Thursday, January 28, 2010

Belly Button Theology

If you didn't read a copy of Nicholas Kristof's op-ed a couple of Sunday's ago in the NYT, make a bee-line for it now:  He should be required reading for everyone since he almost, single-handedly, brought to light the oppression and genocide occurring in Darfur.  His latest essay concerns the problem of religion and women.  Any faith system that doesn't give equal rights to women inevitably abuses them.

The statement applies to all faith systems and to all oppressed groups.  For years, conservative Christians have successfully excluded gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgendered people from church leadership and have justified their actions by quoting selected passages from the Old and New Testament to buttress their intolerant views.  'If God doesn't love or tolerate GLBT folks, then why should we,' the thinking goes.  It's easy to dismiss the rights of some if God doesn't want them either.  GLBT folks are just the latest group in the U.S. rejected by conservative Christians but never forget previously targeted groups: women, African-Americans, Jews and Atheists. At one time or another, conservatives in the name of Christ have worked to limit the human rights of these people.

All of us who participate in a system to reach the divine become the God we adore.  If our God is self-righteous, intolerant, and selective in love, then we will be that way too.  Christians especially play the innie-outie game of who's in and and who's out or what I like to call Belly Button Theology.  You're in if you profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, but you're out if you're gay.  You're out if your Jewish, but back in (maybe), if you support a strong Israel because Jesus will be stopping off in Jerusalem first when he finally gets around to returning.  Everyone who is Muslim is completely out.  Atheists too.  And even though we haven't confirmed their existence yet, aliens and I mean the outer space kind, are out too, 'cause they don't know about Jesus.  I suppose if we ever meet any, we could tell them.

But a God who loves and accepts everyone demands no less of us.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Profits Above People

It's Thursday and I'm still trying to process the meaning of Tuesday's election in Massachusetts and its ramifications for health care reform.  As I write the words healthcare and election in the same sentence, I'm saddened that a human rights issue remains a political one.  The US cannot be the best nation in the world when it justifies as morally acceptable 44 million people without access to health insurance or paid healthcare.

Tonight my husband and I ate dinner in a local restaurant and there by the cash register, attached to a jar as big as a basketball, was the picture of a toddler in need of a kidney transplant.  Please give for my surgery implored the text.  There was just a few dollars in the bottom.  I guess the jar is so big because the need is so great.  Welcome to healthcare funding for the poor in America.

For those of you who wonder if it's a scam, you'd be wrong most of the time.  When I worked as a chaplain in pediatric oncology at a charity hospital, parents routinely held car washes and sold bbq plates in the hope of raising funds for bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, or chemotherapy.  For those whose children died, I watched the same parents hold the same style fundraisers to pay for funeral costs.

If we don't provide affordable healthcare for all, then as a nation we have proclaimed our highest value: profits above people.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pray for Pat Robertson to DIE!

And now for a bit of satire -

Christians don't deserve any respect as long as tools like Pat Robertson are allowed to open their mouths.  Ol' PattyCake is clapping with glee over the latest God-fearing disaster.  This time according to the Oracle of Pat, God's shaken the be-Jesus out of the island of Haiti because the Devil went down to Haiti way back in the 1700's to free them from the God-loving French. Apparently God's had it out for the Haitians ever since 'cause without them, we would still have slavery and we all know how positive an institution that was "for the Bible tells" us so.

Besides praying for Haiti and opening your wallets to alleviate their suffering, let's pray for Pat Robertson to DIE.  He turns eighty this year and haven't we had enough of him already?  Friends, I know what your thinking -- "April, God must really love Pat for lettin' him live so long" -- but there's where you're wrong.

Here's how I see it:  If Pat makes it to age 80 for his birthday on March 22,  then it confirms all our fears --God doesn't want him.  But an even bigger problems looms:  if Pat makes it to 90, then we'll know the Devil doesn't want him either.  So you see the dilemma.  We need to get to prayin' or we could be stuck with Pat and his stupidity for decades to come.  Use this handy and short prayer:

God, since you love Pat Robertson so much, he tells us all the time that you do, please take him home. Amen

When Pat departs from this earth, the IQ of Christianity will rise up, sure enough, so we see above the mushrooms of the forest floor.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

God Blesses Everyone - No Exceptions

The title of this post is my favorite saying and if you've read the earlier post entitled Movable Quotes, then you know I don't like sayings very much.  Even so, I couldn't come up with a more succinct statement of my own outlook on the spiritual life and theology.  As a minister in one of the fastest shrinking denominations in the country, I wonder why we Christians believe we are members of an exclusive club determined to keep out gays, bisexual  and transgendered folks or anyone who doesn't believe and think like ourselves.

