an aging Xer talks about life on the path

Monday, June 27, 2005

new blog site

I've migrated to the Type Pad blog service. Yeah, it costs a little more (okay, a lot more because this one is free) but it's way easier to use for people like me who haven't taken the time to learn html too well. Visit the new blog site!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

what's your theological worldview?

This is an interesting little quiz. Take a few minutes to take it. My results are what I would have expected. Nice to have my deepest convictions affirmed!

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern

93%

Modern Liberal

61%

Roman Catholic

57%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

46%

Classical Liberal

43%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

43%

Neo orthodox

39%

Reformed Evangelical

18%

Fundamentalist

0%
What's your theological worldview?

pax [+]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

chasing the bunnies into the light

CHELSEA HUDGEN-FINLEY June 1988 ~ June 2005 Chelsea died on Wednesday, June 8, 2005 at 3:15 pm. Losing Chelsea is a grief only seconded by the loss of my parents. Having to lose him while I was away at a conference is only seconded by knowing what my spouse had to go through without me here to help him. You know how it is. We all have things we promise to do for our spouses. There are things only he does, that I rely upon him to do, and that give me some sense of comfort and stability knowing that those things will be taken care of. Likewise, there are things I do. This was to be one of them. I had prepared for it. I was ready. But I wasn't there. Providence had something different for us to learn. How like Chelsea to wait until I wasn't with him to enter new life. I was away at Credo 82 (an invitation-only enrichment program for Episcopal clergy) and so Allen was left on his own. We had kidded many times that this would happen when I was out of town, but it was only that-- kidding. I knew the end was coming very soon when Allen called and held the cell phone so I could hear Chelsea's breathing. It was the distinctive breath of a body that was giving way so its soul could be loosed. Allen sobbed, needing to know that his instincts about what to do were the right ones. I sobbed, knowing what my family was having to go through without me. I felt so very guilty that I was letting them down. That's not true, I know, but the emotion is an honest one. When I returned home, Allen noticed that I was not going upstairs. He was right. Chelsea had been confined to one bedroom upstairs for most of the past year. A baby gate guarded the doorway so he couldn't wander out and fall down the stairs. The baby gate was still up and Allen had thoughtfully done very little to the room. He knew that I needed to encounter that room as the only way I could enter into the experience of Chelsea's death. I lay on the bed clutching a stuffed bunny that my staff had sent me while in Florida. (They know me so well.) The blue blanket where he died was still on the floor crumpled just so, I could still make out where his body had been. I could also tell where Allen had laid on the floor next to him for endless hours. The room stank both of dog urine and pet death. I was glad for that. I was also glad for the presence of his dog bed, toys and food bowls all still in their place. I was still on the bed when Allen joined me. We stayed next to one another, cried quietly and not so quietly, telling our Chelsea stories. That little creature carried so much for us. There is much witness to be born to the life we shared with him. After a while we brought in McGee, our surviving Wheaten. We carried him to the bed to be with us, and he did dutiful service. He still won't walk on the floor of this room, nor will he come through the doorway unless invited. He knows the old man of the house is gone and is not yet ready to violate the space or make it his own. McGee is grieving, too. After giving ourselves some time, we got up and went out to dinner. Returning home, I began the process of cleaning the room. Slowly. Deliberately. With great intention I picked up one piece at a time, gaving thanks for the ways it had served this creature which had the fullness of my love, and cleaning or putting it away. Allen and I slept together in the room that night-- a first in over a year since the dogs didn't get along too well-- and because Chelsea was the real problem. We began to reclaim the room and returned to a way of life that had been ours with Chelsea, so even that felt like a rightful tribute. McGee joined us for the night, but only on the bed. As soon as he jumps down he leaves the room. I understand the aversion, and it's his own way of loving Chelsea and grieving his death at the same time. Not a bad model. pax [+]

is there a heaven just for dogs?

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small I don't usually do this-- repost something I've written elsewhere for a different audience-- but my grief encourages me to do so. I wrote this for the June issue of our parish newsletter magazine. Of all the things I written over more than a decade of ordained ministry, this one little story has caused the greatest outpouring of response. If you want to see the entire issue, along with a photo of Chelsea, click here. Our beloved dog Chelsea is nearing death. He’s nearly 18 years old and for a breed with an average lifespan of only 12 years he’s not just an old man, he’s ancient. Willard Scott should honor him on morning television for having survived this long. As with all things you love so very deeply, it is both a joy and heartbreak to watch him age and struggle with a body that no longer works the way it once did. Chelsea has been with us since our beginning. He was my gift to Allen our first Christmas together. He’s what helped us to realize that we were forming a family for one another, all three of us. He’s been with us through it all, every step of the way we have made as a family. We lived in Michigan while I prepared for divinity school. I worked for the district and circuit courts of Washtenaw County. The animal control officer in Chelsea, Michigan alerted me to this beautiful Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier that had been brought in by his previous owners—hence his name “Chelsea.” One look and we were smitten. We never knew why his previous owners let go of him. He came to us in the first year of his life, knew voice and hand commands, and has been a complete treasure. Wheatens are fully of energy—intense energy—and must have vigorous exercise lest they become destructive. I remember taking Chelsea to a cemetery not far from our home in Jackson. Thank God the place was fenced. He ran around the perimeter as fast as he could then began dodging the tall headstones, weaving back and forth. Finally, he started jumping the headstones all the while maintaining a speed which turned him to a blur of white fluff sailing through the air. I remember taking him with us to the tennis courts while Allen and I played a game or two—he loved chasing the balls for us. One afternoon the confinement of the courts was just too much. He found his way out, took off at top speed, jumped into the air and landed perfectly in a baby carriage that was being strolled in the park. The mother shrieked while we made our way to the scene of the crime. (Short ending: all was well.) He was with us during divinity school, adjusting to urban life and the intensity that graduate school can bring to a family. He was with us when Allen moved to Nashville to begin his professional design career and I moved to Arkansas to care for my parents. He bounced back and forth between us until I realized that my father had, perhaps, a deeper bond with him than did either of us. As my mother died, Chelsea was always near Daddy, never letting him alone for too long. Daddy got into the habit of taking Chelsea with him each morning to either McDonald’s (where Chelsea got his own Egg McMuffin) or to the donut shop (where he got his honey glazed donut) as well as the attention of the older crowd that gathered there each morning. Daddy loved him so much that Chelsea developed an inflamed pancreas from all the loved-filled but really-bad-for-dogs food. \They were inseparable. The pang I felt inside of me each time I watched my beloved Chelsea enjoy being with my father rather than me was more than overcome as I witnessed this small unassuming creature ministering to my father in ways that he would not allow others to do. The night my father died, Chelsea went to my father’s favorite chair in the den of my childhood home, stood in the seat and howled. It is a moment indelibly marked in my soul. Now Chelsea’s time for new life is approaching. We tease him telling him it’s time to “chase the bunnies into the light.” And it really is time, but his body is not quite ready to go there, but it will come. I know it will come. And when it does, we will be heartbroken. Each time I bathe his now tired and thin body, I wonder if it will be the last time I get to cradle him in my arms while he reaches up to lick my face. Such is the life we have shared. My greatest consolation is knowing that whatever lay on the other side of this life for Chelsea, I know my father will be waiting there for him. I pray that we have served Chelsea in our life together as well as my father served me in his. pax [+]

Saturday, June 04, 2005

pissing in the wind

So we didn’t flush the Koran, we pissed on it. Can you imagine the outrage that would ensue if the urine in question had “accidentally” hit a Bible instead? Here’s the late breaking news story from Reuters. Funny how this particular story gets posted on a Friday evening after the national news is already in bed. Jailers splashed Koran with urine - Pentagon Fri Jun 3, 2005 7:45 PM ET WASHINGTON (Reuters) - American jailers at the Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects splashed a Koran with urine, kicked and stepped on the Islamic holy book and soaked it with water, the U.S. military said on Friday. U.S. Southern Command, responsible for the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, described for the first time five cases of "mishandling" of a Koran by U.S. personnel confirmed by a newly completed military inquiry, officials said in a statement. In the incident involving urine, which took place this past March, Southern Command said a guard left his post and urinated near an air vent and "the wind blew his urine through the vent" and into a cell block. It said a detainee told guards the urine "splashed on him and his Koran." The statement said the detainee was given a new prison uniform and Koran, and that the guard was reprimanded and given duty in which he had no contact with prisoners. Southern Command said a civilian contractor interrogator, who was later fired, apologized in July 2003 to a detainee for stepping on his Koran. In August 2003, prisoners' Korans became wet when night-shift guards had thrown water balloons in a cell block, the statement said. In February 2002, guards kicked a prisoner's Koran, it added. In the fifth "confirmed incident" of mishandling a Koran, Southern Command said a prisoner in August 2003 complained that "a two-word obscenity" had been written in English in his Koran. Southern Command said it was "possible" a guard had written the words but "equally possible" the prisoner himself had done it. Southern Command released its findings on a Friday night. So is it customary for a guard to step away from his post and piss "near an air vent" rather than…oh, I don‘t know… use the men's room? I can just imagine the crazy Christians like Robertson, Dobson and Falwell proclaiming that this was some sort of act of God! Remember when you could believe at least a few, small things that the government said? pax [+]

