Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Countdown to First Sunday of Advent

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.

The church year is coming to a close as Christians ready themselves not only for those many office Christmas parties during the week, but the  preparation of our hearts and minds as we enter the season of Advent next week. Our final collect in the Episcopal Church gives a nice summary of thoughts to carry you through to the last Sunday of November:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all
things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of
lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided
and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together
under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

"The gracious rule"  of this "King of kings and Lord of lords," who we Christians know to be Jesus Christ is gracious enough, I believe, to love without reservation anyone who is doing the work of building up the kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven." I think about a young social worker, tattooed and with rainbow streaks in her hair, who has put her passion into the effort to clothe and feed and give aid to homeless teens and young adults who pass through Tallahassee. I think about the people in France who lived adjacent to the Bataclan concert hall who opened their apartments to fleeing and terrified concert-goers during the rampage last week in their city. I think about those people who stop to help a motorist whose car has broken down to move them off the road and into a safer place. I think about how the ones doing this giving and even the recipients never ask questions; they simply respond. They don't make an inquiry about the person's sexual orientation before they help or receive aid. 

Why am I bringing up "the gay thing" in this entry? Because if there is one area that in some places in this country there appears to still be resistance in the church, it is with the LGBTQ+ community. And, in my experience, those same places that have failed to welcome "my people" and remained "divided and enslaved by sin" because of their homophobia are many times eager to announce that they wear the mantle of Christ while shunning their religious kinfolk of the other Abrahamic religions. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, their behavior is more like that of the priest and the Levite who see the beaten and bloodied man in the ditch but cannot bring themselves to go help him because maybe he's "unclean," or maybe they don't "know" him or maybe they just don't want to take the time.

The bishops of the Episcopal Church were given a directive at this last General Convention to respond to the reality that lesbians and gays were, are, and will be, getting married in the United States, and in some foreign countries as well. With this in mind, both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies agreed to some liturgical rites that will be available for use beginning next Sunday. Not everybody was happy to adopt this position of allowing the church to marry same-sex couples. Some bishops signed off on what was called "The Salt Lake City statement" (because General Convention occured in Salt Lake City) to reiterate their objections to the resolutions. All parties who supported passage of these rites cautioned their fellow supporters to be gracious and understanding of the feelings of these minority bishops. These men (because they were all men) were feeling marginalized and unappreciated and feared being bullied by the "progressives" of the church.

I understand all of that. I know that feeling of marginalization. I found it a bit strange that people felt the need to admonish me and others to be kind to these powerful men who still retained the top ranking office in their dioceses, but if that needed to be said, OK.

And, as part of the graciousness extended to those who might disagree with lesbians and gays marrying their partners, the church allowed bishops until the First Sunday of Advent to come up with a plan for how they will aid couples seeking marriage the opportunity to fulfill that dream, even if it means referring them to go outside the diocese. It was no longer enough for a bishop or a priest to say, "I'm not doing this." Now they'd have to show an alternative plan for how to make it possible. 

I'm fortunate that I am a member of a church in a diocese where the bishop has extended grace and hospitality to the LGBTQ+ community. Bishop Benhase, after asking for counsel from various commissions, individuals, and his priests, came out with guidelines that were, frankly, better than I had expected. He acknowledged that there would be those who would disagree with him, and he could handle that. And he is happy to provide an avenue for gay men and women to participate in the life of the church by letting his priests marry them. For me, it was an example of living into the graciousness of Christ's rule, which does not have a litmus test on love.

Meanwhile, in some bordering states and dioceses, there is silence on this issue. Perhaps the Salt Lake City statement was all that some felt they needed to say. It isn't really. It doesn't provide a plan for how to comply with the Church's desire to offer marriage to lesbian and gay men. And yet, there is no word on how they would extend that grace or at least help couples find a place that would. And so who is the marginalized and unappreciated and bullied in those dioceses where the bishop has chosen to remain silent?

There's still time for them to create a plan and publicize it so that lesbians and gay men of faith can know what their roadmap to marriage entails. There is an opportunity for grace, so that God may continue doing God's work in the lives of these couples. There is a chance to make this Advent a truly new beginning.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Welcome the Stranger

There is a meme that has been going around on Facebook which depicts the story of the Good Samaritan. There are the two characters up the road with their backs turned, and then there is the man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead in the ditch. The person tending to him, the Samaritan is in a turban.

This story is so old and iconic that even those with only the barest exposure to this parable from Luke’s Gospel know that the big general message of this is: love your neighbor. Take care of the person in need. And, just as it says elsewhere in the Bible, those of us who identify as Christian carry an additional burden to pay very close attention to the finer details of this parable. It isn’t just any ol’ person who stopped to help the beaten man; it was a person who was very much an “other” to the lawyer whom Jesus is telling this story. Samaritans were the hated “other people.” The ones who walked away were the pure and clean—the priest and the Levite—who crossed and went to the other side. They removed themselves from this bloodied man. The robbers we only know as robbers: faceless, nameless, and wanton in their attack. And who was the beaten man? We don’t know, but the assumption is that he was a Jew, like the lawyer to whom Jesus is speaking. But he could have been anybody, another type of “other,” perhaps. The Samaritan didn’t care. He only saw the fellow human in need, and he laid down his own concerns and plans to attend to this person. Jesus posed the question, “Which of these three is the neighbor to the beaten man?” and the lawyer, probably looking down at his feet, says, “The one who showed mercy.” And Jesus says, “Go, and do likewise.” Amen!

When the Syrian refugee crisis was hitting the news as a lead story here in these far remote United States, my spouse asked me one morning, with tears in her eyes, if we would be willing to take in some refugees into our very modest home here in the swampy south land. Without hesitation, I said, “Yes.” And then I got tears in my eyes, too. How could I say “no” to one who is running away in fear from their homeland where they are either being gunned down by their government or brutalized by a bullying terrorist group? How could I look at myself and call myself a follower of the Son of God, and not accept someone into our home who is traumatized and afraid and a foreigner?

I contacted the Episcopal Migration Ministries, who told me that accepting refugees into our home would be highly unlikely given the extremely lengthy process. But they kept my information and have been keeping me abreast about how we can be of help, specifically how we could increase the extremely low number of Syrian refugees the Obama administration proposed to accept into our country from 10,000 to 100,000.

That was before the attacks in Paris last Friday and yesterday’s Congressional vote that proposes to make it damn near impossible to accept any more refugees from Syria. Everyone is afraid that someone might be a terrorist, especially if that someone doesn’t look like one of us.

This from a country that has countless politicians who cite their Christian credentials every time they run for office. How do we justify blocking the beaten and broken women, children, and elderly (who are the priorities of our refugee policy) and then call ourselves “Christian?” We had no problem back in the 1980s accepting over 200,000 refugees from Vietnam. We made it easy in Florida to accept boatloads of Cubans. Yet we close our borders to Syrians?

Where is the mercy in this picture?

As I surveyed my feelings of anger and bitter disappointment in my Congress, especially my own Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham, I was reminded of a paragon of Christian courage by the same last name: the Rev. Lee Graham. Same surname, but my dear friend, who passed away three years ago this week, I believe would be shaking his head about our reaction to the refugees. Fr. Graham owned up to what it means to live into the Gospel of Love when he faced extreme hatred and hostility during the civil rights struggles in Alabama. He was branded a communist during the Vietnam War because he sided with peace. And he the only Episcopal priest in this city with enough guts to put on his clerical collar and stand with the disenfranchised gay population after the devastating vote against our community in the 2008 election. He was a friend to me during those horrible days after that vote. I remember him shaking his head, and shrugging his shoulders as he told me, “Well, we gotta keep trying.”