Follow the traditional Christian thinking -- in order to be saved (in God's favor, go to heaven, etc...) one must "believe" in Jesus and accept him as "Lord and Savior."  Under this formula, heaven is populated with Nazis -- many of them were good Lutherans and Catholics -- but minus Gandhi, the Buddha and Einstein. And since the greatest comedians have mostly been Jewish,  what kind of heaven can I expect?  One with no laughter.  And a heaven without the pagans or the Wiccans?  I might like dancing naked under a harvest moon.

Be careful who you want to exclude from God's love, it might just be yourself.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Naked Soul

A few years ago, I attended a party with my husband, Britt. I didn’t know anyone, and so I expected the common ice-breaker question of what I did for a living would come up. At previous parties, I hated to answer because how I draw my paycheck is a conversation stopper.

“I’m a minister. . . a chaplain at a hospital. I work with kids who are chronically or terminally ill.”

“Oh,” and “I don’t know how you can do that” were the usual responses, followed by an abrupt subject change. Or the person left altogether. Either the thought of talking about death or the fear that I might be a James Dobson ditto-droid sent them screaming for an exit.

But this party would be different. I had recently decided to leave full-time hospital ministry and concentrate on writing a spiritual memoir – “my little project.” Armed with a new career comeback, I waited for an opening. While eating appetizers, an attractive, middle-aged woman sat beside me. We commented on the spiciness of the hummus and the dry crunch of the pita bread. Since neither of us got up, we continued our chat. She was a stay at home mom and I got to try out my new line.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I’m working on a spiritual memoir.”

“Oh,” she said. “Isn’t everyone?”

Shot down again.

The arrogance of my “little” project knocked me over. At later gatherings I returned to my old answer and welcomed sitting alone. Who was I to write a spiritual memoir?

As a chaplain, I helped people reframe their experience. Not to focus on something positive but to find God in their loss, tragedy, grief, suffering, recovered good health, and joy. For a memoir to be “spiritual” it shouldn’t be a recounting of my history or the events that shaped my life. A spiritual memoir needed to chronicle God’s activity in my story, and how I became a different person because of it. God is the protagonist here. Not me.

Twenty years ago if a reliable soothsayer with ruby cheeks, pointy finger nails, and emerald robes told me I would run for public office and later lead the free world, I would have bought that over what really happened in my life. Then, God was for the religious right and not for me. Up until my own wrestling with the divine, I believed that all Christians endured some kind of eager sinner/Stepford Wives/Daddy Jesus supplantation complete with religious personality overhaul.

It happened that way to my friend Jill. During our high school years, in San Angelo, Texas – a town too large to escape but too small to get noticed -- Jill wore shin-high, leather cowboy boots with her jeans tucked inside, and a cowboy hat of pale, rigid straw. But her redneck wardrobe and slow drawl hid her skillful, attentive reading of Shakespeare and her love for left-wing politics. She went off to college in an urban center and thrived.  Nearing graduation, she experienced an acute and paralyzing bout of depression.  Weeks into her suffering, I phoned her and she told me she had met a group of people who wanted to take her out to dinner.  She almost sounded upbeat.  I didn't think anything of it because every poor college student hopes for a free meal, but by the next morning, the unthinkable had happened; she had dropped out of college and joined their Christian cult. I didn’t see her again despite my repeated attempts to contact her. She was on orders from the leadership to give up her old “hell-bound” friendships.   When we did happen to meet by chance in a restaurant, she was bland and the joy she pressed lacked heart and passion. Gone was the high energy Jill I loved.

Unlike Jill, my journey with God demanded I not flee the darkness, but immerse myself in it. Recognizing the sacred in the mundane can change our lives, but it is the divine in the profane I chase after.

