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.

Worst sermon, ever!

I spent most of Sunday in a nursing home, vising my aunt. Given the possibilities in that loaded sentence, it was a pretty good day. She moved into a nursing home in the town where she’s lived for about 35 years, so now her longtime neighbors and church friends can stop by a little more often than when she was in the hospital.

And, I wasn’t alone this time, as my good friend, who comments here from time to time under the name Stella Artois, came along. That’s about the biggest understatement I could make about the day. You see, not only did Stella drive there and back but she happens to work as an occupational therapist at a nursing home, so she basically gave my aunt a free consult, as well as allaying my fears about what kind of place this might be.

My aunt is really doing quite well for a 93-year old woman who’s been in the hospital for almost 4 weeks. She’s mainly just weak from lying around all this time. So she was more than willing when Stella offered to help her sit up on the side of the bed — she seemed really really happy to be sitting up. She even stood for a couple of minutes — no small feat given what she’s been through. I think she can see a future of being mobile again, and having that kind of mindset will make all the difference at this point.

Stella and I gave ourselves a tour of the facility, and I was so glad she pointed out many positives about the equipment in use, the ways patients were being treated, the way the staff responded to our requests and those of the patients. If you have to be in a nursing home, this is a really good one, it seems.

But I’m not going to recommend to my aunt that she go to the Sunday afternoon service, despite the fact that she’s a former choir director, longtime member of the local Methodist church, and I know she misses the ritual of going to church every Sunday. But when Stella and I stopped by the dining room, we found find a local preacher delivering a sermon to an audience of residents in wheelchairs. Nice scene, until you listened to his words: “Do not be bitter.  Bitterness will stay in your heart. Bitterness if evil. You cannot live with bitterness.” Blah blah blah.

Holy crap. If anyone deserves the right to be bitter, it’s an old person who’s wearing a diaper, slumped over in a wheelchair, unable to reach for the lightswitch or to grab the phone. A person who cannot feed themselves, cannot bathe themselves, and who has basically lost every ounce if independence they ever had.  And here’s this tall, strapping young man, thumping his bible and telling them, “Don’t be bitter.”

Look, I don’t recommend being bitter, but if anyone has ever earned the right to be a little bitter, it’s these people. So they don’t need a lecture loaded with guilt for having a natural human reaction to their current state of affairs. They need a little compassion, a little understanding. So instead of listening to a totally irrelevant and unhelpful sermon from the “professional Christian,” I think I’ll recommend instead that my aunt spend some time with the local hairdresser, who donates her time to do hair at the nursing home. That’s the true Christian act here ….

Some Fat Tuesday humor to get you through the week

I know, I know — I said I’d write more posts, and here I am posting a video. But I recently came across this classic sketch from Rowan Atkinson giving a sermon, and well, it just seems a natural for this week. Enjoy!

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catholic, with a small “c”

Before I write anything else, let me remind/ tell you of my religious background: I consider myself a religious person, although I do not currently attend any one service regularly. But I was raised as what we like to call “a generic Protestant,” granddaughter to Baptist missionaries to China (you can buy our book here!), graduated high school from Sandy Spring Friends School. Although I don’t currently attend services anywhere, I have in the past been a regular at Friends Meeting, Unitarian Universalist, Disciples of Christ, and most recently an Episcopalian church. I have read about, studied, and attended services in many different religions, including: Catholic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Buddhism. I am an expert in none of them.

Call me catholic, with a small “c”.

So I present the following topic not as a criticism of any one religion, but as an examination of the structures of organized religion, in general. From the Washington Post’s “God in Government” column:

Intrigue over Shabbat Elevators

I’ve been fascinated by the whole controversy the past few weeks over Shabbat elevators, and it appears I’m not the only one. A series of stories the past few weeks at The New York Times, NPR, Religion New Service.

