Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmastime is Here!

If you know me at all, or have heard my phone ring ("Linus and Lucy"), or notice my blog profile picture or have seen my tattoo (!), you know what I was doing Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.

Watching a little piece of imperfect perfection called "A Charlie Brown Christmas..." November, which was, I'll freely admit, weird. But, look, the best we're going to do is to get the Christmas season to start after Thanksgiving (key word: after), so even though it was a little early for The Greatest Christmas Special Ever, I'll take it. Besides, now I can watch it again, closer to Christmas. I have a copy. Of course. A VHS copy, in a box with frayed corners, because it's that old. I got it at a Shell gas station sometime in the eighties, for like five bucks with a fill-up.

I don't know how many times I've seen "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It came out the year I was born, so I often feel like it's my special special. (Because no one else was born in 1965, I guess--I don't know why my mind works the way it does).

I still laugh at the jokes. I still find them timely. Five cent psychiatric advice, a figure skating dog who can also play every animal in the Christmas play, a preschooler who simplifies her wish list for Santa to "cash--tens and twenties," a poor schlub who doesn't get any cards and picks a hagard Christmas tree, and a little prophet whose "trusty blanket" can perform all sorts of spacial miracles.

It is the little prophet who provides what I have to think is the greatest moment in all of TV--a moment that only happened because Charles Schulz was a very stubborn man. When Schulz got together with fellow animators Bill Melendez and Lee Mendleson to talk about the special, he broached the idea of having Linus read from the Bible. His colleagues Nobody had ever done that before. For Schulz, this was the point, and it becomes the central point of the whole show: the meaning of Christmas can get lost in a sea of aluminum trees "and presents for pret-ty girls."

So he said "If we don't do it, who will?" and Linus walked onto the stage at Somewhere-in-Minnesota Elementary School and recited six perfect verses from Luke's Gospel--King James version, because this is the one time when the King James trumps.

Want to see it? Click here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You Better Watch Out

An article in today's KC Star reports that Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher working in northern Sudan has been arrested for allowing her class to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."

The kids in the class are seven years old.

Officials in Sudan allege that allowing a stuffed bear to bear the Prophet's name is an insult to Islam.

Yeah, maybe she should have realized that she might get this kind of reaction. And yes, it was probably a bad idea to send a letter home telling the parents that she'd let the kids name the bear "Muhammad" and that they should take a picture with the bear. Sudan is in the grasp of a really rabid religious fundamentalism that has cost the lives of a pretty substantial portion of its citizens, so it would be wise to be extra careful. A parable there, perhaps...

So, okay, it was a lapse in judgment, though certainly a well-intentioned one. Her letter noted that the bear was "intelligent," which is surely why the kids wanted to name it after the Prophet.

If Gibbons is found guilty, "she will face punishment, possibly including lashes."

This is appalling. To quote four dark-haired chicks, "What's Going On?"

In a related story, hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S., right alongside Christian fundamentalism.

Yeah, I know the difference between correlation and causation. I make the case anyway: there is a link between those two events. The kind of fundamentalism that sets marginalized people in its crosshairs can lead to violence against those people. Its rhetoric is violent, and not all of its adherents are stable and nonviolent.

Kelly Fryer has taken up this very topic on her blog, "Reclaiming the 'F' Word." (The "F" is for faith. What were you thinking?) She includes a disturbing video of Rev. Ken Hutcherson at a Microsoft shareholders' meeting. Rev. Hutcherson threatened the company with a boycott (which turned out to be imaginary, not ready-to-launch-with-a-phone-call as he asserted) over their support of gay rights initiatives in Washington state. Read through the comments, where Kelly takes on the question of the link between the Christian right and hate crimes pretty forcefully.

Here's the thing about this kind of fundamentalism: it picks and it chooses. It divides and it conquers. It is an imperial ideal, a ruse, really. It takes the language of faith, and the holy words of a religion, and bends them and twists them, until they support hateful works.

It is not patient. It is not kind. It is envious, and boastful and rude. It is especially arrogant. It insists upon its own way.

The good news is that this kind of fundamentalism does end. As soon as enough people stand up to say "Excuse me, but that's not what our scripture says. That's not what Jesus taught. That's not what the Prophet wanted."

I realize I'm not being particularly charitable (or merciful, to quote myself back to me, from the fraction of my sermon which was actually spoken aloud). But there is grave danger afoot. Our country has been coerced into war abroad and fierce battles at home, by people who claim Jesus Christ and don't seem to have even a fleeting acquaintance with him. And we've only just begun to see the effect of it all, at least those of us who aren't connected to the war personally. Some have suffered and died for the new "Christian" Imperialism.

And while we're at it, why don't we stop calling it "fundamentalism?" Is hate a "fundamental" of Islam or Christianity? Not last time I looked (and I do know just a little bit about Islam, having had a very good class at the UU seminary in Berkeley).

