Friday, April 01, 2016

Trump, Conservative Smoke Screens, and Uppity Women

Please spare me all the conservative outrage over Donald Trump's statement that, if abortion was banned -- and he said it should be -- women should be punished for having abortions.

Oh, NO, the anti-abortion crowd shouted, we NEVER said a woman should be punished, just the providers. The woman is a VICTIM.

What total bullhockey. What Trump did was what his supporters claim to love -- he said out loud what everyone in the anti-abortion movement thinks. And that was his crime. He violated the "political correctness" smokescreen the anti-abortion movement has piled up around itself to prevent people from noticing that the inevitable end point of all their efforts is jailing women for having abortions. Hell, they are already jailing women for having miscarriages.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times didn't miss the real reason for the anti-abortion folks' panic at what Trump said: ". . .the episode does highlight two basic problems for the anti-abortion movement.

"First, as long as the focus is on the fetus or on the claim of 'protecting women,' many in the public are sympathetic to the anti-abortion view. The moment the focus shifts to criminalizing women, sympathy shifts."

And there's a reason the anti-abortion crowd doesn't want the American people to think about criminalizing women. It's their Holy Grail, the personhood bill. Which criminalizes women.

Read more here:
These are the bills that declare a fertilized egg a human being, with all the legal protections afforded a human being after birth. These bills by default declare every woman of childbearing age a potential criminal, because women often lose pregnancies before they've even realized they are pregnant. Women's bodies shed fertilized eggs for all sorts of reasons that doctors know about. The woman may only experience a heavier than usual period, never knowing she was pregnant. Miscarriages happen early in pregnancy all the time. These laws will mean that every woman who miscarriages will be subject to arrest as a suspected murderer.

American people don't like the idea of young women being handcuffed and jailed for seeking to end a pregnancy, much less for having a miscarriage (even though that is already happening, mostly to poor women of color). And the last thing the anti-abortion folks want is graphic evidence of their very real utter and complete disdain for women as anything other than incubating vessels for fetuses. But even as they uttered their "outrage" and even as Trump retreated, that disdain for women was unmistakable.

Many anti-abortion activists claimed that what Trump said flies in the face of what the pro-life movement is about. For them,  they claim, it’s not about punishing women, but about helping them and promoting the sanctity of life. Sarah Torre of the Heritage Foundation tweeted:

Every woman and child has dignity and worth. Pro-life movement offers support, hope, healing to those caught in a culture that devalues life

In walking back his statement, Trump said, "If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman," Trump said. "The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed -- like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions."

Ted Cruz said, "On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother – and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life. Of course we should’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.”

Oh, please. There's enough mendacity and misogyny mixed up in these reactions to make one puke.

Point One:

The entire anti-abortion movement is all about punishing women:
  • for having sex
  • for daring to assert autonomy over our own bodies
  • for taking control of our own medical decisions
  • for taking control of our reproductive decisions
Here is just one example of how their laws to "protect" women punish them.

Here are the hoops a woman has to jump through to get a legal abortion in Texas, all of them medically unnecessary.

Here is a story about the suit about these punitive laws.

And when you make it impossible to get a safe, legal abortion, women will find other, more dangerous, options. But the anti-abortion folks do not care. These women should have thought about all this before they had sex, the lying whores.

As the story points out, these laws are being written by anti-abortion lobbyists, nearly all male, and then passed practically verbatim.

"Texas Alliance for Life is very involved in crafting the legislation that the legislature considers," said Joe Pojman, the anti-abortion group's executive director. When it comes to several of Texas's anti-abortion laws, "what passed is almost verbatim what we drafted."

"Lt. Gov. Dewhurst put the major legislative leaders and the major pro-life groups in a room and asked us what the bill should contain," Pojman said. "He took the favorite components of the major groups and the major legislators and put them together. I compare it to a sandwich of cold cuts: Each of us had a favorite slice, and each of us had incentive to support the bill."

Point Two:

When they talk about women being "victims," what they are saying is that women are too stupid and uninformed to make these decisions. We are such brainless feckless creatures -- totally at the mercy of our hormones, you know -- that we cannot be trusted with such important decisions about our own lives.

