Monday, April 24, 2006

Crying Out

My husband and I were guests at the recent Passover Seder at Temple Beth-el in Fort Worth. It was a lovely joyous evening, filled with thought-provoking reflections on liberation.
One of the readings was a quote from the Hassidic Rebbe of Gur: “The sigh, the groan and the crying out of the children of Israel from the slavery was the beginning of redemption. As long as they did not cry out against their exile they were neither worthy nor ready for redemption.”
Our host, Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger explained that in quoting this, Menachem HaCohen is reminding people “that redemption begins when we recognize oppression.”
This is neither fun nor easy, especially in the midst of our affluent and comfortable lives. But unless we acknowledge that people are living in pain not only around the world, but possibly next door, redemption cannot happen.
Perhaps even more importantly, recognizing our own oppression is the key to liberating ourselves from whatever person, system, or cultural artifact keeping us from freedom. No one can move from resignation to resistance to redemption without this recognition.
Another reading at the Seder, Waitings, a poem by Stanley Chyet, dealt with this process:
The waitings which make up the life of a slave;
first he waits for a spokesman
and for plagues
to plead his cause,
then he waits for the waters
to open before him,
then he waits for the desert storms
to name themselves,
then (being a slave) he asks in his heart:
why did I wait for the parting of the waters?
why did I wait for all this uproar and these burnings?
then (being a slave) he waits for answers.
It is this process that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood so well as he shaped the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The Women’s Movement understood it and developed “consciousness raising” groups to help women work through the process. Lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered people have been dealing with it by “coming out of the closet.”
As these various liberation movements have matured, their adherents have come to realize that all oppressions are linked – racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism -- all are linked. One cannot truly fight one without fighting the others.
But even though it defeats the purpose of any liberation movement to bog itself down in “my oppression is worse than yours’ kind of arguments, we see it every day. Most recently we’ve seen it in the reaction of some African Americans to the demonstrations by Hispanics against draconian immigration laws.
How dare they use the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement? And if you think resentment resides there, don’t even ask what many think of lesbians and gays comparing their struggle for full civil rights to that of African Americans.
I do not mean to pick on African Americans here. We all have been guilty of this lack of compassion for the struggles of other oppressed peoples, and white folks like me have offended most often. It is a way to distance ourselves from the pain of others.
Worst, it is a way to avoid taking responsibility for challenging injustices and working for change.
Until we “cry out,” until we stop the waiting for “rescue” and acknowledge our own oppression, we cannot have compassion for the sufferings of others. We dare not “see” them lest we see ourselves reflected there.
But once we have, there is no “unseeing” it. It changes one forever.
So do not be patient with oppression. Do not sit quietly and endure.
Cry out. Come out.
And live.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Hardening Off

Spring always comes early in Texas, but because we barely had a winter this year it has come particularly early.
So I’ve spent much of Lent getting the garden ready for summer -- which will probably be here the day after Easter.
This entails the usual post-winter cleanup – no small job, because there is an acre-and-a-half of garden. But most of all, it means moving all the plants I wintered over in the greenhouse back outside.
This is a slow process. Plants cared for in the greenhouse all winter have to be “hardened off” gradually.
Plants sheltered in a greenhouse are very different from plants that live outdoors all the time. Outdoor plants have thicker cuticles, a waxy layer in the outer skin of a plant that helps keep the plant from drying out. The thicker it is, the better protection a plant has from dehydration. This is important in a climate as stressful as ours. So greenhouse plants have to be given time to grow thicker skins.
Plants that live outdoors also have more robust stems and are generally sturdier than those babied in a greenhouse. When hothouse babies move outside, they have to be given time to gain strength to withstand the often violence weather of a Texas spring.
Texans joke that if you don’t like weather, wait five minutes and it will change. We’ve already had temperatures as high as the mid-90s and as low as freezing – and that’s just in the last month. It’s not unusual to have a 50-degree separation between the day’s high temperature and the low. So plants have to be able to withstand sudden changes in temperature.
And then there are the winds. Friday we had 50-mile-an-hour winds in Fort Worth. They were carrying so much West Texas dust the sky looked brown. The next morning the whole garden was filled with thousands of brand new baby leaves ripped from the tops of the towering oak and pecan trees on our property. All the plants were covered with a thin layer of dust.
Days like that remind me of why I have to move so slowly and carefully with the plants from the greenhouse. It’s a wonderful Lenten discipline. Eager as I am to have the garden all “done” and looking its best, I know if I go too fast I will end up with a mess. And so I learn patience, moving plants out into the light for longer and longer periods each day over three to four weeks.
In the meantime, I prepare the beds for the plants that will go into the ground, and clean the containers for those that will be potted. This means making dirt.
Yes, making dirt. Our soil is thick red clay that, when dry, has the consistency of concrete. When wet, one could probably throw pots with it.
So I have to add heaps of organic matter – compost -- and lava sand and cotton burr mulch and all manner of other good things to break up the clay and help the plants thrive.
So for me, a gardener, this is my Lent, because while I’m working with my plants I’m also working on myself – hardening myself off to be ready for the Light.
This involves cutting out the spiritual dead wood so new healthy growth can start. It’s preparing the bed of my soul for the possibility of new insights, new blessings. It means cross-pollinating by listening to those with whom I disagree. It’s opening myself to the winds of the Holy Spirit, even though it’s more comfortable to remain safely curled up out of the draft. It means digging deep spiritual wells to be ready for the times of drought.
It’s gathering up the courage to say, once again, “Here am I, Lord, if you need me,” and really meaning it.
Gardening isn’t for wimps.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Where are MY bumper stickers?