Friday, May 27, 2005

more crazy christians

So now we have crazy Christians picketing children and teenagers. Certainly gives the "family values" they so vehemently taut an even more sadistic twist. Bravo to Chairman O'Loughlin who lambasts the group and encourages citizens to ignore them-- at least while they're there. Anti-gay group adds Bedford to protest list By DENNIS SHAUGHNESSEY, Sun Staff BEDFORD -- The same anti-gay group planning to demonstrate in Lowell and Dracut is now targeting the John Glenn Middle School in Bedford as well. The Kansas-based group that stems from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka is led by Pastor Fred Phelps, who gained notoriety by protesting at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was murdered in 1998. Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of Fred Phelps and an attorney for the church, said she would be among the group of between 10 and 15 people that will protest in Lowell, Bedford, Dracut and Brookline on June 5 and 6. Phelps-Roper said the John Glenn Middle School was singled out because it flies a rainbow flag inside the school, signifying its tolerance of the gay community. She said the church received several anonymous e-mails about the rainbow flag after it was announced the group would be in Massachusetts to protest in Dracut and Lowell. “That's why we're coming,” Phelps-Roper said. “Massachusetts has become the epicenter of filth in this country, and we will be there to remind people that there is a God and there is a standard. There is a day of judgment, and it's not OK to be gay.” Bedford Superintendent of Schools Maureen LaCroix said she is surprised and shocked by the flier and is working with Police Chief James Hicks to ensure the safety of the staff and students on that day. “This caught us completely off guard,” LaCroix said. “I've been in contact with the chief, and we are developing a safety plan and we will have clear communication with the police on that day. We will also be sending letters home with the students informing the parents of what is happening.” The demonstration is timed for 7:10 a.m. LaCroix said students begin arriving at school around 7:30. She also acknowledged that the school does have a rainbow flag, one of about 50 flags throughout the corridors of the school. Hicks could not be reached for comment. Two weeks ago, the Westboro Baptist Church faxed fliers to The Sun saying protesters would be in Lowell on June 5 to picket Lexington High School's graduation at the Tsongas Arena, in part because the school recognizes a Gay-Straight Alliance group. The group is also expected to be at the Englesby Intermediate School in Dracut the next morning because a 12-year-old girl wrote an essay about gay comedian Ellen DeGeneres, for which she won an award. At a Board of Selectmen's meeting in Dracut on Tuesday night, Chairman James O'Loughlin took the opportunity to lambaste the group and encourage the public to “completely ignore these people.” “Let them know that we don't buy into their foolish message of hate and intolerance,” O'Loughlin said. “If nobody comes out to see them, they'll just go away. I hope they go home feeling like they just wasted their day.” Dennis Shaughnessey's e-mail address is dshaughnessey@lowellsun.com. I had the interesting fortune of seeing a Phelp demonstration up close and personal the the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Had to walk though them several times. Actually, I could have used a different entrance/exit, but temptation to rub my big ol' gay self against them was just too powerful. Phelps and his ilk continue to be on the deepest perversions of Christ's love known to humankind. pax? [+]

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

who are they going to blame now?

Check out this story from Retuers. The American Civil Liberties Union released a declassified memo and a series of other FBI documents it obtained from the government under court order through the Freedom of Information Act Interesting, huh? Also pretty frightening and disgusting. Reminds me a little of the film A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson screams at Tom Cruice, "You can't handle the truth!" Looks like the only thing Newsweek got wrong was its source. The story, at least according to the FBI, appears to be true. pax [+]

Monday, May 23, 2005

more craziness

Another crazy Christian precinct heard from. This is taken from the Houston Voice. A minister from Spring is one of two people who have co-authored a proposed resolution to be presented to the Southern Baptist Convention in June that would call on churches to investigate whether local public schools in their cities are promoting homosexuality. Rev. Voddie Baucham, Jr. said if schools are found to be promoting homosexuality through any number of specified means, churches are advised to call on their members to pull their children out of the schools and either home school them or place them in Christian schools. The means specified in the resolution include “officially sanctioned homosexual clubs” (such as Gay-Straight Alliances), such deceptive labels as safe sex, diversity training, multicultural education, anti-bullying and safe schools.” …He said he and Shortt deem anti-bullying and safe schools programs to be merely fronts for teaching acceptance of homosexuality as a valid way of life. …His resolution characterizes homosexuals as having a reduced life expectancy (even less than that of smokers), an increased risk of self-destructive behaviors such as drug use and domestic violence and a greater risk of developing cancer and other diseases. Oh, yeah? I’d love to see the pseudo-science on those claims. Seems to me the life expectancy of conservative Christians migh get a little bit shorter if this craziness doesn’t stop pretty soon. I guess Jesus's consistancy in not only defending and preferring the disenfranchised doesn't ring as true as crusading against something which he never even mentioned. Pax [+]

christian perverts

I continue to be amazed….no, not amazed….I continue to be revolted by the continuing surge of arch-conservative Christianity in our country. The bill of goods we are being sold is not Christianity, but a perversion of it’s deepest values. The New York Times has been publishing a remarkable 10-part series on class in America. In today’s front section, the series took on evangelical Christianity and how it is making intentional inroads in our finest educational institutions and corporate board rooms. Read the article for a fascinating take on how well-to-do evangelicals are changing the face of America. Class warfare at its finest-- we theologians call that classism and consider it to be a sin. How did we get to this place? Clearly the crazy Christians have been laying this foundation for a very long time. Here are two quotes from way back but read like they could be from today’s news. Pat Robertson, Fundamentalist Christian minister, on The 700 Club, 1991-JAN-14: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don't have to be nice to them." Pat Robertson, New York Magazine, 1986-AUG-18: "It is interesting, that termites don't build things, and the great builders of our nation almost to a man have been Christians, because Christians have the desire to build something. He is motivated by love of man and God, so he builds. The people who have come into (our) institutions (today) are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions, that we have.... The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation." For all those nut jobs who are hell-bent on creating an American theocracy. Here’s a quote with which to be reckoned. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church, to participants in the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches in 2000-JAN. (In the same speech, he reminded his audience that the racist apartheid policy in his native South Africa was also created by Christians, not Pagans.) "It was Christians, you know, not Pagans, who were responsible for the Holocaust. It was Christians, not Pagans, who lynched people here in the South, who burned people at the stake, frequently in the name of this Jesus Christ" It was Jesus who said: You know that among the nations, those whom they recognize as the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant ... for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. -- Mark 10:41-45 In other words, “God” and “country” should not be used in the same sentence. pax [+]

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

please tell me this is a joke!

