Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Senate

From the U.S. Senate to 30 million Americans who will now have access to health insurance, an imperfect bill to be sure but also a significant step toward universal coverage -- merry Christmas indeed. Ted Kennedy's Irish eyes are smiling down today.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas 2009






Gratitude is the fundamental response to creation common to all authentic religious expression, and the fundamental attitude in response to experience as well. It’s easy to feel a depth of gratitude today, for I’m sitting in a nice warm house watching the snow pile up. The tree is lit, the carols are playing, and delicious smells waft from the kitchen. There is so much for which to give thanks.
So, to celebrate Christmas 2009, I offer this thanksgiving.
For our crazy, comical family, much thanks. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost an entire year since our family played host to a couple of dozen folks who came to town on a frigid January day to witness the inauguration of President Obama. Despite the difficulties of the year, I do give thanks for the promise of that hope-filled moment, and remain deeply inspired by my dying aunt’s words on the night of his election – among her very last words: “see what we can accomplish when we all work together.”
For Bud, who has grown into his real name (Dylan) most places outside of the family, 2009 was a year of great transition. He graduated from the Clonlara School last spring, and, due to so much work at Northern Virginia Community College, he entered Mary Washington University a few hours short of being a sophomore. We have noted for him that he is pretty sophomoric already, so it seems he’s just precocious. He’s had a fine first semester in Fredericksburg exploring lots of academic options and “majoring” in ultimate Frisbee thus far.
For Martin, who finally caught up and grew taller than his older brother, it’s been a year of growing pains and celebrations. He learned a bit about consequences when some self-imposed academic struggles resulted in his missing out on summer camp. We’re not sure if that experience made the difference this fall, or if it’s the fact that his girlfriend lives in Richmond and they only get to see each other if their grades are such that their parents see fit to trek up and down I-95. Out-of-town love interests are a great bit of leverage! Obviously, the mere fact that there is such interest tells you that Martin is growing up. The fact that the interest is another sweet child of another Presbyterian pastor tells you that he is growing up well. Beyond the love interest, Martin continues to expand his artistic endeavors, adding the mandolin to his violin playing and continuing to work on his drawing and cartooning.
For Hannah, who continues to accomplish whatever she sets her mind to, 2009 was a year of holding on fast to rapidly ending childhood. Hannah did some growing up when her best friend Josie moved to Tunisia with her State Department family. We’re further grateful to live in the communication age, and Hannah and Jo have kept up a great long-distance friendship over Skype. But Hannah remains a little girl at heart, spending hours in blanket forts with one or more dogs and one or more books because, well, outside of a dog a book is a little girl’s best friends, and inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. She emerges from the forts to practice her flute, to write stories and create small art works that decorate her walls.
When the collective mood is right, as it was earlier on this snowy day, Hannah and Martin and I get our instruments out and make music together. We’ll be playing an Irish bit during the Christmas Eve service next week.
Cheryl is the master of ceremonies for this three-ring circus – sitting in the rocking chair, sipping tea, knitting and offering wry commentary on the chaos that unfolds around and interrupts her serenity. To make sure that her ringmaster credentials stay current, she added another master’s degree to her pedigree this year, completing the library science degree at Syracuse University. One more master’s and she’ll have a degree for each ring of the circus. Of course, one more master’s degree and she’ll be in the asylum, too, at least to visit her husband. She gives thanks for continuing good work at the Library of Congress. In a time when so many are struggling, to have a great job, doing work that you love with good colleagues is a great gift.
I continue to serve as pastor to the great little congregation at Clarendon, where we are still feeding the hungry, extending hospitality to the outcast, empowering the marginalized, trying to do justice and make peace, and preaching good news. The highlight of my year was reaching the respectable age of 50. I celebrated the benchmark by running a 10K. I finished it in just less than an hour. Last time I ran one I did it in 39 and change. Of course, I was 25 then! I added less than a minute per year, so by the time I run another when I’m 75 … well at that stage I’m sure I’ll be grateful if I can make it to the finish line.
On the one hand, it is difficult to sum up a year in the life of a family in a few paragraphs, on the other hand, it was a typical year in the life of a typical family. Oh, to be sure, there were interesting moments: President Obama gave his "back to school speech" at Martin's school; Bud and I spent a wonderful week in Italy to celebrate his turning 18; Hannah visited Jamestown; Cheryl and I got to see Herman Wouk honored by Jimmy Buffet -- which doesn't happen just every day.
Other than the Italy trip, these were all just perks of living in Arlington. Nothing extraordinary happened, but there were small miracles every day. Ordinary resurrections, as Jonathan Kozol calls the rising up that we do every day, mark the passing of our time. For some, in these days, rising up is an extraordinary challenge for it comes in the face of violence, sickness or grief. For we who rise up so easily, and take it so for granted, it is often easy to forget the great gift we have been given. When we remember, sometimes we are moved in gratitude to rise up singing, rise up dancing, rise up praying, rise up marching to end the violence, heal the sick and comfort those who mourn.
Despite endless wars, economic calamity, and dysfunctional politics that darken the present and threaten the future, a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.
So we rejoice and give thanks in this season of lights, and move boldly into the future bearing as much of that light as we can.
Shalom.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Law and Order and Responsibility

It seems that Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly is ticked off at the producer of NBC's Law and Order, Dick Wolf, because in a recent episode of the show the actions of a character who aims to kill the children of immigrants are explained, in part, as due to the hatred spread by pundits such as O'Reilly, who was named in the show.
I don't know that I've ever seen an entire episode of the show, so I don't know what kind of agenda it might put forth. The little bits I've seen did not lead me to believe it was right wing agitprop like "24" or pushing a liberal agenda, a la The West Wing.
I can understand O'Reilly being angered at being called out, and I don't watch his show ever so I can't say much about it behind clips. From the clips I would say O'Reilly is not in the same league as others named in the show such as Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh.
But that's for others to decide, and apparently the Law and Order folks lump them all together.
Personally, I'm all for all of them having the right to speak their minds, but I also believe that we are responsible for what we say and how we say it. The only reason we have Constitutional protections on speech is because we believe firmly that speech makes a difference.
It's OK to yell "fire" in a crowded theater if you're an actor and it's in the script. It may even be OK to yell it if there is, indeed, a fire -- although something a bit calmer might be more helpful.
It's altogether another thing if there is no fire, or if the fire is, say, a match used to light a cigar. (OK, I know, no smoking, but even someone as turned off by smoking as I am shouldn't yell "fire" at a lighter.)
A lot of today's bloviators strike me like that: they are screaming their heads off trying to whip up a frenzy about threats that don't amount to much more than a flick of the Bic (now there's an old reference).
It's remarkable, for example, how quickly both left and right play the "Hitler" card in their arguments. When you get to the point of comparing your opponents to Hitler and the Nazis -- which so many do in about two steps -- then what you are suggesting is that it is justified to use violence to stop the other side. I've tried to avoid the rhetorical temptation, though I've succumbed once or twice over the years -- usually in the guise of "I'm not suggesting that they're Nazis, but the way they goose step scare me ...". That we use that kind of rhetoric over issues such as reforming health care or immigration laws is just plain sad.
The sadness turns to tragedy if followers take up arms in response to the clarion calls. The same holds for makers of violent entertainment when its consumers reenact it in the real world. Speakers are responsible for their words, and while there is no reasonable way of legally extending responsibility for how listeners respond, to deny that there is a response is to deny the power of speech.
The causality is impossible to trace, but simply resorting to "1st amendment" arguments in the aftermath of tragedy is a coward's way out.
Don't know that this has much to do with the way Bill O'Reilly's name was used, but it does have something to do with how his words may get used.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Good News

Or, at least, fun news; especially for those of us who are on the downhill side of midlife. Amidst the gloom of war stories, sex scandals and broken politics, I heard a story on NPR today about an 83-year-old woman who took her first solo flight a few weeks ago.
She told NPR that she hadn't taken her first flying lesson until after her 80th birthday, and, in fact, hadn't ever thought about learning to fly until then. She wanted to find something to stretch herself and keep her mind active.
Some older folks take up cross-word puzzles. I hope that when I reach this woman's age I have her enthusiasm for taking on something new.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bonhoeffer on Advent

“We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remember What Mr. Nobel Invented ...

As they say on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong.
Just a fraction of what is expanded so obscenely on defense budgets would make the difference in enabling God's children to fill their stomachs, be educated, and given the chance to lead fulfilled and happy lives.
-- Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance remarks
This must be a world of democracy and human rights; a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation, and ignorance, relieved of the threat and the scourge of civil wars and external aggression and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to be refugees.
-- Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance remarks
In spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problems, it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobel Peace Prize acceptance remarks
As commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
-- President Barack Obama's address to the nation two weeks prior to receiving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize
As usual, the president was eloquent in his remarks accepting the peace prize, saying, "Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls."
To which most human beings will say, "yes."
But in practicing an unimaginative realism, the president seems to have forgotten his own campaign slogan: "yes we can." As president, clearly Obama faces a different set of responsibilities than the rest of us, but in this crucial moment he is facing those responsibilities in the same way that each of his predecessors as commanders in chief did.
In falling back into a defense of just war, as the president did in his acceptance, he walks the same tired path that kings and despots and commanders in chief and revolutionaries all have walked; justifying their path for a thousand years in Augustine's unbiblical theory of just war.
In the end, however justified a war may seem, a just war is just war. The institution building that the president proposed is certainly important, but there is no way to peace. Peace is the way.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

This Is Wrong, Mr. President: UPDATED post speech

This is the first week of Advent, a season of preparation for what Bonhoeffer called “the great turning around of all things.”
As if to prove he is not the messiah (as if such proof were needed) tonight President Obama is going to reassure the world that nothing has really changed. Following in the sunken footsteps of so many of his predecessors, the president is going to choose the path of war and more war.
Bonhoeffer knew that true change that we can believe in does not come through the revolutionary acts of strong men, the grand statements of politicians or even the pious acts of a saint, but instead through the utterly strange action of God.
Thus no one should be surprised by the military steps that President Obama will set in motion tonight. Nothing will be turned around – surely not the arc of the moral universe – by increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. It is a quite open question whether or not even the situation on the ground in Afghanistan will be markedly changed by this action.
Thus I believe the president is making a huge mistake: politically, strategically, morally and historically.
So, first, we hold in the light all of those who are caught in the line of fire -- whether civilian or in uniform, whether on "our side" or the other.
Some of us will be inclined to think that President Obama makes this choice against the better angels of his nature, but it does not really matter. I don’t think George W. Bush was, or is, evil – just wrong on many things. I don’t think Barak Obama is evil, but he is wrong on this decision politically, strategically, morally and historically.
It does not seem to matter whether we send the “best and the brightest,” “the young and the restless,” or the “rich and the famous” to Washington, the disease of war infects them all.
President Obama is wrong politically. As The Nation’s Mark Cooper observes on his blog, “the calculation has been made that his presidency and the Democrats would not be able to survive the charge of cut and run that would be yelled to the high heavens” if he began a serious beginning to the end of the war in Afghanistan. Therein lies the irony of the action all of Washington expects him to announce this evening. Obama was elected, in large part, as an antiwar candidate. Go back and watch his major speeches of the 2008 campaign – from Iowa to Denver, his promise to end the war in Iraq consistently drew the loudest, most enthusiastic cheers. Those voters will not be “fired up and ready to go” in 2012 if the president who promised change has dragged us deeper into a morass that cannot be changed by military means, and that is unlikely, at this late date, even to be improved by such means.
President Obama is wrong strategically. If the aim of the war in Afghanistan was to route from their safe havens those responsible for the atrocities of September 11 – namely the terrorists of al Queda – then the United States and our allies won that war by early in 2002. Quoting an unnamed senior U.S. military official, the Washington Post reported this month that there are “perhaps fewer than 100 members of the group left” in Afghanistan. The same is true if the aim of the war was to unseat the Taliban. Long before we invaded Iraq, the Taliban had been removed from power in Afghanistan and al Queda in Afghanistan had been reduced to a haggard remnant.
The well-documented resurgence of the Taliban over the past 18 months was fueled in part by the continued presence of American (and allied) troops viewed as an occupying force by a people well known for resisting any and all occupying forces. There is plenty of reason to believe that we can negotiate with the Taliban, which was there long before we arrived and will be there long after we depart – whenever that day comes. We are already paying them off handsomely simply to move supplies through the country, as Adam Roston exhaustively reports this month in The Nation. The tangled web of tribal relationships, Taliban leadership, and members of the ruling party in Kabul is such that no one can account for where much of the billions of U.S. dollars pouring into Afghanistan is actually winding up.
Moreover, the 30,000 or so troops that will be added to the fight are probably too few to succeed in a classic counterinsurgency scenario, in which troop levels are determined relative to population size. Even with the increase, troop levels in Afghanistan will be lower than the level in Iraq, which has the smaller population. On top of that, the proposal to turn things over to a civilian government in Afghanistan in 18 months or so seems like an incredibly rosy scenario given the rampant corruption of the current regime. When the current president's brother is among the largest opium dealers in the world it seems more than reasonable to wonder how effective the government can become in a year and a half.
As for al Queda, they have no meaningful presence in Afghanistan. Eight years ago this fall, as American political and military leaders dithered and dreamed of regime change in Iraq, al Queda moved into Pakistan – a U.S. ally and recipient of billions of dollars of U.S. military aid. Their growing presence in Pakistan was widely reported as early as the summer of 2002, when Time ran a lengthy piece on the trend. Al Queda continues to operate in the lawless tribal regions of the mountains along the border, but they do so at a significantly reduced capacity. They are a ragged remnant reduced to living in caves and producing propaganda. They are criminal terrorists; thugs who should be brought to justice.
That we should continue to work strategically with our allies in the region is obvious. That we should be prepared to act swiftly and decisively whenever the opportunity presents itself to capture – or, more likely to kill – bin Laden and his henchmen is equally obvious. Such operations call for smaller strike forces engaging in counterterrorism and criminal justice, not an additional 30,000 troops engaged in nation building by another name.
To capture, try and convict bin Laden would be a triumph for American values. To imprison him for life rather than make him a martyr would be a triumph of nonviolence.
However, it is clearly unlikely that anyone will take him and his lieutenants alive. Killing them then – whether in acts of war or of militarized criminal justice – may be the necessary evil that is part of living in a broken and violent world. Perhaps that would be part of “the Bonhoeffer exception” to the practice of nonviolence. When such killings occur, they are not actions to celebrate but rather events that should lead us to seek God’s mercy.
I do not expect President Obama to share that perspective, but my own commitment to Christian nonviolence leads me to say that the president is wrong morally in this decision.
His moral error ought to spur the church in America into action, both to speak clearly against the ongoing wars of the nation, and also to articulate a new vision rooted in the principles of Christian nonviolence for responding to international terrorism. That call is more urgent today than at any point in our nation’s history, and in the long, mixed history of church thinking on war and peace.
When I was asked at a National Security Council briefing for religious leaders last month what I would say to the president if I had the chance, I said, “I would encourage him to be mindful of history.”
In particular, the president should be mindful of two distinct moments in American war history:
• Counterinsurgency in Vietnam.
• The surge in Iraq.
From the earliest days of the war on terrorism, comparisons to the Vietnam War have been suggested and argued. Were the two wars similar or not in terms of the difficulties of counterinsurgency? Were they similar or not in terms of American knowledge (or ignorance) of the native cultures? Were they similar or not in terms of tactics and strategies? Were they similar or not in relation to their origins? Such questions will doubtless be the subjects of countless history dissertations in the years to come.
Personally, I tend to think that the Vietnam War share some similarities with both Iraq and Afghanistan. But I think the same thing about World War I with respect to World War II. Some things were similar; some things were not.
The real question, however, is why we continue, 50 years past the American entry into Vietnam, to fight that long ago war.
That we are doing so is clear in the echoes of Manichean reasoning about the communists in North Vietnamese so clearly discernable in contemporary discussions of the Taliban and the insurgents in Afghanistan.
That we are doing so is evident in the “hearts and minds” rhetoric in the Army’s new manual on counterinsurgencies, that underscores the primacy of the “battle for the people’s minds.”
That we are doing so is obvious in the rhetoric employed to support the deployment of additional troops.
For example, Peter Hegseth, executive director of Vets for Freedom, is urging President Obama to make the case for “finishing the job.” In so doing, Hegseth lays the groundwork for some future argument that Afghanistan was lost, or that the surge failed, because the politicians in Washington did not provide adequate support for the soldiers on the ground.
The deeper problem, the great unlearned lesson from Vietnam, is that no amount of support for soldiers on the ground is going to alter the outcome, because not only is there no military solution to an insurgency, but there is also no political one – at least not if by “political solution,” one means that America and our allies can build something like a stable civil society in Afghanistan.
As Jonathan Schell argued recently in The Nation, “The circle to be squared is getting the people of a whole country to want what Washington wants. The trouble is that, left to their own devices, other peoples are likely to want what they want, not what we want.”
Indeed, the new counterinsurgency manual explains the battle for hearts and minds this way:
Hearts means persuading people their best interests are served by your success; minds means convincing them that you can protect them, and that resisting you is pointless.
The problem arises when people are persuaded that their best interests are served by their success, and that your continued presence does not protect them but, instead, keeps them from succeeding on their own terms.
Changing public opinion in Afghanistan underscores the problem. Between 2006 and 2009 Afghani public approval of the United States slipped from more than 80 percent to fewer than half the population having a favorable view. The New York Times reported last month that the Afghan public is growing more concerned at the prospect of a surge in troop levels.
A decrease in the level of violence would no doubt improve the public’s perceptions of Americans, and in that regard the experience with the American troop surge in Iraq no doubt seems compelling.
Civilian deaths in Iraq dropped significantly from the 2007 surge through the end of 2008, and have fallen to fewer than 5,000 this year marking the fewest civilian casualties since the war began in 2003. That is good news, but it begs the question of causality, and that question is far from clear.
A report released this fall by the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network concludes, “The civilian/ethno-sectarian death toll in Iraq peaked in December 2006-January 2007, suggesting US soldiers were unable to check the sectarian bloodshed at its high point, and the preponderance of the sectarian cleansing occurred well in advance of the US troop increase to Baghdad. The troop increase became operational a short time before the end of the civil war, in mid-June 2007. Enough time, roughly two months, to nudge the various Shia militia groups to back down, but insufficient time to end a civil war the US did not control.” Indeed, civilian casualties had dropped from a post-invasion high of 3,160 in July, 2006, to 2,094 in June, 2007, before most of the surge troops were on the ground.
Historians will argue the efficacy of the Iraq surge for years to come, but just as Iraq is not Vietnam, neither is Afghanistan Iraq. What may have worked militarily in Iraq, where the violence and civilian casualties have been mostly an urban affair, may be irrelevant to Afghanistan, where the violence and civilian casualties are mostly in the hinterlands. What may have worked politically in Iraq, where there has been a functioning national civil society for generations, may not work in Afghanistan, where there is little history of a functioning national civil society. (That the Iraqi civil society was for more than 20 years a corrupt and violently enforced one is indisputable, but weighed against the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan its seems beside the point in considering the prospects for a surge in American troops.)
Taken as a guide, then, the as yet incomplete history of the troop surge in Iraq does not offer President Obama much clarity – which is precisely the point.
If the aim of any troop surge at this point is, as it must be, to hasten the end of the war in Afghanistan, the history of the troop surge in Iraq is sobering. Since that surge was announced by President Bush on January 10, 2007, more than 35,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the violence in their country. In that same period, more than 1,300 American soldiers have died in Iraq.
Almost three years after the surge was announced, more than 140,000 American troops remain in Iraq, and despite President Obama’s pledges, increased violence there over recent months seem likely to keep that number steady well into 2010. Three years into the once-new policy and there are roughly 8,000 more American troops in Iraq than there were in 2007. Or put into a different perspective, more than six and a half years into the war in Iraq, the undefined end of the job is still not in sight.
If President Obama is prepared to tell the nation tonight that well beyond the end of his first term in office there will be more troops on the ground in Afghanistan than there are today, and that the still undefined end of the job will remain out of sight, then he will have honestly assessed the history of the surge in Iraq.
I imagine that the president, like so many before him, will argue that the troop surge is the way to peace. There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, I spoke at a rally in Cleveland’s Public Square. I said then that that Bush’s War in Iraq was wrong, politically, strategically, morally and historically. As President Obama prepares to address the nation this evening to announce his troop surge in Afghanistan, I have reached the same, sad conclusions concerning what is about to become Obama’s War in Afghanistan.
NOTE: the original version of this post is in a document with numerous links to supporting documents. The links fell out in posting it to the blog. If you are interested in seeing them, post a comment with an e-mail and I will send the original your way.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Words Escape Me

