Wednesday, July 15, 2009
there's a lot that can be said about these topics, theological and not, about what christians should do/think. but i think everyone (myself included) is making it more complicated than it needs to be.
christians are not supposed to be selfish. sometimes they are, but i think they all know that they shouldn't be, and most of them are trying not to be. if there was a small amount of food on the table, you would take it all and leave the other people with nothing, or less than what you took -- so why would you use up all the oil and not leave any for our children's children? why would you put fertilizer in the ground that ruins the soil so that you can have an easier time farming but the next farmer has to content with dried-out, poisoned soil?
just because you don't see the victim of your selfishness face to face, doesn't mean it's not selfish. christians should try to take good care of the earth -- it's part of being unselfish.
Pastor: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.this little substitution ("God" instead of "him") is pretty much the only way i modify the church service i attend every week.
Congregation: It is right to give
him(God) thanks and praise.
it's not that i'm some kind of stark raving feminist (no offense to them, some of them are my closest friends). it's just that i'm trying to change the way i think of God.
i don't believe God is male. for that matter, i don't believe God is female. after all, God is transcendent, not limited/divided/categorizable in the way we humans are. i'd say God is both male and female, or neither.
but what i believe about God doesn't match up to how i think of God. i think of him as male. see? i just said him without even thinking about it. i picture him talking with a dad-like voice. most of the metaphors i have for God are male: king, (male) shepherd, carpenter... i don't like it. i don't believe it. it's just a reflex, and i don't want that reflex.
i'm not saying we should rewrite the Bible with all gender-neutral pronouns (not like we even have those in english). i don't even necessarily think my church should make this substitution in this line of the liturgy. but i do think that the more i call God "him", the more i slant my image of him toward "him", whereas saying that line a little differently than i've said it for so many years helps remind me not to do that.
Monday, May 4, 2009
It was a fantastic event. The topics ran the gamut, covering homelessness, sex trafficking, media portrayals of women / female body image, and pollution in the bay, among other things. The students had really done their research, and I was impressed by how passionately many of them spoke about their topics, some of which were topics they had not been interested in before doing the projects. (Please check some of these out – links are below – I bet you’ll learn something you didn’t know!)
But there was one question that the students (pretty uniformly) had a hard time addressing: Where is the other side coming from? Why doesn’t everyone just agree with you and implement your solution?
Understanding “the other side’s” perspective is something that I continue to work on – I’m certainly no expert – and I don’t even know when or how I became convinced that such a thing was important. But I do think that inability to see the perspective of people we disagree with is the biggest thing that keeps us from getting things done in the U.S. – from finding the common ground, so to speak.
This isn’t just an issue for urban schools – I’ve been in rooms full of extraordinarily well-educated people who can’t seem to get past “Republicans are closed-minded, look how illogical/inflexible they are about [insert issue here], that’s why we can’t reach a common ground with they about [insert different issue here].” (I’m not Republican, by the way – just annoyed by the attitude of some fellow non-Republicans.)
Anyway, I don’t know how people can learn to see the perspectives of people with whom they ardently disagree, but I do think that’s the key to being able to find a common ground on all kinds of issues.
These are some of the students’ projects (I will update later when I get the rest of the URLS). As you read them, please keep in mind that they were produced by high school students – there’s a lot of great stuff in there, but don’t try to judge it by professional standards!
Injustice in Tibet
The War on Drugs
The Death Penalty
Immigrant Detention Centers <-- My favorite since it was a topic I really didn't know anything about Eating Disorders
The Three Strikes Law
S. 270: Pregnant Women Support Act (“A bill to provide for programs that reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.”)
S. 21: Prevention First Act (“A bill to reduce unintended pregnancy, reduce abortions, and improve access to women's health care.”)
Both of these bills have been proposed in several previous sessions of Congress and died in committee.
Here’s my crude summary of the differences:
S. 270’s programs that “reduce the need for abortion” are those that make having an unplanned baby less daunting. These include support for young mothers still in school; a requirement that insurance companies not treat pregnancy as a “preexisting condition” (so that pregnant women w/no insurance can go and sign up for insurance to help with the medical costs); increasing food stamps / WIC, etc. These programs are mostly directed toward convincing women who find themselves pregnant not to have an abortion.
S. 21 focuses on preventing unintended pregnancies from happening in the first place, emphasizing contraception availability and education. Programs include requiring hospitals to make emergency contraception available; increasing “family planning services” covered by Medicaid, and making grants available to states from comprehensive sex ed (as opposed to abstinence-only sex ed).
