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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Geography and Identity

One of these days, I'm going to remember to make time, in my travels as a Hospice Chaplain around the western part of Sussex County, DE, to stop, get out of the car, and take some pictures.

Let the reader understand: Sussex County (AKA "Lower, Slower Delaware" or "LSD") is the southernmost, largest and oldest geographical county of the three counties in the "first state" of Delaware. The first European settlement in the state of Delaware was founded in 1631 near the present-day town of Lewes - in the eastern part of the county.

The three counties in Delaware are Sussex, Kent and New Castle. The three major cities in each of those counties are Georgetown, Dover and Wilmington.

The eastern portion of the county is home to most of Delaware's beaches and many seaside resorts.  Almost 23% of the entire county is made up of water. The western side of the county is the center of Delaware's agriculture industry with more acres of arable land under cultivation than anywhere else in the state.

I believe someone once told me that Sussex County, DE is the largest geographical county east of the Mississippi. I believe it.

I once had a patient in Gumboro - in the west - and had to "rush" to a patient in Bethany Beach who was actively dying and whose family was calling for the chaplain. It took me over an hour and a half - almost two hours - to get there.  Yes, I was doing the speed limit (25 mph in some places, but mostly 50 mph). No, I didn't get lost - although my GPS system doesn't always discriminate between "streets," "lanes," "roads," and "avenues".  Sometimes, the directions on the patient's chart say, "turn into the driveway next to the rusted, bent, unmarked mailbox".

You can get there from here. It just takes some time, is all.

It's also the most conservative part of the state. Here's a clue: Sussex County was the only county of three to vote for Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell.

Can you say, "Tea Party"?

You can still spot people proudly sporting their "Christine O'Donnell for US Senate 2010" T-shirts at the market or gas station.

These folks are nothing if not loyal.

One patient explained it to me this way: "People who live off the land live close to nature. We know how nature is supposed to work. We understand the natural order of things. Killing your own baby 'fore its born ain't natural. Neither is homosexuality. And, every man's got a right to a gun."

I just smile and nod my head and say, "Ah." Just, "Ah." And then I say, "Is that your wedding picture there on the wall? You look so happy. Tell me about that day......"

Driving around the eastern and western portions of Sussex County sometimes feels like you have fallen off the map and are in a different reality altogether.  The east couldn't be more different from the west. While the east has its share of farms, it is mostly oriented to the resort areas. The west includes miles and miles and miles of farms - chicken, mostly, but dairy, horse, goat and even one fairly large bison farm. There are also acres and acres of corn and cash crop. 

Much of it looks fairly idyllic, but some of it just screams of poverty. Trailer homes with rusted downspouts and fallen down porches and patched up roofs with untold numbers of "dead vehicles" and rusted automotive parts and chickens and cats in the front yard. I feel sad just looking at it.

Sometimes, I have patients in those homes. Some are amazingly clean and homey - lots of pictures of family everywhere - with wonderful, strong, loving families who live there.

Others are beyond filthy - stacks of old newspapers everywhere, cluttered with plastic laundry bags filled with "stuff", reeking to high heaven of stale cigarette smoke, grease, body odor and cat excrement - where people with limited education (6-10th grade), basic skills (car mechanics and woodworking and canvass repair and alterations and truck drivers), with less than basic coping mechanisms to deal with illness and the grinding poverty they've known for generations and will most likely never escape.  And lots and lots of all the attendant drama.

So now you know where I spend most of my days.

I'm especially intrigued by the signs that are in front of some of these homes and the untold stories waiting to be told behind their messages.

There's this one sign outside a home. Wooden. Hand painted. On the left is the message: "Antique and vintage guns. Ammunition. Fireworks." On the right is the message: "Pretty Curls Hair Salon." Across the bottom is the message: John 3:16.

Besides the picture it paints of the family in that house, that sign brings a whole new definition to "Mom and Pop store," right?

There is no paucity of small, community, non-denominational churches that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Ex nihilo.  In the western part of the county, nearer the Maryland border, there seems to be a plethora of Mennonite Churches. And, near them, hardware stores and automotive repair shops, gas stations and woodworking shops and stores that sell handmade furniture.

When I'm out in the western part of the county, I frequently pass by this one Mennonite Church with a very intriguing sign which I've grown to love. Indeed, I look for it when I'm in that particular neck of the woods. It says.
Church is an identity, not an activity.
I keep meaning to take a picture of it and send it around to a few churches and dioceses, but I fear I'll just be wasting my time.

