Sunday, December 31, 2006

A prayer for the new year

Holy Mother...Loving Father...
Source of All That Is...
Oh--You know who You are!

That daughter You gave me said a funny thing yesterday:
"It seems like God has gotten shy over the years"
(Meaning You don't talk to people like in the "old days")

I said I wasn't sure that was true--
that sometimes it just doesn't get written down
Sometimes people aren't sure it's really You
(Or are afraid to believe that it is)

And I told her of the time I heard from you
(or one of Your "people")
"Help heal the world" were the words I heard
while lying in bed early that morning
And then You held me close

Maybe I imagined that, but it didn't matter
The words felt real enough, and the need for healing was real,
so I promised that I would
Later I learned about tikkun olam,
the Hebrew phase which translates to "repairing the world"

That confirmed the notion that the call to help heal the world was true and real...

It's also impossible

There can never be enough glue, tape, bandages, needles and thread, hammers and nails, hope, patience, and love, to get the job done

I suppose that's why the baptismal vows say, "I will, with God's help"

So as we begin a new year, I ask again for Your help
Help me to find the strength, energy, and love to keep working
to mend that which is broken,
both in myself and in the world You entrusted to our care.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

On Poverty

I strongly recommend reading Christy Hardin Smith's post Bringing Poverty to the Table. Yes, as I suspected, the post was prompted by Edwards' announcement yesterday. But even if you support a different candidate, please read. As Christy noted at the end of the piece:

That it has taken a Presidential candidate standing up and talking about this issue to get it back on the front pages of newspapers — at least for the day yesterday — is unconscionable. But at least people are talking about it again, and for that I applaud John Edwards for sticking to a topic that all of us need to be talking about much more frequently.
I don't have a candidate to support yet, as Gore still seems unwilling to run, Feingold has said he won't, and Howard Dean is a man of his word, who promised not to run if elected chair of the DNC. But poverty is one of those uncomfortable, dauntingly big and complex issues that tends to get swept under the rug by the majority. Maybe it's a bit like global warming in that respect. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were graphic examples of the urgency of both issues--we can't afford to ignore either. So I will join Christy in applauding Edwards getting poverty back into the headlines, even for one day. But I hope it will be for longer than that. Hopefully other candidates and officeholders will join him.

And I don't say this as a supporter of any political candidate. I say it as a human being. I also say it as an Episcopalian who is proud of my new Presiding Bishop who insists on keeping the focus on this issue, in spite of the efforts of others to shift the attention back to issues of human sexuality. From an interview in June of 2006:

Bishop JEFFERTS SCHORI: We need to be examining the poverty that is real around the world. We need to be examining the fact that our brothers and sisters, Anglican and not, in places like Africa and Asia don't have enough to eat. Their children don't have the opportunity to go to school. AIDS and tuberculosis and malaria are rampant in many parts of this world and people with those diseases don't have access to adequate health care. That's where our focus needs to be.

And, from a description of Katharine Jefferts Schori's book, scheduled to be released in January...
Grounding her reflections in a theology of the reign of God—‘God’s dream for creation’—she dares to ‘dream big’ herself, casting a vision of a world without poverty and hunger, where we all recognize our interdependence with every other child of God.
Jefferts Schori's book can be preordered here.

And I have heard those words echoed by Bishop Gene Robinson, and by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and by many other people I respect and admire. I hope that more and more people will talk about it--especially people who have an audience. And when people try to distract us with something shiny, I hope that we will redirect, and bring the discussion back to issues of vital importance for our human family.

(Also posted at Daily Kos, My Left Wing and Street Prophets)

Update: I just discovered that Part II of Christy's discussion of poverty is now posted at FDL.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Here's a required part of Christmas when celebrated with my Mom's family:

One of the most beautiful and most revered Polish customs is the breaking of the oplatek. The use of the Christmas wafer (oplatek) is not only by native Poles in Poland but also by people of Polish ancestry all over the world.

The oplatek is a thin wafer made of flour and water. For table use, it is white. In Poland, colored wafers are used to make Christmas tree decorations. In the past, the wafers were baked by organists or by religious and were distributed from house to house in the parish during Advent. Today, they are produced commercially and are sold in religious stores and houses. Sometimes an oplatek is sent in a greeting card to loved ones away from home.

Family members extend oplatki (plural--oplatek is the singular) to one another, and break pieces off, offering good wishes and blessings for the coming year.

Every year we know that Oplatki Time is coming. It's awkward--like knowing you will be required to give a mini-speech to people you haven't seen since last year. Every year someone jokes about not doing it, or tries to barter it down to just holding up the wafers and making one big communal Christmas wish/blessing. But we always do the thing. It's tradition, dang it.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to Heifer in my Mom's honor. She was really surprised, and quite touched. Will share more later, but now it's family time.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Countering Anti-Muslim bigotry

Note: I started this post at the beginning of the month and then got very busy with Christmas preparations and various events for the kids. But today, after more recent developments, such as Virginia Represenative Virgil Goode's letter about the importance of tightening immigration restrictions to avoid an "influx of Muslims", I decided I'd better post it.

What I wrote earlier this month...

From Yahoo News: In U.S., fear and distrust of Muslims runs deep

When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver's licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. "What good is identifying them?" he asked. "You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."

At the end of the one-hour show, rich with arguments on why visual identification of "the threat in our midst" would alleviate the public's fears, Klein revealed that he had staged a hoax. It drew out reactions that are not uncommon in post-9/11 America.
A video of news segment about this story can be seen at Crooks and Liars.

Here is a link to some columns by Dr. Asma Mobin Uddin, a Columbus area pediatrician and member of the Muslim faith. She makes public appearances (one at my church a couple years ago) to help people learn more about the misunderstood and sometimes mistrusted faith to which she belongs, has written columns for the Faith and Values section of the Columbus Dispatch, and has written a children's book, My Name is Bilal...
Bilal worries about being teased by his classmates for being Muslim. He thinks maybe it would be better if people don't know he is Muslim. Maybe it would be best if he tells kids his name is Bill rather than Bilal. Then maybe they would leave him alone. Mr. Ali, one of Bilal's teachers and also Muslim, sees how the boy is struggling. He gives Bilal a book about the first person to give the call to prayer during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. That person was another Bilal: Bilal Ibn Rabah. What Bilal learns from the book forms the compelling story of a young boy wrestling with his identity.
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Thursday, December 21, 2006

What part of "all" don't these people understand?

Some disheartening stories I've seen recently...

Congressman Fears Influx of Muslims
Right Wing Questions Obama's Loyalty

I know I've posted these words from Bishop Desmond Tutu before, but apparently it's a lesson that needs repeating before it really sinks in.

And, God says, God says, "Yes, I do have a dream. Like, Martin Luther King, Jr." God says, "I, too, have a dream. I dream that my children one day will discover that they are family."

Now, that, actually, is not sentimental. It's one of the most radical things that Jesus ever uttered: "They are family." Family, you don't choose your relatives. Sometimes you wish you could. Family: a gift from God to you. And you: a gift to them from God.

And, in this family, there are no outsiders. Just all, all… all belong. It's an incredibly radical thing. All, all, all. You see, when Jesus spoke about… "If I be lifted up, I will draw…" he didn't say I will draw some. He didn't say I will draw some. He said, "I will draw all, all into this incredible divine embrace of love." All. Beautiful, not so beautiful. Tall; stumpy, like me. … Rich, poor, white, black, red. All, all, all, all. All belong. All. All. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight, all. [Laughter and applause.] All, all. All. All. [Applause.] All. All. All. All. All. Sharon, Arafat, all. Roman Catholic, Protestant in Northern Ireland. All. All. All. Bush, bin Laden. All. It's quite serious because, you see, God has no enemies.
By the way, one way to help those family members who are living in hunger and poverty, is through a donation to Heifer International. I've set up a page, with a modest goal of $250, here.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Art, worship, and action

The image you see above is entitled "O War-Torn Town of Bethlehem", and it can be found at the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts Exhibition online. Click here for the entry page of the "Unto us a Child is Born" section. As I was paging through the gallery, I had a hard time deciding which picture I wanted to post. Different images can "speak" to different people. But I think art can touch us on a level that words can't.

