Friday, December 31, 2004

The Christ in Christmas

To make up for days of slacking off on posting, two in one day! :)

Andrew M. Greeley wrote an interesting editorial about Christmas as a holiday. I don't agree with everything he writes; I for one like to hear O Holy Night and other Christmas hymns mixed in with the secular holiday music on the radio, and I'm indifferent to whether or not there are public displays of the nativity. I like both the secular and the religious aspects of the holiday. That said, I think he makes a very good point in contrast to the recent move by some evangelicals to boycott stores with secular Christmas greetings. He writes:

So with all due respect to our "evangelical" brothers and sisters who fight to "take back" Christmas, I am arguing, with some irony, that they've got it all wrong.

We don't have to take it back, because no one has ever taken it away (even the New England puritans who kept public schools in Boston open on Christmas in the late 19th century). Nor can anyone ever take it away.

The Light came into the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out.

I don't know. I like my blended holy/secular holiday. But I also completely agree with the idea that we Christians don't have to force our holy day down the rest of the world's collective throats.

I also have to smile at this bit of almost-snark from Mr. Greeley:

(Patently, I use the word "Christian" in an extended sense and not in the sense of the Bible Christians for whom most of the rest of us who follow Jesus of Nazareth are not really Christians, especially Catholics.)

You go, Andrew! I'm more worried about putting the "Christ" back in "Christian" and rescuing that term from the evangelicals than I am putting the "Christ" back in "Christmas" and rescuing what is largely a secular holiday anyway from non-believers.

Some gay-friendly court decisions

The past couple of days have seen some good court decisions that help extend equal rights to LGBT people. In an Arkansas case, a circuit court decided that a state ban on placing foster children in any household with a gay member is unconstitutional. As quoted in the Washington Post:

[Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy] Fox noted that the Arkansas legislature gave the child welfare board the power to "promote the health, safety and welfare of children" but that the ban does not accomplish that. Rather, he said the regulation seeks to regulate "public morality" -- something the board was not given the authority to do.

"The testimony and evidence overwhelmingly showed that there was no rational relationship between the . . . blanket exclusion [of gays] and the health, safety and welfare of the foster children," Fox wrote.

In a separate case in Montana, the state Supreme Court narrowly decided that that state universities cannot deny benefits to same-sex partners of university employees.

The high court said the policy violates the Montana Constitution's guarantee of equal protection because unmarried heterosexual partners could get the benefit by signing a common-law-marriage affidavit, while unmarried gay partners could not.

Two decisions that little by little help chip away at the unequal treatment LGBT people face. It doesn't totally take away the sting from Nov. 2, but it sure provides more evidence that little by little, equality will win in the long run.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Something we all can agree on

Been busy with Christmas and New Year's, so I haven't kept the blog current. Sorry about that.

In light of the unbelievable death toll from the Asian tsunamis, I wanted to take a moment to urge people to donate to your relief charity of choice. I just can't wrap my mind around the lives lost and all the damage. Hopefully the world can pull together and help out the vicitms of this tragedy. I haven't donated yet; will get with the spousal unit and pick one of these agencies tonight.

Some good relief organizations suggested to me are:
United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)
The Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders
Oxfam International
And Amazon has a link to donate as well.

Friday, December 24, 2004


For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. Authority shall rest upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
--Isaiah 9:6

(See, I'm not always complaining! :)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

What if the sky doesn't fall?

While California grapples with the constitutionality of gay marriage, there has been some unexpected fallout for straight couples who got married in New Paltz, NY; Asbury Park, NJ; Multnomah County, OR; and Sandoval County, NM during the time when those communities were issuing marriage certificates to gay couples. Seems Social Security is so worried some gay couple might (GASP!) get benefits that it's not recognizing any marriage certificates from those areas. That'll teach those straight people for daring to get married someplace that is trying to establish equal rights!

As for the California lawsuit, I hope it turns out like Massachusetts, although that would most certainly result in a rush to change the CA Constitution. However, like with Massachusetts, if there's a period where gay people can get married and the sky doesn't fall and God doesn't turn everyone into pillars of salt, then maybe, just maybe people will be more reluctant to enshrine discrimination in their state's constitution. And since California is our next-door neighbor, maybe when the amendment issue comes up in Arizona in 2006, we will also see that there's no need for it.