"Church is an identity, not an activity." What if we all began to understand that? And, live it out?

The earliest Creedal statement was very simple but highly radical and particularly dangerous to the People of the Way: "Jesus is Lord. We are the Body of Christ." (1 Corinthians 12 - especially vs. 27).

That profession of faith proclaims that no earthly leader has more power or authority than Jesus. And, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us at the Resurrection, Jesus lives in us.

As I said, at the time, that was a very dangerous statement of faith.

Christians who embrace the catholicity of the church understand that our identity flows from the Nicene Creed's statement of the identity of the church as being "one, holy, catholic and apostolic."

From this foundational identity flows three characteristics - or, what Pope Benedict called "the church's deepest identity" - Proclamation (of the word). Celebration (of the sacraments). Charity (caring for the poor, the hungry, those in prison, and those in any need AKA Mission and Ministry). 

Benedict says that these three elements of the "deepest identity" of the church “presuppose each other and are inseparable.”

In other words, if the Church’s charitable works are disconnected from the others - proclaiming God’s word and the sacraments - it becomes disconnected from the whole and takes on another identity.

It remains a "good work," to be sure, one which can be - and, indeed, is often - done by those in the secular arena - but it is not part of the "deepest identity" of the church.

And, and, ..... AND.... if the sacraments are not accompanied by carrying out the mission of the church, it, too, is disconnected. So, too, with the Proclamation of the Word.

Now, I'm not a big fan of "Papa Bennie," and this might not happen again in my lifetime, but I find myself in strong agreement with him on this one.

I'm also in strong agreement with the Mennonites: "Church is an identity, not an activity."

What great company, right? Smack dab between the Mennonites and the Pope.

These two visions of the church are signs and symbols of life and vitality and faith.  Our charitable activity (mission and ministry) flows from who we know ourselves to be ("Jesus is Lord. We are the Body of Christ"), which is shaped by how we pray (celebration of the sacraments).

Proclamation. Celebration. Charity.

Identity. Prayer. Mission.

One without the other just isn't authentic. Not if you call yourself a church.

Whether we know it or not, whether we intend it or not, we reveal more about ourselves than we imagine without ever even opening our mouths.

Whether there's a sign outside our homes or how we just go about our lives, living the best we can, we send powerful messages about our understanding of who we think we are and our vision of who and what we can become.

It's a little like this: You couldn't get more different that the eastern part of Sussex County than the west. It just wouldn't be authentically Lower, Slower Delaware without them both. 

Georgetown. Dover. Wilmington. Three very different cities in three very different counties.

Sussex. Kent. New Castle.

Each one adds to the richness and diversity of the entire "First State".

Church is an identity, not an activity.

That'll preach!  It'll also work. If we let it. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


It was not exactly a big-ticket news item, but my ears certainly perked up when I heard the news.

Sarah Palin's million-dollar contract with Fox News has not been renewed.

Or, to use a word from the Palin Lexicon: She has been refudiated.

That's a word she created on Twitter when she wrote, "Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate."

She says she created the word that was named "Word of the Year" by the New Oxford American Dictionary when:
"I pressed an F instead of a P and people freaked out," said Sarah, pointing out that her blunder was the second-most-searched word on Google trends. "Make lemonade out of lemons," said Sarah.
Except, of course, that the 'F' and 'P' keys on a QWERTY keyboard are not near each other.

That never stopped Our Sarah. That kind of creativity can only come from Ms. Palin, when asked in a 2008 interview with Katie Couric, which newspapers or magazines she read, and her response was: "All of 'em, any of 'em that have been in front of me over all these years." 

She's also the undisputed Queen of Teh Stoopid, earning her crown when she wrote about Benghazi:
"Why the lies? Why the cover up? Why the dissembling about the cause of the murder of our ambassador on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil? We deserve answers to this. President Obama's shuck and jive shtick with these Benghazi lies must end."
Yup. She said that about the President of the United States. Who happens to be a Black man.

