Friday, December 28, 2007

Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk about

It happened again. I was having a perfectly lovely conversation with someone I had just met, someone who is also a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the conversation got around to the Great Debate. You know the one I mean.

She had let me know that she knew "all about" my journey with the ELCA. If you're new here, you really only need to know that I live in a weird liminal space in my denomination. I'm not allowed to be on the clergy roster because I am a lesbian in a committed relationship (and choose--it's all about choice--not to lie about that). But I serve an ELCA church. Like I said, a liminal space.

The lady and I were having a very nice conversation. I'm not sure how it even got around to the subject of the Great Debate. I guess it just always does.

So there we were, talking about the church's struggles with its gay and lesbian members and pastors, and she looks at me and says, "Well, as a straight person, I just wish we could quit talking about it all the time."

I can only hope that I didn't roll my eyes, because, like I said, I was enjoying our conversation. I found this lady's sense of humor and presence absolutely delightful.

But gee, I'm tired of hearing that sentence. I'm tired of what seems to lurk beneath that sentence: a sense that lesbian and gay people in the church are somehow interested in prolonging the discussion of our sex lives.

Um, because we're really not. I say that with some confidence. I have yet to meet a gay or lesbian Lutheran who relishes the fact that our intimate relationships, our love lives, and "what y'all do in bed" is fodder for church assembly conversation and debate. I don't know any gay or lesbian Lutherans who like being "studied."

I'm leaving out transgendered and bisexual Lutherans because I'm afraid we've only just begun to study them. We've had some conversation about bisexuality, but it hasn't really gone anywhere. The church has yet to actually legislate around gender identity or bisexuality. You're only precluded from serving a church if you are in a "homosexual sexual relationship." So the defining issue is still "what y'all do in bed."

Sleep, mainly.

Look, here's where the confusion arises. I hate this debate. I hate being studied. But if we're ever going to have justice, this unequal, uncomfortable conversation has to take place. The alternative is to continue the longstanding, unstated "don't ask, don't tell" policy we have used for years. And at this point, there are just too dang many of us to try to cram back into that closet.

So as a lesbian, I wish we could quit talking about it as well. Yesterday. But I guess there's no other way through the crucible moment than to play with fire.

What's the Matter

Okay, so I let the Huckabee ad sit for a little while, and I still don't like it much. I know he's going after a particular demographic--right wing evangelicals (no, that is not necessarily redundant). But sitting in front of a floating cross and doing your best to show that you are the Real Christian in the race is creepy, and scary, and smacks of propaganda at best and fascism at worst.

I know politicians are opportunists; that's the way it's done. But using the birth of Christ is too much for me. There's no need for Mike Huckabee to remind people that he is a person of faith--he's a Baptist pastor, for goodness' sake. There's also no need for Mike Huckabee to remind people of faith that Christmas is about the birth of Christ. And there's no point in trying to remind those who don't care, as well. People aren't going to discover the true meaning of Christmas in a campaign ad.

But clearly it is important for Mike Huckabee to position himself as the candidate of the religious right. I'm a little surprised that he seems to be their only candidate. After they elected, and re-elected George W. Bush, one would think the Republican party would throw a few more bones to the Christian right. But nearly all of the GOP candidates seem to be folks who not only won't excite this part of the base, but are more likely to irritate them.

You wouldn't want to irritate Pat Robertson, would you?

Actually, maybe so. The problem with the Christian right is that their most high profile folks seem to prone to spectacular rises and equally dramatic falls. Here are a few names to illustrate my point:

Jim Bakker
Jimmy Swaggart
Ralph Reed
Ted Haggard

All of these fellows, with the possible exception of Ralph, are the punch lines to a barrel full of jokes. Ralph Reed is just a guy who rode the coattails of the "Christian Coalition" to a position of influence and subsequent corruption. He was once the darling of the party. By 2006, he couldn't get himself elected Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Ouch.

There are a bunch more names. Certainly we can add Pat Robertson, who is no longer relevant in national politics since his mouth just won't stop venturing into Crazy Town.

In the interest of fairness and balance, there are plenty of scandals on the other side of the political/religious fence. But it's just more interesting when pretenders to the throne of American morality fall on their derrieres (or the attractive derrieres of secretaries and male prostitutes). Americans love irony, even if we can't always recognize it. It's dang funny, and tragic, when Larry Craig, virulently anti-gay senator, gets caught soliciting sex from a man in a bathroom.

Since it's more interesting, it's a bigger liability. It's safe to assume that none of the candidates will ask Senator Craig to campaign for them. Even in Idaho. I'm thinking Mr. Potatohead will get you a lot more votes in Idaho.

Votes are the bottom line. As much as money seems to be the measure of viability in politics today, ultimately you don't get elected unless people vote for you. While the Christian Right comes with a whole bunch of votes, it also comes with a whole bunch of baggage. And it seems as if the Republican party isn't so much interested in carrying those bags across the election day threshhold any more.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A link to the Huckabee Ad: "What Really Matters"

I can't use the link in my own blog entry, so I thought that might happen to others as well. Here's a link you can use instead. If you just want to go to YouTube, be careful. There are new satires of this ad popping up by the minute. Here's a link:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


"You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." --Exodus 23:9
It seems as though every election cycle has a scapegoat now. In the last election, it was the failed war in Iraq. Candidates defined themselves as for it or against it, and the minority and majority parties switched places. (Though, sadly, you can hardly tell, a year later.)
Usually, though, the scapegoat has a face. In the 2002 and 2004 elections, it was gay and lesbian people, especially the ones demanding recognition of their relationships. Candidates stood up for "traditional marriage," constitutional amendments to prevent something that was already illegal were added to the ballot, and more Republicans were elected, vowing to return America to some glorious heyday that never existed.
This year the scapegoat is The Immigrant. Now all of the ills of our society can be blamed on the strangers who come into this land of opportunity seeking a better life. Especially the ones who do so without benefit of legal papers which declare that they have a "right" to be here.
I use the word "scapegoat" quite intentionally. Here are the two definitions of "scapegoat" at Merriam-Webster online:
1: a goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur
2 a: one that bears the blame for others b: one that is the object of irrational hostility.
Webster's says the goat wearing the people's sins was sent "into the wilderness." Other sources claim the goat was thrown over a cliff. Either way, things didn't go well for the goat.
Things aren't going very well for undocumented workers these days, either. They are "bearing the blame" for a whole lot of stuff happening in this country. The talking heads on television and AM radio claim that "illegal immigrants" have driven down wages, escalated the drug problem and (this is my favorite) brought thousands of cases of leprosy into the US.
Okay, so the leprosy thing is something Lou Dobbs got from a virulently anti-immigration source, and it has been disproved, though Dobbs stands by his figures. He actually said, "If we reported it, then it must be a fact."
Today's phrase, class, is "circular logic." Who can use circular logic in a sentence? Lou?
If you'd like to read a Wall Street Journal blog on this, click here.
Friends, what's wrong with our country is not the fault of undocumented workers. Though the reverse of that sentence is less true. The truth is that we have exploited undocumented workers for many years, and this election-time scapegoating is just another example of it. We've allowed undocumented workers to provide a wage buffer for industries like farming, construction, and the service sector.
And yes, that has kept wages low. But blaming the workers for their own low wages is just more circular logic. I'm guessing that they would take more money if you tried to give it to them. The truth is, this little "look the other way" system of hiring undocumented workers has worked to the advantage of American companies and consumers for a long while now. A lot longer than this issue has been on the political radar.
I'm not saying that it is right. It's wrong--deeply wrong. I'm just pointing out the naked emperor. If he gets dressed, lettuce is going to cost $3 a head. So all of this posturing is just that, since the pro-business, pro-industry, pro-capitalism candidates who are blustering about "illegal immigration" have no intention of biting the hand that feeds this nation.
People of faith should be outraged by all of this. Hospitality to strangers is a fundamental tenet of pretty much every major religion. It is certainly a foundation of the Abrahamic traditions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
God destroyed the city of Sodom because of the people's inhospitality to strangers among them. Funny, we've gotten a new millenium's worth of scapegoating from dramatically misreading that story...
Some of our churches have been standing up for the immigrant. I'm hoping that mine will be one of them, but that is, of course, up to the people of Abiding Peace.
The thirteenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews starts this way: "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." These verses are a reference to Genesis 18, in which Abraham warmly greets visitors. Those visitors are representatives of God, though Abraham is at first unaware of this fact. They're also the same visitors who are received so poorly by the people of Sodom.
There's not much gray space here. There's no getting around God's demand that we show hospitality to the stranger. There's no nuance here. It's just what we are called to do.
God has entreated us to throw open our doors and our arms to those who are strangers among us. And isn't that more fun than drumming up irrational hostility, anyway?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Would You Buy a President from This Woman?