My take on it:
Both of these bills would help reduce abortions. S. 21 would help reduce the number of women who have unintended pregnancies*, and S. 270 would help reduce the number of those women finding themselves pregnant who choose to have an abortion**. They would complement each other nicely.
So why have both these bills have stalled in committee over and over?
Because each “side” thinks their solution is the most important one and won’t vote for “the other side’s” bill, since it doesn’t include their solution. (I mean, obviously it’s a little more complicated than that, but given that it’s so relevant that we talk about every election, it seems like Congress should be able to produce something…)
So… why don’t they roll all these programs into one big bill?
I’m no lawyer. I have no idea how lawmaking works. But I think that if lawmakers decided to unite on some middle ground – to practice some of that bipartisanship that they’re always talking about – they could probably get a bill passed that involves the best of both worlds, preventing abortion at 2 different levels.
Anyway, that’s what I’m praying for.
* As someone raised in California public schools, I’m sure my opinion is pretty biased, but I think it’s clear that abstinence-only sex ed does not work. I also think (and my current students confirm) that our comprehensive sex ed still had a pretty strong “sex is serious, so abstinence is important” message. Plus, I think information about contraceptives is important even for those who choose to abstain until marriage, since maybe they don’t want to have a baby first thing into their marriage. I do have an issue with emergency contraception, but I’m pretty sure that’s outweighed by the rest of the bill (it’s not like we can even begin to talk about the morality of emergency contraception if we don’t even teach girls what contraception is!).
** My experience in working in urban high schools is that the unexpectedly pregnant girls who decide to carry their pregnancies to term are often girls with strong support nets – family who can help care for the baby, women who were teen mothers themselves who don’t judge these girls – and in explaining their decision to keep the baby, they refer to government programs they’ve learned about that are going to help them out.
- The New Yorker's Margaret Talbot writes about different rates of teen pregnancy and abortion in red + blue states in Red Sex, Blue Sex.
- The US Conference of Catholic bishops issued a statement in support of S. 270.
- Newsweek's Lisa Miller shares some insight about the divisive use of language in abortion politics/legislation.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
So I’m super-excited about the daily Lenten ritual that my boyfriend and I came up with. We put a good deal of thought into it and built in all our favorite things about worship and prayer, and what we can up with is a nice mix of scripted prayers, reflection, songs, scripture, and discussion.
The challenge is carving out the time for this ritual. We’re both super-busy, and this ritual takes up maybe 45 min – we can’t just “squeeze it in” when it’s almost bedtime!
So on Tuesday – Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent – when we had a bunch of friends over to my place and they stayed ’til about 11, I couldn’t help thinking that during Lent, when we invite people over to one of our apartments for dinner, we’ll have to kick them out early.
And then I had this CRAZY thought: Wouldn’t it be great if instead of sending them home, we could invite them to join us for our daily ritual?
The thing is, it’s totally crazy. You can’t get your non-Christian friends to join you for praying and singing. They would be so uncomfortable! (It would be a good way to get them out of the apartment quickly, though.)
But if we all moved past that, it would be so great. I would love to be able to share my Lenten traditions with my friends who aren’t Christian – these spiritual practices are, after all, the biggest thing going on in my life right now, and I totally wish I could discuss my take on scripture with them. So it makes me sad that instead of getting to share them, I instead have to break up the community by sending them home early.
Well... someday, I hope.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
A couple of weeks ago, I was stopping at Starbucks on the way to work to pick up a tea and a piadini (pastry thing) for breakfast, and sometimes something for lunch as well.
It’s not that I can’t afford it. It’s not even that the money could be put to better use. It’s just that by doing that, I’m being a spoiled brat! I’m getting my breakfast on demand, because I can’t be bothered to prepare something in advance, or because I like the Starbucks tea with milk and bergamot better than the plain old tea I have at work, or just because it strikes my fancy. I’m expecting exactly the thing I want, exactly when I want it, without being flexible about it or preparing for it in advance.
(Of course, I could definitely put the money to better use, too, but I think for now it will just go toward the giant rent increase I’m taking on next month.)
Here’s my plan for making it happen:
For breakfast, I’m going to make a big pot of steel cut oats (with raisins, craisins, and almonds) every Sunday. Then I’ll pack it up in individual serving sizes and take them all to work on Monday and stick them in the fridge. That way, I don’t have to do anything at home in the mornings; I can just stick the oatmeal in the microwave when I get to school and make myself a cup of tea.