When they talk about women and the "incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.” what they mean is that it's scary as hell that women can bleed and not die, that women might not need a man for anything except his sperm, and that any woman might dare to think her body is her own to use as she sees fit.

When they talk about every woman and child having "dignity and worth," they mean only certain women and children and only under certain conditions -- white middle class and upper class women and children who look and think like them and who are  under the control of a husband and father. Uppity women need not apply. They are just getting what they deserve.

Poor women and children who use food stamps and otherwise take government "handouts" are on their own. Women of color, no matter their income or class, are on their own, as are their children, who are probably baby criminals anyway. 

Migrant women and their children? What are you smoking? We don't even want to give them birth certificates when they do carry their babies to term.

Yes, indeed, some fetuses matter more than others to these folks.

Which brings me to

Point Three

The so-called "culture of life" the anti-abortion folks claim they want to create as part of their regard for the dignity of women (gag) is a total and complete joke.

Let's focus on Texas alone, because it's the father lode of not-giving-a-flying-fig about post-fetal human beings.

Post-fetal human beings like to breathe. Too bad for them. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) says lowering ozone levels will hurt Texans, not help them.

“We’ve lowered the ozone standard close to the point that I’m convinced we’re not getting much, if any, benefit healthwise from [further] lowering the ozone standard,” TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw told a panel of legislators convened to discuss the impact federal environmental regulations might have on the Texas economy.

From the story: "Shaw’s comments run contrary to decades of scientific research, but generally reflect Texas GOP lawmakers’ position against increased regulations targeting air pollutants. After the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced states would need to reduce ozone levels from 75 to 70 parts per billion last year, Texassued the agency, claiming the rule was 'arbitrary,' 'capricious' and 'an abuse of discretion.' In legal filings, the state also argued that the EPA had disregarded evidence that indicated lowering ozone levels was 'unnecessary to protect human health.'

Post-fetal human beings, especially children, in the care of the State should be safe. Too bad for them.

From the story: "Texas has violated the constitutional rights of foster children by exposing them to an unreasonable risk of harm in a system where children 'often age out of care more damaged than when they entered,' " a federal judge ruled in December, 2015.

Post-fetal children are entitled to a decent education. Too bad for them.

Texas loves having idiots on its State Board of Education. From the story: "More than 100,000 East Texas Republicans from College Station to Paris voted in March to give authority over Texas’ public school curriculum to Mary Lou Bruner, a retired teacher who has said that President Obama was once a prostitute and blamed school shootingson the teaching of evolution. Bruner has suggested that Democratic Party leaders killed JFK, that global warming is a 'hoax,' and that the United States should 'ban Islam and stop all immigration.'

"Bruner’s campaign has already returned the State Board of Education to its familiar place, up on a tee for easy jokes at Texas’ expense, and should she win her runoff election in May — which is likely — there it will stay for at least four more years."

And the state funding of education in Texas is once more a cause for litigation.

From the story:

“Our public schools will be no better off than they are today even as billions of available dollars were left untouched,' said Senate Democratic leader Kirk Watson of Austin, referring to funds that were left on the table by lawmakers.

"Texas has moved up several spots in spending per pupil in the U.S. thanks to rising property values and more state funding, but its ranking in the bottom third of states in a study earlier this year still undercuts its position in the school finance case.

"Figures compiled by the National Education Association showed that Texas ranked 38th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 2014-15 school year."

Post-fetal women who are actually carrying a fetus should be treated appropriately when in jail. Too bad for them.

From the story: "In Texas, 300 to 500 pregnant women are booked into county jails each month, and dozens gave birth while in custody last year. Women report not getting enough food. They say the notoriously uncomfortable sleeping mats cause back pain. And they feel mistreated and disrespected by guards. One woman in a Travis County lockup last year said she was shackled to her hospital bed while delivering her baby."

And I could go on and on and on with examples of how Texas' "culture of life" is a crock of cow patties for anyone who is not white, male, or a fetus.

So please. At least have the integrity to be honest about your agenda of controlling women's bodies, and when that fails, about your deep seated desire to punish uppity women.

Because the feminists of the sixties were right. This is all about controlling women. If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A visit from an Angel

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Schlachter died peacefully at her home on February 16, 2016. She was a founder of the Episcopal Women's Caucus and a woman of valor who played key roles in advancing the role of women -- lay and ordained -- in The Episcopal Church. More people owe her a huge debt than will ever realize it. I count myself among them.

In the Fall of 2003, Barbara was chosen by the Episcopal Women's Caucus to come to the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth as the first Angel in their Angel Project. Her job was to be a pastoral presence as a priest who is a woman, to incarnate the idea of women's ordination in a diocese whose leadership adamantly opposed it. She was the perfect choice. Her calm centered presence was balm to hurting souls. She brought us the best gift of all, the bread of  hope in the knowledge that we had not been forgotten by the wider church.

Barbara stayed with Gayland and me at our home, and so we were privileged to spend a lot of time with her, over breakfast, strolling the garden, playing with our dogs, and with our first grandchild, Curran, who we kept every day while his parents were working. We were glad we were able to provide her with a comfortable safe space while she was here.  But we are clear that we received much more from her during that visit than she did from us. 

 After her visit, she reported on her experience in RUACH, the Caucus' publication. That report is reproduced below. Also in that issue were reports from folks about their encounters with her. They speak to the power of her ministry. Some of those are reproduced below as well. 

She was a gift to The Episcopal Church, but particularly a gift to Episcopalians in this diocese. We are bereft. 


Encounters with an Angel

RUACH, Winter 2003

I met Barbara Schlachter on two occasions --both were meetings of our Book Club composed of about 15 Trinity women. She was the stranger who fit right in immediately. Her insights into our discussions were both helpful and interesting.

As a relative newcomer to the Diocese of Fort Worth and having come from the Diocese of Virginia, I found it reassuring tosee the response of our small group to a woman priest. What was her background? How long would she be here? What were her reactions to Fort Worth? etc. They were not only interested but also eager to hear of her experiences. Her visit was not only helpful, it certainly made me feel connected once again to the larger church. I also had the pleasure of hearing her inspiring homily. I hop ethat many others at Trinity came away feeling the pride of hearing and seemg this gifted woman share her knowledge and background with us.
Sue Pratt,
Trinity, Fort Worth

For the first time within this church setting, I felt I was standing in the center rather than on the periphery 

For the first time within this church setting, I felt I was standing in the center rather than on the periphery ---welcomed rather than simply tolerated. Speaking to the Rev. Schlachter without fear of reprisal or judgment- to not have to explain certain feelings – to know that she recognized my heart-- that was the crux of it. She simply understood. This gift I received - for I do feel it to be a gift  - was precious. I do thank Barbara and all those who made it possible for her to visit the Diocese of Fort Worth. Both have given me hope that one day “angels”  will not have to be imported.
B.G. Click
Christ the King Episcopal Church, Fort Worth

In the Rev. Dr. Barbara Schlachter I met an angel, a messenger who brought good tidings to those of us in Ft. Worth who hunger and thirst for the full ministry of women and men. And the message she brought in a firm, loving, humorous, challenging, articulate,  moving, and inspiring way is that we are all God's people and that women can minister o us in ways that are different from the ways of men. Having her in our presence was (and continues to be) a blessing for which we are all grateful to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. Her day of reflection for women was among the spiritual highlights of my life, and the people coming for communion after her sermon reflected hope and joy and a sense of connection.

“I want to tell you that you are the best argument for the ordination of women that I have ever seen.”

One of our male parishioners said to her after her sermon and during her forum presentation, “I want to tell you that you are the best argument for the ordination of women that I have ever seen.” That statement, I believe, represents exactly what the EWC hoped for in developing the Angel Project: the incarnational presence of an “angel” has allowed people of faith to experience the ministry of women in a way presently not allowed in our diocese.
Priscilla Tate
Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Worth

Barbara’s visit was a powerful message. The National church had not, after all, forgotten about us here in Fort Worth.  They had not written us off, or assumed that all was well. Barbara’s visit communicated hope that there were possible solutions to reunite us with the Canons of the National Episcopal Church. My family sends their deepest thanks to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus for designing and implementing the Angel Project, and for sending Barbara Schlachter to Fort Worth. It is our hopw that you will continue this and other projects which seek to unite us with the larger church.
Ruth Barnhouse Story

This was a very personal and comforting experience. She brought with her the perspective of the experiences of other dioceses of the National Church and provided understanding and hope for those present who expressed frustration about our concerns. She provided the group with suggestions for mutual support and hope about how our diocese might in the future rejoin the mainstream of the National Church.

We have been blessed to have had such an outstanding and spiritual person as our visitor. We are indebted to those who generously provided the support for her visit. 
Sylvia and Tim Stevens
St. Christopher, Fort Worth

While it is probably true that several of the Episcopal churches in the diocese strongly resisted her outreach to them, they were the ones to miss a golden opportunity. The ones of us who did allow her to minister  to us are far richer for the experience. After she spoke to the congregation at our Adult Forum, I felt that she really was an Angel sent to help open ourselves to a larger faith experience. 
Charles Weidler
Trinity, Fort Worth

Finally, the best way that I can express her impact on our worship is this: the Sunday after she preached and worshiped with us, there was an empty place where she had been.

I met Rev. Schlacter at our church, as she was invited to take part in several parish functions. I found her to be fair spoken, gentle and wise, even in the midst of a diocese about which, I'm sure, she could have found much to say of a corrosive nature. In fact, even when invited to be critical of this diocese and its bishop by those who are convinced of the validity of women's orders, she responded in a manner that was even, fair, and caring. 

Her children's homily  at our church was very well done, and demonstrated an empathy with our kids that our priest said he hopes to achieve for himself. Her sermon was more existential than I'm used to, but it did make me think, rather than doing the thinking for me. That kind of preaching takes a lot of faith. 

Finally, the best way that I can express her impact on our worship is this: the Sunday after she preached and worshiped with us, there was an empty place where she had been.


Winter, 2003


by The Rev. Dr. Barbara Schlachter

The Episcopal Women's Caucus' first angel reports on her experience in the Diocese of Fort Worth and the welcome she found there.

This angel has flown home after fifty-nine days in the Diocese of Fort Worth. I arrived on St. Michael's and All Angels (transferred) and left on the Feast of Christ the King. Added to the three days I spent there earlier in September, it was a total of fifty-nine days, the canonically-allowed length of time a priest may function in a diocese other than her own without that bishop's permission.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Iker would not have given me permission because his position on the ordination of women to the priesthood is the reason I was there in the first place. Fort Worth is one of three dioceses that, more than 25 years since the canon on ordination was changed, still do not ordain women to the priesthood. The people who live there are divided between those who support Bishop Iker's position, and those who want to have ordained women serving in the diocese and to experience being part of the rest of the Episcopal Church.

It was to these latter, loyal people that I was sent. Some of them are members of the Episcopal Women's Caucus, and it was their request to the National Episcopal Women's Caucus that brought me there. I felt called to this ministry of pastoral presence. I had recently moved to Iowa from Southern Ohio and was between positions, so I had the time available. More importantly, I had been through a similar time in my life thirty years before when I helped found the Episcopal Women's Caucus. I spent three and a half years as a deacon going to any parish that would invite me to show them that a woman could wear a clerical collar and serve as well as a man.

In Fort Worth I felt in many ways that I was stepping back in time. Not only is the ordination of women a non-resolved issue in Fort Worth, but also inclusive language has far to go. In some services I felt I was at a mid-l950s liturgy. Women there are supposed to believe that they are included in the word "man"—as long as they aren't called to priesthood, that is.

The title for my article comes from an e-mail that one of the clergy opposed to the ordination of women sent to a public Internet site. He said that the Rev. Barbara Schlachter was 'hanging out" around the Diocese of Fort Worth and wasn't it nice that the Episcopal Women's Caucus had nothing better to do with its money than provide me with a vacation in Texas.

Well, one of the things I most admire about Jesus' ministry was his ability to hang out and be available to people. I took that statement as a compliment. And if this clergyman had been English, he would have used the word "holiday" instead of vacation. That of course, comes from Holy Day.