At his funeral in 2012, Fr. Lee had apparently left directions that I was to serve as a Eucharistic Minister along with another lay minister friend, and that I was to read a passage he’d selected from First Corinthians. The last line of that passage has felt like his final words to all who seek mercy and justice in the world:

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1Cor.15:58)

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has exhorted us not to be afraid. Embracing Jesus, truly and completely, requires one to let go of fears and lay down one’s life to help another. Our Congress, and our country, has fallen far short of that goal.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Do Not Be Alarmed

Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.--Mark 13:5-8

Do not be alarmed. This must take place. The end is still to come.

What words to have in the Gospel reading this past Sunday, less than 48 hours after the terrorist rampage in Paris. What a message to ponder as pundits piece together on the news the string of deadly attacks waged by those who claim to be fighting against Western ideals in the name of Allah, praise be his name.

Are these times the "birth pangs" of something else on our horizon? 

The readings at the end of the church year are always of an apocalyptic nature. The diviners of our lectionary seem to want to remind us that we're approaching the close of the year, and that Advent is coming and will usher in a new round of quiet waiting and anticipation, and a chance to prepare the way for the coming of Christ back into the world in the most normal of ways: a baby born to a woman who would grow up to be the human embodiment of Love in his own violent and turbulent world of First Century Palestine. He would be "God with us," here to teach us to love our enemies, not curse them.

This perfect love of Jesus is tremendously challenging on a good day. It seems close to impossible on days when our news on television, radio, the paper and social media show us again and again that there is death and destruction and hatred all around. It's not much comfort in the morning office readings to have the Book of Revelation, with "the Devil" or 1 Maccabees with the "fight to the death" narrative. When one reads about Judas, called Maccabeeus, who"searched out and pursued those who broke the law; he burned those who troubled his people," it can feel as though you're right back on Facebook again!

What do we do about those who call themselves "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" or "ISIS"? 

As might be expected, those Syrians who have been fleeing the civil war that is destroying their country, have been caught up in the crossfire of anger, suspicion, outrage, and fear. They are attempting to get away, but have been met at the border of some European nations with hostility. After what happened in Paris, France immediately closed its border and the news media has started alleging that there are ISIS members embedded in the streams of refugees getting out of Syria. This may be true. But it is also true that ISIS has successfully radicalized those who have felt disenfranchised and despised in their own countries because of their ethnicity or religion. While there are still questions about Friday's attack in Paris, the one thing that is clear is that at least one of the attackers was a French national. And there are some ties, it seems, that these terrorists may have had  to Belgium. That's a far cry from Syria. The Syrian refugees are not the enemy. Unfortunately, in the case of those who are becoming radicalized, the enemies may look eerily like us.

What do we do? I wish I had the answer to that. I am not one who likes war or advocates for war or violence to deal with conflict. I believe that ISIS is attempting to get us to act out of our fears and enter into a war (which has apparently already worked with France starting to bomb ISIS points in Syria). For me, I have to remember to keep living my life in Love. I have to pray not only for the victims of violence, but to remember our enemies as well. Gut-wrenching as that can be, I have to ask for God's intervention to soften the hearts of my enemies so it will have the reflexive action of helping to keep me from getting too invested in anger and revenge. I have to trust that God hasn't checked out and is seeing and aware of this turmoil. 

I also have to consider what the factors are that drive people to hate "our western culture." I'm not convinced by our government's narrative that they hate us because of our "freedom." I think they may hate us because of our misuse and abuse of our freedom. When our freedom leads to exploitation of others around the world, so that we reap the benefits of their resources, there's going to be trouble brewing. Does that mean I think the shooting of innocent people at a restaurant or a concert hall is OK? Do I condone the wanton taking of another life, the beheadings, the raping of the Yazidi women and girls? No way! ISIS is a barbaric organization which has seemingly lost all sense of humanity. I just don't want myself or anyone else suckered into diving head first into their pit of Hell and rage.

I don't have an answer for how to contain ISIS or how you can effectively destroy something that isn't a "state" with defined borders or has a conscience. This is an enigma. God help us all.


