Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Awaking the Sleeping Tiger

If you haven't noticed, I've been quiet the past couple of weeks. This is partially due to the fact that my semester was coming to a close and I was no longer required to blog as frequently, it was also due to the holidays, but I have to admit, I've been less than inspired of late. The Healthcare Debate was depressing and disheartening and although it has been passed, I'm not sure how much celebration is appropriate. Another strange attempt to blow up an airplane is thwarted. Just not much in the line of hope.

And amid all of this, is Tiger Woods. Tiger burst onto the scene in the mid to late 90s and captivated everyone because of his school and his apparent disdain for the hussle and bussle of fame. He was a good guy. He was a good athlete. Finally the world could focus on an athlete's talents, rather than get caught up in his or her moral flaws. But oh how the mighty have fallen.

As woman after woman after woman steps up to claim a piece of the toppling of Tiger, I find myself strangely unsurprised. Granted, I'm not the biggest fan of professional golf, but this lack of expectation for the moral characters of the "celebrities" in this world is something very deep and very troubling. Who can we turn to for encouragement when those our world apparently values the most are failing at their cores?

In Alex Altman's "The Moment" in Time Magazine (Dec. 21, 2009), he says: "As much as we love tearing down our idols, we're suckers for tales of redemption, and one Sunday next year, Woods will hoist another trophy. At that point, perhaps we can admire the achievement without deifying the athlete - and stop mistaking public prowess for private virtue."

There it is. There is the issue in a nutshell. As a society, we have come to allow our public leaders to be let off the hook, morally speaking. But really? We spend billions of dollars to pay these people to continue to entertain us, to encourage us, to remove us from our boring and humdrum lives, yet we can't hold them to a higher standard? I strongly disagree.

I'm disgusted by this situation. And I feel completely entitled to expect higher morals than have been exhibited by many a celebrity or leader. If they didn't sign up for it, stop taking our money.

One final thought. The other day I was talking with my Mom and I wanted to really push this issue about the moral high-ground, so I asked "What if a sex scandal came out about Obama?" Both of us paused. The weight of the question sort of lingered in the air. My Mom answered that she would be devastated, and when I thought about it, I would be too. Here is a leader, who has worked for the trust of millions, and if that trust would be broken, so would this country. I expect the people I admire and support to show more respect for my trust.

Maybe the real issue is not that the public figures we follow are so bad, but maybe we give our trust out too easily. Maybe it's time to have a vetting process for the roles of celebrity and athlete. I don't think that's too tall an order.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Need Suggestions From You Fine People!

The semester is over, my class is complete, the year draws to a close. So now I find myself wondering what direction my blog should take. And that is where you all come in. I would like suggestions and feedback as to what you found interesting (or not interesting) about my blog thus far, what you would like to see more of, or maybe even a new direction that you think would be cool to read.

So, please let me know. Otherwise one of two things will happen:
1) I pick a direction that no one is interested in besides myself
2) I stop blogging

Happy Holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Global Warming is an issue of morality, Ms. Palin

In response to Sarah Palin's recent claims that climate change is based on "junk science and doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood," Al Gore said that "global warming is not a political issue but a moral one,” he said. Which is it? Is it immoral to do nothing about global warming?

Global warming is all of the above. It is a moral issue, it is scary, it is political, it is real. Although I have to disagree with Sarah Palin on most issues, her description of “doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood” is correct. I agree with her statement, but not the sentiment behind it. I agree because the end is now scientifically in sight if we continue on our path and that to me is doomsday. And I also agree with the idea that the prophetical voices of many environmental activists are coming out in troves to warn us of the impending doom.

What I believe Sarah Palin was attempting however, was to say that this fear is unfounded. To show the world that the progressive left uses scare tactics as much as the conservative right. Unfortunately, the progressives have science to support their fears, whereas the conservative right has little to support their fear mongering. Exhibit A: Palin herself.

"As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border."

I’m sorry, but the idea of an air invasion from Russia is pretty terrifying. And I’m not even sure Palin’s use of the term “junk science” could be applied to this, because there is no scientific proof of anything of the sort.

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

This makes me shake in my boots as well. Standing in front of a death panel? Yikes. I better run for cover!

What this shows us is that fear mongering is something this country has come to know and treasure. Both the progressives and the conservatives use this as a technique, but the major difference, in my opinion, is that the issue of global warming is scientifically proven and will affect all of us. It will not just affect the poor, or the rich, or the healthy, or the sick, it will affect all of us.

It is absolutely immoral to ignore the scientific evidence that has shown us the trajectory of global warming. I rarely call out the morality of individuals, but I will say this: Sarah Palin, as a leader of society, one in whom people have placed their trust, you have a responsibility to lead people in the right direction. Your responsibility is to do your research into the subject, to read the evidence, talk to people from both sides. It is unacceptable and un-Christian to ignore this shocking proof of the demise of the earth. From one Christian woman to another, I beg you to do your research, to speak the truth, to be a leader for environmental justice. Not just watch as those who trust you jump off the proverbial cliff.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Decking the Halls in the White House?

Christmas decorations at the White House include a crèche in the East Room (despite reports that White House social secretary Desirée Rogers suggested that the Obamas were planning a "non-religious Christmas.") Should the White House, whose residents serve all Americans, display a crèche or a menorah or any strictly religious symbols during the holidays?

As a religious woman, I have to ask, does it really matter? In a perfect world, the White House would display decorations from every religious tradition, including atheist decorations (I am not exactly sure what those would look like). Maybe the Obamas thought about this, and maybe they realized that would show the world that they were working just a little too hard and that that is just a little too ironic when we still have the words “In God We Trust” printed on our money. And we still recite “One Nation, Under God” as children when we make our pledge of allegiance.

The Obamas are Christians. Always have been. And they live in a house. Therefore, decorations of that house will most likely include decorations that are slanted towards their persuasions. Just like the “style” of the interior changes with each new president and family, so too will hopefully the religion one day. I have a feeling that if the President were Jewish, this conversation would not be taking place for a couple of reasons. The creche would not be appropriate for what the occupants believed. Just as the creche is appropriate for what the Obamas believe, maybe a Santa Claus isn’t? Who knows.

I think the issue we are looking at is one of parenting. The Obamas have two young girls that they must raise in terribly difficult circumstances. Amidst all of the security and formality, these girls need to learn about their family’s morals and values. If the Obamas are Christian, which they have explicitly illustrated themselves to be, then the jobs of Michelle and Barack go beyond President and First Lady. They must also be the ones to explain their faith to their children, and where else can that be done than in their own house? In such a materialistic world, showing the girls what the season really means to their family is very important.

Maybe the Obamas are still working on getting the rest of their decorations up, like so many other families. Maybe the menorah is still in a box yet to be unpacked. Maybe the Kwanzaa Unity Cup is still being delivered. But all I can say is that let’s allow this family to have some aspect of normalcy in such a crazy predicament that is being the First Family.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mommy, will you look under the bed? I think there’s a Muslim hiding.

Q: What's your reaction to Sunday's decision by voters in Switzerland to ban construction of minarets, the slender towers from which Muslims are called to daily prayers?

As a religious woman, this ban on the construction of minarets is absolutely terrifying. I am terrified because this comes on the wake of the shooting at Ft. Hood, and I feel that we as a country, in fact, as a world, are at the crux of something very dangerous. We are dangerously close to limiting the religious freedoms of our neighbor, and that never turns out well.

I’m not saying that we’re on the brink of internment camps, but maybe I am. Maybe that’s the next step.

I fear that the next issue of violence that can be attributed to anyone with even a miniscule relation to the Islamic faith will be the tipping point, and we will make it clear to our Islamic brothers and sisters that they are not welcome and that they in fact are in need of restrictions, control, and repression.

We live in a time where we are all afraid, and unfortunately, the scapegoat at the present moment is the religion of Islam. We are desiring so much to point our quivering fingers at the culprit, and in doing so have deemed a few crazy zealots as the models of the religion.

When George Tiller was killed by a religious zealot who was most likely Christian (although most news reports failed to mention this), the issue of the murderer’s religion was never in the forefront. Had the murderer been Islamic, the tables would have been turned dramatically.

Sure, Sweden might have different rules and regulations when it comes to religious freedom, but this decision to ban the construction of Islamic minarets symbolized the global fear of Islam.

What are we afraid of? Do these minarets remind us of our dwindling churches? Does the call to prayer remind us of our failing and disturbingly quiet prayer life? Or are we most afraid of the fact that people who are different from us are religious in a way that we refuse to come into conversation with?

I’m terrified. I fear that the worst is still to come. The more we oppress this religious group, the more reaction we will see. Could you expect anything less if you were in the same situation? May God and Allah help us all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Where Have All the Progressives Gone?

U.S. Catholic bishops are defending their direct involvement in congressional deliberations over health-care reform, saying that church leaders have a duty to raise moral concerns on any issue, including abortion rights and health care for the poor. Do you agree? What role should religious leaders have -- or not have -- in government policymaking?

Despite the fact that I generally disagree with the sentiments of these Catholic bishops, I have to support the fact that they are living out their faith in very tangible ways. Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals have found their voices in the public forum and no one questions whether their faith guides their politics and policies. When it comes to those of us who are faithful and progressive, we struggle to find a way live out and proclaim our faith in the public square. So, with that being said, I think these Catholic bishops are on to something.

When I first entered into seminary, I found it very uncomfortable to introduce myself to strangers. Revealing the fact that I was a young seminarian almost always lead the person I was talking with to assume that I was a conservative fundamental Christian who was ready to start my judgment talk as soon as I was given the opportunity. I would try and find opportunities to illustrate my progressive and open-minded mentality in various and interesting ways, but now I know I was fighting against something bigger than me, I was fighting against the voice of religion that the secular world has come to know and fear.

It’s time for the progressive and faithful to take a stand and reclaim our position in the public square. We need more people to illustrate that faith can lead one to be open-minded and loving. Religion cannot and should not be the deciding factor of public policy, that is the beauty of this country, but, for those of us who are involved with religious groups - we work for them or we ascribe to them - we can allow those basic tenets to guide our lives and the ways we interact with the world.

But we have to be careful as well. As religious leaders, one must understand that our voices are influential to those who are watching. Therefore, reminding members of our faith of the breadth of opinions on issues is important. Unless the issue at hand is one of extreme prophetical nature, we must allow for differing voices to proclaim as well, as long as they proclaim the love of God.

The questions we are dealing with now are surrounding health care and issues of life and death. Maybe we should not be criticizing the Catholic bishops, but rather asking where all the progressive voices are in this deliberation?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When Discrimination Trumps Mental Health

The Fort Hood shootings have raised questions again about how the military should handle the personal religious beliefs of its soldiers, whether they are evangelical Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, and so on. What is the proper role of religion -- and personal religious belief -- in the U.S. armed forces? Should a particular religious affiliation disqualify someone from active military service? How far should the military go to accommodate personal religious beliefs and practices?

As a Christian woman, I am appalled at the way our country and the media in general is focusing on the religious affiliation of the Ft. Hood assassin. This question, although possibly filled with good intentions, is playing into the incredibly hateful and downright sinful nature of religious discrimination. If one claims to be a person of faith, one cannot point the finger at the religion of many for the mistake of one, that in the Christian world negates the love and compassion of Jesus.

This should not be the question that we are asking ourselves immediately following the massacre at Fort Hood because this shows the world how predictable we as a country can be. We should be focusing on the fact that this man was mentally ill and was not screened properly enough to deter him from being deployed, let alone a licensed psychiatric doctor.

There are more than 3500 Muslims who are serving our country in the armed forces. These people are truly necessary and deserve so much more respect than we have shown them and are continuing to show them following the shooting at Fort Hood.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan has yet to give a clear answer on what his motive was, but his religious affiliation has stolen the show. The U.S. military must come out with a strong stance that says they are not blaming the Islamic faith for this tragedy, which they have not done yet.

Why on earth should numerous Islamic groups across the country feel compelled to distance themselves from this individual? Had he been a Christian, the question of his faith would not even be mentioned, let alone displayed as a headline.

At this rate, this country will soon be screening out committed individuals for the armed services to the point where we only have white, Christian, heterosexual men protecting this diverse land, and frankly, that doesn’t make me feel safe. Instead of wasting our time, energy, and money on talking about limiting the religious diversity in our armed forces, we should look really long and hard at how well our mental health screening process is working. Maj. Hasan was sick, but he was also counseling sick people. Who knows how much damage he could have done beyond the physical destruction he caused this past week.

The shooting at Ft. Hood was obviously a tragedy, one that should not have happened. But instead of pointing the fingers at the scapegoat “other,” it’s time to take a hard look at the religious discrimination that we as a country are allowing to run rampant. Discrimination and hate. Decidedly un-Christian and un-American.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Our Disarmed Forces - Violence at Ft. Hood

A shot rings out. Bullets begin flying. Instinctively, every person in the room hits the floor. They've been here before. They've faced adversaries wielding weapons of every kind. They've seem their comrades fall. The only thing different this time, is that they're at home. They're in a place of comfort. The fear and trauma they've worked so hard to repress and work through has become a reality. There really is no place of refuge in this world, for these people, these soldiers.

The Ft. Hood shootings are a shock to the world that cannot be shocked anymore. We gasped when we heard about Columbine, we sighed when we heard about Virginia Tech, and now we are awe-struck. The very people who risk their lives to protect our country abroad have demonstrated that their lives are at risk even at home. Not just those who died or were injured, but the shooter as well.