I have heard a small bit about this proposed Ugandan legislation to ban homosexuality, but seeing the text leaves me struggling for the right words to describe the hatred, ignorance, and violence inscribed in the legislation.
Asked recently for his view on the proposed law, Rick Warren demurred, saying it was not his role to get involved in the politics of other nations.
The only problem with that perspective is that the politics of other nations have effects beyond the borders of other nations. Institutionalized violence against anyone based on group identity -- race, gender, sexuality, etc. -- gives sanction to such violence beyond the reach of the given institution or jurisdiction. As Dr. King often said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
The current issue of the journal American Psychologist includes an article on the way religious beliefs have been used in the mix of arguments about contentious social and political issues. The authors write
People who are members of sexual
minority groups are still legitimate targets of random
violence, domestic terrorism, and unequal treatment/protections
under the law. Discrimination against sexual minority
group members is not only encouraged and tolerated, it is
legally required in some contexts. They are discriminated
against in many jurisdictions in the same ways that states
practicing racial segregation, criminalizing interracial marriages,
and carrying out other infringements and denials of
civil liberties and constitutional rights were given license
to do until the Federal government, in the context of social
movements and advocacy, determined that such practices
violated the constitutional rights of free citizens.
Legitimized inequality gives license to harm.

Legitimized inequality gives license to harm. That is what is at stake in all this: the lives of men and women who are at risk of violence and death because they are gay or lesbian. That is what Uganda wants. No religious argument justifies such violence. Is it too much to ask a prominent pastor in America to speak against it?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Note to the White House

It is all but impossible to get through the White House comment line these days, so I resorted to brief e-mail to register input on the upcoming Afghanistan decision.
Dear Mr. President,
Thank you for including faith communities in gathering input on Afghanistan/Pakistan policy. It was an honor to join the group last week at the Eisenhower building.
As you near your final decision, please be mindful of the dismal history of military responses to insurgencies, and focus U.S. policy on diplomatic, political and humanitarian responses to the problems in Afghanistan.
Please be honest in your assessment of the "surge" in Iraq, and know that any similar surge in Afghanistan will likely accomplish no more than creating isolated zones of temporary safety.
True peace is not merely the absence of violence; it is the presence of justice. Please seek peace and pursue it.
Blessings on you and your family in the midst of such difficult times.
Shalom,
Rev. Dr. David Ensign
Christian Peace Witness
Pastor
Clarendon Presbyterian Church

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Me, Kal Penn and Peace


I represented the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship at a White House security council briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Twenty or so representatives from Protestant, Catholic and Muslim groups were in the room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (former Old Executive Office Building, former State Department, former War Department) next door to the West Wing.
The briefing was an off-the-record meeting as part of President Obama's "listening tour" as he deliberates U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Because it was off the record, I'll note only that we were asked by the security council staff to tell them exactly what you would say to the president were he in the room because they are the ones who will bring him the information and recommendations on policy and how to articulate it.
There was, as one of the staffers noted to me afterward, remarkable agreement among the faith groups. We want the military operations to end. We want American troops to be withdrawn as quickly as possible. We want aid operations to be supported. We want the U.S. to engage the region diplomatically and culturally.
None of that is any surprise, nor is it breaking any confidence to repeat those broad strokes.
When my turn to speak came, well into the 75 minutes we had, I simply said that the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship would underscore and amplify most of what had already been said, and that we would add only the strong encouragement to the president to be mindful of history as he makes this decision.
In particular, be mindful of the dismal history of military counter-insurgency efforts. They simply do not work, and 20th-century history is dotted with examples of their failures, most strikingly in this instance, the oft-noted failure of the Soviet Union in the same mountains fighting the same insurgents.
Moreover, be mindful of the history and cultures in the places where we are engaged. We have a long, sad history of ignorance dating back to our failure to engage and understand the history and culture of the indigenous people on our own continent and extending on through our military efforts in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and Asia. That ignorance, too often combined with an imperial arrogance, has led us down some long, dark, and deadly paths.
Finally, be mindful of our own history. The last time an American president tried to take on such serious domestic issues -- poverty, health care -- the effort was derailed by the costly war in Vietnam.
Of course, recalling President Johnson also brought to my mind his inelegant remark that he would rather have his political adversaries "in the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in," and left me wondering if the religious peace groups are simply being co-opted by the administration. On the other hand, after eight long years of walking on the other side of the fence being utterly ignored, it was refreshing to be invited in to share our perspective.
All of that, however, is neither here nor there, because the highlight of the meeting was at the very beginning when Kal Penn walked in. House fans know him as Doctor Kutner. Political junkies know that he walked away from his lucrative acting career to work in the White House Office of Public Liaison. In that role, he was at the meeting to take notes.
I did not get a chance to speak with him, though I considered feigning some strange and serious malady and asking him for a diagnosis. Seriously though, I did want to congratulate him for setting aside his career for a while to work for something he believes in. Whatever one thinks of the president, it's always pretty cool to see someone make a significant sacrifice -- in this case, financial -- to work for the common good.
Oh, and the bottom line of the gathering: it's not lupus.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Note to My Catholic Colleagues: Updated

I have worked with Catholic Charities many times over the years, and have been consistently impressed by the compassionate service provided. Thus, I was dismayed to read of the archdiocese's threat to pull social services from the District in response to changes in its marriage laws. I am pretty certain that when Jesus said, "when I was hungry you fed me," or "feed my sheep," he did not say, "unless you oppose same-sex marriage." Jesus never attached strings to his compassion or threatened to use the poor as pawns in a political game. Whether or not one agrees with your stand on same-sex marriage, to harm the least of these in order to make your point is unworthy of your great tradition. I pray that you will reconsider.
UPDATE: Kojo Nnamdi had Ed Orzechowski, President & CEO of Catholic Charities of Washington, on this afternoon to talk about this issue. The most interesting part of the interview came when an attorney called in to press Mr. Orzechowski on the inconsistencies in Catholic Charities' positions with respect to their noncompliance with DC's human rights code. It's worth a listen, and it underscores my central concern here: the archdiocese is making the poor a pawn in the struggle over marriage equality. DC and the gay rights community have turned a blind eye to Catholic Charities noncompliance with the human rights code for years, and there is no reason to believe that would not have continued under the proposed law. Moreover, federal law prohibits a locality from forcing a private entity to comply with any regulations regarding insurance coverage (of, for example, domestic partners or same-sex spouses).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Poem for Veterans Day


In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Executioner's Song

The man found guilty of masterminding the DC-area sniper murders in fall of 2003 was put to death by the Commonwealth this evening.
Yesterday I found myself sitting in the Barnes & Nobles next to the "sniper Depot" reading about the father of one of the victims and remembering that distant October. We lived in Ohio at the time, but even there we wondered about copycats every time we filled our gas tanks or walked across large suburban parking lots. I was bringing a busload of Presbyterian peacemakers down for one of the first major rallies in opposition to the drumbeat of war in advance of the invasion of Iraq, and I recall the deep sense of relief we felt when the sniper arrests were made during the week before we headed down.
All of those memories are incredibly vivid even now, and none of the events touched me personally.
The father believes tonight's execution will bring "closure," but closure is a myth that sells pop-psych books not a reality that brings comfort six or seven or even seventy years after a devastating loss. Grieving never ends as long as memory endures. It is part of what makes us human, and part of the human condition of living always in the valley of the shadow of death.
Each of us bears our own scars from the particular paths we walk through this lonesome valley. Another's death will never remove the scar he caused. There is only moving with and through the pain of the wound until we find some deeper path where the suffering and scars inform instead of debilitate.
The cross of Christ offers deep wisdom to those who walk the lonesome valley in the company of Jesus, but that's a sermon for another day.
And so I sat sipping my mocha and wondering what point it serves to execute anyone.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mixed Bag On the Road to the Inevitable

I join my GLBT friends in sadness this morning over the results of the Maine vote to repeal the state's legislative victory legalizing same-sex marriage. Meanwhile out on the other cost, Washington voters voiced their support for domestic partnerships.
Amidst the gray from Maine there is one bright shining promise: returns from the University of Maine were running more than 80-20 in favor of marriage equality. Those votes are the future. The moral arc of the universe is long, but it does bend toward justice.
As Bishop Robinson said in Maine over the weekend, "We're in this for the long haul. Keep your energy up and your focus clear. We can be in it for the long haul because we know how this is gonna end: full equality."
I spent election night ignoring the politics of the moment (after voting), and concentrating on the work of arc bending. The local More Light Presbyterians chapter board, which I co-moderate, had its monthly meeting and we spent two hours in an energetic conversation about movement building, public witness and outreach.
We are in this for the long haul, and we know how this is going to end. As Sen. Kennedy said, the work goes on, the dream endures, the hope shall never die.

Monday, October 26, 2009

a poem for the day

Last Night I Dreamed a High School Musical
A rising electricity from the gathering crowd,
glimpsed around the edge of the curtain.
The orchestra tunes.
Places!
Houselights dim.
Single spot: stage left.
I count ten. Curtain up.
A lone figure on the stage
as I wait on my first cue.
Dancing girls and extras hustle past,
lit exquisitely by my hands.
The leading lady swirls by.
Ballet slipper leads to the turn of her ankle,
Curling up her perfect legs until I reach
Intermission.
Twelve minutes alone with Vonnegut.
Flip the house lights three times then dim.
A lone spot light as once again the curtain rises.
The light falls on her face as she dances,
then a second spot and he joins the dance.
I sit in the darkened booth;
backstage in my own dream.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Offense Taken, Thanks


Well, Pat Robertson says gays don't really want to get married. Who knew? It would come as quite a surprise to the same-gender couples I've married. They were all pretty damned excited, as were their families and loved ones.
If you watch the clip linked above, you'll see Pat's cohost saying that "Christians ought to get offended." Well, she and Pat offended this Christian.
Pat is probably still blaming gays for Katrina.
It's amazing how powerful the small GLBT community must be: undermining Western Civilization, destroying marriage and flooding the Gulf Coast. Oh, and they helped 9-11 to happen, as well.
Simply remarkable.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No Swine Flu ...

but no good health either this week. Kids ... colds. Time for more hot tea.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Mr. President, the Ball Is In Your Court


The surprising announcement that President Obama has been named recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize reminds me that the president is a screen upon whom we project our hopes and fears. Since at least the 1930s, as the United States emerged as a world power and the president as a world leader, this has been the case for better and for worse.
This announcement, not yet a full year since Obama's historic election last November and barely nine months since that frigid January Tuesday when two million people gathered on the National Mall to witness his inauguration, comes at a crucial moment for the president. Nine months into his presidency marks the halfway point in his campaign promise to remove combat troops from Iraq within 18 months. He had already stretched that early pledge to 22 months by the time he took office.
Was the Nobel committee trying to turn up some heat under the president by reminding him of this pledge? Were they throwing down a gauntlet as he prepares to make a decision on troop levels and strategies in Afghanistan? Or were they, as the citation put it simply honoring "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples"?
Whatever the committee's motivations or reasoning, one thing is clear: the ball is in the president's court now. Will he live up to this honor by creatively seeking peace in Iraq, the Middle East and Afghanistan, or will his imagination fail at this critical hour? Will he look through the Manichean lens that has blinkered his predecessors -- Democrats and Republicans -- throughout America's imperial age, or will he find a new perspective through which to forge an imperfect peace in the graveyard of empires without costing thousands of additional lives?
The Nobel committee, like American voters this time last year, chose hope.
Hope is all well and good. Without it life is not worth the effort. But in the present season it is time for the president to begin living into the hope that he has inspired. This honor underscores the way forward: it is the way of peace. Or, as my Quaker friends would say, "there is no way to peace; peace is the way."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Gun Nuts


I wonder if all those lawmakers who were so eager to ban federal funds to an anti-poverty group after a fake pimp and prostitute got two or three ACORN offices to offer them assistance will be eager to take on the NRA after a New York City undercover investigation found 19 out of 30 private gun sellers willing to sell firearms to buyers who said they could not pass a background check?
Here's betting that Congress will be far less concerned about closing the gun-show loophole in background checks -- a loophole that puts lots of real guns in the hands of real bad guys -- than it was about cracking down on ACORN.
In passing, I'd note that closing the gun show loophole is a stated goal of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as is the eradication of extreme poverty.
UPDATE: Tried to post this link in a comment but it did not work. Take two.
Oh, and as "Idiot" was originally used in ancient Greek city-states to refer to people who were overly concerned with their own self-interest and ignored the needs of the community I'll stand by that as well.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Worship Notes

We were ecclesiastically disobedient today: two elders serving at table -- the first out, gay, partnered elder in Virginia and the first out, gay, partnered clerk of session in Virginia presided at table on this world communion day. Someday soon the broader church will recognize their trailblazing service, and their respective loving relationships such they the awkward and legalistic "partnered" will become "married."
Oh, what the hell: the first married gay elders (not to each other ... married couples should not serve on session together!).

Monday, September 28, 2009

the butterfly effect?

The Saharan dust rose in the elephant’s wake, and settled back to earth. Nothing else moved. A bird called from a distant tree breaking the stillness of the African morning. At the sound of the call, a tiny blue butterfly, no bigger than a coin, flittered from a dry leaf.
Two months passed.
An ocean away a storm brewed in the Gulf of Mexico and forecasters warned residents of New Orleans that this could be the “big one.”
It was night in the Big Easy, and Guy Noir …

Friday, September 18, 2009

I Do ... We Don't ...

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in the midst of the same conversation about same-gender marriage as the nation. The Presbyterian Outlook reports on a preliminary report from the church's study group.
It is far too soon to guess what will become of the final report when it comes out in January, but the group's final recommendation will be met with general approval even though we will all break its intentions from time to time.
As the Outlook put it:
Several committee members described that last recommendation — a covenant called “Those Whom Christ Has Joined Together, Let No One Separate” — as the most important of the recommendations they were considering. The covenant states in part that Presbyterians should promise “to love one another even when we disagree, and to commit ourselves to the reconciliation of any broken relationship we have with one another.”

Love one another always. It's all that easy ... and all that hard.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ACORN -- this vote was nuts

Here is a letter I sent today to Virginia's U.S. Senators:
Dear Senator Webb,
As one who supported you and volunteered for your campaign I am deeply disappointed and, quite frankly, disgusted by your vote on the ACORN funding cut.
As I am sure you know, ACORN is one of the few organizations in the United States that works solely to assist the poor and most vulnerable citizens. As with any large organization, including the United State Senate, they have their problems and have made their mistakes.
But how is it possible to cut the tiny federal funds for ACORN and continue massive federal expenditures to contractors such as Blackwater, whose employees have killed people?
This is a craven political vote of the worst kind, and I expect far better from someone who was born fighting.
Sincerely,
Rev. Dr. David Ensign
I left the "born fighting" reference off of the Warner letter. In any case, that's the angriest letter I've ever sent to a public official.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Right and Wrong

This is more like a Facebook status than a blog post, but I just wanted to note, for the record, that it was nice to hear a public official, member of Congress, say straight up, "the Religious Right is wrong."
Congressman Jim Moran said that to me yesterday when I was in his office with a delegation from the Human Rights Campaign to thank him for supporting the employment non-discrimination act, hate crimes legislation and other bills that aim at justice for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.
Virginia Delegate Adam Ebbin was with us, as well. So I got to give a two-fer of gratitude to a pair of elected officials. That counts as unusual in my book for all kinds of reasons.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