And indeed, I did have fifty-nine Holy Days in Fort Worth. It was, however, not a vacation. The last time I checked under the rubrics of clergy wellness: preaching, teaching, counseling, planning liturgies, celebrating house Eucharists, encouraging the faithful and being generally available to all who wished to spend time with me individually or in small groups, is not considered vacation.

When I went for my three day initial "plunge" in early September, I returned amazed at the depth of the pain and anger I heard from both clergy and laity. I wondered if indeed I could offer healing and encouragement in the face of such despair. I wondered if I would in fact face hostility from those opposed. I asked for prayer from Caucus members and friends, and the parish where my husband is rector commissioned me for this ministry and joined in the prayers for me.

I believe in the power of prayer! I never experienced any hostility even from those who were opposed to the ordination of women, and I was warmly greeted and received by people wherever I went. There was a hunger and a thirst to be part of something beyond their diocese that touched me deeply. There was a desire for the wholeness that the rest of the church has found m the ministry of ordained women. We lived that as fully as we could for those fifty-nine days.

There were a number of clergy in the diocese who were quite supportive of my being there and wished things were different so that they could have women colleagues. Even the most supportive, however, realized that an invitation to me to preach or celebrate constituted a risk with their bishop. My presence was a mirror for them-how far were they willing to go support something they believed in? I do not judge any of them. It is an isolating place for clergy who do not believe as the bishop believes. In fact, it is a dangerous place. More than one clergy person has been removed from his position because he was too outspoken, others have been forced out by vestries because the bishop chose not to support them.

I did celebrate the Eucharist once and con-celebrated another time in an Episcopal church I preached in two different parishes, and there was a great deal of enthusiasm and support from the lay people in these churches. I attended two meetings of a deanery clericus, a book club, two meetings of a woman's guild, celebrated house Eucharists in the homes of people from four different parishes, led a quiet day, taught a class at Texas Christian University, had lunch with a number of clergy, including a group of clergywomen from Dallas, made several presentations during the week or on Sunday mornings, and met with many people over meals. One woman I had lunch with has experienced a call to priesthood. She told me that our visit was the first time she had ever talked with a woman priest.

I also met with Bishop Iker. When Dr. Doug Newsom, my scheduler, went to tell him I was coming, he indicated he wanted to meet with me as soon as possible after I arrived. That turned out to be October 31. Someone laughingly suggested I wear a pointy hat. Someone else replied that he would see one on my head whether I wore it or not.
It was obvious that he was not pleased I was there, even though I assured him I was not there to act politically but pastorally. My impression was that he is opposed to the ordination of women because if we were ordained soon all priests would be women. That has hardly been the experience of the dioceses that have ordained women, however. The feeling I received was that he sees ordination of women and homosexual persons as one and the same issue.

I read some of the Forward in Faith material about ordination of women and found it to be very selective scripturally. It does not allow for any cultural relativism or interpretation, nor does it admit standard Biblical criticism into its arguments. It believes that the Christian Church is called to maintain patriarchy. Christ is the head of the man and the man is the head of the woman, and only a man can be the head of a church. Obedience and control are big issues, and it doesn't take much reading between the lines to find a great deal of fear. Bishop Iker serves on the Board of Forward in Faith.

While I was there I also attended the Fort Worth Diocesan Convention. It was a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the diocese since it divided from the Diocese of Dallas. It was apparent there was to be no discussion of any controversial items. At one point a woman from Sewanee addressing Convention about the University of the South was stopped from talking about the Seminary. No one would be allowed to go there from Fort Worth anyway. Yet, there was much that was good about the Convention. It seemed to me to have a strong mission emphasis, and perhaps that is where some of the frustration and energy of the diocese is going- into good mission outreach to their companion dioceses in Malawi and Mexico and to Food for the Poor in Haiti.

I had gone to convention with considerable trepidation, but again, everyone was cordial, and many were very welcoming. The fact that there were about a half a dozen women deacons in clerical collars may have helped my reception. I also enjoyed a warn conversation with Donna lker, the bishop's wife. I had been praying for the bishop and his family every day, and it was good to put a face to a name.

