, you get what you need)."

The second is: "Here Comes Your 19th Nervous Breakdown".

Logo: I think I'd go with a scene from the 'Wizard of Oz". On the Yellow Brick Road. With the Emerald City looming in the background. I'll let you decide who will be Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Cowardly Lion, and The Straw Man. Oh, and Toto, too.

Or, maybe something from Brigadoon. You know, that mythical Scottish village that arises from the mist for one day every 100 years. I'll let you decide on the figures of Tommy and Fiona and whether the theme song should be "Come to me, Bend to Me" or "Almost like being in love".

The winning entry will receive a personalized certificate of Plenary Indulgence - tastefully done on linen paper in calligraphy scroll - and written in the original Latin with a translation in English.  If you supply me your snail mail address, I will mail it to you.

Okay, kids. Are you ready?

Let's show the church that there is no paucity of imagination and creativity in the grassroots, where where we're already doing mission and we've got all the structure we need.  Once that's recognized, we'll find we have enough money to be the Church.

We just want our church's leadership to get out of the way and let us be the Body of Christ.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Praying for Reproductive Justice

I think my favorite pro-choice, anti-abortion quote comes from Frederica Mathewes-Green.

I like it not just because it's accurate, in my experience, but because Ms. Mathewes-Green was once an Episcopalian but left with her husband, a former Episcopal priest, to become Orthodox.

That's not "orthodox" with a small 'o' but with a capitol 'O'. You know. The real ones.

She said,
"No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg."
There are some, however, who refuse to believe that about a woman who has an abortion. They'd rather believe that most women have abortions of "convenience". Or, on a whim. Without the thought or prayer or....well....the agony that are all part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

These "anti-abortion" or "pro-life" folks believe in the 'power of prayer' and, for several years, have staged "40 Days for Life" - usually outside clinics where abortions are performed. Except, their prayers are designed not so much to reach the ears of God but those of the women who are entering the facility to talk about having an abortion or to have the procedure.

The point of their prayers is shame.  And, guilt.

Their prayers are all about shaming women into not having a legal, safe, medical procedure which may save her life and that of her family - a decision she has made "not lightly or inadvisedly but reverently and prayerfully".

The "40 Days for Life" people carry rosary beads and prayer books and crosses along with signs filled with gory images and messages like: "Abortion is Murder" and, "Repent" and "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and, "Abortion Kills" and, "Abortion Stops A Beating Heart" and, "She Has Her Daddy's eyes" and, .......

......... Well, you've seen them. You know.

Since this "40 Days for Life" campaign began in 2004, the movement claims to have saved the lives of more than 700 "unborn children" [sic] every year from abortion. This year, their website claims that, "For this campaign, we have received reports of 883 'babies' [sic] spared from abortion — that we know of!"

Four years ago, a UCC Minister named Reverend Rebecca Turner, who also directs Faith Aloud, a St. Louis-based nonprofit devoted to destigmatizing abortion, decided to run a parallel campaign called "40 Days of Prayer".

This year, a Planned Parenthood facility in Humboldt County, Northern California decided to promote the "40 Days of Prayer Campaign". The Six Rivers Planned Parenthood’s “Forty Days” programming runs from March 18 through April 27 with events at Episcopal, Methodist, Jewish, and Unitarian Universalist houses of worship.

A flier promoting the event includes these words: “We trust you to decide about your sexuality, having your children, and planning your family. We are religious leaders who value all human life.  We accept that religions differ about when life begins. We are here to help.”

“We believe that human life is holy. That’s why we believe in your right to choose to be a parent or not,” the pro-abortion religious leaders continue. “It can be helpful to talk with friends you trust, with licensed counselors, and with whatever religious person you choose.  Humboldt County Clergy are available to talk with you about the spiritual aspects of choice.  Find out more by calling Six Rivers Planned Parenthood.”

“Humboldt County Clergy for Choice invite you to set aside time with your family and community to support women and reproductive justice for 40 days from March 18th through April 27th."

The prayers are all contained in a pamphlet and include petitions such as:
“Day 1: Today we pray for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices." 
“Day 19: Today we pray for all pregnant women. May they be surrounded by loving voices.”  
“Day 30: Today we pray for women to throw away their secrets and claim their histories with power and truth.”
“Reasonable Christian people, when reading these prayers, understand that these are honest prayers for women,”  said Turner, who also developed this video which is played upon request for women in abortion clinics across the country.

“Whatever you decide to do, I want you to know that God is with you. God is with you right now in the abortion clinic,” Rev. Turner, wearing her collar, tells viewers in a gentle voice. “The Bible says that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.”