Oprah Winfrey has endorsed Barack Obama, and she went on a whirlwind campaign tour with him this week.
I really didn't need to tell you that, did I?
It's all the news. Oprah and Obama on the road. People crowding into hockey stadiums to see Oprah. Oh, and to hear Barack Obama.
Look, I think it's great. Oprah is a powerful woman, and she throws her power around in some really good ways. If she wants to help get Barack Obama elected, I say "good for you!" Indeed, it might just be good for all of us.
What's been really amusing this week, though, is to listen to people answer the only question the news media seems to have about this whole thing: "Does Oprah's endorsement make you more likely to vote for Obama?"
The first response most people have is a little laugh. A little "oh, my dear, please!" laugh. Then they generally say some version of "Certainly not!"
A woman on CBS Sunday Morning (which we record, of course) said that she would choose her own president, and Oprah's endorsement wouldn't sway her vote. The interviewer (a clever and creative soul--you have to watch that show if you don't already--but don't stay home from church to do it) actually asked a follow-up question: "Has Oprah ever convinced you to buy a book?" The woman answered, "All of them."
So Oprah can tell us what to read...but not who should be president. Because that is a "community decision" and "an individual choice" and "a personal responsibility." These are all paraphrases of statements I heard people make about Oprabama.
So true. It is the responsibility of every American of voting age to give careful consideration to the choice of a presidential candidate. Oh, and drag your behind to the polls and vote. Shirking this responsibility is shameful. Sorry, but it is.
I agree that one oughtn't let Oprah make up one's mind. One's mind should be open to all of the choices, and one should do the research needed to choose the best person for the job, whoever that person should be.
But in the midst of all of the pooh-poohing of the "Oprah factor," a Gallup poll was released this week as well. The nice folks at Gallup asked folks whether they would vote for certain types of candidates--you know, like Mormon types. Seventeen percent said no, they wouldn't vote for a Mormon candidate. Here's the rest of the data, with the category first and the percentage of those polled that absolutely will not vote for that sort of person:
Catholic 4%
Black 5
Jewish 6
A woman 12
Hispanic 12
Mormon 17
A homosexual 41
An atheist 48
I suppose I should be happy that I am currently less reprehensible to the average American than an atheist. Yeah, not so much.
So all week long we heard all of this rhetoric about the importance of choosing the best possible candidate. But Gallup calls random people on the phone and the truth comes out. The best possible candidate had still better have the right stuff (and I mean that as a euphemism for genitalia and pigmentation and sexual orientation and religious beliefs, just in case it's unclear).
Apparently everyone is happy with a white, male, straight, Protestant candidate. Because, hey--they've been running the country since, well, forever, and look how well it's going!

Friday, December 07, 2007

World War III

It's Pearl Harbor Day, a day when we're reminded of the horrors of war. I was at Pearl Harbor a year ago; it's a sacred place.

Below is an article from the Washington Post that reminds me that we're going backward when it comes to peacemaking.

Bush told in Aug Iran may have halted nuclear program

By Tabassum Zakaria


Wednesday, December 5, 2007; 11:21 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush was told in August that Iran may have suspended its nuclear weapons program, the White House said on Wednesday, a day after Bush said he was not given a full report on the issue.

A new intelligence estimate released on Monday said Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, raising questions about whether the president was aware of that when he increased his rhetoric against Tehran.

Some Democrats seized on this week's intelligence report to suggest Bush took an aggressive stance against Iran even though he knew that U.S. intelligence had a different picture of the threat posed by Tehran.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Bush said he was informed of the intelligence report last week, but said U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell told him in August there was new information on Iran.

"He didn't tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze," Bush said.

On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said McConnell told Bush in August that Iran may have suspended its nuclear weapons program and that the new information might cause the intelligence community to change its assessment on Iran.

I'm going to be accused of bashing the president here, because "politics" is such a dirty word that one can't discuss foreign policy without being accused of partisan hackery. So I'll say it right up front. I think he's a bad president. I'm not sure he's a bad man, and I was quite touched by his conversation with Jenna on Ellen Degeneres' show this week. He obviously loves his family very much. He is also funny and charming.

But I think he's a bad president. I think our country is in serious danger, danger we weren't in seven years ago. I think we are largely unaware of the damage that has been done to our relationship with the rest of the world. I don't think that's bashing. It is my opinion, based on information like that in the article above.

This administration has been laying the groundwork for war with Iran. I think if you asked them, they might even admit that. It's pretty clear. So this report is alarming, since the president actually used the phrase "World War Three" in a speech in October regarding the Iranian regime and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

If, back in August, the US Intelligence chief told him that it was likely, or even possible, that they had suspended their program, then this saber-rattling is not only dangerous (which it would be either way), it is also unfounded.

It may be that this Intelligence Estimate is wrong. The President has certainly asserted as much all week. That is most assuredly a possibility. We know that the intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program was wildly innacurate. Or it was made up--history will have to let us in on that one.

I'm pretty sure history will report that this administration has handled truth in a devastatingly careless way. Yeah, they all do. Yeah, it's been raised to a new art form since 2001.

I am a liberal.

I'll give you a sec.

Over the shock?

Okay. So anyway, I'm naturally suspicious of conservativism--although this is more a function of my faith than my political leanings. I just can't find support for most conservative positions in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. And I'm doing my best to try to follow that guy--failing gloriously at times, but trying. So yes, I have suspicion of those who don't put emphasis on caring for the poor and who are actively working against the marginalized. And that description fits a lot of conservative platforms, though it certainly doesn't fit all conservative people.

But this isn't about conservatives, anyway. This is about neoconservatives. This is about an agenda which sure seems to be hellbent on "World War III." The current administration bends facts until they break, manipulates (or dismisses) intelligence, and foments fear of The Other in order to advance its goals, which seem to have something to do with taking over the Middle East.

Does the President really want us to believe that intelligence chief Mike McConnell came to him and said "We have new intelligence about Iran," and the President of the United States said "Okay, Big Mac, thanks for lettin' me know."?

Are we supposed to believe he didn't ask what the intelligence was? Or does he--does this whole neoconservative steamroller--just not care what we think? Do they think we'll go blithely on with our lives, paying no attention to the man behind the curtain, fiddling with our remote controls while Washington burns?

I think they might.

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.

Monday, October 29, 2007

First Church of Chicken Little

Last week, the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America held its annual Bishop's Convocation, which is your typical professional leaders' conference. The bishop chooses a topic, invites speakers, and we learn and worship and play for three days.

I love the Bishop's Convo, for a whole bunch of reasons. There are often very good speakers; it's a pretty laid-back affair; there's the Area 7 "hospitality" room (that's church speak for food and drink of the most delightful kinds); you get to go to the Lake of the Ozarks in the middle of fall, which is nice; and I like seeing everyone.

It's always a little scary to go to Convo, since I know everyone isn't always glad to see me. Inevitably there will be someone who stands up on the floor and expounds upon our call to hold people's sinful feet (and other parts) to the fire. The year we talked about "sexuality" (which is church speak for "homosexuality"), I couldn't quite make it through the last session. My dear friend and colleague Tim--who is currently on internship in Oregon--came with me that year, and we made it until the last day, when we felt that our dignity had been attacked quite enough, thank you very much. So we left an hour early and had a fabulous ride home, complete with show tunes and a wrong turn through Gravois Mills, Missouri, where the Baptist Church had on its sign out front: "Homosexuality is an abomination." We stopped and took a picture of Tim by the sign, looking as gay as possible, and another picture of the wrought iron words along the stair rail: "All are welcome."

Yeah, sometimes churches are bad at irony. Or really good at it, but unaware they're practicing it.

Case in point: The people who lead the church of Jesus Christ are pretty cynical about the church and the world. I know some cynicism is going to be the order of the day when you're in a profession that asks you to be equal parts fundraiser, counselor, volunteer coordinator, community leader and proclaimer of the gospel. Most of our pastors are underpaid and overworked. And when we get together all by ourselves, there's gonna be some whining.

But, hello? Were there people who went to seminary thinking they were going to work a standard forty hour week and make a barrel of money? We joked about weird hours and bad pay for four years, even as we borrowed money we could ill afford to pay back. That's what you sign up for. As Niki's friend Lisa P would say, "Build a bridge. Get over it."

What is more troubling to me, though, is listening to people talk about "The Church" as the place where people just want to be spoon-fed "feel-good" messages and not asked to do much.

I don't find that to be the case. At least not in my parish. I'm willing to bet that it isn't the case in most of our parishes. I think most of our parishoners want to be challenged by the gospel, to hear the call of Jesus as a mission for their lives. I know the folks I preach to each week do. I know the folks in most of the churches in town with which I'm acquainted do.

I think there's a kind of fatalism creeping across the church today. We're struggling--financially and spiritually--and folks are growing weary. To hear some of them talk, the sky is falling on us. People are chasing after the idols of money and cable television, and soccer is played Sunday mornings on suburban fields across the U. S. The church is no longer at the center of community life. It's no longer a given that people will be in church on Sunday morning.

Unless we give them a reason to be there. Unless we offer them something they can't get on a soccer field or a television. The church has something no other institution or pursuit has: it has Jesus. It has the witness of the apostles. It has the ability to create communities of the gospel. You can't get that anywhere else. You can't get someone to love you as neighbor, the way Jesus taught us to love each other, anywhere else.

I think it's pretty important for the people who lead Christ's church to practice that kind of love for their people. Both their parishoners and the people who walk by their doors. I think it's pretty important for us to speak and act lovingly, even when we're in the safe space of a professional leaders' conference.

Doubtless it could be said, "physician heal thyself." Some of the cynical words I heard at the Convo were coming out of my own mouth. My cynicism tends to be directed primarily at the world, okay, the world of Washington DC, mainly, but still it is probably counter-productive. I'm going to work on that. And I'm going to pray for us all, that we'll find the courage to lead with love, to practice the kind of acceptance we see modeled by our Lord. That we'll be a little less anxious about the future, and a little more trusting in God's promise.

Feel free to call me on it, too. I don't mind my feet being held to that particular fire.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Now Isn't that Special...?

Hat tip to Lutheranchik, whose blog is so much better than mine.

She found this letter to the editor in her local newspaper. The writer is concerned about the "Gay Bill of Special Rights," which I assume is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the "Thought Control Bill," which I assume is HR 1592, the legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories protected under hate crimes statutes.

For the letter-writer, these are "special rights." The right not to be fired for being a gay man is a "special" right. The right not to be excluded from a job because you are a lesbian is a "special" right. The right not to be beaten on the street because you are transgender is a "special" right.

I know, this debate is old and at least dry, if not totally stale. Still, this writer offered a new reason (or vocalized an old reason, perhaps) for people to lobby against these protections for LGBT people. These protections, she writes "would invite hordes of other groups of all sorts to demand their own rights."

My, we wouldn't want to have that, would we? People running around the United States of America demanding their rights! Heavens to Betsy.

(And who is Betsy, anyway?)

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Hey friends, I have a request. I know Blogger gives you the opportunity to be anonymous when you leave comments. In fact, if you don't have a Blogger account, you have no other choice than to post as "Anonymous."

But I would appreciate it if folks would sign their posts, at least with a first name. I do that when I sign on in other formats, and I notice that most people do that here. I think it helps keep the dialogue on a respectful and decent level.

You are more than welcome to get on here and disagree with me, especially when I'm being petulant (as in the first lapel pin post). But I blog under my real name, and I'm willing to be accountable for what I say. And to apologize when I am being petulant, which I did.

I really want people to feel free to speak their minds. If the only way you can do that is anonymously, then by all means, be anonymous. But if you wouldn't mind leaving your name, I'd appreciate it.


Okay, Less Wheedling, More Info

My last post was a little strong (sorry), and engendered a strong response from someone who thought I was speaking ill of the American flag. Let me be a bit less obtuse. The post was about flag pins, not The Flag. I love the American flag. It is a great symbol of our country, which I also love.

You're right, Anonymous (more on that in a separate post), I don't love the war. But that post actually wasn't about the war at all. It was meant to be a clear reference to what I thought was a ridiculous attack launched at Barack Obama for not wearing an American flag lapel pin.

See, I think symbols are important, but symbolism is just that: symbolism. It isn't patriotism. Flying the flag, or sticking it on your car, or pinning it to your lapel doesn't make you a great American. Just like wearing a cross necklace doesn't make you a faithful Christian. Those symbols can represent your patriotism and faith, but they shouldn't be mistaken for patriotism and faith.