Here's hoping, anyway.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

We're only the Good Guys if we act like it

I am growing increasingly more alarmed at the things our country is justifying in the name of "War on Terrorism." While the events of 9/11 are horrifically tragic, if we use that to justify prisoner abuse in Guantanamo Bay and holding prisoners without access to lawyers because they might be terrorists, or hell, even if they are terrorists, than we lose any right to claim we're the "Good Guys" and we're all about justice and freedom. We're no better than the terrorists when we behave this way.

No better than the terrorists? Some might say that's overly harsh. "How can you compare this to the BEHEADINGS that are going on in Iraq?" I've heard people argue. The answer: I can't. Those are horrific crimes. 9/11 was a horrific crime. But since when is our goal to only be less horrific than the terrorists? If they're beheading people, then it's okay for us to "only" abuse prisoners, to "only" deny them due process? My God, that is really frightening. I'm not an Iraqi or a Muslim, so I can't be ashamed of their behavior. I am an American and a Christian, and I am ashamed of our behavior.

Equally disturbing is this gem from Fox news about a Cornell University Survey that found that nearly half of Americans want to curtail the rights of Muslim-Americans. Innocent people who just happen to belong to the same faith (and for the vast majority of them, a much more moderate version of that faith) than the criminals who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. Even more chilling for me personally as both a Christian and a Republican:

The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.

How can followers of Christ justify this? How can those in the party of Lincoln justify this? As soon as we do this, we might as well go up to the terrorists and say "You won." We say we're fighting them, but then we're letting them turn us away from our ideals about justice and equality for all and innocent until proven guilty? I thought we'd learned our lesson in World War II with the Japanese "relocation camps."

We want to think we're the Good Guys in the War on Terror, but unless we behave like it, we're nothing more than the "At Least We're Not as Bad as the Really Bad Guys." And that simply isn't good enough to earn us the white hat.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Reasons to be hopeful

Two items in the morning paper that gave me reason for hope. The first was an editorial by Ellen Goodman saying that despite the awful election outcome, gay rights will win in the long run. I've been saying this since about, oh, November 5. Every civil rights movement has to fight negative reaction from people afraid of change. While it doesn't help the people who are suffering now from the extreme laws passed in 11 states, to me it is still a sign that change is inevitable, and I'm even hopeful it will happen by the time my kids are old enough to vote.

Also, the YWCA--and let's remember the C stands for Christian--acknowledged a local transgendered woman with their "Women on the Move" award. A transgenered woman acknowledged by a Christian organization as woman, and one worth honoring at that. To quote Ellen Goodman, "That's not a bugle sounding retreat."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Seasons Greetings, Mr. Scopes

Generally I agree with more conservative Christians that we have gone too far in scrubbing reference to God and religion from schools and public life. Surely we can talk about religion, Christianity, and God without proselytizing, can't we?

However, boycotting stores that say "Seasons Greetings" is just about the stupidest idea I've ever heard. How is a store putting up a "Merry Christmas" banner putting Christ back in Christmas? Because Jesus told us to love God and our neighbor as much as ourselves and shop till we drop? You've got to be kidding me.

Even worse because it's more serious is this whole intelligent design nonsense. Why do Christians feel the need to blend science and religion, thereby watering down both? Let the schools teach the best science available at the time. Let the church teach who made it that way. The Bible is a book of theology, not science. Evolution is a theory of science, not theology. Let's not confuse the two, please.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Separating Civil Marriage from the Sacrament of Marriage

The Houston Chronicle has an excellent editoral about completely separating the state and religious functions of marriage from each other, based on none other than the writings of C.S. Lewis. I really think this is the best way to handle marriage, gay and straight, so that the sacrament of marriage can be defined by individual religious organizations without forcing that view on anyone else.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

UM and UCC Clergy Roundtable

My local newspaper had a very interesting roundtable discussion with four local pastors, two from United Methodist churches, and two from United Church of Christ churches. (Click here for summary article.)

I thought the paper's choice of UM pastors was interesting. One is from the most conservative Methodist church in town, while the other is from the only officially reconciling church in town. This offers a good microcosm, I think, of the split in the UM church.