The murmurs about the religion of the shooter have begun, but the silence surrounding his mental health will surely become deafening in the weeks to come. How was he allowed to slip throught the cracks? How could a person giving out psychiatric care, a person who received negative evaluations, be allowed to continue practicing, and even further, be allowed to deploy to Afghanistan. Where is the compassion for our soldiers? What are we doing to these brave men and women?

If Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is in fact Muslim, I urge you to not let that piece of information cloud the real tragedy that we as a country are facing with this slaughter of innocents. His religious affiliation should in no way determine your response to this situation. He was a human being, one who has fallen through the cracks like every other mass murderer. And he has taken his untreated mental illness out on those who would give their lives to protect him.

Our brothers and sisters of the Islamic faith do not deserve any more unjust hatred. I beg, plead, and pray that this situation does not add fuel to that fire.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Deaths

Proposed health-care reform legislation includes a provision that allows Medicare to pay for "end-of-life" counseling for seniors and their families who request it. The provision -- which Sarah Palin erroneously described as "death panels" for seniors -- nearly derailed President Obama's health-care initiative. Some Republicans still argue that the provision would ration health care for the elderly.

Does end-of-life care prolong life or does it prolong suffering? Should it be a part of health-care reform?

Two women with the exact same diagnosis are brought to the hospital to seek treatment. Both seek the best possible outcome for their illnesses: comfort from the pain. Both women are in their 80s, and both have lead wonderfully full and rich lives. The people around these women understand that this illness will most likely claim their lives.

One woman is counseled by doctor upon doctor about the medical options before her, yet no one seems to be talking about what they all know is coming, the big elephant in the room, death. So, she takes their lead and undergoes painful tests and surgeries that cost thousands and thousands of dollars, only to die a few months later, in a hospital bed, bruised and battered, without ever fully acknowledging her death.

The other woman comes to the hospital and is met with a team of care specialists who discuss the situation in a holistic way, showing her the realities of her illness and the opportunities for growth in these final days. The woman is able to return home and be surrounded by her comforts and her family. She dies having come to terms with her death, comfortably and safely.

Unfortunately, only one of the previous scenarios is the norm in this country, the first one. And even more unfortunate, our Medicare system only pays for the first one unless there is proof that the person is dying, and that proof involves those uncomfortable conversations that most people avoid, those conversations that should be guided by a trained professional in the field of counseling.

We as a society are so terrified of death and dying that we avoid any and all conversations that bring our mortality into the forefront. Case in point, most seniors or terminally ill patients have not explicitly decided their end of life wishes so the responsibility falls on those who love them the most, those who feel they must do everything they can to keep their loved ones alive.

It is common knowledge that the majority of medical costs in a person’s life are accrued during the final months of their life which shows that people are entering into this precious moment without any guidance or support. If we as a country are willing to provide counseling for those who are mentally ill, why are we denying those who are terminally ill from the necessary benefits of counseling?

During an internship at a congregation, I had the opportunity to make the rounds in the hospital as a pastoral chaplain, and the common concern I heard from the people who were ill was “I don’t know what’s happening to me.” This concern is one that involves the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of the patient. We must begin to treat people who are nearing their final moments with the dignity they deserve. End of life counseling is a right every person should have so that they can choose how they would like their final days. At this point, we are denying them that choice, and that’s downright terminal.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

For Goodness Sake

--Is there good without God? Can people be good without God? How can people be good, in the moral and ethical sense, without being grounded in some sort of belief in a being which is greater than they are? Where do concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, come from if not from religion? From where do you get your sense of good and evil, right and wrong?

As a religious woman, I am convinced that the goodness in my life is grounded in a belief in God and as a Christian woman, I am convinced that the model for that goodness comes through Jesus. However, this is not a universal and I do know that there are plenty of people in this world who act in a good manner without the belief in a higher power. And to further that, there are many religious people who act in decidedly non-good manners, we could even call it evil, and do it under the guise of religious fervor.

A good friend of mine is an atheist. Not one who has been devoid of religious opportunity, but one who, after seeing the options, decided to be a conscientious atheist. According to the idea that goodness can only come from God, this would mean that this woman, no matter how hard she tried, could never be good until she grounded herself in a higher power. This woman, however, is studying to be a nurse and enact change in public policy and healthcare reform. Should she just stop now? Another atheist friend of mine is studying race relations and the inequalities therein. In fact, some of my friends who are the most "good" in societal terms are atheists. This in and of itself should disprove the idea that goodness is only possible through a relationship with God.

