Monday, December 22, 2008

"My Right Wing Homophobic Friends Tell Me..."

Okay, I actually don't have right wing homophobic friends. Acquaintances, yes--I work in the church, after all. But the people I call my friends don't actively campaign against my right to marry. I try to be a forgiving friend, but I do have certain standards. I don't hang out with people who can't get past outdated and untrue stereotypes about what it is to be gay or lesbian.

Rick Warren, in his interview with Ann Curry, starts a sentence "My gay friends tell me..."

Really? You have gay friends? Really? Do they know that you believe them to be promiscuous and unworthy of marriage?

Or is "my gay friends" just another little rhetorical flourish, like "Joe the Plumber" (whose name isn't really Joe, and who isn't really a plumber) and "compassionate conservative" (which is, at least, the latter)?

Why We're Upset

From the very first--roundly untrue--line of this interview, Pastor Warren is arrogant and dismissive. The choice of him to give the invocation at Obama's ordination is a real blow.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

So It Happened...

...that I actually agreed with Jonah Goldberg.

This doesn't happen very often. Our paper, The Kansas City Star, carries Jonah Goldberg once a week, on the right-hand side of the opinion page. Yup, they're still putting the liberals on the left, and the conservatives on the right.

If they were creating a perfect representation of the political spectrum, though, Jonah would disappear, as he is too far right to appear in juxtaposition to whichever liberal columnist we're running that day. He'd have to be off the page, over next to your cereal bowl.

I digress. Jonah Goldberg is a big time conservative; that's all you need to know. He is Editor at Large of National Review online. We never agree on anything, though I don't know everything he thinks--he may well love chocolate covered toffees, and so do I.

In his column this week, Jonah Goldberg took on "gay-rights groups." He seems to believe that they are aligned on gay marriage and other issues. Apparently he doesn't know much about these groups...just a little swipe at my people, don't get upset.

Anyway, while I didn't much care for Mr. Goldberg's thesis, that the "gay-rights groups" are "aggressors in the culture war" (seriously--what does any of that mean?), I had to admit that he was right in calling out some of the tactics of the "No on Proposition 8" forces.

Specifically, he was perturbed by a television ad in which two Mormon missionaries knock on the door of a lesbian couple, announce that they are there to "take away [their] rights" and yank off their wedding rings. As they leave, one says, "That was too easy." The other responds, "Yeah, what should we ban next?"

I don't know which of the many, many diverse gay rights groups was responsible for this ad, but I hope they're not too proud of it. It suffers from the sort of stereotyping and hyperbole which have dragged down our political discourse for, well, always. The sort we should be leaving behind, not dragging into a legitimate fight for equality and respect. You don't get respect by acting like an eighth grade schoolyard bully.

So when Jonah Goldberg says that this ad is shameful, I agree with him. When he says that it shows "gay-rights groups" as a vicious monolith, we part company.

It's still okay to ask why the Mormon church, with its own checkered past regarding observance of national marriage law, feels so strongly that gay marriage is a threat to heterosexual relationships and families. It's okay to question the tactics of the "Yes on 8" folks, who suggested that little kids were going to be indoctrinated into The Gay Lifestyle, if Prop 8 didn't pass.

But must we play in the mud in order to make our own case? Justice is justice. It will be great when all of our gay rights groups learn that it speaks for itself.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Proposition 8, The Musical

You'll want to watch this more than once, because it's that good, and if you're like me, you'll notice a new star on each viewing.

Prop 8, The Musical


That's how Missouri went. Adios "Bellwether State." Hola "Northern Annex of Dixie."

Seriously, we elected a white Democratic governor by a wide margin (60-40). And then a bunch of the people who blackened in Jay Nixon turned around and blackened in John McCain. Not sure what to make of that, except that we've still got some demons to exorcise down here in the Show Me State.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The One Who Is Not For You...

It's taken a while to wrap my mind around this election. On Tuesday night, I shared champagne with several of my favorite people, toasting the wisdom of a people who chose an articulate, intelligent, compassionate man to be their president. We understood the weight of this moment in history, and there were wet shirt collars all around. We shed tears of joy, delighted that a man so worthy, and his beautiful family, will soon occupy the white house. I think we also shed tears for the pain this country has endured, steeped in its own racism, for so long. I hope we have turned a corner. The election is a great symbol, but I'm not sure that we can declare victory in the cause of civil rights for African Americans. Too many barriers remain--visible and invisible.

The struggle for civil rights is a long one--a frustrating back-and-forth dance, dependent upon the fickle hearts of the American public.

Speaking of civil much as Tuesday night rocked, Wednesday morning sucked. There's probably more eloquent language, but "sucked" is the right word.

I wasn't expecting much out of Florida, or Arizona. I wasn't holding my breath on Arkansas, either. And all of them threw their electoral weight behind that made up political trope: "traditional marriage." Not too surprising, and not desperately disappointing. It's safe to say that the LGBT community isn't hanging its hopes on Florida, Arizona and Arkansas...

But woe to you, California, my erstwhile home. Proposition 8 was a beacon of hope to those of us living in the hinterlands. (Object to the word "hinterlands?" Let me tell you how Missouri voted. See next posting.)

Yes, Prop 8--which reverses California's ruling allowing same sex marriage--lost by a much smaller margin than the last No Gay Marriage proposition. It picked up 8 points. And the groups vying to get it passed--the Mormon Church, the Knights of Columbus and other relics of a bygone era--had to spend $32 million to achieve their evil purposes.

Still, it sucked. One civil rights movement made strides last week, and another took it in the gut. Sadly, the stories overlap. African Americans in California voted 69% for Proposition 8. The fact that African Americans came out in unprecedented numbers to support Barack Obama may have tipped the scales. Ouch.

Even worse, once again The Church was out in front opposing the rights of lesbian and gay couples. There were some victories. The bishop of the Sierra-Pacific Synod (basically the northern halves of California and Nevada) made a public statement opposing Prop 8. At a rally in San Francisco, no less, which will require him to take meetings now with churches in Lodi and Stockton. Kudos to you, Mark Holmerud!

I'd like to think that progressive people know that some churches worked to defeat Proposition 8. Some of them do. I'm inclined to think, though, that most of them, especially those who are queer, just looked at the campaign for Proposition 8 as another black ball in the box against The Church.

Those of us trying to speak a word of hope to the LGBT community from mainline church pulpits already feel like Sisyphus a lot of the time. Proposition 8 just made our rock bigger.

So I guess we go back to the gym and get ready to roll that rock back up that hill one more time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Woe to you, hypocrites!

This cover article in Gospel Today magazine provoked a strong reaction in the Southern Baptist Convention. Lifeway Stores, a Christian bookstore owned by the SBC, pulled the magazine from the shelves of one hundred of its stores, because it considered the article on women leading fundamentalist churches to be too incendiary.

The Southern Baptist Convention, as you probably know, has long barred women from the pastorate, reitterating their position in 1998 when they revised their "Baptist Faith and Message" statement. The message puts it clearly:

"While Scripture teaches that a woman's role is not identical to that of men in every respect, and that pastoral leadership is assigned to men, it also teaches that women are equal in value to men."

The updated statement clarifies a woman's "equal value" thusly:

"A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ."

