We call this "pro-life"???

This morning, our country witnessed a lynching. A political execution. The murder of a man for his political beliefs, and the actions he took to help others in line with those beliefs.

Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions, who would find ways to perform them free of charge for those most in need who might otherwise not have access to needed and at times life saving procedures, was murdered this morning. He was murdered while in church, a church he was a long time member of.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/us/01tiller.html?_r=2&hp

I understand there is great division on the subject of abortion in this country, and for many people those passions run deep. But I long ago decided I will not use the word "pro-life" to describe those who work to limit access to abortion, or allow others to use that term unchallenged, for many reasons. I've spoken in these pages about how I see the work of the pro-choice movement as being fundamentally pro-life, and I refuse to let that term be taken from us, but today this is not about that.

Today I am mourning the loss of a hero, a man who was fundamentally pro-life. Dr. Tiller saved the lives of women again and again by performing needed procedures. He was one of the last doctors in America willing and able to perform terminations in situations where a pregnancy had developed fatal anomalies that not only meant the in-viability of the fetus, but would endanger the life of the mother if not terminated. Today more women will die because they can not get access to that procedure.

Today I'm mourning the loss of a hero, and I'm angry. I'm angry at the hypocrisy of someone who can claim to commit murder in the name of life. Who can strike down a doctor who dedicated his life to helping others, a doctor who was sitting in church, and call it a holy or sacred act.

I know most of the 'pro-life movement' deplores this action, and condemns it, and I can not blame the whole movement for the actions of one madman. But I do wonder about the link between the rhetoric of the more extreme elements of that movement, and this murderous act. Particularly as this is not the first time someone has been killed for performing these procedures. Nor, I fear, will it be the last.

Today is a day to mourn a tragic loss of an American hero. For everyone, on both sides of this issue to step back and say, a life was lost and that is tragic. And perhaps we should recognize that we are ALL pro-life. That we may differ on the definition of life, or on what it means to respect and honor life and all that it entails. But that we all honor life. And deplore this terrible act, and condemn it for what it was. Pure, ugly, cold-blooded murder.

America lost a hero today. Please light a candle, or say a prayer, or remember him in your own way. A doctor who celebrated life in the best way he knew how. By helping others.

Ministry. Intensity. One hell of a night

Something happened to me Wednesday night/Thursday morning; the kind of experience that both leaves me shaken and wondering what the hell I’m doing, yet also reminds me why I am so glad I went into ministry.

This is a pretty intense story. It’s about pregnancy termination and fetal anomalies and people dealing with intense emotional pain, and turning to religion, among other things, for a bit of comfort amidst all that. If any of that might be a trigger, or upsetting, or just sounds nothing like what you want to be reading right about now, please feel free to skip the rest of this post. For those who are interested- read on.Collapse )

Airport Evangelism

Travel has been the word of the day for the last few weeks. November has taken me to Boise, Cleveland, Atlanta, Baltimore, Salt Lake City and Washington DC, not to mention day trips to the seminaries of Union and Princeton, in New York, and New Jersey respectively. There have been a lot of stories from the road that I hope to tell in these pages soon, one of which I already mentioned here- http://anothervoicemdf.livejournal.com/56526.html#cutid1 But one of the defining realities of these last two weeks, amidst all the activism and inspiration and amazing people I have met and gotten to work with, has been the airports.

By this point, I know the security procedures that my prosthetic leg requires so well I could teach TSA newbies (and did walk one or two through it when they weren’t sure of what came next.) I can tell you the relative merits of each of the New York City airports, and where to get an amazing burrito in Terminal B of Salt Lake International. But the moments that have really stuck with me, where when I found myself talking about God.

The first was humorous, the second, poignant

I had gone to Boise to meet with local clergy and give a presentation on the role people of faith can play in the effort to make comprehensive sex education available to students throughout the country. Afterward, I went straight from the event to the airport to try and catch one of the last flights out of town, (Boise to New York, by way of Salt Lake is not the most popular route, oddly enough) and so I was still wearing my clerical collar and suit when I got to security.

That’s when the fun started.

It would appear that a man dressed as a minister, but also having long hair and an eyebrow ring is enough to raise a few eyebrows amongst the good people of the Boise TSA. So after going through the normal security screening they pulled me aside, and while one person methodically went through my bags, the other made a point of sitting off to the side and keeping up a constant stream of questions about my ministry.

Now on the one hand, I think this must be standard procedure. The person asking me questions made a point to sit opposite her colleague so that her questions made me focus on her and I couldn’t pay attention to the woman searching my bags. But the woman quizzing me focused all her questions on why I was wearing a collar- am I really a minister, what did I believe, what kind of church did I come from? My personal favorite- how could I be a man of God if I had an eyebrow ring, since, didn’t the Bible forbid “desecrating the temple of the flesh?” Those were exact words.

It became clear as we spoke that she didn’t believe I was a real minister, and so she thought must be wearing the collar to try and hide something, to try and get past security. She quizzed me, asking me my favorite book of the bible, or how I felt about a particular parable, and was visibly surprised when I not only knew what she was referring to, but could talk knowledgably on the subject.

There was a point in the conversation when it seemed she moved from suspicion to curiosity. When she was no longer making me prove that I was a real minister, a real Christian, but was instead learning about how someone could love the same Bible she did, love the same God she did, but come to such different conclusions then she did on the nature of justice and God’s love, and what we are called to do in this world.

Maybe by the end she believed I was a minister and was just being polite. Or maybe the whole thing was just because my razor or something else in my bag set something off, and she never cared one way or the other about why I was wearing a collar. But I have to say I honestly believed she was suspicious because when she saw me, I simply did not fit her idea of what a minister could be, what a Christian could be. I believe that, and that by the end of our time talking, (and by the time her colleague was satisfied I had no contraband in my bag) her idea of what it meant to be a Christian might just have expanded a little bit. If that’s not evangelism, I don’t know what is.

The other event happened a few days later. I was coming home from Cleveland, Ohio where I had done a training with an interfaith group of clergy, and I was bone tired after so much travel. I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize, and as I had a few outstanding contacts I was waiting to hear back from for work things, I decided to answer it.

But it wasn’t anyone I knew. A few weeks ago, I had done a training for counselors at a hospital that deals with second trimester abortions, a two day procedure that can be rather intense. Most of the training was on helping the counselors to handle spiritual issues that the patients might raise, but I also let them know that they could give patients my number if they needed more in depth spiritual care. The call was from a woman who had set up an appointment to have her procedure later in the week, and wanted to talk to a clergy person about some concerns she had about what she was preparing to do. Sitting there in the crowded terminal, waiting to board my plane, I knew this was a terrible place to have that conversation, but she said she just wanted to talk sometime in the next few days so we set a time for me to call her when I would be back at home and she would be able to talk.

So I was surprised when a few minutes later she called again. She sounded near tears, told me she was worried that if she went through with this God would not love her, and asked me if we could pray together. My first thought, I admit, was along the lines of, oh boy what do I do now, how in the world can I pray like this? But that moment, she needed someone to pray with her. So I found a corner that was a little quieter, tried not to notice if anyone overheard and gave us funny looks, and together we prayed to a God of mercy and compassion who loves all of Her children and talked of how God would walk with us during times of difficult decisions, and would know and understand why we make the choices we do.

It was one of the stranger moments of my ministry to be sure. Not the kind of thing I had in mind when I went to seminary. But in some ways- exactly what I had in mind. How often have I heard that ministry is about being present with people where they are, when they are in need? That night- it was on a cell phone in an airport terminal.

(no subject)

This Saturday, 11/15, there will nationwide protests of California's Proposition 8, as well as all of the recent attacks on same-sex marriage and the civil rights of all people.

Here in New York City, the protest will be taking place at City Hall at 1:30 pm. Meg and I will be attending. Let me know if you are thinking of going, maybe we can try and meet up.

For more information about the protest in NYC, or similar protests anywhere else in the country- http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com/?t=anon or on Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=545914124#/event.php?eid=33598248873&ref=mf

Please come and add your voice.

Joy, sadness, and a bit of hope

There's a lot of joy in my world this morning; joy over Obama's victory, over the victories in the House and Senate where Sen. Elizabeth Dole, of the, my opponent is an atheist, smear campaign, was soundly defeated, and joy over the general sense that this may be a turning point in our national debate.

But that joy is tempered with a good deal of sadness. Not every vote has been counted, but it looks more and more likely that California will in fact enshrine hate and ignorance and homophobia into its constitution. There are still votes to be counted, but it seems likely that Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, will pass.

In my life there have been two states I've been able to call home. California is one of them- my adopted home for the years I was in grad school, and a place I'll always feel affection for. But New York is where I grew up, New York is where I returned to- at heart I'll always be a New Yorker.

Last night, for the first time in my life time, Democrats won a majority in the New York State Senate, giving Democrats control over both houses of the state legislature, as well as the governorship. For years, the barrier to any attempt to move LGBT rights forward in NY state was the hammerlock Republicans held over the state senate.