Lunch is trickier. It’s going to have to consist mostly if not entirely of leftovers. This week, I have a whole quiche that I’m eating a couple of slices of every day. Last week, I had about half a meatloaf. I think the trick is to make a HUGE excess of dinner at least once a week. I can’t just have one day worth of leftovers, since I sometimes only cook twice a week. I have to make, like, a whole extra recipe of lasagna or casserole or whatever. And it has to be something I’d be willing to eat for several days in a row.
Of course, there’s all kinds of gray areas. I’ve decided the following are ok: leftovers from restaurant dinners; supermarket bagels (as long as I don’t buy them on the way to work); crackers + cheese. But the following are not OK: TV dinners or instant meals of any sort (even cup-soup); buying extra food at a restaurant for dinner so I can have leftovers for lunch.
Oh, and this only applies to work days. (Building community by going out to brunch is a great ritual!)
Well, that’s that. Wish me luck!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Of course, the headline makes it sound completely ludicrous, but it actually makes a lot of sense to me.
First, pay attention to the question asked – it was whether you’d consider “another” denomination – meaning you should say yes if you would consider being Episcopalian instead of Lutheran, for example. (For those of you who are unfamiliar, Episcopalians and Lutherans are among that seem to me most like Catholics – although people in those denominations might violently disagree.) It’s a much bigger leap from being Episcopalian Church to the Assemblies of God (think Pentecostal / revival meetings).
But more importantly, I don’t really put a lot of stock in these denominations anyway. I see them more as different styles of worship / learning that work for different people – but not as fundamentally different belief systems.
The Bible has lots of language about the body of Christ – one body in which we are all different parts. There’s no way Jesus would have wanted to see a Church so divided as modern Christianity is. As far as I’m concerned, if you believe Jesus Christ is the son of God who came to earth and suffered (died and rose from the dead) to save us from our sins – then you’re a Christian, part of one Church, and that’s that. Which church you choose to worship at doesn’t make you any more or less a Christian. (Lots of people would disagree with me about this.)
[Plenty of Christians don’t consider Catholics to be Christian, which, as far as I’m concerned, is either rather misinformed or rather disrespectful. It’s about as correct as going around saying Protestants aren’t Christian, they’re just Protestant.]
I want to say that I think it’s REALLY important that the Christian Church has had all these movements, even if they resulted in (hopefully temporary) divisions in the Church. While the Catholic Church has on one hand done a fantastic job of producing a lot of great Christian thinkers and developed and preserved numerous invaluable traditions, it has on the other hand tried stifle many ideological movements.
In particular, the Reformation-based focus on reading the Bible, rather than merely letting your local priest read and interpret it for you, was very important for modern-day Christians, both Protestant and Catholic. Other benefits of the schisming of the Church include alternate forms of worship (the solemn and the dancing-and-clapping styles); the opportunity for women who feel called to lead congregations to be able to do so; the welcoming of people back into the Church who no longer feel welcome/comfortable in their old church.
But ultimately, I think these are all examples of God working through our brokenness – NOT the way God wants the Christian Church to be.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
But it’s HARD to find good secular one-day service opportunities!
[Disclaimer: everything I’m saying here is totally unscientific and based purely on my experience, so I might be way wrong about it.]
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are tons of great non-profits out there that do fabulous work, from the old standards like the Peace Corps to new, ultra-focused groups like Free the Slaves and BuildOn (formerly known as Building with Books). But the vast majority of one-day service opportunities are with religiously affiliated organizations.
The big exceptions –the big secular one-day volunteer opportunities for secular service – are food banks and Habitat for Humanity. Both of which are fabulous programs, and definitely play an important role in raising up the lowly, or however you want to think of it.
But one thing they have in common: neither Habitat nor food banks get volunteers into the grit of daily life of the people they’re helping. In fact, volunteers never even see these people. Instead they get a kind of sanitized volunteer experience – the knowledge that they were helpful and even visible results, but no interaction with the people who need that help.
Obviously this is a HUGE generalization, and we could list many exceptions. I think Food Not Bombs is the most widespread of them – like all those church groups, they prepare and serve a meal to whomever’s hungry, and you can go help them out for just one day if you want. (Incidentally, if you are not familiar with Food Not Bombs, it’s worth your time to read about it.) But I think if you talk to most people about their community service experience, it has been either with religious groups, or involved a long commitment, or it has been that kind of sanitized volunteer experience.
