Monday, January 29, 2007

Oxymorons and My Brilliant Wife

On the way home from church on Sunday, as I slid down in my seat and prepared for the long winter's nap awaiting at home, The Wife and I were talking. About gay Republicans.

Okay, to be honest, I was talking, and she was listening. It's fair to say that I have a stronger opinion on gay Republicans than she does. I think the idea is a sort of philosophical oxymoron. It isn't an actual oxymoron--there are certainly gay Republicans. They have their own club: the Log Cabin Republicans. I guess they have their own syrup, too.

Which explains the stickiness I feel whenever I am confronted with the idea that in 2007 someone would be gay and Republican. I mean, this party has done what it can to paint gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as a deviant cabal whose "agenda" includes destroying the institution of marriage. Gay people are the fuel Republicans throw on the flames of public opinion when the war takes a turn for the worse.

So we're driving along and I'm preaching about this (it is still Sunday morning after all). I'm asking rhetorical questions about what would lead someone to be part of an organization that actively campaigns against that person's best interests.

So Wife says, without missing a beat, "Isn't that what your church does? You're still a member of it."

I laughed, feeling a certain kinship with Sarah (Genesis 18:12: "So Sarah laughed to herself.") Like Sarah, also married to someone unassuming and faithful beyond belief, I didn't have an answer. Not a good one, at least. It's not a new question, of course--"Why do you stay in a church that continues to delay justice for its gay and lesbian pastors?" This was the first time, though, that the question was lobbed back to me from within one of my little ideological rants about stuff that doesn't make sense to me.

The short answer is, of course, that I am Lutheran. I am proud to be Lutheran. And there are great people in the ELCA, which will eventually welcome all of its children to "full participation."

Until then, yes, it will be hard to be a gay pastor in a church that doesn't want me. But I knew that going in.

Maybe it does make as much sense to be a lesbian pastor in the ELCA as it does to be a gay or lesbian Republican. Maybe it makes more sense to be a gay Republican. At least you'd get to sit with everyone else at the conventions. I have to sit in the back at the Synod Assembly, and have been warned more than once not to venture onto the floor when the Assembly is in session. I think they're afraid that my Gay Agenda Superpowers will take over and corrupt the proceedings.

Hey, if I had superpowers, I wouldn't be sitting in the back.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tax Breaks are Broken

Ooooh, a political post. I have to do it though, after listening to the States of our Union and our State.

We need massive reform of our nation's health care system. Forty percent of Americans don't have any insurance. Costs have spiraled to the point where we pay nearly twice what other developed nations pay for health care. Prescription drug costs rise in direct proportion to the profits of big drug companies, which, I'm willing to bet, are in direct proportion to the number of lobbyists they employ.

This is a mess. And the solution, according to conservatives, is tax breaks.

Not cost controls. Not negotiation with drug companies. Not universal coverage through a comprehensive plan.

No. Tax breaks. The president and the governor of Missouri believe that if you give someone without insurance an extra $2400 off of his or her taxes, he or she will spend the money on health insurance. At least they say they believe that.

Call me a cynic, call me a Democrat, call me crazy--but I don't think people will spend their tax break on health insurance. And here's why: we live in a consumer society. We consume. Consume, consume, consume. That's what we do with our money. Buy stuff. Sometimes it's stuff we need. Increasingly, it's stuff we don't need, which helps explain why we are now a nation with "negative savings" (we owe more than we have), while the economy continues to improve.

Here's the thing about health care: you don't have to pay for it to consume it. Which is a good thing. I'm certainly not advocating a system in which those who don't have insurance don't receive treatment. I just think we need a system in which everyone has insurance. Or, better still, a system in which everyone has health care, and no one has to have insurance.

Because what we have now is a system in which those who have insurance pay more, because the only way for those who don't have insurance to get health care is to use the system on an emergency basis. No preventive care, just visits to the emergency room. Study after study shows that preventative care is much cheaper than treatment. Especially treatment in the emergency room. But we continue to err on the side of treating people on an emergency basis and sending them into bankruptcy when a catastrophic event occurs.

That doesn't work, and doesn't even begin to address the cost side. We have got to do the hard work that will lead to coverage for everyone, and a system in which all split the costs--which will be significantly lower without the presence of whole industries devoted to keeping them higher.

Sometimes the best choice is no choice at all.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


This is one of those posts I don't usually write, because what's rattling around in my brain has already formed the foundation of a sermon, and I don't like to publish early sermon musings. (Hate to spoil the surprise, ya know.)

But I just can't get the two meetings I attended today out of my head.

Our synod's Urban Ministry Task Force met this morning. The primary topic of the meeting was the most promising of our three inner-city parishes.