To support these positions, the SBC refers to several passages in scripture (nearly all--I know it's shocking--in the Pauline epistles). The one most frequently cited is 1 Timothy 2:12, which attributes the following to the Apostle: "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man."

In a related story, prominent officials within the Southern Baptist Convention have lauded the candidacy of John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin. SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Richard Land thinks it is peachy to have the governor of Alaska--wife and mother of five--assume the role of vice president. He has no problem with her becoming president, should that be necessary. Land sees no conflict between stated SBC positions on the place of women in public and private life and its support of Palin. "There's no disconnect or inconsistency whatsoever," he recently told The Washington Post. "We don't go beyond where the New Testament goes. Public office is neither a church nor a marriage."

So apparently the authority that the president would have over men (say, um, the entire armed forces--or at least the male majority within them) isn't a problem.

The Post article offers this helpful clarification: "Land said the Southern Baptists' position allows for a wife to work outside the home, so long as her husband agrees -- and Todd Palin has long backed his wife's career in public service."

So here's a question: What if Todd Palin tells his wife it is okay for her to be a pastor?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Job Posting

Wanted: Chief Executive for Wealthiest Nation in the World

Educational Qualifications: A College Degree of Some Sort. Grades not important.

Experience preferred, but will train qualified applicant. Current training team willing to remain in shadows if allowed.

Other Qualifications:

1. Applicant should be person with whom others would be pleased to share a libation.

2. Applicant should be familiar with and able to utilize colloquial speech.

3. Applicant must have at least one referential word or phrase which he or she can demonstrate initiative in utilizing. Examples: "Decider" "Maverick"

4. Applicant must not be able to pronounce "nuclear."

5. Offspring active in local athletics is a plus. Uncontrollable daughters are a definite plus.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Oh, Jon Stewart, Lend Us Your Wisdom

Grand and Old and...Party?

Last night I watched the end of the Republican National Convention, and I'm pretty sure I saw John McCain give a concession speech. I was puzzled when he shifted there at the end from a toned-down form of the same vague policy outline and sharp attack on all-things-Democrat that every other speaker at the RNC had given. I was puzzled because he shifted into something worthwhile and inspiring. Forgive my cynicism, but I honestly didn't expect that, given the tone of the rest of the convention.

Those people are mad. Mad, mad, mad. They keep trying to spin blatant self-interest and oligarchical politics into "family values" and it's looking more and more like lipstick on a pig.

So they go on the attack.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the concession. See, here's what has happened: John McCain, who is probably a good man, and who has served his country with honor, lost control of his campaign. He wanted to run a relatively (this is politics we're talking about) decent campaign and talk about issues. I really believe this, despite all evidence to the contrary. He began the election cycle with good advisers who would help him do that.

Then Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Obamania took root in wider and wider crop circles. McCain's camp panicked and called in the dogs. And by "dogs" (to mix metaphors), I mean the minions of Karl Rove, who is not a good man and who has not served his country--or anyone else--with valor, honor or any other virtue I can think of, unless you count success as a virtue and I do not.

The Rovites drove the McCain campaign to the right. They convinced the candidate that campaign ads with substance were "old school," and the thing to do was associate the other guy with Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears. Just throw that out there and let paranoia and latent racism do the rest.

Then they convinced their candidate, Mr. McCain, to abandon his choice for a running mate, Joe Lieberman. Lieberman, the "Independent Democrat" cast into the role of this year's Zell Miller, wasn't going to give McCain any sort of Conservative Street Cred. Obama had had the sense to pick a running mate who filled in some of his gaps, notably foreign policy experience. McCain had a relatively moderate record (for a 21st century Republican) on right wing red meat, so he needed someone that the Phyllis Shlafly/Tony Perkins crowd could get excited about. Plus, there are apparently a whole bunch of Hillary Clinton supporters just dying to vote for the Republican ticket.

Is there such a thing as a "zero issue voter?" I can't imagine another way to explain how anyone could go from supporting Hillary Clinton to supporting John McCain. I just can't. She's not even a reasonably moderate Democrat. She's a liberal. It's (at least in part) why I like her, and why I'm still mad at her about the war.

And you'd have to be a character in a Twilight Zone episode to shift allegiances from Clinton to McCain now, since said Rovites talked their candidate into choosing as a running mate someone who shares in common with Mrs. Clinton the fact that they both have ovaries, and not a damn thing else I can think of, except for initial support of the bloody Iraq War. It's a wildly cynical, totally pandering choice, and I just can't believe John McCain went there willingly. I think he just gave in. And after last night, I can't help but also think that a little part of him gave up.

Which is why he finished his speech last night with a call to service. He wanted to say something of substance in this campaign before it goes totally south. And he did.

From here on out it gets ugly. The mudslinging has been immediate and breathtaking. Yesterday, Sarah Palin accused the Obama campaign of "spreading lies" about her family. When asked, no one in the McCain/Palin camp could name a single person in the Obama/Biden camp who had said anything negative, not to mention untrue, about her family. Barack Obama has declared any negative comments about her family off limits to his campaign staff, and promised to fire anyone who slings any mud at her private life. But the truth has left the building. From here on out we get the muddy and the muddier.

So thank you, John McCain, for reminding us last night that we are called to serve. Thank you for your brave service to our country. I hope that the rest of this campaign affords you some opportunity to continue serving the best interests of America, but I'm afraid I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

God and Country Buffet

I'm just back from a really fabulous weekend in Branson, Missouri, with two really fabulous people, Rick and Valorie. I'm pretty sure I'd have a good time with them anywhere, but we sure had a good time in Branson.

We engaged in some very Branson-y pastimes--went shopping at not one, but two outlet malls, which is something I like more than I like to admit. I have a little trouble getting motivated to actually go shopping, but once I'm there, I rather enjoy it. Especially at the outlets, where you can get really awesome Van Heusen shirts and Bass shoes for cheap cheap cheap. And I bought three good bras, so now I'm good for another seven years (which would be the last time I bought decent bras. Yes that's pathetic, but have you ever had to buy bras? It's not much fun. I never even know what size I am, since it seems to change. Okay, that's probably enough blogging about bras.)

We also ate at the breakfast buffet twice, which is really a lot less all-you-can-eat than one could enjoy in almost four days in Branson. Seriously, we could have packed on five, ten pounds. But we were reasonably good. We went to the grocery store and bought healthy food and ate meals at our condo. We ate out at a few restaurants, but we didn't go overboard. And we worked out every morning except for Labor Day which is a day of rest dammit.

And we went fishing with Val and Rick's equally fabulous friend, Martin. Twice. Valorie caught a very nice bass the second time. And we hung out at the pool. Played miniature golf on the course at the condo. Did one touristy thing--The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure--which was really pretty nice, if a bit expensive.

I did not count, so this is an unofficial statistic, but I am reasonably certain that Branson has more churches and American flags than any other city in the world. Definitely more churches flying American flags. Definitely more blurring of the line between Christian faith and American patriotism. Actually, the line is pretty much invisible in Branson.

But other than some vague discomfort at the sense that I was in a town that would definitely have been the setting for an Orwell novel had George ever been there, I had a really good time.

It did seem like the perfect place to be when John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate. But surely that is another entry.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


If you haven't yet seen the Paris Hilton "ad" responding to the McCain camp using her in their ad, click here and watch it:

Great stuff. Really great stuff. I have newfound appreciation for Ms. Hilton.

It appears that the criticism of Barack Obama is actually going to center on his popularity. I guess the argument is that a lot of people like him and that's bad...

Can someone explain to me why we should be suspicious of the fact that Senator Obama is drawing a crowd?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning What It Is To Be Poor

I went to a Poverty Simulation yesterday. Jerry, one of the amazing organizers at Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO) asked if I wanted to go, and I jumped at it. Though I wondered how it would be. I've been to exercises like this that are designed to help one understand the plight of others, but they are often heavy-handed and didactic.

This one was not. It was tremendously well-done. An organization called MACA (Missouri Association for Community Action) has put together a whole experience. If you want to read about it, their website is Click on "poverty simulation."

We were each given an identity when we arrived. We went to our family groups, where we had a whole packet of stuff. There were sheets of information about our family: what our income sources were, what our bills were (when things had to be paid, etc.), etc. You got "transportation passes" and an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card if you had benefits like food stamps or other aid. You got some possessions which you could pawn, if you had to.

Our family was not on the lowest end of the income scale in this country. We had two cars for four people, and monthly income of about $1700, including disability and food stamps.

The exercise is conducted in fifteen minute sections, each representing a week. You have to figure out how to get to where you need to go, do all of your shopping, pay your bills, go to work in that fifteen minutes. And you need a transportation pass to go anywhere. If you work (I was the father in the family and I worked), you needed five transportation passes for each week of work. We started the week with six. I went off to work with my five, but then I couldn't go to the bank to cash my check. I had to go to the check-cashing store and pay extra to buy more transportation passes. And I only got one bill paid, because I ran out of time. Up went my blood pressure, and I wondered what it must be to have to decide how to get places, which bill to pay this week, whether you should pay the bank or the check cashing stand to cash your paycheck, since you don't have a bank account.

Of course, it took three weeks to save enough to pay our mortgage. We did finish the month with some money, but we encountered no contingencies. Some families arrived at the bank to find that they had outstanding loans. Some were given green cards which informed them that they had had an accident, or the car broke down, or some other contingency that wreaked havoc upon their income.

Oh, and there were thieves afoot. I dropped twenty-one transportation passes on my chair and went off to do something else, and they disappeared. We got to buy them back from the gentleman who stole them.

I was amazed at how much stress I felt from the beginning of the exercise. We tried to prepare beforehand, but we found ourselves running around some of the time trying to take care of things. And we surely cheated, borrowing transportation passes from one another in the middle of the room. If I were really stuck at work with no transportation, I'm not sure my mother-in-law would materialize out of thin air to get me to Point B.

I am a pretty aware person, I think. I think about, and pray about, poverty in this country. But it was eye-opening to walk in the shoes of someone who is struggling to get by day to day. I've certainly lived hand to mouth before, but never with a family, and I've been blessed with good health and a good education. I've been privileged, in other words. I'm privileged now.

So, of course, the question is "how can I use my own privilege to improve the lives of others?" Working on it. All suggestions honored and appreciated.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Tyranny of Tomatoes

In the past week and a half, three people have given me tomatoes. One person has brought tomatoes three times--my neighbor, Franco, who is the loveliest person I've had the pleasure of living next door to in a long time.

I have a lot of tomatoes. Garrison Keillor, the great Lutheran sage, has a wonderful monologue about tomato season in Lake Wobegon, which includes leaving bags of tomatoes on neighbors' porches, ringing the doorbell and running away. The tyranny of tomatoes. We wait and wait for them, but when they arrive, they can be a little overwhelming. And then they disappear.

There's probably an interesting analogy to be drawn between fresh, local tomatoes and enthusiastic new church members. I don't think I'll draw it. Use your imagination.

I'm ever so grateful to receive all of these tomatoes. I truly, truly am. I can't drive yet, and there is no grocer in my neighborhood, so fresh food that comes to the door is a Godsend. I'm almost out of the leftovers of all the meals I cooked with my mom. Almost--there's still a slice of quiche left. I had to throw out the dregs of the meatloaf we cooked a week and a half ago.

I'm just not sure I can eat all of these beautiful tomatoes. I'm not sure I should eat them all, because I'm not good at eating just a tomato. I prefer to put tomato slices between two pieces of toasted wheat bread with mayo and bacon. Now that's a good summer sandwich. Healthy, too...all those fresh tomato slices...and, um, bacon and mayo.

The other thing that is delicious with tomato is fresh mozzarella. Give me enough tomatoes, and I can go through an 8 oz. ball of mozzarella in a couple of days. All you need is fresh basil (I keep a plant in the house at all times) and balsamic vinegar to make a nice little vinaigrette. Recipe for a nice little balsamic vinaigrette: drop a crushed clove of garlic in the vinegar, add some herbs, a dash of sugar, and salt and pepper. Let that sit for a half hour or so, fish out all the big chunks, and wisk in olive oil. Simple and delicious. Add a bit of dijon mustard if you like.

I do love tomato season. I just hope pretty soon it gets back to being running season, or it's going to be "buy bigger clothes season." I really must learn to eat a tomato all by itself.

With maybe a sprinkling of fresh parmegian cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Holy Wholly Holey

I had surgery last Tuesday. That was a first. "Major surgery," said the paper they sent home with me from the doctor's office. I think that just means they make a reasonably big incision. Which they did. One side of the abdomen to the other, coming dangerously close to Linus, and if you don't know what that means, it's just as well, though I will say that it isn't shorthand for some anatomical part. Dirty mind. Tsk tsk.

It's been almost a week, so I am now forgetting that I still have this hole in my abdomen and sometimes I stand up a little too fast and am sorry. I remember whenever I try to roll over in bed. Sleeping on your back is overrated. Other than that, everything is going swimmingly. My friends and my parishoners (not at all mutually exclusive categories) have been quite lovely. I've got new plants to kill and cards and a basket full of goodies, including an eye shade that has come in handy several times already.

And my mom is here, which is so nice. I do love my mom, and so far we've been together nonstop for over a week--except when they were making my new scar--and we are still liking each other. And we've seen movies. We watch a movie and then we watch another one.


If you haven't seen Juno yet, get thee to thy Netflicks queue.

The Water Horse is very sweet.

The Other Boleyn Girl was an interesting look at the wives of Henry VIII. I'm glad I didn't pay $10, though.

Up the Yangtze, which we saw at the theater, is a terrific exploration of the gradual flooding of the Yangtze delta as the Three Gorges Dam is completed. Two million people will be displaced by the time the project is finished.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I really love going to daily mass. I love beginning the day with scripture and prayer among the community of the faithful. And I love being reminded of events on the church calendar which might otherwise escape my attention. For instance, today is the feast day of St. James, brother of John, son of Zebedee. I am so glad to be reminded of this, because I'm rather fond of James and his brother John. You kind of have to be fond of them together, since they don't seem to have done much apart.

I like these two because they are good, faithful disciples who also happen to be delightfully human. As such, I identify with them rather easily.

In the third chapter of Mark's gospel, Jesus calls the sons of Zebedee "Boanerges", which is a Greek rendering of an Aramaic word which Mark tells us means "sons of thunder." We'll have to take Mark's word for it, since the scholars aren't entirely sure on that front.

I'm glad to take Mark's word for it, because I love the image of James and John as The Sons of Thunder. They're blustery and strong and hasty. They come to Jesus and ask permission to sit at his right and left hand when he "comes into his glory." Even worse, in Matthew's retelling of that story, they send their mother!

While it is presumptuous, of course, to ask for the seats of greatest honor for life eternal, that's not their greatest sin in making the request. If we believe what we say when we recite the creeds, that Jesus is "seated at the right hand of God," then the seat to Jesus' left is, um, God's. So one of the Sons of Thunder (unwittingly I'm really hoping) asks to sit in God's chair.

When I was on internship, I took a group of students to Washington, DC, and we got a tour of the Federal Reserve. This included going into the boardroom, where we took turns sitting in Alan Greenspan's chair. It felt powerful. Then when we passed him in the hallway outside, I felt like I should apologize for pretending to be him, however briefly. The truth is, I couldn't be Alan Greenspan for five minutes.

Or God. I couldn't be God for a nanosecond.

And neither could the Sons of Thunder.

What they could do was accompany the Son of God, during some very significant moments--on the mountain of Tabor at the Transfiguration; at the Garden of Gethsemane just before Jesus was arrested. They were his friends; he chose them, along with Peter, to be with him in moments when he drew near to God. They never quite understood what happened on the mountain, and they fell asleep in the garden. But they were there.

Sometimes the best we can do is to try to be with Jesus. Try to walk the pathway he would walk, and to be with the people he would be with. Knowing all the while that we're not him, and we sure aren't God. We're just our imperfect human selves--full of thunder and laughter and tears.

But hang around Jesus long enough and crazy things happen. The next thing you know you've got your own feast day.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Saint Francis is missing. Not the actual saint, of course, but the statue we brought from our old building to our new location. The new location is a storefront, which has benefitted greatly from the addition of a few well placed touchstones from our former life in Ye Olde Church Building. The concrete statue of St. Francis was one such touchstone.
Weighing in at a venerable eighty to one hundred pounds.
So we didn't worry too much about him being out in the planter box in front of the In fact, it was lovely to have such a grand symbol of compassion for all living beings marking our front entrance. It made the place look like a church, and not a chiropractor's office.
I have to use past tense, because a couple of weeks ago, St. Francis disappeared from the spot he had been occupying for well over a year now. No ransom note. No evidence of foul play. Just a big hole in the ivy where once stood a medieval saint.
Francis would likely forgive this bit of petty larceny. But he is a saint. I am not a saint, so I am irritated.
Someone has stolen our statue, and I'd like to have him back. St. Francis was performing a number of functions and we wanted him to continue to perform them. He was saying something about our community--that we are lovers of living things, that we have our roots in the church catholic. He was doing outreach to people in the neighborhood. One of our neighbors brought regular offerings and laid them at his feet. This was a cool thing--we had an ecumenical planter box! I liked that.
I don't know if we'll get a new statue. That's the second one stolen, which is disheartening. We had a nice lion and lamb statue, which I bought at Hobby Lobby for twenty bucks. It was also a nice symbol, and it was disappointing when it disappeared. A little more understandable, I guess, since it was made of plastic and not solid concrete.
In response to the theft of St. Francis, the nicest woman I know said "I hope they got a hernia." Yes, we are upset.
I love being a church close to the street, but I guess it has its drawbacks. We're not leaving, though. It is good to worship amidst one's neighbors, both the ones who bring flowers for a saint, and those who steal statues.


Heard this morning on NPR:

"Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has nothing official on his calendar for today. Presumably he will be preparing for his visit to the Middle East..."

I love NPR. But I have to admit that even in the era of the 24 hour news cycle, Barack Obama's empty calendar just doesn't seem like news to me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Inclusive Worship

I've just returned from 8:00 Mass at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in my neighborhood, yet another of the distinct blessings of living in Columbus Park.

I arrived shortly before the service began and took one of the few remaining seats. I'm still learning a few of the responses to the various petitions in the Mass. I'm Lutheran, so the whole thing is very familiar. There are a few responses, however, that are particular to a Catholic service. So I'm listening to the couple on one side of me, and the lady on the other side, trying to pick them up, and eventually I realize that I'm not going to get anywhere doing that. Because the couple is responding in Spanish. And the lady is responding in Vietnamese. I speak a little Spanish and no Vietnamese, and tend to use English for worship.

It was great!

I'll pick up the remaining couple of phrases eventually. But I will never be able to trade the experience of sitting in worship with people praying in (at least) three languages. Isn't that what the house of God is supposed to sound like?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Inclusive Language

My seminary is in Berkeley, California. I love Berkeley. It is a world unto itself, a place where one can be just about anything and it is allowed. Maybe not Republican. But then again, maybe so. In Berkeley, we were all about inclusivity. At the seminary, and in fact throughout the Graduate Theological Union (the consortium of nine seminaries of various traditions), there was an Inclusive Language Policy. The Policy stated that students should make every effort to use gender-neutral language for God and for humanity. In fact, they could be penalized for failure to attend to language inclusivity.

Inclusive language is a good thing. It's a bit difficult to understand yourself as created in the image of God if that image is male and you are female.

Inclusive language can open us to new possiblities. But it can also be a barrier. I've spent some time lately rethinking the word "queer." (With a little help.) I like the word. I've used it. I used it a lot when I lived in Berkeley. I recently came across a grade sheet about a paper I wrote subtitled "Why Queer Christians Stay in Mainline Churches."

I used the word because it kept me from subtitling my paper "Why Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning People Stay in Mainline Churches." "Queer" is a nice shortcut. It includes a lot of people. Or it is meant to, anyway.

The thing is, the word "queer" is harsh and abrasive to a lot of people as well. So it can exclude a lot of people who would never identify as "queer," even though they locate themselves in the alphabet soup of LGBTQ.

Our Synod--the Lutheran church body which oversees congregations in Missouri and Kansas--isn't all that worried about inclusive language when it comes to LGBTQ, or God, for that matter. But the Synod is attentive to being inclusive of all the people who are in a room at a particular time. This is a good, welcoming practice.

One of the linguistic impulses the Synod follows is the use of the phrase "rostered persons" to denote clergy and persons in other called ministries. We have Associates in Ministry, for instance, who are not clergy, but are in called positions, serving the church in a variety of capacities.

So we're at worship yesterday--a Lutheran service with a very evangelical sensibility (go ahead, try to make sense of that). And the Creed was a responsive reading (don't even try to make sense of that), with the responses broken into three categories: men, women, and rostered.

I laughed, at first, because the idea that those are three distinct categories is sort of amusing. But the categories are shorthand, of course. "Men" and "women" are actually the categories for male and female laypersons, and "rostered" is the category for persons in called ministries--clergy, AIMs, other professionals like pastoral counselors.

Which means that the three categories were inclusive of everyone in the room, I think. Except me. I am not a layperson. I'm clergy, but I'm not "rostered" clergy. So I didn't really know when to speak, which kind of sucks when you're being asked to profess your faith, and I rather like doing that.