When she explained herself, however, she earned a jewel in her crown:
"I’ve been known to use the phrase most often when chastising my daughter Piper to stop procrastinating and do her homework. As she is part Yup’ik Eskimo, I’m not sure if this term would be deemed offensive when it’s directed at her or if it would be considered benign as in the case of Chris Matthews’ use of it in reference to Rachel Maddow," she wrote. "Just to be careful, from now on I’ll avoid using it with Piper, and I would appreciate it if the media refrained from using words and phrases like igloo, Eskimo Pie, and 'when hell freezes over,' as they might be considered offensive by my extended Alaska Native family."
Even Teh Stoopid has its own sort of brilliance, as amply demonstrated in this quote.

See, she was just talking to the Leader of the Free world the way she to her daughter.  Just stop procrastinating and do her homework. And, further demonstrating her firm grasp on that which is at least politically correct, she even asked the media to refrain from using words that might be offensive to her extended Alaska Native family. 

Like: Igloo. Eskimo Pie. And, 'when hell freezes over'.

Makes you wonder why Fox let her go, right?

I'm hoping that this means we'll be hearing less and less from Ms. Palin, and she will become a mere footnote on the pages of American History - in the chapter entitled, "When America Lost Its Mind."

I doubt it.

She'll become famous for once being famous.

Or, infamous.

I can't imagine her running for political office - at any level - ever again.  She would never take the chance of running and losing, and her chances of winning are pretty slim.

I think certain factions of what was once grand about the Grand Old Party have realized that she has seriously tarnished their "brand". My goodness, the Republicans have even capitulated on the Debt Ceiling and now, immigration. Of course, they've only done that because they know they need the Hispanic vote in order to win elections.

It's just politics.

To apply a word coined by George "Dubya" Bush, another leading intellectual of the GOP, don't "misunderestimate" Ms. Palin: she'll reappear somewhere.  The Political Theater needs her like, well, like an Eskimo needs an igloo.

Her leaving Fox News - or, Fox News leaving her - is just one more positive sign of the amazing victory won in the last Presidential Election. Yes, we won re-election of Barack H. Obama - an important achievement in an of itself - but we also won an ideological struggle that has had its grip on this country since the "game change" of 2008.

No need to get all "wee-wee'd up" - as Our Sarah likes to say.  She'll be fine. She's a Mama Grizzly. She can take care of herself and her young.

With apologies to Ms. Palin's extended Alaska Native family, she'll only disappear completely when hell freezes over.

Let's just say a polite but meaninful "Buh-bye" to Ms. Palin and wish her well.

And, breathe a sigh of relief.

That sound you just heard is this country, getting back on track.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Valor Knows No Gender

Slowly, slowly, slowly, the revolution is quietly but surely happening. 

Women are now officially allowed in combat roles - on the front lines of the battle.

That's because the lines are changing - or, perhaps, blurring.

Truth is that women have long been "in harms way," laying down their lives for their country.

 Truth is that, active-duty female personnel make up roughly 15 percent -- or 207,308 members of the more than 1.4 million members -- of the armed forces.  Since 2001, 280,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Of that number, 152 women have been killed in combat in the two wars, and 946 were wounded, according to the latest Defense data.

Veterans such as U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) — the purple heart recipient and the first woman injured in combat to be elected to national office in November — applauded the move as a broadening of opportunities for women and said it will improve the nation's armed forces.

But several older veterans said most women are not physically strong enough to participate directly in combat.

To reassure them, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, said,  "If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job -- and let me be clear, we are not reducing qualifications -- then they should have the right to serve."

He says that like this is a new concept. 

General Dempsy said that the ban was a "technical correction" that, "may help stem sexual assault."

I get the first part. It is a "technical correction," especially in face of the facts about women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. I honestly don't see the new rules stemming sexual assault.

The "corrective," I fear, doesn't get that "technical".

I'm not sure, exactly, what the good General means, except that I think it's important that he raised that particular flag. It's an admission of the truth that, while women have been keeping the country safe, the military has not done much to keep women safe.

That was an unintended, additional benefit of the announcement. 

I confess that I am decidedly ambivalent about women in combat. I confess that I don't understand why a woman - or, for that matter, a man - would want to be in combat. That being said, I support equal access to employment, even if it's work in the midst of combat.

Of course, the new order doesn't go into effect until January, 2016, but it will open up hundreds of thousands of jobs for women.

Although the Defense Department opened 14,325 jobs to women in May 2012, some 237,854 (roughly 19 percent) of the 1.2 million positions available throughout the military remained closed to women.

Of these, 53,000 are jobs for which women would qualify -- as medics or mechanics or intelligence specialists -- but for the fact that the openings are in combat units, such as special operations forces and small infantry units.