9/11 Light Up the Night

Last evening I was privileged to speak at a September 11 event sponsored by American Muslim Voice. Our small band gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House and shared the Iftar -- breaking the Ramadan fast. Words from family members of 9-11 victims were a poignant reminder of the violence of that day which continues to take its toll in a war without end.
The local Fox affiliate did a pretty nice story on it, which you can see here.
Here are my brief remarks.
I bring you greetings from Christian Peace Witness, a ecumenical coalition of more than 25 peace fellowships in the United States. I am honored to be with you this evening to break fast, and to break barriers that have too long divided the children of God.
As Samina [executive director of American Muslim Voice] and I have spoken together over the past few days, our conversations always come back to that: the children of God, and, simply, the children.
There was a story in the Post today that focused on young people the paper called the ‘9-11 generation,’ those who were little boys and little girls on September 11, 2001.
I am the parent of such children. I think, in particular, about our middle child, who is now in high school. He was a second grader, seven years old. He was home that morning as we watched the Twin Towers fall, and it shook him to his core. I will never forget, one evening later that fall as I was tucking him into bed, he looked up at me and asked, "daddy, will things ever get back to normal?"
I answered him with fatherly reassurance that, yes, time would begin to heal the wounds we all felt, and that fearfulness would fade. But I thought to myself, "back to normal? I certainly hope not."
For if back to normal means returning to a status quo in which we are so divided among ourselves that the violence of 9-11, of London, Madrid, Mumbai, Baghdad and Kabul was inevitable, I want no part of normal. If back to normal means leaping from national tragedy directly into endless war, I want no part of normal. If back to normal means distortions of our faith traditions, mistrust between Christians and Muslims and Jews, and ethnic profiling by our national security apparatus, then I want no part of normal.
No, what I want for my children and for all children is something new in the world, something that I feel being born among us in gatherings such as this one when we sit down together and speak words of friendship and understanding, when we light up the night with peace.
This Sunday, in many churches, we will read these words from Christian scripture:
"From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh."
As we think back to 2001 and the years since, we know that many words have been spoken in anger and hate and misunderstanding about and among the children of God.
Let the words of our mouths be words full of compassion and of passion for building together a world in which breaking bread together is normal, in which loving one another is normal, in which justice and peace are normal, in which our words, ‘peace, salaam, shalom,’ ring from every church and mosque and synagogue.
Thank you. May peace be among us all. May we light this night, and all nights with the light of love.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

He Didn’t Say “You Lie.” He said, “You Fly.”

This is what happens when you take some Facebook back and forth between a dozen friends speculating on what prompted Joe Wilson’s shout out last night and then share that with an on-line community of 200,000. Jon Stewart might have responded, “No. You didn’t,” and we agree. He could not have gone there. Unless …
The Democrats are already raising so much money in response to Joe Wilson's shout-out that I'm beginning to think they paid him to do it.
Maybe it was a triple dog dare.
I guess I was delusional thinking that Obama would be able to bring everyone together. It just seems to be getting worse. They are so irrational. It is like dealing with a bunch of pre-schoolers with Tourettes and anger management issues.
Paula Poundstone said that he wasn't yelling at Obama; he just dropped his hot dog.
I left local politics on account of all of the hot dog dropping.
Does anybody speak Chinese? Maybe he was shouting, "Yu Li!" Or "Yoo lai!?"
I think it was one of those football cheers, like "booyah!" because he thought Obama had just scored a touchdown! Then he realized that it was a speech and not a football game and felt foolish.
Or maybe he said "I want pie!"
Or, "Cute tie."
Did he say “Meyer”? I think that's it. He was talking on the phone to his one token Jewish friend.
I think he was telling Obama that he was cool. I think he really said, "You're fly." Of course, he was on his Blackberry. Maybe he'd been looking for a recipe and finally found it and yelled "Fruit pie!" But I don't think it was "Too shy," because that wouldn't have made sense, either way. Unless, as I said originally, he has Tourette's.
He could have been giving a shout out to Joe - "Yo Bi."
Ok, I think I got it now. He was pre-leaking his illicit love affair with person he knows now is his soul mate and that person's name is...Yu Lai!
Or maybe "You're bi." He might have thought that was more polite than "you're gay."
It's half as offensive
Great. Now hipsters will, with their love of irony, start using that to refer to things that aren't cool but are. Hipsters do it.... ironically.
I don't think so -- Yelling "You're X" at Obama is a compliment to members of group "X". It's not offensive at all.
Gee, do you think we should... apologize to Mr. Wilson?
You know ... I really do.
But, still...we may have besmirched his character as a statesman. A simple apology might not go far enough to assuage the damage...
Well, if we've besmirched it, we'll just have to smirch it.
I know- we name the public option that we pass after him: The Joseph Wilson Public Insurance Plan!
Maybe he said: "Apple, peaches, Pumpkin Pie/Who's not ready Holler "Aye!
LOL!
Twenty nickels makes a dollar......I didn't hear anyone holler!
20 nickels do NOT make a dollar. You forgot about inflation. Oh, wait. Never mind.
"Mai Tai?" (with a little pink umbrella)
Or, he looked into his future and said, "Oh, bye"
Upon further review it has to be this one-you nailed it
Heh. Like in '68 when Daley claimed he was yelling "you faker" instead of "you fucker
Maybe he just rented an apartment in "Mumbai"; he had just closed the deal on his Blackberry
"I miss the good ole' days workin' in Dixie with Strom Thurmond...I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!!!" Followed by bursting into tears.
I checked out the video.... and did find a "cute tie," and that, as usual, Pres was quite fly. C.W., your blog today is so sly, and your choice of words, quite wry.
Can't take much credit here ... this really did come from an all day back and forth on Facebook. It was a community effort. Hm, communal ... that's bad, right? I suppose, because my kid was in the seats when Obama spoke this week, it's rubbed off and we're all socialists
Communal, socialist? (I can't wait to register as a Socialist as the next listed party on the ballot! I hope Pres joins me, after all, isn't he one, also?
Smashing your comment, it's fly!
"I'll Try." He really wanted to support the Pres
He could give it a try like that doofus in San Diego caught bragging about banging two lobbyists on an open mic. He tried to argue he was just a lying blowhard.
This is one of their preeminent strategies; someone has to come up with standard retort lines for the Democrats that they can use rather than address this nonsense with new information each time. They need one or two sentences that they should rotely engage whenever this anti-american hatred shit comes out of the Rethug nuts.
Has this been a fun day or what?
Laughing is so much healthier than crying!
“U Li:” It's the name of his mistress, who coincidentally is a lobbyist for the Chinese government. He was napping and dreamt of her.
Related to U Thant?She sleeps with a Republican. So she is related to U Cant.
“Yu Lai:” Mandarin for 'I am a southern cracker asshat and this boy ain't going to tell me what to do.'
Or perhaps a Shakespearean "I die!"
“Fie!”
What are you? Some kind of Wise Guy?
I try.
Screw it, I need a Mai Tai.
“Moon Pie!”
"You lie" is a funny thing to say. I don't think it's idiomatic English. I'd say, "You're lying," or, "You're a liar." You could say, "You lie all the time," but, without some kind of adverbial modifier, just "You lie" is very strange English.
Is Joe Wilson a secret foreigner?
Wait a minute. I dunno...."you lie" sounds right to me. Though I think it is meant to describe a quality of Obama rather than the current state.
He lies.
Conjugating? In public?
John McWhorter points out in one of his books how strange such a use of the simple present is in English (as opposed to other languages like French or German).
Oohhh...are you throwing down? ;)
Neurolinguist Steven Pinker suggests that language is an inherent instinct, so there is no such thing as poor grammar if it's understood by the listener...
Your move...
Ahh...I do love a good grammarthon. We're so deliciously geeky.
Maybe we can lure George Lakoff into this one
I can certainly understand poor English spoken by non-native speakers a lot of the time. "You lie" strikes me as similar.
“July!” He was being patriotic.
You're all wrong. Mr. Wilson is a big time gamer. It's so easy to forget you're not alone: Yulai
I noticed that some of the services on Yulai are cloning and repair. Hmmm...
LOL, maybe he has Tourette syndrome and could benefit from the health care plan after all... the "resident conservative" in my office was giving his account of what had happened to another co-worker, and had said, "It was an accident. He was so tired of all the lies, that he just couldn't help himself and had to blurt out."
My bad. Maybe we Dems should apologize to him.
I think it was "I'm not a guy”
No, he was just inviting the Prez for a beer... saying 'I'll Buy"
About childishness: It is like dealing with a bunch of pre-schoolers with Tourettes and anger management issues.
So true. I'm trying to understand Michael Steele and Lindsay Graham today, those poor disappointed boys because they really know deep down that Barack can sink a basketball on the playground while they watch from the Inadequacy Club sidelines. I feel sorry for them. Their pointy fingers must be getting sore from all the blaming. Wonder if they even really buy that pucky they're selling. Or if they ever look honestly at themselves in the mirror.
Stay calm, cool, collected.
Nah he said “hi!” He waz just being friendly!
“July!” He thought someone was asking when he was born.
He was thinking about war crimes and shouted "My Lai"
No wonder the GOP has made him apologize.
Y'all got it all wrong... He said... this
It's hard to understand Southern out of context.
Thanks to all those who gave so much for so little.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Day After