I'm thinking "religious detrimentalism" might be a better term. That would separate opportunists using religion to advance their own interests from sincere people of faith who are also evangelical Christians, or strict Muslims. This isn't about liberals vs. conservatives. There are conservative people who are doing their best to live out the call of their Lord. We disagree, but at least we're reading the same book.

I just think it is time to take that book (or those books, to include the Koran) out of the hands of the people who are using them but not actually reading them.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Frustration, Thy Name Is Sermon

Okay, so I've been writing all day. On a sermon I started on Tuesday. I've written five or six pages, easily. I have one useable page.


Every once in a while I ask myself why I would knowingly accept the call to a position which requires one to write an A paper every week.

Seriously--no one wants to hear a B sermon, do they?

I realized after a year or so that I had to let go of the idea that all sermons must be perfect.

But I never really let it go...

People are trusting me with their time. I have a responsibility to use that time wisely, to give them something to take home with them, something which helps them to function better, or lifts them up, or challenges them.


Of course right.

I'm going back to it now. Perhaps if I write six or eight more pages, I'll have a couple more pages I can use.

Smile. Sigh. Pray.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Signs of Life

It happened again this weekend. I was at an event at which there were a lot of LGBTA people (A for Allies). I was talking to a guy late in the day and he mentioned that he had lived "north of the river," near where our church, Abiding Peace, used to be located.
He said he never came to our church, but he knew about us. Then he said that he used to drive by Abiding Peace and feel so grateful that we were there, with our rainbow fish on the sign and our lesbian pastor. "It made me feel like I wasn't the only one up there--like I wasn't alone."
He was visibly moved, telling me this. I was moved hearing it. It doesn't matter how many times someone tells me how important it is for Abiding Peace to be "out there," I still sometimes forget. I fall into that church trap of measuring effective ministry by numbers of persons in seats on Sunday morning. I need to be reminded that Abiding Peace does ministry by existing, by sticking rainbows on our signs and having the audacity to suggest (publicly!) that God loves and values everyone.
I hope soon there will be a time when you don't have to drive by certain churches to have that message reinforced. But until that time comes, we'll just keep on doing our ministry of existence, so that no one has to feel like "the only one."

RIP, "Values Voter"

Rev. Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Guiliani for president.

That is all.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The High Cost of Hate

So I've been thinking about the verdict against Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. Though it's true that very little moral ambiguity surrounds Westboro, this whole lawsuit thing raises some very uncomfortable questions. Or perhaps I should say it highlights some questions that have been floating about since Westboro started picketing at the funerals of soldiers killed in the line of duty.

Setting aside the court case, the judgment, and all of the delicious (for Westboro) publicity, I'm wondering about the nature of the outrage that allowed this judgment. I think it is fair to say that the lawsuit, and the judgment, are motivated by outrage, and understandably so.

Fred Phelps and his family (who make up nearly all of Westboro Baptist Church) have been picketing funerals for a decade now. Most famously, they protested the funeral of Matthew Shepard in 1998, after Matt was beaten and left for dead on a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. They have protested at the funerals of numerous AIDS victims, and at the funeral of a San Francisco lesbian killed when she was attacked by pit bulls outside her apartment.

Funeral protests have gotten them a lot of attention, and they like attention.

There's been a shift in the reaction to those protests, though. While there was a general sense of disgust at the Westboro folks picketing the funerals of AIDS victims and at Matt Shepard's funeral, I don't recall anyone trying to pass a law against it, or sue the Phelps clan over it. Those things didn't happen until Westboro began picketing the funerals of service members.

I think the reason behind this disparity was expressed by someone who called in to "Voices," the Kansas City Star's voicemail-to-the-editor service. Here's that recorded message:

"Regarding the Fred Phelps situation: What’s at issue is not the church members’ right to free speech, but that the protests are done in a place that causes harm or distress to people having nothing to do with their issue. The Constitution was written to give us freedom, but not freedom to harm other people."

If I understand what that caller is saying, and I think I do, what is really troubling about Westboro picketing service member funerals is that the service members are not necessarily gay. Gay is definitely Westboro's "issue."

I think that caller speaks for a lot of people, as evidenced by the marked increase in moral outrage (and legal maneuvering) after Westboro shifted its funeral focus from AIDS victims to service members. The sentiment seems to be that if you actually are what a hate group targets you for, it is somehow more okay for you to be the victim of their hate.

That kind of sentiment goes a long way to explain a lot of the persistent "isms" in our society. Underneath the tacit tolerance of glass ceilings, unequal access, and even hate crimes is the notion that a lot of the anger and discrimination directed toward African Americans, Latinos, Asians, women and LGBT folks is probably justifiable, or at least understandable.

As Jon Stewart said last week, "You've come an imperceptibly short way, baby."

I think the time has come to set our resources toward The War on Hate. All of the other wars would surely end if we could win that one.