Thursday, October 26, 2006

People Living in Glass Houses Should Use Windex

Last weekend, I had the privilege to be able to go back to Kansas for a quick visit and to attend a wedding and a reunion. This gave me a chance to visit with my family and I look forward to visiting some more next month when I return for a longer visit during Thanksgiving.

During my visit I had a conversation with my brother concerning the Mark Foley incident. I haven't commented on this before because the story seemed to speak for itself. However I am concerned with some of the spin it has received and would like to comment on that.

First of all, it should probably be restated that linking pedophila and homosexuality is misguided. It is analogous to pointing to a pedophile who has preyed on girls and then saying all heterosexuals must like little girls. Although there is a destructive worship of youth in the gay culture, this generalization clearly doesn't hold water. All this case really proves is that deviant behavior is often the result of supressed sexuality (Some priests have had these issues for example).

Secondly, Mr. Foley quickly declaring he was gay, alcoholic and molested as a child churns my stomach a bit as well. Regardless of any of these conditions, he still was responsible for his actions and needed to take responsibility for them, not try to come off like the victim in this whole ordeal!

Third, some have cynically stated that because an election was near, Mr. Foley was targeted. Mr. Foley's actions appear to have been ongoing for quite some time with at least the knowledge of some in Congress (exactly who remains to be seen). If this were some Democratic conspiracy, I'm sure there would have had more opportune moments for them to let the story break before this. (Interestingly enough it was once again bloggers, not traditional media that brought this to the public's attention.)

Finally, it has been said that if Mr. Foley had been a Democrat, the story would not have made the splash it did. I think this is a bit of a low blow. The reason that his story received so much attention was that he was co-chair of the Committee for Missing and Exploited Children. Additionally the Republicans have sold themselves as the party of "family values" and anti-gay. This irony and hypocrisy are what has drawn so much attention to this story, not that he is a Republican per se.

This reminds me of a story that Jesus told to illustrate the correct attitude we must have when we pray. Two very different men went into the temple. The overly religious man thanked God he was better than the tax collector next to him. The tax collector didn't even raise his head. He just asked God for mercy as a sinner. Jesus ends by saying "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Another passage just before the Lord's Prayer states "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

My mother and I often disagree about the place of religion in our government and how a person of faith should act when holding a political office. I personally would advise extreme caution when mixing the two after reading the scriptures above and pondering the example of Mark Foley.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Get Into the Groove

So I didn't want to go to church yesterday. There were a couple of reasons actually. One was that I would be going by myself as my partner needed to take the whole day to study for his test today. (Since English isn't his first language, it's twice as hard for him to understand what a textbook is saying, you know how textbooks can be!) Another reason is that it was a cold, rainy day, one that discouraged getting out and about. The final reason was that we had stayed up the night before (just because we could I guess, doing nothing really- puttering around) and I just felt like curling up with a book with a cup of tea followed by a nap.

However our neighborhood parish church, Our Lady of Lourdes, has numerous services all through the day so there was really no good excuse for me to NOT go, so I hurried up, showered, dressed up and went to the one o'clock Mass.

Now many times I've heard people (mostly Protestants) criticize the Catholic Church and the rituals they have in their service. Many Protestant services are stripped bare of an liturgy whatsoever except for bare essentials, to make it more "user-friendly" to someone who is "unchurched." The more I attend churches that feature liturgy in their worship, the more I have come to appreciate "going through the motions" as more than empty actions. Called "High Church" (Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, plus Roman Catholic, etc.), these services have responses and prayers that are repeated at every service. And the service is divided up into sections like Introductory rites ,The Liturgy of the Word , The Liturgy of the Eucharist , The Communion rite and finally Concluding rite. As a Virgo, I love the organization of everything into specific categories. Growing up as an American Baptist, our worship service had a similar structure but not so clearcut.