And music can certainly be powerful, inspiring, and motivating. Long story short, I found myself irritated with The Daily Show's segment on the U2Charist. Yes, I get that it's a funny name. But having attended such a service this past summer, I know that these services are designed to help get people feeling inspired and empowered about going forth and helping to right some of the wrongs in the world. At the service I attended, there was a lot of emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals. That's something I take very seriously, and getting more people to care about things like "eradicating extreme poverty and hunger" is a *very* good thing. So I was a tad annoyed when the segment *only* portrayed it as something silly and laughable.

Anyway, I realize the job of the folks at the Daily Show is to make people laugh. But now I feel like it's *my* job to make sure people know what the U2Charist is really about.

Here's a page on the Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation web site that tells a bit about how the U2Charist might be used...

A U2charist is an Episcopal Eucharist service that features the music of the rock band U2 and a message about God's call to rally around the Millennium Development Goals. The U2charist is a great opportunity to reach out to the people in your congregation and larger community, especially young people. This service the music and message of U2 about global reconciliation, justice for the poor and oppressed, and the importance of caring for your neighbor. Led by the global MDG ambassador, Bono, U2 is calling people worldwide to a deeper faith and engagement with God's mission. The U2charist seeks to be an extension of this ministry.

Who knows...maybe Jon can make up for this by having Bono, or, better yet, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, on the program to talk about the Millennium Development Goals. (Why not--he had Bishop Desmond Tutu on the program!)

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The "true on the inside" story of Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12 is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here's a news story from the Houston Chronicle about today's festivities: Mexicans gather to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe on annual holiday. You can read the gist of the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe's appearance in 1531 to Juan Diego in this homily, given at the University of San Diego in the year 2000, tells the gist of the story. elderly Indian man named Chuauhtlatoczin ["Juan Diego" in Spanish] had a vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at Tepeyac, a squalid Indian village outside of Mexico City. Mary directed Juan Diego to tell the bishop to build the church in Tepeyac. The Spanish Bishop, however, dismissed the Indian’s tale as mere superstition — he was, after all, an Indian — but then, to humor Juan Diego, he insisted that he bring some sort of proof, if he wanted to be taken seriously. So, three days later, the Virgin Mary appeared again and told Juan Diego to pick the exquisitely beautiful roses that had miraculously bloomed amidst December snows, and take them as a sign to the Bishop. When the Indian opened his poncho to present the roses to the Bishop, the flowers poured out from his poncho to reveal an image of the Virgin Mary painted on the inside of the poncho. That image hangs today in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and is venerated by thousands of pilgrims from all over the world.
While I was raised Catholic, I don't remember learning this story, or if I did, it didn't really register. Maybe that is because of the "otherness" of the characters involved. Mary of Nazarath, I now know, certainly was *not* blond and blue-eyed, but as a blond, blue-eyed child, that depiction seemed normal and familiar.

I only came to really read and ponder the story as an adult, having been officially received into the Episcopal church, and felt very much at home in my new church. But it was lacked any iconography of Mary, so I turned to other sources to feed that longing. The writing of Kathleen Norris, in particular, helped me come to terms with the significance of Mary from a more modern, feminist perspective than I had encountered in the past, and also introduced me to the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Here is an excerpt of her writing on the subject:

In a recent essay the writer Rugen Martinez lovingly articulates the paradoxes that enliven his sense of the officially sanctioned Mary of church doctrine, and, to borrow his phrase, the "Undocumented Virgin" of personal experience and legend, folktale, and myth. I should probably take this opportunity to make an aside and state that by "myth" I mean a story that you know must be true the first time you hear it. Or, in the words of a five-year-old child, as related by Gertrude Mueller Nelson in her recent Jungian interpretation of fairy tales and Marian theology, Here All Dwell Free, a myth is a story that isn't true on the outside, only on the inside.
Juan Diego was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II back in 2002, and I recall hearing news stories that there were doubts about the authenticity of the potential saint's story. I remember easily accepting the notion that the story was "used" as something like a marketing strategy to help convert the native people to Catholicism. And that may indeed be part of the truth. But it's not all of it. Kathleen Norris writes:
Mary's love and pity for her children seems to be what people treasure most about her, and what helps her to serve as a bridge between cultures. One great example of this took place in 1531, when the Virgin Mary appeared to an Indian peasant named Juan Diego on the mountain of Tepayac, in Mexico, leaving behind a cloak, a tilma, imprinted with her image. The image has been immortalized as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Mexican-American theologian Virgilio Elizondo argues, in The Future is Mestizo, that the significance of this image today is that Mary appeared as a "mestiza," or person of mixed race, a symbol of the union of the indigenous Aztec and Spanish invader. What was, and still is, the scandal of miscegenation was given a holy face and name. As a Protestant I'll say it all sounds suspiciously biblical to me, recalling the scandal of the Incarnation itself, the mixing together of human and divine in a young, unmarried woman.
I'm getting used to the idea that nothing is as black and white as it first appears--indeed, to welcome and expect that. Here is another meditation on the meaning of the Virgin of Guadalupe, from Social Edge. Will Braun writes, in part:
As immigrant peoples in the Americas --or Turtle Island, as many indigenous people know it-- we live on ill-gotten land. Our homes and churches stand on land once home to others. Our spiritual histories must address this reality with honesty, grace, and compassion.

When I look at my postcard version of Our Lady of Guadalupe set beside my bed --as I often do-- I see a quiet and compelling invitation to redeem the historical legacy of colonialism in our lands and in our hearts. I let the image sink in. I let it inform my attitude to history and indigenous people, inspiring me to be as much like Our Lady of Guadalupe in posture and tone, and as little like the messianic conquistadors as possible.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Robin Meyers' 2004 Peace March Speech

When I posted the link to Robin Meyers' book last night, it hadn't yet occurred to me that I had read his words before. But further searching reminded me that he had given a powerful speech at a peace rally in 2004, which was posted and/or referenced on a number of progressive blogs. It can be found as a PDF here.

Christians take chances for peace. So do real Jews, and real Muslims, and real Hindus, and real Buddhists--so do all the faith traditions of the world at their heart believe one thing: life is precious.

Every human being is precious. Arrogance is the opposite of faith. Greed is the opposite of charity. And believing that one has never made a mistake is the mark of a deluded man, not a man of faith.
Robin Meyers is Senior Minister at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Just heard about this book

...will have to check it out.
Why the Christian Right Is Wrong: A Minister's Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your Future by Robin Meyers

From Bill Moyers:

"In the pulpit, Robin Meyers is the new generation's Harry Emerson Fosdick, George Buttrick, and Martin Luther King. In these pages, you will find a stirring message for our times, from a man who believes that God's love is universal, that the great Jewish prophets are as relevant now as in ancient times, and that the Jesus who drove the money changers from the Temple may yet inspire us to embrace justice and compassion as the soul of democracy. This is not a book for narrow sectarian minds; read it, and you will want to change the world."

Today is Human Rights Day

Today is UN Human Rights Day so it seems like an appropriate time to post the UN Millennium Development Goals:

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development

I encourage everyone to read more about the goals, and do what you can to support them. And I will leave you with part of a sermon by Desmond Tutu:

And, God says, God says, "Yes, I do have a dream. Like, Martin Luther King, Jr." God says, "I, too, have a dream. I dream that my children one day will discover that they are family."

Now, that, actually, is not sentimental. It's one of the most radical things that Jesus ever uttered: "They are family." Family, you don't choose your relatives. Sometimes you wish you could. Family: a gift from God to you. And you: a gift to them from God.

