Saturday, February 25, 2006

Son in Ohio and I were looking at the Flying Spaghetti Monster web site, after a discussion of the separation of church and state, prompted by my attempt to explain why we *really* don't want to see Ken Blackwell become governor. Anyway, I was reminding him that the FSM site, which he appreciates for the sheer absurdity, was created in response to the push to teach intelligent design in science classes. From there we found this fun walk-through tour of a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster made out of Legos. (Don't miss the Shrine of the Lost Meatball on page 2.)

This reminded me of the Ship of Fools web site and its amusing Gadgets for God page. I haven't looked there for a while, so I thought I'd check out what's new. Would you believe Ten Plagues Finger Puppets?!

I'm speechless.

Here's the writeup from Ship of Fools:

Ten Plagues Finger Puppets
"This little boil went to market. This little locust stayed at home. And this little plague sneaks into bedrooms in the middle of the night and mercilessly smites children of your age – on purely racial grounds. Goodnight, darling. Sweet dreams."

For just $16.95 you can scare the shibboleth out of your first-born with this inspiring set of finger puppets. All 10 plagues sent to Pharoah’s Egypt are here, including flies, thunder, hail, gnats, darkness. As the sales blurb puts it: "There is NO DOUBT about it. KIDS LOVE the story of the 10 Plagues... Here is just the right thing to keep your children interested in the Haggadah... and GUARANTEE they don't fall asleep..."

For anyone not familiar with the Ship of Fools site, they don't actually sell this stuff, but find it and tell you about it. I followed the link to and couldn't find the product, but a Google search revealed that, yup, there is such a thing.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Forrest Church on State of Belief

Rev. Forrest Church, Senior Minister at All Souls Church (UU) in Manhattan is going to be one of the guests on Air America's State of Belief today. The show starts at 5 p.m. E.S.T.

I keep missing this show because of my EFM classes, and meaning to download and listen to it later. I will *definitely* be doing that with this one, as I am quite fond of his writing.

I wanted to get this post up now so that people who are interested have a chance to tune in in time, but will add links with more information in a bit.

Church alliance denounces Iraq war

U.S. Church Alliance Denounces Iraq War

A coalition of American churches sharply denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq on Saturday, accusing Washington of "raining down terror" and apologizing to other nations for "the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown."

More here.

See also US Churches Again Denounce Iraq War, by Chuck Currie over at Street Prophets.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My Valentine's Day Surprise

Crossposted at Howard-Empowered People

If you spend much time on the "internets", you know that Valentine's Day this year started out under something of a cloud for many of us. Paul Hackett's withdrawal under party pressure from the Ohio Senate race seemed all too familiar to many of us who supported Howard Dean through the primaries. Another party "hit job"--just swell.  Less than a week earlier, I had attended the grand opening of Paul Hackett's campaign headquarters in Columbus. The room was packed, and even though I personally wanted some questions answered before I could fully support Hackett, clearly a lot of people in that room were working hard for him already. And many more were in the process of signing up. The morning of February 14, I couldn't help but think of those volunteers, and the fact that the very moment that they were enthusiastically committing their labor and love and time and money to the Hackett campaign, people like Chuck Schumer were working in the background to cut the legs out from under their efforts. So what's the point?

This post isn't starting out too upbeat, is it? It gets better, I promise...

Shortly after coming back from from a Ted Strickland event, as I was sitting at my computer to write this post, there was a knock at the door. Demetrius answered it, and came into the office to tell me that it was a box from SusanD. I really had no idea what it could be, but quickly opened it to find out. When I opened the box, there were instructions to open the package first (revealing the wonderful quilt you see below) and then read the letter.

The letter started out:

Dear Renee,

This quilt is a physical representation of the appreciation all of us feel at HEP for your efforts in setting up and maintaining the HEP blog site.

Wow! I've been around for a few quilt projects--two for Howard Dean and one for Kimmy's family, but I never dreamed that I would be on the receiving end of one. I am...well, I don't know that I even have adequate words, but for starters, amazed, touched, humbled, grateful...and reinvigorated.

Because, on the note that started this post, politics really does suck. A lot. Why on earth would I choose to spend any of my precious free time on something that sucks that bad? Well, as I said earlier, it's Howard Dean's fault. And it's the rest of you too. It's the wonderful community that he inspired, and you all agree with me that politics as usual sucks. So we're working together towards something better. Sometimes that seems impossible, but we know that the impossible will just take a little while. In addition to Paul Loeb's work that I just linked, sometimes I draw comfort and inspiration from the idea of the Great Turning.