We as humans know what is right from wrong, it does not take a book filled with rules or a church building to instill those values in us. We know right from wrong because we are conscientious of other people. Why else does one feel guilt when one crosses the street to avoid a panhandler? Sure I can find a biblical text to support my guilt, but the initial feeling is one that is human. We know what is right and wrong because we can put ourselves in situations outside of our norm. Whether we choose to act on that knowledge is another case.

About 13 years ago, a three year old boy fell into the primate exhibit in Brookfield Zoo. A 150 pound female gorilla approached the little boy. According to the argument that something cannot be good without God, we should assume that this female gorilla would act in a decidedly un-good manner. Maybe harass the little boy for coming into her territory and threatening her kin, maybe attack. Instead, the female gorilla picked up the little boy, cradled it, and brought it to safety. That sounds pretty good to me, maybe even godly.

We must stop looking at ways to determine ourselves as better than others. Better than other religions, better than other people, better than creation. God created and God said it was good. It’s not our job to decide whether our goodness is more of God than others.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hating With the Times - Why Our Laws Must Change

Congress is expected to expand federal hate crimes laws to add "sexual orientation" to a list that already includes "race, color, religion or national origin." Is this necessary? Should there be special laws against crimes motivated by intolerance, bigotry and hatred? Isn't a crime a crime?

Adding “sexual orientation” to the federal hate crime laws is absolutely necessary if we are to remain a society that provides laws to fit the time. Since laws are almost always enacted in response to a situation, it is the duty of federal lawmakers to pay vigilant attention to the needs of the culture.

I remember the first time I saw “The Laramie Project,” the play written about the brutal death and beating of Matthew Shepard. I was in college and had no idea what the play was about. When I emerged, I remember a powerful feeling of doom because there had not been much progress in creating a hate crime bill, yet hope since this brutal crime had gotten people talking about the situation.

But it seems like we’re back to where we started.

This issue is an issue that should deeply move the religious individual because at this point, crimes committed towards an individual solely because they are homosexual are not considered hate crimes. That means that they are not determined to be quite as hateful as violence motivated by hate towards individuals due to race, color, religion, or national origin.

Those of us who read the Bible know that there are certain laws that must be changed in order to fit the times. We no longer believe that parents should stone their child if that child is stubborn or rebellious (Deut. 21:18-12), and we definitely do not believe that a woman must marry the man that rapes her (Deut. 22:28029). If we are willing to see that our holy books must change with the times, how much more should we be willing to have our worldly laws change with the times?

Yes, crimes are crimes, but there should be special attention paid to those crimes that are motivated against individuals based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, ability, etc. Indiscriminate crimes are tragic and deadly, but discriminate crimes are in a class all by themselves, a class that needs discriminate attention.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Few, The Proud, the Vaccinated

Check out my most recent blog posted in the Washington Post On Faith section!


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Limbaugh and Beck - EPIC FAIL

This week, a class assignment had me listening to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (pause for the impact of that statement to settle). I have never, in my entire life, spent more than 30 seconds listening or watching either of these men, so this was quite a difficult task.

I decided to pick a subject that I thought might be one that I could find some common ground on - the Chicago Olympic bid. I was generally opposed to Chicago getting the Olympics for reasons surrounding environmental and social issues, so since I disagreed with Obama here, I thought maybe I could stomach these two men a little more easily.

I started with Rush Limbaugh. I could only find a strange recording of the show on youtube because Limbaugh requires you to be a member (and pay membership dues) if you want to access his podcasts. After the initial shock of Limbaugh's correlation of Obama with the failure "OBAMA LOSES THE OLYMPIC BID!!!", I was mainly struck by the derogatory manner of speaking of the President of the United States and other respectable figureheads in our country. "Barack Hussein Obama...MMM MMM MMM" or "Michelle my Belle" or "The Oprah". One can't help but believe that Limbaugh has some inside joke with his listeners about these people. One also can't help but assume that since he has no joke about Mayor Daley's name, that this is racism. It's racism, but it's even something scarier than racism: it's a powerful man spreading hateful ideas to people who think it's NOT racism. Limbaugh is re-naming people of color which harkens back to the days of slave owners choosing names for the slaves they had purchased. And no, I don't think I'm reading too far into this.

Next stop, Glenn Beck. Thankfully, Beck refrains from childish and racist attacks on the names of people, but he too connects this "failure" to Obama. He, like Limbaugh, blaims Obama for the fact that a group of people voted for the "best" city among the many already determined "best" cities in the world for the Olympics! First of all, that's not a failure!! Second of all, how can this be blamed on Obama? A good deal of the preparation and conversation over the Olympic bid happened before he even came to Washington! If we even need to point a finger in "blame", all we can do is blame the people who chose the site of the Olympics for finding Rio to be more appropriate (and it's about damn time since the Southern hemisphere has been overlooked up until this point). It's their turn. No one failed. Stop relishing in a moment where people may be disappointed after working very hard for a dream.