And, in this family, there are no outsiders. Just all, all… all belong. It's an incredibly radical thing. All, all, all. You see, when Jesus spoke about… "If I be lifted up, I will draw…" he didn't say I will draw some. He didn't say I will draw some. He said, "I will draw all, all into this incredible divine embrace of love." All. Beautiful, not so beautiful. Tall; stumpy, like me. … Rich, poor, white, black, red. All, all, all, all. All belong. All. All. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight, all. [Laughter and applause.] All, all. All. All. [Applause.] All. All. All. All. All. Sharon, Arafat, all. Roman Catholic, Protestant in Northern Ireland. All. All. Bush, bin Laden. All. It's quite serious because, you see, God has no enemies.

Secondly, my enemy is not God's enemy. That's incredible: That we are family. And, if we are family, we are not doing our sisters and brothers a favor when we help them out of their poverty. The ethic of family: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. If we are family, how the heck do we justify spending as much as we do on what we call defense budgets? Budgets of death and destruction. [Applause.] When we know, we know full well that a minute fraction of those budgets would ensure that our sisters and brothers, those people out there, would have clean water to drink, would have enough food to eat, would have a decent education and health care, would have a safe environment in which to live. It's our sisters and brothers out there in those refugee camps. Those are not statistics. It is the mother of someone. It is the child of someone. Loved. And this God that we worship says, "I have no one, except you, to help me realize my dream."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Happy Bodhi Day

During our family's nightly Advent candle lighting, I'm making a point of talking about the other "holidays of light" that are celebrated in different faith traditions. I know very little about Bodhi Day, so if anyone has anything to add, please do...

DEC-8: Bodhi Day (a.k.a. Rohatsu) is when Buddhist celebrate the enlightenment of the Buddha in 596 BCE.

He is said to have achieved enlightenment while sitting under a bodhi tree

Excerpted from a Bodhi Day sermon by Ryuei Michael McCormick

We should not think that this awakening is something that we must revere from afar. It is not that this Buddha is somehow set apart from us that makes him worth remembering. Instead, we should realize that the Buddha is important precisely because he was one of us, a human being who could and did wake up to a new vision of life and a new way of living in the world. What he did, we can do as well. The Flower Garland Sutra teaches that upon his awakening the Buddha thought, “I now see all sentient beings everywhere fully possess the wisdom and virtues of the enlightened ones, but because of false conceptions and attachments they do not realize it.”

It also says, “Then the Buddha observed all the beings of the cosmos with his pure unobstructed eye of wisdom and said, ‘How wonderful! How is it that these beings all have the wisdom of the enlightened ones, yet in their folly and delusions do not know or see it? I should teach them the right path to make them abandon illusion and attachment forever, so that they can perceive the vast wisdom of the enlightened ones within their own bodies and be no different from the Buddhas.’”

Some other links--not specifically about Bodhi Day, but I thought they were cool...

Walking with Peace and Presence

There's a video of Thich Nhat Hahn's "Peace is every step" walk in Los Angeles here, as well as a blog post about the experience.
by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Bodhi Day

Today is Bodhi Day, and I've been planning to do something with that when we light our Advent candle as a family tonight. In the process, I found this...

I have arrived.
I am home.
In the here,
In the now.
I am solid.
I am free.
In the ultimate
I dwell.

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rejoice (and celebrate diversity)

I find the so-called "culture wars" with regard to saying "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays" disheartening. Where's the joy in that?

Perhaps you've heard that Walmart has "learned its lesson" and has officially decided to rename their Holiday Shop, "The Christmas Shop." (And some other things--click the link.)

Yay--my holiday *totally* kicked all those other holidays' a$$es. We sure showed them! We're #1! We're #1!"

You knew that was sarcasm, right? This "victory" for Christmas leaves me cold. It's counter to everything I believe the season is meant to stand for.

This Advent, as our family takes time out each evening to light a candle and ponder something about this season, I'm trying to include things from the different "holidays of light". It takes some effort, because when I was growing up, I never really learned much about traditions other than my own.

So, I'm trying to learn more. Here's something I wasn't aware of until recently--December 8 is celebrated by some Buddhists as Bodhi Day, and honors the enlightment of Siddhartha Gautama.

So, what else are people celebrating at this time of year, and how are you celebrating?

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Happy St. Nicholas Day

As Mahanoy at Street Prophets reminded us last night, today is the St. Nicholas Day. There are some stories about St. Nicholas on the Saint Nicholas Center web site. Tonight, at Advent candle time, I think I'll encourage the kids to think about how the stories can be "true on the inside"--what message these stories might have for us today.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.
More here. The image of Saint Nicholas seen above is from the gallery on the Saint Nicholas Center web site.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Advent, continued

After yesterday's post about Advent, I was inspired to create this card.

I'm still looking for suggestions of poems, songs, or other short pieces of writing that would be suitable for reflection along with our Advent candle lighting. I'd like to find a few things that are more generally invocative of the *themes* of Advent, but without the overtly religious language, in order to make it more accessible to my son, who is not a believer. (But I convinced him to come "along for the ride", by plying him with the little candies in the Advent calendar.)

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Taking time for pondering

So, Christmas is coming again, huh? I was just remarking to my EfM group last night that I don't think I've experienced a single Christmas where I wasn't either a teacher or a student. Or if I did, I was probably a very new parent at the time. So at the time when I hear others talking about how they've done *all* their shopping already, or are at very least finishing it up, I'm in the midst of end-of-the-quarter/semester frenzy. "Soon..." I will quietly reassure myself. "Soon, I will be finished with what I'm working on, and will be able to turn my attention to the holidays."

But at the point when I am finally able to do that, some two weeks out from Christmas, all the ads are urging me to check out some "last minute gift ideas".

Last minute? No, this is hardly last minute--and believe me, I've *done* last minute! I've shopped on Christmas Eve more times than I can count. But still, those messages are out there, gently scolding me for not getting started sooner. (They have to do it "gently", of course, because they still want me to buy stuff).

And I say back to those messages, maybe not gently, but quietly, "Bite me."

The season of Advent is about waiting and preparing. The pre-Christmas frenzy of consumerism is about preparing, in rushing around, getting ready for the big day sense, but Advent is about preparing our hearts. I say this, not just to you, the readers, but as a way of reminding myself.

The liturgical season of Advent started yesterday, and I decided that this year, for the first time, we are going to do a nightly Advent ritual. I have always liked the idea of family rituals, but have never made a serious effort to start one and stick with it. Given the diversity of our family, though, I can't just take a pre-packaged ritual "off the shelf", but pretty much have to make one up.

I was raised Catholic, and am now Episcopalian. Demetrius was raised by Evangelical parents, but does not practice any faith tradition now (except, in a tongue-in-cheek way, the Church of the Restful Sabbath.) He appreciates hearing people share their stories from the journey. Humans are united in their search for meaning, wanting to make sense of the big picture, find reason for hope in dark times...

Son in Ohio, now 13, has been an "unbeliever" to some degree or another, almost from birth. His unbelief seems to be in inverse proportion to his perception that others to convince him to believe something, so I never push. But he's watched things like National Geographic Channel's Science of the Bible. We've talked, over the years, about the various "holidays of light" that are celebrated at this literally dark time of year. And we've talked about how there are some stories that are "true on the inside", whether or not one believes they are true on the outside, i.e., actually happened.

Daughter in Ohio, 11, has always been more religiously oriented than her brother. She doesn't attend Sunday school, but has been part of a church children's choir for 4 years. It's at a different church than the one I attend, which is kind of a hassle, I guess. In a perfect world, maybe our family would have a common place of worship. But it feels right to give everyone the space to do what best feeds their spirit/soul. I finally found a church that feels like "home" to me, but it's not the church that has the children's choir for my daughter, so we split our time between the two.

Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month, so she sang with her choir group:

Light one candle for hope, One bright candle for hope.
He brings hope to every heart, He comes, He comes...
Whether or not you believe that the biblical story of Jesus "really happened", there is something universal about the "hope in a dark time" theme at this time of year. That's one of the things I said last night as we lit the first candle on our makeshift Advent wreath. And I read part of the nativity story in Luke, emphasizing this verse:

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.
And I said, whatever we believe, or don't believe, I think it's important at this busy, sometimes sensory-overloading time of year, to take time to ponder.

