Friday, August 31, 2012

RevGals Friday Five: Characters for a Day

Mary Beth, over at RevGals wonders what five characters we might like to be for a day. They can be any character from a book, play, movie, cartoon, or comic book. And, for bonus points, we can say why.

YIKES! I am rushed this morning, as I am most mornings these days. Today we are heading out to celebrate our daughter's 24th birthday and have a little family time for the Labor Day weekend. This is something we don't do much of as a family anymore. I'll make a quick effort to play:

1. Sr. Joan Chittister - I have read a number of her books and I'd love to be in her head for a day. She is fascinating - intelligent, thoughtful, brave, strong, articulate. She is an amazing woman of faith crossing the paradigm of 20th century and 21st century Church - which are very different paradigms.

2. Hildegard von Bingen - this woman of the Church lived in the 12th century. She was a poet, musician, mystic, healer, a leader of a woman's convent, served as a counselor to Popes and Kings. Would be interesting, perhaps startling to be inside her head for a day.

3. Brigid - she lived in the 5th century and paved a relationship between Christianity and the paganism of ancient Celtic spirituality. She was a poet, healer, and leader in the Church. She founded (and lead) two monasteries - one for men and one for women. She is associated with "holy wells" for water and with fire. Being part Irish, I'd love to be her for a day, embracing part of my heritage.

Okay - so far I have chosen real women, not characters...although each of the women are characters! Strong, interesting, dynamic, movers and shakers in their own time.

4. Maise Dobbs: I am reading this "turn of the century" (20th century that is, since the story begins before World War I) murder mystery series. Maisie is a fascinating character and I really appreciate that the author is always interested in reconciliation between the characters and portrays Maisie as the psychologist/detective who paves the way for reconciliation. I love that Maisie always strives to be open to possibility, does not jump to conclusions, and sees into all sides of the people she is working for and with - she sees people as multi-dimensional - their strengths and their woundedness.

5. China Bayles: this murder mystery detective character also owns a tea shop and is an expert on herbs. I've enjoyed reading this series too. I like following the author on Facebook -  Susan Wittig Albert. I have an interest in herbs, but not the knowledge and expertise of China/Susan. And, it seems like it would be fun to own an herb and tea shop for a day.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Shoulder to the Wheel of Uncontainable Grace

 A reflection on 1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43, Proper 16B

Thursday night, curious about what they would say, I watched Rock Center with Brian Williams, and its report on the Mormon Church.  Born into a Mormon family in Salt Lake City, I am a descendent of pioneers who put their “heart to song, their shoulder to the wheel” and travelled across this country in order to live their faith in peace and prosperity.

Rock Center’s report spoke of the values of the Mormon faith: hard work, strong family ties, deep faith, and a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they understand it.

By the time the report was over I found myself wondering why I left the church. I was a faithful member for the first fourteen years of my life. My parents were married in the temple. I was baptized by full immersion in the baptismal pool in the building known as the tabernacle on Temple Square.  (In case you don’t know how special Mormon’s think that is, you just have to see the expression on the face of a Salt Lake City Mormon -  a generation younger than I when I tell them this -  and you’d think I held rock star status). Everywhere I lived in Salt Lake City I could see the temple with the glistening angel Maroni on top.

And then, a moment after I wondered about leaving, I remembered how I struggled in Sunday school with the teachings of the church. Questions were not encouraged. We were supposed to learn the rules, do what we were told and work hard. I sang this hymn many times:

Put your shoulder to the wheel; push along,
Do your duty with a heart full of song,
We all have work; let no one shirk.
Put your shoulder to the wheel.

The report on Rock Center was glossy, smooth, and illustrious.

Even the interviews with those who left the church failed to show the “shadow side” of the Mormon faith that I knew.

It is one thing to promote good hard work; it’s another thing when hard work is translated into a theology of salvation.

And then there is this idea: as a child I was taught that each person who is alive, or ever has been alive, or ever will be alive, begins as a preexisting soul waiting in heaven to be born into a specific family at a particular point in time. God determines who our family is and the circumstances into which we are born.

Think about how that teaching might inform the current political conversation on health care and the economy. What it might mean to believe that God determines the circumstances each person is born into.

Take a moment, let that soak in.