Day two of school and no Obama. So, my kid comes home from school with a motorcycle helmet under one are and a tattoo on the other. OK, he doesn't really have a tattoo and the helmet is because I took him to school this morning on my scooter, but still, there's got to be some let down the day after you kick off the new year with the president in the house.
I suppose that is one of the drawbacks of charismatic leadership in any field. What do you do when the leader is gone?
It seems like an ironclad rule of human behavior to create an institution to sustain the energy, and it seems like an equally ironclad rule of organizational behavior that the institution fails. Perhaps that is too blunt. Perhaps it would be more polite, and even more accurate, to say that institutions cannot maintain the energy of a charismatic leader and tend to drift away from the leader's vision.
After Obama went back to his day job, there are schools left to carry on the work of education. After Henry Ford died, there was a car company left. After Thomas Edison shuffled off this electrical coil we got power companies. After a charismatic preacher moves on, there is the church.
After the leader leaves, all of the petty concerns that are forgotten in the powerful presence of an Obama or Ford or Edison rise back up the agenda.
So yesterday our kids were challenged to think about what great achievements they might offer to the world. And today they bring home math packets.
Scaling the heights always sounds better in soaring oratory than it feels in every day life. As Edison said, genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.
Time to sweat, kids.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Greatest Do Your Homework Speech Ever


I watched President Obama’s address to the nation’s students, and I have two overwhelming responses:
First, did you see that incredibly cute curly headed boy in the flannel shirt about six rows up? No? Well, that was my son! When he got home this afternoon he said simply, “that was the greatest ‘do your homework’ speech ever.” He added, “the man just oozes charisma; you can smell it!”
Second, and way down the list in importance compared to number one, what the hell was the fuss about that speech?!? To begin with, President Obama did not say anything to students that most parents wouldn’t say to their children as school approaches. Most of us don’t put it quite so eloquently or powerfully, as my son helpfully reminded us. Still, most of us say the same thing. Work hard. Study. Participate. Try things, and if you fail, learn from the failure and keep on trying. The country is counting on you. OK, well, that last part smacks of socialism.
But seriously, what was that all about?
Given that everyone knew from the moment this speech was announced that the president would give an inspirational talk on achievement, how does one explain the opposition?
My son said this was the only time he’s ever been in an assembly of the entire school where it was completely silent. “You could hear a pin drop during the speech.” On the other hand, he said it was painfully loud when the president walked into the gym. “It was like a rock show,” he said. You can get more of sense of that excitement from the brief clip from his video than was apparent on C-SPAN.
Young people enthralled by a political leader who campaigned on the theme of change? Well, it’s no wonder the opposition wants to keep him as far away from their children as possible. Those enriched by the status quo certainly fear a charismatic leader promising change. It matters not how well or poorly he may be doing at the moment in delivering on the promise, the promise itself is threatening.
When you tell an incredibly diverse student body – and there are few more diverse than Wakefield’s – that they can accomplish great things even if they don’t have the most beautiful facilities and all the latest technologies at their fingertips, you also undermine the notion that only those to the manor born can lead the nation. Those in the manors always fear the rabble.
Of course, that does not explain all of the opposition. Some of it, as with opposition to anything President Obama does, is plain, old-fashioned racism. For them, the appearance at a school such as Wakefield had to be particularly galling. An African-American president introduced by an African-American senior class president of a school led by a strong African-American woman – well, what is this world coming to. Wakefield looks like what America, at our best, looks like, and it works incredibly well.
For this particular speech, some of the opposition reflects the deep-seated anti-intellectual strain of American culture. And some of it is just rudeness. After all, when the President of the United States speaks to school children, in person or on line, you give respect.
When our first child was born I worked for the Council of State Governments in a position that put me in contact with scores of state lawmakers of both parties. One thoughtful and well-connected Republican, unbeknownst to me, had President George H.W. Bush send our newborn son a letter welcoming him into the world and encouraging him to live and life of service. Neither my wife nor I ever voted for President Bush, and were appalled by many of his policies including leading us into a war that paused (it still hasn’t ended) only days before our son was born. Did we send the letter back? Of course not. It remains one of the prized items in the baby book. When the president says, “welcome to the world,” you say, “wow; thanks for noticing.”
When the president says, “do your homework,” you say, “wow; thanks for noticing.”
In any case, that is pretty much what our second son said after his presidential moment this afternoon.
PS: Martin did his homework!

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Unspeakable


Last Saturday I sat on the side of Memorial Bridge and watched the funeral procession for Senator Kennedy as it made the turn around the Lincoln Memorial and headed up the hillside into Arlington National Cemetery.
I got to the bridge about 25 minutes before the procession was supposed to pass, or two hours before it actually went by. Fortunately, it was a beautiful late summer evening and I brought a book.
Coincidentally, the book was JFK and the Unspeakable, James Douglas’s take on President Kennedy’s assassination. Douglas painstakingly lays out the case for an intricate CIA conspiracy to kill the president because he was breaking faith with the Cold War.
Were I prone to believe in vast conspiracies I might believe this book, but one of the side benefits of living in Metro DC is understanding what a small, company town this really is. Those people who work “for the government” are our neighbors. Indeed, according to one of my neighbors who has lived right down the street from our house for more than 50 years, at least three former neighbors worked for the agency. One of the most infamous of CIA turncoat spies passed secrets at what is now our neighborhood 7-11. And all the neighbors know this stuff. Neighbors talk.
It is a theological truth that it is not good for human beings to be alone. We crave each others’ company because we want to share our stories and be heard. Secrets get told, witness the current fallout from CIA torture cases of the past eight years. I’m guessing that stuff was not supposed to get out.
Now Douglas spins a wonderfully rich and richly documented tale, but there are just too many ordinary human beings involved in it for me to believe that such a thing could happen and remain secret for 50 years.
I think Ted Kennedy’s famous eulogy of his brother, Robert, holds a clue to our tendency to cling to conspiracies. He said then, “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”
We tend to idealize and enlarge those we want to see as heroic, and we tend also to enlarge their deaths. The sad, lonely and confused figure of an Oswald or Sirhan seem still somehow simply too small to sweep the Kennedy brothers off the stage of history. We want a vast conspiracy.
The end of Ted Kennedy’s words about Robert hold a final clue, to use, again, the language of conspiracy.
“Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."
Although I agree that few of us dream compelling dreams of a future otherwise, I don’t think either of the Kennedys was right about the first part. Most of us see things as we wish to see them whether or not that is how things actually are. For to do so is to come face to face with how things actually are, and to be confronted with our own complicity in constructing that reality.
So it’s not the CIA conspiracy story that I found compelling in JFK and the Unspeakable. It’s the unspeakable itself, and our participation in it. If there was a vast conspiracy to kill Kennedy, it was far more vast than Douglas imagines. In encompasses all of us.
Douglas’ title comes from Thomas Merton’s Cold War reflections on the unspeakable. Douglas quotes Merton saying, “One of the awful facts of our age is the evidence that [the world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable.”
As Merton suggests, what was and remains unspoken is our collective ability to live with the reality of nuclear weapons and treat the situation as so normal, now, that we rarely give it any thought at all. The evil that Paul named as powers and principalities in the present darkness, Merton called unspeakable because to name it aloud would be to confess our own complicity in it. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons are most often mentioned as part of the specter of terrorists and nuclear terrorism. While that is certainly a clear and present danger toward which we are properly directing some of our vast military/intelligence resources, the fact remains that the United States is the only entity that has ever used weapons of mass destruction. Our six decades of silence about that self-evident truth indicates just how unspeakable these weapons truly are. To speak of that, in more than passing terms that praise the act as the end of a terrible war, would be to call into question our own too easy participation in holocausts.
Did the CIA kill Kennedy? I doubt it. Was Oswald a pawn in a vast conspiracy? Absolutely. He was a pawn in our own vast conspiracy of empire and of silence. Was Kennedy breaking that silence by calling deeply into question the military-industrial complex and the foundational national myth of redemptive violence? Again, I doubt it. He was a committed Cold Warrior. Had he lived, perhaps he would have withdrawn Americans troops before the full-scale disaster of Vietnam. That we will never know. Perhaps he would have opened relations with Cuba and pursued détente with the Soviet Union as well. Again, we will never know.
But what we do know is that even now, a half century on, we are still bound by the unspeakable. Perhaps that is why we reach out to conspiracy theories. They allow us to ignore our own participation in the violence that marks our age.
Though Ted Kennedy was certainly a flawed and broken human being, his consistent opposition to American military misadventures over the last 30 years suggests that he, too, dreamed things that have not come to pass and dared to name, from time to time, that which remains unspeakable.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Can We Talk?

Like many Americans, I have aging parents who increasingly need health care. Fortunately, they have Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance so the costs of their care are not driving them from their home.
As I walk down this well trod path I cannot help but wonder why so many younger Americans are forced into bankruptcy because of health care costs. In the wealthiest country in the world, it is unfathomable that anyone should go broke because they get sick.
As a parent who is lucky enough to have decent insurance, I have often wondered what I would do if I had to pay the full cost -- often several hundred dollars -- of antibiotics when my children got simple ear infections. If I lived closer to the economic edge, what bills would I skip? What meals would I skip? How sick would I have to get before seeking care for myself?
Our present system, which condemns thousands of citizens to economic disaster due to illness and some even to premature death, is morally indefensible.
In that context, to reduce the current national "debate" to name-calling and fear-mongering is beneath contempt.
As a person of faith, the moral bottom line for me is simple: No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick.