By the way, the quarter is *not* yet over--I still have to put finishing touches on an exam and grade some papers today. And I guess I need to run to the grocery store, because Demetrius is on a tight deadline and probably won't be able to get out. So I don't know yet what poem or song or piece of writing we will be pondering when we light our candle tonight, and am open to suggestions. ;)

Update: Via Father Jake Stops the World, a Meditation for Advent I. The song is "Quiet", by Paul Simon.

I've also really been appreciating (since discovering them only yesterday) the reflections of Sr. Claire Joy on her blog Flavor of the Month.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bishop Gene Robinson on wedge issues as distractions

This is the third part of my transcription of Bishop Gene Robinson's talk at the Center for American Progress, when the host started to ask him some questions.
Part 1
Part 2

Wendy: In terms of the common good, one of the tensions, I think, with the common good, is I think exemplified in the General Convention. There was a nonbinding resolution that called on the church to exercise restraint by not consecrating future gay bishops. And something you said too, during the summer made me wonder about this. In an interview, you asked what was the most important thing the General Convention could do this summer, and you said that the United Nations Millennium Devel0pment Goals, which is something I really appreciated having worked some with the U.N. And you said, "I think God would have us be about taking care of the poor and marginalized in the world, and would actually be quite sad to see us obsessing over sex."

And so I wonder--one of the tensions, I think within the common good is that people sometimes tell people to wait on their individual rights or their group rights for "the common good". And I wonder how you handle that tension within discussions around the common good, and that sense of timing. And also I wonder if you could speak some to the issue of the right using sexuality issues as a tactic, as a wedge tactic to divide the coalition that you concluded on, that could possibly be put together.

Gene: In the last election, I think it was Barbara Boxer who said that she thought the debate on gay marriage was a "weapon of mass distraction". And I think that these sexuality issue debates that we are having is a massive effort to distract us from our mission. As a country--I mean, God forbid we should talk about Iraq, or the 45 million people who don't have healthcare, or, the list goes on and on and on. Better to talk about gay marriage, abortion, etc.

And I think the church is just as guilty of that, although I don't think the church is as conscious of what it's doing. I think in the political realm that's an absolutely intentional strategy. But I think that the church, while not planning to do so, has fallen into it. It's easier for us to fight about this issue than do the mission of the church.

The follow-up to the Mark story--Jesus comes back from the Syro-Phonecian woman thing, and it's the first time he starts talking about the cross, and how painful...whatever is in his mind about salvation and life with God and such, he starts saying, "You're going to have to pay a price for it." And you know what the disciples do? Twice--as soon as he says "This is going to be *really* hard, and you're going to have to pay a really big price", they start talking about who's going to sit on his left and his right in the Kingdom. And another discussion is "who's going to be the greatest?" And I read that to mean talking about the institution. Who's going to be one-up, who's going to have the best title, who's going to get "Right Reverend" in front of their name, you know? Who gets to wear the best vestments? (Points to himself and mouths "Me!" ;) )

We settled that! And I think in response to having to do the hard work of the Gospel, we retreat into something that's more familiar, safer, and is a wonderful distraction. So I think at the end of the day, the sexuality stuff is a distraction.

First of all, I think it's a distraction for straight people, from talking about their own sexuality. God forbid that we should *actually* talk about the state of marriage--the institution of marriage in the culture. And rather than talk about the fact that half of all marriages end in divorce, and what is *actually* tearing families apart (and there are all kinds of things tearing families apart) *I* have an idea--let's talk about gay marriage, and focus on that!

And, I think for the church, it is far earlier to talk about an openly gay bishop than it is to talk about what Jesus talked about, virtually more than *anything* else in the world, which is the plight of the poor. And so the reason I think that our embrace and our commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals is so important, is that it finally refocuses us on the mission of the church, instead of all this other stuff.

But, you know, I was pretty unglued by the decision our church made. My 0wn personal opinion is, I think we had a failure of nerve. I think that the kind of courage we had in 2003 was just simply not there. I also think we wanted to demonstrate in some way our commitment to the wider Anglican Communion, and our wanting to be in relationship with them. Obviously the sad part of that is that we were willing to do that on the backs of gay and lesbian people.

But, what I said to gay and lesbian people in our church was, I see this as pushing the pause button. We didn't push stop, and we didn't push reverse--we just pushed pause. There's no question in my mind where we're going. We just couldn't find the courage to go there this time.

So, the Millennium Development Goals are just so important, and you know what? If we start caring for the world's poor, alleviating the most extreme poverty. If we start supporting efforts to empower women and children. If we do the work that it will take to ease the suffering that's caused by malaria and HIV-AIDS and so on, if we're doing those things, we're going to be just fine. And if the institution changes, why should we be fearful of that? And why should a denomination, the Anglican Church, that got its *start* because of controversy and conflict, be afraid of change?

Click here for the whole video.

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Links to check out

Just found out about this site--actually, I'd probably heard about it before and forgot about it--and thought I'd share.

And it has a link to this, which also looks fascinating, and I am bookmarking to read later in more detail.

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Gene Robinson on understanding what his opponents fear

Part II of Bishop Gene Robinson's talk at the Center for American Progress...

So people are going to resist anxiety. People are going to resiste change. Change *always* involves anxiety, so why do we act as though that shouldn't be the case? Any time you're working to bring about change, you should not ask *are* people going to be upset, but when and where and how/ It's just simply going to happen. And somehow we keep acting as if that's a surprise.

I mean, I tell my clergy, if they aren't in trouble, then they're not preaching the Gospel. And that's a ditch I'm willing to die in for them. If I get complaints about clergy because they're preaching the hard stuff, I will go to the ends of the earth to support them in that. And if they're not in trouble, my guess is that they're preaching "Jesus, meek and mild" and not the Jesus we find in the Gospels.

...In this culture, and in this discussion about the common good and so on, I would say that we are these days much more apt to engage in debate than in dialog. The culture now is such that, politically--ugh--it has taken over. But I think just in normal discourse as well--when I listen to you, all I'm listening for are your weak points, so that I can come back at your weak points and win this discussion we're having. I'm not listening for your strongest points. I'm not trying to understand where you are, what your experience has been, what makes you think the way you do...I'm just looking for the place that I can pick you apart. So I'm listening for the *worst* that you have to say.

Wheras in dialog, it seems to me, I'm listening for the best that you have to say, and looking for some kind of common ground that would permit us to move forward together. I suppose it's just another version of "walking in someone else's moccasins", that's been so overused. But I just think that this "listening for the best" in the opposing arguments is a good thing.

So I have a suggestion for you, which is that you have a conference here, and that you invite two people on opposing sides of an issue, and get them to prepare the speech for the other side. Let each one of them speak, but let them speak as their opponent would speak. Kind of force them into thinking through what makes their opponents think the way they do.

Because the thing that keeps *me* as sympathetic as I'm able to be with my opponents, is to try to understand what makes them my opponents. First of all, those that oppose anyone gay or lesbian being ordained, much less a bishop, I remind myself that they're only believing what we've taught them for 3000 years. I mean, why should the last 10 or 20 years change their minds when they've got 3000 years of teaching behind that. Behind them, not behind me. So, why would that surprise me that they're holding onto that for dear life. That's one thing.

Second thing, it can be condescending, and maybe it is, but I'm just assuming they're coming from a place of fear. There is something about my election as bishop that scares them to death. And the closer I'm able to A) figure out what that is or--God forbid--ask them what that is--as best I'm able to determine what that is, it helps me be sympathetic to them in a way that allows me to stay in contact with them.

And to honor their integrity, because frankly, that will speak far louder than any words I will ever say. In a public setting, I *love* to get the tough question. I was speaking at Keane State College in Keane New Hampshire, and in the question and answer time, a young man stood up with a bible in his hand, open, of course, ready to read to me as I hadn't already that stuff, and ask this really tough question. And people in that audience afterwards, and to this day, remember that moment. Not because they remember what I said, but because of the way that I tried to treat him with the same kind of respect and human dignity as I expected from him. So I think that this "staying sympathetic" to what makes people fearful is just really, really important.