Take a look at THIS. I couldn't believe my eyes. They've got to be kidding me. Trouble is, they are not kidding. They really believe this stuff. Why is it that we can speak of the evils of extreme forms of Islamic and Jewish faiths, but fail to recognize the extreme forms of Christianity? More and more I am taken aback that the form of Islamic fundamentalism that the US is fighting to eradicate in Iraq and contain elsewhere in the world is precisely the same kind of fundamentalism that the present administration is quite happy with in our own country-- provided that it's Christian or some pseudo form of it. I've written about theocracy below. Here's another excellent take on it by Fr. Jake. The very things that these bush-fish people attribute to secularists are the very things that I attribute to the best traditions of Christianity. I believe the 10 Commandments belong nowhere in the public spaces precisely because of my faith, not in spite of it. I believe evolution is the only logical explanation precisely because I believe fanatical religious expression is just that-- fanatical. I believe Prayer has no place in our public school system precisely because I am a Christian. I believe the word "God" shouldn't be in the pledge of allegiance precisely because the God these folks want me to believe in is not the God I worship, and not the God I want my children to be taught to believe in, and not the God I want to influence the country I live in, and not the God that I want pointed to every time we deny rights and privileges of citizenship to some individual or group that believes differently. My Christianity has taught me that it is dangerous to give divine validation to our cultural values-- even when, or perhaps especially when, it's a Christian culture that's being valued. pax [+]

golden assyrian daggers

Here's a recent news item. My question is... Don't they know that you need those golden assyrian daggers to kill the anti-christ.. Jeesh I thought everyone had seen The Omen. Georgia grenade was real and threat to Bush: FBI By Niko Mchedlishvili TBILISI (Reuters) - The FBI said on Wednesday a grenade thrown toward President Bush during a visit to Georgia last week had been a threat to the American leader and had only failed to explode because of a malfunction. In a statement, a Federal Bureau of Investigation official at the U.S. embassy said the grenade, thrown while Bush made a keynote speech in Tbilisi's Freedom Square on May 10, had been live and landed within 30 meters (100 feet) of the president. "While the President ... was making his remarks on Freedom Square, a hand grenade was tossed in the general direction of the main stage and landed within 100 feet of the podium," said C. Bryan Paarmann, the FBI's legal attach at the embassy. "We consider this act to be a threat against the health and welfare of both the President of the United States and the President of Georgia as well as the multitude of Georgian people that had turned out at this event," he said in the statement. Paarmann said a reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator. "This hand grenade appears to be a live device that simply failed to function due to a light strike on the blasting cap induced by a slow deployment of the spoon activation device," the FBI statement said. It contradicted an account by Georgian police at the time who said the grenade was a dud, left at the spot to sow panic among the tens of thousands who turned out to greet Bush. A White House spokesman also said then that Bush, who had visited the ex-Soviet republic to show support for its pro-Western government, had never been in danger. There was no explanation for the discrepancy between the different versions. Bush received a rapturous welcome from Georgians as he hailed their volatile country as a "beacon of democracy." The crowd that turned out to see Bush speak on Freedom Square was the largest since supporters of the now-President Mikhail Saakashvili massed there for the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that piloted him to power. Georgian officials said the grenade had hit a bystander and fallen to the ground, but had no leads as to who had thrown it. "The grenade hit a girl's head. Other details are under investigation. All we know is that the grenade was RGD-5," said Interior Ministry Spokesman Guram Donadze, referring to a type of Soviet-designed fragmentation grenade. Paarmann said the grenade had been wrapped in a dark, colored handkerchief and he called for witnesses to come forward. A reward of 20,000 laris -- roughly $11,000 -- was on offer for information "leading to the arrest and conviction of this individual." Like the Caucasus as a whole, Georgia has been turbulent since the fall of communism and two regions have broken free from central government control after bloody post-Soviet wars.

Monday, May 16, 2005

slot machine God

I'm preparing to go to a Clergy Reflection, Education, Discernment Opportunity in a few weeks. One major section of the work I'm asked to do in preparation for the event is sustained reflection on my spiritual journey. I pulled out an old journal from high school, the time when first I began to contemplate what ordained ministry might look like for myself. What I found in those pages shouldn't surprise me. My evangelical religious upbringing clearly gave me what I call the "slot machine" God. The slot machine God is a set of spinning images that doles out rewards based on behavior. For example, I might pray for forgiveness for something I'd done, thinking the cherries might line up and light atop the machine would flash, spilling shiny tokens of good fate. God's favor! Clearly this was more supersition that spirituality, but I doubt I understood the difference. If something nice happened to me, I thought it was God. If something not so nice happened, then I simply went back to the machine, prayed some more, and pulled the lever a few more times. This is a great kind of God because you hardly had to talk to it (except when you needed something) and God never talked back. I think this is the kind of God you get when you're a kid and your parents use God as a tool for punishment but never for praise. My own parents never did that, but my church sure did, on a frighteningly frequent basis. You never got much praise because there was nothing you could do that was ever good enough for God. Instead we were always focused on all the ways we fell short. Little wonder. pax [+]

Saturday, May 14, 2005

the idols are winning

I was being interviewed by a parish search committee last week, when one of their questions really caught me off-guard. They asked, “How would being our rector help you in your career?” I’m certain there’s a story behind that question for them, and I should have asked them about it. But I didn’t. I was too taken with the question. No one has every asked me that before now. My own internal machinations revealed the depth of a dilemma that perhaps my earlier post on “freedom” was beginning to address. I believe the allure of a career in the church is an idol. One way or another I’ve been following a path of personal faith in God since childhood. As an adult, as I entered my life work in my late twenties, the path widened into an Isaianic highway into the wilderness, a vocation in gospel ministry. Everything I’ve ever been as a Christian is now extended in my work as a pastor and priest. I and my work converge. My work is an extension of my faith, vocation serving as paving to make the faith accessible for others who wish to travel this road. But every now and then, this chasm opens up, this split between personal faith and institutional vocation. It stops me in my tracks. I look around for a bridge, a rope, a tree to lay across the crevasse. I read books. I attend workshops. I arrange consultations. Nothing quite works. Sometimes I wonder if the gap is not before me, but within me. If that’s true, then things may be worse than I imagine. I have this burning need to search for details of discontinuity between my personal faith and my church vocation. Why don’t things fit together simply and easily? My vocation is priest and pastor. My person is Christian. Those things seem congruent enough. But the truth is that they are not. More and more being a Christian seems to get in the way of working as a pastor. Working as a pastor, with surprising frequency, seems to put me at odds with living as a Christian. It’s an abyss of particular dimensions. Why do some abandon their ordained vocation for a religious job? The vocation to be pastor is essential in the revolutionary gospel work of inaugurating and practicing the kingdom of God. So why doesn’t the church really want it? Here’s a harsh reality of the priestly vocation in the church right now. Our vocations are bounded on one side by consumer appetites, on the other by a marketing mindset. Pastoral vocation is interpreted from the congregational side as the work of meeting people’s religious needs on demand at the best price possible. From the clerical side it’s about satisfying those same needs quickly and efficiently. These conditions quickly reduce the pastoral vocation to religious economics. So why do we clergy have such a difficult time being pastors? I think it’s because we are awash in idolatry. Where two or three are gathered together and the name of God comes up, a committee is formed for making an idol. We want gods that are not gods so we can “be as gods.” The idolatry we pastors are conspicuously liable is not personal, but vocational, the idolatry of a religious career that we can take charge of and manage. Ugh. And it’s all so very real. Certainly there is more to come on this subject. pax [+]

privates made public

On SIRIUS radio today, I heard a story that captured my attention. I'm sorry I don't recall the program source. I did a little research on my own and here's what I found. Jim West is the mayor of Spokane, Washington. He’s on leave of absence due to some recent unpleasantness. Seems the mayor has been found cruising for young men (see New York Times excerpt below) on gay.com. What fascinates me about this story is West’s political stance. West is a right-wing, antigay Republican politician-- at least that’s his public life. His private life might prove otherwise. I am outraged at the hypocrisy of his stances on gay rights as a state legislator and mayor. On several occasions, West voted against legislation that would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. According to the local paper, Spokesman-Review, he “supported legislation that would have prohibited gays and lesbians from working in schools and day-care centers. As recently as last week, he opposed a Spokane City Council ordinance extending benefits to domestic partners of city employees.” Here's what Frank Rich had to say in today's (Sunday, May 15, 2005) New York Times: "... the most recent case is James E. West, the powerful Republican mayor of Spokane, Wash., whose double life has just been explosed by the loca paper, The Spokesman-Review. Mr. West's long, successful political career has been distinguished by his attempts to ban gay men and lesbians from schools and day care centers, to fire gay state employees, to deny City Hall beneits to domestic partners and to stile AIDS-prevention education. The Spokesman-Review caught him trollling for young men and trying to lure them with gifts and favors. (He has denied accusations of abusing boys when he was a Boy Scout some 25 years ago.) Not unlike the Roy Cohn of "Angels in Aermica"-- who describes himself as "a heterosexual man" who has sex "with guys"-- Mr. West has said he doesn't "characterizes" himself as gay. This is more than hypocrisy-- it's pathology." What gives? What must it be like to live inside that soul? The scenario here is all too familiar: the twisted, repressed self-hating closet case who tries to get sex any way he can, including preying on the most vulnerable, and does whatever he can to prove to himself and others that he’s not gay, including railing and voting against the gay community. Anyone who attacks other people’s lives is open to scrutiny of his own life. West had misled the people of Washington by railing against gay rights while he was secretly gay himself. It's not a good formula for public policy. Let’s say this guy is a member of your faith community-- because most likely he is the member of a faith community somewhere. What do you say to him? How do see the face of Christ in this guy? I don’t have an answer to that one. My first instinct isn’t my best one. What about yours? pax [+]

