Wednesday, July 26, 2006

modern life

now i know why maureen dowd writes those crazy, dreadful, 'men don't want to date me because i'm a feminist' columns every so often.

trying to be all profound week after week can blow, especially when you have a real-life job that's important to you, your sister and brother in law are coming into town this weekend, you still haven't cleaned your room, you have to pay the housecleaner (with something), buy some beer, and you have NO idea how you're going to entertain houseguests for three days.

it's hard to muster the intellectual energy to think of something sharp or funny or snarky to say about the modern state of religion in our culture when you also have to figure out when you're going to return the phone calls of a friend with whom you may stay in new york next month during a trip with your father, the calls of an irate pseudo-ex who doesn't want to be an ex anymore, the calls from friends wondering where you are and when you all can hang out. (we can hang out when i can find some time on my calendar!)

it's also hard to get up any gumption when things in the middle east resemble a crusty pie imploding from the inside, when things over here sort of look like one of those pleasure cruises slowly taking in water, when things all over kind of make you feel like you want to say, 'dear jesus, just send that flaming meteorite anytime at all. really. stick a fork in us, we're done.'

i can't help writing what i'm about to write next, as churchy and 'devotional' as it sounds: i keep going back in my head to that moment in church on sunday, listening to that small group of ordinary men up in the choir loft sing the holst/mcdonald piece, watching their quiet pleasure in it, listening to their worship and feeling full of something. and whatever it was, it stayed with me all week - while i crossed the bridge at wacker and michigan, rumbling on the crowded rush hour bus, it was with me, giving me pause.

even now, while i watch the clock and know that i have to get up in 6 hours to run an early morning meeting and i'm so busy my head hurts to think about it, even now i'm taking just a little rest from all that to think about the hymn again:

'with my heart i'll ever worhip you; my voice will sing your praise for your everlasting mercy and grace for every day.'

i guess when international peace is elusive, we take what we can get.

Monday, July 24, 2006

deacon on duty

a glorious chicago morning.
the sky above michigan avenue is the blue of a robin's egg. the breeze from the lake brushes my face. i'm rushing across the avenue, the yellow cabs at the red light impatient to speed southward, through the front door, fussing with my magnetic deacon's badge, the click of my heels snapping across the flagstones. the usher at the narthex door smiles, handing me my program. her eyes flick to my nametag and she says my name.

through the door, a brisk walk down the center aisle. no hiding off to the side and back for me. other deacons at their stations give little waves. i stop to say to the deacon board co-moderators, two nice guys (who seem to live at the church), and then i slip into my row, hoping i don't get boxed in when i have to leave early to get to my church tour position at the narthex when service ends.

the organ begins to tune. then, bach.
we're in the middle of our responsive psalm reading. (i'm still amazed that they have to print the page numbers of bible books in the program. who doesn't know where to find psalms?)
one of the pastors from the presbytery is reading swiftly. we read just as swiftly.

he reads, "For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand."
then he stops.
a long silence ensues: congregation waiting patiently for visiting pastor to realize he has half a verse more. pastor just as patiently wondering why the congregation has fallen silent. congregation now stubbornly determined to wait out the pastor. pastor still befuddled. the silence grows uncomfortably long. i'm fascinated at the standoff.

then the men's choir up above softly prompt, "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness" and we, the congregation, gratefully read our part. the service rolls serenely on.
the lights are dim as the guest pastor gives the installation sermon for our new associate pastor A-. we've all finally deciphered his twangy tennessee accent. (like how it takes a few minutes to unravel a northern england accent in a film.) he's in the middle of an anecdote about successful pastors who engage the heart and mind.

a man writes a letter to john wesley saying, 'dear dr. wesley, God don't need your book-learnin'.' to which john wesley writes: 'my dear sir, God may have no need of my book-learning, but neither does he need your ignorance.'

i am the only one to laugh out loud.
the offetory hymn, a slow, swelling, majestic song, is one of my favorites ('sovereign lord, creator, righteous one', gustave holst, arr. mary mcdonald). the men's choir sways gently, stretching their mouths to sing the words; some of them have their eyes closed and there is pleasure on their faces. just as it ends, the asian man on the bottom row looks up at the grizzled tenor standing above him and they exchange a nod and smile proudly.