It's just all about failure. Failure is something that no one should wish upon a president or a country for that matter (I know I'm not the first to say this). As I've mentioned in other blogs, people seem to be waiting for Obama to fail and so every little thing that could be construed as a failure is blown out of proportion just like this situation.

If I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Mr. Limbaugh or Mr. Beck, I would first ask them about their faith. Ask them who they identify as role models (not including political figures), and what characteristics they find admirable in people. Most likely they would lift up characteristics that all human beings treasure: honesty, trustworthiness, kindness, etc. Unfortunately, I find these individuals to exemplify what is wrong with humanity: hate, bitterness, judgmental, argumentative, scathing. The list can go on and on.

Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Beck: I agree with you that there is something seriously wrong with the media, but I unfortunately include both of you in that statement. You illustrate what is wrong with this country, this world, this race, this humanity. Please report on something positive and constructive, not hateful and destructive.

Some additional websites about Limbaugh and his "techniques":

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sticking With Afghanistan, Not Getting Stuck

This week's On Faith question:

Q-- Eight years after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, fighting continues. Religious extremists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda retain significant power there. What is our moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan? If religion is part of the problem there, how can it be part of the solution?

We as religious individuals can begin by saying: “we cannot fix this situation by ourselves.” We must look for support from those who are like us, those who are different from us, and finally, to God.

As Americans, we are taught early on that we are powerful. So powerful in fact that we are to help those who are less powerful, even if they are thousands of miles away from us. This is evident in our involvement with Vietnam, Bosnia, and Somalia, just to name a few. We seem poised and ready for any situation that necessitates our armed forces. And then we appear silent when tsunamis, earthquakes, and other natural disasters rear their ugly heads. And this is because we cannot put a face to our enemy. It’s easier to shake our fists at each other than at God.

The situation in Afghanistan is one that has allowed the U.S. to swoop in with our bandaids of war and weaponry, but unfortunately, that bandaid will soon weather and fall off. The Afghani people need help surviving, not fighting.

As religious people, we must acknowledge this primary need of survival, and respond accordingly with something that sticks. We must find allies in our own traditions of faith and work together to educate the Afghani people to stand on their own, not rely on the U.S. for all their needs. We must reach out across religious divisions and realize that those differences and the silences surrounding them are partially what has brought us to where we are. We must work together to find a common voice of compassion for the people of Afghanistan, rather than claim that religious conversion is the only option for us in that country.

And finally, we must turn to God. We must realize that this situation is one that needs prayer and the understanding that we are not powerful enough as individuals to solve this problem. This is not to say that we place this situation in God’s hands and then continue on our merry ways, but rather that we stop claiming that we have the right answer and that everyone else is wrong. Once we realize this fact, we will also realize the power in our humble humanity to connect with others working towards the common well-being for a people who are inherently good, not evil. Maybe that will stick.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jon and Kate plus an Earthquake?

Yesterday, I read that 109 people had died resulting from the earthquake in Indonesia. This morning when I woke up, the number had climbed to around 918. This evening, as I went to see where the numbers were at, I couldn't find even a headline on the Chicago Tribune website. Instead, the website is covered with a countdown for the Olympic decision in Copenhagen.

What is wrong with the media these days? Yes, conservatives have been screaming about this issue for the past few months (years?), but where has our moral imperative gone in reporting what is really newsworthy? The top headlines of the Chicago Tribune included everything from Jon and Kate to what really killed the dinosaur that is in the Field Museum. By the way, as of right now, at least 1,100 people are dead in Indonesia.

It seems to me, a person of faith, that we as a society have lost sight of what really is important. We love to read about tragedy, but not real tragedy. Yes, the fact that Jon and Kate are having a messy public divorce is sexy and exciting (in a terribly disgusting way), but when it comes to real tragedy, we shield our eyes like fainting Victorian women who witness their daughter hiccup in public.

We are no strangers to tragedy. There is a tragic scenario that unfolds every second of every day and none of us can escape that tragic ending that is death. So why do we ignore it? We choose instead to watch the entertaining unraveling of reality television stars. We sit from a safe distance and clutch our popcorn as we see the Britneys, the Michaels, the Anna Nicoles, the David Hasselhoffs, waste away. And we don't have to do a thing.