At any rate, arriving yesterday, I was not in the frame of mind to worship God. I was rushed, tired and disoriented since I had arrived late and the service had already begun. However, as I started participating and joining in the liturgy (the prayers, the sung and spoken responses, the hymns, the kneeling and standing, making the sign of the cross, passing the peace), my mood drastically changed and by the end of the service I was very glad I had taken the trouble to attend.

This got me to wonder about this phenomenon of actions leading emotions, rather than what I've previously believed, which is the direct opposite. (If You're Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands, for example). For example when my coworker and I started taking TaeKwonDo classes our first year in Seoul, Korea, there were MANY days when we both moaned to each other about "soooooo not wanting to go" after a long day of work. But on the way back, we often expressed surprise at how great we felt and were glad that we made the effort in the first place.

I have also discovered what many of couples in committed relationships have known all along: sometimes your mate gets on your nerves and your fantasies are other-than-romantic ones! However sometimes the actions of fixing a nice dinner, a thoughtful gesture or taking the trouble to do something nice, brings out the feelings of affection that we always had.

Although I'm certainly no fan of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, there was one radio show I listened to that made an impact on me. The caller stated that they were depressed and felt there was no meaning in their life. Dr. Laura stated "To have a meaningful life, you must fill your life with meaning." She went on to suggest church, volunteer activities, visiting family and friends, taking a class to learn something new in addition to counseling. In otherwords, look out instead of always looking in. I feel like this is an extremely profound idea and granted, while there are certainly those with clinical depression that need treatment, I think that there are a lot of "pity parties of ones" out there that could benefit from her advice.

So that's my post for this first day of the workweek. Perhaps your "get up and go" has done "got up and left" and you are feeling uninspired and unmotivated to do much of anything. However give "going through the motions" a try and see if your mood and emotions follow! Let me know if it works! (or doesn't!)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

To Thine Own Self Be True

In honour of Coming Out Day (October 11th), I wanted to address some aquaintances and friends of mine who fall under the category of "questioning." I have had many discussions with you and have often been asked something along the lines of "How do you reconcile your religious beliefs with your sexuality?" This is a great question and it also comes up when I "come out" as a Christian to others. I've blogged about this issue before but thought I would return to it again from a different angle and perhaps it will help you on your journey to discovering who you are.

In the Methodist tradition (Charles Wesley), the living core of Christian faith is weighed by passing four criterion. Imagine, if you will, a stool that an issue has to "sit" on. The first "leg" is Bible/Scripture. The second would be church tradition and the third is personal revelation. Reason/logic would be seen as the fourth "leg."

I have frequently heard Protestant ministers proclaim that the "Word of God" is the first and last leg they will stand on. I think is where the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther) went too far. By sweeping away church tradition and personal revelation, this left the Bible tottering on its own. Don't get me wrong here. The Bible is a beautiful document with relevance for today. However because it was written by multiple authors with multiple viewpoints over a huge expanse of time, it is often contradictory and must be read in the context of the time it was written, not literally. This gave way to the Age of Reason (Enlightenment) that became secularism, discounting religion as a valid part of the human experience.

This is where church tradition comes into play. While reading Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church , I learned that in the Catholic educational tradition, philosophy, reason and theology were all held in equal standing. Issues such as the virgin birth, the trinity, the divinity of Christ and the resurrection were all debated and settled by the early Church leaders. Scientific discovery was actually encouraged before the Protestant Reformation. And I love that the Catholic denomination is comfortable with the unexplained. Pascal, the French mathematical stated "Man is a mystery that can't be solved by mathematical equation." Church tradition does change as well. For example, ideas on unclean food, blood transfusion, organ donation, divorce, interracial marriages, slavery and unbaptised babies have all been discussed and have slowly evolved.