i want them to sing it again. then instantly think i want this sung either at my wedding or my funeral, whichever comes first. then think, what wedding??
all the ordained officers huddle at the chancel laying our hands on our new associate pastor A-. the man's suited shoulder in front of me is padded. whoever is touching mine is weaving just slightly on their feet and every so often they firm up their grip on my shoulder to steady themselves.

i drift in and out of the prayer aware that i need to pull up my pants.
leading the church tour, trying frantically to remember the names of the figures on the stained glass, what the frog represents on the chancel, and who makes the tapestries for the sanctuary.

but i get the japanese story right. one day i'll remember what the frog means.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

who says the rapture can't be funny?

Today, while the Flaming Bag of Poo called 'work' flamed on, I enjoyed a brief email exchange with friends:

Friend -
I have an interview on Monday and am looking for volunteers to practice with's been ten years. Any takers?

Okay, while I know neither of you are conservative Christian right wing republicans I was hoping you may know how long I (who am I kidding - "we") will have to wait for the second coming?

This is the order, right? WWIII, then a Jesus party, then suffering on earth, then the second Jesus party? So how long is that suffering part? I just think I need to plan...

Ding -
Though I'm no longer a fundamentalist, I know exactly this timeline - I even took a class in it.

Rapture Agenda:
1. Trumpet
2. Jesus in the clouds
3. Rapture
4. Worldwide confusion
5. Anti-christ (also heralded by rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and the resumption of sacrifices)
6. Tribulation of remaining folks, most likely Lutherans, UCC, Episcopalians and Presbyterians (approx 40 years or so, during which we get that dreaded 'mark' or die)
7. Jesus again
8. Judgment
9. Fiery ball of destruction

I think steps 8/9 are interchangeable. So I think you've got some time, there.
Work is kicking my ass all over the place but I'm willing to ask questions like 'where do you see yourself in ten years'? That won't be depressing at all.

Friend -
Thanks for the detailed I can actually answer the ten year question with 'rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.'

Thursday, July 13, 2006

You Better Work it!*

*[am I the only one who remembers RuPaul’s dance floor classic?]

Let’s talk about work. (Since this week at the office has exploded all over me like a flaming bag of poo, I thought Work would be an appropriate subject for this go-round.) And let’s think about the work that doesn’t get done when we try to say that ‘values’ and ‘faith’ is the same thing. The two aren’t interchangeable, though they are related; this is the problem I have with the way these two terms are used in our public political discourse because I think that while Faith and Values are good in themselves they may not be the best way to create social change or solve a problem. Rather, I think the solution rests in Work.

When I say Work, I mean the difficult labor of making change. It is the process (be it small or large, on a local or national level) through which a discernible difference can be made in someone’s material circumstance. Does this mean that a person’s spiritual change can't also manifest in social change? Brian McLaren doesn't think so; he posits that Christ’s gospel is really so revolutionary, it has immediate and radical implications for both private and public life – a truth that has been tamed in our church tradition so that the Gospel resembles nothing more than nicey-nice verses telling us all to love one another.

(Full disclosure: I’m only on page 40 of McLaren’s book. Sigh. I keep putting it aside to read my new serial killer thriller.)

Let’s back up. Last week I posted about Obama’s speech on the Democrats' need to engage more people of faith in an authentic way and not to shy away from issues of faith. While I agreed faintly, I disagreed, strongly, that we should be concentrating on Faith as Electoral Strategy. Instead, I wanted us to start looking at their Work, not as an Electoral Strategy (which puts a box around progressive work), but because it’s what has to happen.

Lately, the ‘religious left’ story has popped up in all sorts of places. Here , here , and here . And, even here . Adele Stan, in the American Prospect piece, writes:
At the root of all of the great faiths are fundamental beliefs in compassion, justice, love, and charity. We have the right -- dare I say the duty? -- to express ourselves as moral agents without the imprimatur of ecclesiastical authority.

Spoken the right way, arguments for the embodiment of these values in our civic life can ring with the divine provenance granted to them by believers. And indeed, religious activists -- especially our ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams -- are vital to our movement. But to expect them alone to create a moral counterforce to the destructive fear mongering of the right is not only unrealistic, it’s an expectation rooted in abdication of our own role as moral agents.

