Saturday, December 01, 2007

What my dog taught me

This started as a comment in response to Dogs, Doorwalls and Dianisms at My Left Wing. Somewhere along the way, the comment got long enough to actually be a post. That doesn't seem to happen to often lately, so I decided to go with it...

One of the things that has been on my mind this fall is the sacredness of my connection to one of my dogs. It hasn't been easy to put into words, but I took a shot when my brother and I took Brady and Winnie to the dog park over the Thanksgiving weekend.

In part this has been prompted by my realization that Brady, the collie, must be around 10 years old at this point. I hadn't really given his age much thought--while the changes in my kids have been hard to miss, Brady always seems the same to me. It was only once he started to show some stiffness upon getting up that I really gave his age much thought.

Then there was last month's retreat. Its theme of Celtic spirituality (emphasizing nature and animals) served to reinforce the notion that I had some spiritual "work" to do centering around my relationship with Brady. There's just this amazing connection between us--sometimes it seems like he can read my thoughts.

Yet he always seems to be "underfoot", and our son in particular doesn't like the dogs around him. Winnie can go lie down somewhere when she's not wanted around, but Brady picks up on people's moods, and if anyone is emitting any "upset" vibes, he just *has* to be right there. (Winnie has that same sense of compulsion if she detects the presence of food.)

Anyway, the easiest way to restore some sense of calm or order is usually to just put Brady out in the yard. Over the years, he's spent a lot of time in the yard.

When I first got Brady, I took him to obedience classes once a week. We went through the beginner's class, and then intermediate. He earned his "Canine Good Citizen" certificate. The goal had been to eventually get involved with animal assisted therapy as a volunteer activity we could do together.

But then I got into animal rescue. Then I got out of animal rescue, but not without acquiring a second dog. Once I had two dogs, I was less inclined to take Brady "out" anywhere, and felt less compelled to do so, since the two dogs had each other.

Late this summer, I found out that there is a free (meaning no charge--you can just show up rather than paying for a membership) off-leash dog park in a suburb of Columbus. The first time I took Brady there, I was just blown away by the utter joy I could see in him. It had been ages since I'd seen him genuinely happy. His most characteristic mood for some time before that, had been "worried". Worried about the "pack", the family. I decided that I needed to make an effort to take him out more often. Like I should have been doing all along, but I'd stopped at some point. And dogs are so darn forgiving and accomodating, aren't they?

Earlier this fall, when I was working on a temp project and teaching three classes, I was sometimes too tired to get up for church by the time Sunday rolled around. On one such Sunday, when I had failed to get myself to church or the gym, I decided that taking Brady to the dog park could take the place of both that day. I was starting to think of time with Brady as a form of spiritual practice.

Boy, if that doesn't sound like some sort of namby-pamby watered-down progressive version of religion, I don't know what does.

But this is bigger than just "doing right by the collie", I've come to realize. It's about living more deliberately, acting rather than just reacting. Actually stopping to make choices rather than just allowing myself to be pushed along by life's currents. And that applies to my personal life as well as any involvement I choose to have in the "public square", whether that ends up being political or quasi-political or--whatever. But, as I mentioned here, all I know is that I'm committed to doing something to help make the world a better place.

Yet it's too easy for me to allow "the prevailing mood", whether it be on blogs, or in the media--or just my kids sniping at each other--to distract me from focusing on that goal. And now, with the artificial "frenzy" of the holiday season added into the mix, I could really use some help with this. I'm sure I can't be the only one dealing with this. So, I'm thinking that this would be a good time for those who are kindred spirits in feeling this way to come together and support each other. And help each other find strength, patience, humor, and perspective for the journey.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Zimbardo on "nurturing the heroic imagination"

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo (photo courtesy of The Lucifer Effect web site) came to speak at a community college here in Columbus last month. I recorded the whole talk, which was an hour long. The whole thing was fascinating, but I set myself the modest goal of transcribing only the last eight minutes. Those last minutes of the lecture were the uplifting, hopeful part, and, I don't know about you, but I sure could use more of that in my daily life.

"The line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being", says Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. ... "It's a decision that you have to make every day in various ways."

So what I want to do, is I want to end on a positive note, because I know I've depressed you. When I was writing this book I was so depressed, going through all this horrible stuff, and being immersed in this "evil shit", if you will. (Laughter) But the positive note is, heroism as an antidote to evil, by promoting what I call "the heroic imagination" in every man, woman, and child in our nation.

What I mean by that is, here's Joe Darby. He's the guy who exposed the Abu Ghraib abuses. His friend gave him a CD with those pictures and more--he looked at them and said, "This is terrible! We're supposed to bring democracy to these people, and we're humiliating them!" He took that CD and brought it to the senior investigating officer. He was a private in the Army Reserves. That's a thing you never do. And he knew that his buddies were going to get in trouble. But he said "I had to do the right thing." They had to put him into protective custody along with his mother and his wife, because everybody wanted to kill them. ...He is the most ordinary person, G.I. Joe, and he did the right thing.

And there's also the guy in China, in Tiananmen Square, where students were having a peaceful demonstration to promote more freedom, and here was a line of tanks trying to crush them. He jumped in front and said, "We are all Chinese, we all want freedom! We want the same things--please don't do this!" And he turned around. And so here's a powerful physical hero. Darby was a whistleblowing hero. So I want to refocus away from evil to understanding heroes.

Hannah Arendt, in her analysis of the banality of evil said, you know what, evil monsters like Adolf Eichmann, who orchestrated the deaths of millions of Jews, before he went to Auschwitz, was normal. When we see him in this trial, he's normal. You put him in a situation, and give him power, and permission to kill, you know what? He does his job very well. And she said, the problem with evil is that the perpetrators of evil look like your next door neighbor. They don't look like the comic book monsters that we're led to be afraid of as kids. That's the danger--that they're terrifyingly normal.

So I extend her concept to the "banality of heroism". There are two kinds of heroes: there's Nelson Mandela, there's Gandhi, there's Mother Teresa--but these are the exceptional heroes. They built their whole lives around heroic deeds. They had a call, a mission, to serve humanity. They are the exception. Most heroes are like Joe Darby--ordinary guys, who only once in their lives do a heroic deed. And never again--almost every hero is a one-time hero. And so I'm going to argue that everyday heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary deeds. There's nothing special about them. And I want to argue that the same exact situation that inflames the hostile imagination in some people, and makes them do bad things, that same situation inspires the heroic imagination in other people.

And for most other people, it renders them passive. I call that "the evil of inaction". Most people do what your mother said, "Mind your own business and don't get in trouble!" You have to say, "Mama, in this case, you're wrong, because humanity is my business."

And so, with the psychology of heroism, we want to encourage children, families, everyone, to develop the heroic imagination. To think about yourself as a "hero in waiting". And that, to be a hero, you don't have to be more religious, you don't have to be more compassionate. All you have to do is be ready to act when others are not, or when some people are doing bad things, and you have to be ready to act on behalf of other people. Being have to stop thinking about yourself and what will it cost you or what will you gain. To be a hero you've got to act, and you've got to act on behalf of other people--that's all you need.

And so what we want to do is have curriculum--I'm working with people to develop curriculum, starting in the fifth grade, getting kids to think about what it means to be a hero, who are the heroes in your life, what have you done that's heroic. What skills do you need--because some kinds of things you really have to know something, like first aid skills. So when the time comes--and I tell you, it's only going to come once in your life!

So I want to end with this wonderful story that some of you know about. A guy named Wesley Autrey, who's the New York subway hero. He was in a train station with 75 other people. A white guy falls on the tracks. The train is coming, and it's going to cut him in half. He's (Wesley) got a reason not to get involved--he's got two little girls. He's got no personal connection. Instead, he jumps on the track to try to save the guy. The train was coming, it could wipe him out. So I'd like you to actually see this in action.

(He showed this video)

So one day, you will be in a new situation, and there's going to be three paths before you. Path 1: you join in and become a perpetrator of evil. Not Abu Ghraib evil, but teasing, bullying, spreading rumors, spreading gossip. Path 2 is you become guilty of passive inaction. You're home at Christmas, and Uncle Charlie starts telling a racist or sexist joke, and you don't say, "Uncle Charlie, please don't." Or you're in a cab in New York, where they do it all the time, and you say, "I find that insulting. Please stop." If you don't do that, you allow this person to think "Everybody likes it. Everybody thinks it's funny." You have to take action.