Most churches, however, fall somewhere in between, with congregation members on both sides of the fence and pastors who don't make this a primary issue in the pulpit or who maybe even haven't made up their mind where they stand. My own church is one such church. We are very vocal about "Welcoming and including all people as creations of God. We will trust God to do the work in others as God sees fit," while "Understanding that there are a variety of opinions within a strong faith community. We can love one another and function as an organization without complete agreement on every issue."

Despite my absolute dedication to one side of this spiritual/political issue, I really like that as a church we let people make up their own minds. That's something I really love about the United Methodist church as a whole, that on most issues we don't try and interpret for others what God is saying to them. What I really want out of our denomination on the General Conference level is just that: don't get in the way of congregations' and individuals' unique relationships to God. Let both the conservative and the reconciling churches and all the churches in between each work that out for themselves.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

"Values and Morals" in the Prophets

I confess I don't like reading the prophets. I love narratives, which tend to make the more history-oriented books far more interesting to me than the gloom-and-doom of the Old Testament prophets. However, as I'm reading them, some interesting things are beginning to stand out.

Most of the OT prophets come from the time when the Northern Kingdom was about to be destroyed by Assyria and/or the Southern Kingdom of Judah about to be taken over by Babylon. The prophets rail against the Israelites and Judeans for their apostasy and their immorality and claim the Assyrians/Babylonians are punishment from God for Israel's and Judah's sins. What are these sins? Idolatry, yes, but from that comes mostly injustice, not treating the poor well, cheating, etc. This from Micah 2:1-2 is a good example:

Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. they covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.

So when God is truly angry with his people for their lack of "morals" and "values," sexual sin isn't even listed. And no, Sodom and Gomorrah don't count because men trying to violently rape other men is not even in the same universe as two men (or two women) who are in a mutually loving and committed relationship.

So when I hear that conservative Christians are all about "morals" and "values" while progressive Christians are all compassion with no standards, I have to wonder what morals, values, and standards we're talking about here. Do we really think God cares more about who sleeps with whom than he does about how we treat each other? Jesus certainly didn't. He talked about justice and compassion more times than can be counted but talked about homosexuality exactly never. In fact, he echoes the prophets in Matthew 23 when he denounces the scribes and Pharisees:

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.... Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!"

Mathew 23:13-14,23-24

Friday, December 10, 2004

A poem dedicated to Beth Stroud

Okay, normally I'm not a poetry person, but I really liked this and am posting it with the author's permission.

A Poem from Ann Freeman Price of NJ.

(Dedicated to Beth Stroud)

the rules are there
to separate
who's in
who's out
and as the law
gains strength
it builds the wall

it is not new
these walls
the church creates

in other times
the law divided
blacks and whites
or stopped the women
from the service
that ordained
all justified
by Scripture quotes
and moral arguments

and yet the Spirit moves
a mighty church
to shout apologies
long after racist walls
came tumblin' down
leaving the rocks
and boulders to still be
sifted through

the Spirit whispered
strength to women
and with the strength
the women kept on
keeping on
till finally they
kneel at last
with bishops' hands
upon their heads
ordaining to new ministries
and feminist feet
kicked bits of stone
from fallen walls

and now
within the church that
claims such open doors
the law is clear again
if gay or lesbian
you may not
be ordained
or if ordained
you may be stripped
and stone is placed
on stone as walls
and church
disrupt the lives
once more

but Spirit wind
is blowing now
feeling the heart break
that spills far beyond
one soul
so stripped
the Spirit carries the
echo of the song
that holds the gentleness
and the anger together

the Spirit breathes
and with each breath
shares witness
that walls hold weakness
within themselves
and this wall too
has cracks sprung
loose and spreading fast

for numbers grow
of those who join
their hands and hearts
to say with new resolve
"We will keep loving---
we will keep living---
we will make room
until the walls are
pebbles underfoot."

-----Ann Freeman Price

(c) Copyright 2004 Ann Freeman Price

(Ann Freeman Price gives permission to those persons who want to copy the
poem for personal or small group use. Please be sure that you keep the
copyright notice with the poem.)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Civil Union bill passes in New Zealand

It isn't the U.S., but I'm trilled all the same that today New Zealand passed a bill legalizing Civil Unions. Friends of mine who will be living there early next year will be positively affected by this and will have far more rights than they could have here.