Lastly, I would say, I want to put this in a larger context. I think that the common good, the seeking of equal rights for all, the inclusion of every human being in our life, is about something really, *really* big, and makes it no wonder that we're experiencing the kind of resistance that we are. I think that we are experiencing the very early beginnings of the end of patriarchy. I think that's what people are unglued about.

For a very very long time, straight white western males have made most of the decisions for most of the world, and we're beginning to see the end of it. Finally, finally, finally, people of color are being brought to the table, finally women are being brought to the table, and now gay and lesbian people are being brought to the table. And *all* the voices of *all* the people are beginning to be at the table where those decisions get made. Is it any wonder that this patriarchal institution that we have, which has existed since the beginning of time, practically, is there any reason to wonder *why* there'd be so much resistance to that? I don't think so. I mean, we are trying to change something really, really big. And I can promise you, we will not see the end of it.

I mean, we may have ended slavery in the 19th century, and we may have had the civil rights movement in the 60s, but we *certainly* are not seeing the end of racism. And we may have had the women's liberation movement in the 70s, but does *anybody* think that sexism is over? And gay and lesbian people are still struggling for some of their *basic* rights, never mind a positive attitude in the culture. We're not going to *see* the end of it, but it's pretty darn exciting to see the *beginning* of the end of it. Because I think that's where we're going.

And until we get some straight white western males who "get it", and are also speaking out about this, we're not going to get too terribly far. The straight white western males who don't want to see this happen, are trying to keep us all divided. So that people of color, and women, and gay and lesbian people, and a whole host of others are fighting with one another over whose pain is greatest--who's had the rawest deal. And as long as they keep us divided, we're not going to be terribly effective in making these changes. Because if we were all united, we'd be the majority.

So I think it's a very exciting time. I can't *think* of any better time to be alive. And I also think that we ought to take *great* hope from that. The one criticism that I would have of the equal rights movement right now--and I think it's typical of the culture--is our lack of patience. We are in a *very* long journey here. And how dare we lose hope? We just don't have that luxury.

One of my favorite places in the whole world is the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. If you've not been there, go! But it's at the old Lorrain Hotel where Martin Luther King was shot, in the warehouse district of Memphis, which was the only motel he could stay at during that time. And at the entrance to that hotel is this enormous black monolith, which, when you get close to it, you realize is carved in bas relief. There is a never-ending, upwardly spiraling, line of African Americans. And every one of them is standing on someone else's shoulders. And I think that's how we have to view this struggle. We are on a journey, we're standing on the shoulders of some very courageous people who've gone before us, and if we do nothing else, we provide the shoulders on which our successors will stand. And that spiral is moving inexorably upward, toward the kind of vision that not only we have for the common good, but that I think God has.
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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gene Robinson on "Justice and the Common Good"

The following is from a talk by Gene Robinson to the Center for American Progress, on the topic of Working for Justice and the Common Good. It took place on the third anniversary of his becoming the bishop of New Hampshire. Initially, I was thinking I would just try to summarize it, but there is a lot of good stuff here, so I ended up largely transcribing about the first third of it. Will share more in a future post, and in the some of the parts toward the end of the talk/interview, I'll have more of my own thoughts to share.

Bishop Gene Robinson: Micah said "love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God". For the Episcopalians in the crowd, there is a typo in the prayer book--whoever did the typesetting transposed that into "love justice and do mercy." That's been in there since 1979. And I think that's the temptation that we have, which is to just *love* the notion of justice, and be perfectly willing to do those merciful acts of charity. But not do the hard work of justice.

And who is the common good for? This year (in the liturgical cycle) we are reading from the Gospel of Mark. It's the oldest, "lean and mean", "Cliff's Notes" version. Gene mentions being a proponent of studying the Gospels in terms of how they depict "what did Jesus know, and when did he know it" with regard to who he was and the nature of his mission. In the Gospel of John, which is believed to be the latest written, Jesus seems to know all.

In Mark, Jesus seems to be figuring it out as he goes along--which to Gene makes sense, because if God chose to live a completely human life, we don't know what's going to happen an hour from now. "And I think that's how Jesus lived his life, so, as you read Mark's Gospel, you can begin to see Jesus kind of putting all this together in his mind...I think Mark's Gospel gives us an idea of the development of Jesus' self-understanding.
Gene goes on to set the stage for telling a story that Robinson sees as a turning point in Jesus' self understanding.
"Jesus is, of course, always in trouble, especially with the religious types. ... So Jesus was really fed up to here with all this, and he goes on vacation. Well, it doesn't actually say that. It says he went into a foreign country--into Tyre, which is in modern day Syria. It does say that he didn't want anybody to know he was there, he didn't want anybody to know his name (which I can perfectly understand these days!) He just wanted a little peace and quiet.

But a woman who's described as Syro-Phonecian finds him. But she finds out he's there, and she comes to him and says "My daughter's possessed of a demon, will you heal her?" Now, he's still feeling pretty cranky--he's up to here with all the crowds and demands and stuff. So he says something that's really quite amazing that it made it into scripture. Because, if you're going to whitewash the story, this is not something you would tell.

He says to her, "Woman, the bread that I have to give doesn't belong to the dogs." Meaning *her*.

Now, she's got three strikes against her. She's a foreigner, she's a Gentile, and she's a woman, which counted for simply nothing in those days. And all three of which would have made him ritually unclean as a Jew.

And, she may not have been a Jew, but she sure had chutzpah. She kind of like puts her hand on her hip--you can almost see it--and says to him, "Well, you know, the dogs even get to clean up the crumbs after the meal!"

Now, Mark doesn't say this, but I would have put in a little thing that says "Gulp!" Because you can hear Jesus react like, "Whoa!" Here's this woman who has no business being with him,who has no claim on him, and yet she is laying claim to the good news that he's been preaching to the Jews.

And you can almost hear the wheels in his brain turning to say, "You know, maybe my mission isn't just to reform Judaism" (which is what I think he first had in mind). But maybe the mission, maybe this good news about the love of God, extends to *everyone*--to the whole world.

I think that's the kind of shift that we need, especially in this country, around who the common good is for. It's not just for me, it's not just for people like me, it's not just for people who think like me, but it's for all. And I think that this is a very difficult time to get that message across. I think it's a particularly American problem with our focus on individualism. Whether we say it or not, it's every man, woman, and child for themselves. It's at least *my family* for themselves.

People will tell you that Scripture says "God helps those who help themselves". It's not in there. What *is* in there is this mandate to care, not only just for everyone, but especially for the marginalized, for the poor, for those who have been pushed to the sides of society for whatever reason. We seem to be at no loss for finding yet more reasons to push someone to the side.
I think that the greatest enemy of the common good is anxiety. And probably every age has felt anxious, but boy, let me tell you, this one feels like it's right up there with the greatest times. And we have an administration right now that is using that anxiety, *promoting* anxiety, I think, to forward its own agenda.

Because, if I'm anxious enough, I'm willing to give up all kinds of things to make the anxiety go away--whether that's in the name of Homeland Security or--well the list goes on. Our anxiety is even color go to the airport and find out how anxious you should be that day.... We're told to *be* anxious--but we can't tell you what to be anxious about, we can't tell you *where* you should be anxious, or what to do about it, or how to avoid it, just be more anxious. And it's just in the air that we breathe these days.

And I think it's a great enemy to us, because when people are feeling anxious, they're thinking more about themselves and *not* about the common good. And I would say that one of the great instruments of promoting the common good right now is to acknowledge people's anxiety, and to look for value systems that speak to that anxiety.

Robinson goes on to tell about a book by Ron Heifetz called Leadership Without Easy Answers, in which the author says that leadership in today's culture is really about holding the hand of the organization, the people in the organization, and assuring them that we're going to live through this. That's the primary role of the leader is to lower the anxiety level of the institution enough so that they can get their work done. Because if they're highly anxious, if they're worried about survival, they're not going to be about their mission, because they're going to be all about survival.

