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Wear heels. Dig them in.

Two weeks ago, I got an email from our campus Roman Catholic ministry inviting me to their weekly speaker series.  This week, they were hosting a speaker from San Diego, a woman who had started her own affiliate of the National Organization for Marriage.  She would be speaking on “Re-defining Marriage: How Same-Sex Marriage threatens Religious Liberty for all of us.” *

Oh joy.
My immediate reaction was confusion.  The Lutherans, and the United Christian Ministry were also invited, and all of us had had the “come to Jesus” conversation of progressive Christians with the other Christian ministries on campus over the summer.  This boiled down to:  Lookit!  Be nice to the gay kids, and if you find that you can’t pull this off, then send them to us, and we’ll do it for you, and save face for you.  If you can’t one of the Allies, then at least be Switzerland, for crying out loud.
But, clearly, the Catholics were not being all Swiss about this issue this week.  So what was I called to do in this moment?
There’s a case to be made for staying away. I could plead ecumenical unity, I could listen to the voice of my Paranoid!Bishop in my ear, asking why I was stirring up things again**, I could point out that it’s not like the Catholics had ever done anything to me personally (lately), and we’re all the church, and the church should stick together!
And sure.  Ecumenical unity is fine (though long gone) as is avoiding any theoretical confrontation with the bishop.  They are perfectly nice sorts of things.
But right now, the sorts of things this woman was saying is passing as mainstream Christian thought in much of the country, and I have not elected her my spokesperson.
So I went.
I went, and I sat towards the back in my collar, and my “I’m wearing a grown-up, respectable suit!” suit, and heels. (I had been invited, after all.)  I informed my students of what was happening, and asked if they wanted to join me.  Because they are uniformly awesome, they turned out in force, and asked if they could make t-shirts for the occasion.
I sat in the back and listened quietly and peaceably, while taking incredibly sarcastic notes.  The speaker basically achieved the perfect storm of right-wing social theory.  Marriage is for the sole purpose of creating and nurturing children.  Biological ties only create a family, and these ties cannot and should not be broken.  (This really surprised me–I don’t believe I’ve ever heard someone advocate against adoption the way she did, although she allowed it in ‘special circumstances.’)  Birth control is evil, as is gender neutral language, economic equality between the sexes, and the ‘blurring of gender roles.’  The Obama Administration is apparently out to get religious people, in its requirement that everyone (except churches and other religious institutions) have to provide birth control coverage to employees cost-free.  (The nerve!  Asking women to decide for themselves whether to purchase it or not!)
So she was very thorough.  She even threw in a condemnation of the estate tax (because I think it’s a rule at this point for speaking publicly as a conservative.)
But then came the Q&A.
The questions were pretty benign.  There was really mild pushback from the students, but none that she appeared to hear.
Then I got the mike.
I pointed out that really, her main problem seemed to be with the Kim Kardashians and the Britney Spears of the world: straight people who were extremely bad at marriage.  People who abused their kids and each other, people who were trapped in the cycle of addiction, people who were unfaithful, people who were unable or unwilling to be good parents, people who got married in elaborate weddings then divorced 72 days later, etc.
And none of those things applied to the committed gay couples I knew, people who were lined up, knocking down the doors of my church, asking to make public vows of fidelity and love to each other–the sort of thing my church preached was the sacramental self-sacrificial love that marriage signified.
And since that was the case, then why on earth not encourage these people to get married?
Well, she said, looking stormy.  Marriage isn’t about love.  It’s about children.  There are lots of different sorts of love, and lots of different sorts of relationships, but marriage is about producing and caring for children.
(……..Honestly.  I got nothing.)
That’s pretty much where it ended.
After it was over, several students unaffiliated with Canterbury came up to me and said how glad they were that I had asked my question.  The Catholic priest at the Newman Center came over, and said he was glad I had spoken up.  “I was waiting for someone to introduce the concept of real people into her speech.”
No kidding.
Theology always, ALWAYS involves real people.  Theology is never without consequences, and never exists in a bubble.
Stand in public, and proclaim that “marriage is about children, and not love” and immediately, you have sent the message that people who cannot have children, or choose not to, are not really married.
Stand up and say that biology, and not the courts, create a family, and now you’ve started casting doubt on the legitimacy of people who were adopted.  (Which, really, for a conservative Catholic– is quite a mind bender.)
And each time you say stuff like that, you’ve told people that there is something wrong with them.  You’ve told them that for some reason they may not be able to control, God is angry with them. God is seriously displeased with huge swaths of the population. “Horrible people!” God evidently says “Why can’t they live up to these impossible and unachievable standards that exist out here in the ether?”
By virtue of the Incarnation, if there is one thing in the cosmos God is concerned about, it’s actual people.  Not theories, not pretty dreams about what people should be, but actual, honest-to-Jesus, people.  People as they lived, and died, and celebrated and suffered.
Jesus called actual people to be disciples.  Peter, if you’ll note, was a complete doofus, albeit well-meaning, for much of his life.  Paul contradicted himself enough to rival a pretzel.  There were enough rough-and-tumble arguments in the nascent church to bring succor to the current watchers of the HoB/D listserv and England’s General Synod.  I’m not even going to go into the rumors and issues around the women Jesus hung around with.
The point is, he hung around with people.  Actual people.
His teaching served them; people weren’t meant to serve it.  (Wait, that sounds awfully familiar.)
The Spirit works through people.  Woe betide us when we stop paying attention.
*I’m not linking to her site.  You can Google “The Ruth Institute” if you want, but I’m not inclined to give this lady any more site views than she already has.  Aside from the many (MANY) issues I have with her espoused (ha!) policy positions, the irony is more than I can stand.  Their logo is virtually identical to that of Greendale Community College, of “Community” fame.  Really, I’ve not entirely written off the notion that we were all being punked.
**This is a song in my head now.  It is sung to the tune of “You’re making things up again, Arnold” from “The Book of Mormon.”  It is very catchy.  And features hobbits.  And Yoda.

