as close as i get to a religious post

The past few days have been wrapped up in some dumb workplace drama, but I breathed a heavy sigh yesterday morning and let most of my anxious energy go as I drove in to work, and thanks to Taylor Swift, I had “players gonna play, play, play, play, haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate. Shake it off” running through my brain for most of the morning.

I am generally a positive person but good lord it is so easy to sucked into the negative. Sometimes it seems there is nothing around me but the negative — both the petty little things at work and the horrible big things in the world. How to find the balance? At work I try to “lean in” and I practically get my head chopped off. I think “leaning in” correctly requires an incredible amount of self knowledge — I sometimes joke that I’m going to “channel” a couple of different people whenever I have an interpersonal challenge ahead of me. My brother, aka “Mean Dave,” is one. A successful career, I think he’s gotten where he is today through both his smarts and his aura of confidence. (He once made my dog pee on the floor just by saying “Dog.”) Which is not to say he doesn’t have his own insecurities or worries, because I know he does, just like everyone else. And he’s really not mean, but he often does not sugarcoat his opinions. But we each need to be true to ourselves, as corny as that sounds, and what Mean Dave does will not work for me. On Good Friday, I found myself thinking about how many people hide behind religion as a way to cover their own insecurities and therefore their actions. Which is very different that those who live out their religion through their acts.

Before I started channel surfing and ended up listening to Taylor Swift, I heard  on NPR two very different stories about religion — frankly I was surprised that the striking differences weren’t mentioned when introducing either story. The particular religions mentioned in the stories don’t matter — you really could swap out any organized religion and it would be the same. First came the story of the murder of over a hundred young people simply because they did not believe in the same religion as the murderers. In the second story, the tenets of the religion to love everyone no matter how different led people to fight back against a discriminatory law. One set of actions borne out of fear, the other from love. Now, I don’t think of myself as a particularly religious person, although I would say I am very spiritual. But honestly most of my prayers consist of, in the words of Anne Lamott, “Please, please, please” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  But I do have a long line of ministers in my family, and I understand the good that can come from a religious person, and from a group of people organized around religion. (Time for a shameless promotion: A Golden Glow in the East, the collection of my missionary grandmother’s letters from China is available from Amazon.)

Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover, Solstice, or just the arrival of snowdrops in the front yard, this is a time of renewal and rebirth and fresh starts. Whatever your beliefs, I challenge you to be true to them each and every day, to be honest to yourself and to your beliefs. And also, when needed, to shake it off.

A killer of a different color

Because I tend to read a lot of “alternative” news sources, it took me a little while to realize that the MSM has not been giving much coverage to the recent killings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday. That is to say, they covered the event, and moved on.

But what if the killer was not named “Jim” but was instead named, oh, I don’t know — Abdul? Kamal? Hussein? I suspect we would be seeing stories nightly about how this shooting spree was planned and carried out. We would hear about every move the man made.

Instead, this is what we get from the Washington Post:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., July 28 — An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening fire and killing two people at a Unitarian Universalist church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies, including its acceptance of gays, police said Monday.

A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson’s SUV indicated that he targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church because “he hated the liberal movement” and was upset with “liberals in general, as well as gays,” according to Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV.

Oh, well then. And at the end of the story:

Court records from neighboring Anderson County indicate Adkisson threatened violence against his spouse several years ago.

Instead of simply reporting this case as one deranged individual and moving on, the MSM needs to look at what makes a white man in America feel oppressed. Rather, who makes this member of the most privileged sector of society feel oppressed. But perhaps that is asking too much, given the shades and genders of MSNBC, CNN, FOX, CBS, and ABC. We all saw how threatened the white male anchors were by the successful primary run by Hillary Clinton — people like Jim Adkisson are listening and reading, and believing these people.

I believe in free speech. But I also believe in responsible speech. And when the hatemongers of the right wing feed on sick and distraught individuals like Jim Adkisson, they have lost their right to free speech. IMHO.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

“There’s a whole category of mass killers who are seeking vengeance against a group of people who they feel are taking away their birthright, their opportunities, and making it difficult to succeed,” says Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, author of “Extreme Killing.” “They don’t see themselves as criminals, but … as striking a measure of justice, winning one for the little guy. This case may show that [Jim Adkisson] perceived that society has been bending backward to favor disenfranchised groups so they’re trying to get some justice for their own victimization.”

