One shoe off

January 20, 2009

“Praise Song for the Day”

The title comes from Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugral poem. You can find the transcript here.

What to say about today ….

Last night I walked in the Muskogee Ministerial Alliance annual MLK march, which culminated in a service at a local African American church. It was an enormous God-Party, because King deserves no less, but also because of the momentousness of the holiday falling on inauguration eve. I bought three over-priced Obama buttons from a teenage girl raising money for the local NAACP youth group. One moment that crystalizes it for me happened in the opening minutes. We sang a praise chorus that I’d sung before at my parents’ church, but had always dismissed as another kind of lame “Yay Jesus” song. But listen:
“Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever!
Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever!”

You Are Good – Israel & New Breed

I can’t even express the impact of singing these words on that night, the night before this day, and for the first time realizing a fraction of what they meant to the sisters and brothers standing next to me. It’s one thing to read those words from Scripture for the thousandth time, it’s another to sing them on the night before the culmination of a promise of God to an oppressed people.

Am I waxing too poetic, too dewy-eyed, glossing over the racism that still endures, that will continue to endure, in our culture. Perhaps. Am I spiritualizing? Undoubtedly. I’ve tended more towards that lately. I blame it on Shane Claiborne, whom I started reading after Obama got elected, when I decided that it might possibly be possible to change the world. So actually, I blame it on Obama.

Now, about Rick Warren. I’m no great fan of Rick, but I’ve known of him for years, and he used to pal around with my uncles at youth retreats. My grandma remembers him sitting at their kitchen table eating Oreos. I’ve admired his stand against poverty, racism, global warming and AIDS, even as I’ve been hurt by his homophobic rhetoric. The fact is though, if you’re looking at it from the outside, you don’t realize that Warren is quite moderate by current evangelical standards. If you were to imagine a spectrum of evangelical folks, from conservative to liberal, Rick Warren is quite a bit to the left of the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and only slightly to the right of people like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis. I see in people like Warren a bridge that can bring evangelicals away from asshole Christianity and towards a more Jesus-like faith. Is he wrong about a lot of things? Yes, I believe so. But perhaps this reaching across lines, this breaking down of categories (Conservative Christians: “All Christians must be Republicans! Democrats are evil! Democrats hate God!” Progressive Christians: “All Evangeicals are Republicans! Keep them away from us!”) can be transformative not only for those of us on the left, but also for Warren and others like him, evangelicals who realize (and there have always been evangelicals who realized this) that following Jesus is not about a political agenda, but about compassion and justice. So, yes, to sum up, I’m not a big Warren fan, but I’m not all bent out of shape about Obama choosing him.

Enough with the defense o’Warren. Here’s a link to Bishop Gene Robinson’s invocation from the concert yesterday.

And here’s a link to an article that highlights one of the things that makes Obama most awesome: his bookishness.

Advertisements

October 19, 2007

Finding Allies, Part I

So I had a job interview on Wednesday (prayers and well wishes welcome) and one of the questions they asked was “What does building collaborative relationships mean to you?” I gave what I thought was a decent answer, and they seemed o.k. with it as well, but it was kind of a fluffy answer, one that didn’t really deal with the difficulties inherent in the whole “Building collaborative relationships” thing.

Last week for TEC 300 we talked with Rev. Tim Ahrens of We Believe Ohio, a diverse group of faith leaders committed to social justice issues. That got me thinking about finding allies and building collaborative relationships. Then, a few days later I saw on the news that CONLAMIC, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, had filed suit against the state of Oklahoma to stop the implementation of H-1804 (the Oklahoma Citizen and Taxpayer Protection act of 2007, which I’ve blogged about on here before). (By the way, the CONLAMIC Web site is mostly in Spanish. You can find an English translation of the press release about the suit here. (also of note — the news release is dated the 4th. I don’t think the T.V. weasels — as we not so affectionaltey called them back when I worked for a paper — carried it until the 10th? maye the 12th?)

After I heard the story, I rushed to log on to the CONLAMIC Web site. I was excited, as I usually am, to learn about Christian social justice organizations. So imagine my dismay when I clicked on their platform, that their top three points — their key priorities — read like something off of the Focus on the Family Web site. 1. A constitutional amendment limiting abortion rights. 2. Reinstating prayer in schools and 3. Opposing gay marriage and civil unions, and any attempt to “legitimize” relationships between same-gender partners.

Grr. Everything I despise about evangelical politics. Their other points — health care access for all, access to public education, respect for the rights of all immigrants, documented or not — were ones I agreed with.

Can I be an ally of these people with whom I share so many values, but with whom I am in conflict on several key issues? Is it too coldly utilitarian to collaborate with people on one issue and one issue only, when you disagree virulently on so many other things?

I think of something Jesus said. (Surprise, surprise). Some of his disciples come to him after seeing another exorcist casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They tried to stop him, they said, “Because he does not follow with us.”

Once again, we have evidence that Jesus doesn’t care much about affiliations. Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50).

Jesus is often disturbingly utilitarian in the gospels. Disturbing to me, at least, because although utilitarianism has always appealed to my need for simple solutions, it’s always struck me as the least nuanced of going about life. I like to think of Jesus as more nuanced, I guess. Probably because I like to think of myself as nuanced. The gospel evidence is, of course, quite to the contrary (cursing the fig tree, anybody?)

So what do we do as progressive, justice-oriented Christians? Can we collaborate towards a common goal with those with whom we disagree on so much? Those with whom we not only disagree, but whose beliefs we find reprehensible. Who are, indeed, “against us” on several issues? Can I find common ground with CONLAMIC as they oppose this unjust, racist, evil law? Even though I find other of their views to be unjust, homophobic and yes, evil?

Beggars can’t be choosers, especially in the Bible Belt, and I fear that, for now, my answer is going to have to be “yes.” In the fight for justice right here in Oklahoma, I’m going to have to find common ground with those who think that my identity as a lesbian is morally reprehensible. It seems that I may have no other choice if I am to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.

(More to come, by the way.)

October 5, 2007

“That may work in Tough-girl land … but not in real life.”

Editor’s note: This post acknowledges the existence of women’s reproductive organs and makes general references to routine medical procedures. As such, it may not be suitable for “more sensitive” readers. In addition, it is extraordinarily long, particularly for a blog entry. And finally, it’s overly confessional, highly personal and barely even tangentially related politics, theological reflection, or the current topic in TEC 300. Look for THAT kind of stuff sometime this weekend.

My apologies to all … the whole working thing has been very mentally draining — YOU try dashing from exam room to exam room asking middle-aged, respectable Latina mothers about their sexual habits , wrangling distressed children and trying to explain possible vaccine reactions to their mothers, and trying to come up with the Spanish words for medical terms you don’t even know in English. Do THAT a couple of days and then try to come up with a hundred-odd words on theology and politics and stuff.

Despite my excuses, I really am enjoying my work at the health department. The initial awkwardness of being the third person in the room during gynecological exams aside (if you ever find yourself in this situation, I offer you my little sister’s — who’s also spent some time interpreting — invaluable advice: “Stand by the head and you’ll be fine.”, it’s very cool to be a patient advocate, to help ensure that women (and children) are receiving compassionate and adequate care.

I’m enjoying it so much that it’s got me thinking (argh! not again!) about a change of vocation. I’ve developed a profound respect for the nurse practitioners with whom I’ve been working, so an inkling of a thought about going into that field has crept into my mind. (Those of you who know me won’t be terribly surprised … I change my mind about what I want to do every six months or so.)

What’s surprising is how out of the blue this is — I have never had any desire to go into the health care field (all those Paraguayan summer afternoons whiled away over my mom’s copy of “Where There is No Doctor” notwithstanding). It’s just never appealed to me as a career choice. So it seems odd to me that, standing at the head of the table while a woman gets Papped, I should hear a voice (I’m trying very hard to avoid any off color Moses jokes. You should too) saying “Whom shall I send? And who shall go for us?” (Operation avoid Moses reference a success; incidentally, the citation is Isaiah 6:8.)

I know this is not particularly “Public” theology, and I had intended to write about some stuff I saw on the news tonight, but I seem to have rambled on and on about this. I may as well try to make it at least slightly theological.

Thing is, I’ve never known exactly how to think theologically about vocation. That may seem odd, because the topic of vocation seems like it would be a theological no-brainer. The fact is, I grew up around people who would describe every decision they made or new step they took as a response to “God’s call.” I went to college at a school where some people seemed convinced that God was dictating everything they did, from “God told me to wear this shirt today for a reason, so that lady at McDonald’s would compliment me on it and I could tell her about our mission trip to Cabo and witness to her about Jesus.” to “God told me that you’re going to be my wife. Will you go out with me?” When I first began to sense a call, I wondered if I just lacked any other language to talk about trying to decide what to do with my life. Plus, it was never a very specific call. More of a “You should be doing something DIFFERENT” sense, and a vague pull toward seminary … and then I went to a visitor day at CTS and that felt good, so I decided to go with it. In general though, I’ve tended to live my life in a sort of haphazard way: following my bliss or reacting to situations that arose. The first took me to Chicago, the second brought me back to Oklahoma. Despite the fact that I have a sort of general direction in which I’m moving, I often feel like I don’t live my life with a great deal of intentionality. Is intentionality necessary to vocation? I’ve finally gotten comfortable with the idea of being “called,” but am I ever going find out what I’m called TO? Is it this?

The whole tone of this entry is getting far too confessional for my own comfort level, so I’ll leave this discussion here, for the moment. Tomorrow, look for the theology of Marion Jones and some thoughts on personal and social holiness (see, class, I’m getting there eventually).