The Shabbat elevator, which often stops on every floor, began as a way for Jews to avoid pressing elevator buttons on the Sabbath — manual labor forbidden on that sacred day. But a few weeks ago, a group of highly influential rabbis in Israel issued a ruling prohibiting their use.


Since that Sept. 29 ruling, the change has been met by interest, confusion and a certain bit of angst. RNS story breaks down the rabbis’ deliberation and ruling this way:

The rabbis said they felt compelled to rule on the elevators after receiving “a written and oral technical opinion” from certified elevator technicians and engineers. It was made clear to us that in using these elevators, either in ascent or descent, direct activation is created regarding doing work according to the Torah,” the rabbis wrote. They noted that “the function of Shabbat-mode elevators change with technological developments.”

Although the decree did not specify exactly what the problem is, prior rabbinical debates have focused on whether the number and weight of passengers influences the elevators’ operation.

What fascinates me about this story is that is is such an outstanding example of the way modern religious institutions interpret rules that were written to guide  a society that was so completely different from the reality of today. While I understand the importance of tradition and ritual, I also wonder about allowing ourselves to lead our lives according to a human interpretation of what any religious person would call “the word of God.”

Does God really want us to spend energy creating ways around our interpretation of these ancient rules, such as creating a special elevator that works differently on the Sabbath? Wouldn’t She rather we go ahead and push the button of a “regular” elevator,  and then get on with the real stuff — you know, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, making the world a better place? The problem with taking these rules of society to the extreme like this (and yes — just about every organized religion does it somehow), is that you are allowing religious “leaders” to pick and choose what rules to follow and how to apply them in a world that could not have been conceived by the men who wrote them down thousands of yeas ago. (Nor even by the men who “re-interpreted” them in later centuries….)

What do you think?

Photo for Thought

I’m starting a new series, posting thought-provoking images that I comes across. I’m not going to say much about them, other than to cite a reference and perhaps give some context if needed. These will be images that have the power to make me stop and look, for whatever reason. Here’s the first installment:

Fervent Believers


“A settler tosses wine at a Palestinian woman on Shuhada Street in Hebron. The approach of some settlers towards neighboring Palestinians, especially around Nablus in the north and Hebron in the south, has often been one of contempt and violence.”

Photo: Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Note to MSM: Equal Marriage Advocates Are Out There

I suppose that people coming together is kind of, well,  “boring” to the mainstream media. So you may not have encountered this story in your travels:

Clergy Rally in Support Of Same-Sex Marriage

A diverse coalition of more than 100 clergy gathered in a Southeast Washington church yesterday to show their support for same-sex marriages in the District.

“We declare that our faith calls us to affirm marriage equality for loving, same-sex couples,” said the Rev. Dennis Wiley, pastor of the Covenant Baptist Church, as he stood in the pulpit of his church before religious leaders from all eight wards of the city.

The clergy, who have formed a group called D.C. Clergy United for Marriage and Equality, plan to challenge the efforts of a more conservative group of pastors who are pushing for a referendum on same-sex marriage. Last month, the D.C. Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and some council members plan to introduce a bill to allow the marriages to be performed in the District. Some members of Congress have said they will attempt to block same-sex marriage from becoming legal in the District.

I wish this story were getting more national coverage. There has been a lot of discouraging news in the LGBT world lately, and this kind of story can help to keep  us going in the fight for equal rights.

Read the rest of the story here.

“Defense of Marriage”: Ur Doin it Wrong

I have a quick message to all the right-wing fundies who are worried that their marriages are in danger: It’s not the gays’ fault! Your marriage may indeed be on shaky ground, but don’t blame that on me! The national divorce rate has hovered around 40-50% in the past decade. It’s because of:

Poor communication, financial problems, a lack of commitment to the marriage, a dramatic change in priorities, infidelity. Also, there’s: failed expectations or unmet needs, addictions and substance abuse, physical, sexual or emotional abuse  lack of conflict resolution skills.  (This is according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. I guess they would know.)