exxon propaganda

I found this fascinating and deeply disturbing piece at Plutonium Page. It's worth a read. What do you think? A few weeks ago, I wrote about ExxonMobile's funding of think tanks, religious groups, media outlets and other organizations, to spread doubt about the reality of global climate change ("it's a theory, not a fact"). I came across this gem. It's a chart that tells which groups got how much money from ExxonMobile, the lies they spread, and interesting facts about each group. Some examples from that chart: 1. Acton Institute for the Study of Religious Liberty. Received $155,000 from ExxonMobile. They say that carbon dioxide caps are "a misguided attempt to solve a problem that may not even exist." One of their advisors is an AEI fellow (American Enterprise Institute). 2. The Advancement of Sound Science Center received $40,000 from ExxonMobile. Guess who runs it? FoxNews.com's columnist Steve Milloy. 3. The American Enterprise Institute bagged a staggering $960,000 from ExxonMobile. Their publications include "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in 2004, basically saying that global climate change is just something us crazy, hysterical environmentalists have blown way out of proportion. The real President of the US Dick Cheney is one of their former senior fellows. 4. The Heritage Foundation received $340,000 from ExxonMobile. They say: "For the next several decades, fossil fuel use is key to improving the human condition." In all, ExxonMobile donated $8 million to these groups and others like them. For me, this ranks right up there with Intelligent Design. pax [+]

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

free in the spirit

We live in a world awash in fantasies of freedom. We spend enormous amounts of money and immense amounts of psyhic energy on these fantasies. We fantasize a free life based variously on power, on sex, on fame, on leisure. Whole industries develop out of these fantasies. Careers are shaped by them. Political movements are launched and fueld by them. But the world we live in conspicuously and sadly lacking in the experience of freedom. The fantasies are barren. They give birth to nothing in word or deed. For all our elaborate and expensive fantasies, the actual lives that most people live are filled with impotence, boredom, obscurity and hassle. Living in the land of the free has not made us free. Being provided with religious freedom has not made us free. Assembling with people in church and listening to ringing proclamations of freedom has not made us free. Our churches are attended regularly by the inhibited, the obsessive-compulsive, the fearfully defensive-- at least enough to provide outside observers with a stereotype. But not everything that has to do with freedom is fantasy. There are also realities of freedom. They are not, perhaps, as conspicuous, but they are there, at least for people of faith. We believe God is free. God created the world and the people in it freely and not out of necessity. Since a free God is at the center of all existence, and all creation and every creature issues from a free act, freedom and not necessity is always the deeper and more lasting reality. At the center of this belief is the story of Jesus, the freest person who ever lived. And there is recurrent witness to the Spirit who is ever free, like the wind that blows where it wills. In every culture and land there is abundant testimony that persons who trust in God participate in this freedom. My own experience supports the testimony: when I life in faith I live freely. When I set God at the center of my life, I realize vast freedoms and surprising spontaneities. When I center life in my own will, my freedom diminishes markedly. I live constricted and anxious. I live in the vortex where these fantasies and realities mingle. The life I live in the world cannot escape the fantasies but neither can it avoid the realities. Like so many others who have chosen to live by faith, I find that it is a daily task to discriminate between the fantasies and the realities. I've discovered that my deepest vocation as priest-- preaching, teaching, visiting, counseling, praying, writing, encouraging, directing-- is about seeking ways in which I can awaken a hunger and thirst for the free life among people who had lost an appetite for it, and then, having awakened the appetite, to find the food and drink that would satisfy it. The more I do this, the more I am convinced that the experience of freedom in the life of faith is at the very heart of what it means to be human. pax [+]

Friday, May 06, 2005

theocracy in action

It's really happening folks. The right-wing nut jobs are doing their best to create a theocracy in the United States. I heard a report yesterday on NPR with Maryland parents arguing about health care education in the public schools. One parent, whose son is gay, was arguing the side that health education must include issues relevant to gay teenagers, and not including them was pushing conservative Christian moral values onto his kid. The other parent, a conservative Christian, argued that including health issues for gay teenagers was the same kind of pushing a moral agenda but in the opposite direction. Then there's the NPR story about conservative Christians setting up religious schools to train lawyers for the culture wars. Today I get news of a Southern Baptist Church in North Carolina that has expelled nine members because they won't support President Bush. The most complete account I've found is at Daily Kos. I beg you to read it. Read all of it. It suggests some action items. This isn't just about expelling Democrats or progressive thinkers. It's about any litmus test that removes the minority voice. I'm outraged by all this. But I would be just as outraged if it had been an Episcopal Church throwing out Republicans or pro-lifers. This is getting ugly. [+]

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

disenfranchised from the church

This week I heard about a church in one of my old haunts, Little Rock. This church is only about three years old, has at least 400 in attendance each Sunday, and worships in an old abandoned Wal-Mart. They call themselves Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas. How are they doing it? Diversity. One of their main goals is to create a multicultural church where both the indigent and the influental are present. Imagine a wealthy US Senator sitting next to an alcoholic homeless man taking communion from an immigrant. I don't know about you, but that's the church as far as I'm concerned. This particular congregation didn't go the route of typical church plants either. They didn't use billboards, direct mail or radio or tv. Instead, they immersed themselves in the lifes of the poor. They purchased a trailor in a rundown park then went door-to-door to assess the physical and material needs of the community. Then they started meeting those needs. No surprise, the people responded. Maybe this is what Jesus had in mind when he taught about the Kingdom. Maybe the first step toward justice for people who have been disenfranchised not only from society but from the church is exactly this kind of work. What would it take for us to leave our comfortable and safe lives and instead choose to live in communities of need, working alongside the community, modeling a different way? My own vocational discernment is dealing me a harsh reality these days. Part of me is really tired of serving mostly white affluent churches. We're really good, have terrifically good intentions, toward a more inclusive church but we're not very proactive. I am convinced that my own beloved Episcopal Church just doesn't get it. Our churches are filled with folks who want to give free Christmas presents to the poor people but who could not fathom the possibility of actually meeting those people where they are. Think about it: would you darken the door of a community in which the only place you see yourself is in the outreach listings? pax [+]

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

dire straights

In the current May issue of Episcopal Life there is a letter to the editor that has captured my attention. As fas as I can tell, this monthly paper is not available online, so you're going to have to take my word on this one. The writer states that the American Episcopal Church is in dire straights. The writer claims to believe the reason is quite clear: our church no longer stands for anything. The writer then goes on to give his/her reasoning. 1. The revised prayer book destroyed the beauty and continuity of our liturgy. Can someone please explain to me the unnatural attachment some folks have to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It's not as if that book didn't vary significantly from its own predecessor. I just don't get it. If that had been the worship of the church when I discovered the Episcopal Church, I'd still be looking elsewhere. Yep, the old book was that bad. 2. A broad decline in the competency of the clergy. I have no idea what this one is about. Maybe my older colleagues were trained to be academics more than to be pastors. Quite frankly, I'm tired of hearing about the old glory days following WW2. Exactly how hard was it to run a parish overflowing with families when church was a cultural priority? 3. The driving out of those who were the strength of the church -- the lifelong Episcopalians, educated and aristocratic, a tradition in America going back to George Washington and other founding fathers. There are too many things wrong with this sentence. I don't know where to begin. Some of us think the oppressive arrogance of being a church filled with over-educated aristocrats has given us exactly what God wants for us-- a dying church no longer worther to carry the name Christian. Gimme a break. Does the writer actually read the Bible or simply place it on the coffee table for everyone to see? 4. Newcomers who know nothing our 16th century institutions. Actually, we're working hard to teach folks about the institutions of the 1st to 4th centuries. I tend to believe that Jesus is a better model than the political machinations of 16th century Europe. 5. Why should newcomers change the face of our church? Because we need them. 6. The church must stop trying to be all things to all people.... Certainly sounds like we're not fulfilling your needs at the moment. 7. ... with multiple services... Yeah. Giving witness to the plurality of the Anglican traditions is a real bummer. 8. ...wordy foolish prayers... Have you read the prayer Cranmer himself wrote? Not exactly concise. 9. ... an overall acceptance of people's disrespectful dress, actions, and attitudes. Again, so many things wrong with this sentence. I've lost that photo of Jesus and the disciples modeling for GQ. 10. Christ didn't turn anybody away, but he made it quite clear what was expected of you if you wanted to please God the Father and be a good Christian. Better check your Bible on that one. I don't recall any footnotes on the Great Commandment. And the last time I checked, Jesus was a Jew not a Christian. I really believe Jesus is embarrassed by the church created in his name. 11. If they want to become Episcopalians, fine, but then they must do and believe as we do, not the other way around. So if I don't do and believe as you (the writer) do, what does that make me? By your own argument, you're defining yourself out. Surely that's a mistake on all counts. Pray for us all. pax [+]

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

the german shepherd

I am not a Roman Catholic though I am indebted to RC nuns who sheltered me from the rather dreary evangelical Protestantism of my youth. I don't think of the RCs as "them," and therefore I feel really deeply about who the pope is. Who the pope is affects ALL of Christendom. If we don't think the movements in our own Anglican Communion and the doctrinal rigidity of the last pope are unrelated, we're just not paying attention. Imagine the Anglican communion without the inspiration of Pope John XXIII. He may not be "my" pope per se, but he is a leader in my Church without equal in power to do good or evil. I must be honest. This new guy scares me. I sometimes find my own self thinking that a smaller church might be better, but that’s because my experience has taught me that most folks are interested in or cut out for true gospel work. The closer you get to the gospel, the smaller your community may become. That’s not what the new bishop of Rome is talking about. Here’s an excerpt from the National Catholic Reporter from April 16, 2005. When he was a Cardinal, the now Pope Benedict 16’s record includes: a.. Theologians disciplined, such as Fr. Charles Curran, an American moral theologian who advocates a right to public dissent from official church teaching; Fr. Matthew Fox, an American known for his work on creation spirituality; Sr. Ivone Gebara, a Brazilian whose thinking blends liberation theology with environmental concerns; and Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, a Sri Lankan interested in how Christianity can be expressed through Eastern concepts; b.. Movements blocked, such as liberation theology and, more recently, religious pluralism (the drive to affirm other religions on their own terms); c.. Progressive bishops hobbled, including Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, reproached by Rome for his tolerance of ministry to homosexuals and his involvement in progressive political causes, and Bishop Dom Pedro Casaldáliga of Sao Félix, Brazil, criticized for his political engagement beyond the borders of his own diocese; d.. Episcopal conferences brought to heel on issues such as inclusive language and their own teaching authority; e.. The borders of infallibility expanded, to include such disparate points as the ban on women's ordination and the invalidity of ordinations in the Anglican church. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a Catholic controversy in the past 20 years that did not somehow involve Joseph Ratzinger. And here’s more data from a site called Priests for Life. It captures a memorandum that was sent by Cardinal Ratziner to Cardinal McCarrick and was made public in July 2004. Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger 1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one's worthiness to do so, according to the Church's objective criteria, asking such questions as: "Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?" The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," nos. 81, 83). 2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a "grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propoganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it'" (no. 73). Christians have a "grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it" (no. 74). 3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. 4. Apart from an individuals's judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915). 5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist. 6. When "these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible," and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, "the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it" (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration "Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics" [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person's subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person's public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin. N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.] Not exactly the answer to my prayers. Sad news for all of us, Roman Catholic or otherwise. pax [+]

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

it's the baptism thing, stupid

The Associated Parishes for Liturgy & Mission (APLM) has issued a statement addressing “The Scandal of Impaired Fellowship in the Anglican Communion.” The statement intends to provide helpful rationale to those in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada charged with presenting to the Anglican Consultative Council the reasoning for ordaining non-celibate gay persons and for blessing same-sex unions. APLM issued the statement on April 12, 2005 following the annual meeting of its governing council in Estes Park, Colorado. The statement takes up the actions from the theological perspectives of creation, baptism, biblical interpretation, and sacramental theology. Click here to read the statement from APLM's website. From its beginning, the Anglican Communion has explicitly articulated the foundation of doctrine and discipline in liturgical prayer and sacramental action. Basing an examination of controversial or innovative theological concepts in baptismal theology is not only clarifying but necessary. This is especially so when what is under discussion is our understanding of certain sacramental actions, the sacramental nature of ordained orders, and the significance of including every baptized Christian in the full participation in the life and ministry of the church, without exclusion of any class of baptized persons, or even any class of baptized sinners. The Council states, “Our insights come from our deep interest in and study of the liturgy of Anglicanism, our sixty hears of forming and reforming the liturgical books of our two provinces, and our Communion’s long held tradition that the prayer of the Church is the source of its doctrine and practice- lex orandi, lex credendi, lex agendi. It's a great piece of work. The Council of APLM is an independent group of liturgical theologians and scholars who advocate for change in the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada. pax [+] in the interests of full disclosure, rh is a member of the council of aplm

Saturday, March 26, 2005

dancing episcopalians

There was so much going on, I wasn't certain what I was seeing out of the corner of my eye. Our parish's Maundy Thursday celebration is a real celebration. We call it the Feast of Friends and it's modeled on the earliest Christian eucharist found in a second century document called the Didache (or, The Teaching). Very communal. Communion is a table meal with real food and real conversation. Most Episcopalians have never experienced anything like it. We clear the church, put up tables, and eat a complete meal together. It was 7 o'clock. Time to start. All the tables were filled, but the people kept coming. We added an extra chair to every table, but the people kept coming. When everyone was settled, we began with the ancient blessing over the first cup of wine, broke bread and passed it around. During the meal we tell the story of Jesus washing the feet of his friends. I then tell a story of a time when someone unexpectedly served me and how that simple experience changed my life, if only for a moment. Then I ask everyone to share that same kind of story around their table. The sharing is amazing. People were really getting into it. If we had done that for two hours it wouldn't have been enough time, so wonderul was the sharing. Those simple stories are our witness to the living presence of a living God. The vulnerability it takes to share those stories changes the energy in the room. The breath of God was palpable. I hated to interrupt but we had more work to do. Then comes the footwashing. We have a large immersion font so we get in the font to wash feet. Yep, that's right-- in the font. It's wonderful and messy and chaotic. There were so many people there we did it in pairs and still it took over 45 minutes to get everyone washed. The Feast is filled with music, all sung to the beat of drums and other rhythm instruments. Our voices literally fill the room--some might say we shook the walls, too. I looked up to see people waiting for the font lined up and snaking their way around the room. Singing, chatting, moving to the music. This footwashing thing is profound. You can't do it and leave unchanged. At our place, folks tend to hang out around the font as others get washed. Eventually everyone ends up crowded around. That's when I saw it. A blur of palm fronds and arms and bare feet went by. Some of the women were holding hands, armed raised like in a Greek folk dance, waving the palms they were holding, and dancing! Spontaneous dancing! Unexplained dancing! Unfettered spirits! A blend of how much we love each other, how much we love God, and our gratitude for both. A distinctive blur of the holy and the human at its finest. The dance line began to grow. Eventually it became a full circle. Then another formed behind that first one. It was so beautiful it took my breath away and my eyes filled with tears. As the tears rolled down my cheeks the Spirit that was in the room came full into me. There has been no finer moment in my ministry than this one. Today, one of the newer members of our community emailed me. He told me that he had never experienced anything like that night in his entire life. Me, too. Click here for another person's experience of this same night-- with pictures! pax [+]

Sunday, March 20, 2005

the right to life and death

As I was researching what I might say about the Schiavo case, I found the following the article. It’s excellent, really excellent. I wish I had written, but I didn’t. At the same time, it’s too good not to pass along. The author is the Rev’d Charles Henderson. Henderson is the organizing pastor of First Church of Cyberspace. He is also a Presbyterian minister and former chaplain at Princeton. -- rh[+] The long and drawn out controversy over whether a Florida woman, Theresa Lynn Schiavo, should be allowed to die, may finally be coming to an end. The latest turn of events was an absurd effort by some "leaders" in Congress to have Terri Schiavo, whom the courts and the medical community agree has been in a "persistive vegetative state" for more than 15 years, travel to Washington in order to "testify." A more refined version of this would stage a Congressional hearing in the Florida nursing home where Mrs. Schiavo is being cared for. Those committed to using artificial feeding to keep this woman "alive," even in the face of clear medical testimony that there is no hope of her recovery from irreversible brain damage, have mounted and continue to mount a relentless legal and public relations effort to prevent her natural death from occurring. These efforts, including attempts to have Congress intervene, are ongoing. The prospect of a brain dead person who cannot walk, speak, or even eat being called upon to "testify" before Congress surely prefigures what would be one of the great spectacles of the absurd ever imagined; moreover, it powerfully illustrates that there are limits that must be placed upon "the right to life." Indeed, Congress, the courts, and human conscience itself need to honor a human being's "right to die." For the fact is, God does not will that any of us live forever. And as scripture puts it: "there is a time to live, and a time to die." For Terri Schiavo that time has come. In recent years the Schiavo case has focused on videotapes that some family members say demonstrate that Terri Schiavo is still very much alive. On the tape, Mrs. Schiavo, her head propped up on a pillow on a hospital bed, is kissed and lovingly stroked on the forehead by her mother. Her eyes appear to be moving, and on her face there is an expression which some describe as a "smile." Those who have examined the medical evidence, comparing it with the impression created by the video, agree that Mrs. Schiavo's eye movements, facial expressions, and other "signs of life," are actually involuntary reflexes that cannot be repeated consistently. For example, the video shows Terry apparently "smiling" with recognition upon "seeing" her mother. Not shown are the hundreds of times when Terri shows no facial expression in the presence of her mother, or when she "smiles" randomly for no apparent reason. Medical experts agree that Terri's facial expressions are involuntary rather than a sign of conscious life. Further, everyone who has examined Mrs. Shiavo agress that large portions of her brain are utterly destroyed and that critical parts of her brain cavity are filled with spinal fluid rather than living brain tissue. Meanwhile some right-to-life advocacy groups with encouragement from Terri's parents have made this the "cause of the century" through a series of legal maneuvers designed the circumvent Terri's own expressed wishes and beliefs, the views and beliefs of her husband, the evidence of the medical community, and the consistent rulings of the Florida courts in the matter. In addition to the debate over medical condition, there is the question of whether Terri Schiavo would have wanted her bodily functions maintained in these circumstances. Again, the courts have ruled that the weight of the evidence is that she would have preferred to be allowed to die. She communicated her wishes in the matter to her best friend before suffering brain damage, and her husband supports this view of his spouse's beliefs. Across the span of 25 years in the parish ministry there have been many times when I've been called upon by families facing similar circumstances ... whether as a result of accident, stroke, or long, debilitating illness, a loved one has come to a point when "life" can only be sustained by the continued application of feeding or breathing apparatus. And, in the meantime, the patient is not capable of making or expressing a decision in the matter. Seldom are family members so deeply divided as in the case of Terri Schiavo which is the only reason her situation has become a major news story. Had she made out a "living will," and had her parents agreed with her husband in the matter, life support systems could have and would have been removed as they are for hundreds of people every day. For it has been widely recognized by the courts, as well as by most religious groups, that when a person is no longer capable of living without the benefit of "artificial" life support systems, the decision on letting nature takes its course, with death ensuing, lies in the hands of the one who is suffering and/or members of the immediate family, but most especially a spouse. In other words, the "right to die" is not simply an abstraction. It is an ethical principle strongly rooted in the rule of law. More than that, it is a principle rooted in the deeply religious and profoundly Christian belief that the value of life is not its longevity, but its quality. The value of our lives is not to be determined by the length of our days nor bounded by the number of our years. The value of our lives lies ultimately in the hands of God, and is not to be determined by the courts, by Congress, or a right to life movement that refuses to see that death is as much a part of God's plan for creation as life itself. There comes a time for all of God’s children when the better part of wisdom is to recognize that a good death is preferable to merely maintaining the body's life like functions. When that time comses, as it has for Terri Schiavo, perhaps the best we can offer is the pray of Jesus, as his own death drew near: "Father, into Thy hands, I commit my spirit." These may well be the best words we can offer on behalf of Terri Schiavo. Click here for a complete, thorough, factual, and unbiased summary of the major issues of this case.

Repentance, Forgiveness, Renewal

My apologies to those folks who keep wondering where I’ve gone. The short answer is that life has been difficult in the past several weeks. New demands on my time and energy have forced me to refocus my efforts. One of the things that went bail was this web log. Sorry about that. Nothing to do except to name the fault, ask for forgiveness and move on.

So there it is.

pax [+]

Monday, January 10, 2005

please read

Here's an important entry on a blog I've just learned about. Faithful America is an online advocacy organization with an interfaith reach seeking to create a compassionate and just nation. I post it here hoping you will add it to your regular lists and visit it often. pax [+] Rescue or Revival? January 10, 2005, Colombo, Sri Lanka -- In an earlier post I mentioned that on the heels of the disaster some Christian evangelists were using the tsunami as an opportunity to evangelize and convert Sri Lankans from Buddhism or Islam to Christianity. Today we traveled to a small coastal village near Colombo to visit an orphanage ruined by the wave. On our way we came upon a boy dressed in new jeans and a bright white Yankees t-shirt, and carrying a brand new Bible. (see photos below) We stopped and asked where he was going and he told us, “To the prayer.” We learned that there would be some fifty survivors from this fishing village attending the meeting led by an American evangelist. What is interesting -- and this is purely speculation -– but there is a better than average chance that this young man, or at least some of the fifty in attendance, were Buddhists –- at least before tonight. This illustration touches at the heart of the tension between Buddhist leaders and visiting Christian groups, some of which, such as FaithfulAmerica, are here not to evangelize but to help provide relief. There are some who say evangelists are exploiting this nation’s bad fortune to gain converts, while some evangelists believe they are doing exactly what their faith commands them to do. (You were looking for a hot topic of discussion for your next get-together, you say? You're most welcome.) There are some smiles in this village that, while a stone's throw from the ocean, is positioned on Sri Lanka's western coast and so was not as violently hit as in other parts of the country. While we drove past homes displaying signs remembering their loved ones who were killed, there were many who, though traumatized, survived the disaster. In this same fishing village is an orphanage called the City of Joy that is run by an INTERFAITH group, including Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. I’ll share more about our visit in my next post, but because there is so much bad news coming out of Sri Lanka, let me just leave you with this bit of very good news -– all of the children in this orphanage, many with physical disabilites, were led to safety by the staff and villagers. I’ll have more on that soon. Thanks for checking in.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

disasters are PR for Jesus?

I saw this interesting item from Media Matters for America yesterday. Why is Scarbough asking William Donohue about Asian people? Isn't that kinda like asking David Duke about Black people? Here’s the story. William A. Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said of the tsunami disaster in South Asia: "In one strange sense, then, what's happening to these poor Asian people is their gift to the world." Donohue's comments came after MSNBC host and former U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough (R-FL) asked him about "the Catholic church's take" on the disaster. From the January 6 edition of Scarborough Country: DONOHUE: The fact of the matter is that what -- we can't figure out exactly, as mortal human beings, what is exactly at work. Job certainly didn`t understand it in the New Testament. Talk about Murphy's Law. Everything that could have gone wrong for that guy went wrong. But what did it do to his faith? He kept his faith in God. There are strange things that happen. But we do know one thing: that Catholicism in particular is a theology of suffering, as Cardinal [John] O'Connor once said. Cardinal O'Connor once stunned the Jewish community by saying that the great gift of Judaism was the Holocaust. He didn't mean that to insult Jews. What he was saying was this: There is no greater suffering than what Christ did. He died on the cross, but that's a source of optimism. That`s a source of redemption. So, I think we have to look at this in a positive sense. In one strange sense, then, what's happening to these poor Asian people is their gift to the world. It makes us think about our mortality and about salvation and about redemption. That's what we should be thinking about. O'Connor did once characterize the Holocaust as Judaism's "gift" to the world, as the Associated Press reported on May 4, 2000, following O'Connor's death. But the AP also noted O'Connor's admission, during a January 1, 1997, New York Times interview, that he said "some dumb things" to the press on occasion: "The press could have asked me about satellites to Mars and I would have given them an answer." The AP also noted that on Yom Kippur, 1999, O'Connor "sent a letter to Jewish leaders expressing 'my own abject sorrow for any member of the Catholic Church, high or low, who may have harmed you or your forebears.' Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel published the letter in a Sunday Times advertisement, saying: 'For the prince of the church to say the things he does, it's very strong.'" Donohue also incorrectly referenced the Bible: The Book of Job is in the Old Testament, not the New. I've noticed that Scarborough has had a slew of religious holy rollers on this week to give the "religious angle" on the tsunami,and how this is God's handiwork to punish Muslims. Using this "logic" was God punishing the people of Florida for the 2000 voting debacle by throwing four hurricanes at them this past summer and the people of Florida were just too stupid to see the folly of their ways? Same goes with the crippling snowstorm that buried Ohio Christmas week. Again, was it God's wrath for the crimes of J. Katherine Blackwell in 2004? It was -40 degrees in Grand Forks, ND this week. Another ignorant red state? I have several friends who helped to make those blue states. I may not understand their voting habits, but I do thank God that none of them is as arrogant, ignorant, and prejudiced (in the name of God no less) as Donohue and Scarborough. Pax [+]

Thursday, January 06, 2005

there literally are not words...