Which is the point Barack Obama made when a reporter asked him why he's no longer wears a flag lapel pin. He gave what I thought was a thoughtful and reasoned response:

"You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama said. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest.

"Instead," he said, "I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

Here's the whole article from the ABC News site:

Fox News grabbed this story and ran with it, attacking Senator Obama's patriotism with abandon over the next day or so. I realize that it was a custom made bite, and those are more important than detailed information about the candidates in the current political climate. I also realize that these tactics are employed by both sides. The Democrats had a twelve-year-old read their statement about the President's veto of SCHIP legislation last week. I thought that was a cheap attempt to inject pathos into a situation that was plenty full of it already.

It seems that our country is at a crossroads. We need strong leadership, and we're responsible for choosing the majority of our leaders. It would be nice if the media would focus on helping us to understand where the candidates stand on the issues, not what they wear on their lapels. That's all I was trying to say.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On pins and wheedles

Are you kidding me? Seriously. This is the mark of a person's patriotism?
Of course it isn't. But in a pinch it will work as yet another pathetic salvo in the culture war as fomented by Fox (please don't make me say News.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Good for You, James Dobson!

The honchos of the Christian Right met in Salt Lake City last week to discuss strategy.

Kind of like the Sermon on the Mount. The big guys talking about strategy. Positioning. Sound bites.

Well, there are certainly sound bites in the Sermon on the Mount, anyway. It remains to be seen whose bites will have more enduring appeal, but I have my suspicions. Hey, Jesus does have a pretty good head start.

The biggest bite coming from Utah was the declaration that The Christian Right (which is remarkably good at speaking with one voice) will be really really mad if Republicans nominate a pro-choice candidate like Rudy Guiliani. In fact, they will find themselves a nice third party candidate to vote for. And make all of their millions of faithful followers vote for that guy too. (I'm assuming it's a guy--that seems pretty safe.)

Good for them! That's the way it's supposed to work. You examine your values, study the words of, say, the Sermon on the Mount, and then decide whom you will support. Based on principles, not power.

(Having done that myself, I have to say that I wouldn't vote for Rudy Guiliani either.)

Okay, so I know that this is really a power check. James Dobson and Tony Perkins and the rest of the wild kingdom of fundamentalism are trying to see if they have any relevance left in the big scary world of politics. The answer is "not nearly as much as you want." Which is bad news for them, and mixed news for the rest of us.

Fundamentalism gave us George W. Bush, and this travesty has gone on long enough that I don't even have to comment on that. Just say it--they are responsible for the current administration. They know it and we know it and if they are happy about it, it's a nostalgic happiness, because their influence is waning, and everybody knows that as well.

I find that to be a good thing, generally, as I disagree with the Religious Right about most social matters. (Though we are not on opposite sides on abortion. We're not on the same side either, but you simply can't say they're wrong to fight for the rights of unborn children. I wish they'd choose to fight for better child support enforcement and widely available birth control, but there's where we disagree again.)

Here's the thing, though. The Religious Right has been rendered increasingly irrelevant in national politics because they don't play the game very well. They actually expect to get everything they want from our very broken political system. Even the brazen idealists no longer expect that. We've started settling for people who are "electable" and then looking the other way as they compromise compromise compromise. On their promises, on their integrity, on our future.

So I say "good for you" to the religious right for sticking to their guns and expecting the system to serve them. We could all take a lesson from that. If only they would take a lesson from us in return, we might start getting somewhere.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Just Wondering

What big issue do you most worry about?

Global Warming
The US Economy
The War in Iraq
Civil Rights
Religious Freedom
Religious Fundamentalism

(View Results)

Create a Poll

Friday, September 07, 2007

I Love My Team

I don't remember when I became a Michigan fan. I think I was born that way, though if someone wants to argue that it's a choice, I'll probably give you that one.

I have been a Michigan fan for as long as I can remember, and I wish to be buried in my rattiest Michigan sweatshirt. (Someone please tell The Wife, as she is unlikely to read my blog ever.)

I still love my team, even after the Greek tragedy that was last week's loss to Appalachian State (say App-uh-latch-un, that's the way they like it. Really.) I may love the Michigan Wolverines just a bit more now, because it's sometimes easy to be a Michigan fan. Seriously--do any of us want to be married to someone who is perfect? Nah. Too much pressure.

So I love my team, and I love my friends, who have sent funny email and left funny phone messages. I particularly liked Andy's voicemail asking for a North Kansas City venue in which to hold a memorial service for the national title hopes of the Michigan Wolverines. That's good stuff.

By the way, if anyone wants to place a little friendly wager on this week's game, you can have Oregon and ten points. The spread is eight, but I expect we'll win by twenty. And every other game this year.

I love my team.

Ten Percent Voldemort?!

Just noticed that. I don't remember giving high value to any sociopathic tendencies in the quiz...

Perhaps my subconscious is just a teeny bit evil.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

My Harry Potter Alter Ego--Remus Lupin

Remus Lupin


Albus Dumbledore


Harry Potter


Hermione Granger


Ron Weasley


Severus Snape


Ginny Weasley


Sirius Black


Draco Malfoy


Lord Voldemort


Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with

"Bathroom Lovin', Had Me a Bla-ast"


Great column this week by Rhonda Chriss Lokeman regarding the Larry Craig mess. She and her female friends have discussed it and agreed that you'd have to look far and wide to find a woman who would solicit (or have) sex in a public restroom. I have to say I've never considered it myself.

So I guess this really isn't about sexual orientation. Or is it just gay men who like a little love in the washroom?

Nah. Actually, researchers have said that a lot of the men hooking up in semi-public venues are actually straight, and looking for a little release with no attachments.

Which means that Senator Craig could very well be telling the truth when he states--with emphasis--that he is "NOT gay."

It's interesting to me that he saved his big boy Senate voice for denying (yet again) that he is a gay man. Shouldn't he be more interested in denying that he solicited extramarital sex in a bathroom?

Or does he believe that the one will follow from the other? As long as people believe that he's not gay, they'll believe that he wasn't soliciting sex in the men's room.

Or worse, they don't really care if he was trying to get a little something in the restroom, they actually only care whether he's gay.

Is being gay really more disturbing than being an adulterer? Or a hypocrite?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We believe that we are justified by God's grace...

Mike Vick apologized yesterday. It was a good apology. It started off well, with Vick apologizing to the NFL Commissioner, his team, and everyone else he lied to when he told them to their faces that he wasn't involved in dogfighting. That apology was needed and expected.
What I appreciated, though, was the apology to the kids out there, and the suggestion that they "use me as an example." He admitted that he "needed to grow up." Yeah, maybe he's stating the obvious. But it's a good message, and one which may actually do some good. So much bad has come out of Michael Vick's behavior over the past few years; I hope some lesson can come out of all of this.
We'll hear about his "fall from grace" for a while now. He'll be referred to as "disgraced." In human terms, those are apt descriptors. But people of faith ought to be careful with them. The third chapter of Romans teaches that being "dis-graced" is an impossibility, "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." God heaps grace on us all, because there would be a lot left over if it only went to those who deserve it.
I believe that yesterday we saw a man who had sinned a whole lot, and fallen remarkably short of God's desires for his life. We saw him lower his head and offer a good apology that can't begin to make up for the harm he has caused and the pain he has inflicted.
And maybe we saw how hard it is to be God--to keep forgiving, to keep taking us back when we are unfaithful, to keep showering grace upon us when we screw up. I'm sure glad God is God and I'm not. I couldn't do it nearly as well.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Are You Feeling SSAD?