To some degree the teachings of the Mormon Church, as I remember them, mirror the ideas of God conveyed in the readings we have heard this summer from the book of Samuel and now the book of Kings. The Mormon Church believes it is the modern day remnant of the twelve tribes of Israel revisioned in the teachings of Joseph Smith as the Latter Day Saints. They believe they are God’s chosen people.

The Old Testament readings this summer portray God as the one who chose the kings of Israel: Saul, David, and now Solomon. Kings chosen by God because the Israelites are God’s chosen people.

Although I loved my family church, even as a child I struggled with its teachings.  Particularly that God accepted into heaven only the people who practiced that religion and lived its particular principles of hard work and rules. I am to this day a hard worker. But, for my own health and well-being, I have had to learn how to live a balanced life.

Part of that balance understands that not every aspect of life is predetermined by God.

Sometimes things happen.  Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.

Disease happens. Storms happen. Disasters happen.  There is a randomness to life.

God does not control every aspect of our lives.

Part of that balance is recognizing that our lives are an interwoven network of relationship – we have a responsibility one human being to another.

We are called by God to work hard but also to be aware – to recognize how the actions of our lives impact others, for better or for worse.

The good of my life might be the demise of another.

The coffee I buy on sale at the grocery store may come at the expense of the coffee farmer in Mexico who struggles to make ends meet, perhaps, ultimately contributing to illegal immigration.

It’s hard work to become aware and informed, we all have work, let no one shirk.

The Church of my childhood taught me about a God who counted all my sins and demanded a strict adherence to a set of rules. These rules were bound within a culture of privilege which made its members better than everyone else.  Beyond the need to proselytize and convert others to the faith, the church did not teach people to think about the global, systemic, and cosmic relationship of our intermingled lives.

Our readings this morning point us to think about the wider and deeper implications of life and faith. They portray for us a God who is less concerned with human perfections (remember David, the “great king”) and more concerned that we recognize when and how we fail to love as God loves.

Wil Gafney, an Episcopal priest, professor, and Old Testament scholar says this about Solomon in our reading this morning:

“In a time when most folk wouldn’t marry outside of their tribe or clan – Solomon did – and perhaps as a result, Solomon had a vision of a God who was bigger than he was, bigger than his family, bigger than his nation, bigger than folk who thought they had a monopoly on God. Or perhaps, having so many people in his family from so many different places opened his eyes to God in the world beyond the world which he knew. Solomon believed in a God who was not his alone, a God who would be the God of people he would never meet. …”

In the end, like Solomon, I’ve come to understand that God’s grace is expansive, generous, and creative. God shows up in clouds and bread and wine and the messy imperfection of human lives.  And always, when God shows up, an uncontainable expression of love, compassion, and grace shows up too.  Now that is a heart full of song I can sing.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Our Selves, Our Souls, and Bodies

As an Episcopal priest, every time I pray the words of the Eucharistic prayer “ we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies,” I think of a book my mother bought me in 1971 when I was fourteen years old, “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” Some may find this blasphemous.  What can I say? It happens. There I am standing at the altar, reverently praying these words from the “traditional” Rite I liturgy, words that invite us into a transformational relationship with God through the living presence of Jesus Christ, and suddenly I have a memory of this other transformational book.

 “Our Bodies Ourselves” changed the lives of women of a certain age. We learned about our anatomy in graphic detail, and the door was opened to talk about aspects of our selves that were formally taboo. Who would have imagined that 42 years later the conversation on women’s anatomy and health care would devolve?

The current political discourse on women reveals an antiquated ideology that is grossly misinformed. It’s frightening, actually. And it’s not just men who are touting this stuff, some women and girls seem to believe it too.

I was born into the Mormon Church, a descendent of pioneers who settled Utah and southern Idaho. I know something about institutional leadership that insists on informing how one thinks. I understand the subtlety of controlling information and belief. And, as is evident with the Vatican effort to take over the nuns in the Roman Catholic tradition, this threat is not limited to Mormonism or fundamentalism, or Islam. From my own experience I understand how a person can be sheltered, limited, contained, controlled, and told what to think so often he or she believes it.

