Sunday, August 06, 2017

We are called to stand with transgender people

NOTE: This is the longer version of a commentary I gave on the Flashpoint segment of Inside Texas Politics on WFAA Channel 8 that aired July 30, 2017. My conservative counterpart, Mark Davis, could not be there, so it was just me, giving a minute-and-45-second version of this. Writers know it always takes longer to write something short than something long. We tape Flashpoint at 2 pm on Thursdays. I was told I could do this commentary at 12:22 that Thursday. I live in Fort Worth and we tape in Dallas, so I have to leave my home by at least 1:20. Yikes! I was able to do this only because Gwen Fry and Cameron Partridge, friends who are transgender activists, leapt into action at my call for help and provided me with data. This is the first draft I wrote -- it was way too long. We had to cut it in the studio. But I wanted to put it all out here, because it's a matter of life and death. And I wanted to hold up the generous tireless efforts of Gwen and Cam. Thank you for all you do for so many.
You can see the segment that aired here.

I’m going to talk about something of deep concern to me as an American citizen, as a mom and grandmom, and as a Christian. I want to talk about the outbreak of attacks – both real and political – on some of our most vulnerable citizens – transgender women and men.

I’m talking about the president’s recent banning of transgender people from serving in the military – a policy reversal created by tweet apparently on a complete whim –and the bathroom bill in our own Texas Legislature’s special session.

Now, I’m a cis woman – I’m a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with my birth sex. Apparently most of us are cis gendered. But a significant portion of human beings are born into bodies that do not correspond to their sense of personal identity and gender.

Yes, the same God who created Leviathan for the sport of it, who created our wild and varied and unbelievably beautiful planet, also created a wild and complex and unbelievably beautiful variety of human beings.

Like a lot of people, when I began to hear about and actually meet some transgender people, I was puzzled and admittedly uneasy – an unease born of my lack of information. Some amazingly kind, patient, and courageous transgender people helped me in my journey to better understanding. Just like you and me, they want to live authentic live as who they really are.

But way too many of our leaders are approaching this whole subject with a fear of what they don’t understand – what they refuse to even try to understand. They are using THE most common weapon of the bigoted -- the fear of the unknown, the fear of the “other” – to justify attacks on fellow human beings who experience themselves differently from cis gender people.

Which brings us back to the president’s ban on military service and the Texas bathroom bill. Both of these actions are completely unnecessary and very dangerous.

Let’s set aside the president’s continuing desire to distract us all from the investigation into Russian influence on his campaign and the 2016 election and his willingness to cruelly and cynically risk the lives of our fellow Americans to do so. Let’s look at his purported reasons for the ban.

The American Medical Association has said, “There is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender individuals are serving their country with honor, and they should be allowed to continue doing so.

A Rand study on the impact of transgender individuals in the military reveals the financial cost might – might- incur an approximate 0.13-percent increase in the defense budget. This should not be used as an excuse to deny patriotic Americans an opportunity to serve their country. As the AMA said, "We should be honoring their service - not trying to end it."

As for the bathroom bill, it’s already illegal to enter a restroom or locker room for the purpose of harming someone or invading someone’s privacy. The bill is unnecessary and targets transgender people for discrimination.

In 17 states, more than 200 cities across the country, and in school districts covering over 500,000 students, transgender people are explicitly protected from discrimination, including when using restrooms and locker rooms. None of these laws have resulted in an increase in violence or other public safety incidents. Bathroom bills are impossible to enforce and bad for business.

But worse, these laws and the rhetoric surrounding them portraying transgender people as somehow dangerous to the rest of us create a climate in which the very lives of transgender people are at risk. Witness the attack on Stephanie Martinez, a transgender activist, in Austin last week. Martinez was attacked after testifying against the bathroom bill by two men who admitted they attacked her because she was transgender. Luckily, she survived the brutal attack. But many do not. In 2016, there were at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the US, and so far in 2017, at least 15 have been murdered. Transgender women of color are especially vulnerable to violence. It is not too strong a statement to say that the blood of these people are on the hands of leaders seeking to score political points on the lives of transgender people. What’s more, they claim their Christian faith impels them to this action.

I think that borders on heresy. In my church, our baptismal covenant includes the promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being. These laws are the antithesis of the Christian message.

We need to defeat the bathroom and push back against the president’s military service ban. Our common humanity calls us to this action.