Path 3 is to go straight ahead and do the heroic thing. You challenge authority, you challenge the system. And so I hope we are all ready to take that path and celebrate being ordinary heroes--heroes in waiting. Waiting for the right situation to put our heroic imagination into action. We have to think it--by thinking it, it increases the probability of doing it. We know from psychology that if I convince you that everything we know about you means that you're really more generous than most people. Next week there's a blood drive--you know what? You're going to give more blood than him. Next week there's a charity drive--you know what--you're going to give more money than somebody else.

I think that promoting a heroic imagination in our schools--just thinking about it--because it's only going to happen once! Wesley Autrey never did it again, he never will--he's not going to be in that particular situation. Joe Darby, never did it before, and he's not going to be in that situation again. So the point is, you always want people to be primed--ready for the situation where things are going to happen, you're prepared, and you're going to be the one to take the action.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bless all creatures here below

Daughter sang with the children's choir today, and, since this is the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Francis, the hymns centered around that. The opening hymn was one I'd never heard before, and it was *adorable*.

Today we celebrate a feast,
A holiday for man and beast.
We think of every friend who speaks,
barks and purrs and roars and squeaks.
As we sing we keep in mind
beings of a different kind.

Bless all creatures here below,
Lord, from whom all blessings flow.

We think of squirrels in the park
at play from morning light 'til dark,
and birds that sing on leafy boughs
in green fields with the sheep and cows
Dear that in the forest leap,
whales that swim the ocean deep.

Bless all creatures here below,
Lord, from whom all blessings flow.

Together with our pets we meet
friends with whiskers, tails that greet.
Muzzles wet beside our cheek
show us love they cannot speak.
Hold them tight so they will know
where we are they too will go.

Bless all creatures here below,
Lord, from whom all blessings flow.
There were three more verses. The last line, though, is what made me well up:

When at last we come to you, let our creatures be there too

Our creatures have just got to be there. If they're not, how could it be heaven?

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

October 24 is International Talk Like a Quaker Day

Via jeanne_d_arc's Livejournal

In the same vein as International Talk Like a Pirate Day and National Quaker Week in the UK, I have decided to declare October (Tenth Month) 24 (which just so happens to be United Nations Day and William Penn's birthday) as International Talk Like a Quaker Day.

Participants can use such sentences as:
"Mind the Light!"
"Friend, I'm afraid I must elder thee for what thee said on First Day."
"Today is the 24th day of Tenth Month, 2007."
"Walk cheerfully all over the Earth."
"George, thy foreign policy is not in keeping with the Peace Testimony."

If you are thinking that most modern-day Quakers don't talk like that, just keep in mind that most modern-day pirates don't talk the way a celebrant of International Talk Like a Pirate Day would. Indeed, most pirates today sail the waters near Indonesia (and may not even speak English) or create bootleg software and illegal copies of movies (and therefore use techno jargon).

Please spread the word! If someone feels Led to create a website for the day, so much the better.
Okay, the blog isn't much to look at so far, but I can purty it up later. :)

Or maybe simplicity is what I should be going for...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Drowning in "sleep debt"

Well, this is a timely subject for me to be covering with my introductory psychology students.

Each of us has a specific daily sleep requirement. The average sleep requirement for college students is well over eight hours, and the majority of students would fall within the range of this value plus or minus one hour. If this amount is not obtained, a sleep debt is created. All lost sleep accumulates progressively as a larger and larger sleep indebtedness. Furthermore, your sleep debt does not go away or spontaneously decrease. The only way to reduce your individual sleep debt is by obtaining extra sleep over and above your daily requirement.


So, here I am, up to my eyeballs in sleep debt. How am I supposed to get out of debt? By sleeping, one would presume. Except that I get into this ironic-sounding but very real state of "overtired" and I can't. But now, at least I have something new to worry about during those sleepless hours.

Like, if I can't get sleep on my own, and I have to pay off this sleep debt, what options do I have? Go to the sleep bank to take out a loan? Maybe my credit isn't good, and I'd be forced to go to a sleep loan shark. What do they do if you can't pay on time. Instead of breaking your legs, maybe they burn your mattress...

Sleep researcher William Dement--who wrote the article I excerpted above--has said that a large sleep debt "makes you stupid". At very least, as evidenced above, it is making my jokes stupid.

Jokes aside, though, this has been on my mind a lot lately. I think we hear these things about how much sleep we need, and how unhealthy it is to rack up a huge sleep debt, many of us are inclined to nod seriously, but then file that away with all the other "shoulds" that most of us ignore. And I wonder if there's something in the Western, "rugged individualist" mindset that tells us we're supposed to be able to "conquer the natural world", even when it comes to our own biological needs. I can't say exactly where, but I picked up an idea like that somewhere along the line. The idea that I should be able to "overcome" tiredness by sheer force of will. Or the idea that, if my schedule is packed and I can't fit everything in, sleep is an area where I can cut some corners.

I'm coming to realize that I can't, and that I need to listen to what my body is telling me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A dog party! A big dog party!

Just a little something fun that I thought I'd share...

It's not often that I find myself with the time, or the inclination to write about anything these days. I've got a busy work schedule--which is about to get busier for the next couple weeks. We've got an IEP to sort out, with a "resource" teacher who is in desperate need of education on Asperger's Syndrome. (Probably also in need of an attitude adjustment.) We've got a daughter who, on her twelfth birthday (earlier this month) announced that she was becoming a vegetarian, without having dropped any hints that she might be inclined to do such a thing. This is a girl who, when she first began combining words, memorably said "More beef!" So that has been yet another new complication in a life that is already plenty complicated, thank you very much! And politics? Pffft! Don't get me started...

So, where was I? Oh yeah...

The "Doggie Paddle" (a fundraiser for a local dog park) was actually supposed to take place two weeks ago, but was cancelled due to rain early in the afternoon. Once the rain had cleared, Daughter and I put Winnie in the car and headed up to the pool. When we arrived, there had only been a few cars there--belonging to other disappointed dog owners who were discovering that the event had been cancelled.

The next week, I was pleased to learn that the event had been rescheduled, and as we pulled up to the pool yesterday, we were met with a decidedly full parking lot. And a quick look inside the park revealed lots of dogs having a good time. I couldn't help thinking of the scene at the end of Go, Dog, Go by P.D. Eastman (who Daughter in Ohio, as a toddler, called A. B. Beastman).

A dog party!
A big dog party!
Big dogs, little dogs,
red dogs, blue dogs,
yellow dogs, green dogs,
black dogs, and white dogs
are all at a dog party!
What a dog party!
Of course, the dogs at the pool were just the ordinary dog colors, and they weren't partying at the top of a tree, but it was definitely a dog party. And a good, wet, time was had by all.

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I didn't know ahead of time that people would be getting in the water with their dogs, or I would have had Daughter bring her swimsuit. So I just decided we wouldn't worry about her clothes getting wet. After all, this isn't something she gets to do very often.

Remember Dances With Wolves? When I saw this picture, it occurred to me that Daughter's name could be Swims With Rottweilers. ;)

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That's Winnie on the left. She wasn't into the whole water thing, but had a great time meeting new dogs. And in the last half hour of our three hours there, she did finally venture into the shallow water.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bishops in New Orleans

Found this message from my bishops in my inbox. It was a welcome change from the articles I've been reading about looming schism. -Renee

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

For much of the House of Bishops, today was a break from the business of the House and an opportunity to engage in service.

Bishops and spouses traveled to locations throughout New Orleans and Mississippi to engage in mission work. Another group took a civil rights tour throughout the region and met with social justice advocates.

Bishop Ken and Mariann spent the morning at St. Paul's Home Coming Center preparing gift baskets to give to residents when they return to their homes. They also planted vegetables, butterfly bushes and flowers in a community garden. In the area near the garden, people had returned to a few of the homes. Others remained boarded up, still bearing the "bathtub rings" of water scum and debris across the windows and doors -- a reminder of the 6 feet of water that flooded the entire neighborhood and stood stagnant for six weeks. Organizers of the rebuilding project said that residents returned to plant gardens even before they started gutting their homes. For many, the signs of new life springing from devastation was a symbol of God's promise and the resurrection.