Why I need to "be there"

The horrific news of the killings at a Tennessee Unitarian Universalist church has hit me hard. Clearly the man who did the shooting was desperate and unbalanced, but why did he choose this place to begin shooting? According to the New York Times:

A man who the police say entered a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday and shot eight people, killing two, was motivated by a hatred for liberals and gay people, Chief Sterling P. Owen IV of the Knoxville Police Department said Monday.

So, was this a “gay” church? No. But according to Out & About, it had just put up a sign recently “welcoming gays to the congregation.”

Yes, “welcome” as in the “we are all God’s children” kind of welcome. Do you remember what I wrote on Sunday about the Episcopal church I’ve been attending?

However, the congregation at this church is a little bi-polar. On the one hand, the inside of the bulletin proclaims that “We welcome all ages and abilities, classes and cultures, races, genders, and sexual orientations.” Yet, in the monthly newsletter it’s reported that a group of 20 met to discuss questions of division and exclusion. The article says “All answers and/or experiences were positive. However, we did not commit to being included on the list of friendly churches for persons of other orientations.”

What will my neighborhood church do now? I mean, if they didn’t want to advertise being gay friendly before, they’re sure not going to be happy about it now. Probably, they’ll want the gays of the congregation to keep a low profile, not call attention to this church. You know, step back into the closet. Except the problem with that attitude is that we give up an important piece of who we are, while these hateful people still rule the airwaves:

Rush Limbaugh: “I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus — living fossils — so we will never forget what these people stood for.”

Melanie Morgan: “A great deal of good could be done by arresting Bill Keller having him lined up against the wall and shot.”

Ann Coulter:
LINDA VESTER (host): You say you’d rather not talk to liberals at all?
COULTER: I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days.

“Sock” Sokolowski, to Stephanie Miller:
As with Cindy Sheehan the best thing that could happen to you would be seeing some WONDERFUL activist sticking an AK-47 up your Glory Holes and sending you into eternity.

(List from Orcinus)

Don’t think these words have no effect:

Investigators said they found copies of “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder” by radio talk show host Michael Savage, “Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism” by radio and TV host Sean Hannity, and “The O’Reilly Factor,” by radio and TV host Bill O’Reilly.

On Sunday I wrote a long post about trying to decide whether I would continue attending this particular church now that the gay-friendly rector has left. I also wrote about the strange phenomenon wherein you seem to be in a place and time for a purpose. I think I’m beginning to understand it now.

Coincidence … or not?

I’m a big believer in fate. Not so much in looking ahead, but when I look back at my past, sometimes it’s just the only way to explain why things happened the way they did, or why I was at a certain place at a certain time. For example: once, many years ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning only to find that my coffee maker was dead. Completely and utterly dead, even though I had just used it the day before. So I decided to get dressed and walk the 2 blocks to the 7-11 to get a cup of coffee. It was early in the morning and this was a residential neighborhood, so there wasn’t any traffic and no one was out and about yet. So it took a moment for my mind to register that someone was saying very softly, “Help. Please help!”

Across the road I saw a man standing behind his station wagon. And as I walked over I saw that his hand was caught between the jack and the bumper. And his face was as white as a sheet. He had been changing his tire when the jack began to slip on the gravel, and he had reached in to stop it. Yeah, bad idea. I think he was aware of this at that point.

Despite those stories of super human strength at times such as this, I couldn’t move the car. So I told him I would run back to my apartment and call 911 (this was pre-cell phone days). As soon as I did that, I ran back again. And when a white panel van came up the street, I flagged down the driver, who happened to be a big burly guy. Between the two of us, we got the car up enough to get the guy’s hand out, just as the ambulance came screaming up the street.

Turns out I didn’t really need any caffeine to wake me up that morning!

In the years that have passed, I still think about that day a lot. Why did my coffee maker die on that morning and not the next? I read somewhere recently the description that “coincidence is God’s way of keeping a low profile.” Feel free to fill in the word “power of the universe” or however you see this. When you look back at your life, are there times where you wonder how you ended up where you are today? My life has been full of “one thing leading to another.”

