Saturday, March 13, 2010

Everything Put Together Falls Apart

The curly haired boy pictured further down has infected me with his cold.
Some strange viral thing infected my laptop yesterday.
Everything put together falls apart.
One could go lots of places from there, but my head is stuffed with anything but thought today so I'm just going to leave at that.
All the king's horses and all the king's men cannot but this back together again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sometimes a Cigar Is ... Just Another Day

The great privilege of ministry comes in walking through the valleys and across the mountain tops with people. I've had my share of such experiences, and they inevitably remind me of what I love about my job. Celebrating with couples who have become friends as they marry. Weeping with friends who have lost loved ones. Marching with friends seeking justice. Organizing with friends seeking peace. Studying with friends seeking wisdom and understanding. These are the moments of ministry that I, and most of my colleagues, love.
If we're lucky, we serve in communities that offer many such opportunities. I am lucky.
If we're unlucky, we serve in communities that are riven with strife over old wounds never healed. I have been unlucky.
But lucky or unlucky, all ministry has -- like all work -- its days of merely pushing the paper into the next tray. It's almost 5:00 p.m., and I've pushed a lot of paper today: session packet e-mailed - check; session packet copied - check; bulletin copied - check; e-mail blast out - check; sanctuary prepped for Sunday - check; web page updated - check.
Sometimes a day is just a day.
On the other hand, even on such a day, I managed to have lunch with one of the wise elders of the community and to share some organizing materials with colleagues in justice work.
Inspiration comes on such days as this in the details -- where God is.
So when the day gets long and seems to be dragging on tend to some details and seek the Lord where she may be found.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Something's Happening Here ... What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

I spent several hours yesterday serving as a peace marshal at a health care reform rally sponsored by Health Care for America Now. While the event was rowdy, it never veered toward anything nonviolent so I didn't have much to do other than watch and listen.
The target of the rally was the meeting of the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plans, which gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in DC. The choice of hotel was as tone deaf as the recent rate hikes announced by several insurance companies. One wonders who does PR for these folks. Are they simply so removed from the reality of this particular moment that they don't realize how they look, or are they so arrogant that they don't care how they look?
As one industry employee attending the conference said, “Why don’t you just pull up in Rolls-Royces and Porsches?”
It reminded me of the auto executives flying into DC on their private jets to meet with congress and ask for a bailout. Who advises these folks?
On the other hand, I'd ask the same question of the rally organizers.
Some aspects of the event were well planned. Some 5,000 people participated according to an estimate in this morning's Washington Post. The target of the demonstration -- AHIP's meeting -- was well chosen, and the speakers did a good job of posing health care reform as reigning in the well chronicled abuses of the insurance industry. For what it was, the demonstration was a fine and successful event.
But while I am all for taking to the streets in protest, more than a decade after Seattle the rallies and demonstrations with drums and puppets and street theater all begin to look and sound the same. It seems too pat and predictable, and too easy to dismiss. I wonder what it would feel like to ask participants to dress up rather than down, to walk in silence rather than making noise, to disrupt business as usual in a completely different manner, and to engage the issue in a way that challenges the system and demands its end in uncompromising language that does not simply demonize those who profit from it and support it.
What if 5,000 people, all dressed in dark suits or skirts, walked 10 across through the streets of the headquarter cities of the insurance companies and marched into those office buildings -- or into the arms of arresting police filling the jails -- presented tons of claim forms, or read off a list of thousands of names of people who died last year because they did not have insurance, or simply stood in silent mass witness to those lives?
Such a demonstration would take incredible discipline, and a huge amount of organizing and training not to mention money. In other words, it might take way more commitment of time and treasure than people are willing to give -- which may just be why we've been stuck with an inefficient and unjust health care insurance system for more than 100 years.
Then I spent last evening at a gathering of the Luke 6 community in formation. We spent our time studying the founding text. The sixth chapter of Luke is Jesus' sermon on the plain and Luke's version of the Beatitudes. Luke's version of these teachings is famously more challenging than that in Matthew 5 (which is challenging enough for me).
I was struck, yesterday in particular, by the opening stories of the Luke text. In it Jesus is practicing direct action and protest. He goes straight into the territory of those who oppose him -- the scribes and Pharisees. In Luke 6 Jesus goes to the synagogue and scandalizes the religious leaders with his teaching about what is appropriate to the Sabbath. Without ever speaking a personal word about the people he opposes, he calls into question everything that they support.
While they may have felt humiliated, their humiliation is never the point of Jesus' action nor of Luke's writing. Both the actions and Luke's account leave open the possibility of restored relationship while completely undermining the system that has broken relationships to begin with.
Like the rest of Luke 6, the opening stories present incredibly difficult challenges to those who would try to follow Jesus, in this case, into the streets. I ended up yesterday feeling completely inadequate to that challenge and rather glad to be on the rolls of Blue Cross than on the way to the cross.