Hey--since satire keeps getting me in trouble, how 'bout a little irony? Or borderline irony--you know, kind of like that Alanis Morissette song "Isn't It Ironic?" in which almost nothing she listed was, in fact, actually ironic. "A no smoking sign on your cigarette break" is sad (or maybe not--the life you save could be your own), but not really ironic.

And speaking of sad, have you heard the one about the new disorder affecting 5-10% of the population? It's called Same Sex Attraction Disorder, or SSAD.

I hadn't heard of it either, until very recently. It was all the rage at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly--in certain circles.

It's a recent thing, I guess. Not same sex attraction. That's as old as the hills. But the redefinition of it as a disorder is new. In the early seventies, all of the major psychiatric and psychological associations stopped classifying homosexuality as a disorder.

So guess who is reordering us disordered?

If you said NARTH, take ten dollars from petty cash. If you don't know who NARTH is, take twenty dollars and stop reading now. Go to a movie. You are blessed and I don't want to corrupt you.

Okay, for those who are still reading, NARTH is the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality. NARTH promotes...wait for it...reparative therapy for gay men and lesbians. Members of the Association wear black capes and plastic face masks and duel with light sabers...oh hang on, that's a different group.

NARTH sells the snake oil of "conversion" to disturbed parents and desparate gay and lesbian people who believe that it is impossible to be gay and happy. (snicker snicker)

That's the point: the invention of this new disorder is an in-your-face reminder that those of us who are attracted to our own gender aren't gay, we're ssad. I can't quite figure out who invented SSAD, but if you Google it, the first thing that comes up is NARTH. If you try Wikipedia--which I do, but only for stuff like this--you won't find an entry on SSAD, but you will find a guy named Richard Cohen, who wrote a book in 2001 called Coming Out Straight. In that book, he used the term Same Sex Attraction Disorder. If you want to read about him, go to Wiki yourself:
Mr. Cohen is kind of creepy, and I don't want to take too much space on my blog for him, and his "holding therapy."

I just want to know why these folks can't simply accept the fact that a lot of gay and lesbian people are reasonably happy, productive members of society. We're not disordered (at least not because we're gay), and we're not hurting anybody. We make good teachers and soldiers and pastors, and, yes, florists and decorators.

Fix somebody who is broken, would ya?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reasons I Need to Move, #27

I was about a mile from my home in beautiful suburban Lee's Summit, MO, yesterday when I noticed this bumper sticker on the car in front of me. At first I laughed, because I figured it must be satire--you know, kind of like the "Gay Shame Parade" article from the Onion that I posted, which apparently offended someone anonymous who took it literally, which one ought not to do with satire.
>Other empirical evidence which led me to conclude that the bumper sticker must have been satire: this car had no fewer than eight bumper stickers. The only people in Missouri who have that many bumper stickers, in my limited experience, are other leftist pinko Berkeley types like me.
>Empirical evidence which led me to conclude that the bumper sticker was, in fact, not meant as satire: well, I was in Lee's Summit (most recently made famous as the opening location of the movie Jesus Camp), AND the other bumper stickers all made specific reference to a particular branch of the military, except for the one which said "The Iraq War Is Keeping American Families Safe."
Really? American families are safer because thousands of members of those families are being killed and maimed in Iraq. Not to channel Jon Stewart too heavily, but really?
And you love wiretaps. Really? That's some effusive emotion to be ladling out on a surveillance technique. Whether the technique is invasive, unconstitutional, even immoral, or not, is beside the point. (Though worth considering sometime. Maybe the Congress will get on that in a few years...) But I've got to ask the person in that car in front of me one more time, because I just can't wrap my brain around this: do you really love wiretaps?
I love my wife. I love my dogs. I love my mother and my brother. I love our cat, though she just tolerates me. I've been known to say I love Lake Viking, our other residence in rural northern Missouri, where people are, generally, less right wing than my neighbors in Lee's Summit (see post title).
I've been known to say I love clam spaghetti. Yeah, that's a bit of hyperbole. But I think it pales in comparison to "loving" wiretaps. I think no matter your political persuasion, it should be troubling that people are willing to take the discourse to this level. The level which says "I think my government ought to be allowed to do whatever it wants, as long as it promises that its actions are promoting the general welfare. And I will support my government, most especially its ever-expanding executive branch, with inflammatory rhetoric."
See, 'cause here's the thing. I really don't believe that the person driving that car really "loves" wiretaps. I'm willing to bet that the person driving that car wouldn't know a wiretap if it was right outsider her house, which it very well might be, though I'm sure it is her assumption that the FBI has carefully avoided tapping the lines of any red-blooded American, and is only listening in on terrorist communiques.
I'm also willing to bet that the person driving that car is a good person, with fine values--a parent (it was a big car), a taxpayer, a citizen. I'm willing to bet that she just wants to feel safe, wants her family to be safe, and feels a little bewildered that the safety rug seems to have been pulled out from underneath us. And in the absence of viable courses of action, sometimes you've just got to rely on your government, which is, after all, tasked with the job of keeping us safe.
But who protects us from ourselves? Who protects us from becoming so afraid that we're willing to say we love wiretaps?
I really wish that bumper sticker had been meant as satire.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I LOVE The Onion!

Posted in The Onion Daily Dispatch today: an article entitled "Small Town Holds Annual Gay Shame Parade."

The Onion is a satirical newspaper. Don't read this if you don't have a warped sense of humor like mine. I'd link it, but sometimes their links shift, so I'm just going to copy it (and hope that's not illegal...):

GRAND PLAINS, NE—A tight-knit rural Midwestern farming community commemorated the demonization of homosexuality Sunday with its annual Gay Shame Parade, a three-decade-old tradition that has become a cornerstone of the town's cultural identity.
The second-place float in this year's parade cruises down Grand Plains' picturesque Main Street.

"Every year, the whole town turns out to enjoy Nebraska's famous summer sunshine, sample foods, browse the craft bazaar, and shame homosexuals for their repulsive, decadent behavior," said Frank Mitchell, mayor of Grand Plains, NE and parade marshal. "This year was our biggest turnout yet. Everybody had so much fun ostracizing the gays."
The parade featured the usual assemblage of police cruisers, fire trucks, antique cars, and farm equipment, which local residents had draped in red-white-and-blue banners that read "Burn in the Eternal Flames of Hell!" City Councilman Fred Brandeen, this year's "Jesus," entertained children by making mock finger-wagging gestures of admonishment and passing out buttons bearing the parade's traditional slogan: "NO!" Members of the Grand Plains Area Wives Association followed behind with a 15-foot hand-sewn banner, cosponsored by Jerry's Auto Body, which read: "GPAWA and Jerry's Cringe To Think What You're Putting Your Family Through."
Organized every year by the Grand Plains City Council and a coalition of area churches, the Gay Shame Parade has been an annual event here since 1977, the year that citizens first became aware of gay people's existence.
"To see a whole community rally together like this around a good cause—it's really an inspiration," said Ellen Lundblom, a mother of four enjoying the festivities with her youngest son, first-time reveler Timmy, 3. "If I were a lesbian, this would have really made me feel awful about myself."
"My favorite part was the balloons," Timmy Lundblom said. "They had all different colors of angry frowny-faces on them."
The event got off to a rousing start with the Grand Plains High School Cougars marching band playing such classics as "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Onward, Christian Soldiers." The mood grew palpably more sober during the middle portion of the procession, as members of the Grand Plains Baptist Church marched with folded arms in stony, judgmental silence and stared at the spectators lining the streets as if to ask, "Are you gay?"
The spirit of levity returned, however, toward the parade's finish, which featured balloon giveaways, a float contest, and an appearance by 6-year-olds Christopher Weiland and Courtney Wendt, who were crowned "Junior Mister and Miss Heterosexual" on Saturday. The parade concluded with a group reading of Leviticus 20:13.
After the last bit of confetti fell, spectators praised the parade's highlights, including a float, presented by local Little League team the Tigers that depicts a mother, sitting alone with her head down on a kitchen table, crying. The first-place ribbon went to "Sodom and Gomorrah," a miniature version of the two Biblical cities engulfed in flames. The float's designer, McPhee's Department Store window dresser Bruce Carlson, was not able to accept his prize, however, as he was away visiting an aunt in Lawrence, KS for the weekend.
Despite the pageantry, parade organizers stressed that the event has a serious message.
"Everyone loves a parade," PTA chairwoman Agatha Buell said. "But it's about a lot more than the clowns, the decorations, and those Shriner fellows in their tiny cars. It's about making folks feel sickened by the deviant homosexual lifestyle, like God wants us to."
Spectators couldn't help but be delighted by the parade's surprise finale, when, after dutifully leading the marching band for the entire mile-long parade route, local music teacher Colin Atherton was marched past the county line and told never, ever to return.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


I decided not to go to the Churchwide Assembly this year. The Assembly started on Monday, and I've spent the week wishing I was in Chicago with my ECP colleagues and other friends from all over the church. (ECP: Extraordinary Candidacy Project; a roster of Lutheran candidates and ministers who will not pledge allegiance to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy.)

There were good reasons not to go to Churchwide. I can't really afford it, since we made an unexpected trip to San Francisco for a friend's ordination in June. A good part of the Assembly's time will be taken up once again with the topic of "human sexuality" (which is Church Speak for "those gay and lesbian people." Just once I'd love to see the Assembly have a tense, emotional conversation about heterosexual sexual activity.)

It's hard to go to these things. People walk to microphones and offer impassioned pleas to keep openly gay and lesbian candidates from becoming rostered pastors in the denomination we love. It's hard not to take those pleas personally, even though (to my knowledge) none of those people have ever known me, and don't likely know any of us who are serving openly. They probably do know some closeted pastors, though they may not know they do.

Still, I wish I was there. There is a ministry in being present. So I will be present in prayer, and hope that others in my congregation and other congregations across the church are also present in prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit, who is most certainly spending the week in Chicago.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Truth is Beauty

Lindsay Lohan got arrested. You may have been in Outer Mongolia and not heard about it yet. She was driving on a suspended license, with alcohol in her system and cocaine in her pocket.

The cocaine wasn't hers. It belongs to a friend, she says.

Barry Bonds is about to break Hank Aaron's home run record. The steroids in his pocket are something he knows nothing about. All he's ever used is an herbal cream his trainer gave him. Completely legal...unless someone was lying to him...

The Attorney General of the United States was on Capitol Hill again this week. He was called to explain the continued downward spiral in that cabinet department known (with increasing irony) as Justice. He explained nothing, beyond the fact that he apparently can't remember what he had for breakfast. How the man ever passed a bar exam is beyond me.

Okay, it's really not. Because, like virtually everyone else watching his performance (and there is truly no other word for it) before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I didn't believe that he couldn't remember the things he said he couldn't remember.

Just like I don't believe that the cocaine in Lindsay Lohan's pocket belongs to a friend, and that Barry Bonds has never knowingly taken steroids.

In Bonds' case, it explains so much. I was a Big Time Giants Fan when we traded with Pittsburgh to allow Barry to come home to the Bay Area. I remember those first couple of years when my friends and I would marvel at his off-season conditioning. He just kept getting bigger. And we just thought he lifted a lot of weights. (Oh, and pinstripes are slimming, so a Giants uniform made him look bigger.)

Sometimes I long for that naivete. Because it sure seems like we're being lied to on a regular basis, and are becoming conditioned to simply accept it. The fact that Alberto Gonzalez is still the Attorney General is a travesty, but it seems like it's going to stay that way for a while. Just as we will continue an ill-advised, illegal, immoral war, the justification of which changes more than Lindsay Lohan's mug shots.

Friday, July 27, 2007

How Jaded Are We?

Got this quote in an email from Sojourners today:

"Not surprisingly, the poll data showed that white evangelicals were somewhat more permissive toward torture than other religious groups."

This quote is from the New York Times. The Times may be biased. Oh, heck, The Times is most probably biased.

But still, how can it be "not surprising" that people who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ are "somewhat more permissive toward torture." Is it "not surprising" to The New York Times, or to the rest of us?

And if it's not surprising to the rest of us, are we outraged?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Good Week Story

Last week was a good week, though you wouldn't have expected it. On Sunday, Rick, my lifesaver handyperson parishoner, put up the screen for our video projector. The projector is a bit late getting set up, but that is actually by design. We needed to feel out our new worship space in order to know how to set the thing up.

We thought we had it all figured out, but of course we did not. Rick installed the screen, then installed the shelf that he and his wife, Valorie--aka lifesaver #2--had bought. Then we turned on the projector and found that the projection was bigger than the screen. Spilling out on all sides. No matter what we did.

We did measure it; I promise. The projected image measured 66 inches when the projector was held up to where we were planning to mount it. After we got the screen, the image had expanded to some 100 inches, set on the smallest angle.

On to Plan B, which was going to involve some stuff about the ceiling and drilling and I lost track there--an involuntary reaction to despair about the fact that this would probably take a while and I was excited and wanted it done now as in right this minute. Oh, and I don't speak Handyperson.

So Thursday I'm at church and Tom, who takes care of our landlord's property, came in to look at the toilet, which makes a racket like I've never heard, which is not good, since it is more or less in our sanctuary. Tom looks at the new setup and says "every time I'm in here you've changed things around." (This is most certainly true.) Then he asks about the projector (which is actually sitting in the middle of the sanctuary on the bedside table which I liberated from home). I explained that the plan was to mount it on the ceiling, eventually. He says, "You know what you need..." and then some stuff about u-bolts and tightening with screws and electrical boxes and some other stuff I can't remember. Then he says, "I could do it for you." I heard that part.

