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.

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November 5, 2007

That’s “traditional” marriage alright …

Filed under: family values,marriage,politics,poverty,rights,theology — Liz @ 10:53 pm

So the state of Oklahoma, faced with one of the highest divorce rates in the country, decided to pour money into a marriage initiative designed to encourage engaged couples to undergo premarital counseling, provide marriage enrichment courses and disseminate educational material about families and relationships. Prevent divorce, encourage marriage, support families. All that jazz.

O.K. Here’s the thing. Take your blinders off for a minute, especially if you’re married. I’m sure that YOUR marriage is absolutely wonderful, spiritually and emotionally and intellectually fulfilling, the best thing you ever did, etc. etc. etc. Of course it is. But the historical fact is, marriage was created NOT as some sort of fuzzy, warm, “companionate” (to borrow a term from my Psych 101 class in college) thing. Nope. Marriage was created as an economic and political instrument to ensure wealth, security and protection for family groups or clans. Family Group A and Family Group B decide to pair their children to offer protection from rival clans, economic stability, merging of assets, assure the birth of heirs, transfer wealth, assure that there would be plenty of offspring to work the fields … pick one of a myriad of economic and political reasons. And at its heart, of course, regardless of the power, protection or property transferred by the families, marriage involved the transfer of female property from one male — her father — to another — her husband. Unless you’re in extreme denial about the history of civilization, or just completely ignorant about it, you need to accept that this is the history of marriage.

Fast forward. I’m reading the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative page and all their “fact sheets” they have. And they have all these stats from research that Oklahoma State University has done. Any why should you get married, according to their research? Take a gander at the “Is marriage for me?” tip sheet. Why get married? So that you don’t have to do all the housework alone, it says. You can share the labor. Someone will be there to take care of you if you get sick or have problems. You’ll have more money because it’s cheaper to live as a couple than it is to live alone. How different is this, really, from the economic marriages of days of yore? (I know, I said “days of yore.”) Why are we so hung up — why are CHURCHES so hung up — on something that still works out to a matter of economics? And does it strike anyone else as kind of selfish? Save money.Don’t work as hard. Be taken care of. Oh, and there’s the better sex thing on their, too. Hmmm…

The fact is, the state of Oklahoma is getting a whole lot of churches in on their campaign. So, let me get this straight? Loving, committed same-gender couples DON’T fit in with the Christian view of marriage. The Christian view of marriage, DOES, however, gibe with the idea that people should get married (or people should be convinced to marry) because of what’s in it for them. Straight people who want to “save more money” or “have better sex” can get married. Lesbians who want to live out the rest of their days loving and giving of themselves to their soul mate, nope. Straight people who want someone to bring them soup when they’re sick can get married. Gay men who want to care for one another in sickness and in health, nope.

Yes I’m oversimplifying. Yes, it’s true that research bears out that people who are married and who stay married tend to be happier, do better economically, and maybe even have better sex. But it’s my contention that you can’t hold on to the so-called “sacredness” card AND the utilitarian card.

Much (possibly too much?) has already been written in the marriage debate. But I can’t help but insert that yes, the church should have something to say about relationships. Christianity requires that relationships be based on selflessness, love, generosity, concern for the other over the self. And lots of time churches spout that kind of rhetoric in premarital counseling sessions or marriage enrichment classes. The fact is, though, is that those are the rules that are to govern ALL of our relationships. For the Christian, marriage, if and when it happens, should really not be all that indistinguishable from any other relationship we have. And if that’s the case, if we approach all our relationships with the same self-sacrifice, generosity, kindness, love and deep sharing of our self, does the gender of the person we’re “married” to matter anyway?

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.)

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 14, 2007

State of the Nation

Filed under: media,politics,State of the nation — Liz @ 9:36 am

1. We’re dumb and fat. I’m a fan of Mike Gravel, I see his point, I’m inclined to agree with him. North Americans ARE fat. That’s the first thing many foreign visitors notice when they arrive. And I’m inclined to agree that people are pretty dumb, as well (else why would we continue to eat the crap that’s killing us, for example). There is a very strong anti-intellectual current running through the U.S. psyche. Not to mention that we’ve become accustomed to accepting information in sound bites without taking the time to question it. This is not entirely our fault … there are very smart, very wealthy people out there trying their best to tell us what to think, buy and yes, eat.

But the populist in me wants to resist writing off the U.S. as hopelessly dumb. In one of his essays, Noam Chomsky points out that, if you listen to sports talk radio shows, the people who call in by and large show a very sophisticated understanding of strategy, statistics and the minutae of their favorite sport. They question and criticize the “authorities” on the sport — i.e. coaches, referees, analysts … with no qualms whatsoever. People offer confident, sophisticated analysis of athletics. The trick is helping them see that they can also offer confident, sophisticated analysis of arenas with much greater stakes.