This is not a huge deal, but whenever it happens--which is more often than I'd like--it is a good reminder that our efforts to be inclusive may, in fact, exclude folks. If you've ever made the mistake of trying to name all of the affinity groups in a room and left someone out, you already know this. People don't like to be left out. All people. I think. Or maybe just some.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gay Marriage! (for now...)

Last week, the California Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. Unless you have been pinned under something heavy, you surely already knew that. I got seventy-twelve emails about it. All were effusively positive, because those are the people I hang with, the ones who would be delighted when justice comes.

But there was a sort of caveat underneath all of the emails and forwarded emails from our friendly LGBT rights organizations. They all said "Victory! For now"

We were urged to send money today to fight the right-wing attack machine, which has been poised, waiting to swoop down like one of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. They have petitions. They have money. They have pastors, ready to denounce this travesty of judicial activism. They are determined to get a measure on the ballot in November which would nullify the Court's decision.

This is all most certainly true. If you do any organizing or have played in the activist sandbox, you know you have to be ready for the next attack on your values at all times. The evildoers do not rest, and neither must we.

But it would be nice to be able to savor a victory once in a while. Since I spent most of my adult life (and those crazy high school years) in California, I was feeling rather proud when the news came out. I wanted to feel that pride just a little bit longer. I wanted to revel in the possibilities that this decision could bring about, in places like, oh, Missouri. I wanted to dream a little, about a world in which LGBT people are no longer asked to wear that invisible triangle of shame.

Yes, I am whining. A lot of great things have happened for us in the last few years. I know it takes time. But I want it all now. I want it to be over--the fighting, the bickering, the hate crimes, the discrimination. I want it to be over for good, not just for now. I want the churches that call themselves "Christian" to pay just a bit more attention to the teachings of Christ, and a little less to the teachings of Pat Robertson.

Rant over. I need to write a check to the California Equality Commission, so that they can rage against the machine.

Mea Maxima Culpa

Yeah, so I'm a bad, bad blogger. If anyone is actually still checking here, do accept my apologies. A couple of things happened this month, and last month, and I had to drop "blogging" down lower on my list of guilty pleasures.

I moved, and love my new neighborhood. I'm sure there is a Columbus Park blog entry coming. Or two, or six. I uprooted my dog, and that's one of the things I'm claiming fault for in the title line there. She's still getting used to not having her yard or her beagle. Though she does like going for more walks again. In Columbus Park (!).

So life goes on and we're adjusting very well, actually. Loving a lot of the new things happening. Bewildered at the prospect of starting over again, and also thrilled and a little nervous.

Okay, friends, that's all the abstract emotional stuff you're getting out of me today. What I really want to talk about is Gay Marriage, so that's next.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Benedict the Wise

It should surprise no one to hear that I was not overjoyed to hear that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been chosen as the new pope when John Paul II died. Cardinal Ratzinger was pretty tough on gay and lesbian Catholics, and by extension (since Catholic doctrine has far-reaching impact) on gay and lesbian people all over the world.

But I must say that Pope Benedict XVI was pretty stunning in his first visit to the homeland this week. The New York Times has quite the spread on the visit, for those who haven't seen all of the details.

Given that I know and deeply love a Catholic or two, I paid attention to the Pope's visit. I was rather surprised when he addressed the abuse scandal before even deplaning. I was even more surprised when he granted an unrestricted audience to three abuse victims. These two gestures surely did more to bring a bit of healing to these deep, deep wounds than anything that has been done in the past decade. I think it took personal courage and deep faith for him to so clearly take on an issue that has been swept under a series of rugs for as far back as anyone knows.

Part of me does feel kind of bad that all CNN wanted to talk about was clergy sexual abuse while the pontiff was here, but he did bring it up, and of course the media were going to go there.

So--a great moment for the Roman Catholic Church, and a great moment of grace and hospitality for the man who (rather aptly, it turns out) named himself Benedict.

Stolen from The Onion

So I'm a blog loser. Lots going on these days.

Here's a little article from The Onion I thought was funny.

Gay Guy's Gay Thing Goes Well

ROCHESTER, NY—According to gay sources, local gay guy Joshua Norstrand's latest gay dance party or art thing was attended by as many as 50 other gays. "Josh's [gay] events are always a big hit," said fellow gay guy Michael Whitmore, who thankfully did not go into detail about whatever goes on at those things. "What can I say? The [gay] man was born to entertain [other gay men]." Norstrand could not be reached for comment as he was reportedly on a business trip for his job as a gay web consultant.

Friday, March 28, 2008

And Now, for Something Lighter

How do I love The Onion? Let me count the ways...

Church People Gather to Discuss Sex

I went to a "hearing" on our draft Sexuality Statement last night. Hearings are being held around the church, in our 64 synods. This was actually only the second one, churchwide. I promised to report back to Lutherans Concerned, our friendly advocacy/fellowship/all around good folks organization. So I figured I'd paste part of my report here, after scrubbing some of the names and such. There are some line numbers referenced. If you're really curious, the document is on the ELCA website. So here it is, for any who are interested:

The meeting was at Trinity Lutheran in Lawrence, Kansas. In attendance were 17 total people:

8 were pastors, one of whom is a recent PhD currently applying at seminaries.

5 were laypersons from local congregations: Abiding Peace, North KC; Immanuel, KC; Trinity Lutheran, Lawrence (host congregation--two attended from Trinity--one was our moderator and did a fine job); Peace in Manhattan, Kansas. Abiding Peace is the only RIC church in that list.

1 works out of the Synod office

1 was our synod bishop, Gerald Mansholt (I'm not taking out the bishop's name. It's pretty public :) ).

1 was an assistant to the bishop

1 was adjunct to the Sexuality Task Force until two years ago. The Sexuality Task Force is supposed to have a representative at each hearing, and he was ours, though he said himself that they were "digging deep" in inviting him, and it was probably because the closest Task Force member is in Denver. I was glad he was there, because he is a great straight ally and eloquent speaker. He did not speak much until the end, when he did express some hurt on behalf of the Task Force folks who worked hard on the document. I think we understood his point. He was not able to answer many questions on the document, since he wasn't there when they put it together, so in that way he may not have been the best rep.

As far as I know, I was the only non-heterosexual person in the room.

The Discussion

We took the full two hours allocated, with a little break to move from the large sanctuary to the small chapel, which facilitated much better conversation (and was a lot warmer :) ). The bishop opened us with prayer, and I was asked to say the closing prayer, which I appreciated.

We began by trying to understand what the purpose of a Social Statement is. I'd say there is a lot of confusion around this topic. The church hasn't done a great job of clarifying the role of a Social Statement. The Task Force rep. wasn't quite sure if you could say they're used to set policy, and the bishop didn't seem all too clear either. A participant pointed out the part of the statement which suggests that they are used to lead to policies, but that is a little murky as well, since later it says that not all church members need agree with a Social Statement. The comment was made, only half facetiously, that only clergy need to agree, since they'll be subject to the subsequent policy.

I tried to get clarification about the impetus behind the Social Statement, which I understood to be determining policy regarding same-sex unions and ordination of folks in same-sex relationships. I said it seemed to me that it was these two issues which led the 2001 CWA to request a Task Force. There was agreement on this, so I made the comment that it seemed like it would be a long way from the Statement to policy, since ordination isn't mentioned and blessings are only mentioned in passing. No real clarity emerged on this, though we were reminded that the Task Force will make policy recommendations next February. Later we heard the timeline on this, which is a bit curious, if correct:

--The recommendations are made in February,2009, and sent first to the Conference of Bishops and the ELCA Church Council. Those two groups will meet in April (or the latest of the two meetings is in April). Then the recommendations are released, which means that most substantive conversation will likely have to occur at Synod Assemblies. It also seems possible--and maybe likely--that this timeline will preclude most synods from developing resolutions around the recommendations, except in an ad hoc manner, if that is allowed.

The majority of folks in the room were in favor of change in current policy. A couple didn't say much, so it is hard to know where they stand. The bishop's assistant is definitely "stand-fast," as were two of the pastors. One of those pastors expressed the common concern that this is a church-dividing issue which we are not ready to tackle. The other is a mission pastor in our synod. His concerns are couched in the language of "evangelism," which he is always quick to remind us is the "E" in "ELCA."

His position is one we must know and combat, I think. His credential--to use organizer language--is that his is the "fastest growing church in our synod." This was actually the first thing he said at the meeting. It seems to give him the sense that his words deserve extra weight. His church presents its mission as reaching out to the unchurched. His definition of "unchurched" seems to include mainly very conservative folks. He also mentioned wife-beaters, twice. He claims to be moving them all more to the center, which he may well be doing.

Here are some of the things The Mission Pastor had to say:

--The Statement is "wishy-washy" about sin. Lutheran theology teaches that we are all sinners (hum along if you know this one). The Statement seems to tell lesbian and gay people that they are not sinners, and we (Lutherans) don't teach that. That sort of teaching "provides ammunition for 'The Enemy,' however you define 'The Enemy.'" (This is verbatim; I wrote it down.) He went on to talk about how we (Lutherans) lift up all sorts of examples of sin, and don't rank them. For instance, we would call it sin for a pastor to drive a giant, gas-guzzling SUV.

I pointed out that we don't legislate against pastors who drive giant, gas-guzzling SUV's, so it would seem that we are in the business of ranking sin. He conceded that point, and I jumped out of my seat and ran around the room pumping my fist. Just kidding. Well, he did concede the point.

TMP used the language of evangelism over and over. We've heard his point before, and it will be compelling for CWA (Churchwide Assembly 2009) voters, and the synod assembly voters sending memorials (recommendations to the CWA). Here is the argument: The church will not be able to reach out to "the unchurched" if it adopts a policy which those people will consider "out of step" with society.

TMP didn't speak much to the theology of the document or to the biblical underpinnings, except for the sin stuff, and the acknowledgement that he knew that he was "being Pauline" on this subject. He noted that Paul, in trying to grow the church, "was willing to tell women that they should shut up in church," because that teaching would appeal to the people Paul was trying to reach.

This was a new argument for me--gay people are expendable because that will appeal to "the unchurched," just as women's voices should be silenced if it appeals to men.

Go ahead, shudder. I couldn't last night, but you're not sitting in that chapel.

TMP said several other things. The other one you might enjoy (and by "enjoy" I mean "lose your lunch") was prompted by a young woman (27), who spoke up for those who will also be lost to the church, if change doesn't happen. TMP acknowledged that younger people have a different attitude toward same-gender relationships, and that if he went to the youth in his congregation and told them we have to love and respect those whose sexual orientation is different from ours, they would all "go down to the local treatment center and start working with people who are drinking and using drugs because they're so torn up by their sexual orientation."


I swear.

Didn't need to write that one down--it's burned into my brain.

Some of the more neutral conversation included:

--Lifting up the sections on children and youth as well-written, specific, and providing clear teaching. One participant asked if slavery was mentioned, and we noted teaching on sexual exploitation which would seem to include slavery.
--Questions about the foundational language of trust, which permeates the document. Our TF rep said he was actually surprised by the language, since he didn't recall it being a fundamental idea in their earlier conversations. The group seemed to feel that the language was appropriate.
--The explication of Lutheran theology, while long, was generally considered quite good and helpful.

Those favoring change made some of these comments/arguments:

--There is a false dichotomy at work in the church, and underpinning the beginning of our conversation last night. It says we are choosing between doing nothing and changing. The reality is that we're doing something now: we're refusing to ordain gay and lesbian persons in relationships and to stand up for gay marriage. This something is causing a lot of people pain.

--There is a real anti-gay bias evident in the document.

--The privileging of heterosexual marriage is insulting and unfair. The sections on "Marriage" and "Same-Gender Committed Relationships" (predictably) received the most scrutiny. There was anger over the sentence beginning at 1127 which describes "those who regard same-gender sexual relationships as sinful" without comment (and therefore with tacit allowance or even approval). The same holds true for the statement starting at 1142 which allows that "In their pastoral response [to those in same-gender relationships,] some pastors and congregations will advocate repentance and celibacy."
-->Is our church really willing to say that it is okay for pastors and congregations to regard g/l relationships as "sinful" and to "advocate repentance and celibacy."

--LGBT people are fast losing patience with the language of "welcome," when it is accompanied by teachings which are equivocal and even cruel. This one was mine. It was the big thing that I wished to get across, and I hope I did. I said that as a pastor I could no longer hear the word of welcome coming from the ELCA, and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to ask my congregation to hear such a word of welcome from a church which calls our relationships less worthy.

--Of course there was real pain around the "definition of marriage" section, 1151-1155. A number of people expressed passionate disappointment with the language of this part of the document. One woman pointed at me and said she was really hurt that her church would teach her that her marriage is more valuable than mine. She then shared that she doesn't believe this to be the case.

--Side note: the woman above has a lesbian sister. We continue to see that change is rooted in relationship. We've got to get LGBT people and allies out to our churches, somehow.

I think that is most of what I found striking last night. Our bishop, who has been on a long journey of acceptance, said directly to TMP that he heard his concerns about change and its effect on our outreach, but that he had also just read Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" again, and believed Dr. King was right in calling white pastors out for saying "now is not the time." I don't think our bishop will be out front on this. He is very clear that the semi-local-option adopted at last year's CWA (which could allow ordination of gay pastors) requires "a planetary alignment" and won't apply in his synod (I think this part was for me :) ). I did appreciate his prophetic voice at the end, when he offered those comments. I always appreciate his struggle to be faithful and pastoral to the many folks of different opinion who people the ELCA churches of Missouri and Kansas.

So that was the night. I took along one member of our congregation, who said a couple of the best things said all night. So once again, I'm disappointed in my denomination, proud of our congregation, and hopeful that we will be the change we seek.

Monday, March 24, 2008

4000 Reasons

Four thousand American soldiers have now died in Iraq. I still haven't heard a good reason why. But I can think of four thousand reasons why this war should have been stopped before it began.

Estimates of the number of Iraqis killed vary widely, from 80,000 to over a million. Over two million have been displaced--no disputes there.

What a horrific tragedy this is, and I use that word advisedly. As an English major, I was taught to be very judicious in my use of the word "tragedy." It should refer to a great fall caused by hubris--human pride mixed with arrogance and brought out by temporal power.

That sounds about right.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Wright Stuff

A Prayer:

Please, Lord, don't ever let a member of my congregation run for president. For then Inquiring Minds will comb through my sermons in search of salacious and controversial words and sentences.

And they will find them, because, like Pastor Jeremiah Wright, I am not as smart as other preachers. I am not careful about what I say. I do not swear "Do not offend" as my Preacher's Oath.

I, too, have made the outrageous statement that ours is a racist country, which continues to provide advantages to those with lighter skin, and unequal access to those with darker skin.

I have preached about politics, as if the gospel somehow applies to the public sphere. I have named names--the names of those who would make war in The Name--Yahweh, for instance.

Lord, I really hope I'm never a famous or interesting pastor, because my words will not stand up to public scrutiny. If the requirement for preachers is that they dance along the top of a fence, speak in generalities, bow before Caesar, and favor prosperity over truth--I'm toast.

May it ever be so.

Stuff I Wonder About 1

Why isn't "pounds per square inch" abbreviated "LSI?"

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is that "Draft" or "Drift"?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our denomination, released its Draft Statement on Human Sexuality today. This statement is the result of six years of study by the Human Sexuality Task Force, which was constituted by the 2001 Churchwide Assembly. The Task Force released study documents--the obsequiously titled "Journey Together Faithfully" I & II--and collected responses from across the church. All that work turned into the Draft Statement.

If you understood all of that, you may be a Mainline Protestant.

One of my colleagues said recently that he wasn't particularly interested in seeing what the Draft Statement on Human Sexuality said, since it was his opinion that it wouldn't say anything.

I had higher hopes. I've watched our church wrestle with human sexuality (which is, of course, church-speak for "homosexuality") for twenty years now. We tried to get together a statement on human sexuality back in the early nineties. Someone leaked it to the press, the New York Times announced that the Lutherans were "affirming homosexuality and masturbation" and that was all she wrote for Attempt One.

But this is Attempt Two. It's 2008. Surely we're ready to Journey Faithfully into the twenty-first century Together. Surely it is time that the church take the position that gay and lesbian relationships are worthy of the same respect and ecclesial fortitude as straight relationships.

Alas, my colleague was right, and I have never wanted less to be a Lutheran.

This is my favorite paragraph:

It is only within the last decades that this church has begun to deal in a new way with
the longing of same-gender persons to seek relationships of life-long companionship and
commitment and to seek public accountability for those commitments. In response, this
church has drawn deeply on its Lutheran heritage to dwell in Scripture and listen to the
Word of God. This listening has brought biblical scholars, theologians, and rostered and
lay persons to different conclusions. After many years of study and conversation, this
church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships.
This church has committed itself to continuing to accompany one another in study,
prayer, discernment, and pastoral care.
Apparently a few decades is a short amount of time. Depends upon your perspective, I think. If you're waiting for the church to decide what it thinks about someone else, a few decades may feel short. If you're waiting for the church to decide how it feels about you, a few decades is an excruciatingly long time.
Of course, in using the language of "the church," I've fallen into the same hole the Task Force is trying to write its way out of. As long as we're waiting for "the church" to have consensus, we'll study ourselves to death. There are nearly five million members of the ELCA. No--they don't have consensus on human sexuality. They don't have frigging consensus on weekly communion! Stop me if I'm wrong, but I think that the people of "the church" asked the Task Force to do six years worth of thinking and studying and to make a suggestion about what we as a church were going to stand for.
Apparently we stand for not being able to stand for anything. Please forgive my bluntness, but the idea of "continuing to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, and pastoral care" makes me want to vomit. We just did "study, prayer, discernment, and pastoral care." Six bloody years of it. On top of the twenty years we did before that. If we spent six years and a couple million dollars to learn that we need more study, we could have been feeding hungry kids in Africa.
It's only a draft. It may get better. I'm going to take some deep breaths now and calm down. Then make some notes for the synod listening post next month.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Here's a Good Conversational Name Drop...

...well, in my Old Testament class at Yale...

Yale has opened an Old Testament class to online participation. Go here to check it out.

Hat tip to LutheranChik, who rocks always!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Religious Landscaping

Sorry--I know this graphic is hard to read. That's as big as I can make it.

You may have seen the report out last week from the Pew Religion Forum which outlined "America's Religious Landscape." It told us a lot of stuff we already knew, like "Americans are increasingly unaffiliated religiously." (Though some are religiously unaffiliated). The survey confirms that denominational identity is increasingly unimportant, which we also already knew, though it still makes those of us with denominational affiliations in our job titles a little queasy.

It used to be easier to answer the question "Why are you a...[insert religious affiliation here]?" You were a Lutheran because your parents were Lutherans and you were raised in the Lutheran church and it seemed fine and fine is good for Lutherans. We're good with fine.

That sort of denominational default ended a while ago for many people. I'm a Lutheran because my friend Sara took me to her church when I was 11 and I fell in love. With the church. We moved before I could fall in love with Sara, though I think the reverse is not necessarily true but I digress.

So none of this is big news, though the flip-flop in percentages from Mainline Protestant to Evangelical Protestant is still startling. They're growing. We're not. Lots of people have guessed why, but I don't like most of the answers.

Here's what I want to know: Why do we go to a particular church? I'm not concerned with denominations here, necessarily, though that's salient, of course. Mostly I want to know:

  • Why does a particular faith community make your heart sing?
  • What's the thing that gets you out of bed on Sunday morning (or Saturday morning, or out on Saturday evening or Wednesday evening or whenever you go out to practice your faith)?
  • What can't you live without?

Friday, February 29, 2008


I saw and heard a couple of things yesterday that have got me thinking. I was on my way to a meeting in Kansas and drove by a home on a major street which had a large, hand-lettered sign out front. I was driving, so I couldn't write down the message on the sign, but here's what it said, to the best of my memory:

"Just be glad
that we are killing
more of their children
than they are
of ours.
Happy Holiday"

The "Happy Holiday" part is definitely right, and creates a pretty bizarre juxtaposition. I'm not sure which holiday is meant. Which is the "let's celebrate the children we've killed in our war" holiday?

I wondered whether the sign was meant to be satire, but I'm inclined to think that it is not. Someone actually feels that way, strongly enough to put those feelings on a sign. Which leads me to ask: how is it that someone can feel that way to begin with, and feel so strongly that way that the person is willing to put it on a sign right next to a heavily trafficked street? (Roe Avenue at about 60th, for those who are local)

Even if it's meant to be satire, the language is so violent and objectionable as to fail miserably. At least as "front yard, general-public-accessible satire."

I was sad about this first, and then outraged. I wanted to turn around and go to the person's door and try to have a conversation with him or her. Or maybe I didn't want a conversation, exactly. I wanted an opportunity to simply express the hurt I felt reading that sign, the hurt I felt knowing that someone who lives in the same general area I live in has such blatant disregard for the lives of Iraqi and Afghan children.

I didn't, of course. I was late and I probably wouldn't have anyway because I'm a coward and I can blog about these horrible things instead of doing something real. Plus, I'm reasonably certain that person owns a gun. Or two.

So my meeting went on forever, and three hours later I was driving home and "Studio 360" was on NPR. The featured interview for the episode was one taped with the writer Susan Sontag. I came in late, but it seemed like the theme was "images of voilence and war," or something similar. Sontag talked about images that she had seen which had affected her deeply, and they did a couple of segments on war movies and photographs.