And the next day, in he came, with some very long bolts, a shelf he spray-painted white, and all of his handyperson equipment, and up went a shelf on the ceiling, an electrical box right next to it to plug in the equipment, and holes so that we can run the cord from the projector along the ceiling to the computer, which now sits on the shelf we put up for the projector.

I offered several times to pay him for his time and materials. He said it was all stuff he had at home, and he did it as a gift for our congregation.

On Sunday, I got to run a little Powerpoint presentation--"Who is my neighbor?" And we had three visitors there to see it.

It was a good week.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"It's Not You, It's Me"

That's what Sprint has said to 1000 customers. Those 1000 people generated 40,000 monthly phone calls to the customer "care" center.

Here's what the letter said:

"Our records indicate that over the past year, we have received frequent calls from you regarding your billing or other general account information," the letter reads. "While we have worked to resolve your issues and questions to the best of our ability, the number of inquiries you have made to us during this time has led us to determine that we are unable to meet your current wireless needs."
"Therefore after careful consideration, the decision has been made to terminate your wireless service agreement effective July 30, 2007."

Sprint has waived the early termination fee for these folks, and is cancelling their last bills.

Yeah, it's probably a PR disaster, but I like it. People making, on average, forty calls a month to customer care are probably not interested in resolution. They're interested in complaining. If you've ever done customer service work (retail, restaurants, etc.), you've met these folks. They come to your restaurant time and again, complain most of the time, get free food, rinse and repeat. These are the folks who say things like "every time I come here something goes wrong." And as the service professional, you're actually not allowed to make the only logical response to this statement: "Gee, why do you keep coming here, then?"

I think Sprint is doing those folks a favor. They're probably not doing T-Mobile and Verizon a favor, but I guess that's not their concern. Perhaps the complainers will put some positive energy into finding a company that meets their needs.

Maybe Sprint is doing us all a favor, reminding us that complaining about that which cannot be changed is a fruitless effort. There's so much out there we really can change. Better to spend time on those things.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What's in a Name?

The NAACP held a funeral for the "N Word" on Monday in Detroit. I think this is a great thing. It seems like a way to move beyond an era in which people could be tagged with this vicious epithet in an attempt to take their dignity and power.
I think it's a good idea, but I say that from the privileged position of one who has never been subjected to the "N Word" and can't really imagine the totality of its power. Honestly, I really don't deserve a full say in this debate, and neither does any other person who can't really know what it is like to have the baggage of that word heaped upon him or her. Frankly, it's probably rather patronizing for me to say that this is a good thing. But hey, it's my blog, so I get to say what I want. We're talking about a very ugly word, and I think it would be good to bury it deep underground, as long as we don't now think that racism has been eradicated by a symbolic gesture. Sadly, racism is alive and well, and it will take a lot of pine boxes (and education, and dialogue, and changes of mind and heart) to lay it to rest.

This all gets me thinking about another debate in which I do have a stake. I like the word "queer." I find it to be a useful word, when applied in the proper context (in other words, when not hurled out a car window as a slur). It's inclusive, and avoids the alphabet soup of "LGBTQSAetc."
Or is it inclusive? "Queer" seems inclusive to me, because I think of myself as queer. There are a lot of folks who would accept one of the above soup letters, however, and would not ever in a million years call themselves "queer." So it is simultaneously an inclusive and exclusive word, depending again on the context. For many folks, that word is as offensive as the "N Word." This is generational and regional and surely cultural. When I was in Berkeley, I met almost no one who disliked the word "queer." Here in the Heartland, I have met several, and have taken to using the word much less often, so as not to run the risk of offending anyone.
"Queer" is an insider word, at least outside of academia, where "Queer Studies" programs are taking off. It's a word that certain people will get away with using, and others will not. That may be a problem; I don't know.
I actually don't know what to do with the word altogether. Should we bury it? Reclaim it? Use it selectively? Some other option I haven't considered?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Justice is blind, which means it can't see, see?

Q: Why did Scooter Libby lie to the Grand Jury?
A: Because he thought he could get away with it.

Q: How could he think that?
A: Because he was right.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Consider the Appostrophe

Woe is me! I just re-read my "Sortadox" post and noticed yet another missing appostrophe. Ugh! My pride quotient went down for sure.

I have bit...complained for years about our decline in punctuation dexterity. Semi-colons are a big problem. People shouldn't use semi-colons if they don't know what semi-colons do; they should just use a period or a comma.

But the most abused punctuation symbol by far is the lowly appostrophe. Professional signs are made--seemingly every day--with things like "Marys Rib's and Chicken," written on them. Shouldn't Mary--or the professionals who made her sign--know the difference between a possessive noun and a plural noun?

Sure, we all know what that sign means. Yes, I should just relax and go on with my life. But it grate's on my sensibility's.

So it is an exercise in humility to read my own blog and see that something I read through several times has two missing appostrophes. Perhaps now I will be less bit...irritated when Mary makes a mistake. It could happen to anyone.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Boomer's Not a Baby

Boomer Grigsby is going to play fullback for the Chiefs this year.

Perhaps you're thinking "So what?" You may even be thinking "Who the heck is Boomer Grigsby?" Perhaps you are one of the oh-so-unfortunate souls who don't live for football, and who therefore fall into a deep six month depression as soon as the golden rays of summer fade from the sky. (Football is a great cure for that. Seriously. Try it. Then you just have to get from February to April, and there's Easter in there to help.)

Boomer Grigsby is, or was, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. He has played special teams, mainly, for the last couple of years. (Note to football challenged: The special teams are the prettiest and smartest fellows on the field. Okay, not really. They are the kicking and return squads.) Special teams players aren't on the field a whole lot. They were on the field punting too much last year for the Chiefs, but that's another story.

So Boomer wanted to play more, and he decided to talk to Coach Herm Edwards about switching to fullback, which he has sometimes played on the practice squad. But before he could approach the coach, Edwards came to him to ask if he'd consider moving over to the other side of the ball.

C'mon, admit it--that's a great story. You don't have to be a football fan to do a little "awwww" at that one. Especially if you hear what Boomer says about the switch: "I just wanted to play and help the team, do whatever I could to get out on the field."

That's a great attitude. If you've got an attitude like that, you're probably going to succeed. You may not succeed at the first thing you try. But that's part of life--trying things and finding we're not as good at them as we thought we'd be. Or finding that there are too many roadblocks along the way to success at that particular thing.

It's easy to give up and feel sorry for ourselves when we've given a lot to the pursuit of a particular dream and we come up short. But we can't do that. We've got to go on, to find another avenue, to try something new, to switch to fullback, if that helps.

I'll be praying for Boomer Grigsby this year. Not because I want the Chiefs to be successful--which I do, but I think praying for it would be a bit odd. I'll be praying for Boomer because he has shown courage and fortitude, and it would be nice for those attributes to be rewarded. I suppose they already have been. He's getting to take on a new challenge, and he seems like the type who will consider that reward enough.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Just Something Fun

Your Pride Quotient: 37%

You're a little prideful, but nothing out of the norm.

Like everyone, you enjoy attention. But you're also good at sharing the spotlight!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How about "Sortadox"?