Friday, November 13, 2015

And A Bully (or a Check) for Old Mizzou

Today, I wrote my first check to the Missouri Alumni Association, and I put "Concerned Student 1950" in the memo line. I did so because I have been grieved to read the stories of what some students have endured on my campus, and even more upset that there are alumni withdrawing their donations because the campus administration has said, "OK, let's address this." 
When I was a student in the J-School, I supervised and worked under and beside many students who were African-American, Asian, and from several European countries. My first Morning Edition editor, the late Lynise Weeks who died much too young, was a tremendous mentor to me. I benefited from listening to the experiences of my fellow students, and did what I could in my capacity as a TA in the radio newsroom to foster their skills so that when we both emerged onto the job market, we could be the best hires. Prejudice and racist stupidity was all around us. But if somebody had put a picture of a lynching up on the dorm room door of one of my friends or fellow students, I'd have sat down in the Quad, too. That's inexcusable! 
When I was at one of my freshman orientation sessions, some parent, probably from a small rural area of Missouri, asked whatever administrator was addressing us if there would be a language interpreter in the room because of all these "furrin' TAs." My Economics 51 class had one of those "furrin' TAs." His name was Osman Hassan. He was from Sudan and was a devout Muslim. Osman was a very demanding teacher, and I was really ill for the last seven weeks of that Fall Semester. But Osman was willing to meet with me, and help me understand concepts of macro economics, even as the room was spinning in front of my eyes. He went to bat for me against the professor who was, frankly, a jerk who had harassed me in the middle of the final exam telling me that I "better get moving" on my test questions. Osman and I would talk. He was critical of "the way things are" in the United States. I would remind him that it wasn't right to say "Americans are 'x, y, z,' because some of us are more 'a, b, c.'" We were different races, different religions, different interests. But we were both members of the Missouri Tiger family, and we had respect for one another.
I had another professor in a Sociology class who was a native African, I don't recall now which country. The course was called "The Black Americans." We had an assignment to write a paper and I remember I wrote mine on the advancement of minorities in journalism, how we were seeing more TV anchors of color. But I noted in my findings that the upper levels of news management continued to be predominantly white and predominantly male. My conclusion was that in order to claim true diversity in broadcast news, there needed to be more advancement of minorities and women into roles of management and ownership of media outlets. I got an "A" and the professor wrote a note asking me to come see him. So I did. And I think the man's teeth just about fell out of his head. 
"YOU wrote this paper?" 
"Yes," I said smiling, and being stupidly naive. He flipped through it and saw his notes and affirmations. 
"It's a very good paper." 
I was curious about that comment. "Well, I guess it must be since you did give me an A." 
Then I realized what was happening. He hadn't expected one of the ten or so white students in this lecture hall class would write this way about race. Perhaps he hadn't met many white students who gave a damn about "The Black Americans." Perhaps he had encountered too many stares, and too much animosity to think that "whitey" might actually "get it."   
My first apartment I lived in as a sophomore was on Conley Avenue down the street from Jesse Hall (I think it has, thankfully, been torn down!) There were four apartments. I was the only American and the only Christian. Everyone else was a Muslim from Malaysia. My apartment mates kept to themselves, especially the woman from across the hall who would dash back into her apartment if she saw me coming out. One day, I locked myself out of my apartment. I knocked on their door, and begged them to let me use their phone. The man invited me in, and (amazingly) the woman didn't hide. But after that moment, she stopped hiding from me, and began to say, "Hi" when we'd bump into each other in the foyer of the building. An embarrassing moment of me locking myself out, and asking for their help somehow broke the ice.
My point in telling these stories is to say that I had a rich, wonderful, educational experience at Mizzou. And my education was enhanced by having contact with people who didn't look or talk like me. Diversity of all kinds is what makes an education complete, and Mizzou gave me that. I would like that opportunity to exist, free of hatred of the "other," for all students attending the University. Yes, facing racism and all the other "isms" is difficult and painful. But I would like to think that our alumni will support efforts to make the campus a better place for all. That's what my check represents. A commitment to see my University through to a better future that values all of its students and faculty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Clicked off: the Confrontation Seen Everywhere

When I saw the video this morning of a tense and heated confrontation between student journalists at the University of Missouri and protesters, who were both students and faculty, I felt as if I'd been slingshot back in time to situations in which I encountered anger and mistrust while attempting to do my job. Fortunately, I never had it quite as bad as young photojournalist Tim Tai had it. And while some faculty on the campus made sure I knew they didn't like me because I was a journalism major, I never experienced a faculty member threatening me with physical harm as happened to Mizzou junior Mark Schierbecker.