After an issue passes the bars of Scripture (subject to interpretation), church tradition (ever evolving), we have my favorite, personal revelation. Similar to when we are trying to learn a new concept, for religion to have real meaning, it must be personally relevant to our lives. As there are multiple intelligences and differing learning styles, everyone has a unique personal relationship with the higher power. "Religion recognizes that often an unexpected, ordinary encounter or experience rescues us from despair and gives us what we otherwise could not see or do by ourselves." (Triumph, pg 106) Again from Pascal, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." (I love that turn!) However this can't be the only "leg" you rely on either. I like this catty comment by Susan B. Anthony; "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."

At the end of the journey, there lies reason/logic. These ideas and scientific discoveries have also evolved in conjunction with our understanding of the world around us. The earth is not the center of the universe nor is it flat. Dinosaurs walked the Earth even though the Bible does not explicitly mention God creating them. Genetically we have more similarities to monkeys than differences. Additionally the genetic differences between ourselves are miniscule, despite our outward appearances. Not all sex in nature is for the sake of procreation.

So what does this have to do with your sexuality? Well let's take an issue like women in the ministry for example. Does it pass the 1st bar? If you read the Bible in context women are certainly given the gift of ministry. If you read it literally, women should not. Does it pass the 2nd bar? In some denominations it does, in some it does not. What about your own personal experience? For example have you experienced God speaking to you through a woman? And finally what does reason/logic tell us? Is there evidence that shows women would be unable to perform such a task?

The exact same test can be done with the issues of being gay and Christian, same-sex unions or being a Christian leader in the church. I personally believe that this issue passes all four bars. Other issues, like snake handling, the death penalty, male circumcision and following false religious leaders (David Koresh, Sung Young Moon or Jim Jones) I believe fail. Others clearly disagree with me and I listen to their viewpoints as long as they give equal time to my ideas as well (9 out of 10 times this is not the case). This is called tolerance and understanding.

At the end of the day, it's like Ned Rorem (composer) said, "Anyone can be gay-it's no accomplishment- but only I can be me." Martina Navratilova stated, "The more people come out, the less it will be an issue. If we are ashamed of ourselves, how the hell can we expect the rest of the world not to be ashamed of us?" And finally from Ted Schmidt (played by Scott Lowell) in Queer As Folk, "Since God is love and God doesn't make mistakes, then you must be exactly the way He wants you to be. And that goes for every person, every planet, every mountain, every grain of sand, every song, every tear...and every faggot. We're all His, Emmett. He loves us all."

Happy (Belated) Coming Out Day!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Happiness=A Warm Puppy, not a Gun!

Today with a heavy heart I read about yet another school shooting. This one was a 32 year old guy with a 20 year old grudge and a semi-automatic. He lined up eleven little girls against the chalkboard and shot them (three died, eight wounded) execution style before killing himself. Two of the wounded girls have since passed on. This is the third school shooting in less than a week.

As a pacifist (registered with the Selective Service) and an elementary school teacher for a decade, I am very upset every time this happens. I'm torn between two strong emotions, deep sadness and bitter anger. I'm saddened that these children will never experience all the joys life had to offer them. I also grieve for what their parents must be going through. I'm angry that God could have prevented them from dying this way and yet did not choose to do so.

My religion teaches that God lets us freely make our own decisions but paradoxically also knows what will happen as all a part of "God's Plan." Basic logic tells us that these two concepts are mutually exclusive but in my experience God doesn't adhere to human logic. While I have faith in God in the driver's seat and resist the urge to be a "backseat driver," this is one of those times I wish he would use the bright headlights!

So although I cannot control what others do (and God won't) that leaves me with making my own choices. Today has strengthened my resolve to support federal, comprehensive gun-control legislation and those who work to make this legislation law. For too long the National Rifle Association has used the money of its members to make it possible for this man (and otherslike him) to legally buy weapons because it's his "right as an American to bear arms." I'm FED UP with a "fool's right to his tools of rage." How many more of our children have to die before we stand up and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!?