We heard a report about that church, which, of course, included numbers. These reports virtually always include numbers. The numbers are these:

Persons fed by the parish's Saturday feeding program: 160-190
Persons who attend Sunday worship: 30-40

Then we went on to discuss and disect the parish in question. One of the pastors at the meeting, a person I like and respect, made the following comment: "[Inner-City Lutheran Parish in Question] has gotten money from the synod on more than one occasion, and so far, they don't have any successes to show for it."

There was general agreement around the table about the veracity of this statement.

I didn't say what I was thinking, and for that I am sorry. What I was thinking was "Are you all nuts?" What I said was, "How are we defining success?"

It was supposed to be one of those ask-a-hopefully-thought-provoking-question moments, but alas, someone took it literally and gave me a definition out of the book of Acts, Chapter Two.

I am not unfamiliar with Acts, Chapter Two. In fact, if you go to my church, you are probably laughing now, because you have heard me use this chapter of scripture far more often than any other.

What we are taught about the church in Acts Two is that the church is the assembly of believers which "holds all things in common" and provides for all of those who are in need.

I don't recall anything about minimum church membership.

I'm sensitive about this, of course, because 30-40 members at worship is a short term goal in my congregation. We're not there yet. We will be, and it's because we "hold all things in common," and have worked very hard at being a community which provides for the needs of its members, and attends to the needs of the larger community as well. Though we've fallen off on the latter, since we've been in temporary digs. We need to get back there, because Acts Two says we should, and that's good enough.

I guess what I'm struggling to understand is how a church community which feeds nearly two hundred people on Saturday, and gathers thirty to forty people to hear the Word of God on Sunday can not be considered "successful."

After the meeting, our Area Ministry met, and I sat next to a mission developer fairly new to our synod. He was asked to share what was going on in his church. So he started with numbers, since that's where you start. His church is now worshipping 240-260 members each Sunday.

There was a collective "mmm" of appreciation for this news. It is good news, I think. But I am not sure that it is news which surpasses the 160-190 hungry souls fed by the first parish. And I'm not sure why we think it is.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King

Yes, I'm late. Especially since the MLK holiday actually fell on his real birthday (Jan. 15) this year.

But I just wanted to say happy birthday and thank you to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe anyone who tries to work for justice owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. King. He taught us that it is possible to work for change in a way that is powerful, intelligent, and dignified.

I know that I fall short of his example often, but I try to get close. And I lean on his spirit for help.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nancy Pelosi: Gaying Up the Country

Ah, the Daily Show. Source of almost everything I know about conservative TV hacks like Sean Hannity.

Tonight the Daily Show aired a clip from Mr. Hannity, in which he poked fun at new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pledge to use the first 100 hours of the new session to make this congress something of which the American people can be proud.

Hannity called it "100 hours to turn America into San Francisco." (I think that was the exact quote. I know the "100 hours" and "San Francisco" parts are right.) I don't know what else he said. I don't watch Sean Hannity, which should shock absolutely no one who knows me.

I'm totally biased about San Francisco, of course. It appears that a lot of the country is biased about San Francisco, or at least the part of our country that gleans its information from sound bites like "San Francisco Liberal..." My bias does differ a bit from theirs, due in no small part to the fact that I have actually been there. Went to college there, in fact. I think that makes me a San Francisco Liberal. It's probably also why I'm gay.

Nah. A seminary in Berkeley made me gay. Or at least God had something to do with it.

Anyway, I think the whole San Francisco Liberal thing is funny. It's such crude shorthand. True, San Francisco is full of liberals. But Sean Hannity might be surprised at how many conservatives also live there. Actually, I doubt he'd be surprised at all. We're talking about a city with a very high cost of living. Not so many social worker types left. Investment bankers are now living in their flats. You can't have that many people making that much money in a city with that large a business district and not have a pretty substantial conservative element.

But the shorthand works--facts be damned. Everybody knows what Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove (who no doubt first carved the phrase in political bedrock) mean when they say "San Francisco Liberal." They mean to invoke half naked drag queens and topless dykes-on-bikes parading down Market Street. Pot smoking on the sidewalks. Acid dropping in the parks. A city so hedonistic it would make Caligula blush.

San Francisco does have its moments. Halloween is a freak fest. The Pride Parade is always good for a little public nudity (though it's pretty vanilla any more, compared to the seventies and eighties). If you hang around the Castro District long enough you'll probably see something interesting.

But San Francisco is, for the most part, a city like any other. Except for the bookstores. There are a lot of bookstores. And the tolerance. There is a lot of tolerance.

If the 110th Congress can turn America into a tolerant nation with a lot of bookstores in 100 days, I for one will be a happy camper.