My God can evidently beat up your God

This past week, the governor of Texas released a television ad which revealed some startling and disturbing news:  children can no longer celebrate Christmas openly.

I’m glad he informed me of this, as I was all set to proceed as normal with Advent 3 and Advent 4, before celebrating my merry little way into Christmas Eve and Christmas 1.  (Possibly I might go nuts and break loose with the Feast of the Holy Name.  Who knows?  I’m unpredictable!)  But thank God for you, Rick Perry!  Who knows what horrors might have befallen me had I proceeded?  Fire from the sky, locusts, plagues, mass chaos, cats befriending dogs, etc, etc.  (Also, suddenly my schedule just opened way up.  Drinks, anyone?)
Is it possible Rick Perry is the Grinch and I have failed to notice up til now?
(A more pressing question: please God, does this make Rick Santorum Max the dog?  Because that would explain so. very. much.)
It’s possible that this has escaped Rick Perry’s notice til now, but there do exist people who choose to either not celebrate Christmas, or to celebrate it differently than he does.  (The same goes for Easter, actually.  Also, Maundy Thursday.  Seriously, Newt Gingrich, anytime you want to spearhead a Catholic-politician movement to widen the federal recognition of such an important religious holiday as Maundy Thursday, bring it on.)
So people celebrate it differently.  Or don’t celebrate it.  And in the mind of Rick Perry, Bill O’Reilly, etc, this creates a war on Christmas.  This is puzzling.  Do holiday trees invalidate the birth of Christ?  Does saying ‘Season’s Greetings!” one too many times cancel out the Incarnation?
What sort of flimsy, wishy-washy Christmas is that?
Once God breaks into creation, God doesn’t drift back out again, like Casper the Highly-Suggestible-and-Holy Ghost.  You can’t take the Christ out of Christmas.
Christ is in this thing permanently.
Which, if you ask me, is sort of the whole point.

One of these mornings, you’re going to rise up singing

 I’ve been following with interest the various church-based reactions to the #OWS movement around the world.
      St. Paul’s Cathedral, London has been a weird, ongoing train wreck of a reaction.  From the outside, it looks like they thought the protest would go away soon, so they didn’t try to engage systematically.  They just sort of tolerated the protesters’  presence, until they didn’t anymore.
        It’s difficult to tell what caused the problem–tourists were getting upset?  (and see, that just makes everyone look bad–the cathedral charges tourists, and that’s a source of income.  So let’s hope it’s not that, shall we?)
     So then St. Paul’s decried the protest as a ‘health and safety hazard.’ And closed.  And asked them to leave.
     At which point, one of the canons of St. Paul’s said he would quit if the protesters were made to leave.  At which point, in jump the media.  And then the dean of St. Paul’s said he would resign, and the church would reopen, and no one had to leave, and didn’t everyone just feel dumb now, what with the quitting and stuff?  And also, the Bishop of London was getting involved, and now they were announcing a special task force!  For ethics and financial systems!  Because we should talk about these things, yes, but in y’know, organized ways, in rooms with proper tea, and biscuits and whatnot.  This task force was to be spearheaded by the Church of England and wouldn’t that please make the protesters happy, and couldn’t they please, maybe, go home now?
Unsurprisingly, they were less than impressed.
Today, news broke that after the dean resigned, the Chapter (vestry of a cathedral) met, and decided to immediately drop legal action against the protesters, and essentially slink quietly away, looking foolish.
This whole thing has been playing out in the media on both sides of the ocean for the past week or so,  and Episcopal Cafe has done a bang-up job of covering it here.
I’d also direct you to what has been going on in NYC and our homegrown Episcopal communities.  Trinity, Wall Street (aka: The Church that Owns Wall Street, in a Fairly Literal Manner) released a statement at the beginning of the Occupy movement.  It is here.  Since then….no drama.  No standoffs.  Members of their staff have participated in the protests, have held Eucharists for the marchers. Other NYC area Episcopal churches have done likewise.  Similar scenes have played out in Boston, Philadelphia,  other cities.
It strikes me that this difference of reaction mirrors, in large part, the divide in the church.
     On the one hand, we have the old traditions, and the institutional memory of being In Charge.  We represented the bastions of our civilization, that Is Not to Be Questioned.  We were content in the knowledge that we were in charge, we had the power, and we got to call the shots.  We got to decide who shared power with us, how decisions were made, and how discussions were held (in comfortable rooms, with tea, sherry and cookies, thank you very much.)  We got to decide who was in those rooms, and even what was allowed to be on the table for discussion.  The buck stopped with us.  And who was anyone else coming in from the outside to question our benevolence and our wisdom?  Seriously, how dare they?  (These people shall get no sherry.)
     On the other hand, we have been slowly coming to the realization that the power we had has left us, in many ways. We aren’t the numerical majority any more, we don’t  attempt to select the leaders of countries (unless you’re Pat Robertson, in which case, I have a LOT more to say to you).
So what we preach rings hollow unless it is backed up with action.  No one will listen to us unless we live out what we preach, individually and corporately.  And we can’t get away with preaching a Christ who ‘came to set the captives free, to preach good news to the poor’ while we try to hold on to our own power and wealth, and protect it at the expense of others.  People, generally, don’t buy that.
The good news is, however, that this frees us up to do amazing things.  Trinity gets to open their doors in an authentic way to be a meeting space for conversations about what an ethical economy.  They get to be a prophetic voice without worrying so much about what part of their entrenched support they will be losing.  If you let someone else uphold the status quo for a while, you get to do a lot more heavy lifting in ministry.
The status quo upholding gets really boring after a while.