And that's where the problem lies. Watching reality television and reading gossip magazines releases us from a moral responsibility. When something truly tragic happens, our internal morality (which thank God is still intact), nags at us to do something. And as annoying as this may be, this is hope for the human race.

We still know how to identify true tragedy. Society came together after 9/11, for New Orleans, for the tsunami - but it wasn't always quick or successful. We need to cultivate that inner voice that reminds us that "hey, you, it's time to do something. No, it's not pleasant to think about, but it's your responsibility as a human!"

The Indonesian earthquake isn't nearly as entertaining as watching the dissolution of Jon and Kate's marriage, but it is our human responsibility to pay attention to the uncomfortable tragedies, not just the ones that make us feel good about ourselves.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Give us this day our daily weapons.

Reacting in part to recent missile tests by Iran and North Korea, President Obama and a unanimous UN Security Council last week endorsed a sweeping strategy to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminate them. Is nuclear disarmament a religious issue? Is it a pro-life issue? Is support for nuclear disarmament a moral imperative? Should we pray for nuclear disarmament?

Nuclear disarmament is one of the first things people who identify themselves as Christians should be praying for. This issue is most certainly a religious one, but further than that, it is a human one because our very existence is on the line.

As a fourth year student at seminary, I have been through the ups and downs of a thriving and dried up prayer life (sometimes simultaneously). The one consistent aspect of my prayer life, just as in the prayer lives of many Christians before me and across the world, has been the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus teaches his followers to pray in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Even when I had nothing to say to God, and in my opinion, God had nothing to say to me, I recited the Lord’s Prayer. With every recitation, I believe that I was praying for nuclear disarmament.

Many biblical scholars believe that the Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect prayer that can be recited because it covers all the bases, so to speak, that one needs to cover when one prays. It covers the spectrum from praise to thanksgiving to asking for forgiveness, all in one little prayer. But what does all of this have to do with nuclear disarmament? Let’s dig in.

Although there are many moments in the Lord’s Prayer where one could surmise that Jesus could have been talking to us right now, the crucial moment in this prayer comes in the second half. And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. In this petition of the prayer, the person praying asks God to forgive citing our own acts of forgiveness as a model. That’s pretty heavy stuff. This one small sentence shows us that how we act towards each other is how we hope God acts towards us when it comes to forgiveness.

And what if God had nuclear weapons? If God had nuclear weapons, that would mean that God knew there would be a point where there was no turning back, where forgiveness could be completely out of the question. That would mean that there could be a point where God would say: “Forget the little children! I hate my creation! I want to destroy everything I have made! I can no longer forgive you!” And I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty scary.

The God I pray to is one that I am confident does not reach that point of no return, the point where the red button is pushed and the bomb is released upon unsuspecting and innocent civilians. So, we too must take heed to the prayer of forgiveness. Nuclear disarmament is the truest form of forgiveness because it is preemptive forgiveness. Just as we in the Christian faith believe that Jesus died for our sins years before we took our first breath, so too must we learn to forgive those who sin against us, because that is the only option for life.

Our world is a scary and unsettling place which becomes even more scary and unsettling when one thinks of nuclear weapons in the hands of mortals around the world. As religious individuals, our call to duty is to arm ourselves with our weapons of mass destruction: love and peace, for they will be the most disarming of them all.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What's Charitable About Discrimination?

Here's this week's On Faith question from WashingtonPost:
Dozens of major religious groups and denominations are urging Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to renounce a Bush-era memo that allows faith-based charities that receive federal funding to discriminate in hiring. SHOULD RELIGIOUS CHARITIES THAT RECEIVE FEDERAL GRANT MONEY BE ALLOWED TO DISCRIMINATE IN HIRING?

As a seminarian student seeking leadership in the church, I would have to say a resounding “No!” to the idea of any type of discrimination, religiously affiliated or not. The last time I visited a charitable organization that was run by a religious group, I do not believe the question “is there discrimination occurring here?” ever crossed my mind. And the reason for that is because religion, charity, and discrimination should never be in the same sentence together, in any order, in any way.

Obviously, governmental money cannot and should not ever be connected to any form of discrimination because of legal reasons, religious institutions should never be connected to any form of discrimination because of moral reasons. Church people just don’t seem to ‘get it.’ This type of hypocrisy is the very reason that the numbers of religious individuals in the country are dwindling.

I had the privilege of working at a charitable religious organization that was of a denomination other than my own. I was surrounded by individuals of different faiths, ethics, creeds, skin color, you name it. At staff meetings, I would look around me and realize that I had very little in common with the people surrounding me, but then it hit me: I was only looking at the surface. When I thought deeper about those sitting next to me, I realized we held the same core value: love of the neighbor. Suddenly those differences didn’t seem so jarringly obvious because the most important thing was our common compassion for those in need.