Like every woman I have experienced abuse in some form – mind, body, or spirit – we all encounter it. My personal stories are just like yours. I could tell you the story of my aunt who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound…or, was she murdered in her bed, a victim of spousal abuse? We’ll never know. I could tell you the story of my mother, raped in the foyer of her apartment building when she was in her forties. I could tell you the story of my college roommate who, before abortions were legal, sought out an illegal one and almost bled to death from a botched backroom procedure. These are some of the “stories” that formed me into the woman I am today, a woman who strives to be informed.

Sadly, in this political climate, the more I know, the worse I feel.  

We are moving backward.

 We are moving backward in time when the current draft for the GOP Platform calls for a "human life" Constitutional amendment and a full ban on abortion with NO exceptions.

We are moving backward in time when legislators spend crucial time debating archaic concepts of women’s health care, instead of addressing the real needs of poverty, hunger, unemployment, increasing violence and the need for gun control.

Actually, we are not moving backward -  are spiraling through a new reality. And that reality is a nightmare.

But I have hope. I am a perpetual optimist! The Christians I know today, both men and women, are informed. We hold a progressive theology, one that embraces solid teachings of Christ calling us to acts of justice.

As a former massage therapist and now a priest with a Masters in Social work, seeking holistic health of mind, body, and spirit, for all people, has been foundational in my ministry and in my life.  I believe that we have a sacred relationship with the Divine. The sacredness of that relationship mandates the health of all people, our whole selves.

Caring for ourselves is a personal matter. It is not appropriate for any institution to legislate how we care for our whole selves. However, we do need legislation that enables - and institutions that support us - in our effort to be healthy, regardless of the specific circumstances of our lives.

 In the end it isn’t really just a woman’s issue. All people need access to safe, affordable, comprehensive health care. It’s about justice and respecting the dignity of every human being, loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Infinite Yearning: Balm for My Soul

One day woman spoke to God in this way:

"Let us change places. You be woman and I will be God. For only one second."
God smiled and asked her, "Are you afraid?"
"No, and you?"
"Yes, I am," God said.

But woman thought to herself bitterly, No Matter. I want you to know how it feels to be me. I want you to know how much I have suffered because you let yourself be named in man's image as the God of the fathers, as the man of war, as king of the universe. I don't believe you'll know how I feel until you become woman. No, I am not afraid.

So woman becomes God and God becomes woman. But as woman takes the place of God she finds herself led to an insight she has not expected.... As woman takes the place of God, she hears what she can only describe as a still, small voice saying, "God is a woman like yourself. She shares your suffering. She, too, has had her power of naming stolen from her. First she was called an idol of the Canaanites, and then she ceased to exist as God."

As woman becomes God, the God who had existed for her only as an alien ceases to be a stranger to her. In this moment, woman realizes the meaning of the concluding words of the story which say:

the liberation of the one is bound to the liberation of the other, so they renew the ancient dialogue, whose echoes come to us in the night, charged with hatred, with remorse, and most of all, with infinite yearning.

From: The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, ed. Elizabeth Koltan, "Women's Liberation and the Liberation of God," p. 12

Shared with me by a colleague who serves with me on the Episcopal Women's Caucus Board...thank you, Zoe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Man-Cave...a totally random reflection

I hear it everywhere: on television commercials and shows, from friends and even from my daughter. Men have, or want to have, “man-caves.” You know, every man wants to have a room he can decorate with posters of sports and beer. A place where he can house his weight lifting gear or running shoes, pool table or tools.   Now, I wonder, when did this phrase, “man-cave” come into every day parlance? Or more to the point, “why” did this phrase come into common use?

When I think of cave I think of Elizabeth George, the mystery writer from England who once played out a story along the caves of coastal England. Or I think of the story in the news some years back and retold by Barbara Kingsolver in “Small Wonder.” She writes

 “On a cool October day in the oak-forested hills of Lorestan province in Iran, a lost child was saved in an inconceivable way.  The news of it came to me as a parable I keep turning over in my mind, a message from some gentler universe than this one.  I carry it like a treasure map while I look for the place where I’ll understand its meaning…..At the mouth of the next cave they enter—the fourth or the hundredth, nobody will know this detail because forever after it will be the first and last—they hear a voice.  Definitely it’s a cry, a child…”

 I think of prehistoric cave paintings and I think of Neanderthal men. 