The Westboro Baptist Church-- that’s the Fred Phelps led bunch of “loving Christians”-- have issued a press release praising the Indian Ocean tsunami that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Here’s a brief sample: How many tsunami-dead Swedes are fags and dykes? Vacationing on their fat expendable incomes without kids to bother with and spend money on. With respect to each of the earthquake-dead perverts: “He shall be buried with the burial of an ass” (Jeremiah 2s.19). Maybe Swede can pass another law-- making it a crime for God to send earthquakes and tidal waves to kill vacationing Swedish fags and dykes. God is laughing, mocking and taunting Swedes as they mourn & weep over their dead! ... Thank God for his vengeance, and we pray for worse and more of it upon Sweden. Woe to faggot Sweden! There literally aren’t words. As offensive as it is, the horror is how close this same thinking to those who believe God sends forth divine retribution (without the gay bashing). In that thinking, the Swedish fags and dykes are merely a convenient scapegoat. In the mid-1980s, I recall a woman who believed that AIDS was punishment on gay men. She said, “This disease has one thing going for it. It’s killing all the right people.” May God have mercy on her soul for she doesn’t know what she’s doing. I have to leave Fred's soul to God, too. I certainly don't want it near me. pax [+]

God was not in the tsunami

We’re in the middle of a winter storm-- actually an ice storm-- so I’ve some time on my hands. Given the local road conditions I closed the parish today and sent the staff home where it would be safer than being on the roads. And there was nothing that couldn’t be done later in the week. So we all went home. While watching the winter wonderland falling from the skies I’ve been listening to more talk-radio than usual. A segment of NPR’s Talk of the Nation caught my attention and raised my ire. The topic was the tsunami tragedy and where God might be found within it. I was amazed at many of the responses. Now let’s be honest, NPR is a national call-in talk show for us liberals. It’s fairly rare to hear a conservative caller, yet there they were blaming the tsunami on God. Some apparently have caught the same disease that sometimes afflicts Pat Robertson when he tells people that God is sending hurricanes to Florida. It reminds me of the time when Oral Roberts went on the airwaves telling folks God was gonna take him home if his listeners didn’t pony up some large amount of money. Here’s a short sampling from the NPR show: Randall: The tsunami occurred because the earth is in travail because of human sin. The Christian scriptures offer a more reliable explanation of why this happened than does science. Fatima: God is in control. The tsunami was a lesson from God that we are not in control. Whenever God decides something is going to happen, then we simply have to accept it. Coy: It was a test from God. Life is a test. Negative experiences allow us to gain strength to rise above them. Whenever tragedy (large or small) happens, we human have need to blame God. It seems we only invoke God in order to blame God. We want know the answer to questions like, Was this divine retribution? If not, then why didn’t God protect us? How can a compassionate God allow such tragedy? And so, an angry God becomes the explanation. We’re being bad Christians because of premarital sex, drinking, smoking, drugs, etc. and a list that could fill pages based upon your personal prejudices of what is and is not acceptable behavior. Funny how things like usury (lending money at interest) never makes those lists. Inevitable, the tragedy is held up as a sign that Christianity must be enforced in a more fundamental way. Why would anyone worship a God like that? If our task in this life is to appease a solicitous God, then quite frankly I have more important things to do-- like standing with those victims in the midst of the tragedy. No, it’s not a neat answer. It’s not an answer at all. It’s a bit like Job questioning the lack of justice in the world God had designed. We must stop thinking of God as some big man up in heaven sitting there and making individual judgments about who shall live and who shall die, where he should put a tsunami and where he should put a beautiful sunset. Heresy, you say? Only if your conception of God derives from a Greek notion of the All-Knowing, All Powerful Unmoved Mover-a conception which at times has seeped into and shaped medieval theologies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but which isn't the only possible way to understand God. God was not in the tsunami. God is in the response to the tsunami. God created us as sentient beings with ultimate freedom to do as we please. The harder question in the face of such a tragedy is, How do we use our freedom to help? pax [+]

Saturday, December 04, 2004

banning books in Alabama

An Alabama legislator is seeking to ban from all public and university libraries in his state any books or other materials that include any kind of gay orientation. Even plays such as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" would be banned under this legislation. A public librarian in the state estimates that half the books from libraries could be removed, depending on how one interprets the law. Hard to believe this legislation could get very far, even in Alabama, but in the present state of affairs, who can know for sure? See Kim Chandler's article in the Birmingham News.

Friday, December 03, 2004

beyond anger

I cannot get this UCC ad rejection out of my mind. I'm a former advertising and creative executive so I'm doubly mad. First, the ads are exemplary, direct statements of the UCC's theology. It's who they are trying to be. Isn't it amazing that one of the country's most venerable mainline denominations can't even buy the right to share its understanding of the Gospel? Second, it boggles the mind that the White House's grandstanding about a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage could be invoked by a TV network as a reason to exclude any advertisement that even indirectly hints that gay people are welcome to go to church. Think about that for a second. A bit of constitutional law that hasn't so much as made it out of the House of Representatives and is years away from even potentially becoming the law is driving the network's advertising decisions now. If you're curious about the limits of acceptable public discourse these days, here's the phrase you can't utter on national television: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." CBS and NBC, however, do.

national networks censor religious expression

I was driving home today listening to National Public Radio (a sacrament in my daily life) and I couldn’t believe my ears. CBS and NBC have refused to air a TV commercial for the United Church of Christ, saying the ad is too controversial. The 30-second commercial shows two bouncers standing in front of a church refusing to let some people in, including a gay couple, NPR's Lynn Neary reports. The commercial emphasizes the UCC's openness to all people, including gays. The ad was accepted by other broadcast and cable outlets, including ABC Family, AMC, Discovery, TNT and Fox. A CBS spokesman said the network has "a long policy of not accepting advocacy advertising." NBC spokesman Alan Wurtzel said the network rejected one of two ads it received from the UCC because it violated the company's policy of not accepting ads that deal with "issues of public controversy." You can hear the entire NPR story here. When I arrived home I immediately went to the national United Church of Christ site not only to see the ad for myself but to see other information they might offer. The official press release from the UCC states: The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a 30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial." The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation. According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples -- among other minority constituencies -- and is, therefore, too "controversial.""Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks." Similarly, a rejection by NBC declared the spot "too controversial." What’s going on here? I agree with Larry Hollon, who leads the national advertising effort for The United Methodist Church, who has said the networks’ rejection of the UCC’s ad was baseless, even “chilling.”"The reasons given by the networks for rejecting this message should bring a chill to everyone who supports freedom of religious expression because they are saying that a fundamental tenet of Christian belief is politically unacceptable for the public dialogue,” Hollon told his denomination’s newspaper, the United Methodist Reporter. “The belief that God loves every person without condition is so basic to Christian teaching that if a denomination cannot make this assertion what can it say? Such decisions shut out the Christian community from the national conversation."“How ironic that a gentle message of inclusion is considered unacceptable while ads for beer are accepted and programs in which people eat insects and worms are considered entertaining,” Hollon said. “In a divided and fearful world this message is not only needed. It could lead to healing.” I lead a church community that welcomes everyone. It is basic to our understanding of God and who we are as God’s people. Each week we tell ourselves (and our guests) that Jesus invited everyone to his table, so we invite everyone to ours, too. That’s right. We give communion to anyone who presents themselves to be fed. It’s a radical movement to some, but the experience of it is not radical to those who practice. It simply feels right-- and the only correct way to pattern our sacramental life after our Lord’s own practices. And the fact that we welcome everyone can be seen in the faces of some of our members who have found home in our community after a lifetime of being rejected in other churches. While no aspect of the UCC's paid advertisement pertains to gay marriage, it does deal with the issue of exclusion, something experienced by so many people in our society, including gay and lesbian persons, among others. I find it alarming that, in a nation that increasingly scapegoats minority communities, it has become impossible for alternative voices to speak a word of inclusion. I know that whether or not churches intend to be exclusionary, many non-churchgoers believe the institutional church does exclude them, either because of race, age, gender, economic circumstance or sexual orientation. The UCC ad only seeks to point to the institutional alienation felt by so many in our society and to present an alternative view - an extravagant welcome! Yes, there is more than one moral voice in this country! I wonder how it is that I can have free access to the likes of James Dobson and Jim Kennedy and their ilk while for months they extolled lies about gay life in the name of God (in the hopes of motivating the conservative Christian electorate to move from "the Lord is my shepherd" to "the Lord is my president), but other voices who don't share their opinions are barred? Is anyone else alarmed by this? pax [+]