We need some kind of name for the folks who live between a conservative orthodoxy and atheism. New York Times columnist David Brooks suggests that the space in the middle is the land of the "quasi-religious."


You can read his column here.

According to Brooks' definition, Yours Truly--Lutheran pastor, lover of Setting Two in the old green Lutheran Book of Worship--may be "quasi-religious." I don't &#$% think so. Okay, I really only meet one of the criteria for quasi-religiosity, but since the figureheads at the top of the two other categories are the Pope and Christopher Hitchens (author of one of the big anti-religion books on the bestseller list), I feel like a person without a country. I'm most certainly not an atheist like Hitchens, and the current Pope and I are not exactly philosophical soulmates.

Here's David Brooks' definition of the "quasi-religious:"

"Quasi-religious people attend services, but they’re
bored much of the time. They read the Bible, but
find large parts of it odd and irrelevant.
They find themselves inextricably
bound to their faith, but think some of the
people who define it are nuts."

Like I said, I can only check one of those boxes. I'm only bored in church some of the time. I only find small parts of the Bible odd, and "irrelevant" is a word I'd be hard-pressed to apply to scripture. I absolutely do, however, find some of the people who define Christianity to be totally bonkers. But that's more a comment on the media and the public imagination (not mutually exclusive categories, mind you), and whom they allow to "define Christianity." If the bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, got to "define Christianity," life would be good.

Mr. Brooks speaks very highly of the "quasi-religious." He includes in that category Abraham Lincoln, "the Protestants...[who] built Victorian England" and the "Jews...[who] helped shape 20th century American culture."

Okay, so first of all, a lot of the folks who "built Victorian England" were probably Anglican. So they're not really Protestants at all--they live in another middle land that needs its own name. Queen Victoria herself may be excluded by David Brooks' description, which is pretty funny. Though she was German and known to attend Presbyterian services as well as Anglican, so maybe not. I digress, but the point is that a New York Times columnist ought to know that a whole lot of Anglicans don't consider themselves Protestants. At least if he's going to write with assumed authority about religion, that is.

Back to the matter at hand: we need a name for the folks who live in the liminal space between religious absolutism and atheism. I suggest "sortadox" with tongue firmly in cheek, but it's better than "quasi-religious." What we really need is a name that doesn't scream "relativism!"

That's the philosophy those of us in the middle get tarred with by those on the edges. We're just mired in relativism. We think we can pick and choose what stuff we like in the Bible. Or we don't have the guts to question the big propositions of the faith, like the atheists and agnostics do.

In most of our churches, the conservative movement calls itself "confessional," or something close to that. I guess "confessional" is the new "orthodox." They call themselves that not so much because they need a name for their movement. It's because they need a name for ours. "Confessional" is a feat of diction much like "Pro-life." Who in the world wants to oppose a group which calls itself "Pro-life?" Doesn't that make you "Anti-life?" Same principle with the "confessional" groups. If they call themselves "confessional Lutherans"--shall we say--then the rest of the Lutherans--the ones who don't believe that the church will turn into a pillar of salt if it blesses the marriage of two men--those folks are "unconfessional," or "non-confessional," or some other really insulting thing. As if those of us who want the church to err on the side of love have left the foundations of the church in the dust.

Actually, in the Lutheran church, I have to say, with all due humility, that the folks who aren't part of the so-called "confessional" movement, seem to know Lutheran theology a little bit better. At least when it comes to good old biblical hermeneutics (that's a fancy grad school phrase meaning, basically, the method we use to read and interpret the Bible). Lutheran theology teaches that we read scripture through the lens of Christ. Where scripture seems to show us something that opposes the gospel, we are taught that the particular text is not authoritative. What is most authoritative is the witness of Jesus Christ. And I'll argue to my death that he always erred on the side of love (sure, tough love sometimes, but always love, and always inclusion).

The "confessional" folks need to spend a little time with Jesus, I think. And a little less time with Leviticus. Or a little more time with Leviticus, which condemns a whole host of practices (yes, within the Holiness Code, right next to the "lie with a man" stuff). A whole host. Of practices. Which you all are practicing. Every day.

Like hypocrisy, for instance.

That's my quasi-religious take on that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Check This Out!

Click above and check out a You Tube video on the Giraffe Heroes Project. Thanks to my friend Charlton for sending it. If you prefer to just look at a website, it's

We need to find and recognize heroes these days. There are so many people doing amazing things out there in the world. Maybe if we spend more time celebrating them and less time lamenting the mess our government is in and the high price of gasoline, we might just find that we're not in as much trouble as we thought.


We live in a strange world. Fred Phelps (or at least Westboro Baptist Church) picketed Jerry Falwell's funeral.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New and Improved! Gun Control

Apparently there is a new gun control movement sweeping the country. I read it in the paper. A bunch of wacky peace-lovin' fruitcakes. These people have the audacity to suggest (apparently for the first time) that perhaps we don't, in fact, need semi-automatic handguns in our country. Well, ordinary citizens don't need them. The militias invoked by the Second Amendment--police, Swat teams, National Guard--those folks might still need them.

While they're at it, these gun control nuts go way out on a limb to deny that the Second Amendment protects each and every American's right to own any gun he or she chooses and to carry it anywhere he or she damn well wants.

The suggestion that this is a "new" movement in response to the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech--followed just a week later by a shooting at a mall here in Kansas City--would be laughable, if anything about this could be considered funny. It isn't. The NRA isn't funny. People who would argue for concealed carry rights and armor-piercing bullets and semi-automatic handguns aren't funny. The rising toll of gun violence in our cities and our township and our schools is not funny. None of this is funny. It is sad and tragic.

A lot of folks have been arguing for a long time that we need stronger gun control in this country. Much stronger. In case my sarcasm isn't sharp enough, let me say that I am one of those nutty people. Have been since before last week.

We gun control nuts start talking about gun control when mass murder happens in our country because we think maybe an appeal to emotion will succeed where all other appeals have failed. You know, appeals like reason, sanity, statistical evidence (as a letter writer to the Star pointed out yesterday, the per-capita rate of gun-related deaths in Great Britain, German, Japan, France and Canada is one in 390,000; in the U.S. it is one in 10,000), common sense, civilization, correct interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. There are other appeals, but those will do for now.

We have too many guns in this country. It is too easy to buy a gun in this country. Ordinary citizens (sane and not so much) who aren't actually members of the militias the Constitution protects are able to buy guns they don't need and shouldn't have. Far too many of the "legal" guns fall into the wrong hands. Some of those hands are small. Children are being killed by guns in this country and that shouldn't happen. Ever.

Almost no one in America wants to take guns away from law-abiding sportsmen and sportswomen. That is a straw person argument and the NRA darn well knows it. Almost no one in this country is hunting turkeys and deer with semi-automatic handguns and armor piercing bullets. This isn't about hunting and it isn't about militias. It's about the Cult of Personal Freedom--the idea that we're allowed to do whatever we want because we're Americans and that's why they fought the Revolutionary War after all. I hope it won't be much longer before we all realize what the rest of the world seems to have figured out: that dog won't hunt.