Oh, by the way, the title comes from something the commentator (if that’s what she is. I’m really unsure of several people’s role on the show) on Judge Joe Brown said. It really has no relation at all to the post, or to anything. But I thought it would make a brilliant blog posting title, and figured I’d better use it before it got lost up there.

September 20, 2007

“The Mexicans are Laying Low”

Filed under: Bad Government,Idiotic ideas,immigration,Jesus,politics — Liz @ 11:01 am

I’ll say this for Muskogee, OK in contrast to many other parts of the state — it is an incredibly racially and ethnically diverse city. The Five Civilized Tribes Museum is in Muskogee, and the Cherokee Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation headquarters are in close proximity. Muskogee has a relatively large African-American population, and the Latino population has grown exponentially over the past years. There is even a growing Asian community as evidenced by the number of new Asian families moving in to my parents’ subdivision.

So imagine my surprise when, in my first few days as Spanish interpreter at the Muskogee County Health Department, I found myself with no one to interpret for! Not to mention that the tamale lady was gone from the Farmer’s Market. And the music minister from the Muskogee Hispanic Baptist Church had also disappeared. What was going on?

The answer came from my mother, who spoke with a local Latino leader yesterday during a planning meeting for Muskogee’s “Diversity Day” celebration.

“The Mexicans are laying low,” he said. “So just know that they aren’t going to show up because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

You see, back in May the Oklahoma legislature approved (and Gov. Brad Henry signed) the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007. The law requires all state and local agencies to verify resident status before approving benefits. It denies state identification cards to undocumented immigrants and requires employers to check applicants against a federal database to determine their resident status.

The rest of it is quite reprehensible, though, and deserves to be quoted word-for-word:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to transport, move, or attempt to transport within the United States any alien knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the alien has come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law, in furtherance of the illegal presence of the alien in the United States.
B. It shall be unlawful for any person to conceal, harbor, or shelter from detection any alien in any place, including any building or means of transportation, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the alien has come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law.
C. Any person violating the provisions of subsections A or B of this section shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for not less than one (1) year, or by a fine of not less than One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment. “

Of course, if you read the text of the law, it tells you that certain services are exempt from the requirement — for example, services guaranteed by federal law (like WIC), and emergency services (like emergency medical treatment or soup kitchens) are still allowed. Try explaining that to someone who was already in fear of being caught and deported, though.

The deadline for all of this is Nov. 1, which explains why people are becoming more and more worried, and why this issue is going to continue to stay at the forefront of discussions in Oklahoma for the next months. Robert Waldrop wrote an excellent piece about the legislation back when it first passed Oklahoma House. More on this as it develops.

September 15, 2007

This is SO 1984 …

Filed under: 9/11,Bad Government,books,constitution,Jesus,libraries — Liz @ 10:04 pm

<sigh> I’d like to get a hold of a prison chaplain and ask them for a copy of the list.

In brief, the Bureau of Prisons has decided that prison chaplains must remove from their libraries any material not on a pre-approved list. Why? Need you ask? The same reason the government makes every decision lately: to combat terrorism. The feds don’t want prisoners converting to Islam while their in prison.

The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

Ms. Billingsley said, “We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.”

The copy of the list is not public, but according to my Web research C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a whole bunch of Orthodox Jewish books are in. Barth, Niebuhr, Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) and Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life) are out. Also gone are the Hadith, and the works of Moses Maimonides.

At the Otisville prison in New York, according to one report, the post-purge Muslim section of the library has been reduced to the Qur’an and two other books. Three-quarters of the Jewish books in the same prison were removed.

As a theological student and someone who spends a great deal of time and energy reading religious books, this first of all hits me at a very visceral level. I’m trying to imagine the pain of visiting the prison chapel library and finding gaping holes in the shelves. And what about the anguish of having a treasured prayer book suddenly removed (as many Muslim prayer books have been)?

On an intellectual/ethical level, this is completely unacceptable. One of my core theological principles is that of soul liberty … the freedom (and responsibility) of each individual to choose what her/his conscience dictates is right, free from the control or coercion of church, government, family, friends or any other outside entity. To restrict access to religious texts is unconscionable from a religio-ethical standpoint because it interferes with the individual’s ability to explore her/his relationship to and understanding of God.
From a constitutional standpoint, this kind of restriction interferes with prisoners’ freedom of religion, of a few rights that they still retain. Further, I would argue that the freedom to read is another core human right that prisoners should retain.

Finally, from a pastoral perspective, faith is an important part of many inmates’ lives. To restrict their access to books that encourage and strengthen their faith is to do tremendous damage. In many libraries, the shelves have been all but emptied by this project (called, btw, the Standardized Chapel Library Project. Incidentally, it’s been going on since MAY). The project did NOT, however, include any funds to help the libraries replenish their collections with approved books. So now many inmates looking for enlightenment, encouragement and solace are faced with gaping holes on the library shelves.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.