I want to concentrate on the word ‘movement.’ It’s a political word. It’s a word that brings to mind force, power (both of the people behind it and that which it is battling), and largeness – the largeness of the idea behind the movement and the largeness of the goal of the movement. For me, it’s a much more relevant and piercing call than one to Faith and Values. Yes, I have faith in Christ and through Him all things are possible; yes, I want to evangelize an ideology (which is what ‘values’ are) of equality, tolerance and grace. But to what end and do I really believe all that?

I am reminded of a church song that says “They will know us by our love.” For me, being progressive has always been about the fundamentals of love writ large. There is grace for everyone. We care for our fellow man, our fellow worker, our fellow struggler because they matter. They are not insignificant and they are not here simply as chaff for the fiery destruction of the world – nor are they meant to be soulless fodder for a corporate war machine.

But I’m suspicious of Faith and Values language because I don’t tend to believe the person who’s using it. The conservatives use it to hide their power and the left is using it to hide our rage. So let’s use a different language. Let’s use a language that was just fading from use when I was born – the language of a revolutionary love. Let’s start getting real about identifying who has power in this society, and who doesn’t. Let’s start being real honest about whose interests are behind which policies and who’s getting screwed by those policies – and how all of that must change. Let’s start thinking about a movement that’s less ‘Can’t we all get along?’ and more James Cone (as quoted in Sharlet’s piece in The Revealer):
‘authentic love is not ‘help’ — not giving Christmas baskets — but working for political, social, and economic justice, which always means a redistribution of power. It is a kind of power which enables [the oppressed] to fight their own battles and thus keep their dignity.’ [emphasis mine]

But since redistributing power means that those with privilege – class, race, and gender privilege - must confront it and then willfully step away from it, (thus personifying the whole ‘first shall be last’ thing in the Beatitudes), I have little hope such justice will occur any time soon.

We of the left seem to have forgotten that the personal is political – and that all politics are local. Instead let's forget electoral strategies. We already know that nothing trickles down, least of all change. Let’s get mucky on the bottom, on the street, in those grassroots we theoretically love. Understanding and evangelizing the ideological behind the ordinary is how we must affect change; it is how we must create a cultural shift. It’s not trendy, clean, or easy. It’s fracking hard. It means actually penetrating the communities we want to change; it means actually educating people about and implementing real, tangible, meaningful social change while transcending shallow election tactics that are only relevant every four years. It means ORGANIZING.

I do not accept the answer ‘it’s too much work’. It’s not Work when you mean it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

what making an effort will give you

my new year's resolution was to Make an Effort. i thought it would be a good way to end complacency, laziness and get my life in order. who knew that Making an Effort would be quite so effective?

i look at my calendar now and whimper. my free and open spaces are beginning to disappear with the alacrity of conservatives reacting to michael moore.

my current boy situation aside (which actually isn't that big a deal since expectations were so low - in short, he didn't want to meet my friends and act like a normal grown up), this week is going to give me a stroke.

work has, to put a fine point on it, exploded all over me like a flaming bag of poo. i stepped into my new position officially last week and, man, is the learning curve fast and steep. our government affairs contact said to me, as she handed me her copy of the IL general assembly directory, 'don't worry. in a year, you'll be great. flashcards are useful.'

holy crap. flashcards. and - a year?!

i have to learn names, committees, titles, interest areas - for city, county, state, and federal level officials (elected and appointed).

what the hell. those past 7 years of frolicking were nice. who needs friends, family and boys? not me.

i have the illinois general assemby and the cook county board to keep me warm.

(of course, i'm secretly thrilled. it's like i'm in my own personal episode of 'west wing.' love it.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

i'm over here!: christian alliance for progressives


every thursday (or thereabouts) i'll be posting over at the christian alliance for progressives blog. check it out here.

my first post is up (which i cross-posted below somewhere); the discussion soon veers off into abortion land. notice how i actually manage to keep my temper! do go and visit. (especially if you're a progressive woman. i think it's a bunch of guys - not that there's anything wrong with that, but come on! where are the women?!)

Mainstream Baptist posts there every week, as well as Faithful Progressive, Jesus Politics and De Sententia.

they're a great bunch of folks over there - faithful, learned and progressive.