The report of the A045 Committee came out while I was in Fort Worth. It was received with sadness and a sense of betrayal by those who felt they had risked a great deal to tell what they wanted the national church to hear. What they said was not reported, and several clergy I spoke with felt they had gone out on a limb only to have the national church chop it off. I don't think that most people have any idea how hard it is to be a priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth and be loyal to the canons of the Episcopal Church. We have to find a better way to support the clergy and laity of this diocese.

One of the recommendations of the A045 report is to have a day of dialogue at the General Convention in 2006. First, not only would the deputies from Fort Worth not attend-they do not go to convention Eucharists but have their own-but no amount of talking is going to convince this group. The fifty thousand dollars the committee recommends be used for this dialogue would be put to better use sending in angel after angel, ministering to the clergy and laity of the diocese who feel abandoned and on the edge of being taken out of the Episcopal Church altogether.

My presence there, more than anything else, was a sign of hope, of connection, that people from the Episcopal Church care about the people of Fort Worth. Hope, healing, and empowerment was experienced by many. I was there long enough to begin to establish significant relationships with people. I hope that the Angel Project will continue. As long as we permit a bishop to stand in disdain of a national canon, we need to find ways to minister to the laity and clergy who want to be faithful to that canon.

I met many wonderful people whom I shall remember, continue to pray for and hopefully see again someday. These are bright, articulate, passionate and faithful women and men, who bear for all of us the tangible sign that we are still a church that has a long way to go before women and men are on equal footing. There are lessons for all of us in Fort Worth, lest we get too confident that the battle has been won.

So many people I met there wanted me to know that they had lived in other dioceses and experienced the ministry of women, or that they had visited Episcopal churches while they were on vacation. They said that they always got this startled reaction from people, as if they must be one of those people who don't believe in the ordination of women. The estimate I heard several times is that the laity is probably half in favor and half against. The people that show up in our churches are probably at least the ones open to it. If someone shows up at your church and says they are from the Diocese of Fort Worth, please welcome them warmly and tell them you have heard there are some really great people in that Diocese.

I would like to end with a note of thanks to the Caucus for the opportunity to serve in this way, and for all the prayers said for the Angel project. I also thank Katie Sherrod and Gayland Pool, with whom I stayed while I was in Fort Worth. Their loving presence, which included Gayland’s fresh-baked bread almost every day, helped keep me grounded. Their four wonderful dogs, grandbaby, and beautiful home and gardens contributed to my sense of being cared for even as I was caring for others.

Thursday, December 03, 2015


When did we give up being the land of the free and the home of the brave and become the land of the willing-to-give-up-freedom-for-security and the home of the cowardly and mean-spirited?

Why are we letting cynical leaders feed us the bread of anxiety and fear as they carry out the will of their corporate paymasters? When did we hand over our national soul to the NRA and its minions?

When did we become a people willing to capitulate to the likes of ISIS by refusing to help those fleeing ISIS and their evil ilk?

I am ashamed of my state -- filing suit to prevent six Syrian refugees from being resettled in Texas. So let me say this as firmly as possible -- not in my name. Not in my name will you bully and harass people trying to help those fleeing the same terrorists who have you cowering in fear.

I am ashamed of much of my national leadership, my president excepted. Congress is practically groveling in fear before the "might" of ISIS. So let me say this as firmly as possible -- not in my name will you defund refugee relief efforts and demonize those good people trying to help desperate people.

I am ashamed of the media in this country. You have been given the enormous privilege of constitutional protection, so important is the work of a free press. And yet you allow yourselves to be fettered by fear of losing ratings or clicks or God knows what and shrink from challenging bald-faced lies of candidates seeking our nation's highest office while peddling a perverted gospel of fear, rage, and violence.

This. is. not. who. we. are.

We are not a people defined by our fears, We are a people defined by our ideals -- all people are created equal and liberty and justice for all. We are a generous people, unafraid to risk kindness in the face of the unknown. We are the shining city on the hill, a light to a world starving for hope of freedom and democracy.

This is how we combat terrorists, not by cowering behind closed borders and slammed doors but by demonstrating how a free courageous people live. Not by feeding on fear but by standing tall and extending helping hands. Not by demonizing strangers but by taking them in. Not by shaming the hungry but by offering food for the body and the spirit.

This - this is who we are -- we, the people of the United States of America. Never let anyone make you forget that.

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.