For women who struggle to integrate their reproductive choices with their spirituality, this message speaks directly to them. A common response is “Thank you, that’s what I needed to hear.” 

Apparently, there are more than a few unreasonable Christian people who have read the prayers and seen the video who do not want to hear this biblical message of God's unconditional love. Well, for themselves, perhaps, but not for those......those.....people. Those....feminazi murderers!

Fox News has, of course, been all over the story, as has Focus on the Family.

The National Director of “40 Days for Life” David Bereit told, “Planned Parenthood has stooped to a new low by exploiting pastors and churches to ‘celebrate’ the slaughter of babies made in God’s image and likeness.”

The inclusion of spirituality in the pro-choice movement, the Liberty Counsel proclaimed, was “comparable to the religious leaders in Germany who supported Adolf Hitler.”

Ah, see how these Christians love one another!

And, the point is that God is love. For everyone. Not just those who agree with our point of view. As St. Paul reminds us, nothing can separate us from the love of God - not abortion or those "good Christian folk" who hate women who make the informed decision to terminate their pregnancies and those men and women who help them.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you want to stop abortion then begin to work on the reasons most women have an abortion: poverty, hunger, no employment or under employment and lack of job training, poor resources for education, lack of access to good, quality, preventative health care - to name the most common situations women who find themselves trapped in the God-awful place where they have to consider terminating a pregnancy. 

Begin to reverse those conditions and you'll begin to see a sharp decrease in the number of abortions.

That takes an a sense of God's unconditional love for every single member of God's creation. And, an understanding of God's justice. And, hard work. And, commitment. And dedication.

Oh, and the belief that the lives of women are sacred, too, and that women are capable of making important decisions for themselves.

So, pray, sisters and brothers, for justice and mercy and the ability for all God's children to be able to walk humbly with God.

Today is Day 36 in the "40 Days of Prayer Campaign".

“Today we pray for an end to the stigma perpetrated against women who have abortions.”

And, let all God's people say, "Amen."

Monday, April 23, 2012

S. 1925

S.195 is the legislative bill, currently pending in the Senate and due to be voted on sometime this week, also known as VAWA or Violence Against Women Act. You can find the actual text of the bill by clicking here.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first authorized in 1994, creates and supports comprehensive, effective and cost saving responses to the crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. VAWA programs, administered by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, have dramatically changed federal, tribal, state, territorial and local responses to these crimes.

VAWA expires in 2011 and should be swiftly reauthorized to ensure the continuation of these vital, lifesaving programs and laws.

VAWA-funded programs have unquestionably improved the national response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. More victims are coming forward and receiving lifesaving services to help them move from crisis to stability, and the criminal justice system has improved its ability to keep victims safe and hold perpetrators accountable.

According to the Re-authorization of VAWA Fact Sheet, since VAWA was first passed in 1994:
* There has been as much as a 51% increase in reporting by women and a 37% increase in reporting by men.
* The number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men and the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased 53%.
* VAWA not only saves lives, it also saves money. In its first six years alone, VAWA saved taxpayers at least $14.8 billion in net averted social costs. A recent study found that civil protection orders saved one state (Kentucky) on average $85 million in a single year.
* States have passed more than 660 laws to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
* All states have passed laws making stalking a crime and strengthened laws addressing date rape and spousal rape.
The legislation expands the law's focus on sexual assault and ensures access to services for all victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Further, the reauthorization measure addresses domestic violence in tribal communities, strengthening concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction to give Indian tribes the authority to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over a defendant who commits domestic or dating violence or who violates protection orders in Indian country.

Native American women are 2.5 times more likely than other U.S. women to be battered or raped. One-third of native women will be raped in their lifetimes. Two-fifths will experience the tragedy of domestic violence.

Currently, criminal authority on reservations is limited to federal law enforcement agencies that can only prosecute misdemeanor crimes by non-Indians against American Indians/Alaska Natives on tribal land. Sadly, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67 % of sexual abuse and related matters that occurred in Indian country from 2005-2009

S.1925 (VAWA) also increases access to services for immigrant victims of violence and secures greater workplace protections for survivors of violence. 

So, what's the problem? I mean, especially since we've all been told that the War Against Women is just a political myth promulgated by the Democratic Party and "Feminazis". Everyone should get behind this bill, right?

Well, not exactly.

Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Kay Bailey Hutchison are working on another version of the bill that they say would reform some of what they feel are the bill’s flaws. 

True Republicans, their main concern seems to be that "using federal agencies to fund the routine operations of domestic violence programs that state and local governments could provide is a misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that truly are the province of the federal government".