It’s disconcerting to be invisible.
Anyone listening to the rhetoric coming from the right in our very polarized nation might reasonably conclude that people like me don’t exist.
I’m pro-choice because I’m pro-life.
I oppose the war in Iraq because I support our troops.
I support same-sex marriages because I’m a Christian.
I’m a liberal because I’m a Christian.
Let’s start with abortion.
I am pro-choice because I know what happens when abortion is illegal. Women and girls die. I witnessed it personally in the 1960s in high school in West Texas when friends and acquaintances of mine went to Mexico for abortions and came home maimed or dead.
I am pro-choice because of my Christian faith, not in spite of it. Regardless of what the Roman Catholic Church of my birth says, the Bible does not condemn abortion. As my friend the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale says, “Let me look, with you, at what the Bible actually says about abortion.”
“OK, we’re done.”
She points out that the Bible does not address abortion and indeed, does not address human gestation at all. Anti-choice folks love to quote verse 12 of Psalm 139 -- “For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” – as proof that God is anti-choice. They never quote verse 14 of the same Psalm that says, “My body was not hidden from you, while was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth,” which would seem to indicate we are grown like potatoes.
Psalms are not medical texts. They are poetic songs of awe and wonder about God.
I want abortion to be legal, safe and rare, so I vote for pro-choice candidates. I also work for good sex education; good pre-and-post natal care for all women, affordable day care and family friendly workplace policies.
The War in Iraq
I oppose the war in Iraq because the lives of the men and women in our armed services are much too precious to be placed in harm’s way unless there is a very real threat to our nation. Such an argument could be made for going into Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden.
Iraq is a very different matter. Contrary to what our leaders told us, there were no direct ties between Saddam and 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction, and the UN inspections were working. In no way does it meet the criteria for a “just war.”
It was not waged as a last resort, it was not waged to redress a wrong suffered by the US, we have not established peace since we “won,” and we apparently do not have any idea how many civilian casualties we have caused. Now the most optimistic reports put Iraq “on the brink” of civil war while others say it’s already mired in it.
Our troops were sent into Iraq undermanned, undersupplied and with leaders who had not been given any clear plan for what was to happen after we “won.”
So, yes, I support our troops. I support them by voting for political leaders who are working on ways to salvage the situation in Iraq so we can get them out of there sooner than the 18 to 20 years predicted by Senator John McCain. I support them by voting for politicians who will not cut veterans’ health care or education benefits.
And I wonder why, three years after 9/11, Osama is still free.
Same sex Marriage
I support gay marriage because I am a Christian. People are coming to our states saying, “We want to be in a lifelong committed monogamous union” and we’re saying “No.” They are coming to our churches asking for the blessing of their unions and most are saying “no.” We bless dogs and cats, we bless houses, we bless boats, but we can’t bless two people seeking to be in a lifelong monogamous union? What kind of sense does that make?
Jesus of Nazareth never mentions homosexuality in the Gospels, but he speaks often of the importance of truth, honesty and integrity of a person’s life. He has much to say about those who judge others while ignoring their own sins.
Yes, Paul clearly condemns homosexuality in his letter to the Romans (Romans 1:26-27). But many theologians believe he is not speaking of homosexuality as we understand it today. Paul also urges the acceptance of slavery and expects women to take a secondary role in the church and in society. Yet we condemn slavery and our society and most churches do not model the discrimination against women demonstrated in Paul's letters. Why, then, must we accept Paul’s First Century understanding of homosexuality as critical to Christian morality?
In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are prohibitions of male
homosexuality. It is part of a “holiness code” and what Scripture says about holiness always is filtered through the customs and norms of a particular time and place. The prohibition and penalty for male homosexuality occupies a very small place in this Levitical code. Why lift out this prohibition and ignore the rest of it? Christians blithely eat cheeseburgers and wear blended fabrics, things also forbidden in Leviticus, yet we do not condemn this.
I am a liberal because I am a Christian. I take seriously the marching orders Jesus gave us in Matthew’s Gospel. We are to love God with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole mind. That last part often gets forgotten.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means not just the neighbors we like or the neighbors who look and think like us, but all our neighbors. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, and visit the sick and imprisoned.
My experience has been that it is the leaders who are derided as “liberal” who most often support policies that accomplish these things.
Yes, people like me do exist, even in Texas. And we vote.