Bishop Ken and Mariann also joined hundreds in celebrating the opening of a new church, All Souls in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area hard hit by the flooding. The church is meeting in an abandoned Walgreens drugstore and held a neighborhood barbeque and party to celebrate.

Meanwhile Bishop Tom and a small group of other bishops worked throughout the day to craft a message from the House of Bishops. They are preparing a first draft to reflect the thinking of the House. They will then present this first draft on Monday morning, and it will become the springboard for discussion and serve as the foundation of the bishops' public response. The bishops expect to release this message on Tuesday.

On Sunday morning, Bishop Tom will be preaching at All Saints, River Ridge in New Orleans, where a former student, the Rev. Susan Davidson now serves. He also will join two other bishops in leading an adult forum about the House of Bishops meeting. Bishop Ken will be at Christ Church Cathedral, where Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is preaching (and where former Southern Ohio priest David DuPlantier is dean).

The House of Bishops will return to session on Monday morning. We will resume our posts on Monday evening. Despite reports of threatening weather and rain, the skies were bright and sunny in New Orleans today. Thanks be to God.


Bishops Thomas Breidenthal and Kenneth L. Price, Jr.
Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio

Monday, September 10, 2007

More on B.R.E.A.D., Payday Lending, and Ohio Representatives

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post about Doing Justice in Ohio. The following excerpt comes from my church's September newsletter:

At that Nehemiah Action Assembly, Senator Ray Miller pledged to introduce legislation in the state house to curb PayDay Lending. You may have seen recent articles in the Columbus Dispatch and elsewhere in which this issue and its abuses have been well documented. Though B.R.E.A.D. is mentioned, it is rarely given the credit for having moved this issue to the forefront.

Behind the scenes B.R.E.A.D. has been working with Senator Miller, a Democrat, and Representative Bill Batchelder, a Republican, to sponsor the same legislation in the House and in the Senate. This kind of strong bi-partisan cooperation will benecessary to pass a bill. At the August 24 meeting, B.R.E.A.D. was reminded that it will take phone calls, e-mails, and letter to state lawmakers to get this bill passed. PayDay Lenders have a well funded lobby and have doubled their spending in the legislature since 2006. Be prepared for some requests from your B.R.E.A.D. team to write, call, e-mail those who represent you in the statehouse!
About that bipartisan support--that is apparently the reason Ohio House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty has been hesitant to support the legislation. From the Other Paper article I linked yesterday...
Several state lawmakers of both parties have agreed to take on the cause. While others surely have their reservations, Beatty is one of the only legislators to openly criticize the effort, brushing off the proposed reforms as shortsighted and politically motivated.

Using her influence as the minority leader, Beatty has discouraged Democrats from working with Republican state Rep. Bill Batchelder of Medina, whom advocates have asked to sponsor the legislation in the House.

Known as an arch conservative, Batchelder has been against high-interest loan centers dating back to the 1990s, when he opposed legislation that led to the proliferation of payday lending shops. However, Beatty has repeatedly suggested Batchelder is using the issue to advance his aspirations to be speaker of the House next session.

“I will not support any legislative agenda that I feel is solely for someone’s political gain,” Beatty wrote in an op-ed column published last month in the Akron Beacon Journal.

That’s a problem because legislation will require bipartisan support, and Beatty is known for her ability to keep her caucus in line.

“It’s already damaged the prospects for getting the bill passed,” said Miller.

“I think we’ve laid out a good strategy, we’re fortunate to have bipartisan leadership on this with Rep. Batchelder and myself,” he added. “At the present time, our biggest challenge is the opposition from Rep. Beatty and her work to encourage members of her caucus to be neutral or opposed.”
I have a hard time understanding how a powerful Democrat in the Ohio House would want to delay implementing measures to protect our most vulnerable citizens from predatory lending practices for basically political reasons. Still, she did say I will not support any legislative agenda that I feel is solely for someone’s political gain, and has said that she is willing to hear from her constituents on this matter. Maybe even polite letters from people who are not her constituents, but are able to clearly express why this is not solely for someone's political gain.

The bill (I've been searching for a bill number and an official link, and will update if/when I find that) only proposes the same safeguards against predatory lending that military personnel are now granted via the Nelson Talent Amendment.
The proposed bill would cap interest rates on short-term loans at 36 percent. Currently, the rate on these loans can reach nearly 400 percent when calculated over a year. The bill also would call for financial incentives and tax credits for traditional lenders to encourage them to offer short-term, low-interest loans.
So we're talking about reasonable limits on the interest rates that can be charged, not shutting these places down, as Rep. Beatty seems to suggest here:
House Democratic Leader Joyce Beatty, who represents some of the same citizens as Miller, said she has talked to people in line waiting to get payday loans.

"People said to me, ‘Rep. Beatty, these folks will at least cash my check.’ One lady told me she couldn’t get her check cashed in any bank in the city," Beatty said.

"I have not had anybody call me and say, ‘I go to a payday lending establishment, and I think you should close them down.’ "
That quote is from an article that was published on July 23. Hopefully by this point, people have clarified to Representative Beatty that no one associated with this proposed bill is suggesting that payday lending establishments should be shut down Still, since she is in a position to either help or hurt the passage of a bill that could offer even some minimal protection to Ohio's most vulnerable citizens, I think it couldn't hurt to politely help see to it that she does understand what this is really about.

Update: In addition to Rep. Beatty, B.R.E.A.D. also has meetings scheduled with the following representatives.

Rep. Jim McGregor, District 20

Rep. Larry Wolpert, District 23

Rep. Tracy Herad, District 26

If you live in one of their districts, please consider writing to encourage their support of this bill.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Doing justice in Ohio

I just found out about this at church. Tiny bit of background: the pastor of my church is currently one of the co-presidents of B.R.E.A.D. (which stands for Building Responsibility Equality and Dignity, and works with lawmakers to advance achievable goals in the area of social justice.) The goal B.R.E.A.D. is currently working towards is getting legislation passed to put some reasonable restraints on the payday lending industry. You can read here about the action meeting that took place in May.

Anyway, George announced that B.R.E.A.D. has a meeting scheduled with Representative Joyce Beatty this coming Wednesday. He noted that Rep. Beatty has opposed the legislation in the past, but has said that she is interested in hearing from her constituents. He directed our attention to an article that appears in the current edition of The Other Paper. In a nutshell, Rep. Beatty is the Ohio House Minority Leader, and is in a position, not only to oppose the bill herself, but to sway other Democrats to oppose the legislation or remain neutral. And her reasons for opposing the legislation appear to know, I'm not even going to try to come up with the right words to describe what I think of it. Please read the article and come to your own conclusions. I'll try to write more about this a little later.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Letter from Bishop Spong to the Archbishop of Canterbury

I just received this via e-mail from a retired priest from my church. --Renee

John Shelby Spong A Public Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams 5 September, 2007

Dear Rowan,

I am delighted that you have agreed to meet with the House of Bishops of the American Episcopal Church in September, even if you appear to be unwilling to come alone. It has seemed strange that you, who have had so much to say about the American Church, have not been willing to do so before now. Your office is still honored by Episcopalians in this country, so our bishops will welcome you warmly and politely. We have some amazingly competent men and women in that body, many of whom have not yet met you.

There is clearly an estrangement between that body and you in your role as the Archbishop of Canterbury. I want to share with you my understanding of the sources of that estrangement. First, I believe that most of our senior bishops, including me, were elated, at your appointment by Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Most Americans are not aware that yours is an appointed, not an elected position. Those of us who knew you were keenly aware of your intellectual gifts, your openness on all of the great social debates of our generation and indeed of your personal warmth. We also believed that the Lambeth Conference of 1998, presided over by your predecessor, George Carey, had been a disaster that would haunt the Communion for at least a quarter of a century. An assembly of bishops hissing at and treating fellow bishops with whom they disagreed quite rudely, was anything but an example of Christian community. The unwillingness of that hostile majority to listen to the voices of invited gay Christians, their use of the Bible in debate as a weapon to justify prejudice, the almost totalitarian attempt made to manage the press and to prevent access to the wider audience and the dishonest denial of the obvious and blatant homophobia among the bishops made that Lambeth Conference the most disillusioning ecclesiastical gathering I have ever attended. The Church desperately needed new leadership and so many of us greeted your appointment with hope. Your detractors in the evangelical camp both in England and in the third world actively lobbied against your appointment. The hopes of those of us who welcomed your appointment were, however, short lived because in one decision after another you seemed incapable of functioning as the leader the Church wanted and needed.