And today I feel like I’m at a crossroads again. Or at least at another “guy with his hand in the jack” moment.

We went to church this morning because it was the very last service of the Rector who has helped us through this terrible time of losing Unnamed Partner’s brother John, to cancer. The Rector came to John, who in turn asked us to go to a Sunday service with him. We did, although we knew next to nothing about the Episcopal Church. But we’ve met some wonderful people in the congregation there, and participated in baking food for Movable Feast. We started to feel welcomed there. Losing the Rector has felt like losing John all over again, because she has been so important in our journey through the grieving process.

However, the congregation at this church is a little bi-polar. On the one hand, the inside of the bulletin proclaims that “We welcome all ages and abilities, classes and cultures, races, genders, and sexual orientations.” Yet, in the monthly newsletter it’s reported that a group of 20 met to discuss questions of division and exclusion. The article says “All answers and/or experiences were positive. However, we did not commit to being included on the list of friendly churches for persons of other orientations.”

So, you’re welcome here, we just don’t want to advertise it.

Unnamed Partner and I discussed this last night and went through a range of emotions. We tossed around the idea of getting a busload of queers for next Sunday. We talked about feeling like we’re being treated like second class citizens, and that maybe we should stop attending once the Rector is gone. But today after service when I had a moment with the Rector, I (a) thanked her for standing by the ordination of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson, and (b) told her that we would be watching to see what happens with the Episcopal Church and this congregation on this issue. And here is my moment of “fate”: she said, “have you met X? Because he is very interested in this also. He feels that he has been called here for this.”

So. I can stop going to this church. Or, I can continue to go, and work with X to engage members of the congregation in this issue of acceptance and inclusion. I can be there. Just be there. Because as every gay and lesbian knows, the majority of the people in our lives who still say they’re “not comfortable” with homosexuality will be the first ones to say “oh, but you’re different — you’re normal.” It’s the best way to battle discrimination — to be present in people’s lives so that they have to face the reality of what they’re saying when they say they don’t believe in equal rights. I am the reality. In all my boring ordinary life -iness.

So. To be continued, no doubt.

Is God laughing at me? ‘Cause I know she has a sense of humor … but this is has got me perplexed

In the past few weeks, I have found a wonderful church where I feel welcome, only to find out that the Reverend is leaving at the end of this month. I’ll continue to attend this church as it transitions, but I must tell you that a major reason for attending was this wonderful Rector. Case in point was today.

In this, her next to last (fancier people would say “penultimate”) sermon, she spoke of reconciliation. Because you see, the senior Anglicans from around the world are meeting right now in England, but a number of them are in a tizzy because in 2003 the Episcopal church got all crazy and ordained an openly gay bishop. And the world ended. And they’re upset. In fact, many senior Anglicans are boycotting the meeting. Some even want to split off from the church.

And in 2003, which was before I started attending this church, my Rector stood before her congregation and said “The Episcopal Church did the right thing.” And a third of the congregation left for good. She’s been slowly rebuilding the congregation ever since, and I guess it’s often been a struggle. But as she’s moving on, she left us this morning with this parable:

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while he slept, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the weeds appeared, the laborers asked the farmer “Do you want us to go and gather the weeds?” but the farmer says no, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest.”

Okay, so what you say. Unless that is, you happened to read the post on Friday over at FranIAm’s place, which included this paragraph:

But the scripture is there and won’t go away. In the face of all that, Jesus tells us a parable: “Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?” the laborers in the story ask the farmer about the bad seed “an enemy had sown.” The answer, at a time of great change and deep reflection, ought perhaps to give us great pause: “No,” the scripture answers, “because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them.” We pulled up a lot of wheat with the excommunication of Martin Luther and the reformers, for instance, and have been trying to repair those exclusions ever since. Surely this is no time to start doing the same kind of thing again. Surely we have learned better by this time. Surely we don’t want to do it to one nun whose only crime is a question and in whom the people see a minister of uncommon quality. Maybe we ought to “leave some chaff and grain to grow up together” for a while longer until we can see clearly which is which.

I often read Fran’s blog, though I rarely comment. It’s the kind of blog that makes me want to go think about what I want to say, and by that time, I’ve gotten distracted by something else. But the point is, she’s made me think long and hard about issues of spirituality.

Yeah, she’s good.