And that’s where the church needs to go. We as people of faith need to stop focusing on those ridiculous things that divide us and remind ourselves about what’s truly important. As a Christian woman, I am convinced that Jesus shows me that compassion and love of those in need is a core value. In Buddhism, compassion is a step along the way to enlightenment. In Judaism, the phrase “you are blessed to be a blessing” comes through loud and clear. In Islam, one of the core character traits of Allah is compassion. Why do we gloss over what’s truly beautiful and unifying in our religious beliefs? Why must we continue to idolize our differences rather than unify our voices towards the call of compassion? It’s time for the religious institutions to give compassion a try. Discrimination is never a word that should be used to describe anything religious because it is the complete opposite of faith, hope, or love. And that’s not charitable.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Obama has a potty mouth...sort of.

Throughout this past week, the media has been salivating over the...what shall we call it? Flub? Slip-up? Idiotic antics of Kanye West? The fire had not even started smoldering before the media cried "OBAMA CALLS KANYE WEST A JACKASS".

Now, first of all. Let's all take some deep breaths here. Kanye West is hardly worthy of news since he's done things like this before, and at the MTV awards no less. Second of all, is there nothing else newsworthy this week?

I find it interesting that the media got their initial information from a Tweet by ABC's Terry Moran, not the actual horse's mouth. A sort of, he tweeted, she tweeted, but Obama never did tweet, he just was fed up with a twit. Who knew Twitter was so powerful?

So, what's the big deal? Yes, Kanye was a giant jerk for interrupting Taylor Swift (America's newest rated G sweetheart), but why is it that Obama gets sucked into the mix? Trey Ellis calls this an "outburst" , Fox News calls it lashing out, but really, if that's the extent of the President's emotional extreme-ness, that's fine by me.

But why such a big deal? In general, why does language apply so carefully to this president and seems to fly by the wayside when it comes to *cough* others? My answer would be: language is our last stop. For many years the conservative right has held onto the "morality" card as progressive leader after progressive leader illustrated their immorality (not to say they didn't have a few of their own), but it finally seems like we have one who can take the heat. I believe we have a president who is led by his morals, not his hunches, not his future comfort. And that's kind of hard for us to take. We are waiting with bated breath for him to screw up. But I'm not talking about making incorrect political moves, I'm talking about moral moves. We're waiting to see how his family handles the pressure, whether he has a wandering eye, whether he's a flawed individual. And now we have proof that curses. Oh, the HORROR!

I'm not saying that Obama is perfect, by no means. I'm a person of faith, and with that comes the understanding that no one can ever be perfect - some guy who ran around healing people in sandals was the one exception, but his name is escaping me right now. We Bible folk (and I use that term very loosely...and cautiously) say things like "judge not lest ye be judged", and to me that means mind your own business, jackasses. Focus on how Obama is dealing with the country. Not his reaction to an incident on the MTV Video Music Awards. He may screw up some more. He may drop a couple more curses. But it must be getting pretty hard to see the little specks past those large logs.

Friday, September 18, 2009

To blog or not to blog?

I have a confession to make: up until this point, I have thought that blogging was lame. I've watched with a sense of impending doom as hoardes of my fellow Gen Xers (or are we Y?) have caved to this new form of communicating. I've wept bitterly as I've seen dear friends of mine emerge from the blog-o-sphere with calloused fingers and squinty eyes, but unfortunately, these tears will stop nothing. The blogging world is here, and it has claimed another, well, at least temporarily.

I am taking a class this semester called "Public Theology" with a professor named Dr. Susan B. Thisthlethwaite at Chicago Theological Seminary, and part of our assignment is to start a blog, and keep it up to date with our thoughts on certain issues relevant to theology and public discourse. I've decided to throw myself completely into this endeavor and want as much feedback as possible from you fine people out there (if there is indeed anyone that would care to read my profound thoughts on issues). There will be weekly posts and possibly bi-weekly ones too (it's for a grade, so you all will know how well I'm doing).

Another assignment I have is to start twittering. Along with my disdain for blogging comes a very sizeable dislike of tweeting. I have tried Twitter out and have found it very self-involved and overwhelming, but I'm going to give it a try again (for the sake of the grade), and hopefully this time it will take. If you'd like to follow me on Twitter, my account name is RKWind.

Bear with me, since I'm new at this. Hopefully you'll see an improvement as the semester goes on. And who knows? Maybe I'll continue on after!
Copyright 2009 Windy-Wisdom