Saturday, June 27, 2009

Not Here for a Little While

I am in Grand Rapids, MI for the General Synod, the biennial gathering of the United Church of Christ.  I am a member of the Iowa delegation, and we are blogging here.  Come on over, check us out, and let us know you stopped by.  I'll be back here blogging in early July.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fun at Church

Yesterday I had the chance to visit Grinnell UCC, where Pope Laura the Beneficient attends along with some other friends. It is relatively close to the camp I'm at this week....and since camp is nowhere close to home and I wasn't working, I decided to head over.

I'd seen a bunch of folk at Annual Meeting just the day before, but it's always nice to see folk in other contexts. It was also very relaxing not to have to worry about leading the service and just have the opportunity to be present in worship.

Before the service, a gentleman I will refer to as The Mann came to greet me. We have a very cordial friendship and he's a hoot. In his clever way, he reminded me that hollering and "whoo-hooing" (of the kind you will not be surprised to learn I do at large meetings) is not really the norm at this church. Of course, this was how he said it, "Now, you know, LiturgyGeek, there are to be no hoo-hahs in this church."

Um, Mr. The Mann? I don't think that means what you think it means. Bless his heart.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Do Blogs With Fewer Than 10 Followers Have an Open Thread?

If so, consider this it. I'm at the Iowa Conference Annual Meeting in Cedar Rapids today and tomorrow, and then at our camp for a few days. Be back mid-week with fun new posts! For now, leave a note to tell me you stopped by.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Backbencher says the cutest things

At dinner tonight (shout-out to Casa de Oro, our favorite local Mexican restaurant), Backbencher and I got talking about Jim Wallis, who will be speaking at the next General Synod of the UCC.  Both of us share a great antipathy toward the man (or at least his public persona, neither of us have met him personally), and Backbencher came up with two pithy reasons why:

1.  Wallis believes so strongly in his beliefs that he's willing to sell out yours in order to achieve his goals.
2.  Wallis' theology can be summed up this way: "I love the poor, so you should give up your right to choose."  

ZING!  Time and time again, he just comes across as pompous and patronizing towards those with whom he disagrees.  And why on earth the MSM points to him as a leader of the "religious left" when the man's chief claim to fame is the aforementioned love for the poor (and the fact he marched with Dr. King).  Wallis just doesn't get that God's preferential option for the poor exists only in a context of full moral agency for all persons.  

Dr. Tiller's Church

Courtesy of my good e-friend Jocelyn over at WTF Would Jesus Do? comes this gem of a letter to the editor about the kind of church that Dr. Tiller would feel welcome at. (Actually, I think it's courtesy of her Facebook page, but let's not quibble.) I hope our church is like that, too. We certainly strive to be.

Trusting women is how I got involved in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and it deeply informs my work as a part-time sexuality educator.

Shooting at the Holocaust Museum in DC?

Seriously? Wow. Just, wow. The suspect is described as an 88-year-old white supremacist male. Apparently, he and a security guard were both injured, but the media is not saying how badly.

Talk about people just not getting the point. I mean, it seems terribly ironic that a place dedicated to shining the light on mass violence would be a target of violence - and perhaps the only reason it did not become a scene of mass violence was due to the quick thinking of the guard. (Then again, in the minds of racists, this probably is not ironic, but fitting.) Yet another reminder why it's important to pray for our enemies, and for ourselves that we do not become tempted to act in ways that our enemies do.

Please keep everyone affected in your prayers*.

UPDATE: Apparently the security guard has died. Let prayers* abound.

* prayers = prayers, good thoughts, intentions, etc.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What's In The Box?

Trust me, this is strictly G-rated. Several years ago, a colleague in ministry shared with me a cool Children's Time that I incorporated into the life of our church for a time. It's simple: give a kid a box and tell them to bring it back next week with something that reminds them of or makes them think of God. The only rules are that there are to be no creatures, living or dead, and nothing that can spoil between home and church. They bring the box, share the item during Children's Time, and the child and minister have a little conversation on the ways the item relates to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and/or the church.