The Second Amendment long ago has outlived its purpose and our children are dying. There is no legitimate reason why anyone would need a semi-automatic weapon! The NRA is an accomplice in these killings and yet does nothing to stop it! Where does the NRA send its money? It funds the party that currently controls the White House and both houses of Congress. Also funded by weapons manufacturers, consequently this party has committed itself to pro-gun support and the war in Iraq.

I am OUTRAGED that a government "for the people and by the people" deliberately mislead us into this war that has killed thousands and then had the GALL to distract us into voting for them AGAIN by trumpeting "family values!" Unbelievable! I ask you: How many children have died as a result of two people somewhere getting married? Easy answer- NONE, ZERO, ZIP. How many children have died as a result of gun violence? Just ONE is ONE too many!!

My fellow Americans: do the math and vote your conscience next month! You can bet I will!

To The Teeth by Ani DiFranco
The sun is settin on the century and we are armed to the teeth.
We are all working together now to make our lives mercifully brief.
Schoolkids keep trying to teach us what guns are all about.
Confuse liberty with weaponry and watch your kids act it out.
Every year now like Christmas some boy gets the mildfed surburban blues.
Reaches for the avaliable arsenal and saunters off to make the news
And women in the middle are learning what poor women have always known.
That the edge is closer than you think when your men bring the guns home.
Look at where the profits are, that's how you'll find the source,
of the big lie that you and I both know so well, the time it takes this cultural death wish to run its course
They're gonna make a pretty penny and then they're all going to hell.

He said the chickens all come home to roost-yeah, malcom forecasted this flood
Are we really gonna sleep through another century while the rich profit off our blood?
True, it may take some doing to see this undoing done
but in my humble opinion here's what I suggest we do:
open fire on Hollywood, open fire on MTV,
open fire on NBC and CBS and ABC,
open fire on the NRA and all the lies they told us along the way.
open fire on each weapons manufacturer while he's giving head to some Republican senator.
and if I hear one more time about fool's rights to his tools of rage.
I'm gonna take all my friends and I'm gonna move to Canada and we're gonna die of old age.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Hardest Word

Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar (Also known as the Day of Atonement). On this day, Jewish people (even secular Jews) observe by fasting and attending synagogue. They believe that today God opens three books: one book has the names of the super good (Mother Theresa) , another the super bad (Adolf Hitler) and the third lists the names of the folks in the middle (you, me and pretty much everyone we know). The first two books are fairly easy to deal with (going up or down) but the third requires God to make a case-by-case judgement depending on their good works and whether they have made a penitent confession for all the bad acts they have committed during the year.

In addition to making a sincere apology, "The Day of Atonement absolves from sins against God, but not from sins against a fellow human unless the pardon of the offended person be secured."(source) In otherwords, we ask and give forgiveness to others around us.

I've often heard ministers explain the word "atonement" as "at-ONE-ment," the point being that apology and forgiveness makes us "at ONE" with God and each other. Although in the Christian religion, we believe that it is by God's grace, not good works that gets us the golden ticket to Graceland (no, not Elvis' home, the other one), we do believe in saying sorry and forgiveness. Yesterday in church, we prayed this not only in the Lord's Prayer (forgive us our sins as we forgive others who sin against us) but also in the mea culpa ( I have sinned through my own fault,In my thoughts and in my words, In what I have done, and what I have failed to do.) and again before communion (Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed). And of course for Catholics there is a private, one-on-one time with a priest where you apologize for messing up and the priest (on God's behalf) forgives you.

It was ironic, then that my boyfriend/partner and I would have words that very afternoon over a misunderstanding. (I thought I was helping him by questioning every purchase he was trying to make at the hardware store, he felt belittled-and rightly so.) Apologies were made afterwards and again this morning over coffee, eggs and toast. Of course we both knew the other one was sorry but it really meant a great deal to have that verbalized and to be formally forgiven for it, like what happens in a Catholic confession or at Yom Kippur. And that's what saying sorry all about I suppose- it making us "at-one" with each other!

Perhaps, like Christmas, Yom Kippur should be a daily occurrence, rather than annual event?