At one point Sontag talked about the ability of an image like a photograph to evoke moral outrage. Then she said that she couldn't understand why people had a puzzled reaction to the atrocities of war. She said she was tired of people wondering why an SS officer could tear babies from their mothers' arms and send hundreds to the gas chamber by day, and then go home and play a little Shubert and entertain the kids before supper.

Her point was a good one--that human beings are capable of any manner of violence, a truth borne out by all of history. She felt that it was somewhat disingenuous to be shocked, or surprised, when someone commits a horrific act, since people have been doing that stuff since Cain killed his brother (she didn't say that, but it's my frame of reference and I'm stickin' with it).

I understand her point, but I still want to reserve the right to be puzzled and outraged. I just can't resign myself to the notion that somewhere in the Kansas City metro, there are people who really devalue the lives of children enough to express the sentiment on that yard sign. And no, a cruel yard sign is not the moral equivalent of Nazi atrocities, but it is the sort of thinking expressed on that sign that leads to the sort of moral equivocation we're experiencing as a nation right now.

See, I need to be able to ask the question, Is the United States of America really debating whether or not it is okay to subject someone to waterboarding? Have we really succeeded in pretending that some people are not as human as other people, and therefore different rules apply to those people?

I don't understand it. I don't understand that sign, and I don't understand how we've gotten to this place. So I gotta ask, even though I already know I won't like the answers.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ship of Fools

Okay, you guys have to check this out:

Great stuff. Here's my favorite link on the site:

It's the site for those who will be left after Pat Robertson and James Dobson go up the great escalator.


It's one of those great Divinity School Words: "theodicy." It refers to the constant human struggle to understand how evil exists in God's world. Or how God allows evil to exist. Don't ask me--I've never totally understood it.

But our most excellent local religion columnist, Bill Tammeus, has written a great column this week which takes up the issue of theodicy. He starts with some questions he received from a reader, who noted that the figures for church attendance in Sweden seem to belie that country's commitment to caring for "the least of these." They're good questions, and Tammeus does a great job grappling with them. Give it a read:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I'm so glad I didn't take a drink of my tea...

...before I read this in this morning's paper:

David Letterman, on Fidel Castro stepping down: "Experts (say) he'll either be succeeded by his brother Raul, or by his idiot son, Fidel W. Castro."

Seriously, tea would have come out of my nose. Letterman, still funny after all these years.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Missouri Looking Good

In the three years before I moved to Missouri, I lived in two college towns and a suburb in New England. One of the college towns was quite liberal. The other one was Berkeley. And New England is New England. Stodgy liberalism--strange, really.

So Kansas City was a shift for me. Is a shift. Some of the stuff that I read each day in the Letters to the Editor continues to curl my toes, even though I've lived here seven and a half years. Recently it's been the letters of support for the mayor of Kansas City, who appointed a woman to the Parks Board who turned out to be a member of the Minutemen. When the mayor refused to ask her to step down, even after we lost a couple of conventions over the flap, there were dozens of letters proclaiming the Minutemen a "patriotic" organization and applauding the mayor for refusing to back down to "blackmail" from La Raza and the NAACP. Ouch.

The good thing about living in Missouri, though, is that we have Kansas right next door. There are wonderful people who live in Kansas. Some of them go to my church, which is about a mile from the Kansas border. Lots of great Kansans.

But crazy stuff happens in Kansas. There's all the evolution stuff, which sets the population of Kansas up to look like extras in Inherit the Wind. In black and white, even. There's the District Attorney who is obsessed with outlawing abortion.

And then this little gem from outside of Topeka on Thursday. It seems that St. Mary's Academy was preparing to play a high school basketball game, when the school's Athletic Director discovered that one of the referees for the game was a woman. He declared that she could not officiate the game, because a woman should not have authority over boys.

Go ahead, laugh. This is funny stuff. This would have been funny in 1978. It's downright hilarious in 2008. And sad and wrong and dumb.

If you want to read the whole article, go here for a fair and balanced AP story:,2933,330642,00.html

For whatever reason, the story is not on the Kansas City Star site, though the Star broke it. But AP has the details right. All those unbelievable details.

And one really great detail. After Michelle Campbell was removed from the refereeing duties in the game, school officials went to two other (male) referees and asked them to step in. Upon hearing the details of this little officiating "emergency," both refused, and walked out with Campbell.

Lots of great Kansans. There's two of them now. Unfortunately, the headline for this story won't read "Two Officials Stand Behind Removed Female Official." It'll be more likely "Crazy Stuff Keeps Happening in Kansas." From now until crazy stuff stops happening, I guess.


Okay, yes, I am a sucky blogger of late. I just can't tear myself away from Bad Girls.

That's not really true, though I am kind of obsessed. There are so many bad lesbian love stories on TV, and the Brits finally gave us a good one. Of course, one of the women enters the relationship straight, because the entertainment industry just can't figure out how to have two lesbians fall in love. One of them always has to be previously straight and fall backwards into the relationship, kicking and screaming. Why is that?

Anyway, if you've got LOGO, check out the first three seasons of Bad Girls. I've seen most of it now, so I'll try blogging more than once every couple of weeks. Sorry about that.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Significant Others

I started to write all of this in a comment box, since I was responding to Amalia's comment on the last post, but it got kind of long and is probably more of a new entry.

I've heard about the "drop your family" exercise, probably from Kelli. It puts me in mind of a confession I need to make.

I was on retreat at a Catholic monastery last week--very progressive place, for Kansas--a Benedictine center where 168 sisters live together, and provide hospitality in the form of a very nice retreat place called Sophia Center. I was having dinner with one of the sisters, and she asked me about family. I talked about my mother and my brother, and then she said, "Yes, but don't you have a nuclear family." I panicked and said--really awkwardly--"uh, no." And then sat there thinking, "You're wearing a wedding ring, you dope. It's not like she can't figure it out. She lives with 167 nuns." (Nothing against nuns, certainly, but my gaydar was working overtime.)

I hate feeling the need to hide my family, and I almost never do it. But once in a while I just don't feel like I have the emotional stamina to go into it all, to change the tenor of a conversation or make others uncomfortable (and if that isn't a really stupid reason to lie to people, I don't know what is.)

So thanks for letting me confess. I did tell my spiritual director about my "nuclear family" the next day, since we were going to be spending an hour together. And she was great. Chances are very high that the sister at dinner would have been as well. I just didn't give her a chance.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Yeah, so it's been forever since I've written anything and I don't have time again, and so here's a little something I got in an email, since it made me laugh out loud. Lazy way out? You make the call.

In case you missed it, this is the Washington Post's Mensa Invitational which once again asked readers to take any word from thedictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, andsupply a new definition. The winners are:
1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders thesubject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an ***hole.
3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lastsuntil you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stopsbright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows littlesign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purposeof getting laid.
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and theperson who doesn't get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are runninglate.
10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extracredit.)
12. Karmageddon: It's when everybody is sending off all thesereally bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes, and it's a serious bummer.
13. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the dayconsuming only things that are good for you
14. Glibido: All talk and no action.
15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarterwhen they come at you rapidly. 16. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just afteryou've accidentally walked through a spider web.
17. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
18. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.