You know. It's the old "No Big Government" argument. Unless, of course, we're talking about issues concerning a woman's body and the right a woman has to make her own decisions. That, apparently, is not a "distraction from concerns that truly are the province of federal government".

They also note that simply expanding the Violence Against Women Act framework with extensive new provisions and programs that have been inadequately assessed is sure to facilitate waste, fraud, and abuse and will not better protect women or victims of violence generally.

You know. It's the old, 'we need more time to study this problem' argument because we certainly don't want "waste, fraud and abuse" of federal money.  Never mind that VAWA has demonstrated, over the years, that it has actually saved money.

We've been at this since 1994, folks. We've learned a few things. We know stuff, now. It's called "social science". Oops. Wait. I just said 'science' didn't I? How elitist of me!

Oh, and there are some concerns that under current law, people — who are mostly men — who are accused of domestic violence have few legal safeguards or rights, even when they face imprisonment, fines, loss of property and loss of access to their children. For example, accusers can get federally-funded lawyers, but defendants don’t get federal aid.

Defendants also lack many standard legal rights available to criminals and defendants in civil suits. For example, immigrants spouses who accuse their spouses of domestic violence can get permanent visas, while their spouses can’t confront them in court.

So, because the general legal framework for defendants and immigration needs some work - to understate the problem just a tad -  we just keep allowing violence against women go unabated, right?  I mean, what a distraction from "concerns that truly are the province of the federal government"!

Furthermore, there's a little thing called "evidence". You can't just bring a charge of violence without some proof, and all cases in court have to have some evidence - even for things you can't see with the naked eye, like broken ribs and loose teeth or psychological trauma. However, X-rays and dental exams and psychological reports do count as evidence - thanks to the 1994 VAWA.

Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies for The Episcopal Church, who is a strong supporter of S.1925, wrote, in part (and, I encourage you to read her entire statement):
Today we have an opportunity through new provisions in the Violence Against Women Act to provide a path for justice. I encourage you to take action through the Episcopal Public Policy Network to urge the Senate to pass the Violence Against Women Act with the tribal protection provisions intact.

In our baptismal covenant we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” The safety and protection of all women from violence and abuse is not a political issue. It is a moral issue for all Americans, and for all the baptized, it is a Christian issue.
Against the War on Women? Want to do something to support S.1925, the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, please call or write your senator(s) today and urge them to vote YES.

Don't know who they are? You can find out by clicking here and you will not only find their names but all of their contact information, including email and phone number.

And, work through your own judicatory networks to spread the word and let your judicatory leaders know that our legislators are influenced by their religious voices.

Episcopalians can depend on the Episcopal Public Policy Network to be on the case.

Click on the link and EPPN, plug in your zip code, and they will help you locate your Senators and send a message to them.

It will take less than a minute to have an impact.

And, it could save a life. And, a family. 

It's not just about "family values". It's about valuing all families - enough to protect them against violence in any form.

That's something that is a concern that "truly is the province of the federal government".

If not, it ought to be.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

While in their joy they were disbelieving....

Agnus Day
“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering….” Luke 24:36-48
Easter III – April 22, 2012 - St. George’s, Harbeson, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

In these three weeks since Easter Day, we’ve been hearing a great deal about the Resurrection. Last week, as we often do after Easter, we heard the Gospel story about Thomas. St. John takes great pains to make sure to tell us that Thomas actually put his fingers into the wounds of Jesus before he would believe. John wants to make sure that no one has any doubt that this is the real, full bodied, fully resurrected Jesus who made this appearance.

This week’s gospel brings us the story of Jesus appearing to the 11 disciples. Luke takes great pains to make sure that we know that it is the actual, physical presence of Jesus, complete with wounded hands and feet. Jesus invites the 11 to touch his flesh and bones – “….for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,"  he says.

As if that weren’t enough, Jesus asks a very human question, “Have you anything to eat?” Luke reports that they gave him a piece of broiled fish and, in their very presence, he took it and ate it.

So, the case is being made. Carefully. Meticulously. See? Jesus is not some “Johnny-Come-Lately” faux Messiah like those who were all over ancient Israel at that time. Jesus is the Real Deal, the real Messiah, because he was really resurrected. No, really. Really Resurrected. In his whole body. Complete with identifiable wounds. And, an appetite.

And, what are the words we hear applied to those who witnessed the Resurrected Jesus? Here are a few: Astonished. Startled. Terrified. Frightened. Doubting. Joyful. Disbelieving. Wondering.

If you listened to the words of this morning’s gospel account of the Resurrection and found yourself astonished or startled or doubting or any one of those things, you can take heart. You’re in good company. So were the apostles.