It began at the moment of your appointment when you wrote a public letter to the other primates assuring them that you would not continue in your enlightened and open engagement with the moral issue of defining and welcoming those Christians who are gay and lesbian. We all knew where you stood. Your ministry had not been secret. We knew you had been one of the voices that sought to temper the homophobia of your predecessor's rhetoric! We knew of your personal friendship with gay clergy and that you had even knowingly ordained a gay man to the priesthood. You, however, seemed to leap immediately to the conclusion that unity was more important than truth. Perhaps you did not realize that your appointment as the archbishop was because you had different values from those of your predecessor and that your values were exactly what the Church wanted and needed in its new archbishop.

In that letter, in a way that was to me a breathtaking display of ineptitude and moral weakness, you effectively abdicated your leadership role. The message you communicated was that in the service of unity you would surrender to whoever had the loudest public voice. A leader gets only one chance to make a good first impression and you totally failed that chance. Unity is surely a virtue, but it must be weighed against truth, the Church's primary virtue.

Next came the bizarre episode of the appointment of the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, a known gay priest, to be the area bishop for Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. He was proposed by the Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries. The nomination was approved by all of the necessary authorities, including you, the Prime Minister and the Queen. The fundamentalists and the evangelicals were predictably severe and anything but charitable or Christian. They and their allies in the press assassinated Jeffrey John's character and made his life miserable. Once again you collapsed in the face of this pressure and, in a four-hour conversation, you forced your friend and mine, Jeffery John, who is not only a brilliant New Testament scholar, but also one who gave you his word that he was living a celibate life, to resign his appointment to that Episcopal off ice. The message went out for all to hear that if people are angry enough, the Archbishop will always back down. Your leadership, as well as our trust in your integrity, all but disappeared.

Shortly thereafter, you concurred in a "guilt" appointment by naming Jeffrey Dean of St. Alban's Cathedral. It is a strange church and a strange hierarchy that proclaims that a gay man cannot be a bishop but can be a dean. Your credibility suffered once again.

When Gene Robinson in the United States was elected the Bishop of New Hampshire and, more particularly, when his election was confirmed by a concurrent majority of the bishops, priests and lay deputies at the General Convention (read General Synod), you appeared to panic. You called an urgent meeting of the primates of the entire Anglican Communion and allowed them to express enormous hostility. No one seemed to challenge either their use of scripture, which revealed an amazing ignorance of the last 250 years of biblical scholarship, or their understanding of homosexuality. By acting as if homosexuality is a choice made by evil people they violated everything that medical science has discovered about sexual orientation in the last century. Just as the Church was historically wrong in its treatment of women, so now as a result of your leadership, we are espousing a position about homosexuality that is dated, uninformed, inhumane and frankly embarrassing. No learned person stands there today.

Then you appointed the group, under Robin Eames' chairmanship, that produced the Windsor Report. That report confirmed every mistake you had already made. It asked the American Church to apologize to other parts of the Anglican Communion for its "insensitivity." Can one apologize for trying to end prejudice and oppression? If the issue were slavery, would you ask for an apology to the slave holders? That report got the response it deserved. Our leaders were indeed sorry that others felt hurt, but they were not prepared to apologize for taking a giant step in removing one more killing prejudice from both the Church and the world. Those angry elements of the church were not satisfied by the Windsor report, inept as it was. They never will be until they have bent you and this communion into a pre-modern, hate filled, Bible quoting group of people incapable of embracing the world in which we live.

Next came threats issued by the primates of the excommunication of the American Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, as if they actually had that power. Ultimatums and deadlines for us to conform to their homophobia were treated by you as if that were appropriate behavior. When the American Church elected Katharine Jefferts-Schori to be its Presiding Bishop and thus the Primate of our Province, your response to that major achievement was pathetic. You did not rejoice that equality had finally been achieved in our struggle against sexism; your concern was about how much more difficult her election would make the life of the Anglican Communion. Once again, institutional peace was made primary to the rising consciousness that challenges what the Church has done to women for so long. When Katharine took her place among the other primates, she underwent with dignity, the refusal of some of those bishops to receive communion with her. Is that the mentality required to build unity?

Later you issued a statement saying that if homosexuals want to be received in the life of the Church, they will have to change their behavior. I found that statement incredible. If you mean they have to change from being homosexual then you are obviously not informed about homosexuality. It is not a choice or a sin, anymore than being left handed, or male or female, or black or even transgender is a choice or a sin. All of us simply awaken to these aspects of our identity. That truth is so elementary and so well documented that only prejudiced eyes can fail to recognize it. No one in intellectual circles today still gives that point of view credibility.

Next you declined to invite Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference of 2008. All of the closeted homosexual bishops are invited, the honest one is not invited. I can name the gay bishops who have, during my active career. served in both the Episcopal Church and in the Church of England? I bet you can too. Are you suggesting that dishonesty is a virtue?

You continue to act as if quoting the Bible to undergird a dying prejudice is a legitimate tactic. It is in fact the last resort that religious people always use to validate "tradition" over change. The Bible was quoted to support the Divine Right of Kings in 1215, to oppose Galileo in the 17th century, to oppose Darwin in the 19th century, to support slavery and apartheid in the 19th and 20th centuries, to keep women from being educated, voting and being ordained in the 20th and 21st century. Today it is quoted to continue the oppression and rejection of homosexual people. The Bible has lost each of those battles. It will lose the present battle and you, my friend, will end up on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of truth. It is a genuine tragedy that you, the most intellect! ually-g ifted Ar chbishop of Canterbury in almost a century, have become so miserable a failure in so short a period of time.

You were appointed to lead, Rowan, not to capitulate to the hysterical anger of those who are locked in the past. For the sake of God and this Church, the time has come for you to do so. I hope you still have that capability.

John Shelby Spong, 8th Bishop of Newark, Retired

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Those wascawwy wabbits!

A book called The Glory Field was part of Son in Ohio's summer reading. He's had a hard time getting through the book for a number of reasons--not the least of which being that he objects to the whole idea of summer homework in the first place. Anyway, at some point, Son asked me if I would read some of it aloud to him, and I agreed. It turned out to be a decent way of helping keep him engaged in the story.

Ultimately, I finished the whole book myself while he was at school--he hasn't finished it himself yet, but is in the home stretch. The book follows five generations of one African-American family from Africa to a South Carolina plantation through the Civil War, the end of segregation and beyond, to a moving finale, when a young drug-addicted cousin is brought home to the glory field for a day of reunion and renewal.

Most recently, I was helping him get through the 1964 section, which deals with the end of segregation. One of the White characters misquotes Martin Luther King as saying that he wants to see "little White girls and little Black boys playing together." It is, of course, telling, that he would remember the quote that way, because, apparently that is the most threatening form of "race mixing" to many people.

And, reading this section, I was reminded that some people were so bent out of shape at the very idea of race mixing that they could project a diabolical pro-miscegenation agenda onto a pair of rabbits in a children's book. From a Time Magazine article printed in 1959...

It seems incredible that any sober adult could scent in this fuzzy cottontale for children the overtones of Karl Marx or even of Martin Luther King. But last week in Florida, Columnist Henry Balch thundered in the Orlando Sentinel (circ. 100,000): "As soon as you pick up the book, you realize these rabbits are integrated. One of the techniques of brainwashing is conditioning minds to accept what the brainwashers want accepted." In Alabama, State Senator E. O. Eddins agreed: "This book should be taken off the shelves and burned."
Wow. And people think Bugs Bunny is "wascawwy". He's got nothing on these two!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rethinking Assumptions

Today is the Feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation in the Roman Catholic church. I recall a priest once trying to convince us that they were really holy days of *opportunity*. That "re-framing" didn't really work for me.

But since then, I've learned that there were stories of holy men in the bible being "assumed" into heaven without dying first.

So no, I didn't actually go to church today. But, before the day is over, I wanted to be sure to celebrate the Assumption as I now understand it.

Girl power! W00t!

Action alert: Postal rate hike would harm smaller publishers

Hat tip to it's simple if you ignore the complexity at My Left Wing, I want to draw your attention to an important action alert from Free Press.
Postal regulators have accepted a proposal from media giant Time Warner that would stifle small and independent publishers in America. The plan unfairly burdens smaller publishers with higher postage rates while locking in special privileges for bigger media companies.