This video made me angry enough to write the following email letter to Dr. Melissa Click, the Communications professor who was screaming at the journalists and threatening them. I carbon-copied Garnett Stokes, the University Provost as well as my former advisor and KBIA-FM news director, Mike McKean:

Dear Dr. Click,

"Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here." 

Seriously? You said that? Will you be including this video in your future dissection of video and popular culture topics in your Comm School classes?

As a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I am appalled that a professor at my alma mater would be a party to inciting violence against a journalist who in this case was also a student at the university. A protest such as Concerned Student 1950 is deserving of media coverage, and these student journalists were attempting to fulfill their public trust to gather information and present a current reasoned reflection of the days' events. The reporter who you wanted removed was seeking interviews with participants. As one of the journalists kept repeating, they were trying to do their job. I find it ironic that only a couple of days prior, you had tweeted a message to the world inviting media coverage of these unfolding events. When the media came, you pushed back. How bizarre.

Don't get me wrong. I do not disagree with Concerned Student 1950 and the righteous anger the students and faculty are showing. I was part of the Mizzou culture from 1986-1990, and therefore am aware that racism existed then, and am greatly disturbed by the reports I am hearing now. My sincere hope is that Concerned Student 1950 and the existing administration and the Board of Curators will now take time to sit down and set accountable goals of diversifying our campus, and having a true listening process so that we can become a model of how to move this country toward recognizing the sins of racism and realizing a future where racial equality can be more than just a nice ideal. Critics will take potshots at such efforts, but I have more confidence than ever in my alma mater to ignore the noise of the enemies of change, and begin this important and vital work. 

I also hope that Concerned Student 1950 and the existing administration will continue to make the athletic department, and the football team specifically, a part of this effort toward a better Mizzou. The football team and Coach Pinkel exhibited true courage and leadership by emptying themselves of their position of privilege and power in an effort to draw focus to those whose voices were being ignored. I have never felt prouder of the Tigers in my life. I don't care if we win a national championship in football; I care that our coach is teaching his players what "team" means and how to be men. They did that. 

Teamwork is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Willingness to relinquish assumed privilege to make room for more voices is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Respectful communication amongst those voices is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Having a world-renown journalism school, with hard-working dedicated bright students to get that message out to the world, is a necessary part of exhibiting leadership at Mizzou.

Threatening student journalists has no place at my university. I don't know what kind of sanctions the school might impose on your behavior. I hope you are big enough to review the video and rethink what message that sent.

In solidarity with the students, both protesters and journalists,

Susan Gage
BJ, Broadcast Journalism, 1990 

This evening, word is out from the Columbia Missourian, the city newspaper published, edited and reported by students and faculty of the Journalism School, that Professor Click, who held what is called a "courtesy appointment" to the J-School has resigned that appointment and apologized for her actions. From her statement, she apparently did as I hoped she would: reviewed the tape and realized just how far off-the-chain she'd gone.

"I have reached out to the journalists involved to offer my sincere apologies and to express regret over my actions. I regret the language and strategies I used, and sincerely apologize to the MU campus community, and journalists at large, for my behavior, and also for the way my actions have shifted attention away from the students’ campaign for justice."

Life is messy. Protests are heated. I'm with the J-School dean who commended the students assigned to walk less than the length of a football field to the Carnahan Quadrangle to cover these historic events. Seeing them, and how they conducted themselves, tells me that my peculiar and oft-misunderstood School on the University campus is still turning out excellent journalists. Certainly being in the midst of an important protest happening on the campus is better than the classroom experience, and will lay the foundation for many a First Amendment discussion for years to come.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fight, Tiger, Fight for Old Mizzou!