But that's all very theoretical, and sometimes I just need something tangible to hang on to. Thanks to Susan's hard work and all of your participation, now I have that "something tangible" to remind me that this is all about community. Just like Howard said.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Visiting again with neighbor Fred Rogers

Tonight at my EFM class, I was signed up to lead worship, which meant bringing the munchies and leading the opening and closing prayer. Thankfully, Demetrius helped me out with some of the baking, because I kept getting sidetracked while looking for something to use as a prayer. I had thought of using something from Desmond Tutu and something from Fred Rogers. I was thinking there would be something good from Fred Rogers in the book Important Things to Remember, which is a collection of brief reflections that his wife Joanne assembled into a book after his death. But I don't actually have a copy of that book, so I tried to search for some excerpts online. I kept coming across stories I'd never seen before. And getting weepy. Anyway, I'd like to share some of what I found, in case others hadn't seen some of these stories before.

The first thing I found this morning was this article from Esquire, entitled Remembering Mister Rogers. The author, Tom Junod, had done a profile of Fred Rogers several years earlier, and had stayed in touch with him ever since that time...

once you entered into Fred's life, well, there was no doubt that he would enter into yours. He was not only the kindest man I'd ever met but also one of the most fiercely disciplined, to the degree that he saw nothing but the good in other human beings. When he saw the good in me, he fixed on it, and there was a never a moment in which he didn't try to make me live up to it, by word, or by example, or, most often, by prayer.

Junod goes on to write that it was a source of regret when Fred Rogers died that his wife Janet had never had the opportunity to meet him personally. But he did touch her life, as the author goes on to say, after Janet had received a hurtful verbal attack during a phone conversation on Christmas Eve.
Janet has lived a nearly blameless life; she has never been attacked that way, ever, especially by somebody with whom she supposed a bond, and that night, when we went to bed, she couldn't sleep. She was consumed with anger and ill wishes, and as Christmas Eve turned to Christmas Day, she was still awake, and still tortured by what the attack had done to her own spirit. Finally, in near desperation, the thought came to her: "What would Mister Rogers do?" And the answer came nearly as quickly: "Pray."

She prayed for the man who had attacked her. The prayers did not come easily, but at three in the morning, she prayed that he might find relief for his unhappiness—that he might still find a way to be happy. She went to sleep, and when she told me, on Christmas morning, what she had done, I went out to my office and called Fred. "How sweet of you, Tom, to share that story with me on Christmas," he said, sounding, as he always did, exactly like Mister Rogers. "How special." He never told me he was sick, and I never asked. He did, however, inform me that he was still praying for me, for Janet, and for a troubled member of our family whom he had never met. I had no doubt, then, that he was a man whose prayers were answered. I have no doubt that his prayers are answered still.

I also found this in a sermon by Dave Weissbard at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockford, Illinois. He describes what happened when Fred Rogers visited Chataqua some time in the early 1990s.
It was an unscheduled visit. He was there to see some folks and agreed to an informal gathering to meet fans. It was announced at the end of the morning lecture that there would be an opportunity to meet Mr. Rogers that afternoon at 4:00 at Norton Hall, the auditorium at which the operas are performed. The place was packed. He finally arrived and walked out on the stage to tumultuous applause - a standing ovation. He spoke for about 10 minutes and then announced he would accept questions. There were several, and then a woman stood up and asked what she, as a grandmother could do. He son and daughter-in-law were getting divorced and she was afraid she was going to lose contact with her grandchildren whom she adored. And then she broke down. It still wipes me out. Mr. Rogers put down his microphone and ignored the other 999 of us and went down into the audience and put his arms around that grandmother and talked only to her for 5 or 10 minutes while we waited, patiently. I knew, at that moment, as did the rest of his neighbors, that we were in the presence of a saint.

Then I went back to look at the profile Tom Junod had written for Esquire back in 1998, entitled, Can you say hero? The article is 10 pages long, and includes this amazing story. I think I remember reading it when it appeared in the magazine all those years ago, but it still brought tears and amazement when I read it a second time.
ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a boy who didn't like himself very much. It was not his fault. He was born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is something that happens to the brain. It means that you can think but sometimes can't walk, or even talk. This boy had a very bad case of cerebral palsy, and when he was still a little boy, some of the people entrusted to take care of him took advantage of him instead and did things to him that made him think that he was a very bad little boy, because only a bad little boy would have to live with the things he had to live with. In fact, when the little boy grew up to be a teenager, he would get so mad at himself that he would hit himself, hard, with his own fists and tell his mother, on the computer he used for a mouth, that he didn't want to live anymore, for he was sure that God didn't like what was inside him any more than he did. He had always loved Mister Rogers, though, and now, even when he was fourteen years old, he watched the Neighborhood whenever it was on, and the boy's mother sometimes thought that Mister Rogers was keeping her son alive. She and the boy lived together in a city in California, and although she wanted very much for her son to meet Mister Rogers, she knew that he was far too disabled to travel all the way to Pittsburgh, so she figured he would never meet his hero, until one day she learned through a special foundation designed to help children like her son that Mister Rogers was coming to California and that after he visited the gorilla named Koko, he was coming to meet her son.