I don’t know for certain, because I’m not, but if I were a man I think I might find the phrase, “man-cave” a little insulting. As a feminist I find it insulting on behalf of the men I love, who are definitely not “Neanderthals.”  Even the men I don’t like, and I can name a few (Akin the  legitimate rape*cough cough* guy comes to mind along with those who are surely his cohorts – Gingrich, Limbaugh, Rove, Cheney – types)….even these, who come darn close to Neanderthalism, as a feminist I still consider them human beings. And as human they have the intellectual capacity to learn and grow. Really, anything is possible.

So, I think man-cave is an odd phrase. Now let’s be clear. Just as I like to have my own room for study, yoga, and meditation, I think it’s perfectly fine for my husband, or any man, to have a room for the activities that enable them to feel human and enjoy life. I just think it’s weird, even a little insulting to call it a man-cave.

But now that’s off my chest I can get back to thinking about more important subjects…like politics. Or, religion.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Misspoken Is....

Well, I hadn't intended
To bend the rules
But whiskey don't make liars
It just makes fools
So I didn't mean to say it
But I meant what I said

~ James McMurtry, "Too long in the wasteland"

Let’s talk about the word “Misspoken.”  I know. It’s been in the news too much. Maybe you are even tired of it. We get that way pretty quick, right. The news bombards us with a story until we are sick of it and shut down. But in this  case the implications of shutting down rather than taking the time to really understand this holds significant implications for all of us. Hang in there.

My daughter (and yes, this makes a mother’s heart proud) wrote,

 I have misspoken if my statement offends anyone and it compromises my popularity. In which case it is obvious that I have "misspoken" and those affected should suffer no offence as a result of my earlier statement.

She gets it. In fact her quote actually started by calling the person most recently in news for having misspoken, an a**.  I tend to refrain from such words…but her point is well taken.

No doubt the headlines have me shaking my head. Silly me - to think that we are becoming a more informed, aware, educated people. In case you missed it I’m referring to the words spoken by Congressman Akin of Missouri regarding conception and rape. The Rachel Maddow Show sums it all up well. I really didn’t mean to copy her entire post, but she says it so very well that I see no point in rewriting it:

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), a U.S. Senate candidate, explaining his unique perspective on biology and sexual health:

"[F]rom what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare," Akin told a St. Louis TV station. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
So, as Akin sees it, forcing a woman to carry her rapist's baby to term is fine, but it doesn't much matter because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down" -- if it's a "legitimate" rape. What's more, contrary to the congressman's claims, rape-related pregnancies occur "with significant frequency."

Akin issued a statement arguing that he "misspoke," but he didn't apologize, it's not clear which part he didn't intend to say, and Akin didn't renounce any of his specific claims.
And what about Romney/Ryan? Akin's scandal matters more to the Republican ticket than you might think.

President Obama's re-election team has been hammering both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for being so extreme on reproductive rights, so Akin's timing certainly doesn't help the national GOP candidates, and it's one of the reasons Romney/Ryan was quick to say late yesterday that the ticket "disagrees" with Akin's comments, adding that "a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."

But even that's problematic -- this new stated position appears to contradict Ryan's previous position on the rape and incest exception.

And then there's the legislative problem. Remember the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act"?
In January 2011, one of the very first bills pushed by House Republicans, launched almost immediately after they took the majority, was something called the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." While existing law already restricts public funding for abortions, the law makes exceptions for impregnated rape victims -- and GOP lawmakers decided it was time to limit what can legally be considered "rape."

Specifically, Republican proponents said the exception would only apply to "forcible" rape. If the law had passed, for example, a 13-year-old girl who was impregnated by a 24-year-old man would not be able to use Medicaid funds to terminate the pregnancy, unless she could prove she'd been "forcibly" raped.
The idea that Republicans would try to redefine rape became so controversial that the effort was quietly scuttled. But who were among the original cosponsors of the legislation? Todd Akin and his good pal, Paul Ryan.

Claiming to have misspoken does not change the reality that the words were said.  Worse yet, stating that one has misspoken as IF that alone is enough to rectify this leaves me drop-jawed.

I find it equally astonishing that this man serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. In fact I emailed them yesterday and requested that he be removed from the committee. You can too if you go  here:

It is not enough that he issued a statement saying he “misspoke” – for that is an empty sentiment. He meant what he said.

Words matter.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...