The current system falls woefully short. The way to a better system is not clear, but there are numerous proven options around the world and some fundamental building blocks including not using preexisting conditions to deny coverage and making coverage portable with regard to employment and relocation.
An honest national debate would be looking at options and leading us toward clear decisions about what will work best for America. It is complex, to be sure, but it is not impossible. The Japanese, Canadians, Europeans, Brits and many others make national health insurance programs work. Some are public, some are private, some are hybrid systems, but all of them work better and keep people healthier than our system.
It is far past time for this national conversation and the reforms that should result. Where is the leadership with the courage to make it happen?
UPDATE: the Facebook status on health care that inspired this brief reflection has gone viral today and created a kind of virtual town hall meeting. Wow. No guns and no screaming! And, from what I've seen, a whole lot of good back and forth about various systems and the world views behind them. Maybe we can still have civil conversation, and, who would've thunk it -- on the internet.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Two Poets Walk Into a ... Mess




So Bob Dylan and Ravi Shankar are both picked up by the police. Sounds like the set up to a “guy walks into a bar” joke, but it turns out to be true. Oh, to be sure, it was not that Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar player made famous by his music with the Beatles, but it was that Bob Dylan, made famous by, well, Like a Rolling Stone, Blowing in the Wind, Tangled Up in Blue and hundreds of other seminal songs.
His recent encounter with the police in New Jersey is late-night comic gold. Stopped in a neighborhood where he was walking around in the hours before a show with Willie Nelson, the local cops asked him who he was and what he was doing there. He answered with his name and the explanation that he was on tour.
And the punch line? The cops did not know who he was. If I’ve ever heard an indictment of American education that is it. It’s hard to fathom not having a clue about the identity of the guy whose song gave Rolling Stone magazine its name and claimed the top spot on that magazine’s ranking of the best songs of all time, the guy whose name turns up 21 million hits on a Google search, most of which are for the Bob Dylan, the guy named to “most influential Americans of the 20th century” lists ranging from Time Magazine to National Public Radio. After all, the guy’s birth name, Robert Allen Zimmerman, turns up more than 40,000 hits on a search, and nobody has called him that in 50 years.
Ravi Shankar, on the other hand, is an English professor, so it’s not surprising that the New York City police who pulled him over did not know who he is. Since it was a Friday night in Manhattan, it’s probably not even too surprising that they made him undergo field sobriety tests. Despite being in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Drunkenboat.com, the online journal he helped to found, he passed the sobriety test. But that’s when his story turns strange and ugly.
In Dylan’s case, the police took him to the hotel he told them he was staying in and tour officials vouched for him. Everyone was polite and that was that except for all the jokes at the expense of the young officers.
But the New York cops found an outstanding warrant for a Ravi Shankar, and, noting that “it’s always a good day when you bag a sand-nigger,” they rousted the English prof off to jail apparently too dense to see that the warrant was for a 5’10” 140-pound Caucasian while they had in their custody a 6’2” 200- pound Indian-American. When Shankar finally saw a copy of the warrant, some 90 minutes into his nightmare, and pointed out the differences, the officer said simply, “take it up with the judge.”
Shankar spent 30 hours in jail before getting to see that judge, and getting to go home and see his wife and child. You can read his account of the ordeal in the Hartford Courant and listen to him describe it on NPR’s Tell Me More. You will not read or hear the anger of a man picked up for “driving while brown,” but rather a kind of bemused disappointment of an American come face to face with the reality of racism.
Despite his brown skin, Shankar is in the privileged position to tell his story to a national audience. Countless less privileged men and women suffer such degradations and are silenced by circumstance.
I’d like to hope that these cases are but the death throes of white privilege, as the nation slogs slowly but inevitably toward that date when there will be no racial majority population in the land. Frederick Douglas swore that power would never concede anything without a fight. With privilege comes power, and white privilege will not concede without a fight either. Ravi Shankar endured one battle in that long twilight struggle.
But, as Mr. Dylan put it almost 50 years ago, the times, they are a changing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Packing Heat for Health Care Reform

Rose Berger, who works at Sojourners, attended a Capitol Hill health care reform rally today "packing" a water pistol, to rather hilarious results. Read about it here. What a great way to cool off the hot heads who are getting a bit carried away with the debate these days. Way to go, Rose!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Medicare for All

Back from two weeks at camp. Being tuned out for two weeks was pleasant, and I am just now catching up to the craziness of the health care town hall meetings. People showing up to prove that their second amendment guns have first amendment rights -- strange and a bit scary. Also, a bit ironic coming in the same week that saw Squeeky Fromme paroled. I would not want to be a Secret Service agent these days.
Despite the vitriolic level of public discourse, it seems to me that a public option in the health insurance field is not hard to imagine. Seniors in the U.S. have had access to one for more than 40 years, and numerous scholarly studies indicate that 80-90 percent of seniors are happy with the system. That compares with studies showing that about 70 percent of Americans are satisfied with their private insurance. Similarly, the Veterans Administration health care insurance system routinely outpaces private insurance in ratings of patient satisfaction.
So, if there is already a proven public option out there, and one that works in conjunction with private Medicare supplemental insurance coverage, why not simply make Medicare available as one option for all Americans regardless of age?
Personally, I would not have the choice, because I am bound by virtue of employment to the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church and the health care benefits that it negotiates on behalf of minister members and families. But for the 50 million Americans who currently have no health care coverage and thus are marginalized in the health care delivery system, why not open Medicare?
Clearly, some basic level of access to health care is a fundamental human right in a society as wealthy as ours. Everywhere Jesus went, healing happened, so concern for health is incumbent upon the church. Thus, in our context, concern for health care insurance reform is also part of our calling. People of good will and faith can certainly disagree on the most effective and efficient path, but the end must be universal access and insurance.
As for me, I say, "Medicare for All." It's so simple it fits on a bumper sticker.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Tortured State of Affairs

My friend Ray McGovern wrote a piece this week on torture and the church. He is responding to survey data showing that Americans who attend church regularly are more likely than non-church goers to support the use of torture, and laying blame on the shoulders of church leadership that has failed to speak out clearly on the issue.
In particular, Ray chides local pastors for failing to speak out, even as he cites several denominational statements calling for clear abolition of torture and an accounting of what happened during the Bush years that led us down this dark path.
I wonder if I've made myself clear on this during the past five years or so. I don't speak often about the war or torture because, at my church, it is so much preaching to the choir.
Well, I'm off for two weeks as pastor-in-residence at the camp of the Presbytery of the James. I'll have some time to ponder -- broken up in mid stream by a couple of days at the Christian Peace Witness leadership planning retreat.
See you in a couple of weeks.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Empathy for the Devil

The hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court were, by most accounts, a fairly dull affair with a noticeable lack of fireworks over hot-button issues.
I confess to a lack of strong feelings about it. Assuming, fairly safely it seems, that she is confirmed, I hope that Justice Sotomayor has a long and distinguished career on the court.
Indeed, I hope that she turns out a well as two previous ground breakers -- Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O'Connor. The odds are probably in her favor because those who break such ground are exceptions to existing expectations. Thus they are, by definition, exceptional and tend to have gifts that enable them to exceed the culture's expectations.
Witnessing that ought to have been interesting, but apparently not so much.
I don't have any legal expertise. Why I don't know about the law fills lots of law books. But I found the focus on empathy during the hearings to be interesting. Empathy seems to be in disrepute, at least for judges and justices. Noting again my complete lack of legal training, experience or understanding, I would not pretend to offer a legal theory that accounts for empathy or a lack thereof. Still, I found the dismissal of it fascinating.
Perhaps that is because Jesus seems so interested in it. In the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, where Jesus warns against judging others lest we be judged, he also says this: "be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate" (Luke 6:36, Jerusalem Bible).
Compassion -- from Latin roots meaning "suffer with" -- shares at the very least an etymological allusion to the Greek pathos or passion.
Thus as we are warned against judging we are commanded to be compassionate or empathetic. Perhaps the reverse would also be true: those who judge must not be empathetic.
If that is the case, then the widespread distrust of empathy among judges might be said to have some Biblical warrant, even if it means that our judging is left to those who can't or won't or shouldn't follow Jesus.
Hm ... is it God or the devil who is in the details?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On War, Fishing, and Manipulation in the PC(USA)

My friend and colleague, Ray Bagnuolo, wrote this in response to a pastoral letter from Carmen Fowlwer, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee. While Ray's reflections are considerably longer than most anything I ever post here they are worth the read especially as we prepare to move forward into the "legislative season" in the life of the church. Indeed, moments before Ray's letter came across the virtual transom I had sent out a plea for editorial help in crafting the theological rationale for a pair of proposed overtures to the 2010 General Assembly.

by Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
White Plains, New York
July 15, 2009

I have read and sometimes supported commentaries and positions taken by leaders of the Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) on their website Laymanonline.org. This, however, is not one of those times.