(i know. and then there's me. already i got called vulgar and blasphemous!)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

here is a little bit of the history of contraception in this country. it's a short history. contraception has only been legal for less than a century.

less than a century. we have had full control over our reproductive organs for less than a century. the originating article she refers to can be found here.

key quote:

A woman's bodily integrity, her moral autonomy, her health, her very life depend on whether she has access not just to the right to reproductive freedom but also to the health care and education services that make rights meaningful. Circumstances do not change that principle. Nor is the human right to reproductive self-determination divisible. You either have it or you don't.

i find that apalling and amazing. and it's even more amazing that there are those who think that we shouldn't have this right, that we shouldn't use contraception (no matter our circumstances) at all. from the pill to Essure, women are to reject it all because biology is destiny.

looked at as part of women's history, medical history or any kind of cultural history, it's clear to me that this war on contraception isn't just about religion (it almost never is.)

it's about gender and about finding ways to penalize women who step outside of conscripted roles of wife or mother. we need to start asking ourselves, when a woman can't control what her body does (or does not do) who will control it? who makes the rules about what we can do with our internal organs?

this retrogressive return to a time before fracking modernity makes me angry.

(and for those who really don't get why i'm angry or who feel that i'm just some freak-ass feminist, it's about history. do some archival research into women's health, medical opinions on women's health and bodies, marriage laws, property laws and even legal rights from the 19th century backward and you'll be amazed at how little we've progressed, in terms of attaining the level of legal personhood that men have always been privileged to enjoy.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

mclaren's new book: already i'm skeeved out

today, i received my review copy of mclaren's new book, Jesus' Great Big Secret (or something like that.)

i want to like mclaren, i do. he's a man who asks questions and i've always thought that by asking questions, at least you're not some guy's patsy. i also admire the effort it takes to rear up against a heavy orthodoxy like christianity; i admire the guts it takes to bear the brunt of criticism (since i do it so badly.)

but i tried to get through his book A Generous Orthodoxy and i confess i only made it halfway. i tried twice and each time, i failed. it was too muzzy. the book made me feel like i was drinking a glass of old wine. (and, let's face it - i thought it was boring. i mean, i've muddled through french feminist theory and this was worse than that.)

i fear his new one is even muzzier (though shorter.) already, in just the few pages of his introduction, i'm feeling the old fundamentalist in me squirm uncomfortably when he says:

They - I should say 'we' - feel that there's a missing puzzle piece without which the big picture won't snap into place. There's a hidden door somewhere behind a curtain or bookcase, and through that door there are rooms we've never imagined.

They - we - have this hunch that there's a secret we don't yet get. (xiii)

um, no. while i will cop to the fact that there are mighty things i question, there are aspects of doctrine (regarding sexuality and gender) that make the 21st century subject in me go, Hmmm - while there's all that, i do not doubt that my faith (and the basis of my faith) is complete.

he writes that his dissatisfaction is prompted by an 'intuition' that there is something more to jesus' message; i am curious to know what exactly is insufficient about christ's message now? why the need for an extrasensory perception when we're supposed to have the gift of the Holy Spirit?

and then this leads me to wonder what's missing so that mclaren needs all this extra stuff to fill it.

is it naive to just hold onto the sufficiency of His grace?
in the middle of all the things that throw me into doubt, this is the only thing that relieves me.

in the back of my mind i am hearing my dad's voice: 'apostate! heretic!'
i won't go so far as that (i'm only on page 25, after all) but i'll admit that there are red flags popping up and bells ringing all over the place as i read this.

i'll share more, of course, as i go through. and it's interesting i'm having this reaction - me, the woman who'd rather chew glass than go back to being an evangelical baptist.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

sex: for responsible adults only

wanna know where i stand on birth control, abstinence-only education, and sex ed?

go here and here.

and read this post on responsibility and the following discussion for extra clarification of my stance on reproductive rights.

(as in: i have a legal, state-given right to control my reproduction - no one else.)
i just got back from 5 days in michigan, on holiday.
i'm relaxed, tanned and glad to be back.

judging from comments, however, maybe it's too soon to say that.

(and PV, you're still banned.)