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.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Looking at TREC's proposal from the other side of schism

You know, I really did want to support TREC.

After all, I live in a diocese that has been flying the airplane while we are building it in the wake of a 2008 schism when our former bishop and much of the diocesan leadership left The Episcopal Church but claimed –and occupied – most of our church property. We have been Reimagining the Church like crazy around here ever since then. So I was eagerly awaiting TREC’s ideas.

Others – Episcopal CafĂ© here and here, Tom Ferguson on his blog Crusty Old Dean here, commentors on the HOB/D list -- have done brilliant jobs of outlining things they like and things that concern them, and I urge you to read them all. I haven’t written a detailed analysis. Instead, I offer a view from the other side of schism, for what it’s worth.

My first reaction was - what business major wrote this and has he or she ever been to church?

My second reaction was - has this person ever been to a General Convention?

My third reaction was - did they really think through the implications of using Lazarus as a starting place?



And my fourth reaction was – did no one learn ANYTHING from what happened in San Joaquin, Quincy, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and, most recently, South Carolina? 

Full disclosure – I live in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. I am a lay woman coming at this from the perspective of a person who was confined to the margins of my diocese, and thus of General Convention, for more than 20 years. As an outsider I observed the workings of the church in ways that insiders don’t have to. For me, as for people of color, all women, for my LGBT sisters and brothers, learning the ways of those who held power was not a luxury – it was imperative if there was to be any chance of being heard in the councils of the church.

Tipping the scales of the balance of power in favor of those traditionally on the margins was not then and is not now easy in an institution still steeped in clericalism and mesmerized by the color purple. But it is possible, with patience and a willingness to understand how the system works, to learn where the ways into the system are, and where the system offers opportunities for anyone to speak up. All of this is true, by the way, of ANY institutional system, no matter how big or small.

In 2009, I suddenly was thrust into “insider” status. My bishop left The Episcopal Church, we reorganized the diocese, I was elected a deputy and, to my utter amazement, elected to Executive Council on the first ballot at General Convention in Anaheim. My work on the margins had given me enough name recognition to make that possible.

At home my diocese and other reorganized dioceses still are working to rebuild in the wake of a schism that should have been prevented. I see amazing creativity and openness to new ways of being church. I see clergy learning to value the lay people with whom they partner. I see lay people growing into the fullness of their baptisms. I watch feisty small congregations take on ministry projects that would make many large congregations cower. I see displaced congregations growing into being Welcoming Congregations. I watch valiant Episcopalians in congregations that have been locked out of their church homes faithfully creating church from scratch every single Sunday in rented spaces they have access to only on Sunday. I see growth, small, but steady.

Why? Because even though people are tired, they are not afraid. We are not into feeding the fears here.

Of course, I also see families split between those who stayed with The Episcopal Church and those who stayed with Bishop Iker. I see time and way too much money being eaten up in legal fights that Could. Have. Been. Avoided.

The schism in my diocese – as in San Joaquin, Quincy, Pittsburgh, and now South Carolina -- was more than 20 years in the making. The people organizing this move were almost to a man ordained (very few women were involved). They made no secret of their goals - read the Chapman memo and Jim Naughton’s Following the Money. Laity were disempowered. Those who protested were demonized and marginalized, and those who were compliant were used as tools to further the aims of the clergy. Purple reigned, with bishops taking the idea of “princes of the church” into new realms of virtually unchecked power.

The twenty years leading up to the schisms were filled with strife fulminated by these people intent on undermining The Episcopal Church. They wanted a very public fight in which they would be seen standing up for patriarchy, “traditional marriage,” and a vision of The Episcopal Church as it was in the 1950s, when men were men and women – and minorities – knew their place. This had the effect of running off folks who don’t like conflict, folks who don’t like bigots, and folks who bought into the idea that politics is a dirty word. All these added to the ongoing decline in all the mainstream protestant denominations, which led to calls for a more “nimble” church.

During this time, two presiding bishops and the House of Bishops worked hard to placate their brother bishops and fellow priests and their conservative allies in the Anglican Communion. This purple brotherhood did virtually nothing to stop the bishops who later would leave The Episcopal Church while laying claim to millions of dollars’ worth of Episcopal Church property. If you have wondered why the larger church should help pay the legal expenses of San Joaquin and South Carolina, it’s because the wider church’s inaction allowed this legal mess to happen.

What happened in my diocese and the others happened not because General Convention is too big and too long, not because the PB doesn’t have enough power, not because there are too many CCABs, not because the Executive Council has too many people -- but because the balance between clergy and laity was tilted mightily in the direction of the clergy, silencing and marginalizing lay people. There were no countervailing voices strong enough to gainsay what the bishops were doing. There was no will among the House of Bishops to use even peer pressure, much less what canonical powers did exist, to rein these men in.

And now comes TREC with a proposal to turn us into a Roman Catholic Church Light with our own PB pope, a much smaller role for laity in a smaller General Convention and Executive Council, and – has anyone noticed? No change at all in the frequent meetings and workings of the House of Bishops. Additionally, in a church full of small congregations, this proposal will insure that no one from a small congregation can be elected to anything, Episcopalians living west of the Mississippi will be invisible and church wide staff for the most part will be independent contractors, which absolves employers of any emotional investment as well as most of the financial investment made in regular employees.

And all this is supposed to make us nimble – because look how nimble the Vatican is.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I am an Episcopalian - the elevator speech

I am an Episcopalian because The Episcopal Church is not afraid to explore what Baptism really means. When one is sealed as Christ’s Own Forever, there are no asterisks. Women, men, gay, straight, trans, black, white, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, mixed race – all are acknowledged as part of the Body. Figuring out what this means in the context of scripture is hard work. At its best, The Episcopal Church calls on everyone – bishops, priests, deacons, lay people -- to work in partnership to figure it out.  We don’t always get the balance right, but what I love is that we keep trying, struggling to love one another even when we may not like one another.