Friday, September 11, 2015

We are not a Christian nation. We're not even very Christian.

The United States is not now, and never has been, a "Christian nation."  This is a good thing. 

We are a secular nation, not a theocracy. This is a really good thing.

But if we ever needed proof that the people who make the loudest claims that we are a Christian nation aren't very Christian themselves, we are seeing it right now.

Today, this headline appeared in newspapers and in news broadcasts nation wide. 

Unless you've been in a cave, you must be aware of the refugees flooding into Europe as they flee the violence in Syria. You may have even wept over the heartbreaking photo of Aylan Kurdi, the  three-year-old child who was swept out of his father's arms and drowned. There are hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men in desperate need of succor.

And yet we, the richest nation in the world, decides to take in only 10,000 refugees? We should be ashamed of ourselves.

But where is the outcry of protest from the right wing Christian extremists that it's not near enough? 

Why are no Republican presidential candidates calling for a protest march on Washington? Why is there no House or Senate committee calling for an investigation of why we aren't taking in hundred of thousands of refugees?

Why isn't Kim Davis using her new found fame as a Christian martyr to join with Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to demand more aid for these refugees, clearly the "least among us"?

I ask because if there is one thing the bible is VERY clear about, it's God's call to welcome the stranger. It's even in Leviticus -- the only book of the Bible many of these folks appear to have read.

Leviticus 19:34 says The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

There is no mincing of words here. This is very clear. But Leviticus isn't the only place where Christians are commanded to welcome the stranger -- it's in several places in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures:
  • Deuteronomy 10: 19 You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.
  • Luke 10:27 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. 
  •  Matt. 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
  • Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 
  • Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor,    therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
  • Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
  • Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
  • Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
  • 3 John 1:5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that they may become co-workers with the truth.
  • Hebrews 13: 1 Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
  • Colossians 3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.
  • Matthew 25: 35 I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
  • Matt. 25:40 Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me.
And yet, there is no outcry. 

The right wing Christians are too busy oppressing their gay neighbors and despising the aliens among them who happen to be from Mexico, or even look as if they are from Mexico, or attacking their Muslim neighbors, or those who even look as if they might be Muslim, to care about some strangers in Europe.

So let's be clear. These are not the actions of Christians. These are the actions of people using the name and word of God as instruments of hatred and fear. 

And here's the bible verse that comes to mind as I watch and listen to them:

John 11:35: Jesus wept. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The "judge not lest you be judged" thingie

I am a Christian and I am sick to death of people using their "Christian" faith as a weapon of mass discrimination. People of all faiths are welcome to worship and live out their faith as they please, but they are not entitled to impose their religious beliefs on others -- not even recently famous would-be Christian martyr County Clerk Kim Davis.

Apparently Davis is fairly new to Christianity and apparently she is involved in an evangelical branch of the faith, which tends to be heavy on biblical literalism and light on theological study.

What disturbs me is that she clearly is being taught a Christianity based in fear, not love. Hence her overwrought claim that the act of issuing a marriage license to same-sex couples would endanger her immortal soul. She overlooks the whole "judge not lest you be judged" thingie.

According to news reports, Davis was pregnant with twins by her third husband before she was divorced from her first husband. Her second husband then adopted the twins. She later divorced the second husband and married her third husband, who she also later divorced to marry her fourth husband.

Are you following this so far?

According to her attorneys, her divorces and remarriages happened before she became a Christian, and now all those past mistakes are forgiven and thus not relevant. But Jesus doesn't offer "get out of jail free" cards.

Being forgiven doesn't mean there are no consequences for one's behavior. Some measure of humility is called for, not smugness. Self-examination is good. Examination of the faults of others, not so much.

Jesus' forgiveness doesn't come with a license to judge others. In fact, Jesus is pretty clear about who gets to judge others, and it ain't Kim Davis. Just read Matthew 7:

7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

And there's that inconvenient thing Jesus says about looking at the speck in your brother's eye while ignoring the log in your own.
Still, while I think she should either do her job or resign, I also feel compassion for her. The faith that should be bringing her peace is instead clearly terrorizing her. Hence her talk of this being a "life or death matter."

But dear Ms. Davis, you don't have to make this so hard. You don't have to be so afraid.

See, here's the thing. God loves us all. No exceptions.

The Jesus you follow said that the two great commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. In these two commandments lie all the law and the prophets.