In establishing the U.S. postal system, the nation's founders wanted to ensure that a diversity of viewpoints were available to "the whole mass of the people." Time Warner's rate increase reverses this egalitarian ideal and threatens the marketplace of ideas on which our democracy depends.

It's time stand up for independent media. Demand that Congress step in to stop the unfair rate hikes.

Click here for more.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

THIS is what I hate about politics...

Apparently (according to a front page post on Booman Tribune) Harold Ford is going to face off against Markos "The Great and Powerful Kos" Moulitsas on Meet the Press this Sunday. I'm guessing the idear for this match-up came about as a result of this statement made by Harold Ford on Fox News.

I would have gone to Daily Kos and told them, I think they’re wrong the way you go about practicing your politics. If you’re serious about winning the war and bringing the country together, get another message and another set of tactics…
Which tactics would those be, Harold? The ones where you cozy up to and make kissy faces with the people who will never be on your side no matter how "moderate" and reasonable you try to come across? The tactics where you buy, hook, line, and sinker, Bill O'Reilly's "spin" that Daily Kos is/are the "bad Democrats", because you think you can play that to your advantage? And that perceived advantage is so valuable to you that you can't possibly do the minimal, cursory research it would take to learn that "Daily Kos" is not as monolithic as you suggest.

Harold, do you seriously think that the way to "bring the country together" is to paint a Snidely Whiplash mustache on a segment of the Democratic party, and then celebrate that you and the Republicans now have a common foe? That's just freakin' sad.

I won't be rooting for Markos either. As far as I've been able to discern, his only core value is winning. Period. That, and I think he's an arrogant ass.

This is, of course, not the only thing I hate about politics, but it's a pretty good example of the petty pointlessness of it. And all this energy and air time is being directed toward something other than making things better for people. (Pssst! Millennium Development Goals, people!)

So I won't be watching Meet the Press. I'll be in church listening to my daughter sing with the choir. And I should probably spend some time in quiet contemplation, because I really don't know what's next. Part of me would like to tune out all of politics as Somebody Else's Problem. But I don't know that I could ever do that. A few years ago, I promised Someone that I would work to help "heal the world", and I meant it. I guess I need to connect with some other people who feel the same way, and start working together on one little part of the world that needs fixing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

I did an open thread again today at My Left Wing. Since the tradition is to show a picture of someone who was born on the day (or occasionally someone who died on the day), this give me the opportunity to learn about people I didn't know about before. Today it's Rosalind Franklin.

Rosalind Franklin, born July 25, 1920

From the Rosalind Franklin Papers:
...a British chemist and crystallographer who is best known for her role in the discovery of the structure of DNA. It was her x-ray diffraction photos of DNA and her analysis of that data--provided to Francis Crick and James Watson without her knowledge--that gave them clues crucial to building their correct theoretical model of the molecule in 1953. While best known for this work, Franklin also did important research into the micro-structure and properties of coals and other carbons, and spent the last five years of her career elucidating the structure of plant viruses, notably tobacco mosaic virus.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bishop Gene Robinson preaching about the Good Samaritan

This morning, just before the post scrolled off their front page, I discovered via An Inch at a Time that Bishop Gene Robinson preached at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena this past Sunday. Click here for the video of the sermon. Lots of good stuff there, so I transcribed most of it

It's important to remember that, though this is called The Good Samaritan, no word like "good" appears in this parable. It's our tendency to rush to judgement about something. It reminds me of the cartoon where the dog is lying on his therapist's couch, and the dog is saying, "It's always 'good dog' or 'bad dog'! Why can't it just be judgement free?"

So I think we rush to label things good and bad. And part--maybe even most--of what this story is about is that this is actually about three good people. The priest and the Levite, who come off looking pretty awful, are actually *very* good people. They are religious people, they are upstanding, they take their religion seriously, they know all the right answers to things, they can recite the creeds--they do all of that exactly right. They "get it" intellectually and theoretically. Even, perhaps, theologically. And it seems that Jesus tells this story in order to show us that it is not 'right belief", it is not "right thinking" that gets us to the heart of God, but actually doing the will of God. That's what actually gets us to know the heart of God.

The priest and the Levite actually had very good reasons not to take care of this fellow on the side of the road. First of all, this road, which still exists--it's the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is at about 2500 feet above sea level, and Jericho is at 800 feet below sea level, near the Dead Sea. And it was a very crooked road, it was a very dangerous place. There were robbers all along it, and to slow down for anything was thought to be terribly dangerous. And indeed, this could well have been a trap. It was not unknown that people would fake being hurt, and the unsuspecting traveler would stop and try to do something, and in doing so would be robbed and mugged, and perhaps killed.

Not only that, but the priest would have been expected to go to Jerusalem as every priest did, and serve for two weeks in the temple. And he know, being a student of the law, that if he touched a dead body, he would be ritually unclean, and it would take quite a lot of purification rites to make him capable of performing the service that he was due to give. And so, why would he risk touching this comatose traveler, only to discover that he was dead, and in doing so, defile himself, and delay his service in the temple? These were good people. These were good people.

And then, of course, along comes the Samaritan. And Luke, as you know, is the outsider writing a Gospel for people on the outside. And Luke understands that this Gospel of Jesus Christ turned the whole world on its ear. Turned the world upside-down. And so, sure enough, as in so many of Luke's stories, it's the Samaritan who actually does the will of God. It's the priest and the Levite who know the will of God, but seem unable to do it.

It's almost as if, when the lawyer asks the question "What must we do to gain eternal life?", and then he gives the right answer. His head knows the right answer--it's to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. And Jesus says, "A+, very good!" And then he pushes the point and asks about the neighbor, and Jesus tells this story, I think, to show what love of God looks like detached from love of neighbor. They got the "love of God" part. They understand that. But the priest and the Levite didn't connect that to the love of neighbor, which is really the heart of the Gospel.

You know, more and more, I am convinced that the Christian life is not about life after death--it's about life before death. What God does for us after death, God will take care of. But what we do with life before death is up to you and me. That's the real reward of Christianity, isn't it? Not so much life after death, but life before death. It's not an accident that in our confession now, and in the absolution which follows, we don't say "and may God *bring* you to everlasting life", but keep you in everlasting life. It gets to start now...if we are awake. If we understand that in the doing of God's will, we already participate in everlasting life.

So, it is right action, not right belief, not right thinking, that gets us to the heart of God.

A little while ago, in the only time that the Archbishop of Canterbury ever deigned to see me, we were having a little "chat", and at one point in our conversation, he was explaining to me that, actually what the Episcopal church should have done prior to electing and consecrating me, was that we should have figured all this out theologically and intellectually... We should have come to a common mind, and then passed canons and and then done this thing. And I said to him with as much respect as I could, "Your Grace, it seems to me that all of the great steps that has taken, have been as a result of our doing the right thing, and only then, "thinking" our way to what we did. It's not the other way around. I mean, if we had waited for instance in this country for everyone to have been on the same page about civil rights, there would still be separate drinking fountains, wouldn't there? And if we had waited until women were valued as equal and full members of society and the human race for goodness sakes, all of that discrimination would still exist.

And, does anyone think that if those 11 women hadn't been "irregularly" ordained in Philadelphia, that we would be ordaining women yet? I'm not sure we would! And it seems that all the great steps forward we have made have been a result of our doing the right thing, and then thinking our way theologically to how that was the right thing.

He didn't have a really good response. (Laughter)

So, this lawyer (no lawyer jokes!) this lawyer then pushes the point and says, "So then, what must I do?" And Jesus' answer in this story seems to be "love that costs". Love that actually costs us something--costs us time, costs us money, costs us focus, costs us convenience, love that actually costs us something.

There was a young seminarian who one summer worked with an old priest at a homeless shelter, and they had a feeding program at noontime. A lot of people, and on this particular day, there just seemed to be an unusual amount of people who came. And they were *just* exhausted, and it was nearly 3:00 before the last person left. The old priest asked the seminarian to go and close up the front door and shut down for the day, and just as this young seminarian got to the front door, thinking that this long and difficult day was about to be over, saw yet one more homeless man making his way up the front walk. And in his exhausted state, and thinking he had nothing left to give, he said, "Jesus Christ!" And the old priest said, "It just might be."