What I love about this is that it encourages our children to begin to articulate their theology and to share something important to them with the other children (and the congregation). It's also an opportunity to dialogue with the minister about faith. I will say it's rather nice to not prepare a message, but to do a little theology-on-the-spot with our kids. My colleague once had a kid put in a Barbie-sized martini glass - which provided a chance to talk about the fun we can have when we follow Jesus.

Our box is a shoe-box, covered in paper that was spray-painted a nice copper color, and we'll probably continue to decorate it with stickers and such as time goes by. It was a great experience when we had several children in church, but when our children dwindled to two, I let "What's in the Box?" go for a while. But I kept the box. And now that we have at least eleven children associated with the church in one way or another, I knew it was time to bring it back.

Well, Abs got it first. Abs is a serious young thing, sincere and earnest and very intelligent. When she brought the box back to church this week, I was really excited to see what she had put in. It was a silver cross necklace, with little crystals imbedded in the cross. Given to her by her grandmother, it has quite a bit of sentimental value in addition to the obvious religious value. She said it reminded her of Jesus' death, and I pointed out it was also a sign of the resurrection (as it was not a crucifix). I also said that Jesus is the light of the world, and those crystals helped reflect that holy light into the world (Abs liked that). Finally, I asked if her grandmother's love, close to her heart, might help her remember God's love. She agreed it might. We all prayed, and then the kids went off to play.

Maybe you'll want to try this at your church. I suggest that if your church as 12 or fewer children (especially if there are multiple kids in one family) to do it monthly so families and kids don't get burned out, and so it will continue to be a "treat" for the kids. But if you have a lot of kids during children's time, maybe this is something you want to do weekly, to make sure everyone gets a turn in a timely manner. Also, a little "instant theology" is good for preachers and the church, and might be a good tradition to create.

Next month, at our church someone else gets the box. Will it be Sho-tee? The Diva? A kid I don't have a clever nickname for yet? You'll just have to wait and see. If you're in the area, summer worship is at 9:30am and you are most welcome to see this unfold live and in person!

Friday, June 05, 2009

More Stories...

...f the kind told by Andrew Sullivan can be found here.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

"It's So Personal"

Andrew Sullivan has some really amazing stories about people's abortion experiences.  In fact, I was up way too late last night reading all of them.  They are sad, hopeful, and from a variety of perspectives, including a gay couple and their surrogate.  Most of the stories have to do with late-term abortions, but one of the more recent ones concerned an early abortion.  (These are the two most recent stories posted by Sullivan, so if you are reading them in order, read them last.)

Here they are, mostly in order from earliest to latest.  They are worth the read.  This is also a nice summary of why Sully is doing this (offered by a reader), for which I heartily commend him.  One of the things that has annoyed me about him the most is his anti-choice position - he's such a conservative-in-the-mold-of-small-government-and-individual-responsibility that I find his view on abortion incongruous from that point of view.  What I appreciate most about Sully is that he's willing to be challenged on those beliefs and is open to change.  

The Catholic Mother - Not many priests, of any religious stripe, have the courage or grace to tell a family that "he believed we were not choosing our son's death, only choosing the timing of his death in order to spare him a great deal of suffering."  Wow.
A Tiller Patient - I think this one is my "favorite."  Poignant, and gives a full portrait of the man behind the rhetoric.
Serial Abortions, Ctd. - with a nice shout-out from Dan Savage.
Should Men Even Have a Say?  - an interesting perspective.
(The Gay Fathers) - also linked above
(What Guilt?) - also linked above

This is not all he's posted about abortion or the whole aftermath of Dr. Tiller's murder, but these tell real people's stories.  I am convinced that the more we hear the truth of these situations, the more we will see these issues as individual moral choices that should not be constrained by the government.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pray for the Methodists in Fiji

Apparently, the government there has ordered the Methodist Church there to cancel their annual meeting in August, contending that the church is trying to destabilize the military government.  "Inciteful issues" are going to be discussed at the conference, evidently.  What's more, their president says "no conference until politics leaves the pulpits."  Which is weird, because as a practicing Methodist, he should know that politics definitely has a place in the pulpits.  (I hate to think what would be the case if the UCC had a conference in Fiji - politics in the pulpits is pretty much our thing.)