As a chaplain I am often an observer of sacred events. I find myself enmeshed in a drama, witnessing in others or experiencing first-hand, profound healing of the spirit. A friend of mine calls these happenings “God-things,” but my seminary professor, Lewis Donelson, described them as “moments of the Kingdom” -- time slows to a sluggish, surreal beat while we experience God’s full love in this earthly realm. Eternity touches our finiteness and like heated atoms, we are transformed by the collision. This out-of-earth time, heavenly phased, assures me of God’s saving activity in all of our lives - giving us hope, strength and the courage to love even in our bleakest encounters with life’s vagaries.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Movable Quotes

I have some niggling irritations about the modern age -- e-mail.

For starters, I get too much of it and I wish the penis enlargement folks would take me off their lists.  Why is it my filter will allow me to receive the sex enhancement e-mails but then marks as "junk" e-mails from people I've actually e-mailed!  I don't worry about a computer takeover of the world when the big brain unit in our house can't even perform that simple task.
Here's what I do hate about e-mails -- Sign-off statements.  Back in the days of snail mail, no one signed their name and then inserted some useless, uplifting quote, but with e-mail, lots of folks do this and they're always lame like "Ability is a poor man's wealth," "May you always walk with angels," or "It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn't matter who gets the credit."  Barf. 
Yes, I get the irony that at the top of my blog includes a quote from Teilhard deChardin and isn't it a great one?  With a blog, you can chose not to read it, but any e-mail one receives, the person reads to the end and ingest someone else's philosophy on life.
I propose composing new sign-off statements -- quotes that should be at the end of e-mails but aren't.  Here's the beginning list and I hope you will add to it in the months ahead.

"The first step toward failure is trying." Anonymous
"Dare not to dream, or die flying." Amelia Earhart
"Let's make better mistakes tomorrow." BadPitchBlog

Monday, January 4, 2010

Naked Book Clubs

As a writer, I'm supposed to love Book Clubs.  My sister Sherry was a member of one for years but lately she's taken up knitting -- take from that any meaning you like.  I've never been a member of one, but I sure would have certain ideas for how it should go.  First, I would need some alcohol.  No not the hard stuff but a sure supply of wine and preferably chardonnay.  Second, a book I want to read.  The closest I ever came to joining a club stopped me cold with the choice of the first book -- To Kill A Mockingbird.  Don't get me wrong.  I love that book, but a book club discussion?  I want to join a club to read books I might not know of, not re-read books I can quote from.  This choice just didn't seem to bode well for a longer commitment.

I like to read and write entertaining fiction so please, go easy on the stuff that passes for literary fiction today.  No dead kids, sexual abuse of kids, suicide, etc...  As a chaplain who currently works with dying adults, who worked in a children's hospital and counseled dying children and who is the mother of child who survived cancer, I can no longer handle novels hell bent on doing the heavy lifting of life.  I prefer escapism and humor. Books have become my palate cleanser at the end of a long day.  Does anyone really get Mrs Dalloway?  I couldn't even get through it.  Where was the plot?

I'd want a balance of books from women's fiction to books by and about men.  My friend David Liss, author of the Whiskey Rebels and the Benjamin Weaver series introduced me to Mark Haskill Smith and Billy Taylor.   I also read Christopher McDonald and Carl Hiassan.

The club would need to meet during the week with an evening time and no more than an hour of discussion with more wine offered at the end.  Wine makes everything more enjoyable.

What I really want to do is join the Chelsea Lately Staff Book Club.  At the end of it, everyone ends up naked.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Eating Lobster

It's January 1st, 2010 and I'm watching the Lord of the Rings saga -- something of an annual winter holiday ritual in our household.  In the south we believe in eating black-eyed peas on the first day of the new year for good luck; I hate the pasty taste.  I'll settle for the Lord of the Rings and the lobster we eat as my good luck charms.  The Italians like to throw salt over the shoulders but that just seems like a lot of cleaning up. I'm the lady of the household, cleaning up is my job so no thank you to the salt.  

I'm forcing my family to cook the lobsters this year.  I've done about as much cooking as I'd like for one holiday season between the roast tenderloin with Yorkshire pudding and the numerous desserts I've made and then ingested, I'm pretty much spent.  Like everyone else its salads and fruits come Monday.

Back to Lord of the Rings -- Lord Aragorn has just survived a fall over the cliff.  May your New Year be as lucky.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human one.
Teilhard deChardin