UPDATE: University of Missouri system president has resigned. Jonathan Butler has ended his hunger strike.

I don't think I have ever been so proud of my alma mater's football team than I am today.

In response to problems with racism, and a lack of action coming from the President's office, thirty members of the Mizzou Tigers football team announced they would not play or participate in any football activities until Missouri University system president Tim Wolfe resigns. Their move is in solidarity with a student movement called #ConcernedStudent1950, which is raising the racism issue after many reports of students being called the "N-word" and the smearing of a swastika using feces on the bathroom wall of a dormitory. The year 1950 was when MU began admitting African-Americans. Student protesters blocked the President's motorcade during last month's homecoming parade as a way of getting his attention to address racism because the President had refused to answer their emails or respond to Twitter messages.

Now, with this football walk out, perhaps the President will get the message.

The Tigers are supposed to play BYU this coming Saturday. But Coach Gary Pinkel has cancelled practice. And he put out his own message on Twitter yesterday with this photo of the whole team:

"The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We stand with our players. #ConcernedStudent1950. GP"

Faculty have announced they are also refusing to hold classes. An African-American graduate student, Jonathan Butler, is on a week-long hunger strike at this point to protest the campus racism. This is no joke. This is real. And it is time for the talk at Mizzou to end and the action to begin.

I am particularly proud because my alma mater has needed this type of shake up for a long time. We had our own pains when I was a student with racism.In the student union building, it was not uncommon that African-American students were grouped together in one area and the majority white population occupied another.  There was soul-searching and discussion at the Journalism School when, if my memory serves me, a professor made an off-the-cuff remark that was offensive. The culture at the J-School changed, somewhat. But not enough.

When I was a senior, I remember being one of the few white students in a sociology class called "The Black Americans." It was taught by a professor who was a native African, and it was probably the best personal education I'd had in seeing things from the perspective of my African-American peers. I didn't do a lot of talking in that class (I usually didn't anyway, but this felt like a time when I really had a mission to listen). I heard from my classmates the internal divisions within them; those who were raised in majority black suburbs of St Louis versus those who had grown up in more racially-mixed neighborhoods had different perspectives on the oft-cited "white man." After awhile, one of the African-American women would speak up to note that white women were also to be seen for having advantages that they didn't have. Another would note that while white women could move about in society more freely and easily than they could, they were aware that their white sisters were still not treated with equity. I listened, sometimes with feelings of anger that I felt blamed for so many sins that I could not possibly address, and sometimes with the understanding that I was bearing witness to pain, and I had a responsibility to my brothers and sisters of color to do what I could do to address those sins.

This translated, for me, into my journalism. I had recognized talent, and I was an undergraduate trusted to be on the edit desk at KBIA-FM. In that position, I wanted to push back against what I knew were the white assumptions about affirmative action by sending forth African-American Mizzou graduates who could out shine any other job applicant, including me. I encouraged my peers. I spent time teaching the delicate art of tape splicing. I worked with them on how to write in and out of a soundbite, so that their stories would move and not sound too "student-y." I would help them choose the audio clips that had the most impact. And, most importantly, I listened. I believed in the abilities of my classmates, even when some of them told me privately that they didn't think journalism was for them. I knew that journalism needed them, and their voices. Some of them were in the same Sociology class, and we'd have a good joke at the expense of our professor about his accent, and his demands that everyone "go natural" with their hair, something my female classmates of 1990 could not imagine.

"That man is crazy!" they'd laugh. "This isn't 1970!"

As I wait to hear news on the developments at my alma mater, our fight song goes around and around in my head:

Fight, Tiger, Fight for Old Mizzou
Right behind you everyone is with you
Break the line and follow down the field
And you will be on the top, upon the top!
Fight, Tiger, you will always win!
Keep the colors flying ever skyward
In the end you'll win the victory
So Tiger fight for Old Mizzou!

This is a fight. Combating the cancer of campus racism is worth more to me as an alumna of the school than whether our football team forfeits a game. Seriously, I have never been prouder. The victory in the end of this will be a state university campus that is better, stronger, and more capable of leading the city of Columbia, the state of Missouri, and maybe even this nation to a place of more equality.

Those of us who have the power must be willing to see how our death grip hold on that power is not serving humanity or the planet well, and it's time to let go and allow those who have been traditionally powerless to enter this picture and assume leadership. Diversity is not a dirty word.

#ConcernedStudent1950, I am with you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hear My Cry

This morning I underwent one of the most uncomfortable medical procedures I have ever endured. I have been having pain associated with my pelvic region, and my doctor, who believes in not leaving any stones unturned, ordered that I have a pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound. The tech was unable to do the pelvic exam (they said my bladder wasn't full, and that all the water I had consumed probably went elsewhere in my body). So, we skipped ahead to the transvaginal exam.

I would place this experience right up there with the oral surgery I had as a teenager that required an injection of Novocaine to the roof of my mouth. I remembered thinking that it was strange that there were such heavy oak wood doors in this surgeon's office that led to the operating room. But when that needle pierced into my upper palate causing me to grip the arm rests and choke on my scream, I understood why those doors were so necessary to protect the innocent still out in the waiting room.

There were no heavy doors involved in this procedure. Just a dimly-lit room with medical equipment and a table with stirrups. The tech gave me the simple instructions to place my things on the chair in the room and then lie down on the table. When we figured out that I wasn't sufficiently full in the bladder to do the pelvic ultrasound, she asked me to put my feet in the stirrups. Here begins the pain.

"This is going to feel cold and goopy," the tech warned me. Then she slipped what felt like a very hard super-plus-sized tampon into me.

"Aiiii! Lord, have mercy!"

"I'm sorry," she apologized as she pressed on with inserting the transducer deeper inside. Everything in my body tensed at the shock of this moment, and I realized this wasn't going to help my situation, so I started breathing in an effort to relax my muscles. She kept moving and pushing this device, first to my right, then to my left.

"Fuck!" I breathed out. This was the area that had been giving me such pain recently and this camera-on-a-stick was touching every inch of my tender areas. More breathing, and holding back tears, and wondering when this was going to be over?

Owww! She moved the wand and was now taking pictures of my uterus. And while my bladder wasn't full enough for a pelvic ultrasound, it certainly did have some pee in there. The more she pressed, the more I worried I was going to let go and piss all over her hand, which, in that moment, I believed she rightly deserved. In my head, my pleas continued, "Please, God, when is this going to end?!"

It finally did. The tech nicely and calmly explained to me that the results of the exam would be known in approximately three to five business days and that I would hear from my doctor about them. There is a bathroom in the waiting area where I had been that I could use.

"Did you see anything?" I asked.

"I'm not the radiologist..."

"And so you just take the pictures, you don't interpret the results." I knew this would be the answer, but I thought I'd ask. She was done with her job. Time for me to get out of the room and go back to get my shorts on. Welcome to the world of clinical procedures.

I am a fortunate woman in America in that I am not in that statistic of women who has been raped. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, approximately one out of every six women has been either assaulted or had someone attempt to assault her sexually. And while I would not equate or want to put myself in the place of a woman who has been raped by a boyfriend, husband, father, brother or even a stranger, my experience of a transvaginal ultrasound gave me a keen understanding of that feeling of being violated. Mine was for medical purposes, scheduled and known ahead of time. Still, I felt powerless. I felt pain. And the clinical nature of the whole event made it feel "cold and goopy" in more ways than one.

I cried. Not for me. Not for my own experience. I cried because this is the procedure that state legislatures and the United States Congress, dominated by men, want to require for a woman seeking an abortion. I know how uncomfortable and unpleasant this had been for me in fulfilling my doctor's desire to rule out ovarian cancer. But to require this for an abortion? What if the woman was with an unwanted child because of rape? We want her, and this fetus, to experience a medical form of penetration and violation, so we can make her feel that sense of loss of power all over again? Is there no level of cruelty we don't know?

My tears came even more readily as I thought of the men who are so insistent on this procedure. I thought of how many of them go to church on Sunday, so they can be seen by their constituents and held in high regard as they profess a belief in Jesus Christ as their "personal" Lord and Savior, the pocket-sized God they can carry around with them, and claim as "their God," not "your God." No God in my understanding and imagining would take pleasure in putting a woman's body through this type of procedure. When I let out that cry of "Lord, have mercy!" I believe that Jesus was with me in my every breath. And in so doing, opened my mind to see the wrongness of making a pregnant woman undergo an unnecessary and uncomfortable procedure to satisfy a sadistic human impulse to control other humans.

It is not right. It is not just. It should not be required.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"If it's not about love, it's not about God!"

What a tremendous moment in the history of the Episcopal Church! The first woman ever to lead this ol' denomination, that has oft been seen as the church of the ruling class, passing the staff of leadership to its first-ever African-American leader. The service of installing our 27th Presiding Bishop, Michael B. Curry, was a phenomenal testament to the diversity of the Episcopal Church. Music in Spanish and English; the Gospel declared in Lakota; "Wade in the Water" played in the same service with hymns on the tune of "Jerusalem." It was the type of service that one hopes will be the spirit of the Holy Spirit infusing us with the joy that comes from the liberating love of God expressed for all in Jesus Christ.

For all? Yes, I mean FOR ALL. In his sermon, Presiding Bishop Curry expressed what I have come to believe in about Jesus. He didn't come to start a religion, or to have a church. He really came to start a Movement...the Jesus Movement, which is a carrying forward of the Movement begun at the beginning and handed on from Moses to various prophets down through the ages. And that Movement was not about being "right"; it was about aligning yourself rightly with God and loving God and loving neighbor, no matter who that neighbor is. And it wasn't about getting puffed up with how good we're doing, but always looking around for the goodness that is being done and helping to foster its growth, whether it is being done with an official stamp of "in the name of Christ" or not. To put it simply, PB Curry stated it this way: "If it's not about love, it's not about God."  Drop the mic, and walk away. Christianity, The Way, is about love. Period.

Our Education for Ministry group had the assignment to watch the service as our primary mission of the day. We gathered in what was advertised as an open house, but are only taker was our priest, who sat in and participated in the group until he needed to leave for his child's birthday party. We talked about the many things that struck us about the service (recognizable liturgy, moments of confusion with the languages, the many inter-religious participants). We talked about the Jesus Movement and how can we express that and hence do the impossible: get an Episcopalian comfortable with evangelizing. And as we spoke, there seemed to be an understanding emerging that evangelizing isn't just about telling people about Jesus; it's about doing the things that build up people and restore the person in need to a place of love. Sometimes, the simplest way to bring that about is through being present with a person and letting them tell their story. Even the person who is angry and accusing us, as Episcopalians, of not being "true Christians," the only thing to do is to remember that (a) we are true Christians and to assert otherwise is just silly and (b) to recognize that those who call us names and demean us are acting out of a place of fear and not faith. And with fearful people, you can let them rant and rail and continue to say to them, "Peace be with you." Really. Peace--please--be with you!

The detractors of the Episcopal Church, those who broke away, have been penning blogs denouncing our Presiding Bishop and trashing what was a beautiful and joyful celebration at the Washington National Cathedral. I read the entry that was published on David Virtue's site, and it was typically filled with jabs and potshots at the service and accusing us of throwing out Jesus, etc. etc. Eight years ago, I would have read such an entry and been irate. But eight years is plenty of time to journey with Christ and to learn that what is not understood will be attacked and dismissed by those who cannot see and will not listen. So, there's no point in getting angry. Instead, I read, shake my head, and pray to God to deliver that person and me from our struggles, so that we may enjoy life. Again, peace, really, be with all of us.

I am excited about the future of the Episcopal Church which has certainly been battered and bruised along the way toward bringing more people into the liberating love of God. I am marching with this band of crazy people who really do want to see God's dream become the reality for our world. It's a parade worth the walk.