That's why I want to give an "attaboy" to the Methodist Church if this is indeed true.  Church and government should be in tension with one another.  But pray for them nonetheless.  This cannot bode well for religious freedom in Fiji.

You can read more here.

Conspiracy? Or just Misogyny?

This whole Tiller thing has been disrupting my sleep and my prayer life. I am so very angry - at Dennis Roeder, at the violent "pro-life" fringe that endorses speech that incites violence, at those who willfully close their eyes to the real reasons women and families choose to have third-term abortions (hint: it isn't because a baby is "inconvenient" or unwanted). I'm even mad at Alveda King again - but that's a whole other story, and really doesn't have much to do with her, per se.

These fringe "pro-life" groups* that support, endorse, or at least don't condemn violence against abortion providers really confuse me with their lack of logic, though. So, their opinion is that these abortion providers are mass murderers. Okay, I totally disagree with that premise, but whatever, I'll roll with it for now. They think these "mass murderers" should be sent to jail for "murder."

What confuses me is why they don't think that the women who get abortions should go to jail for conspiracy to commit murder. After all, these women are paying someone to kill their baby, right? Now, I know that my law "degree" comes from the school of "Law and Order," but I'm fairly certain that paying someone to kill someone else is the very definition of conspiracy to commit murder. What's more, in a lot of places it's a capital offense.

If the life of an unborn fetus is equal to that of a one-year-old, or an elderly person, or Kobe Bryant, and if someone paid someone else to kill a child, or an elderly person, or Kobe, both the killer and the person who paid for that would be facing lethal injection by the state. So why doesn't the violent "pro-life" fringe call for the person who pays an abortion provider to terminate a pregnancy to also face the death penalty? Why is it only the abortion provider who's the target of rage and violence?

This is where well-meaning pro-life people talk about the poor, distraught woman coming in to a clinic in utter ignorance of her other choices, and being duped into "killing her baby." She's not a conspirator, she's another victim.

Sorry, FAIL. First of all, it's not so easy to get an abortion. You can't just walk in one day and have one. There's a pregnancy test, and counseling, and in many states, a required ultrasound. The counseling includes information on all the options available to a pregnant woman - abortion, adoption, and parenting. But honestly, really? In this day and age - women don't know their choices? Considering that the average woman who has an abortion is in her twenties with at least one other child, she probably has heard of what "abortion," "adoption" and "parenting" are at least once before. Even abstinence-only-until-marriage education probably talks about at least two of these choices (parenting and adoption).

It's amazing to me that in this day and age so many people - and especially women - will espouse this kind of garbage. It's so very misogynistic - "Oh, this poor woman, she is just not smart enough or rational enough to make this choice for herself." It's no wonder that one of the pro-choice slogans is, "If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a baby?"

A woman knows what she is doing when she chooses to have an abortion. She may have mixed feelings about it, she may even feel sad about it, but she also, most of the time, feels relief, because for whatever reason, continuing this pregnancy is not the right choice for her. But one thing she is not ignorant of is the results of her action - the termination of a pregnancy.

Since she knows what she's doing, and since the "pro-life" movement says that abortion providers = murderers, then women who pay for abortions MUST = conspirators to murder. It's logic, people!

Hearing this argument gain absolutely no currency in the "pro-life" movement, fringe or otherwise, leads me to believe that at its root this movement is not really about "preserving life" at all. It is not even about the equality of fetal life with life outside the womb. I am tempted to say it is about "making sure every baby conceived is born" and misogyny, but I'm not so sure that's true. Fundamentally, I think it's about controlling other people's lives and choices. Which seems so un-American to me.

* Not all pro-life groups condone violence, so I'm not talking about everyone who's pro-life. If you are pro-life and condemn this kind of speech or action, say so loudly and clearly. That puts you in the mainstream of the pro-life movement, and you won't get "scare quotes" around the designation when I talk about you.

"Pro-Life" Protesting - Across the Line, or Not Far Enough?

I've been trying to focus my attention on the relatively benign stuff that "pro-life" groups have been posting about Dr. Tiller this week, but I keep getting drawn back to people like Randall Terry, who called Tiller a "mass murderer" and others who think it is defensible to kill someone to prevent them from "killing more babies." There's so much wrong with all of this that I hardly know where to start.