God loves you. God loves you now. God loved you when you were getting divorced and remarried. God loved you when you had your twins. And God will love you even if you issue those marriage licenses.

Because God also loves those same-sex couples who are coming to your office seeking to get a license that will allow them to seal their commitment and mutual love in a marriage.

God IS love. Jesus taught that, again and again. So do not be afraid. It's not all on your shoulders.

God loves who God will love. You aren't on God's selection committee. 

Indeed, you're supposed to be part of the welcoming committee.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Happy birthday, National Park Service!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. You can read more about it here.

If we are very very lucky, one hundred years from now our descendants will still be able to visit our nation's fabulous national parks -- unless the Republicans manage to sell them off for oil drilling or other development. This, despite the fact that both Republican and Democratic voters have consistently supported protecting these treasures and the jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefits they provide.

In March of this year, the United States Senate voted 51 to 49 to support an amendment to a nonbinding budget resolution to sell or give away all federal lands other than the national parks and monuments. What does that mean? According to the New York Times, "It means that should the measure ever be implemented, hundreds of millions of acres of national forests, rangelands, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and historic sites will revert to the states or local governments or be auctioned off."

Think about that for a minute -- the states having control of these national treasures. The thought is enough to make Texans shudder.

The Senate action was followed by a 228-to-119 vote in the House of Representatives approving another nonbinding resolution that said, according to the Times, “the federal estate is far too large” and voiced support for reducing it and “giving states and localities more control over the resources within their boundaries.” Doing so, the resolution added, “will lead to increased resource production and allow states and localities to take advantage of the benefits of increased economic activity.”

As the Times pointed out, the measures were "symbolic," but "they laid down a marker that America’s public lands, long held in trust by the government for its people, may soon be up for grabs."

Indeed, if Republicans had had their way, we wouldn't have the national parks we do have. I was reminded of their historic short-sightedness regarding our national patrimony this summer when my husband and I took a week to drive through parts of Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to visit his nephew and to see Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons national parks again.

It brought home once again just how amazingly beautiful parts of our country are, and how fragile their well-being is in the face of greed and politics.

 It was instructive to read the history of the establishment of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons parks. I did so while we were in Jackson, Wyoming, a small city whose continued existence was assured by the establishment of those two parks -- something the residents opposed with all their being at the time.

Congress created the Teton Forest Reserve out of land not included in the Yellowstone National Park in 1897. By 1918, some in Congress were offering bills to create a larger protected area by expanding Yellowstone southward to include the Teton Range and northern portions of Jackson Hole. But local residents fought tooth and nail to defeat these efforts, calling it a land grab by the government.

In 1929 the central peaks of the Teton Range and six lakes at their base officially became the Grand Tetons National Park. It covered an area only a third of its present-day size. It did not protect a complete ecosystems nor did it protect mountain views from development in the valley.

Enter John D. Rockefeller Jr. In 1926 he toured the area with Yellowstone superintendent Horace Albright. Albright believed the beauty of the Jackson Hole country would be ruined by for-profit development. Rockefeller agreed. Congress was deadlocked on the issue, largely due to the steadfast opposition of the locals. So Rockefeller formed a company and bought up 35,000 acres of farm and ranch land with the goal of donating it for an expanded park. But congressional and local opposition kept the government from accepting the gift for 15 years.

Finally Rockefeller forced the issue by threatening to sell off the land. President Franklin Roosevelt responded by using a presidential proclamation to create the Jackson Hole National Monument, a 221,000 acre tract of valley lands around the Snake River. Creating a monument didn't require congressional approval like the creation of a national park would. Only Congress can establish new national parks. But the 1906 Antiquities Act, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, allows presidents to declare federal lands "national monuments," which enjoy similar protections. Nearly every president since then has used the law to set aside lands.

When Franklin Roosevelt used it, local resident fumed. The State of Wyoming filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service in an attempt to overturn the proclamation. It failed in court.  (Sound familiar, Texans?) Then Western congressmen lobbied to withhold maintenance funding from the Interior Department's budget.

In spite of their best efforts, they weren't able to undo it. And today, of course, everyone acknowledges that the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are a huge economic engine for the region, driving the main (practically only) industry in and around Jackson of serving tourists, hikers, skiers, hunters, and campers. The parks generate millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses each year.