There’s a video being pushed out by a group called the “National Organization for Marriage” that I find incredibly confusing. In it, they have actors posing as real people and saying things like: “There’s a storm gathering … The clouds are dark, the wind is strong … And I am afraid…” I suggest you watch the video Pam’s House Blend, because she also has a link to a video response.

But if they are for marriage, then what is their issue with gays and lesbians being able to marry? I mean, isn’t the more of us married, the better? You know, if you are really for marriage?

But of course their not for all marriage, just their idea of a religious marriage.  So here’s where I heave a heavy sigh and say to them: “the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees the separation of church and state so that one religion does not hold power over the rest of the citizens of this nation.” You know, like this:

pie chart(Image totally stolen from Pam’s House Blend. Please go there now!)

Just Say No to Rick Warren

You know how therapists always like to say stuff like “Remember, you always have options”? (You know, not that I know anything about that personally, but, um,  that’s what I hear.) Anyway, they’re right. And on January 20, 2009, you have an option when Rick Warren begins to speak. Instead of listening to his lying words of  hypocrisy, visit The Alternative Invocation, where bloggers — some religious, some not — will be providing words of love and compassion and hope.

And in the meantime, please enjoy this video from BlueGal:

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I’m Feeling Disagreeable: It’s Not “Just” About Marriage

obama-and-rick-warren1If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you know that I write about a lot of different topics. And the reason I do that is because I realize that there are many, many important issues in our world today that cry out for attention. And yes, sometimes one issue is more urgent than another. However, I am increasingly fed up with people who tell me to “be patient” with President-elect Barack Obama’s policy decisions on gay rights, because he’s “got a lot on his plate.” I’m fed up because he’s not just ignoring gay (and therefore civil) rights because he’s too busy with other issues. He’s giving a pulpit to people who hate by inviting Rick Warren to deliver the invocation. And here’s why that matters:

Brutal gang rape of lesbian investigated in San Francisco Bay area

A woman in the San Francisco Bay area was jumped by four men, taunted for being a lesbian, repeatedly raped and left naked outside an abandoned apartment building, authorities said Monday.

Detectives say the 28-year-old victim was attacked Dec. 13 after she got out of her car, which bore a rainbow gay pride sticker. The men, who ranged from their late teens to their 30s, made comments indicating they knew her sexual orientation, said Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan.

This is not about marriage, or Proposition 8. This is about Barack Obama reinforcing that ugly part of our culture that says anyone who is “different” than us is a sinner and must be punished. This is the world of Rick Warren. This is the world of Barack Obama’s  choice to lead off the inaugural ceremony.

Why was this woman targeted?

Authorities are characterizing the attack as a hate crime but declined to reveal why they think the woman was singled out because of her sexual orientation. Gagan would say only that the victim lived openly with a female partner and had a rainbow flag sticker on her car.

Do you have any idea how frightening this is? Do not tell me to wait for Barack Obama to decide that he has the time to address my rights. We could be dead by then.

I cannot believe I am going to quote Richard Cohen here, but when he’s right, he’s right:

I can understand Obama’s desire to embrace constituencies that have rejected him. Evangelicals are in that category and Warren is an important evangelical leader with whom, Obama said, “we’re not going to agree on every single issue.” He went on to say, “We can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.” Sounds nice.

But what we do not “hold in common” is the dehumanization of homosexuals. What we do not hold in common is the belief that gays are perverts who have chosen their sexual orientation on some sort of whim. What we do not hold in common is the exaltation of ignorance that has led and will lead to discrimination and violence.

Finally, what we do not hold in common is the categorization of a civil rights issue — the rights of gays to be treated equally — as some sort of cranky cultural difference. For that we need moral leadership, which, on this occasion, Obama has failed to provide. For some people, that’s nothing to celebrate.

Please join me in signing a petition here to tell President-elect Obama that you are disappointed in his selection of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation. Personally, I think I’ll just stay home on January 20.