The majority is a small one, and some of them may well caucus with the Republicans on social issues. But there are also as I understand it some republicans in the state senate who are liberal on social issues, but never got a chance to vote because with the senate in GOP hands, LGBT bills almost never made it to the floor for debate.

It's been years since I focused on NY state politics, so there is a lot I'm still getting up to speed on. But that's going to change. All this sadness, all this disappointment over California- I know what to do with it. From what I understand, a number of groups are gearing up for a big push to get this new NY state legislature to legalize same-sex marriage. Sign me up.

A tiny bit of snark

I try hard to avoid "I told you so" moments. It's a pretty petty urge, and when I feel it I try to squash it, hard.

And as I said in last night's post, this isn't a time to be rubbing victory in the face of McCain supporters. I do truly hope this election leads us at least a little further out of the division.

But that being said- the snarky part of me would love to find every person who claimed that Democrats had to vote for Senator Clinton, because Obama could never, ever win. Not those who genuinely preferred Clinton as the better candidate. But for every person who claimed we were stupid to nominate Obama, because he couldn't win- this morning I'm smiling a bit to myself remembering those words.

Watching History in Boise, Idaho

Tonight I’m sitting in a hotel room in Boise, Idaho, experiencing a moment I’ll likely be telling people about decades from now. Friends of mine are texting and IMing me to tell me about the bars and parties they are at, jumping up and down and hugging each other and tearing up and celebrating this with friends. Part of me is sad to be far from all of that, to be experiencing this alone. But really- this is the best place I could be for this moment. Because I’m spending tonight in what I think of as the deepest of red states – and I’m hoping tonight is when we stop thinking in those terms.

For me at least- that’s why tonight is so meaningful. Ending the red state-blue state politics. Collapse )

An Open Letter on Same-Sex Marriage

As anyone who has read these pages for a while knows well, marriage equality is an issue of deep importance to me. With all the other potential good news about the upcoming election, I’ve been saddened to read that Proposition 8, in California, which would amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage, seems likely to pass. I wanted to fly out to California and be part of the campaign to oppose the amendment, but I just couldn’t make it work. So I’ve been doing what I can from a distance. Part of which, has involved making a personal appeal to my family and family friends in that state.

For the most part, I try to keep politics out of my relationships with friends and family. I know there are people I love who I disagree with, and while debating is fun, I mostly try and not make political appeals to family or close friends. But this upcoming vote on Proposition 8 in California- it just feels like something I have to reach out on. Partially as someone who just got married myself, partially because I know so many dear friends who are personally effected by this- and just because it just seems so wrong to set barriers on who can love each other based on gender, and whose love the state will recognize as valid.

Last night, I sent an open letter by email to a number of my California resident family and friends, people who I wasn’t already sure how they would vote, people who had been invited to my wedding and either attended or sent their blessings and best wishes. I asked them, in that spirit of support for my own marriage, to support access to marriage for all.

It’s not my best piece of advocacy. Far from it- somehow the personal nature of writing this made it all the harder to find the right words, and I’m still far from satisfied. But I wanted to send it, and to post it here.

My open letter to my California family and friends Collapse )

Invite a minister to your party...

...and you're likely to have a debate about religion taking place in at least one corner of the room.

I was at a friend's birthday party last night for someone I'd been friends with in High School, and was steeling myself for a night of catching up with people I'd not seen in years, and likely wouldn't see again for years more.

So when I overheard a discussion of Bill Maher and how right he is about the evils of religion, and someone else chiming in that of course anyone who is Christian must believe the literal truth of the bible, and thus be laughably stupid, it didn't take me long to find a way to work myself into the discussion.

It wound up being a pretty pleasant conversation, that carried me most of the evening in various iterations with various people. Even the- no, not all religious people are the right wing fundamentalists you want to believe they are, please don't paint us all with that brush- section of the evening was relatively painless as the guy quoting Bill Maher had some legitimate comments about how he'd give credit to the idea that the religious right didn't speak for all religious people, if the rest of them made more noise.

A few times I ducked out of the discussion to try and find someone I knew back in the day and ask what was new in their life since I'd last seen them, and would invariably get pulled back into the religion discussions. But the truth- I didn't try that hard to avoid it.

See, that's the dirty secret. As much as we ministers protest and whine about how we hate going to social events and all anyone wants to talk to us about is religion- for me at least, I know I'll take it any day of the week over making small talk.