...and I say this to clergy, with all the hubbub the Episcopal church is going through these days. We need to take the hands of those we are leading and say, 'You know what? This is going to be okay. God's in charge here.' We may not see the end of it in our lifetime, but, okay. That's okay. I mean, it's not *okay*, but we can live with it. And we can work with it. And in the end, God's will will be done. *Every* human being will be valued for who they are, so let's do our piece, and let's not beat ourselves up when we're not successful. And, by the way, let's find a little joy in it along the way!

And, my message would be, it is exactly where you find God. It is exactly where you find God--in the midst of that struggle.

More to come. You can listen to the streaming audio here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Katharine Jefferts Schori's Investiture Sermon

This morning, beginning at 11 a.m., I watched Katharine Jefferts Schori's investiture online via streaming video. This is the first such service I have ever witnessed, and I found it quite moving and hope-inspiring. At several points during the service I grabbed screen captures, which I hoped to share along with the transcript of her sermon. Unfortunately, the screen capture software, which has worked beautifully for me in the past, yielded nothing but all-black images. This is disappointing, because I had gone to the trouble of capturing some great shots, like the one of KJS knocking on the door with her staff at the beginning of the ceremony, shots of her with the outgoing Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, an pictures of the banners, choir, liturgical dancer...the list goes on. I hope there will be pictures of the event somewhere--possibly in the photo galleries of her official web page.

The sermon was wonderful, though, and to me it felt very timely because the focus was on the notion that "we're all in this together"--all will not truly be right with the world as long as some of God's children are living in poverty, without clean water, without adequate healthcare. But I'll shut up now and let Bishop Katharine's sermon speak for itself. She said, in part...

In Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost said that "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." We all ache for a community that will take us in, with all our warts and quirks and petty meannesses – and yet they still celebrate when they see us coming! That vision of homegoing and homecoming that underlies our deepest spiritual yearnings is also the job assignment each one of us gets in baptism – go home, and while you're at it, help to build a home for everyone else on earth. For none of us can truly find our rest in God until all of our brothers and sisters have also been welcomed home like the prodigal.

There's a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work – shalom. It doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. It's that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it's a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it's a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it's a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God. Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." To say "shalom" is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.

You and I have been invited into that ministry of global peace-making that makes a place and affirms a welcome for all of God's creatures. But more than welcome, that ministry invites all to feast until they are filled with God's abundance. God has spoken that dream in our hearts – through the prophets, through the patriarchs and the mystics, in human flesh in Jesus, and in each one of us at baptism. All are welcome, all are fed, all are satisfied, all are healed of the wounds and lessenings that are part of the not-yet-ness of creation.

That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave. We are really charged with seeing everyplace and all places as home, and living in a way that makes that true for every other creature on the planet. None of us can be fully at home, at rest, enjoying shalom, unless all the world is as well. Shalom is the fruit of living that dream. We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality for the most destitute, forgotten, and ignored of our fellow travelers – for the castaways, for those in peril or just barely afloat on life's restless sea.

This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals – a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God's vision of homecoming for all humanity. [Applause]

The ability of any of us to enjoy shalom depends on the health of our neighbors. If some do not have the opportunity for health or wholeness, then none of us can enjoy true and perfect holiness. The writer of Ephesians implores us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – to be at one in God's shalom. That is our baptismal task and hope, and unless each of the members of the body enjoys shalom we shall not live as one. That dream of God, that word of God spoken in each one of us at baptism also speaks hope of its realization.

The health of our neighbors, in its broadest understanding, is the mission that God has given us. We cannot love God if we fail to love our neighbors into a more whole and holy state of life. If some in this church feel wounded by recent decisions, then our salvation, our health as a body is at some hazard, and it becomes the duty of all of us to seek healing and wholeness. As long as children live exposed on the streets, while seniors go without food to pay for life-sustaining drugs, wherever peoples are sickened by industrial waste, the body suffers, and none of us can say we have finally come home.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Shalom from Bishop Katharine

This Saturday, November 4, marks the investiture of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The ceremony will be viewable via webcast. The following bulletin insert is going out for use at services this Sunday.

For Global Good

Presiding Bishop invites Church to widen ‘shalom’ by taking up U.N. Millennium Development Goals

In this octave of the Feast of All Saints, at this time of remembering the interconnectedness of communion and community, Katharine Jefferts Schori has begun her ministry as the Episcopal Church’s 26th Presiding Bishop. Here she encourages each Episcopalian to care for all creation by living a local life for global good.

by Katharine Jefferts Schori

The Episcopal Church adopted a set of mission priorities at its General Convention in June. First among them is justice and peace work, framed by the Millennium Development Goals. We understand this work as a visible sign of the work of building the Reign of God. A vision of the Reign of God lies behind the ancient Hebrew concept of shalom, which means far more than simply peace. Shalom has to do with the restoration of all creation to right relationship with God, so that the hungry are fed, the grieving comforted, the ill are healed, and prisoners set free. The mission of the church, according to our Catechism, is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (Book of Common Prayer, page 855). That work of restoration and reconciliation frames all our ministry as Christians, whether we are students, parents, legislators, or farmers. We cannot be at one with our neighbors if some are starving or living in slums. The work of achieving the Millennium Development Goals is intimately wrapped up in the promises we make in the baptismal covenant to engage in God’s mission.

The other priorities adopted by our General Convention include work with young adults and youth, congregational transformation, reconciliation and evangelism, and partnerships within the Anglican Communion and with other faith communities. The fi rst priority has important connections and impacts on the others – for example, partnerships in developing countries, often through Anglican churches, are essential and intrinsic elements of addressing most of the MDGs, and our youth and young adults will experience part of their formation as Christians in service to others.

The Millennium Development Goals seek to end the deep poverty that limits human flourishing. Achieving them would provide concrete examples of the abundant life Jesus insists is the reason he came among us – “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Alex P. Keaton returns to Columbus

Demetrius and I first moved to Columbus (to attend graduate school) at around the time the 80s sitcom Family Ties was wrapping up its seven year run. I remember our new neighbors telling us that the show supposedly took place in Columbus, Ohio, and that local stores like Lazarus (now Macy's) made sure that the characters could be seen carrying shopping bags bearing their names and logos. That little factoid had slipped my mind until I read at Pho's Akron Pages that Michael would be coming to Columbus today for an event with Sherrod Brown. Thanks to my incredibly patient husband being willing to come with me (I *hate* trying to parallel park), I was not only able to attend the event, but this time I've actually got pictures.

Actually, the reason I asked Demetrius to come along was because of the event's timing. When I first RSVP'd via Sherrod Brown's campaign site, it looked like the event would be from 11 to 12, so I was just planning to go to the event on my own once D came back from dropping Daughter in Ohio off at school. Then I got a reminder about the event saying that it was at 10 to 11, and it made a lot more sense to just go together after dropping Daughter off at school.

We arrived at about quarter to 10 at the building housing Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. We found a parking meter with a two hour time limit, but that seemed like it would be plenty of time. Nearly an hour and a half later, it was clear that it was *not* enough time, as Michael J. Fox and Sherrod Brown had not yet taken the stage. Demetrius had to run out to move the car and pump more money into the meter, thankfully getting back just as the program began. I was actually concerned that he might not be allowed back in, as the event was packed, with plenty of people who had been unable to find seats in the auditorium standing near the door. There were also bits of commotion from time to time as people in wheelchairs tried to get situated in the audience.

Turns out there was a section in the back of the auditorium that was labeled as reserved seating for people with disabilities.

But camera from the news had set up there.

One of the women sitting behind us said that the law building had been constructed before current accessibility standards were put in place. Professor Colker, who is a specialist in disability law, had used money from an award she won to pay for that seating area, and that she'd be furious to see what happened today.

There was also this guy wearing a shirt with the word REPUBLICAN in large letters on the front, who was clearly amused by the situation, and we wondered if and where he was planning to blog about it.