I wish the U.S., the "home of the free," was a leader in this, but I remain hopeful that we will get there eventually.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Tyranny of the majority

The Letters to the Editor section of my local newspaper had a whole section of letters about gay issues in today's paper. Most of them are from people on the same side of the issue as I am. The one that wasn't is interesting. It's the fourth one down, entitled "Courts not meant to make law."

Okay, point taken. The legislature(s) should make law and the courts interpret. But don't we want the courts, in their capacity as interpreters, to be a buffer against the majority oppressing the minority? Yes, Brown vs. Board of Education was a good thing! Yes yes YES! Just because the majority of people wanted segregation didn't make it right or just and thank God the courts intervened!

The majority of people in our country right now don't want gay marriage, but if what the majority wants is oppressive to the minority, and it is, then it's wrong and I for one want the courts to intervene and call it unconstitutional.

If the problem here is the word "marriage," fine. Let's call it "civil unions" or whatever, but unless civil unions give exactly the same rights and benefits at local, state, and federal levels, it's not just and it's the tyranny of the majority oppressing the minority.

Do I want courts making laws? No. But I desperately do not want the straight majority to be able to inflict its moral/religious opinion on the gay minority just because we outnumber them.

Monday, December 06, 2004

The trial of Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud

I have to admit I'm not the least bit surprised that Beth Stroud’s trial went the way it did. After the acquittal of Karen Dammann last March, the ultra-conservatives in the Southeast Jurisdiction, with the help of the really scary IRD, managed to tighten the "loophole" that allowed for Dammann's acquittal at the 2004 General Conference. Personally, I think the discrepancy in the way the church treats pastors who violate the Social Principles on the homosexuality issue vs. other issues, like war, is more than just a loophole, but then I'm not a member of the IRD.

Anyway, back to Beth Stroud. Whenever the church loses a good pastor, which everyone involved with this case clearly proclaimed Stroud to be, the church loses. Whenever we block someone from their call from God, we all lose. People just don't deserve to be treated like this. I think this response From the Methodist Federation of Social Action about the church choosing legalism states it pretty well.

Legalism. "Values." I keep thinking of Matthew 23: 24: "You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!"

Sunday, December 05, 2004

This is what we're supposed to teach the kids about Jesus?

I help with the Sunday School at our church. I do the Opening Celebrations for a program called Faithweaver Friends, published by Groups. It's a pretty fun program, but like most published Sunday School curriculum, it's rather conservative. Sometimes it's downright factually incorrect and even scary. Today's lesson was a good example.

First we start with a "Wacky Holiday" for the kids to have fun. For this week they picked Bob Barker's birthday, which a) is not until next week, and b) what elementary kid is gonna know who the heck Bob Barker is? So I checked to see if anyone good for kids had a birthday this week. Turns out Walt Disney's birthday is today (Dec. 5). WALT FRIGGING DISNEY. Someone Every. Single. Kid. Ever. has heard of, but they pick Bob Barker instead? Why is my "Disney is Evil because they have Gay Day at Disney World" radar going off? Okay, that is probably just my skepticism, but still, you gotta wonder.

Next, we have the little skit that tells the Bible story. It's from Psalm 72, which is purportedly written by Solomon on the occasion of his coronation. Bible scholars don't think Solomon actually wrote it and the psalm itself is basically a "long live the king" kind of thing with a description of how a really great king should rule. So this curriculum says this is what "Solomon told others about the great things Jesus would do. Remember that Solomon lived hundreds and hundreds of years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem." Uh, oooookay. A psalm about a great king's coronation as prophecy about Christ? Stretching much?

So I start editing it to take Solomon's name out and to call it a psalm about "How to be a Great King, and Jesus is the Greatest King of all!" Now remember, this thing is a little skit, so we have some kid pretending to be Jesus here. As I'm editing, I get to this gem:

"Jesus, Solomon said you'd crush those who come against you. Pretend to be crushing something under your feet. Jump up and down! Really crush it!"

Oh. My. God. We are supposed to teach the kids that Jesus is going around crushing people? And that's not even what the psalm says! It says in verse 4, "May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance ot the needy, and crush the oppressor." THE OPPRESSOR. Not "those who come against you."

I'm offically disturbed.