This summer President Barack Obama established five new national monuments, including the new Waco Mammoth National Monument in Texas, where archaeologists discovered the remains of 24 Columbian mammoths that died 65,000 years ago.

The reaction from some Republicans?

"President Obama has shown complete disdain for Congress and the people of Nevada, California and Texas," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said.

But Waco officials -- not exactly a bunch of liberals -  beg to differ. Local Waco officials have been lobbying to get the federal government to do this for years, being well aware of the financial bonanza a national park can be to local economies. Even the "small government" crowd in Austin has been conspicuously silent about this.

In Northern California, the president's action set aside 330,780 acres of mountains, meadows and other remote areas from Napa to Mendocino County as the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. It is comprised of land owned by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other government agencies. It is home to bald eagles, black bears and tule elk, and is now the second-largest national monument in California. A study by the Napa Chamber of Commerce and Winters Chamber of Commerce found it would generate $26 million in new revenue from tourism over five years.

Another new monument is the 704,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument, 110 miles north of Las Vegas, which preserves pioneer ranching and mining sites, along with rare Native American rock art.

President Obama is in good company in creating these new National Monuments. Presidents have used the law to establish more than 140 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Arches in Utah, and Pinnacles in San Benito County.

And Congress would eventually upgrade all of these to national parks. But without that law, one can only imagine what might have happened to these glorious places.

So happy birthday, National Park Service. And thank you for protecting some of the best gifts this nation has for all its people to enjoy.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A racist Atticus Finch is us, white people. All of us.

Like most people, I love To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved Gregory Peck as Atticus. I loved Scout and Jem and Dill and Calpurnia and Boo Radley. I've lost count of how many times I've read it, or watched the movie.

And I plan to read Go Set a Watchman. But like way too many others, I will not be devastated to read that Atticus turns out to be a racist in his old age. Why?

Because Atticus was a racist in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yes. He was. So was Scout. And Jem. And Dill.

And so was every other white person in this nation then -- yes, even in the smug Northeast, from which many of these shocked and outraged book reviews are coming.

They couldn't help it. They were as immersed in the racism of this nation as fish are in water. And like fish that don't notice water until they are ripped from it, they didn't notice racism except when it threatened them -- or someone they cared about.

The characters in Mockingbird were immersed in what was perhaps a more blatant racism, but it differed only in degree from that of the rest of the nation. And this is still going on today.

Because being a racist is not just being a violent bigot who wants to lynch black men who dare to look at -- or worse, pity -- white women. Being a racist is taking part in and benefiting from-- either passively or actively -- the systemic oppression of an entire people simply because of their skin color. It's not just waving a Confederate flag, or using the N-word. Racism is being able to not even notice white privilege. It's assuming white children have an innocence that black children do not. It's according a dignity to white people of any age that is too often denied to black people of any age.

Ever wonder why Atticus' maid, Calpurnia, comes in the back door of the house instead of the front door? Because she's a Negro. Note that in the cast of characters, she and another black woman, Lula, are the only people without last names. And even little girl Scout and saintly Atticus call the adult maid by her first name while their white neighbor is called Miss Maudie. And while Miss Maudie is pretty open-minded, even she gives thanks for not being born a black person:

"The handful of people in this town who say that fair play is not marked White Only; the handful of people who say a fair trial is for everybody, not just us; the handful of people with enough humility to think, when they look at a Negro, there but for the Lord's kindness am I."

When Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem with her to her church, Scout asks, "Cal, why do you talk nigger-talk to the—to your folks when you know it's not right?"

Atticus is assigned to defend Tom Robinson, he doesn't volunteer to do it. But once assigned, it's more his ingrained sense of justice -- and his own self-image -- that causes him to put on a real defense as much as any outrage at the racism inherent in the case.

Remember the famous courtroom scene, when Scout sneaks into the balcony? All the black people are forced to sit up there, yet a little white girl and boy are allowed to be there too, while any little black girl or boy who tried to sit downstairs would have been thrown out. And while Scout calls Calpurnia, an adult Negro woman, by her first name, Scout, a white child, is called Miss Jean Louise even by the Reverend Sykes, the respected Negro pastor.

None of this strikes Scout or Jem-- or her father -- as strange.