From the left, I’m Katie Sherrod.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Juneteenth - A Reflection

Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

While this holiday has holy historic meaning for my African American friends in ways I cannot begin to imagine, this is a day white people must mark as well, for it is the anniversary of the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas.

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen.Gordon Granger landed at Galveston with news that the war had ended and the enslaved were now free -- two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863.

The news freed the enslaved people of Texas. Let me say that again -- the news freed the enslaved people in Texas. People held in bondage for generations were set free. Wives and husbands who had been sold away from one another began searching for each other. Parents began looking for children who had been ripped out of their arms and sold to other masters. Separated families began searching for lost members.

Contemplate that. Sit with that for awhile. In a state as big as Texas, imagine how much love, hope, and determination it took to not just sit down and weep as your search began. And that search had to happen in hostile territory, for plantation owners, clustered mainly in East and South Texas, weren't happy to lose free labor. For the most part, they weren't interested in helping former enslaved people in any way.

So know this -- while all family reunions are important, family reunions for African Americans are holy events in ways that are rooted in our shared history.

We Americans are bound together by that history, and it's time we owned that. The whip that left scars on the backs of enslaved people also left scars -- less visible and far less painful but no less real -- on the person who wielded the whip. One human being cannot hold another human being as property without them both being affected. Bondage is not a natural state. The human spirit yearns for freedom. In order to keep humans in bondage, systems had to set in place to enforce that bondage. And those systems drew their power from violence and terrorism. The penalties for running away to freedom were always horribly violent -- whippings that shredded flesh to the bone, often followed by maiming of the feet or legs. And that is if the runaway wasn't killed -- usually a long agonizing death by hanging. 

White people benefited from those systems rooted in violence then, and now. The systemic racism that enfolded and enabled slavery is alive and well, and we are kidding ourselves if we don't acknowledge it. Your ancestors didn't have to actually own people as slaves to benefit from slavery -- all they had to do was be white and free. You don't have to hate people of color to be racist, You don't have to be a member of the Klan to be racist. All you have to do is fail to question and test assumptions, fail to look beyond the surface of your reactions to some people and events, fail to listen to people different from you. That's what white privilege is. It's not economic privilege, although that's part of it. No, it's privilege that lets us white people not have to ask those questions or face those issues. We can, if we choose, isolate ourselves from the realities of racism. 

But when we do, our world becomes much smaller, much more fear-filled, much more restricted. This cozy bondage of privilege can be so comfortable. But that comfort comes at a price -- it can take your integrity, and eventually, your soul. 

So this Juneteenth, let us white people resolve  to set aside our unexamined lives. Let's open our eyes and ears to the realities of the lives of our neighbors of color.

Sit with them and listen.




If we can do this, we may begin to heal this country. 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Goodbye Molly Molly Good Dog

For the first time in at least 18 years, Molly is not at my side. From the time she arrived at least 18 years ago until last night, Molly never left me.


This video is how I will remember her -- happy and fun loving.

Molly was the essence of Good Dog. She was loyal and sweet and gentle and very protective of her people. Not aggressive, just protective.  She embodied unconditional love.

Molly arrived in our driveway and our lives one very hot August afternoon. I say at least 18 years ago, because the vet estimated she was a year and half to two years old when she found us.

When I saw this very thin dog in the driveway, I went out to check on her. She ran to the then vacant house north of us and hid on the porch. I got a leash and walked over. I sat on the porch steps with my back to her so I wouldn't be threatening and started crooning to her -- "It's OK, sweet baby. You're OK. Come on, Sweetheart, it's OK" again and again for about 15 minutes. Then a head appeared over my shoulder. I slowly turned around, gently put the leash around her neck. and started stroking her face. She uttered a great big sign and pushed her head into my chest, as if to say, "At last. I am safe."

A trip to the vet revealed a healthy but very starved and dehydrated dog. So I took her home and introduced her to the rest of the pack, and she settled in - eventually 45 pounds of hair and love. That scrawny dog in the driveway turned into a beautiful dog.

Beautiful Molly
Last night she went to join all the dogs of my life - Ikey, Heidi, Beau, Colleen, Nikki, Maggie, Rusty, Esau, Mike, Jake, Angel, Ms. Wiggles, and Toby - in the care of St. Francis.

Molly was my constant companion. If I was in the garden, Molly was in the garden. If I was working, Molly was under my desk. If I was gone, Molly waited by the door until I returned. And she always quietly placed herself between me and any other person on the property except Gayland, Daniella, and the Best Boys.