So anyway, I’m trying to let go of one of the few “truly” Christian people I’ve met in an awfully long time, and I’m trying to understand why other “Christians” feel threatened by a gay bishop in their church.

And, I’m trying to understand the parable of the weeds and the wheat in my life. So there’s some food for thought on a Sunday night!

So, Sue J, what’s going on?

We have hit the ground running since we got back from vacation. The top of Killington Mountain seems like a distant memory. *Loud sigh*

As you may remember, just before we left we had a bit of a plumbing catastrophe that we uncovered in our innocuous remodeling of the upstairs bathroom. Well, $500 later and three plumbing issues have been resolved. So yesterday Unnamed Partner and I finished laying down the subfloor and the backerboard. Thats sounds like so little work, but when you factor in the 98 degree heat outside and the fact that we just have window AC units, the number of times we had to go down to the basement for this tool or that, or carrying pieces of subfloor (plywood) and backerboard (which is really heavy) upstairs. (Oh yeah, and the requisite trip to Home Depot in the middle of everything.) We were so beat that we actually fell into bed before it was dark outside. And when I say we “fell into bed” it’s not quite like the old days. We were both asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

If you want romance on a Saturday night, don’t renovate a bathroom all day long.

But, I’m skipping over the fact that Unnamed Partner treated us to Indian carryout, and that I had my all time favorite comfort food, Chicken Korma, accompanied by a delicious Bass Ale. What is it about hard physical labor that makes good food and good beer taste all that much better?

I know this post sounds a bit random, but I guess I’m trying to explain why my recent posts have not been very substantive. I haven’t been very good about scheduling my time lately, so emails have gone unanswered and posts just roll around in my head.

We’re headed off to church in a few minutes, and I know I will have some things to write about when we get back. It’s an Episcopal Church in our neighborhood that we started attending when Unnamed Partner’s brother, known to the blog world as Scepter66, began to lose his battle with pancreatic cancer. The priest, a woman, came to visit him and we all just fell in love with her. Well, she’s leaving this church this month and moving to Connecticut. And I just found out recently her history with this particular congregation before we started attending. Seems she stood up and publicly backed the Episcopal Church’s decision to ordaining a gay man as bishop — and a third of the congregation left. She’s been trying to rebuild the congregation ever since.

Parsley, rage, xenophobia, and time

Yes, “time.” As in air time, of which this story has received very little in the MSM. However, from the MotherJones article, McCain’s Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam, we have this:

Senator John McCain hailed as a spiritual adviser an Ohio megachurch pastor who has called upon Christians to wage a “war” against the “false religion” of Islam with the aim of destroying it.

Parsley, who refers to himself as a “Christocrat,” is no stranger to controversy. In 2007, the grassroots organization he founded, the Center for Moral Clarity, called for prosecuting people who commit adultery. In January, he compared Planned Parenthood to Nazis. In the past Parsley’s church has been accused of engaging in pro-Republican partisan activities in violation of its tax-exempt status.

So, how does Parsley really feel about Islam? In his own words:

I cannot tell you how important it is that we understand the true nature of Islam, that we see it for what it really is. In fact, I will tell you this: I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.

Some McCain loyalists argue that no candidate can be held responsible for what all of their supporters say. True enough, Clinton, Obama, and all the others have all had their share of supporter-foot-in-mouth disease. But Parsley is not just another supporter — just as Reverend Wright was not just another supporter of Obama. Reverend Parsley has had a long relationship with McCain, and McCain has described him publicly as “one of the truly great leaders in America,” “a moral compass,” and a “spiritual guide.”

McCain was one of the first to demand that Barack Obama denounce the Rev. Wright. Now McCain has been forced to do the same with Rev. Parsley and Ref. Hagee. The difference? Are you getting tired of hearing about Parsley? No? Of course not, because it has not been covered day and night by every major news outlet, the way the Rev. Wright story was covered.

Personally, I don’t think Obama holds any of the same views espoused by Rev. Wright. I think he sat in that church for 20 years as a future political candidate, gathering a reputation in a popular African American church. I doubt McCain holds the outrageous views of Hagee and Parsley, either. He is a politician first and foremost, and I think he’s trolling for votes wherever he can find them. It’s a shame that he’s trolling amongst the bottom feeders, but even more shameful is the fact that the press is giving this story such little attention.