As for Jesus, well, he seems completely nonplussed by the “disbelief and wonder” of the apostles. While it seems Very Very important to the disciples, it does not seem to matter much to Jesus whether or not you believe in his resurrection. Indeed, he seems more concerned about getting something to eat than anything else.

I’ve discovered that so much of what some parts of the Christian church want us to believe is so unbelievable as to challenge your faith.  Indeed, there are some Christians who make things like the bodily Resurrection of Jesus – or the Virgin Birth, or the inerrancy of Scripture – an acid test for “true Christianity”.   

Either you believe them or you’re not a “Real Christian”.

I’ve actually been told this, just recently. At the Giant Supermarket. In the frozen food section. 

One woman informed me that she believed that I’m not a “Real Christian” because, well, for one thing, I don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. 

I believe the bible is a guidebook, not a rulebook. 

Well, apparently, I flunked the test and I suppose I’m in danger of having my baptismal certificate revoked. I’m waiting for the knock to come on my door any day now.  She actually asked me if I, like Thomas, needed to put my hands in the side of Jesus before I believed. 

I said, No, I have faith in God so I don’t have to prove my belief in what you believe. I thought she was going to slug me. Or, have a heart attack. Thankfully, she walked away. In total disgust.

Here’s the thing: faith is not the same as belief. 

Indeed, there is a distinct difference between belief and faith. For me, belief is a principle, a proposition, or an idea that is accepted as true. The Resurrection, for example, is a belief that is accepted by many Christians as true.

Faith, on the other hand, is the confident assurance in the character and nature of God; a strong or unshakable belief in something, without proof or evidence. You don’t need to have a set of beliefs in order to have faith, but it helps to have faith when listening to what others want you to believe about God or Jesus.

One of my favorite stories about belief and faith comes from Astronaut Jim Lovell who flew as captain of Apollo-13. Some of you may remember the movie about that flight which featured Tom Hanks. 

Lovell was once asked by a TV reporter: Is there a specific instance in an airplane emergency when you can recall fear?

Thanks to Google, I’ve found the transcript of Lovell’s response. This is what he said: 
Uh well, I'll tell ya, I remember this one time - I'm in a Banshee at night in combat conditions, so there's no running lights on the carrier. It was the Shrangri-La, and we were in the Sea of Japan and my radar had jammed, and my homing signal was gone... because somebody in Japan was actually using the same frequency. And so it was - it was leading me away from where I was supposed to be. And I'm lookin' down at a big, black ocean, so I flip on my map light, and then suddenly: zap. Everything shorts out right there in my cockpit. All my instruments are gone. My lights are gone. And I can't even tell now what my altitude is. I know I'm running out of fuel, so I'm thinking about ditching in the ocean. And I, I look down there, and then in the darkness there's this uh, there's this green trail. It's like a long carpet that's just laid out right beneath me. And it was the algae, right? It was that phosphorescent stuff that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship. And it was - it was - it was leading me home. You know? If my cockpit lights hadn't shorted out, there's no way I'd ever been able to see that. So uh, you, uh, never know... what... what events are to transpire to get you home.
I think faith is the algae in the baptismal water – it’s that long, phosphorous green light that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship and leads you home in the darkness even though you are like those early 11 apostles:  Astonished. Startled. Terrified. Frightened. Doubting. Joyful Disbelieving and Wondering. 

As Verna Dozier, that incredible saint of The Episcopal Church who did so much to educate the laity and clergy of this church, once said, "Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do about what you say you believe."

So, not to worry if all this talk of the bodily resurrection of Jesus confounds or confuses you. And, not to worry if you find that you can’t yet fully believe in this belief which is held so dear by so many who consider themselves “true” or “real” Christians. 

You are a "real Christian" by virtue of your baptism. Don't let anyone tell you any different. 

As Patrick Overton once famously said about faith: “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, faith teaches us that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.” 

And, I think, that’s really the point of the Resurrection: to fly into faith, believing and trusting in God.   


Saturday, April 21, 2012

They Say It's My Birthday

Well, as I look at my FaceBook page, it certainly looks as if something's going on. I guess it's my birthday. I am amazed at the number of wonderful birthday wishes and that some people have actually taken the time to write something personal.

Lovely. Just lovely. Thank you all so very much.

I've also gotten a few phone calls this morning - people want to know what I'm doing on my birthday.

Well, it's Saturday. Ms. Conroy is off this weekend (It's her birthday tomorrow.). She's still a Good Roman Catholic Girl who grew up in the 50's and 60s.  Saturday is for chores.

So, we're shampooing the rugs today.

Yes way.