First Best Boy with Nanny Molly 
When the first of the Best Boys was born, he became her charge. When his mommy brought him here on her way to work, Molly greeted her and the baby. For the rest of the day, Molly was with the baby, even sleeping under his crib as he napped. Again, she was always between him and any person other than family who came into the house.

Molly guarding sleeping Best Boy
When he began to pull up, Molly was always there to be a steady furry rock against which to lean. As he began walking, he would hold onto her and she would pace beside him as he toddled around. If he cried,  Molly would come get me if I didn't respond fast enough to suit her.

Best Boy and Nanny Molly with her Summer hair cut
When the second Best Boy was born, Molly assumed care of him as well. She would check on one boy, then go check on the baby. As the second Best Boy began to toddle around, Molly would do her best to keep an eye on both boys as well as on me. She got very worried if we were out of her sight for too long.

As the boys grew older and more independent, Molly still supervised them as best she could. And she played with her doggy friends, Mike the border collie, Esau, the dachshund mix, and Angel, the white lab.

Molly, Angel, and Mike

Angel, Esau, and Mike with Molly's tail in right corner

Until one black day when the dogs got out of a gate left open, and ran into Ederville Road. Esau was hit by a car and killed instantly. Molly was badly injured. Angel wasn't badly hurt, but died soon of a broken heart, grieving for her Esau. We arrived home from a trip to find Mike alone and grieving, Molly still in the hospital, and a distraught Daniella and Tino who had to tell us what had happened while we were away.

We wept and grieved. We comforted Mike. We visited Molly at the vet, where she was recovering from a broken shoulder and a broken hind leg. Every day, I crawled into her large cage and held her as we both grieved. I told her she had to get better and come home, that we needed her.

And she did. Mike was overjoyed to see her and the two dogs comforted one another over the loss of their pack. Daisy the Corgi arrived and she and Molly became playmates. Mike ignored Daisy until the day he died of old age.

When two soft coated wire haired dachshund puppies arrived, Molly took one look and adopted Ms. Wiggles and Toby as her puppies. They were ostensibly Gayland's dogs, but in Molly's mind, they were her babies.

And they remained her babies until first Ms. Wiggles died, much too young, of a tumor in her heart, and three years later, Toby. We never knew why Toby died. It baffled the vets and left us bereft once more. And Molly grieved again.

By this time, the Best Boys were turning into teenagers and Molly was slowing down a bit. When one Best Boy turned 14 last year, we realized that Molly had to be at least 17 years old. We were astonished. She was still in good shape, a bit stiff when she first woke up, but still playful and funny and always loving.

Then Samantha, a dachshund mix, arrived, and later Ms. Buttons, another rescue, and Mr. Carson, an elderly teeny dachshund, joined us.

And Molly began to sleep more. As her eyesight faded, she wanted to be touching me whenever we walked in the garden. We walked slowly, because her healed leg was beginning to stiffen.

And often, when she slept, she'd wag her tail. I hope she was dreaming of running pain free with her pack.

And finally, it was clear she was in pain, It was time to let her go to a place where she could be young and pain free, happy with her pack until I can get there.

So we all said goodbye. The Best Boys and their mama brought a bouquet of happy flowers, Gayland helped wrap her in a soft towel. Next week we will have her ashes.

But it's very lonely today, with this Molly-sized hole in my life.

Molly with her "babies,"  Wiggles and Toby

Molly with me in the Gazebo

Molly hanging out with me in the Chapel Garden

Molly stealing birdseed

Molly and Mike playing in the snow
Molly with her last pack

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why the Sherrod Women are marching

After we elected a man who has promised to wipe out decades of legal and civil rights gains for racial minorities, women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, for the disabled - justice issues I have fought for my entire adult life, I turned for solace to some of the people for whom I have done this work, my daughter and my nieces. I was reminded that Sherrod women don’t give up. We resist, speak out, fight back. 

Fierce Sherrod women - Julianne, Emily, Gina, Daniella, and Margaret

My daughter, Daniella Judge, and I had taken part in the Mobilization for Women’s Lives March in Washington in November of 1989. It was a powerful transformative event. This time, for various reasons, we can’t go to Washington. But Daniella and I and her cousins – Julianne Sherrod, Gina Sherrod Hlavaty, Margaret Sherrod LaBarba, and Emily Sherrod Aronoff -- can go to Austin and take my three-and-a-half year old grandniece with us. We are fortunate enough to have the flexibility and the resources to go. And Emily is happily putting us up.

Why we going? I believe our democracy is in real danger. We have elected a demagogue made doubly dangerous by his narcissistic inability to recognize what he doesn’t know, hence his facile dismissal of “experts.” His coziness with Vladimir Putin is proof of that. On January 21, 2017, millions of women across this nation will say as one – not here, not now.

Daniella is going “because I can't imagine where else I would be on a day when this many women find it this imperative to make our voices and our opinions known.”

Emily said, “This is my first march. I live in Austin, and thought it made sense to invite the fiercest women I know, my aunt and my cousins, and march together in support of one another and for every other woman out there. I felt it was important to join in this effort to show solidarity with everyone else who is angry, worried, and scared about where our country is headed.

Julianne, said, “I am bringing my 3.5 year old daughter so she can see that we are fighting for her future. As far as why - I saw the hate and anger generated by Trump during his rallies, I saw the mob mentality and the willful blindness to his character flaws. I saw his denigration of the most vulnerable in our society. I saw hate groups embrace and celebrate him. I saw the debates where he could barely form a sentence, much less a cohesive policy argument, and I was sure that the American people would want to stand for Truth, Justice and Equality. We did not as a country stand up for those values, but we as individuals must.”

Her sister, Margaret, said, “This is my first march. I am going to stand with my family and everyone else who supports women's rights, social justice, kindness, equality of opportunity and love.

Margaret’s twin, Gina, said, “I will stand at the march as a small person among a great force and be so proud. The shocking results of this presidential election made me realize that if I want change then I will have to be a part of the voice for that change.”

What do the Sherrod women hope the March will accomplish? I hope it will put Republicans on notice that they do NOT have a mandate, that they did not win the popular vote, and that we, the people, stand ready to resist their efforts to dismantle the gains of the last century and a half. We will hold them accountable.

Daniella said, “I hope this show of solidarity and resolve will display to our local, state and national legislators that women will not stand still while our rights and freedoms are dismantled. That we refuse to cede the ground our mothers, grandmothers, and other heroes fought for. We cannot and will not go back.”

Julianne said, “I know it will empower and motivate thousands, maybe millions of Americans who did not vote for him or who are now seeing through his lies, and get them involved in the political process. If [our elected officials] don't hear from us, they're certainly hearing from their echo chamber supporters or from special interest groups that can put millions towards persuading them to ignore their constituents' best interest. It's harder to do that if the constituents are communicating, staring them in the face, standing up and walking on their front lawn! I also hope this march will allow Trump to see that there are millions watching his every move who will not stand for intolerance, hatred, and the destruction of civil rights.”

Margaret said, “I hope this march helps to show the strength we have as individuals, the power we have together, and the courage we have when we show unity in a peaceful march.”

Gina said, “I hope the march will show that people are serious about making a change, that Americans do care about making a country work for what’s best for everyone, not just what’s best for business or personal gain.”

Emily said, “I hope to show the incoming administration that we do not support their views and policies, and that we will not tolerate injustice or discrimination. We stand for truth, justice, and equality for all.”

Note: A shorter version of this was published in the Dallas Morning News on January 12, 2016.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

It's the "Why not?"

It's the "Why not?" that is the most infuriating, for within that phrase reside layers of racism, sexism, and white male entitlement. 

In this piece I will unpack that two-word question, engage Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, and challenge Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price to do the right thing.

The Event

On the afternoon of Wednesday, December 21, 2016, Jacqueline Craig. the mother of a 7-year-old boy, called Fort Worth police to report that a man had assaulted her son for littering, according to news reports. Craig and her son are African Americans. The neighbor accused of assaulting her son is a white man. (According to news reports, the neighbor has admitted grabbing the child by the neck.)

And you already know how this story is going to turn out, don't you? Right. As I write this, nothing has happened to the white neighbor, but the mother and her two daughters were arrested.  And after the arrest, the cops checked her for outstanding warrants - something not routinely done with arrests -- and discovered the mom has some outstanding traffic violations, information they quickly shared with the media. Of course they did.

Here's how the event unfolded.

"Relatives said that a man in their southwest Fort Worth neighborhood had grabbed the boy by the neck in an attempt to get him to pick up the trash," reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A relative of the mother videoed the encounter. See the video here.

"The video shows the officer talking to both the man accused of assaulting Craig’s son and then to Craig. Craig tells the man that he should have alerted her if he believed her son had littered and that he didn’t have the right to put his hands on her son.

“Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” the officer asks Craig.

“He can’t prove to me that my son littered,” Craig responded. “But it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.”

“'Why not?” the officer responds."

Why not?!!!!!!! "Why not?" !!!!!!!!!!

Implicit in that "Why not?" is this question - Why can't your neighbor assault your child any time he wishes, for any reason?

There are layers within layers of things wrong with this white officer of the law asking a black mother why another white man shouldn't be allowed to put his hands on her 7-year-old son without being held to account. Let's unpeel those layers.

Within that phrase sits hundreds of years of women of all colors being publicly shamed and blamed by white men when they dare to speak up and out about wrongs being done to them or their children, when they demand that the law defend them too. 

But most of all, within that patronizing privileged phrase sit hundreds of years of white men doing whatever they damn well pleased to the bodies of black children, black women, black men. 

Within that phrase sits a sense of entitlement and privilege fed and nurtured by centuries of patriarchy and white privilege that meant one white man automatically supported the other white man at the expense of an justifiably aggrieved mother.

That's why that white officer of the law barely dealt with the reason he had been called to the scene -- the suspected assault of a child -  and instead turned the full weight of the authority vested in him by the city of Fort Worth on the black child's mother, focusing all his scorn and outrage on her.

And that black mother reacted exactly as any other mother -- and most fathers -- would react at being asked that outrageous question. She
 got angry. Which, if you watch the video, was pretty clearly the officer's intent in goading her.

The news report continued, "The exchange immediately grows heated with Craig telling the officer that his question made her angry and the officer replying he would take her to jail if she continued yelling at him."

Got that? The officer patronizes her, treats her complaint as worthless, blatantly calls her a bad mother, goads her,  threatens her, and then, when she reacts, arrests her. And then arrests her daughters because they get angry too. 

Ms. Craig did the right thing in calling the police. Hell, if some man had grabbed my child by the throat, I'm not sure I'd have called the police before confronting and assaulting him. And if I had, I suspect I still wouldn't be in jail, because I'm white and my child is white. 


Fort Worth city officials  say they are "disturbed and outraged" at the video, and they have acknowledged the office acted "inappropriately," and agree that investigating the possible assault of the child should have been the officer’s priority when he arrived at the scene.

But Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald (a black man), speaking at a news conference at City Hall on Friday afternoon, "acknowledged that the officer acted rude but said, 'I can’t call [the incident] racism.

"'What I can say is that I noticed in the video that the officer was rude,” Fitzgerald said. “And there is a difference between rude and racist.”

Chief, you are right. This officer's behavior WAS rude, but that rudeness was caused by and rooted in racism and sexism. And I think you know it. Just as it's racism that is forcing you to be so measured and prudent, making you so carefully avoid the slightest appearance of being the dreaded "angry black man."

I get it -- but I hate it. 

Because if we don't name it, we can't change it. 

Mayor, make it right

So I am calling on Mayor Betsy Price to use her status as an elected official and her white privilege to name it. Have your police chief's back and say what he can't -- that this officer's behavior was racist and sexist and that it will not be tolerated in Fort Worth.

Then take appropriate action to back that statement up. Fire the officer. 

And then apologize to Ms. Craig, her daughters, and most of all, her 7-year-old son. 

If you believe it when you say Fort Worth is better than this, prove it. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Living with AIDS

On this World AIDS Day, I am thinking about the term "living with AIDS." I rejoice at the medical advances that make that possible, but not without grieving for the multitudes who didn't make it over that particular line in history.

I am remembering the late 1980s when my husband was, for a time, the only Episcopal priest in Fort Worth who would conduct funerals for AIDS patients. How many funerals did we attend of young men whose families refused to come to the hospital to see them as they were dying, much less to their funerals?

Every Christmas I am reminded of Tom, who left me his amazing fabulous Christmas decorations and memories of so many friendly arguments over meals. If you think our Christmas decorations are just a teeny bit over the top, thank sweet stubborn talented Tom.

I am remembering the times parts of the Quilt came to Fort Worth and we stood for tear-stained hours in the Will Rogers Exhibit Hall reading aloud one by one the names on those quilts, tears eventually making it hard to see the names.

I am remembering my husband firmly explaining to a father who showed up just after we finished burying the ashes of his son in the church garden that no, he could not have the keys to his son's house - a house whose address the father didn't even know, having disowned his son years before. That house was willed to his son's partner, who had cared for him in the much too short time from diagnosis to death, and who now faced his own death from AIDS. I thought my oh-so-gentle husband was going to punch the man out when he tried to bully the partner into giving him the house keys.