Once the program finally got under way, it moved along very quickly. We heard first from Dr. Wendy Macklin about the need for new sources of stem cells for research. She explained that stem cells come from the inner cell mass of blastocysts which are about 150 cell embryos, generated in in vitro fertilization clinics. Of the many embryos generated in these clinics, some will result in pregnancies, but many won't. Those that are not used sit in liquid nitrogen for sometimes years. In the past, these have been used to generate cell lines. We can use cells that were generated as cell lines before August of 2001. Initially there were about 22 cell lines, and of those, only a small number are usable, and those have been grown on mouse feeder cells in a variety of ways. Those are not likely to be useful for tranplantation in any way. Dr. Macklin said that even though getting new lines of stem cells would be unlikely to lead to a cure for any given disease immediately, it would be a huge boon to this area of research. For just one example, it would allow us to investigate how to "tweak" cells in the nervous system in other parts of the body that have been degenerating from a particular disease.

There were a number of people on the stage who were suffering from some type of disease or disability that could potentially benefit from stem cell research. Only one of them was scheduled to speak, but Sherrod Brown made a point of acknowledging the children by name. That was a nice gesture because, as tired as I had been getting of sitting and waiting for this event to begin, I could only imagine how restless the children were getting by the time things finally started.

After Wendy Macklin, we heard from Tanner Barton, an 11 year old boy from central Ohio talked about juvenile diabetes and how it affects his daily life. He's in 6th grade and is a competetive gymnast and swimmer. He went on to detail what is involved in constantly checking and maintaining the right blood sugar/insulin balance. The constant need for monitoring sometimes disrupted his practices and made him wary about sleeping away from home. He also related a recent experience that made him realize that he must be sure to get up early on days when he has an exam--so that he can have enough time between breakfast and exam time for his blood sugar to reach the optimal level.

Finally, it was Michael J. Fox's turn to take the stage. He started by saying that we need people like Sherrod Brown in Washington, so that science can reclaim its place in American society. It's part of what makes us great, along with our love and compassion for our citizens, and the desire to do the best thing for them. He thanked Tanner for sharing his experience with diabetes and said that it must be important for a guy his age to tell people what his life was like. Fox said, "Guess what? That doesn't change." At 45, you still want to share what your experience is like--it's a natural instinct. Michael congratulated Tanner on the beautiful job he did speaking about living with diabetes, adding, "I will use you as an inspiration."

Michael said that "this is kind of a coming home for me in a weird way", because Columbus is the home of Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties. He commented that he was recently asked what his character (a conservative teen who admired Ronald Reagan) would think of him campaigning for stem cell research. Michael quipped, "First of all, he'd be happy I'm wearing a tie..." and added that he thinks Alex would say it's the right thing to do. Sherrod Brown voting for the stem cell research enhancement act--to expand federal funding of stem cell reasearch--was the right thing to do--but Mike DeWine voted against it. He said, "A vote for Sherrod Brown is a vote for hope of a better quality of life for millions of Americans." Michael noted, as he has recently on television, that he is supporting candidates who support all stem cell research (regardless of party) Limiting this research is short-sighted, and Michael said that he has every confidence that research will improve the lives of people suffering from numerous diseases. The majority of the House and the Senate, and over 70% of Americans supported expanding funding for stem cell research, but Mike DeWine sided with President Bush in voting against potentially life-saving research. Sherrod Brown will stand on the side of hope, supporting stem cell research in the Senate as he has in the House of Representatives.

He went on to comment on the Limbaugh flap. "This past week I had a little run-in with some less-than-compassionate conservatives. I guess I'm not supposed to speak with you until my symptoms go away--or maybe I'm just supposed to go away." But he said that he's not going to go away, and neither are the millions of Americans and their families who live with debilitating diseases. We're going to make the diseases go away with the support of people like Sherrod Brown.

Michael J. Fox: I'm asking you to stand up for America's continued leadership in health, science, and medicine, and what is right for the hundreds of millions of Americans who have or are touched by debilitating diseases. Bush and DeWine's policies have been a rejection of the promising future of medical science. "Well, forgive me for this, but it's time we 'get back to our future'!"

This was greeted with laughter and applause for Michael, who received at least two standing ovations during his brief appearance on state. He ended by asking those in attendance to please vote for Sherrod Brown for Senate.

It was a very moving experience to see Michael J. Fox speaking to a packed auditorium about this difficult issue. It also made me have some rather uncharitable thoughts about Rush Limbaugh needing a visit from the Karma Fairy. Heck, *I* don't want to be seen in public if I'm feeling under the weather and not happy with the way I look. I can scarcely imagine the courage it would take to appear on camera, on stage, while not having the level of control over my nervous system that most of us take for granted. Especially someone who has been in show business--I would think that makes one more image conscious than the average person.

Michael J. Fox certainly *could* have chosen to live a private life with his family and friends, far from television cameras, not subjecting himself to the mockery and asinine speculations of the likes of Rush Limbaugh. There is no guarantee that expanded stem cell research would benefit him personally. I admire his courage in speaking out so publicly on this issue, and doubt I could ever be nearly that courageous myself, were I in his situation.

I'm almost positive that Mr. Limbaugh couldn't.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Samhain: A space for remembrance

Another post about Samhain from Street Prophets, this one by Alexandra Lynch.

Samhain is one of the single most misunderstood holidays in the Wiccan calendar by outsiders. It is simultaneously many Witches' favorite. It is certainly one of the key holidays for us. So what's going on here?

Click here for the rest.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

David Korten, Part 3

The day of reckoning for our reckless ways is now at hand, as we face the mounting forces of a perfect economic storm, born of a convergence of peak oil, climate change, and a meltdown of the U.S. dollar. Peak oil of course occurs when global oil production peaks and begins its inexorable decline, in the face of continued rising global demand, sending prices soaring. Now, some experts believe that peak oil occurred last year in 2005, others believe it will not occur for another 10, 20, or even 35 years. Fortune Magazine correctly notes that the difference in those estimates is irrelevant. The era of peak oil is over, and we must act immediately to end our dependence on oil.

(the next section is a Power Point, but fortunately Korten does describe it in words as well) As he said the parts I've boldfaced, he clicked a big red X over the image to which he was referring.

Here are some of the implications for the ways in which our life will change. Long haul transport and global supply chains, foundations of the global economy--relics of a dying era.

Auto-dependent suburbia, strip malls, shopping centers, and box stores like WalMart located in the middle of nowhere--candidates for "going out of business" sales.

Oil-dependent industrial agriculture: destined to run out of gas.

Now take a look at this, do you see any oil dependence? These, of course, are the oil guzzling planes, ships, and ground vehicles we depend on to secure our access to cheap oil. Increasingly unaffordable, and, as we've seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, wholly ineffective against current military threats.

As oil prices inexorably rise, much of our existing capital stocks will be reduced to stranded assets, including much of the supporting capital of our sprawling and unsustainable suburbs.

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David Korten on how we measure wealth

This is a continuation of my transcript of David Korten's talk in Columbus on October 14. Part 1 can be seen here.

David Korten: Modern societies have, for more than 50 years, defined progress in terms of economic growth, and we've been highly successful at growing our economies. Since 1950, global economic output has increased by some seven times, and made a great deal of money for a few people.

Now, there's another side to this story. The Living Planet Index is a measure of the health of the world's fresh water, ocean, and forest ecosystems. That's the life support system of the planet--and arguably the foundation of all real wealth. Think about it, if there's no life support system, there's no life. And if there's no life, the whole concept of wealth loses its meaning. Now this index, as you can see, has declined by 37% in the past 30 years.

We see here the divergence, showing the indicators we use to convince ourselves that we are making progress and getting wealthier, and the true index showing that as a species we are collectively getting rapidly poorer. This difference, of course, creates massive distortion in our public policies.

Now, the good news in this, at least from the perspective of the planet, is that the species responsible for this devastation will be gone long before the index reaches zero.