Recommended read: If Obama can throw his pastor under the bus, what will he do to us?

If you’re like me, you’re still trying to get a handle on Barack Obama’s speech yesterday. Was it a “profile in courage” or was it “politics as usual”? As you sort through it all, I encourage you to read this post over at Bilerico Project:

If Obama can throw his pastor under the bus, what will he do to us?
by Rev Irene Monroe

When the religious narrative you tell about your life to the American public is revealed to be vastly different than the one you actually lived, you have more than a credibility problem – you have a dilemma as Obama is finding out.

And the dilemma is not just that Obama’s religious narrative is fictitious, but so too is the media spin on his pastor.

While the moral high ground to address the public’s shock with Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s condemnations on America’s foreign and domestic polices appeared to be Obama’s address on race, Obama actually ran aground with many African American Christians by anchoring the public’s outrage and his fear of losing the presidential bid on the back of one of this nation’s most revered African American ministers.

“He’s used Jeremiah, and Trinity is his strongest base. He handled the media abysmally, and the uncle reference was demeaning. Many of us said we saw it coming,” a member from Trinity told me in anonymity not to have the press come after him.

Rev. Wright was the man who brought Obama to Christ, presided over his nuptials baptized him and his daughters, and was the inspiration for his bestseller, The Audacity of Hope.

And while Obama has now denounced Rev. Wrights’ incendiary remarks, after twenty years of hearing them, suspicion nonetheless still surfaces about his professed faith as a Christian.

As a central, powerful and revered institution within the African-American community, the Black Church captivated Obama’s attention. He says he came to understand “the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change.” However, how much Obama really covets the power of the Black Church for his own political aggrandizement, rather than for its religion, now raise questions in the minds of many black Christians since his address.

While MSNBC talk-show host Tucker Carlson was the first to publicly suggest Obama’s faith is “suddenly conspicuous,” suggesting that Obama has only recently begun addressing his religious background as part of “a very calculated plan on the part of the Democratic Party to win” religious voters in the 2008 presidential race, the suspicion is now looming even larger.

If Obama, however, is indeed using religion to win votes, he unfortunately placed himself in a difficult quagmire – not only with LGBTQ and liberal voters, but also by still being a member of Trinity. Why? Because he worships in a conservative black church within a liberal denomination. And Trinity is provisionally opened to the idea of same sex marriage.

In July 2005, the UCC General Synod overwhelmingly passed a Resolution of Marriage Equality. But in August 2005, Wright spoke against the Synod’s position causing many LGBTQ parishioners to leave.

Read the rest of the story here.

So, while yesterday’s speech was a glorious example of Sen. Obama’s oratorical skills, I still don’t know where he stands on issues of basic equality for all Americans. In stating that Rev. Wright provides him with spiritual guidance, Obama only undercuts his message of unity and hope for all Americans, and adds further murkiness to his positions.

The more I find out about Barack Obama, the less I know what he stands for.

Infidels in the pews

To pick up from my last post, my biggest problem with organized religion is the level of intolerance exhibited by most of the major ones. You think I mean intolerance of gays, music, drinking, and dancing? (I know, that sounds like a fun party, right? Maybe some jello shots, too?) No, silly — I mean intolerance of any dissenting view. As in any view that is not in agreement with the church “leaders.” From the Wall Street Journal:

On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. “And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P.”

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff’s officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey’s real offense, in her pastor’s view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he’d charged her with spreading “a spirit of cancer and discord” and expelled her from the congregation. “I’ve been shunned,” she says.

A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church’s lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.

So, what on earth, you ask, did this lawn-mowing, Sunday-school-teaching grandmother do to warrant such treatment? I mean, clearly she has been devoted to this church for her entire life, supporting it both spiritually and monetarily.

The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church’s charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church’s quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church’s bylaws. “She’s one of the nicest, kindest people I know,” says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. “But she won’t be pushed around.”

I see, so the church has established bylaws, and she was insisting that the preacher follow them. Where have I heard this before? An established and recognized constitution, which the leaders simply ignore?

Mrs. Caskey has been arrested twice on “trespassing” charges for attending the church where she has been a member for 50 years. The good news, after her second arrest:

Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.