Over the years, our exchanges in response to articles and editorials have exhibited strong disagreements, yet the “footprint” of these interactions indicated genuine attempts at honest and respectful discussions. With those experiences in mind, the tone of The Rev. Carmen Fowler’s recent pastoral letter: ‘War,’ ‘Go Fish,’ ‘Manipulation in the PCUSA’ was strikingly different. The bellum references describing the work of which others and I had been a part in seeking ratification of Amendment 08-B was a misrepresentation as much as it was disappointing.

I am not suggesting that that those seeking full welcoming for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) persons in our church and the PLC are always in harmony. Personally, our disagreements are real. I am an openly gay Minister of Word and Sacrament, ordained as such in 2005. I have served on the board of That All May Freely Serve and currently serve as a board member of More Light Presbyterians (MLP). I have stood alongside those seeking to delete G-6.0106b, witnessing and advocating at General Assemblies, as well as participating in workshops and panel discussions in regional venues. And, in doing so, I have stood respectfully alongside those with whom we disagreed.

The idea of our actions “playing” anyone, as Rev. Fowler suggested we did of the presbyteries who changed their historical positions in supporting the ratification Amendment 08-B, is as false as it is insulting to the presbyteries who carefully discerned the choices they made in prayer, community, and, as always, in the presence of God. This use of ridicule and fear undermines and transforms honest efforts at unity and justice in our church. A church that always has and always will made up of all God’s family, including sisters and brothers who are LGBT.

In fact, throughout the struggle, we (God’s family) have often found ourselves assembled together, from worshipping to witnessing – trying to navigate close quarters with the pronounced differences we share. Has it been easy? No, but I believe we have mostly done our best to be faithful, respectful, and honest. While the rhetoric at times has been strident, I have never felt at “war,” as if I were “gaming,” or attempting to “manipulate” groups or church members who sought to prevent full inclusion. I have never believed the solution to our very real struggle was in domination or deception.

Nor have I believed that the answers we sought were in the strictest of interpretations of the Bible. Still, such differences in interpretation never meant that I wished to diminish or demean those who came to God from a more literal belief in the written Word. I don’t think that most people who are moving with the Spirit in welcoming LGBT folk are doing so because they are shifting their way of holding the Bible in their hearts. I believe their hearts are changing because they cannot see the Bible being used any longer in any way to hurt others, many of whom are members of their families; people who are faithful in their beliefs and practices.

In the several months leading up to the final vote of the presbyteries on the ratification of Amendment 08-B, individuals and groups worked together, reaching out to members of presbyteries across the country. The work of MLP and others was rooted in embracing the guidance of the 218th General Assembly to dialogue with one another, as baptized members of the same family and Body of Christ. We were intentional in listening to each other, as we invited God, Spirit, and Jesus into our midst. Judgment was never a part of the process.

Groups in favor of ratification of Amendment 08-B worked together to undertake the massive challenge of reaching out to the majority of presbyteries in the United States. Thousands of conversations were had. Often they were not easy, and more often they were amazing. There were numerous talks with folks opposed to ordaining LGBT individuals that poignantly touched at the heart and the pain of our struggle. You may not be surprised to know that those visits often ended in prayer, praying for God’s help in the healing we so desperately needed and continue to seek. In every case, we did our best to practice the loving-kindess that reflects the unified church we were hoping to become. There was no game of “Go Fish” or of any other kind. It was Spirit-filled, real, and much more difficult to do than criticize its outcomes.

As for manipulation of the presbyteries, which connotes intentional deception and secrecy – there was none. I’ve actually never met a “tricked presbytery.” It occurs to me that such a thing is oxymoronic. At any rate, we were open and transparent with the leadership within each region about our organizing efforts. We sought out information about those who might be able to help us and who might be more inclined to consider having conversations with us. We spoke to supporters, those undecided, and those in opposition; we asked all groups to vote in favor of ratification. We wanted the amendment to pass, but we knew that ultimately it would be in God’s time.

In the process, the privilege of being in conversation with so many of our sisters and brothers across this country was a humbling and precious gift. It was quickly apparent that we are “one” more than all our differences might ever suggest. If you talk openly to hundreds of people, one-to-one about God and this church as many of us did, you will discover just how much God is with us all. All. We are a connectional church, indeed, and the outreach made that wonderfully and abundantly clear: clear that the Spirit was at work with all of us, and clear that we should not give up on one another. Clear that we need to remove G-6.0106b and work together from there. Clear, to me, as always, that his amendment has been a dividing line for too long and more and more are coming to understand that.

As for the outreach and the language of progress that was sometimes used. I agree. I never really liked the description of a “presbytery flipping” when describing a change in a presbytery’s past voting record. The language referred to the vote, never the individuals, churches, or presbyteries they represented. I am equally uncomfortable with the use of the word “target,” in any form. We know how important the use of language is, and in some ways, we fell short of a better way of expressing ourselves. We all can improve in seeking ways to describe who we are and how we go about being faithful in the midst of reunion.

The broadening sense that ratification would soon be in reach was electric and continues to be so. We are intrinsically pulled together in this incredible shift toward a unified and healed church. Yes, God is doing a new thing in our midst, and it has been a long time in the making. It’s important to remember that the LGBT community has been at the center of marginalization and exclusion by the PC(USA) for near forty years. Those opposing our full inclusion are not the ones who have been the oppressed. LGBT sisters and brothers and those who support them intimately understand what it is like to left outside of the church, essentially shunned by fear. And the church has paid an enormous price in many ways, but especially in inadvertently becoming complicit in supporting the broader social disease of hate crimes toward LGBT folk by its institutional positions. Still, in spite of it all and in formation for those who will follow us, our efforts are driven knowing that our church’s present and future is critically dependent upon our unity and healing, and that ours is a special role in that transformation. It is obvious that a growing number of members of the PC(USA) are in agreement that:

Amendment G-6.0106b, for whatever else it might be said to do, has been the cause of our disunity, not the truth that we are all God’s family.

As with quoting Scripture, these and other comments quickly raise arguments and rebuttals to support one position or the other, one belief or the other, one way of being faithful or the other. In fact, our exegetical analyses of Scripture alongside the “nature and nurture” arguments have spawned institutional structures to ensure their survival more than ours as a people. The debates, papers, books, and articles have become comfortable for many and totally inaccessible for others, establishing new dominions that push God’s family further into the chasm of the arguments and the resultant chaos and stultification. The debates roar on, and while they do, the lives of our sisters and brothers who are LGBT and those who embrace them are forced into a marginalized, misrepresented, and maligned status within the church. There can be no such classification in God’s family, and, in spite or distant echoes of debates, that truth is rising up in response from a growing majority of Christians.

We are getting to know one another. We are “personing” the argument, as my friend The Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr would say, taking our Christian and loving lives to the people. More of us who are LGBT are becoming visible, in and out of our church community. Leaders within the church and those seeking leadership roles are openly stating how they identify themselves, often accepting great risk in the process. Friends and supporters are speaking out more, filled with love the Spirit of Love. As we come to know more of our family who identify as LGBT, we are leaving the stereotypes and the debates behind. In its place, we are lifting up the mysterious ways of the Love of God expressed in the equally mysterious gifts of our gender identities and sexuality. I thank the distant echoes of those balanced, never-ending debates for tiring out more and more faithful who have been conditioned to believe there would come an answer from such places. Instead, large numbers of faithful members of this church across the PC(USA) have made up their minds based on their personal and communal faith and the witness of those who are LGBT, their families, supporters, and friends. And, I don’t believe I am the first to recognize this. It’s been going on now for some time. We are further along in this process of coming together than many suggest. Perhaps the accusation of manipulation by some is an attempt to protect their institution by more deeply hiding this truth.

The strong response to changing the Constitution of the PC(USA) has been muted over the several years. There are many reasons for this, but one of them, I believe, is that faithful were hoping that the work of The Theological Task Force on the Peace Unity and Purity of the Church would produce a solution that would eliminate the need for constitutional change. It was with this in mind, that I believe many who voted “No” for deletion of G-6.0106b over the years were actually voting “Yes” for the continuing work of the task force, hoping it would produce “the answer." While the task force did accomplish important work, it clearly did not end the exclusion of LGBT folk from the full work and worship of the PC(USA). As a result, when the time of our most recent effort of ratification came about, those who had given the task force a chance voted in favor of constitutional change. Along with the continuing number of members welcoming the LGBT community, we witnessed a dramatic shift that will soon complete its course.

The outreach of groups and individuals seeking full inclusion for the LGBT community in the PC(USA) will be as it always has been: faithful. In the post-B world, our family will be faced with the hard work of unifying and healing. This marginalized community of baptized LGBT members will stand as we have before, with all our sisters and brothers to carry the gospel message and the witness of our lives to those who have felt unwelcome and displaced by our constitutional dysfunction: G-6.0106b.

This has never been a war, a game, or about propaganda or deception. It has and will continue to be the story of faithful people in love with God and all of God’s family.

We will eventually replace the arguments of fear with the Love of God, which has been given to us so that we might embrace one another as God embraces all God’s family.

We who have been and will continue to be part of the outreach and movement for change acknowledge our role in such a call and promise to continue to love each other into family. We are grateful to the many who join with us in believing that whatever is next for us in the PC(USA) is directly beyond the infection of G-6.0106b.

Let us pray and work together, so that whatever we do, nothing we do ever separates others from the God who created us as a family. All of us included.