She's Irish. 4,000 years of slavery and all that.  To quote Yeats, "Being Irish, she has an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustains her through temporary periods of joy."

And then, we head out to purchase our joint birthday present: a wicker entertainment amoire for the living room to replace the big, heavy, bulky one we got third-or-fourth hand about 10 years ago when it really didn't matter because this was just a vacation home.

We sorta kinda like this one for $275, but there's another one that's a little lighter in color (honey) and doesn't have the slots for DVDs but it does have a swivel base for the TV and looks like lots of storage space that's selling for about $195.  

We'll have to see when we get to the store over in Georgetown and I get to touch it and feel it and imagine it in my living room.

Ms. Conroy will sit in one of the chairs, a lovely scowl on her face, reading something on her Kindle. Every once in a while, she'll raise her head in response to something I've said or a question I've asked and say, "What?..... Well, get the one you really like."

And then she'll ask, "Are we done yet?"

I'm trying to convince her to go out to dinner tonight but if not tonight then definitely tomorrow when it's HER birthday. We can't have too much excitement on one day, you see. Shampooing floors and purchasing an amoire all on one day is really quite enough.  Well, for that Irish lass, at least.

There'll be church in the morning (I'm preaching) and then breakfast and then, depending on the weather, either some yard work or a movie, and then, if we haven't gone out to dinner tonight, I'll try a full court press to head over to one of our favorite restaurants in Rehoboth Beach - other than Dos Locos, of course - for some fabulous fish.

A beautiful vase of flowers just arrived to brighten up the living room, which prompts me to say the only real whimsically philosophical thing I have to say about birthdays:

Whatever shape or form - FaceBook, text, IM, phone call, flowers, chocolates, an actual old-fashioned birthday card in the mail or a lovely email card from Hallmark or Jacqui Lawson - it's really just lovely to be remembered on your birthday.

I'm grateful for another year of life, for health and happiness, a lovely, comfortable home with a magnificent view of Rehoboth Bay, a wonderful family, three pups who entertain us daily and a large circle of friends scattered like wheat around the country who all come together to make the nutritious bread of our lives.

Oh, and chocolate.

Life is good, and the rugs are clean.

Now, if the Red Sox can have a winning good season.............

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Mommy Wars

Politics often provides us with the Theater of the Absurd, but, recently, it has surpassed the boundaries of 'absurd' and fallen into the Deep Well of The Ridiculous.

Some members of the Republican Party, aided and abetted by Fox News, have a penchant for creating a raging controversy out of absolutely nothing.

They've done it before with ACORN and the President's birth certificate.

The latest example is The Hillary Rosen - Ann Romney "Mommy Wars".

If you haven't been paying attention - and really, why would you except it's so hard to avoid bumping into this story every where you turn? - it all started when Hillary Rosen, a CNN commentator,  made a comment about Ann Romney.

She said, and I quote, "Ann Romney hasn't worked a day in her life".

WELL! You might have thought Ms. Rosen accused Ms. Romney of being a welfare queen!

To be truthful, Ms. Rosen ought to have added two words "for pay" - but she was, in fact, responding to a ludicrous comment by Mitt Romney that, despite being a multimillionaire, he can identify with average Americans because his wife keeps him informed of what working-class women are thinking.

Ah, context. Pesky thing, that.

Makes a bit more sense now, right? You know. Like reading scripture in context.

The truth is, as Rosen was trying to point out, Ann Romney, in her life of luxury as a mother of five -- with multiple homes, dressage horses and Cadillacs -- has no more idea what it's like to struggle as a single-mom waitressing in Las Vegas or Kansas City than Mitt does. But, with Ann Romney's help and the forces of Fox News, some Republicans quickly turned Rosen's comment into an attack on all stay-at-home mothers.

Gloria Steinem, one of the mothers of the Feminist Movement, called the whole thing "stupid", saying:
“The women’s movement has spent 40 years saying there are women who work at home and women who work outside the home, in order to make clear that homemakers work harder than any class of worker," Steinem said. "But what is distinguishing about the Romney situation is that they’re rich. [Ann Romney] doesn’t have to worry about money. And that’s what [Rosen] meant. So don’t make any more of it. It’s stupid.”
Except, of course, it was a little political ploy to divert attention from the "War on Women".

Nice try, guys, but no cigar.

I have to say that my personal favorite comment came from the Catholic League:

Isn't that just the BEST?

"Lesbian Dem" who adopted vs. the Mormon mom who "raised five of her own".

I don't think you can fall deeper into the "Deep Well of The Ridiculous" than that.

The debate seems centered on the premise that all two-parent families have a choice as to whether one or both work. That's still true for upper middle class families but this choice is denied to most American families who have had to sent two people into the workforce whether they wanted to or not.