Thursday, November 18, 2004

another canary in the coal mine

I was away at a national conference of episcopal liturgists and musicians in Philadelphia. In many ways it was frustrating for me because much of the conversation seemed to be at a level that was not going to address the true state of liturgy in the Episcopal church. It's not simply that our liturgical life is not what it could be (that this is very true-- most parishes lack anything smacking of creativity in their worship life). It's that our worship is not really worship. Too often it has become a lowest common denominator, read the book, did we follow the rubrics, event that has completely lost touch with the people of God and seems to be constructed precisely to keep God's people from any real, human, emotion rich experience of God in community. Here's a snapshot of a seminal exchange following a really cool presentation on ambient worship that's happening in the UK. A priest was telling me the story of how he had to "discipline" [his word] his congregation to begin the worship service each Sunday. He said the people just get together and love to talk and drink coffee and don't want to stop so the liturgy was beginning later and later. He said that now she goes into the church and "shsh's" the people and tells them to be quiet and to pray so they can begin. Then in a few minutes, a procession with cross, candles and clergy walk down the aisle. I told him that his story was intriguing and so I asked what that experience had taught him about how his community actually gathered itself. He didn't understand the question. I tried to be more didactic but to no avail. So what does that say to you about how your community's liturgy actually begins? He still didn't understand. He said, "well our liturgy begins in silence," to which I could only reply, "apparently not." And we wonder why our denomination is shrinking? Unfortunately, liturgy is just one more of the symptoms... the canary in the coal mine, so to speak. pax [+]

Friday, November 05, 2004

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... and from Daniel Webster

The Witness is one of the best magazines on faith and justice issues in the United States. This is an excerpt from a piece by Daniel Webster on "Domination be Belief". It can be found on their website (follow that link to see the full thing). ...The United States now has voted to join the rest of world in the war for the domination of beliefs - Israelis over Palestinians (who are both Muslim and Christian), radical Muslims over Christians, Buddhists or Hindus. If the vote was indeed about values then it was a vote about only those values that serve some in our country. Bush presented himself as the 'pro-life' candidate opposing abortion and stem-cell research. He will fight for an unborn child but cut the programs that help single mothers or hungry children. He will claim to be 'pro-life' and yet start a war that has killed more than a thousand U.S. and other allied soldiers, and may have caused the death of 100,000 Iraqi men, women and children. He claims to be 'pro-life' but presided over more executions than any governor in Texas history. He has brought the "Don't Mess with Texas" attitude to the rest of the country and the world. "Don't Mess with the U.S." seems to have resonated with voters who feels George W. Bush will support their values. That kind of an attitude cannot heal a nation, or a world, divided. We are not split between "blue and red states." We are split ideologically - those who are tolerant and embrace diversity and those who wish to impose their values on others...

reaching out beyond my anger

I'm scanning the web, reading as much as I can. I have to move beyond my current anger to something more constructive. Perhaps one of the mistakes liberals like me have made was to allow our burning hatred of Mr. Bush and his narrow, if regressive, view of America to lead the discussion. See, I'm already back where I started. Jim Wallis often speaks well for me when I cannot find the words. Here's what Sojourners has to say: ...We've now begun a real debate in this country over what the most important "religious issues" are in politics, and that discussion will continue far beyond this election. The Religious Right fought to keep the focus on gay marriage and abortion and even said that good Christians and Jews could only vote for the president. But many moderate and progressive Christians disagreed. We insisted that poverty is also a religious issue, pointing to thousands of verses in the Bible on the poor. The environment - protection of God's creation - is also one of our religious concerns. And millions of Christians in America believe the war in Iraq was not a "just war." So in this election, one side talked about the number of unborn lives lost each year, while the other pointed to the 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq. But both are life issues - according to the Pope, for example, who opposes both John Kerry's views on abortion and George Bush's war policy. Some church leaders challenged both candidates on whether just killing terrorists would really end terrorism and called for a deeper approach. And 200 theologians, many from leading evangelical institutions, warned that a "theology of war emanating from the highest circles of government is also seeping into our churches." Clearly, God is not a Republican or a Democrat, as we sought to point out, and the best contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or loyally partisan but to maintain the moral independence to critique both the left and the right. It is now key to remember that our vision - a progressive and prophetic vision of faith and politics - was not running in this election. John Kerry was, and he lost. Kerry did not strongly champion the poor as a religious issue and "moral value," or make the war in Iraq a clearly religious matter. In his debates with George Bush, Kerry should have challenged the war in Iraq as an unjust war, as many religious leaders did - including Evangelicals and Catholics. And John Kerry certainly did not advocate a consistent ethic of human life as we do - opposing all the ways that life is threatened in our violent world. We didn't lose the election, John Kerry did, and the ways in which both his vision and the Democratic Party's are morally and politically incomplete should continue to be taken up by progressive people of faith. In a deeply polarized country, commentators reported that either political outcome would "crush" the hopes of almost half the population. So perhaps the most important role for the religious community will come now, when the need for some kind of political healing and reconciliation has become painfully clear. In the spirit of America's greatest religious leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the religious community could help a divided nation find common ground by moving to higher ground. And we should hold ourselves and both political parties accountable to the challenge of the biblical prophet Micah to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." I like what he has to say, especially the conviction that we progressive people of faith must press on to higher ground. Some food for my own aching soul. pax [+]

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who speaks for me?

I don't yet have words to express the depth of my emotion at the election results. I was astonished. Unprepared for what occurred. I knew Bush would carry the more rural states, especially in the South, but I cannot fathom how my fellow Ohioans could support him. Of all the jobs lost in the US since Bush took office, nearly 1/3 of them are gone from Ohio. We're the most union intensive labor state in the union. How could they? Why would they vote for someone who actively works against them and the welfare of their families? And now Bush speaks of "mandates" and "political capital." I'm not certain how you get a mandate with a 1% majority, but facts have never interfered with his lack of reasoning so far. I am truly fearful of what the next four years may bring. I read this week (sorry I don't recall the source) that liberals (like me) fear that fascism is right around the corner. Given the rhetoric of trying to expand the Republican base and fracture the Democratic party, and with control of both the house and the senate, and with conservative activists justices clearly coming in to the judicial branch-- what I fear is a one party system where there is no balance, no coalition, no compromise. Last time I checked, such a system is one of the qualities of a fascist regime. So who speaks for people like me? The morals and the values these people supposedly espouse are clearly not my values and morals. I don't believe extending basic rights to individuals who are law abiding and tax paying citizens is the same as killing 100,000 Iraqis in a war that cannot be justified and that was based on a lie. That morals of that equation are clear-- but the winners won't talk about it. It's not simple enough. Too much nuance for the likes of Bush. I believe protecting and providing for the poor of this country should be our highest moral imperative. Protecting the wealthiest Americans with tax cuts and providing entitlements to the companies they own when they delete jobs in the US in favor of outsourcing has no moral integrity. And don't give me that BS about how the wealthy will use their money to create more jobs and more wealth for others. It's not true. There is no evidence to suggest that it has ever happened or is happening now. It's just one more example of one of American's dirtiest little secrets-- the fact that most (though certainly not all) of our wealthy use their resources for just one thing-- protecting and providing for themselves. So who speaks for me and for the rest of us who find Bush to be a morally corrupt and irresponsible leader? Who speaks for us who are not conservative but liberal precisely because of our Christian faith? Who speaks for us who believe that civil rights (ERA, affirmative action, gay rights, abortion rights to name but a few) is at the heart of God's justice for God's people. Who speaks for those who fear Christian fundamentalism the same as we fear Islamic fundamentalism? Who's going to do it? We have a majority rule system. I get that. But I also believe our elected officials have a responsibility to represent all of their constituents, not merely the ones who elected them. pax [+]