Love that costs, even when we think we're depleted, I'm always reminded--you know how when you throw away an old tube of toothpaste that's done, and then you go to the closet, and you've forgotten to buy another one? And so you reach into the trash can and you haul out the thing? Every time you can make one more toothbrush full of toothpaste--yeah? But isn't that the way God is--just when we think there's nothing left to give, if we make but the simplest effort, God provides. God provides manna in the desert--and maybe just enough for that day--but it's enough. God gives us what we need to respond in the way the Good Samaritan responded. That's the real miracle of life in God.

And this is really important: we must do the work of ministry--not just give a nod to it. Louie Crew, who I think was here not to long ago, was the one, I believe, who discovered this mistake in our prayer book. It's in the catechism--it's the only real mistake that I know of in the prayer book, and it's in the section on the Hebrew covenant. And it says "What must we do to please God?" And the answer, in the prayer book, which means to be a quote from Micah, the prophet. It sayw that we must love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Well, that would all be very nice, except that's not what Micah said. Micah said we must do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And it strikes me, maybe you're like me, we just looove to love justice, don't we? And even an astounding witness to justice, like All Saints Pasadena can so love to love justice, and sit around, and form committees, and talk about it all day, that we forget that what Micah said is that we must do justice and walk humbly with our God. I think that what Jesus is teaching in this story about the Good Samaritan is that it's not enough to be good. It's not enough to know the creeds and say you believe all the things that you're supposed to believe.

Remember that our baptismal covenant, which is as close to a purpose statement as we have in the Episcopal church, are all action verbs. Right? They're all action verbs. It's not about which doctrines you ascribe to, but will you love and serve one another, will you respect the dignity of every human being, if you make mistakes, will you repent and come back to God? It's all about doing. It's not about ascribing to the right tenets and the right doctrines. That stuff is dry. It's important, but it's not the most important. Because what we see in the story of the Good Samaritan, is the danger of loving God separate from doing the work of loving our neighbor.

So it seems to me, that the real question, the challenge, really, of this story for you and me, is whether or not we want to be admirers of Jesus, or disciples. It's easy to admire Jesus--to think he was a nifty guy with really wonderful ideas. Following Jesus is a whole lot harder. Doing the work of ministry and doing justice--getting into some "Gospel trouble" is what we are meant to do.

You know, this Lent, I realized for the first time that this symbol, this cross, is such a political symbol. Now, let's be clear: the Jews did not kill Jesus. That's a bunch of anti-semitic stuff that runs throughout some of the Gospels, especially John, and it is not true. The Romans killed Jesus.

Now, the Romans killed lots of people, but they saved crucifixion for a very specific kind of criminal. And it was the one who challenged the Powers That Be. Who took on the government, who threatened the Pax Romana with their notions of turning the world upside-down like Jesus did. And they didn't put them all high and lifted up like Cecil B. DeMille--I realize that criticizing Cecil B. DeMille in Los Angeles is...(laughter). But, crosses were actually quite low to the ground, so that as people died and began to rot away, the dogs could eat their flesh, and there would be almost nothing left to bury. They wanted to make a real example of anyone who challenged the Powers That Be. And it is an indictment of you and me that we can wear this symbol around, and it doesn't threaten anybody.

When we wear a cross, it ought to scare people to death! And the more powerful they are, the more it ought to scare them. We should be being followed around by the F.B.I.--I know you're being followed by the I.R.S. (laughter). You've got a good start on this one! But really, really--shame on us that this doesn't threaten anybody! When we put this on, when we put on the cross of Christ, we are saying that it's not just religion that we are about. We are about changing the world, as Jesus changed it. We are about loving the people that Jesus loved--those in the margins. And it doesn't mean sitting in a committee room somewhere talking about loving those people, but actually loving them, and doing the hard work of justice.

Are you and I going to be admirers of Jesus only, or are we going to be disciples?

You know how an innoculation works, right? You don't want to get chicken pox, so you go to the doctor, and they give you just enough chicken pox to make your body form antibodies to it, so you never get a full-blown case of chicken pox. God help us if we come here on Sunday mornings just to get enough religion to keep us from having a full-blown case. It is so easy, isn't it, to come here, isn't it? It feels so good, and you see people you know, and the music's great, and the preaching is good. It just all works! But if we leave here, and it causes us to not do anything any differently, then this is nothing but a religious theme park. Really! We have to be out there doing the work that God has given us to do, or else it is all ultimately just self-serving.

And it'll be hard work! When Jesus says "Take up your cross and follow me", he means it's going to be tough. It's going to be very hard--it means taking risks, it means loving that costs. But the miracle, the miracle is that when we do that, and we face that trouble, we come to know the very God who is at the center of all that is. It's the only way we get to know him--we don't get to know him by memorizing the creed. We get to know him by doing the work that he did.

So, you and I can do that--especially if we do it with him, that he can work in and through us, to do the work that he has given us to do. So the question for you and me today is, do we just come here for an innoculation? Or do we come here for a full blown infection of God's love? Because it's only when you are fully infected yourself with the love that simply know no bounds, can you go out there and love the world, and God's children, in God's name. And this God promises to be with you and me from now on! There is no better news than that, on this, or any Sunday. Amen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Calling the Pope a primate is "hateful"?

Somehow I missed this one. Apparently Bill O'Reilly used the fact that some commenter on Daily Kos called the Pope a "primate" as evidence that Big Orange is a hateful site. He used that and other random statements by DK commenters to make his "case" about how hateful the site is. But this was all set up for going after Jet Blue for being one of the sponsors of Yearly Kos.

As with anything that issues forth from Mr. O'Reilly, there are many layers of wrongness that could be addressed. He's like an onion in that way. A big stinky onion. To take an obvious example, it is possible to cherry pick comments from a blog to make whatever case one wishes.

But as Booman points out, there is nothing hateful or offensive about using the word "primate" to refer to the Pope or any other human, lemur, gibbon, orangutan, etc. And he further notes that there is another usage of the word:

pri·mate -noun
1. Ecclesiastical. an archbishop or bishop ranking first among the bishops of a province or country.
In fact, Bill, it's even in the online Catholic Encyclopedia. And you were an altar boy, too. I'm so disappointed in you...

Now, I'll be honest with you. When I first started to work on this post earlier today, I was planning to go for the cheap laugh, speculating that, from a taxonomic perspective, Bill doesn't quite make the cut as a primate. And then I was going to try to figure out the funniest creature with which I could compare him.


Last night we started a weekly discussion series at my church on the concept of "grace". Our rector started the meeting by sharing this prayer, which he had also shared during the service earlier in the day:

Thanksgiving for the Social Order
7. For the Diversity of Races and Cultures

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

"Show us your presence in those who differ most from us", huh? Guess that would imply a willingness to see that presence in those who differ most from me. Even those who come off like real jerks.


Guess that's one of the reasons I need grace...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

That quote is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. I don't know if he actually said it or not. If he did, he was probably being at least a little bit tongue in cheek. But even if the saying is meant to be humorous, I think it's safe to say that the person who uttered those words thought of beer as one of the Good Things this life has to offer.

What strikes me about that quote at the moment is people can have very different ideas about what the Good Things are. For me, beer is waaaay down on the list.

Here's what started this train of thought. Yesterday in church I noticed that On Eagles Wings is one of the songs included in our summer order of worship. That's one of my favorite hymns, and I've often wished that we sang it more often at my church. Anyway, upon seeing the words and music, I also remembered that it was one of the songs sung at our wedding twenty years ago.

Our anniversary is still a few weeks away. But it occurred to me that I should ask to have it included in the Prayers of the People on the Sunday closest to August 1. "In thanksgiving for 20 years of marriage..." I don't know yet how we are going to "celebrate" per se. Depending on what else is going on in our lives, sometimes it can be hard to get into celebrating birthdays, holidays, etc. And I don't believe in forcing celebration, or feeling guilty about postponing it to a time that works better for us.

But I won't postpone the prayers of thanksgiving, whether they be formal or informal, in the form of words, thoughts, or actions. Because, when I think about where in the world I can see the signature of a loving Creator who wants me to be happy, it's not beer that I think of. I think of the marvelous divine gift that we celebrated almost twenty years ago, and for which (when I remember) I continue to be thankful.