Some more thoughts on entering into the grit of the daily life of the less fortunate:
- Most jail ministries / services are run by religious groups.
- Food banks tend to be secular, but who raises food for them? Put another way, when was the last time someone asked you to donate food to the poor, other than a holiday can drive?
- Most meals ministries (free meals for the homeless) are run by religious organizations (there is one Food Not Bombs in San Francisco, but many church hall meals).
Regardless, if you are an atheist/agnostic/non-religious person, I want to encourage you to seek out service opportunities that put you into the grit of daily life of the people you are trying to help, even if it’s through a religious organization. In fact, maybe especially if it is. Religious people aren’t total weirdos, and it’s a good way for you to get to know some, so you can disabuse yourself of that notion. (If you don’t have that notion, then what’s the problem with working alongside a bunch of them?)
RESOURCES (not comprehensive – please add your favorites!)
One-time service opportunities
- Curry Without Worry (http://www.currywithoutworry.org/)
- Martin de Porres House (http://www.martindeporres.org/) -- named after a St. and modeled after the Catholic Worker movement, but not Catholic-run
- Narika -- offers information, support, and advocacy for South Asian women suffering domestic abuse
- Boys Hope Girls Hope -- a live-in program for urban kids that offers a safe home environment, including meals, mentoring, HW help, etc – very focused on getting them through high school into college
- Big Brothers Big Sisters -- mentoring young people
- Mission Graduates -- SF only – mentoring and tutoring for kids living in San Francisco’s Mission District
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
And yes, I did just refer to the Pope as a leader I respect.
[Side point: people have often asked me how I can square my liberal politics with my religion. “Isn’t the whole point of Catholicism that you follow the Pope?” NO!! The point of Catholicism is the same as the point of any other strand of Christianity: that God sent his son to suffer in our place so that we could be saved from out sins. The Pope is miniature compared to all that.]
Okay, so why do I respect the Pope? And where does that respect end?
The Pope (whichever Pope, any and all Popes) is a far holier person than I am or can every hope to be. He has probably spent more time in prayer / conversation with God in the last month than I’ve spent in the last year. He’s also far more learned in theology / church history than I will ever be. This means that, at least sometimes, he’s going to be right and I’m going to be wrong.
In addition, Stanley Fish summarizes an Augustinian argument nicely:
St. Augustine (rejecting the position that the church should be made up only of saints) contended that priestly authority derived from the institution of the Church and ultimately from its head, Jesus Christ. Whatever infirmities a man may have (and as fallen creatures, Augustine observes, we all have them) are submerged in the office he holds. It is the office that speaks, appoints and consecrates. Its legitimacy does not vary with personal qualities of the imperfect human being who is the temporary custodian of a power that at once exceeds and transforms him.Nonetheless, I definitely disagree with a lot of the Pope’s politics. (Do you agree on every point with every person you respect?) For example, I do not agree with the Catholic Church’s teaching about condoms – not only does it fail to make sense logically (why would natural family planning be ok if condoms aren’t?), but it doesn’t “ring true” to me.
When the Pope makes what to me appear to be bad decisions, I have to remember (apart form how much holier he is than I am):
- Everyone screws up on their job. The pope is not immune to that.
- The pope is a spiritual leader, but also a politician and, like all politicians, must sometimes make concessions for unity’s sake. (Though why he wants to make a concession about the existence of the Holocaust and not about the use of condoms is a little beyond me.)
- ...or he might be right. He's not infallible, but I'm even less infallible! And I need to reflect and pray about what our differences are and if maybe I'm the one who's not seeing the big picture.
If you didn't get a chance to hear/see/read Gene Robinson's pre-Inauguration prayer, here it is. I think it is way more powerful, realistic, and appropriate than Rick Warren's. (Not that Warren's was inappropriate -- it was just less specifically appropriate.) He started with an acknowledgement of the reality of our world and asked God for the humanity to react appropriately -- with anger/sadness and with strength
The media really latched onto the phrase "bless us with anger", and honestly so did I, at first, but ultimately these two clauses were the ones that resonated with me that day:
- Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
- Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will:
Bless us with tears -- for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger -- at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort -- at the easy, simplistic "answers" we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience -- and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be "fixed" anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility -- open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance -- replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity -- remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.
And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for ALL the people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.
Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand -- that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
"So Help Me God"
What got me thinking about church and state most recently was the recent news that Obama wanted to say "so help me God" in his oath and some people were objecting.
Let me just say that, ultimately, this particular issue is small. A quick review of history / legal precedent confirmed for me that while the government cannot require anyone to utter "so help me God" to take office, an official is welcome to do that by choice. Furthermore, even if someone somehow prevents Obama from making that part of his vow publicly, if he really wants to ask God's help in his presidency, I'm sure he'll do that in his own private prayer.
However, this got me thinking about how people talk about the "separation of church and state" and how it get "violated".
Origins of the principle
Here's the actual text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (emphasis added):
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.And the actual phrase is usually traced to a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists (then a religious minority), where he wrote:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their "legislature" should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.Essentially, what people sought was religious freedom and respect for their own religious, not necessarily the absence of religion from the public sphere.
The courts made the phrase ubiquitous by incorporating it into their later rules. While the kinks in the definition are still being worked out, the basics are in place: individual worship in any form is protected, and government-sponsored religion is prevented.
How Separate is Too Separate?
First of all, I think some amount of separation of church and state is extremely important. As a Christian, I would be really upset if my child were being forced to practice some other religion in school, or if Orthodox Jewish law were applied to the whole country (what would life be like without cheeseburgers?!).
In some ways, I think we haven't gone far enough. While the government isn't forcing anyone to pay taxes to a particular religious group, non-Christians in this country still don't have it too easy. We have Christmas off (and in Boston, even Good Friday), but not Ramadan or Yom Kippur. You're supposed to be able to take them off with no repercussions, but if you're a student and you take one of those days off, you end up with double work to make up without the benefit of instruction, and if you're a teacher and you take the days off (at least in my last school district), you have to use one of your personal days, as if you were taking a vacation!
But in a lot of ways, I think we're gone too far, especially in ultra-secular urban areas like San Francisco. I'm a school teacher, so my examples are going to come from that perspective:
- The absence of religion in public school curriculum -- I'm not talking about "here is how you pray," more like "here are the things that Christians, Buddhists, etc believe and here are their histories" -- is leading to a nation of young people ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of a grown-up world where the fact is, people are motivated by religion (and sometimes by bastardizations thereof). Fundamentally, if you do not understand the religious motivations and background, Israel/Palestine looks like just a bunch of stubborn mean people (which means you're not in a position to convince them of anything). If you don't understand why Christians find abortion so heinous, you're not going to be able to convince them of alternate solutions (to whatever you see as the problem).
- A great deal of wisdom has been gathered throughout the ages, recorded and passed on through various religious traditions, and it's foolhardy to try to ignore it all and start over from scratch. Whether or not you believe Jesus Christ came to save us all from our sins, you have to admit that most of the 10 Commandments are pretty good, (don't lie, don't steal, don't kill...) and you can't really argue with the whole "treat others as you want to be treated" bit. I'm not saying religious teachings/writings should always be used, but it's no good if they're always avoided because of their ties to some religion or other.
- Some people would argue for the removal of anything religion/God-related from all public life (including, apparently, paid advertisements). After a certain point, this is tantamount to making atheism a state-sponsored religion. And make no mistake -- atheism is a religion, with adherents as fervent, and as tepid, as any brand of Christianity. The state should no more sponsor atheism than it should sponsor Islam or Catholicism. By ignoring religion in contexts where it obviously makes sense to discuss it, teachers/schools send a message the religion is not valuable, that it's some kind of indulgence not worthy of serious scholarly consideration.
I have many friends who are scientists, logicians, analysts of many stripes – people who value reason and logic above all else. When I tell them I’m Catholic, they’re often shocked, or they don’t know what to make of me. They might accept it by ignoring it.
These same friends might think of Christians as group that, in the political arena, behave irrationally, inexplicably. They know that Christians comprise a significant chunk of the American electorate, but they might consider it a chunk unreachable, maybe a chunk that stands in the way of progress.
This blog is for those friends, and others like them. Sometimes we will agree, and sometimes we will disagree. My point is that in either case, we should be able to have a respectful conversation about it. Christians don’t need to be a black box.
This blog is also for Christians who think I’m a crazy liberal, for you to see that I have not abandoned my faith to embrace socially liberal stances.
Either way, I hope you take the time to read and comment on these (probably infrequent) entries. I have lived much of my life in the slim overlap between faith and science, and it has been a lonely place because I have been afraid to have these conversations. I’m brave enough now, if you’re open to it.