Now consider, as we are depleting this planet, that 85% of what remains of our planet's life support system, is currently expropriated by the more fortunate 20% among us, to support often extravagent and wasteful lifestyles. Meanwhile, the poorest 20% struggle for survival on slightly more than 1%, and the middle 60% get by on 14%.

One of the many lessons that I learned in my years abroad is that much of what we call development is actually a process of expropriating the land and water resources on which the bottom 85% depend for their livelihoods, in order to make way for the dams, mines, shrimp farms, agricultural estates, golf courses, suburban sprawl, and shopping centers that primarily benefit the top 20%. Now to put this in simple language, conventional economic growth indicators in fact measure the rate at which productive resources of the poor are being transferred to the rich, and converted to garbage.

Now, it's an extraordinary thing that we measure our progress, not by our well-being, but by the throughput in our economic system, which is basically the rate at which we are throwing things away.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006


Interesting post--this is one of the faith traditions I recognize that I don't know as much about as I should.

How I came to paganism (and how did you? :-) by Morgan

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Friday, October 20, 2006

David Korten in Columbus, October 14, 2006

This is the beginning of my transcription of David Korten's remarks at the Earth Charter Summit that took place in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, October 14.

David Korten: It is such a joy to be here in Ohio with such a great group of people --I've just been meeting extraordinary activists everywhere I go. And, I hope you'll excuse me if I just take a moment here to go shake hands with Granny D (laughter and applause). Granny D is such an inspiration, when I was facing my 65th birthday and thinking, "Well, you know, this is kind of a transition. I guess the rest of my life I should be starting to think about winding down and passing on the responsibilities." (Laughter) And Granny D of course is an extraordinary example of what we should all be doing with our elder years. She's a great inspiration.

Now, I'm also fascinated by your politics here. Dennis Kucinich is one of my heroes--one of the most visionary politicians of our time. (Applause). And of course I note that you cover the range, to a candidate for governor who really should be in the penitentiary. Anyhow, hopefully he will find his way to the appropriate outcome.

This is a very special weekend here, I'm sure you know this is one of four sets of activities by different initiatives. And of course the Earth Charter and the Earth Charter Summit is what brings together the visionary framework for all of the rest of our work. And I'm so pleased that the Earth Charter folks here in Columbus are framing the issue in terms of creating earth community, because that, to me, is really the way to frame the Earth Charter. That it presents the principles for the earth community that we must bring forth. And that gives the substance and the lead-in to action.

And then of course the other initiatives, CIRCA, which is focussed on ending corporate colonization--that is one essential step on the path to earth community. Then Simply Living, which working on, "Okay, how do we implement it in the way we live, the way we organize our living space? The way we organize our economies."

The key to this is positive. As was mentioned in the introduction, one of the things I've come to is resistance alone is a losing strategy. Ultimately, to win we must come forward to create the positive.

And then of course the fourth, and absolutely foundational element of this quadrangle is the Voting Rights Revival Conference. And of course Ohio here reminded us all that, among all the democratic reforms we need, it starts with counting the votes. Absolutely foundational. So, I congratulate you all on your work, and thank you for the invitation. I hope my comments today will help put the work you're doing in a deeper historical, cultural, and to some extent spiritual context.

Now, the underlying message of the Great Turning is quite straightforward. We humans have come to the end of a long and deeply destructive era. It is time to turn this world around for our own sake, and for the sake of our children for generations to come.

There's good news and bad news, and it comes in the same package. The news is "business as usual is over". Peak oil, climate change, the collapsing U.S. dollar, and spreading social disinigration born of the marginalization of the majority of humanity are coming together in a constellation of forces desined to fundamentally change every aspect of modern life.

Now, whether this convergence of forces plays out as an epic human opportunity or the final human tragedy, will depend on the stories by which we understand what's happening, and undrestand the choices that it is ours to make. And I'm going to be talking about those choices.

On a crowded planet, peace, sustainability, justice, and equity, are inseparably linked. The time to choose a different path is now at hand, because empire has reached the limits of exploitation that people and planet will tolerate. If we continue with business as usual, future generations will likely look back and refer to our time as "The Great Unraveling". A time of environmental and social collapse. Fortunately, it is within our means to move beyond empire--to give birth to a new era of earth community, based on a more mature understanding of our responsibility to one another, and to earth.

Buddhist spiritual teacher Joanna Macy suggests that if we are successful in navigating this transition, future generations may speak of this as the time of The Great Turning. The time when humanity turned from the way of domination and embraced the way of partnership.

Now, over the millennia, the primary insitutional form of empire has morphed from the imperial city-states of ancient time, to the imperial nation-states of the modern era, and more recently to the imperial global coporations of our immediate time. What remains constant, however, is the underlying pattern of domination and exclusion.

Now, from time to time, someone will ask me, "Why are you so obsessed about coroporations? Aren't they just communities of people?" Well, I think most of you here have been studying this issue just a little deeper--you probably wouldn't ask that question. Because, what we know, is that there are many highly thoughful, ethical people who work at corporations, but they are all, including the CEO, employees of the institution. They are paid to serve the institution at its pleasure, required by law to leave their values at the door, and subject to instant dismissal at a moment's notice. These are not qualities we normally associate with community.

We're talking here about an institution of enormous power, governed by absentee owners and accountable managers, in the business of converting the life energy of people and nature into money for the short-term financial gain of already wealthy shareholders and managers, without regard to the human or natural consequences. In other words, the publicly traded Limited Liability Corporation is a gigantic pool of money with an artificial legal personality, required by law to behave like a sociopath. PR images aside, it is a destroyer of community, and a powerful engine of wealth concentration in a world in desperate need of community and equity.

(More to come)

David Korten is the author of The Great Turning: from Empire to Earth Community and When Corporations Rule the World.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Great Unraveling vs. The Great Turning

Some of you may remember me posting about The Great Turning in the past couple years, and linking to Joanna Macy's web site. Today, as I mentioned here, I attended an Earth Charter Summit, where the featured speaker, David Korten was discussing his recent book entitled The Great Turning: from Empire to Earth Community. (He is also the author of When Corporations Rule the World.)

The event took place at an SGI Community Center, which is worship center for people who practice Nichiren Buddhism in the Columbus area. I didn't know that before I got there--figured it was just another community rec center when I first walked in. But all the bowls and cushions tipped me off that there might be some Buddhist practice going on there.

It will probably take me a while to get this written up, but I can at least give some highlights now. We started by watching two films, A Quiet Revolution and Another Way of Seeing Things.

Before the David Korten spoke, awards were given--they called them "Recognition with Gratitude". Cindy and Art Strauss, who attend my church, were recognized for their work with Simply Living. I don't see Art at church much because he has had various health problems, but he was a regular at peace rallies a couple years ago, and always brought handouts to help educate people about various issues. I think it was Art who first introduced me to Jim Hightower's writing via the Hightower Lowdown. Art is now in a wheel chair, having broken his hip--I wasn't aware of that until today. So Cindy wheeled him up to the front of the room, and he accepted the plaque with tears in his eyes and a catch in his voice, saying that he didn't deserve it, but that it belonged to everyone who had worked with them.

Art and Cindy are some of the people whose example reminds me that I have no business being "too tired" to keep plugging along, trying to help make the world a better place. Another such person would be Granny D. She was there today as well--attending the event because she was in town to speak at the Voting Rights Revival Conference this evening. And since she is currently reading David Korten's book, she wanted to hear him speak.

I will have to write up David's talk a little later, but much of the basic premise can be found in this article in Yes Magazine.

By what name will future generations know our time?

Will they speak in anger and frustration of the time of the Great Unraveling, when profligate consumption exceeded Earth’s capacity to sustain and led to an accelerating wave of collapsing environmental systems, violent competition for what remained of the planet’s resources, and a dramatic dieback of the human population? Or will they look back in joyful celebration on the time of the Great Turning, when their forebears embraced the higher-order potential of their human nature, turned crisis into opportunity, and learned to live in creative partnership with one another and Earth?

Click here to read more.

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