I am remembering the many mothers who my husband persuaded to come see their dying children. They would sidle into the hospital rooms, gasp at the sight of their sons, and then, well, they either left weeping or they fell to their knees by the beds, weeping. Some of those who left came back when they had recovered from the shock. Some never did come back. Most made us promise to never tell their husbands -- the fathers of these men -- that they had come to the hospital.

But there was one father who did come -- to tell his son he was damned to hell. He managed to get most of that sentence out before we hustled him out of the room and called hospital security.

I remember the lesbians who cared tenderly for so many sick gay men -- especially men whose partners had already died, men who had no one else to care for them. This was at a time when gay men barely acknowledged common cause with lesbian women, indeed sometimes were hostile to the women. That gap was bridged with the loving care of countless women and the gratitude of way too many dying men.

I remember hearing a woman tell of persuading her priest to bury her son, who had died of AIDS, only to have the priest come up to this grieving mother at the funeral reception and say, "Well, I did my best, but I have to tell you that your son is burning in hell."

So, no, I have no patience with anti-gay crap or with those who vote for people who espouse such views. I especially have no patience with those who use the Bible and God to hammer LGBT folk. In The Episcopal Church, when a baby -- or anyone else -- is baptized, the bishop or priest dabs his or her thumb in blessed oil and makes the sign of the Cross on the person's forehead, saying, "You are sealed as Christ's own forever." There is no asterisk, no conditions are put on that baptism. As Bishop Barbara Harris famously proclaimed, "There are no half-assed baptisms!"

I believe we are all -- straight, LGBTQ, black, white, brown, Indigenous, male, female, gender non-conforming -- ALL OF US named or unnamed are God's own, created in God's image, beloved children of a loving God.

And it will be in the name of those who didn't get to "live with AIDS" that I will stand my ground with that statement for however many time it's needed in the next four years. I hope you will join me.

Monday, July 11, 2016

God, guidance, and gumption

My blog is hosting this sermon today because I think we all need it. 
A Sermon preached at St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Cuernavaca, Morelos, 10 July 2016,
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

by the Rev. Bruce Coggin

Boy! Today’s collect is really a one-size-fits-all unit, isn’t it? Do you remember what you said Amen to a few minutes ago? We asked God to hear us when we pray, to help us know and understand what we ought to do, and then for the grace and power to do it. What else do we need? God, show us what you want us to do and give us the power to do it. Isn’t that a prayer anybody in any religion could say Amen to? Though I might want to add a word. My friend Katie Sherrod—she’s the wife of Fr. Pool who was rector here years ago—wrote a book about the gutsy women who helped build Fort Worth. She called it Grace & Gumption. You look gumption up and you get synonyms like initiative, courage, resourcefulness, guts. I like that because it takes us beyond knowing and believing and accepting God’s purpose for us and on down the road to doing something about it. It’s a prayer we should always have at the center of our lives in God, because . . . y’know? . . . at times it’s pretty hard to figure out what’s going on, much less how we should act, and I don’t know about you, but for me this past week has been a real doozy. If you’ve been watching the news, you know what I mean. I need help figuring out how to behave in the face of events today, and I expect living that out will require considerable gumption.