Another 184,000 jobs involve specialties, such as tank crewman, that have also been closed to women.

All these jobs will officially open up to women January 2016.

Women who qualify - mentally and physically.

The standards have not been lowered, the qualifications have not been reduced and the requirements have not changed. 

Because valor knows no gender.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

We the people, bending the arc

Yes, I was privileged to be at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Monday.

Yes, of course, I collected souvenirs: my ticket, my commemorative Metro pass, my "I was there!" button, a few pens to share with family, my refrigerator magnet, and my coffee mug. No T-shirt. Got too many of them, anyway.

Yes, the crowds were....well...crowded. Estimates are between 800,000 and one million. People. In one place.  The Metro was excellent in terms of moving people along. Trains ran about every 2-3 minutes.  The people, however, were very cooperative and polite and festive.

This was the second inauguration of Barack Obama. We were "Fired up! Ready to go!"

The diversity was amazing. Old and young. Mink coats and puff jackets. Tights and Hajibs. Weaves and pony tails. Beards and clean-shaven faces - no matter, mouths and faces were covered with scarfs. African, Afro-Caribbean, African-American, Native American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Caucasian, people from the Pacific Rim, Arab, Jews, Muslim, Christians, and every creed.

Waiting to enter the TSA Security Tent
Security, of course, was tight.  The National Guard, the Army, and the Boarder Patrol were everywhere. In uniform.

Roads were closed and there was a HUGE tent set up just before Constitution Ave. where we all had to have our tickets checked and empty our pockets, endure having our bags gone through, and walk through a metal detector.

And yes, we had to walk. And, walk. And, stand for a long while. And then walk again.

It didn't matter. We, the people, were on a journey. We were not about to let a cold day in DC stop us from celebrating our victory.

Yes, it was Very Cold on the Mall in Washington, DC, but there were several moments that so warmed my heart that I only realized just how brutal the temperature outside had been once I was back at the hotel, all warm and snug.

Bundled - and fired - up!
My heart first began to soar when Myrlie Evers-Williams gave the Invocation. Just seeing the widow of Medgar Evers asking "blessings upon our leaders, the president, vice president, members of Congress, all elected and appointed officials of the United States of America," brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.

She prayed:
One hundred fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, we celebrate the spirit of our ancestors, which has allowed us to move from a nation of unborn hopes and a history of disenfranchised [votes] to today’s expression of a more perfect union. We ask, too, almighty that where our paths seem blanketed by [throngs] of oppression and riddle by pangs of despair we ask for your guidance toward the light of deliverance. And that the vision of those that came before us and dreamed of this day, that we recognize that their visions still inspire us.
Their visions still inspire us. Indeed, they do. If you needed any evidence of that, all you had to do was listen to President Obama's Inaugural Address.

If you didn't hear it on Monday morning, you can certainly read the transcript by clicking the link above, or you can even find a video of it and watch it for yourself.

I, myself, watched it on the Jumbotron - along with all of the people in my section, which was just behind the reflection pool. What I would have missed, had I stayed home and watched the whole thing on TV, was the reaction of "we the people".

I wish you could have seen the electricity in the crowd when President Obama said:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths —- that all of us are created equal —- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall;
People all around me looked at each other to make sure we heard it right. Did he say, "Stonewall"? Really? Yes! Yes! He said, "Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall"!

Oh, my!

We were all still letting that soak in when we heard the President say:
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law —- (applause) -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. (Applause.) 
People - from all races and creeds and ages and walks of life - were fist-bumping and hugging and laughing and hooting and crying.  The joy of the young people around me was especially palpable.

Yes, he also talked about immigration and voter suppression and women's rights. But, he not only said, "Stonewall". He said "gay brothers and sisters". And, he talked about our love being equal.

Oh. My. God!

It was then that I heard it. It was an unmistakable sound - one I'd heard only faintly before - but I instantly knew what it was.

With my chaperone, Doug Condit
It was in the sound of the words once spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was the sound captured in a vision that still inspires us. 

It was this: The sound of the arc of history bending toward justice. 

"The arc of history is long," said Dr. King, but it always bends toward justice."

Yes, we were watching history unfold and, in fact, participating in it, but we were also watching the future opening up in the same vision of freedom and justice for all that inspired the men and women who founded this nation.

And, we were being inspired, once again, to participate in the shaping of that vision for the future.