I had to start a blog now…

So, I wanted to start this blog with something happy, upbeat. Then not so much. Thus follows the obligatory “what do you think about bin Ladin?” post.

The answer?
I don’t quite know. I don’t.
I found out what had happened last night via Facebook, when around 9:20pm Arizona Maverick Time, I finally noticed the Internet exploding, and I switched over to MSNBC’s live stream. (and let’s all take a moment to reflect on the fact that ten years ago, nothing I just wrote existed.)

I watched Brian Williams say things. I watched military guys talk about weapons, and equipment, and try to sound tougher than each other (retired military guys are awesome at that). I watched the President say smart and true things, and look really tired, and determined. And I texted my brother, and we marveled that bin Ladin was evidently living in a McMansion for the past ten years, and pizza delivery guys were the key to the whole deal, and did ‘Arrested Development’ turn out to be prophetic? (He was watching Fox News online, waiting for them to figure out a way to say Obama had done this wrong, somehow.)

And I tried to figure out what this meant– people were gathering outside in the streets, according to the news. Shouldn’t I be feeling jubilant, or patriotic, or relieved, or something?

I had two weeks in college before the towers fell. Two weeks of being independent from the ‘safe’ world of childhood before that got shot to hell for everyone. I can dimly remember a time before security checks and liquid restrictions and color terror alerts and the Patriot Act. But the reality is that my entire independent life, short two weeks, has been lived in the shadow of the falling towers. My friends from high school signed up for ROTC to pay for college and got shipped to Afghanistan and Iraq. My seminary professors told stories of ‘working on the Pile’ after the attacks, praying for the dead, caring for the recovery workers. My parishioners served in the wars, they read the names of the dead and wounded in the prayers every week, they kept things running at home, they tended the wounded when they returned. They sent their kids off to the wars, again and again and again. For nearly ten years.
And watching those impromptu parties last night, watching the college kids climb on the lampposts outside the White House, it nearly felt like the past ten years had been a nightmare that we could wake up from now. Like it would be that easy. That you can have one cinematic, 40 minute battle and wham! The story ends, the good guys win, and peace and justice reign forever more. It was like a flicker of light– for one brief moment I could believe that somehow life could go back to ‘normal’ — whatever normal life I thought I would have as a child.

Which it won’t. Those ten years aren’t coming back. Neither are the soldiers and the civilians killed, neither is the respect we lost with the brilliant muck-up that was/is the Iraqi War. Neither is the blind faith I had in my government at one point, (and I have news for you, if you think I’m jaded about the system, have a long talk with a current college student. Many of them will show a well-earned cynicism which is twice as well-polished as mine. They don’t remember the Peace Dividend, and all fun debates over that surplus-thing).

None of it is coming back. The wars won’t end today. I’ll still wonder what’s showing up when my passport gets scanned, and make John Ashcroft-is-listening jokes when I talk on the telephone. Killing Osama takes out a terror kingpin. It helps dismantle al-Qaeda. But it’s not magic. The things in our society that led to our wars, to our living in fear these past ten years are still here. Killing one guy won’t fix it.

This is probably why, on a purely cold, hard, practical level, Jesus recommended praying for our enemies, rather than beating the crap out of them. After you kill them, you just are going to find some new ones, and the line between good and evil is still going to run smack dab through the center of your own heart.*

*St. Augustine, gleefully paraphrased.