Let’s look at the lessons. We’ve been following the Old Testament prophets the past few weeks, and we’ve dealt with Elijah and Elisha, a couple of pretty spooky guys, dangerous at times, always elusive and shifty, either chopping up livestock and Baal prophets or running for their lives. Today we meet a new kind of prophet, Amos, and he wrote his inspirations down. We have his word for it, not a second hand account, and that’s new. (Let me stop here and say something about Old Testament prophets and prophecy per se. Prophets are not crystal ball gazers who fall into a trance and predict the future. Rather they are men who see the present so intensely and perceptively that the shape of the future becomes apparent. They look at current events and say, “You keep this kind of madness up, and this is what’s going to come of it.” It’s what any of us can do and in fact do a lot of the time; but the Old Testament prophets did it in circumstances which made it mortally dangerous. They spoke truth to the power structure of their time; it got them all killed.) So back to Amos. Amos lived in what looked like good times. Both the north (Israel) and the south (Judah) were at peace, prosperous, lots of trade, plenty of money floating around. In Israel King Jeroboam II was fat and happy and in cahoots with the seriously corrupt religious establishment. Right. Any time you see the state and the church getting chummy, skeet for the woodshed, run for the hills, the dam has bust. A theocracy is about the most dangerous thing going, because usually it means that the state has the church bought and sold. Whatever the state does is God’s will. After all, God has been on the side of every army that ever went to war, which must have been particularly poignant in the American Revolution in places like Virginia where both armies were Anglican! And that was the situation Amos lived in. The state tolerated a good bit of non-Yahweh religion, “the high places of Isaac,” Baal shrines; and the church winked while the rich squeezed the poor to death. Bad stuff. And you notice also that when the king tells him to go prophesy somewhere else, he right quick distances himself from that: “I’m not a prophet, not part of that crowd. I’m a farmer.” (I learned, by the way, something about that “dresser of sycamore trees” bit. Evidently there’s a sycamore in that part of the world that bears figs. Did anybody know that? I didn’t.) Well anyhoo, Amos’ world is going to Hell by the short road, and he has the gumption to call it out—social injustice, religious hypocrisy, moral turpitude, all of it. “God,” says Amos, “is going to drop a plumb line on Israel and straighten it out, just like we use a plumb line to build a straight wall. You are acting like Hell, and it’s going to be Hell to pay.”

Well, I’ve got to ask, does that sound anything like today? Just look around us. It’s not all in the U.S. England just took a vote to do something pretty far-reaching, and now they’re not at all sure they’re happy about it, everybody running for cover. And in the rest of Europe, people are choosing up sides. Germany’s getting antsy about immigrants, France is one step away from a pogrom. In the United States, we see police shooting black men one day and a black man shooting police the next, and leaders of both sides of the argument are talking right past each other. One side says we have to have stronger gun laws; the other side says we have to have stricter law enforcement; the people in the middle don’t know which way to turn. It’s all through what we call Western Culture, Europe and the Americas, and Mexico is by no means exempt. You know the old saying, Ay México, tan lejos de diós y tan cerca a los Estados Unidos! What happens in the país vecino al norte is going to wash over into Mexico. And vice versa. We’re all in the same tub, and it’s a slop bucket. And how do our leaders respond? I get sick of hearing people say, “Well, moments like this bring us together.” Really? I don’t see that. I see us being shredded. And is that the only way we can be brought together, in fear and hatred of an enemy? Is that the best we have? I want to yell when somebody asks for “a moment of silence.” A moment of silence indeed. What we need is forty days of fasting and prayer, though I don’t think anybody will call for that. Was it ever any better? Somehow I kind of think so. When I was a kid, things seemed more civil. Not everybody was an enemy. My Grandmother Yeager’s highest praise was to call us good citizens. But somewhere along the line, about fifty years ago or so I remember out of almost nowhere a torrent of the literature of self-affirmation flooding the bookstores, all about how wonderful we all are, how we can do anything we want (a dangerous lie), how we must assert ourselves. Lord, I believe in giving children a good self-image and having one for ourselves, but not that bunch of self-absorption. I remember when I came back to Texas after ten years in Mexico, when I watched television with my mother all I saw were ads for drugs. “Does your eyelid twitch sometimes. You may have Twitchy Eyelid Syndrome. TES! Ask your doctor if you’re ready for Lidstill.” And that’s gotten worse. Or ads about managing wealth, that in a country where about half the population lives right at the poverty line. Drugs and money. And today it’s all about “getting the service you deserve,” “taking control,” “earning points or miles or whatever.” It’s sickening. And the saddest part is, we swill it all up like hogs at a trough. When do we hear about giving and caring for each other? Every now and then somebody talks about “giving back,” but that’s usually the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. Thank God for David Brooks. I don’t know how many of you know him. He’s a syndicated columnist, appears in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He’s Jewish, but I think if you scratch him you find a man on the verge of conversion to Christianity, quotes St. John and other Christian writers all the time. The other day he did an article on altruism, behavior that helps others, benefits others with no expectation of reward. He reported studies showing that small children, two-year-olds say, who see someone drop a clothes pin will automatically pick it up and try to give it back. Natural response. Help others. But if they are rewarded, the next time that happens, they’ll be less apt to help, because they’ve learned to ask What’s in it for me? His point was that altruism seems to be part of our nature until we teach ourselves to be ulterior. I’ve said often about myself, there’s not an altruistic bone in my body; I’m the most ulterior person I know. Where did I learn that? Where do we all learn to expect the worst from ourselves? Well, that’s enough harangue, but I think it’s pretty clear we are in trouble, serious trouble, and life is about to . . . When my Grandmother Yeager was a child, she said she and her sibs liked to shuck corn by pulling it through a knothole in a plank, just skins the husk right off. Well, life is about to jerk us through a knothole. Where is help? Dear God, show us what to do!