Perhaps the generals on the front line of the War on Women also want to divert our attention from a study released this week by the Center for American Progress, which notes:
"In 2010, among families with children, nearly half (44.8%) were headed by two working parents and another one in four (26.1%) were headed by a single parent. As a result, fewer than one in three (28.7%) children now have a stay-at-home parent, compared to more than half (52.6% in 1975, only a generation ago."
These changes have more to do with economics and the continued inequities of the tax code system than anything to do with the "mommy-wars" - getting the "little women" to argue among themselves over the sacred American cultural icon of "motherhood" - which some Republicans are now trying to wage in order to divert attention from the War on Women.

Breadwinning wives are even more common in families with lower incomes, according the the CAP report:
"Seven in 10 (67%) working wives earn as much or more than their husbands in the bottom 20% of income distribution for all families. And about half (45.3%) of working wives are breadwinners in families in the middle of the income distribution, up from four in ten (39.1% in 2007 and only 15.2% in 1967."
So, as Joe Biden often says, "here's the deal": If you want more households in which one parent can stay home with the kids, you need to boost the incomes of average American families - and especially of poorer families.

Gloria Steinem is right: The "Mommy Wars" are "stupid". For millions of American moms (and dads), debates about "feminism" or "social conservatism" are irrelevant.

It's about money.

The irony is that when conservatives are trying to win votes from religious and social traditionalists, they clearly want to restore what they think are the "glory days" of the 1950s family - immortalized by television shows like "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" - but they refuse to acknowledge that it was the high wages of (often unionized) workers that underwrote these arrangements.

The thing of it is that Ann Romney had - and, continues to have - choices. God Bless her. She seems to have done a good job with her brood of five. Mazel Tov!

Choice, however, is the byproduct of justice. Which is why, in the Reproductive Rights Movement, we have begun to shift our language from "Reproductive Choice" to "Reproductive Justice".

In some states in America, if a woman who lives in poverty has to scrape together bus money to visit an abortion clinic that is a few hundred miles away, she's not going to also have the money for a hotel room where she must wait out the 24 hour period, now required in many states, before she can have the abortion. She has the "right" to an abortion, but the injustice of poverty prevents her from access to making a good "choice" for herself and her family.

And, if she has that child anyway? Well, she knows she's not going to be able to count on getting help from the same people who limited her reproductive rights to now raise that child. Indeed, she's going to get judgement heaped upon judgement for getting pregnant in the first place (as if she could do that all on her own) in the form of social stigma and very limited, albeit fragile, assistance to help her feed, clothe and shelter her family - not to mention no assistance in helping her out of her poverty.

When there is justice in our economic system, more families will have more choices to determine the number of children they will have and raise their families in the way that is best for them.

Perhaps Ms. Romney can "report" that to her husband.

If he'll listen.

Then again, maybe probably not. It won't get him votes in November.

Gloria Steinem says this about the choices we face at the polls: “We’ve rarely had a more clear choice," she said, "between 100 percent hostility on the Romney side and 80 percent support on the Obama side.”

I don't know about you, but I'm not getting into the "Mommy Wars". I'm not stupid. I can do the math. I know which lever to pull in the voting booth to get better odds at actually winning the War on Women.

I think lots of Mommies (and Daddies) - and millions of other women (and men) - know that, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Words Matter: Empathy vs. Judgement

I am so jazzed about what I'm learning I just had to share some of it with you.

Some of you know that I'm attending the Board Meeting of the RCRC - Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice - based in Washington, DC.

We - people of all faiths: Christian, Jew, Muslims - are meeting today with Representatives and Senators on Capitol Hill regarding issues of Reproductive Choice and Justice.

Well, the word is actually "lobbying" but we don't want to say that, exactly. Which, in fact,  gets directly to my point.

Which is: Words matter. A. Lot. More than we realize. Especially in the super-heated political climate that is our current national reality.

It really is 1984, kids. And, Big Brother is not only watching, he's listening. Closely. Very, very closely.

To. Every. Word.

It's all about how you frame the discussion. It's about connection. And, it's about the power of story.

It's all about relationships - the one thing the church says She's all about and yet fails miserably.

It's not about proving your point or making sure your opponent knows that you are right (right as you may be), but eliciting from your opponent not a sense of judgment or righteousness, but rather, a sense of empathy.

Here's the thing: We know that the Religious Right is wrong. Very wrong. But they have won many of their arguments on the mere supposition that they are right and to be right is to "win" - to be "superior".

And, in this time of economic fragility, superiority has a currency all its own.