We. The People. 

It was a remarkable experience, and I feel so blessed to have been able to have been there to experience a piece of our history - and to catch a glimpse of a future in which we were all invited to participate and live with liberty and justice for all.

Yes, it was cold and yes, my feet and legs and back are still sore.

But my heart is still strangely warmed and my soul is still singing, "We the people."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Choose Life!

Walking With Love, Justice and Action
At the RCRC 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade
 Washington, DC – January 20, 2013
The Rev’d Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton

Note: These remarks were delivered at the RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) Interfaith Service of "Blessing and Welcome for our friends in Congress, the returning Administration and their staffs" at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, DC.

Choose life.

That’s a religious mandate for many people of many different expressions of faith.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of being clobbered by scripture.  I am sick unto death of having this particular piece of scripture used – by some folks – as a guilt trip when I explain to some that I work for reproductive justice.

“But, what about what scripture says?” they ask. You know, 'Choose LIFE'?”

I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to take back scripture from the misuse and abuse of people who choose to use it for their own purposes. So, what I’m about to offer are a few of my thoughts about “Choose Life” as I reflect on the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Choose life.  Choose what is good. Choose what is right. For you. For your life. 

In a very short, two-words sentence, we are asked to cherish the two great gifts of the human enterprise: Free will and the goodness of our creation.

“Choose life.” Not “Let someone else make the choice for you.” Not, “This is what life is and when it begins and how I define it for you.”

No, the directive is simply, “Choose life.” We are invited to discover the wonder and mystery and complexity of that simple sentence the rest of our whole lives.

Choose what gives you life. What enhances your life. What contributes to your life. For, in so doing, we contribute to the well being of the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, the ability for an individual – especially women – to define and decide what is good for their life is being limited by the definitions and decisions of others.

We have been in this place before.  

In June of 1969, a 21-year-old Texas woman named Norma McCorvey found herself pregnant for the third time. She had left home at the age of 14 and had lost custody of her first child to her mother and had placed her second child for adoption. She was living in Louisiana with her father and working several low-paying jobs.

She grew despondent and depressed and desperate as she began to understand that she would be unemployable as a young mother with a child and no support. Moving back to Texas seemed the only option left open to her. At least there she could claim she had been raped and be allowed to have an abortion. At least, that’s what her friends told her.

Due to lack of documentation and evidence of rape, her scheme did not work. She tried to obtain an illegal abortion at several clinics she and her friends knew, but found that the police had closed them down. The only other option was to seek out non-medical, non-professional “back alley” abortion – a procedure performed by persons either lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking the minimal medical standards or both.

It is important to know that, according to a 2002 study by Planned Parenthood, estimates of the annual number of illegal abortions in the United states during the 1950s and 1960s range from 200,00 to 1.2 million. During that same period of time, as many as 5,000 American women died annually as a direct result of unsafe abortions.

Indeed, Leslie Reagan chronicles many of these stories in her book, “When Abortion Was A Crime”. Women often tried to induce abortion or cause a miscarriage by throwing themselves down stairs or inflicting violence on themselves. They ingested, douched with or inserted into themselves a chilling variety of chemicals and toxins – from bleach to potassium permanganate to turpentine to gunpowder and whiskey. Knitting needles, crochet hooks, scissors and coat hangers were all tools used by women who had not choice but to resort to these means.

As Frederica Matthews-Green is quoted as saying, “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.”

Every young woman, no matter her age, knew a story about a woman – a friend or a friend of the cousin of a distant relative – who had had an abortion. Rarely was the outcome good – which included either the death of the woman or her inability to conceive. Seeking to choose life for herself and her family, McCorvey did seek out legal assistance, turning to attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington. Ultimately, she gave birth to the child three years before the U.S. Supreme Court finally heard the case.

On January 22, 1973, Roe (AKA Norma McCorvey) v. Wade (AKA Henry Wade, Dallas County DA) became an historical, landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion.  The Court ruled 7-2 that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but that right must be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting prenatal life and protecting women’s health.

In the midst of the tension of these two concerns, the country was plunged into the midst of a passionate national debate which has hardly abated over the last 40 years.

Meanwhile, Norma McCorvey went on with her life, choosing to live quietly and privately with her long-time life partner, Connie Gonzales. In 1995, she was befriended by evangelical minister Flip Benham and was baptized by him in August of that year. She also publicly announced her remorse for her involvement in Roe v. Wade and became an advocate of Operation Rescue’s campaign to make abortion illegal.