Net Neutrality Action Item

This arrived in my inbox from Free the Internet, and I thought it was worth sharing--Renee

Dear Media Reformer,

Save the Internet: Click here

Watch and Rate Our New Video

We have only five days left to defend a free and open Internet at the FCC. The agency needs to hear from you about Net Neutrality -- the principle that stops AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from controlling where you can go online.

Thousands of people have already told their stories (see below) urging the FCC to protect Net Neutrality. Now it's your turn:

Tell the FCC to Save the Internet

You need to act now before the FCC closes its comment period. If we flood them with comments in support of Net Neutrality, the FCC will be pressed to stand up to the giant phone and cable companies that seek to undermine free choice on the Web.

At, you can read stories from others, view photographs, and join the fight to make the Internet affordable, open and accessible to everyone. You can even create your own personal comment page to share with others. Go there now to see our new video:

Watch Our New Video and Save the Internet

This may be the best chance we have this year to demonstrate to Washington that protecting the free and open Internet is an issue that matters to millions of Americans. The FCC needs to know why Net Neutrality is important to you. Tell them how an open Internet impacts your daily life, your business and your ability to connect with others.

To save the Internet, we need to flood the FCC with stories from people around the country. Can you ask five friends to send their stories to the FCC?

Tell Your Friends to Take Action

With your help, we can send a message to the FCC that they can't ignore.


Timothy Karr
Campaign Director

P.S. Here's what others are saying:

"The greatest hope that this country has is the reconnection of American voices with our political system. The Internet is the first medium that is truly interactive, in which one person's voice can reach millions. This fundamental change would end the open Internet as we know it." Read Jennifer's full story.

"In rural America, the Internet is very important in staying informed. We read several national newspapers every day to get the news our local paper does not thoroughly cover." Read Charles & Carol's full story.

"Currently the media is not diverse at all, and the only option I have found to escape from it has been the Internet. ... If the Internet is controlled by powerful people with money, will it ever be what it has been? Will we be able to enjoy diversity?" Read Norie's full story.

To read thousands of other stories visit:

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

We made this flyer several years ago, when Bush's approval rating (and the approval rating for his war) was a lot higher. It's important to remind people of what the real patriots had to say. They could be downright revolutionary at times.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

News from the home front

Here's the video my husband Demetrius did for the The PopSci Podcast/Jonathan Coulton "I Feel Fantastic" Video Contest. (You can see some of the other videos here.)

This project ate up almost every waking moment of the past week for him--and many moments that should have been sleeping moments--so I thought I'd share.

Update: The winners have been announced.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Rev. Susan Russell on State of Belief

From the May 26-27 edition of State of Belief

Welton Gaddy: Our long time listeners know that we've been following with great interest the conflict within the U.S. Episcopal church. The disagreement about gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex marriages has reached critical mass in recent months, with a handful of congregations leaving the U.S. church to join the Anglican Church of Nigeria. So it caught our attention last week when invitations were sent out for a once-in-a-decade gathering of bishops from the Worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part.

Now curiously, among those invitations, there were two significant omissions: Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop from New Hampshire, who was elected in 2003, and Bishop Martin Minns, the man who led the group *out* of the Episcopal church, were not invited to the Lambeth Conference, which is scheduled for next year. This decision by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the worldwide Anglican leader, has prompted a string of protests from both liberal and conservative members alike. Adding its voice to the chorus of complaints that shows a church on the brink of a permenant split is a group called Integrity, a coalition of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Episcopalians. We're joined right now by the President of Integrity, the Rev. Susan Russell. She's speaking with us by phone from Pasadena, California--Susan, thanks for being with us on State of Belief.

Susan Russell: Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity.

Welton Gaddy: I have read Archbishop Rowan Williams through the years, and, unless I am completely off-base, he has expressed some very liberal views on homosexuality. Writing that condemnation of homosexuality is ambiguous, problematic, nonscriptural. Why wouldn't he invite Bishop Robinson to the conference?

Susan Russell: I think at this point, the Archbishop of Canterbury is frankly in a very unenviable position of believing he has to choose between his own theological position and deeply held belief and the unity of the communion. I personally think that's a false dichotomy--one that's being represented by those that are determined to continue the conflict brewing, and to, in many ways, blackmail the Archbishop into bigotry as the price for unity. I don't believe it's a price that we should pay, or, in the end, that we have to pay.

Welton Gaddy: Archbishop Williams openly criticized Martin Minns for splitting from the Episcopal church, and being installed, in fact as a bishop by the Archbishop of Nigeria. Since Bishop Minns and Bishop Robinson are the two ministers *not* invited, is Archbishop Williams equating the two as troublemakers for the worldwide communion?

Susan Russell: You know, I'm afraid that's exactly how that's being interpreted, whether that was the Archbishop's intent or not, that's certainly the impact. And again, Martin Minns, who actually is a delightful chap, and one I've known for many years, has chosen to put himself outside the bounds of Anglican authority, by being consecrated as a bishop and then deployed back by Nigeria, into the United States, across diocesan and provincial boundaries, with the stated goal of evangelizing the "apostate, heretic Episcopal church". His standing is discretely different from the duly elected, consecrated, sitting, serving Bishop of New Hampshire, who even the Archbishop of Canterbury recognizes is appropriately representive of his diocese.

And so in many ways, we've said it in our press releases and will continue to say it in the days and weeks ahead. This isn't just a snub of the Bishop of New Hampshire, or of gay and lesbian people. It really is an affront to the *whole* Episcopal Church, and I'm looking for the leadership of the whole church to come up around this, and to stand in solidarity with Gene and with the LBGT faithful in the Episcopal Church.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, I'm not sure this is a fair question, but it's difficult for me sometimes to tell the difference between appeasement and reconciliation and sheer politics when it comes to a church. Can you make a distinction between those?

Susan Russell: I think that's a crucial question. I don't think it's an unfair one--I think it's a hard one. And I think that's exactly the hard work we're engaged in right now as the leadership of this Episcopal church. What I've asked, what Integrity has asked--we have not called for a boycott of Lambeth, which some of our constituency would like to hear at this point. Instead, what we've called for is for our bishops to think long and hard about whether their prescence there is in fact complicity with discrimination. Is there a way for us to have our voices at the table in a way that moves the conversation forward and doesn't allow Gene Robinson and the LGBT faithful to be scapegoated. I'm not convinced there isn't a way--I don't know what it is yet. But we do have 14 months until Lambeth 2008, so we'll see what the days and weeks hold.

Welton Gaddy: Has Integrity ruled out a boycott of the Lambeth conference completely, or is it a "wait and see".

Susan Russell: I'd be very clear at this point all of the options are on the table. I haven't ruled out the Archbishop of Canterbury coming to his senses and inviting the Bishop of New Hampshire. But I think at this point, the faithful choice is to have all of the options on the table, and to get to work together with a broad constituency, committed to, not just unity, but unity within the Body of Christ, which, when I look at my scriptures, when asked What does the Lord require?, "to do justice" is very very high on the list, and I think that's something we need not to forget in these conversations.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, will Integrity be at the table talking as a vital part of this conversation, or will you also be ignored and others have to talk for you?

Susan Russell: That's another important question, and it's been an ongoing challenge in the Anglican Communion. Since 1978, the communion has committed *officially* to a process of listening to the voices of gay and lesbian people. Until very recently, absolutely nothing has been done to do anything other than talk *about* us rather than *to* us. We'll certainly be present at Lambeth next June, and we'll certainly be vocal. As to where we'll be included officially, again, I think that's still subject to some negotiation.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, you're a good spokesperson. Reverend Susan Russell is the president of Integrity, a grassroots organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians. Thank you for being with us today and helping us better understand the situation here on State of Belief.

Susan Russell: Thanks again so much for giving me the opportunity.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some thoughts on courage

Originally posted last night at the Independent Bloggers' Alliance

At the end of the work day, I do a brief scan of blog headlines to try to get up to speed on what's happening out there in the wide, wide world (channeling the Poky Little Puppy). This evening, a predominant theme is that the Democrats "caved" on Iraq. Quite honestly, I'm not sure what I think about that. The thing is--I just don't have the time or interest to follow this story (and others like it) closely enough to have a genuinely informed opinion on what constitutes necessary political courage versus wisely playing the cards you've been dealt. So, guess I'm not cut out to be a political pundit.