We know of another regime which will not be mentioned which killed millions of people who were considered "outcasts" because they did not fit the narrow description of what "they" determined was "right". Or "good". Or "normal". Or "superior".

We are in serious (no, I mean serious) danger of repeating history.

We do not want to become what we reject. What irony! So, the idea is to move from the repugnant judgment of the Right to a stance of empathy.

For example:

Yes, we want to protect the religious liberty, conscience and health of all individuals by opposing attempts which would allow discrimination by religiously-affiliated institutions.

Liberty means protecting choices, not eliminating them.

Instead of talking about "choices" we want to talk about "personal decision making".

We want to affirm dignity, respect, empathy, families.

It is a big job to be a parent and every woman needs to be able to decide when she wants to become a parent so she can be the best parent she can possibly be and share that parenting with a man who will be a great father to their child.

We want to move away from the self-satisfaction of calling someone "anti-choice" to a place where we can say that they are what they are: people who think that a woman can't be trusted to make her own decision.

It doesn't trip off the tongue as easily and it's not as self-satisfying as throwing judgement at judgement, but it not only says what is truth but....and this is important....elicits empathy.

We want to acknowledge that it's okay to differ - this is, after all, America - and this is not about "them" or "they" but "us". Americans. Dedicated to the idea of liberty and justice FOR ALL.

And then, we want to back all of that up with personal stories.

As one person pointed out: "They may forget what you said, but they'll never forget how you made them feel."

It was very humbling as well as deeply enlightening to hear these young people prep us for our meetings with Representatives and Senators on Capitol Hill. This is the stuff of true religions - to be humble. To not boast or judge. To 'lay your life down for a friend".

In the end, I think this will win the war. Oh, we'll lose a few skirmishes and even a few battles, but empathy and not judgment will win the war.

And, make no mistake: this is a war. It's a Jihad being waged by the evangelicals and Roman Catholics. I don't like that language any more than you do, but it is what it is.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Those are the first words of the first chapter of John's Gospel.

Words matter.

Word to your mother.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

All in a Twitter

Well, I've gone and done what I said I'd never do.

I activated a Twitter Account.

Le sigh! was for a good cause.

That would be RCRC - The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. I am so incredibly impressed by the young team of Grassroots Organizers and Policy Activists and Staff! They are smart and well educated and passionate and well informed and skilled and creative and....wait for it...totally committed to using religion as a vehicle for social justice.


These kids (well, 18-35) are Roman Catholic and Methodist and Episcopalian and Lutheran and Presbyterian and UCC and UUA and Jew and Orthodox and Muslim. They know their religion and hate (as in loathe and detest) what religion is doing / has done in the political and legislative arenas.

So, they are out there, in the thick of the weeds, working the system and trying to bring about change. I LOVE it. It is so amazingly infectious!

I'm not fond of Twitter but I want to be part of this action. The future of the world is in great hands, y'all - even if they hold it in their hands as they twitter on their smart phones.

So, a young woman who is a great policy developer and activist named Kelsey helped me set up my account, gave me a few instructions, and off I went, deeper into the deep recesses of cyberspace.

Just so we're clear, let me make the following statement: I. Have. No. Idea. What. I. Am. Doing.

Which is pretty scary when, on Twitter, you have "followers". I mean, I don't know what the heck I'm doing much less where I am or where I'm going with this, and yet, people can "follow" me.


Well, I've never let lack of information get in the way of taking a bold step into something new. There is some comfort in knowing that I'm following others. I'll just watch them and learn as I go.

I'm off to a workshop to learn some lobbying techniques. We spend all of tomorrow afternoon on Capitol Hill. I'll probably pick up some more Twitter accounts to follow. Congressional staff people, I'm told, are highly influential on our elected officials, depending on what they read on FaceBook and Twitter. So, I guess I got a Twitter account just in the nick of time.

It's a brave new world out there and I'm twittering in my boots.

I'm joining a dear friend whose prayer is, "Please God, no more technological social media until I get so old that my mind goes and I don't care anymore."

Amen. Amen. Alleluia, Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Opa! My Big Phat Greek Easter

I'm writing this on the train, headed from Boston to Washington, DC where, beginning tomorrow morning, I will attend my very first meeting of the national board of RCRC, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

I will attend spiritually fortified and definitely well-fed.

I've already written about the liturgy. I've hinted at the food. There's no real way to describe a Greek festive meal - it is really to be eaten and experienced and enjoyed -  but I'm going to give it a try.

First of all, the over-arching theme of such meal - like most things festive and Greek - seems to be "Nothing succeeds like excess."