What blessèd irony that today’s gospel is Luke’s parable of the Good Samaritan, an epiphanic coincidence. What’s the antidote to all that poison we just choked on? Take care of each other. Simple as that. Stop seeing each other as adversaries or as prey but rather as partners, brothers and sisters, neighbors. You know the story by heart. A pesky lawyer is chopping logic with Jesus, always a losing proposition, asks who is in fact his neighbor. Then comes the story. A fellow falls among thieves on the road, gets knocked in the head, robbed, thrown in the barrow ditch, and left for dead. Along comes a priest on his way to church, and God knows he doesn’t want to get involved and messed up and impure, so he passes by on the other side. Next a Levite, the reader and acolyte, same story, he passes by on the other side. And then a low down, good for nothin’, heretical, Not One Of Us Samaritan, comes by and lo and behold goes right over to the bloody wretch, gives him First Aid, puts him in the back of his CRV, drives him to the Holiday Inn, checks him in, leaves his American Express card at the desk, says he’ll pick and the tab up next time he comes that way. Jesus then extorts the right answer from his questioner, and says, “Go and do thou likewise.” How plain can it be? And yet how do we in fact usually treat each other? I’ve told you this story before, but it fits. One Sunday morning at home I was on my way to Trinity Church to say Mass, a cold morning, windy, spitting rain. I was driving across a long bridge over the Trinity River and spotted an old man, older than me, shuffling along under a backpack about the size of my car, having a hard time in the wind. What should I have done? Yes, pull over, ask if I could give him a lift anywhere. But no, this priest had places to go and things to do, and I passed by on the other side. I know all the reasons why that was the sensible thing to do, and I’m not going to commit hara kiri over it; but it is so typical of the way we react to people in distress, don’t want to get involved, just slither by on the other side. It’s in our DNA somehow, and we’re not going to improve much. But the point is blindingly clear, and without further elaboration, I commend the matter to your conscience. We all need to re-program.

Mercy, where’s the sweet gospel this morning? Let’s turn to Paul and today’s lesson from Colossians. You’ve heard me say that reading Paul is often like listening to Stravinsky, everybody against everybody, especially when he’s trying to explain things. Well, not this morning. How many of you remember Amadeus? Do you remember scene when Salieri, Mozart’s rival, finds a manuscript of a composition not yet performed, just on paper in Mozart’s own hand? He imagines the music, and the most beatific look comes over his face. He can hardly speak. He chokes out, “It was like hearing the voice of God.” Well, that’s what the lesson sounds like this morning, the voice of God speaking love to his children. “I have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus . . . the faith of the gospel you have heard . . . how it and you are bearing fruit . . . how you understand my grace . . . I want you filled with knowledge of my will in wisdom and understanding . . . leading lives worthy of me, bearing fruit in good works . . . being strong so you can live through anything . . . in the Kingdom of my Son who has given you forgiveness for all your sins.” Wow. That’s the way God sees his children, the way God sees us here this morning, his children gathered to learn from him what he gives us and what he hopes for us, as well as the grace and strength and gumption to live out his expectation that we live up to Jesus’ teaching in that parable with each other and with every other battered soul our Father in Heaven puts across our path. You see, God believes in us. It’s up to us to see that, believe it, and live accordingly. What could be sweeter than that?

I see three lessons for us this morning. First, we are in trouble. Oh, we’ve always been in trouble, but today, right now, the walls seem to be closing in. How are we to act as baptized people? I heard someone say this week, “Oh, we live in paradise here in Cuernavaca. None of this touches me. I just go inside and close the door, and it all goes away.” That’s a delusion. Opting out is not an option, not for me anyway. This is the nest we’ve made for ourselves, and it’s ours to clean up. I can’t do it all, to be sure, but nobody but I can do my part, so I’m resolved to try. I hope you will too. Second, the solution is right in front of us: take care of each other. I can’t take care of every battered soul, but I can at least offer a lift to those I find on the same bridge with me. I hope you will too. Third, I know what God wants of me. It’s in today’s gospel lesson. I just need somehow to open up so God can give me the gumption to go and do likewise. I hope you will too.