Tom Robinson is called Tom, not Mr. Robinson, by Atticus. But he calls Atticus "Mr. Finch." Neither finds this strange. And even Atticus knew the best he could do for Robinson was to give him the strongest defense possible in the face of a preordained guilty verdict. Even though Robinson clearly could not have done what he was accused of, it didn't matter. Race trumped justice. Bob Ewell and his daughter may be trash, but they are WHITE trash, and that makes all the difference.

But when white trash Bob Ewell attacks Scout and Jem, and is knifed to death by the reclusive Boo Radley, a white man, Atticus, along with everyone else accepts it when the sheriff announces that Ewell fell on his own knife -- even though everyone (including the sheriff) knows Boo Radley did it. Here class trumps justice. An upper class, if reclusive, white man kills a trashy poor white man. No big deal.

It was all part of the racism and classism of the South and of all the United States, then, and now.

So get over your shock about Atticus, white people. He is us. All of us.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Texas Democrats - the party for sane Texans

Not too long ago the Republican governor of Texas added his gubernatorial credibility to the paranoid fantasies of extremists that the federal government was going to invade Texas under the guise of a military exercise. He seriously ordered the Texas State Guard to keep on eye on the U. S. Armed Forces to "protect Texans' rights and property," which brought up this mental image: 

This was just about the last straw in a huge bale of crazy for me. I created a new Facebook avatar and a bumper sticker:

I just wanted to remind the world that there ARE some sane Texans. I think there are LOT of sane Texans. In fact, I think there are more sane Texans than there are insane Texans. A lot of those sane Texans are Democrats, but believe it or not, there are sane Republicans as well. And certainly Independents. And all Libertarians think they are sane, right?

So when I was invited to speak to the Northeast Tarrant County Democrats on Flag Day, June 14, I decided to share my idea with them:

Let’s reboot the Texas Democratic Party as the party of sane Texans.

And here are my admittedly rough draft thoughts of what the Sane Democratic Party will do:

  • We will advocate for automatic voter registration upon a Texan's 18th birthday. 
  • We will work to make voting as convenient as texting – although we won’t let you do it while you are driving. 
  • We will support the police by holding rogue officers accountable, because one bad officer can undermine public confidence in police much faster than 50 good officers can build it up. 
  • We will work to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline by working with school districts to keep police out of school disciplinary matters. 
  • We will opt out as much as possible of the incredibly wasteful expensive and useless War on Drugs, and instead put resources into education and regulation, much as we do with alcohol now. 
  • We will acknowledge that most Texans are people of faith. We won’t patronize or condescend to them. We will honor the First Amendment by keeping the state out of religion and religion out of legislative matters. 
  • We will proclaim that freedom of religion means the freedom to practice your faith and live out your beliefs. It does not mean the right to impose your religious beliefs on everyone else through the force of law. 
  • We will respect rural Texans, listen to them, and engage them in policy decisions while at the same time working with urban areas to meet their needs. 
  • We will acknowledge most Texans grew up around guns. We will talk sensibly about this but we won’t pander. The Second Amendment should be respected, not fetishized. Guns should be regulated as least as much as cars are – people have to pass a test to be licensed. Guns, like cars, aren’t appropriate in all places. More guns make us less safe, not more.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Let's Play Godball!

If you've read this blog for any length of time at all, you will remember sermons by my friend Bruce Coggin. I've hosted several of his sermons here.

The great good news is that he's now published a book of sermons preached from 2009 to 2014. They were preached as he served several congregations who were displaced from their buildings after the split in our diocese, as well as at a couple of other parishes. They are funny, moving, thoughtful, surprising, and down to earth in the way only a guy with a genius IQ from Bowie, Montague County, Texas, can commit. 

These sermons fed the souls of people who were displaced, hurting, and feeling pretty alone. They helped these folks heal, they empowered them, and they sent them out to offer that healing love to the parts of the world in which they found themselves.

But here's the thing. You don't have to like sermons to love this book. You just have to like great writing and story telling. These are the work of a GREAT story-teller.

Let's Play Godball! Unorthodox Sermons by a Circuit Rider Episcopal Priest from Middle Texas is available at Amazon.

The Foreword is by the Rt. Rev. Sam B. Hulsey, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas.

Owanah Anderson, long time senior warden at All Saints’, Wichita Falls, writes in a cover blurb, “Hearing Bruce Coggin preach is an energizing, enlightening experience. His loving use of language – sometimes homespun, sometimes scholarly erudite – awakens one with a jolt: ‘Hey, I knew that! How come I’d not already tooled those words into my own thinking?’ And you carry home the concept and count it as your own treasure.”