But the bottom line is that abortion is a legal medical procedure. Does it end life? Yes, in my personal opinion, I would say that it does. Whether it is potential human life, nascent human life, or just plain "human life," how I answer depends on the day. Obviously, "pro-life" groups believe that it is human life, equal to your or my life, and it should be preserved - sometimes by any means necessary.

Protesting, of course, is the usual form of trying to preserve this life, either in front of clinics, or more appallingly, in front of providers' homes or places of worship. Now I've only had to walk through a protest line into a clinic once, and that was rather unintentially hilarious for reasons I won't address now. I can't imagine what clinic staff have to go through every day as they are confronted by protestors, nor what patients, after reaching the gut-wrenching decision to terminate a pregnancy, must feel, as they face such protestors. I know it's not fun for them. And it's probably less fun when it is not just at your place of employment, but also at your home and worship setting.

It's legal, of course, and I do so love the First Amendment that I'd hate to see protestors muzzled by the government. But I would like to see these "pro-life" activists be a little more consistent and complete in their campaign.

If the "pro-life" movement wants to do all it can to preserve life, why does it stop with abortion providers? Why not protest in front of prisons where executions take place? Why not protest at military bases? As far as doing what it takes to preserve life, "pro-life activists" should also protest in front of the homes and churches of executioners and doctors who preside at state-sponsored executions. They should protest in front of the homes and churches of soldiers who've killed people in war.

After all, these are two other legal things, permitted by the government, that result in the death of human beings - sometimes innocent human beings. And the whole point of the "pro-life" movement is that fetuses are of the same value as already-born people, right? So those who commit those acts are also murderers....aren't they? I mean, by the definition used by the pro-life movement, how can the answer be anything other than "yes"?

What? No? It's revolting and un-American that I would even suggest that? Huh. That's interesting. Why is my proposal so shocking and appalling, but what was done to Dr. Tiller is seen as acceptable, as putting an end to "murder"? People who execute prisoners and who fight in wars also have a choice about what they do. They didn't have to sign up for those jobs. They chose that career. Why doesn't the pro-life movement see these jobs as just as destructive to human life?

The fact that they don't says more about the kind of life they value than the fact that they supposedly value "human life." Turns out, only certain kinds of life are worth protesting for. And that protesting knows no limits or boundaries.

Frankly, I find this whole line of thinking appalling. I do not like war, nor do I support capital punishment. I've been to peace rallies, and while I've never been to a vigil on the night of an execution, that has more to do with opportunity than belief. And even though I disagree with protestors outside of abortion clinics, I support their right to do so. But I'd never dream of harassing those who do those jobs at their homes or their places of worship. That shows a profound disrespect for the basic humanity of that person, no matter how I may feel about their job, or even their belief system. Be "hard on issues, but gentle on people."

Or, as the apostle Paul said in Romans 12: 20, "No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Kill them with love and kindness, kids, not condemnation, or guns in the church.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Liturgy in Memory of Dr. Tiller

Here's a clip from a vigil in NYC, led by my good friend and colleague the Rev. Matthew Westfox. Will post the rest of his liturgy (with his permission) later.

Monday, June 01, 2009

In other news...

Dick Cheney, WTF?  One would hate to speculate that he has some sort of dread illness that is forcing him to repent of his earlier beliefs, but what else can explain this sudden change of heart vis-a-vis marriage equality?

When my brother-in-law (between Backbencher and I, we'll surely think of a clever nickname soon) texted me with this information, I was sure he was lying.  Because Dick Cheney made a real point of being a a real asshole - sorry, there's just no other word for it - about this issue when he was in office.

Maybe in the final throes of his publicity, he's trying to make headlines.  Or maybe he just realizes how a policy that denies equality denies the humanity of one of his own children.  

He may be an ally on this issue, but I'm still inviting him the Lambda Legal family picnic in Des Moines on July 18, 4-7 pm at the South Shelter of the Evelyn Davis Park (1400 Forest Avenue).  But I am inviting you!  Message me with your RSVP info - and kids are totally invited to this event.  You might even get to hear me speak.  (Okay, you definitely will get to hear me speak!)