2. Our loneliness goes as deep as our genes. Actually, that’s not what the article SAYS, but the headlines that many outlets chose for the story makes it sound as though scientists have found a “lonely gene” (akin to the “breast cancer gene” or a “gay gene”). Actually, it’s even more poignant. Loneliness has profound biological effects, even going so far as to effect us on a genetic level. Lonely people die sooner, and it may not be just because they lack resources.

Like most news reports of medical/scientific studies, this one leaves much to be desired where details are concerned. (And what the Washington Post article doesn’t tell you is that the study only looked at 14 people.)

Still, the idea that loneliness is “killing us softly” not just in a vague way but at a very specific genetic level is compelling. It’s always nice to get biological arguments for your basic theological tenets, in any case. One of mine is that human being, being in the image of God, require community.

Not that I’m one to mix science and religion … as we all know, that leads to things like this:

3. I have a new favorite online hangout since I came the Oklahoma: the Web site of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City. Bob Waldrop, the author, fascinates¬† me to no end. Read his “Woe to the rich (immigration version)” (* I LOVE that there is room for more than one version of his “woe to the rich” I also love his argument that laws that hurt the poor and the oppressed are pro-abortion. I’m not turning in my pro-choice credentials any time soon, but I find it a brilliant leap of logic. And an accurate one, as well. It’s a wonder it hasn’t occurred to anyone else yet … wait a minute, I guess it’s not a wonder).¬† Also, a very good example of public theology from a Catholic Worker perspective (remember, they’ve been at it A LOT longer than many of us).

Click around Bob’s site some more. He’s doing great things with local food, has some great pieces about various social issues and a really good bread recipe.

September 12, 2007

in the poor house

Editor’s note: This was written a couple of weeks ago. It’s a little overdue, but I thought I would share it 1) in the interest of having some kind of content on this blog and 2) because the themes of “affluenza,” poverty and consumerism are ones that continually bounce up to the surface.

So, Tony Snow finally announced his resignation. Funny how people around Bush are dropping like flies. It’s like the party guests who go home early, not hanging around to be rousted off the floor or couch and thrown out by the host.

Funny, also, how Mr. Snow cites financial reasons for leaving his job. Apparently, as White House spokesperson he made a paltry $168,000, which he says isn’t enough to support his family. FYI the median income for a family of five in D.C. is $35,754. Yet, Mr. Snow claims he “had to take out a loan” in order to make ends meet when he left his high-paying Fox job to come to the White House. And yet, his income of $168k puts him in the top 5 percent. So, there are 3 options, as I see it:
1) He’s lying, and he’s really leaving because of a) his cancer or b) everyone else is leaving.

2) Tony Snow and his family, like a huge chunk of people, are mired in debt. For the average American, that’s nearly $19,000 in consumer debt, not counting mortgages. The average principal on a mortgage is about $69,000. So, let’s for fun say that the average American owes about $90,000. We’ll pretend Mr. Snow is indeed average. I suppose that, were his family to suddenly need to pay off all their debt all at once, an income $168,000 would be a little tight. (Failing to point out, however, that even that scenario would leave him with $78,000 to live off of. More than twice the median income mentioned above).

3) Mr. Snow lives way beyond his means. There is no reason at all why a five person family cannot have all their needs — food, shelter, clothing, water — met on $168k a year. Yes Mr. Snow has been ill, but federal employees are one of the few groups of people who DO have good insurance. And what about all that money he was making at Fox? Do you mean to tell me he saved NONE of it? He’s burnt through it all?

I’ve been afraid for a very long time that the industrialized world is going to run into an economic catastrophe on the scale of the Great Depression sometime in the next 50 years. My biggest fear, though, is that we’ve lost the skills to deal with that kind of catastrophe. Cable TV and (and to a lesser extent Internet access) have become “utilities” that are considered equal to electricity or gas service. We each spend about $2100 a year on restaurant meals. We’ve forgotten how to soak a bean, much less bake a loaf of bread. God forbid we brew our own coffee, or drink tap water from a glass.

Maybe my Walden Pond complex is coming back … every once in awhile I get this urge to dramatically simplify my life and start valuing NON-thing things. I can’t help but think that as a person of faith I need to take seriously Jesus’ command to live a life where people matter much more than things, and where we stop worrying about the money and live instead lives that are more humane. Lives that are more human.

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