We begin with the guests. There were 14 of us. I'm told that this is "down" from past years. I can't imagine how any more of us could fit at that table but then again, I don't have the benefit of a Greek imagination. Clearly, this is my loss.

We begin the meal with appetizers. You know. So one can build up an appetite for the main course. There were: water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and baked in a tangy sauce. There were little triangular pies made of philo dough and feta cheese. Just in case this wasn't enough, or for those who wanted something without the same amount of fat, there were these little steamed wantons filled with ground pork and veggies which you could dip in a marvelous terryaki sauce.

All these appetizing beauties were served while various ones of us chopped potatoes or carrots or apples or onion or parsley or dill or garlic whatever else needed chopping, and/or the spinach was squeezed of excess water within an inch of its life.

Others of us organized the Kayro syrup - I counted the use of five bottles (used as a 'short cut' for the simple syrup used for the baklava - walnut pie - and the galaktoboureko - custard pie).

Others of us were tending to the butter - I lost count of the pound cartons at around 12 or 14. This was used for the baklava and the spanakopita and the Greek Easter Bread and, I think, just about every other dish on the table. At the end of the meal, there were six one pound cartons left on the counter. Our host breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Oh, thank God. I was afraid there wouldn't be enough. Somebody put them in the freezer downstairs, please. The church is having a booth at the Marathon in Lexington tomorrow. We'll need them."

My arteries groaned just thinking about the amount of butter we had consumed.

Oh, but wait! There's more.

There was roasted leg of lamb AND a huge bone-in ham. And, in case you didn't like either of these, there was an amazing tomato-based casserole of HUGE bay scollops and shrimp which you could have on a bed of rice. (Which, I did). Or, roasted garlic potatoes. Or, you could have it in addition to some lamb and/or ham (Which I didn't).

You no like? You vegetarian? No problem. We got a HUGE tray of spinach and feta cheese pie in philo dough (spanakopita).

Tsoureki and Galaktoboureko
To accompany all of this, we were presented with some amazing curried carrots, the aforementioned roasted garlic potatoes and rice, a pan of incredible apples with nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice, and, lest we should all starve and waste away, some soft, yummy bread (slathered with some of that butter) and a lovely salad.

Better save room for some dessert, because, ready or not, here it comes.

There was a HUGE pan of baklava - the thickest pieces I've ever seen crammed full of chopped walnuts and crushed graham cracker shells with each layer of philo dough absolutely drenched with butter and then completely soaked with heated Kayro Syrup.

You no like baklava? What, you crazy? Okay, okay. Never mind. We got Galaktoboureko, an egg custard cooked in layers of philo dough, drenched with butter and then completely soaked with heated Kayro Syrup.

From the outside, it looks very much like a tray of baklava. Inside? Oh....My....God.....

There was also that amazing Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki) with the red egg in honor of Mary Magdalene, the first one ever to witness and proclaim the Resurrection (more about this in a minute).

And, of course, some chocolates and cookies to much on while sipping your coffee or tea or mastika (brandy liqueur). Or, maybe you like a little mastika in your coffee? Okay, so, you like? You have.

Christos Anesti! Opa

Then, when you think you can't move another inch or you'll explode - or, you're afraid you will - there comes the breaking of the Red Mary Magdalene Egg. Well, the point is not to try to get your egg broken. You can see that each person got one on their plate before the meal was served.

The hostess begins by reciting an ancient Easter prayer in Greek and then, taking the "pointed" end of the red egg at the "pointed" end of your red egg, taps it quickly. If your red egg cracks, she moves on until someone's egg cracks hers.

Then, that person begins to make the rounds of the table until the last un-cracked red egg remains standing and that person is declared the official recipient of a special Easter blessing.

Opa! Alithos Anesti!

So, as the Greeks are of't wont to say, there you go. My Big Phat Greek Easter Dinner, which is bound to make me Very Fat.

I think I'm going to need a Lenten Fast just to recover from Easter Dinner.

I know. You're worried about all the leftovers. Yes, believe it or not, there were leftovers. I think our hostess cooked enough to feed a small village outside of Athens. Which, I think, was her point.

The Boston Marathon is today and will be coming through Lexington later this morning, which is the location of her Greek Orthodox Church. A group of people from her church got up at 3 AM today and began cooking Gyros and other Greek delicacies to sell to the crowds who gather to watch and cheer the runners as they come by.

I have no doubt there will be lots of people paying top dollar for the remnants of yesterday's bounty which we so thoroughly enjoyed.

So, as my Greek friends say, there you go. It all works out and everybody is happy and well fed. God is glorified and the church benefits.

Me? I think I'm going to take a nap on the train before tomorrow's round of meetings. I'm full all over again, just talking about what I ate.