But I've been thinking a lot about courage in the past 24 hours, after hearing this man speak at a forum at my church

His name is Davis Mac-Iyalla, and he is the founder of Changing Attitude-Nigeria, a support group for Gay and Lesbian Anglicans, and he is visiting the United States to call attention to the persecution of LGBTs in his country. Even attending a GLBT-affirmative event--something I didn't have to think twice about here in central Ohio would subject me to tremendous risk if I lived in Nigeria. If a draconian "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act" were to pass, the penalty for being openly "straight but not narrow" would be a five year prison term.

From time to time, I have wondered, if Demetrius and I were born at a different time...if we had met in 1964 rather than 1984...would I have had the courage to follow my heart and marry outside my "race". It's not an easy question to answer. Mind you, part of the difficulty is my tendency to ask pesky, practical questions, such as, "Where would we have met?" and "How likely is it that we could have spent those long, casual hour together with our mutual friends?" But the basic question I ask myself is, "Would I have the courage to be that kind of pioneer? Could I really be that brave?"

Last night, I was faced with a new question: "Would I have the courage to risk my personal safety--possibly my life--in order to make hostile religious and political authorities acknowledge that I exist?

That's an easy one, and I can answer it right now.

No. Freaking. Way.

So I couldn't help but be awed, humbled, and impressed to hear Davis tell his story. From a statement on the first anniversary of Changing Attitudes-Nigeria,
In the first year, we have many achievements to be proud of, including our impact on the life of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, which had previously denied that lesbian and gay people are members of the church. The Church was so disturbed by our visible presence that it attempted to discredit the organisation, at the same time falsely claiming to be open to gays.
At last night's meeting, Davis Mac-Iyalla described being arrested after one of the early meetings of his organization. He and his fellow members were beaten, and were held for three days without food or water (and without charges), before finally being able to get the bribe money so that his jailers would release him. And not long after that experience, he led the first national meeting of CAN, which was attended by over 1000 GLBT Anglican Nigerians.

I encourage you to read more about Davis Mac-Iyalla and Changing Attitudes-Nigeria. This is not an Anglican issue, or a GLBT issue, or a Nigerian issue--it is, quite plainly, a human rights issue.

The Daily Office (Sponsor of Davis Mac-Iyalla's U.S. tour)
Changing Attitude UK (The director of this organization was instrumental in helping Davis get Changing Attitude Nigeria up and running)

Also posted at My Left Wing, Street Prophets, Booman Tribune, and ePluribus Media

Update with regard to funding:

The people who wish to silence Davis and others like him are very well funded.

Changing Attitudes Nigeria is not. Josh Thomas, who arranged Davis Mac-Iyalla's U.S. tour, and who operates the Daily Office web site, is helping him raise the money needed to continue his work in educating the rest of the world about the plight of GLBT people in Nigeria. Donations are being accepted here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Interfaith New Sanctuary Movement to Launch

Some 20 Cities Give Refuge to Immigrant Families Facing Deportation

Religious leaders, confronting the unjust treatment of immigrant families, announced the launching of the New Sanctuary Movement. Supported by congregations from across the country, it is a multi-racial and multi-ethnic coalition that spans the political spectrum and pledges to open their doors, hearts and collective actions to the “moral imperative” of immigrant rights.

At a moment when large scale immigration with its attending social and economic consequences demand reform, the faith community has united to call for policies that are both effective and humane. They are embracing sanctuary seekers threatened by imminent deportations, detentions and the severing of family ties. In most cases the undocumented immigrants have American citizen spouses and children. The movement considers the sanctuary seekers the human face of a cause committed to arousing the voice of people of faith and awakening the moral imagination of the nation.

The New Sanctuary Movement will be inaugurated on May 9th with events organized by interdenominational congregations representing a rainbow of racial, ethnic and faith communities. Activities are scheduled in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, San Diego and Seattle. A number of other cities will hold prayer vigils in solidarity. The movement began as an echo of the 1980’s sanctuary campaign, but has gained momentum as stepped up raids, detentions and deportations spotlight what religious leaders call a “cruel and broken system.”

The sanctuary seekers include Joe Liang, 26, and his wife Mei Xing, 25. They have two American children ages 2 and 15 months. The couple fears being forced to return to their native China. They applied for asylum in New York but are both facing pending deportation orders. “There is nothing more important than giving my children a world where the possibilities are not simply a dream,” confides Chen. The family is being given sanctuary at New York’s Roman Catholic Church of St. Paul the Apostle, at 405 W. 59th Street (Columbus Avenue), Manhattan.

Three immigrants have sought sanctuary in Los Angeles including Juan Humberto. Juan sought refuge in the United States after his father was kidnapped during the conflict in Guatemala. He runs a successful gardening business and is the father of two citizen children. His mother, who also arrived as a refugee, is a U.S. citizen. However, because he lacked effective legal support at a crucial moment, he faces an order of deportation. Juan will receive physical sanctuary in St. Paul’s Lutheran church and will receive legal advocacy and pastoral support through a cluster of congregations which includes Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Echo Park United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Cathedral Center, All Saints Episcopal Church and a Mennonite House Church.

The inaugural New Sanctuary Movement events will be followed by a rolling series of launches in other cities across the country. Congregations will collect signatures for the New Sanctuary Pledge and have committed to material, spiritual and physical support in their sanctuaries and among congregants.

The New Sanctuary Movement pledge outlines three goals including taking a public, moral stand on behalf of immigrant families and workers; opening the American people’s eyes to the suffering of immigrant workers and families under current policies; and protecting immigrants against hate, workplace discrimination and unjust deportation. They aim to enlist millions of people of faith through signing of the News Sanctuary Movement pledge and other moral and material support.

“A sanctuary is more than a physical place for the faithful to worship. It is a sacred space that guarantees compassion, protection and the love of God,” said Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a leader of the New Sanctuary Movement and director of CLUE-CA. Rev. Salvatierra underscored the importance of family values as a cornerstone of American beliefs. “We are responding to a broken system that is increasingly creating broken families, and broken lives.”

Coordinated by networks in California, New York and Chicago, participating congregations will provide the sanctuary seekers with a range of support services including expert immigration lawyers, transportation to the work place, shelter, and financial assistance. Sanctuary will be offered to families where at least one parent has a deportation order that would separate them from their children and homes.

Steering committee member Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, notes that the New Sanctuary Movement is an outgrowth of a longstanding commitment to immigrant rights. “Immigrants are an integral part of the faith community. Few Biblical messages are as clear as Leviticus which says, ‘the alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.’”

Rabbi Laurie Coskey, also a member of the steering committee, agrees. “Churches, mosques and synagogues across the country have always opened their doors and embraced those who are new to our country. In turn, immigrants have given their time, energy and resources to grow communities of faith. Now we are called to shed light on those long hidden by shadows. God calls us to use our prophetic voice to denounce unjust laws that separate rather than unite people of faith.”

It is estimated that more than 222,000 immigrants have been subjected to deportation over the past year in the stepped up campaign by Immigration Customs and Enforcement. According to recent data, nearly one in 10 American families is of mixed immigration status in which at least one parent is a non-citizen, and one child a citizen. An estimated 3.1 million US citizen children have at least one parent who is undocumented.

In the early 1980’s, thousands of Central Americans sought refuge in this country’s churches after fleeing human rights violations at the hands of US backed governments and death squads. Twenty-five years later the urgency and demands have given life to a new movement.

Today, the immigrant populations are not confined to individuals fleeing political repression. They are workers who pay taxes, law abiding citizens and families seeking refuge from intolerable economic and social conditions. They have been in this country for many years, have citizen children and contribute to the society.

The leaders of the New Sanctuary Movement acknowledge the challenges. “The large-scale immigration of workers and their families is complex,” offers Rev. Reginald Swilley, a member of the Steering Committee and former board member of the San Jose, Ca NAACP. “The current immigration crisis is rooted in historical, global and economic causes that cannot be answered with simplistic or purely reactive public policy solutions.”

By lifting the veil of silence, telling the stories and providing a sanctuary, the faith leaders say they aim to contribute to national immigration reform. “Silence is complicit,” maintains New York City coordinator Father Juan Carlos Ruiz. “Through our actions we are calling for policies that are effective and humane.”