She changed her mind. She made another choice. I still shake my head whenever I hear people who are opposed to abortion defend the change of her choice, claim that it is “a woman’s prerogative” to change her mind. They say this without any evidence of an awareness of the irony of that statement. 

Twenty-two years after Roe v. Wade, Norma McCorvey made a different choice about the life-altering choice of abortion.  She was able to make that choice because she was free – she had the civil and spiritual right – to make another choice. How ironic that her choice includes restricting the rights of others to Choose Life for themselves. 

I confess that the logic of that position completely escapes me. When former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin discovered that the child she was carrying had Trisomy-21 – a condition formerly known as Down’s Syndrome – she reports that she briefly considered abortion, but then proudly states that she “chose life.”

Yes, she chose the life that was best for her, which included the choice to continue with her pregnancy. However, she and others like her seem not to understand that their choices do not include limiting the choices of other women to choose life for themselves in the way that is best defined for them.

Choose life. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we do this work. We choose to do this work because we want to guarantee that a woman has a choice about what happens to her body. We choose to do this work because we want to guarantee that a woman has a choice about what happens to her family. We choose to do this work because we want to insure that a woman has a choice about her own future. We choose to do this work because we know that what we do is life-giving to millions of women in this country and around the world.  Can somebody here give me an, “Amen”?

According to the World Health Organization, in countries where abortion remains unsafe it is the leading cause of maternal mortality, accounting for 78,000 of the 600,000 annual pregnancy-related deaths worldwide.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Instituted, approximately 219 women die worldwide each day from an unsafe abortion.  219. Women. Worldwide. Every. Day.

Six months after abortion was legalized in Guyana in 1995, admissions for septic and incomplete abortion dropped by 41%. One year after Romania legalized abortion in 1990, its abortion-related mortality fell from 142 to 47 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Legalization of abortion allows women to obtain timely abortions, thereby reducing the risk of complications. In 1970, one in four abortions in the United States took place after 13 weeks gestation. Today, according to the Guttmacher Institute, approximately 88-92% of all abortions in the US take place before the end of the first trimester.

To keep abortion safe and legal for women is to choose life. It is choosing life for women whose life choices are already limited by poverty, unemployment, substandard housing or homelessness, limited access to quality education and few quality health care options.

For those who would choose to reduce or limit the number of abortions, I ask that you consider this choice: Put down your placards and posters that carry grotesque images and dire scriptural judgments and warnings. Seek not to pass laws to make abortion illegal. 

Choose instead to change the reasons women have abortions. Work to end poverty. Work to improve education. Work to create jobs. Work to improve health care. Make these choices and you will improve the choices women have and reduce the need for abortion.

Work to repeal the Hyde Amendment which prevents the very women who need it most – women who live in desperate poverty like Norma McCorvey once did and have no support much less resources for themselves and their families – from attaining reproductive justice.

Work to make real the acceptance of contraception as a normal part of a woman’s preventative health care. (Can somebody PLEASE tell me why we are still having this conversation in the year 2013?)

Work to dismantle the underlying oppressive, interlocking systems of racism and sexism and heterosexisms, so that – to paraphrase the great words of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose spirit continues to guide us and lead us in all matters of justice – a woman’s life may be judged, not by the color of her skin or the contents of her uterus, but on the content of her character.

Choose to understand that, long before a collection of cells grows into and is born and takes that first breath of life and becomes a person, the pregnant woman in whose body those cells gathered and grew was and is a living person whose dignity and free will and civil rights must be respected.

Her life, her intelligence, her integrity, her ability to make choices for herself and her family, her status as a citizen of these United States must be respected, and her freedoms must not be denied.

The choice is really simple: Choose life.

We choose life when we choose to walk together in Love – respecting the dignity of every human being. 

We choose life when we choose to walk together in justice – insuring that the civil and spiritual and religious right of free will is protected and guaranteed for all.   

We choose life when we choose to walk together in action – moving ourselves out of our complacency and past our illusions of security.

Choose life, my sisters and brothers, that we may walk together as children of God. 

And let all God’s children say, “Amen.”

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Writer's Block

The irony has not escaped me that I am writing this blog about writer's block.

In case you haven't noticed, I have it. Writer's block, that is.