At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room and talk to him. Mister Rogers didn't leave, though. He wanted something from the boy, and Mister Rogers never leaves when he wants something from somebody. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, "I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?" On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said, "I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?" And now the boy didn't know how to respond. He was thunderstruck. Thunderstruck means that you can't talk, because something has happened that's as sudden and as miraculous and maybe as scary as a bolt of lightning, and all you can do is listen to the rumble. The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn't know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he'd try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn't talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.

As for Mister Rogers himself…well, he doesn't look at the story in the same way that the boy did or that I did. In fact, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being so smart—for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself—and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me at first with puzzlement and then with surprise. "Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn't ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession."

What an amazing human being who, again and again, demonstrated his ability to look beyond the reality most people saw, and, as Jurod said in the first piece I linked above, find the good in people. Here, finally, is what I selected as my closing prayer tonight. It is from a commencement address Fred Rogers gave at Marquette University in 2001.
A few years ago, I was asked to be part of a White House meeting about children and television. Many broadcasters from all over the country were there. Since I was supposed to be one of the speakers, I was seated beside Mrs. Clinton, who afterward said, "Congratulations," and was whisked away to her next meeting.

But as I was leaving that enormous room, I heard something from one of the military guards, who was all dressed up in white and gold looking like a statue. I heard him whisper, "Thanks, Mr. Rogers." So I went over to him, noticed that his eyes were moist, and I asked him, "Thanks for what?"

"Well, sir," he said, "as I listened to you today, I started to remember my grandfather's brother. I haven't thought about him in years. I was only seven when he died, but just before that, he gave me his favorite fishing rod. I've just been thinking, maybe that's why I like fishing so much and why I like to show the kids in my neighborhood all about it."

Well, as far as I'm concerned, the major reason for my going to Washington that day was that military guard and nourishing the memory of his great uncle.

What marvelous mysteries we're privileged to be part of! Why would that young man be assigned to guard that particular room on that particular day? It's slender threads like that that weave this complex fabric of our life together.

I wonder if you've heard what happened at the Seattle Special Olympics a few years ago? For the 100-yard dash there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line; and, at the sound of the gun they took off - but one little boy stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around, saw the boy and ran back to him - every one of them ran back to him.

One little girl with Down Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, "This will make it better." The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line. They all finished the race at the same time.

And when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long time. People who were there are still telling the story with obvious delight.

And you know why, because deep down, we know that what matters in this life is much more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then. There's a part of all of us that longs to know that even what's weakest about us can ultimately count for something good.

State of Belief Radio Show: February 4

A quick reminder that State of Belief is coming up on Air America.

On this Sunday's show:

* A look at the legacy of Coretta Scott King: Welton talks with one of her closest colleagues, Rev. Jim Lawson.
* Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, leader of the world's largest GLBT synagogue, joins us.
* Plus, the State of the Union vs. the state of our union; the 10 commandments making their way back into courthouses; and Your Voice: getting paid to go to church.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Faithful Ohio

About three years ago, troubled that the public face of Christianity often seemed to be pro-war and anti-compassion, I started a web site called The Religious Left. Now that the voices of groups like Ohio Restoration Project and Reformation Ohio are growing louder and more strident, and seeking to use their numbers and influence to promote an agenda that is harmful to "the least of these", it is vital that other voices of faith speak out.

As you can see from the posts here, some have already begun to do so. Another group has started to meet, focusing not on fighting Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson, but by offering an alternative message.

In November, about 150 religious leaders quietly gathered Downtown at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on E. Broad Street, where Ahrens is senior minister. And from that meeting, a movement is budding – a push back of pastors and rabbis.

"We intend on organizing and having pastors and rabbis talk about issues that are important to the community through their sermons and in the media," said Eric McFadden, Columbus-based field director of the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

"We want to bring attention to many issues we feel that this movement on the right is not conveying to the public – issues of poverty, job loss, health care and a general lack of humanity."

This development is exciting and encouraging to me, and I want to do what I can to help this group, and other compassionate religious voices in Ohio, be heard. And to help us find each other--sometimes progressive people of faith can feel a bit isolated, and it is reassuring to be reminded that we are not alone.

But while I felt moved to start this blog, I know that I won't be able to keep it going without help. What if I build it, and nobody comes? Could be embarrassing. So, starting this blog, and publicly announcing it, is a real leap of faith on my part.

Here is what I am asking for.

I need:

--help watching for relevant news articles, like the one I linked above.
--relevant links to add to the sidebar
--submissions from people in Ohio, expressing how your faith compels you to work for social and economic justice.

Please email ohiorenee at if you have something to submit. And click here to visit the Faithful Ohio blog.