Friday, November 07, 2014

Rebooting the Democratic Party in Texas

The Texas Democratic Party needs to reboot. Here is a start at some things I suggest they think about:

Democrats, PLEASE don't act like God doesn't exist. A LOT of people in Texas are people of faith, whether you like it or not. Our faith informs our politics, so don't discount that, and for God's sake, don't patronize or condescend to us.

Texans who live in rural areas aren't idiots. They are conservative the way people who make their livings from the land are conservative. They are pragmatic conservatives, and for the most part, they aren't mean spirited. They are usually whip smart and endlessly inventive -- how do you think they'd manage to wrest out a living in rural Texas otherwise? Respect them and their way of life and they will listen to you.

Keep it positive and keep it real. Don't make promises you can't keep. Acknowledge that most Texans grew up around guns and that MOST of them, like me and others, learned sensible rules about how to act around guns. I personally am not a gun owner, but people I love and respect are. Talk sensibly about this -- don't pander.

Talk about what this state needs. An educated work force is an economic issue. Companies moving here need skilled workers. If our school systems can't provide that, they will move elsewhere.

A healthy work force is an economic issue. Sick people can't work. Access to health care for everyone is an economic driver. Invest in it.

Women being able to control their reproductive lives is an economic issue. There aren't enough men to fill all the jobs so, yes, women will be needed. Safe contraception also helps prevent unwanted pregnancies and thus reduces abortions.

Job safety is an economic issue. Having workers die on the job is not only immoral, but it costs money to retrain a replacement. Talk about these things in ways that the most conservative business person can "get," in ways that relate to their lives.

If our roads and infrastructure are falling apart, goods and services can't be safely delivered. INVESTMENT in these things is an economic driver, not a tax burden.

Poverty, not race, not political party, not even quality of schools, is the greatest driver of the most common problems in our state. It's related to failure to thrive, to failure in school, to the likelihood of ending up in prison. Poor people are NOT the enemy. Pragmatic compassion means investing in ALL Texans, not just those above the poverty line.

Rich people are not the enemy. Treat them with the same respect you do others -- the same respect. Don't pander to them, and don't dismiss them.

Young people are not "the future." Young people are HERE RIGHT NOW. Listen to them. They are drawn to the relevant and the authentic. Don't just go for their energy. Seek out their ideas, their dreams. And here's a thought -- Respect them.

Technology is not the answer to everything. It's a tool that makes life hugely more convenient but it is RELATIONSHIPS that matter in politics, particularly in Texas politics. There aren't six degrees of separation in Texas, as huge as this state is. For many of us, if you diss some of us, you diss us all.

Pay your civic rent. Work at the local level. Get involved in your city halls and your school boards, Then work your way up. But for Pete's sake, get people to run for office at all levels. We can't vote for Democrats if no Democrats are running.

OK. What else?

From comments on Facebook:

From Cindy Wood:  If there is no water, there should be no big companies moving here with lots of employees and more housing needs. Job creation is one thing. However, the drought is so destructive to those in the rural areas you talk about, as well as parks and recreation, that all of Texas loses anytime another 100, 1000, 10,000, 100,000 people start drinking and bathing and watering their grass. There is no water for growth.

From Terry Evans: Find a way to separate issues of fairness and economic good sense from emotional and philosophical prejudice in people's minds. For instance, if we could get regular folks to look at gay marriage and marijuana legalization (at least medical) without filtering the issues through culture-tinted glasses, maybe they would see there's no valid reason to oppose them, and many good reasons to allow them.

From Diane Morrison Snow:  We need to let people know about how many Texans now have health insurance that are very proud to have it . And we need to expand Medicaid and get that money that other states are getting because we turned it down. We got Ann Richards in .. We can get another Democratic governor in! 

From Thomas Baker: News flash: Some Dems are persons of faith or religion who simply believe in separation of church and state. They sometimes get brief from both sides: their faithful church friends and their faithful political friends. Abortion is a real dividing line nowadays with Catholics. If you are a Dem your Catholic friends and the church probably see you somehow as heretic if not demonic because you support candidates from the perceived abortion party. I personally abhor abortion. I see the side that government has power to make some laws and I see that women have rights to make medical decisions regarding their bodies with their doctors. To me abortion was the unspoken elephant in the room in this gubernatorial election.