I understand that some of the contributing factors to writer's blog include stress, sickness, lack of sleep, overwhelmed by projects and deadlines, having lots of creative demands, and (speaking of irony) having to have something to write.

I understand professional writers and journalists get this from time to time. I'm neither. I don't have to write. I write because it keeps me sane, not to put food on the table.

I've not been unusually stressed, or ill (well, a few days of the sniffles). I've been getting my usual hours of sleep. And yes, we're in the middle of Christmastide. I think that counts for "being overwhelmed by projects and deadlines" as well as "having lots of creative demands".

Truth is, I have been writing. A lot. Well, journaling. Which is how most of my blogs begin anyway. It's just that this is really personal stuff - yes, even more than what I normally write about on this blog. I mean, I DO have some boundaries!

Most of it is sorting through some of the stuff I deal with as a Hospice Chaplain. No, I'm not overwhelmed by dealing daily with people who are dealing with dying and death.

If I'm overwhelmed about anything, it's the ability of the human spirit to soar as death approaches. Sometimes, it's the patient. Other times, it's a family member or the entire family.

I'm amazed - no, really amazed - at the capacity of the human spirit to forgive -  and/or hold grudges.  Sometimes, I've heard expressed - with the last few breaths of life - such pure love or pure rage that it takes my breath away.

And yes, you can have a 'peaceful death' taking your last breath while spewing out the name of a person who has hurt or betrayed you. Forgiveness? Yeah, well, that's nice, but, you know, it's not my death. Thankfully, no one has to live up to my expectations of what it means to have a "peaceful death" - and, I don't have to live up to anyone else's expectations.

Everyone has to walk their own path.

I figure it's none of the patient's concern if it's my need to have him/her leave this planet with everything all neat and tidy and wrapped up with a nice big bow.

Sometimes, it's a real tribute to real life if it isn't. We all come into this world naked, raw, messy and screaming. Some of us need to leave that way, too.

I'm astounded - no, really astounded - by the way words fail to describe some of the things I've witnessed. Words like "amazed". And "astounded". And, how "awful" can be "awesome".

The best way to do that is to tell the story - paint a word picture so you can see what I see and experience what I've experienced - and let you all be amazed and astounded.

I can't do that. Not without giving away too much information and jeopardizing the identities of my patients. I would be a bad chaplain - the worst - if I broke the sacred trust and confidentiality of the patients entrusted to my care even in the smallest way.

I've tried to write in generalities - like I'm doing right now - but I only get frustrated. I want so much to tell you about what I see and hear and feel. To let you into this part of the world.  To see how all the things we think are so important mean little or nothing - or, absolutely everything - when death begins to knock on your door.

Oh, I could write something that would be analytical and theological. With appropriate professional distance. Sanitized. Impersonal.

I'm just not in that place. My heart and my head and soul are still with my patients and their families.

How do you write about awe?

So, you understand my writer's block. Well, on this blog. I'm still writing. A lot. I just can't print it here in this public space.

For those of you who may have had or may one day get writer's block, I'm told there are things one can do.  Read more. Talk to creative people. Change your environment - get up and take a walk. Or, take a trip. Go to a place that gets your creative juices flowing: The ocean. The mountains. A lake. New York City. Or, you could drink coffee. Hi octane caffeinated. Or, take a nap.

I've been reading. A lot. I'm three-quarters of the way through "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. She is highly talented at drawing word sketches so thorough you can see the characters in front of you. I'm also fascinated by the way she treats the reports of homosexuality in that age and time. I've just finished reading "Proof of Heaven" and can't wait to start "Gone Girl", the breakthrough murder mystery novel by Gillian Flynn.

No, I'm not a murder-mystery fan, but I understand this one is so well written it's irresistible. So, I'm giving it a try. I mean, the NY Times review said this:
It is wily, mercurial, subtly layered and populated by characters so well imagined that they’re hard to part with — even if, as in Amy’s case, they are already departed.
See what I mean? 

When I'm not reading well-written books by highly skilled and talented authors, I am blessed to hang out with amazingly creative people - many of whom are in my own family.

Besides,  I'm going to be in New York the end of this month and North Carolina for a week in February.

This will lift. I'll be able to write here about other things. Or, I may find a creative way to write about what I've been seeing and feeling and doing.

Thanks for bearing with me through this time. 

I'm thinking it's not so much 'writer's block'.

It's more like ''writer's break'.