Monday, March 08, 2010

What? Pastor Glenn Beck ...

Apparently Fox News' Glen Beck was talking about churches recently. This is all hearsay because the only time I actually hear Glen Beck is when Jon Stewart plays clips of Beck for the sole purpose of mocking him.
Anyway, apparently Beck was telling his listeners to be wary of church web sites that use words or phrases such as "justice," "social justice," or "economic justice." I hear that he told folks that if their church's sites used such phrases then they should quit the church because it was no doubt a den of socialists.
I thought I'd better check my church's site to make sure that we're not socialists, so I clicked on the home page. Damn! There it is. In the center of page. Quotated. In italics.
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

OMG! We're socialists! To make matters worse, we claim, as part of our mission statement, that we try to live out the love and justice of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One wonders if Beck has ever actually opened a Bible. Mine has more than 300 verses that explicitly speak of God's deep concern for justice for the poor. But then again I probably have the revised socialist edition.
It reminds me of the days when I was looking for ministry positions. I noticed that liberal church's church information forms (sort of a reverse resume) always used the phrase "social justice." Conservative churches always used the phrase "Bible believing." I never did find a "Bible-believing congregation deeply committed to social justice."

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Responding to Cuccinelli

Below is a letter to Virginia's attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, who last week sent a letter to Virginia's colleges and universities informing them that none of their non-discrimination policies that pertain to gays and lesbians would be enforced by his office and that the schools should rescind the portions of policies that refer to gays and lesbians.
I wrote this for the board of People of Faith for Equality Virginia and we are seeking signatures from any Virginia clergy or religious leaders who are willing to sign on. Please use the "comments" to add your name and leadership position.

When I read of your recent recommendations to Virginia’s colleges and universities I thought immediately of the father of our great university system. Thomas Jefferson famously said of other people’s religious orientations that they neither picked his pocket nor broke his bones. I’m sure he would agree that another person’s sex life neither picks my pockets nor breaks my bones.
But when bias against a person's sexual orientation picks their pocket through job discrimination or breaks their bones through gay bashing then it is the responsibility of the state to protect them in every appropriate manner. Hate crimes laws and antidiscrimination laws and policies are long-standing, well-established and proven legal means of affording such protection. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians clearly face discrimination and hate crimes and the fear that accompany them.
Failure to act in the face of that reality is a black eye on the Commonwealth, and on the office you hold. To act in direct contradiction to the reality must have Mr. Jefferson spinning in his grave.
When you know that a woman is threatened on the job because she is female would you not bring the full weight of the law to bear in any resulting legal proceeding? When you know that a family loses their home because they are black would you not prosecute? When you know that a public college or university refuses to register a Christian student group because of its faith-based bylaws would you not pursue the case with vigor?
When a college professor is fired for being lesbian or a young man is beaten and killed because he is gay why would you not do the same?
That is the question your recent letter to Virginia colleges and universities warning them on including sexuality in their nondiscrimination policies raises. When you know that more than 15 percent of all hate crimes are committed against people based on perceived sexual orientation how can you in good conscience block protection of gays, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students and faculty on Virginia campuses? When you know – and there is overwhelming evidence – that young men are victimized on college campuses because they are gay why do you use your office to enable the victimizers?
You can deny that allegation, but our state’s long history of racial discrimination and violence clearly teaches us that when public officials do not act to protect those who are victimized because of who they are then those who perpetrate such acts are enabled and even encouraged to continue. Failure to use the full weight of your office to protect vulnerable Virginians is wrong. It is immoral. It is an affront to the very One who, self evidently, created us all equal and with certain inalienable rights.
Like Mr. Jefferson with respect to other faiths, you do not have to be gay or lesbian, you do not have to like gays or lesbians, you do not even have to respect them, but you do have a constitutional responsibility to protect them and your recent actions demonstrate clearly that you are failing to live up to the responsibilities and obligations of your job.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it does bend toward justice. I urge you to reconsider your position and stand on the right side of history.
Rev. Dr. David Ensign
Pastor, Clarendon Presbyterian Church, Arlington
For the board of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia