Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Someone else's thoughts on Africa

I'm throwing in a quick link here before I poop out entirely. This is an article from Obit, my lovely death-related online magazine, called The Last of Africa's Big Men. It talks about how the death of the long-time leader of Gabon may be a turning point in Africa's mixed relationship with its former colonial connections. I thought it was interesting, so I pass it along.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Funnies

I'm adding this to my next cabaret production.

Bit of an inside joke, though. Let me know if translation is needed.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Escaping the Vicious Circle

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots which are generally thought to mark the beginning of the Gay Rights movement.

I'm 40 years old myself, and I realize I've gotten to see and hear a lot of this movement up close(ish) in ways I didn't even notice at the time. Growing up in the Bay Area, I heard about the assassination of Harvey Milk when it happened. The AIDS crisis hit San Francisco hard while I was in high school. I remember signing petitions when I was in college against the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Gene Robinson was a candidate for bishop in Rochester while I was in seminary several years before he was elected in New Hampshire.

And now the movement to legalize gay marriage. Who would've thunk it?

Two things this week have been milling around in my mind. Or maybe one thing in two parts.

First of all, I realized that I'm very tired of the same old arguments about gay marriage. I feel like it's on autopilot and anybody could play the parts. I almost feel it would be entertaining when getting into this kind of spat to stop in the middle and say, "Let's trade roles!" and see how well we do in articulating the other side's argument.

I found this graphic this week that captures it well. (I don't even know where I found it now.)

I hope you can see it here. (I see that you can't, but you can click on it for the full view. You can also look at it on the web at http://www.geocities.com/patrick_farley/gayMarriageChart-large.png.) It captures for me the futility of how we keep saying the same things again and again and again.

However, this week I also stumbled across a project called Bridging the Gap which offered what they called a Synchroblog. Over 50 bloggers from all over the religious/political spectrum offered their thoughts on issues relating to homosexuality and Christianity in a way that is loving and respectful. It was so refreshing. What's more, I was able to listen and I learned a lot. It gave me hope that the argument doesn't have to be like a dog chasing its tail. It doesn't even have to be an argument.

One of my favorite entries on the Synchroblog came from this blogger who described the familiar experience of online debate where "The arguments were endless and repetitive, and I can't remember how many times we rehashed that same conversation over those early months."

One evening, when he sent me a message to initiate the same old routine, I decided that I wasn't in the mood for it. As I sat there for a moment, I decided that our conversation was going to be different that night. I decided we were going to talk about something else. So I started steering the conversation in various directions, such as what I had done earlier that day. I also asked him about his day and various other questions. As a result, we had a twenty minute conversation that night that was completely debate-free and even a little pleasant, if somewhat forced. The conversation ended when Thyle said he needed to go and we exchanged pleasant goodbyes.

I learned that it takes two people to debate, but often only takes one person to redirect the conversation away from that debate.

He's realistic about the need for debate sometimes, but when the debate is simply a rehash of well-rehearsed positions, it doesn't seem to make sense to keep going. Instead, "When we force the debates and disagreements to take a more appropriate place amidst all the positive interactions a group of people can have, there is room for a beautiful picture to emerge and develop over time."

There was a lot more in these blogs and if this topic interests you--or tires you, actually--I recommend you take a look at what people wrote. Lots of good thoughts written with generous spirits. It gave me a lot to think about.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Also on the obit page

So we have all heard about Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, but today's obits from the NY Times provided their less famous counterparts.

The off-Broadway actor, T. Scott Cunningham, died at age 47, which is way too young, if you ask me. His seems to me to be the story of a working actor and gay man in New York. His obit announces that he is survived by "his partner, Harry Bouvy, of Manhattan." It's so matter-of-fact, I'm very touched by that. Broadway World goes further, naming him as "his partner of 14 years." Also no doubt by his bedside when he died, but without the drama and paparazzi of L.A. And a blessing for that.

Then there's Betty Allen, a mezzo-soprano who sang with the Met and everyone else under the sun and whose childhood was as agonizing as you hear Michael Jackson's was.

In the obit, they mention how she is not as famous as her Wilberforce College classmate Leontyne Price. She doesn't seem too worried about it.

“I’m not a household name,” she told The Times in the 1973 interview. “I don’t stay awake nights plotting and planning. Maybe I don’t have that extra drive and ambition and energy that makes for a blazing career. I need a home, and I need to be looked after. I may look to be a very self-sufficient female. I act very brazen and hard and matter-of-fact and seem as though I could cope with anything. Well, I can’t. I’m as soft as putty underneath.”

I don't think fame does people a lot of favors. Certainly not in death. I feel for Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson who I think suffered quite a bit because they were famous. It looks so good from a safe distance, fame does, but it seems to me that both Scott Cunningham and Betty Allen worked hard and did well with a much healthier dose of public recognition. Maybe they wanted more, I don't know. But I can't help but think that fame is a rotten thing, or at any rate a thing that rots quickly. I want to think some more about that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Church Geek Alert

I'm prepping for this Sunday's sermon and looking over all the parts of 1 and 2 Samuel that the Revised Common Lectionary skips (which are, of course, all the wonderful grisly bits of the story) and I wanted to find out where David was when he was running around the countryside trying to hide from Saul.

Enter BibleMap.org which is friggin' awesome! You enter a book of the Bible--go ahead, pick one! Good one. And a chapter. Pick it from the pull-down menu.

Voila! A little box shows the passage and highlights each of the place names in it. And then when you click on the highlighted place names, it shows you where they are and what their significance is in Biblical times.

All of this is overlaid with Google satellite images and also lines that show the borders of the nations of Biblical times!

It is just too cool! Or I am just too lame. Oh, just go check it out. I'm telling you, it's cool.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

General Convention

In case you're wondering why my posts have been spottier, shorter, and more derivative, it's because of General Convention, the triennial meeting of the Episcopal Church which starts two weeks from today. The image to the right, there, is the theme and logo of this year's GC, Ubuntu, which (in my opinion) is almost unbearably PC, but that's just me.

I'll be there in a 10 by 10 foot booth, promoting Confirm not Conform and pretending to be an extravert. Yikes!

I'm excited about going, very curious what it will be like. I mean, what is it like being around 10,000 Episcopalians at a time? Over 200 bishops will be wandering around; will any of them need a confirmation program?

The Archbishop of Canterbury will make an appearance, though I doubt he'll appear in the exhibit hall. The convention is in Anaheim; will the ABC go to Disneyland? Will I? And I have no idea who all will be there that I know or that I have met through the blogosphere or who I will get to know.

In the meantime, there's a ton to do, so blogging may be light for a bit. But it's exciting stuff, and I'll keep you posted as I can.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You

I'm a sucker for those little 15 percent off stickers that Barnes and Noble cleverly sends out, and so last week I went to B&N and told myself I could buy Any Book I Wanted. Not a book that I thought I ought to want, but something that I thought I would actually like.

Naturally, I headed over to the Young Adult section where I found a book that had no business being in the YA section, but I'm glad it was: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron. And the reason I picked it up is because Peter Cameron was my Creative Writing 101 professor at Oberlin.

I was a bit dubious when the back jacket described the protagonist as "Articulate, sensitive, and cynical," and "a sophisticated, vulnerable young man." I'm not a huge fan of the articulate, sensitive, cynical, sophisticated, vulnerable, young man Manhattanite school of writing; I never really cared for Catcher in the Rye.

But I loved this book, starting with the first sentence: "The day my sister, Gillian, decided to pronounce her name with a hard G was, coincidentally, the same day my mother returned, early and alone, from her honeymoon." It caught me right there.

Our sophisticated, vulnerable, sensitive, articulate hero is, in my opinion, a sweet kid and I liked him which made all the difference. And the book is funny and touching. My favorite line occurs when our hero is watching his grandmother sleeping and pondering various things that have gone awry for him. He reports that he "Just let everything go, turned the net of myself inside out and let all the worried desperate fish swim away." Isn't that lovely?

I can see why it's in the YA section; our hero is 18 and doesn't want to go to college. But it's not written to be a YA novel. It's just a flat-out novel, and it's wonderful. I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On David and Goliath

I preached on David and Goliath yesterday. My sermon is just a series of notes so it won't be reprinted here, even in abridged form, but the more I read that story, the more I liked it. And here's what I liked about it: the faith that David displays is not magical thinking.

By "magical thinking," I mean when people say, "God will provide" without making any plans or taking any steps themselves. I first realized David is not this kind of person when I noticed he took 5 stones for his sling. Five. He's a confident little twerp, but he's not stupid.

I also noticed that he had some experience and evidence to back up his sense that he could take Goliath out with a sling. He explains to various scoffers that he had been able to kill lions and bears by this method, so he has some reason to believe that he can do the same with this Philistine.

Finally, I noticed that, unlike what we normally think when we say "David and Goliath," with a little guy alone against impossible odds, David actually has an army behind him. Literally. The odds were a lot better than you might think.

I know I'm speaking for myself here rather than God, but my feeling is that God doesn't want us to be courageous in a stupid way. And that's one thing that David demonstrates is smart and strategic courage. I think we'd do a lot better at standing up against injustice if we were more prepared and strategic as we did so. My two cents.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday funnies

Oy! It's been a busy week. The weeks ahead look mighty crazy too as we get ready to go to General Convention with Confirm not Conform.

And so, appropos of nothing, here's a couple of Star Wars items I enjoyed.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In praise of small blogs

I did a silly thing yesterday. I posted a comment on a Big Blog. And not just a Big Blog in the world of Episcopal Church Big Blogs, but a BIG Blog. Not the biggest blog, but a Big Blog.

And I was the first comment on the blog, which is significant because quite often all of the discussion following stems from that first comment. As it did in this case.

It was a blog commenting on Iran and how the protesters were working from inside the narrative. And the comparison the blogger made was, "And this rhetorical strategy – working “within the narrative” – extends far beyond the streets of Tehran. For instance, I’ve always thought the best way to bring conservative Christians around to gay marriage (or young ones, anyway) is to ground the argument within Christianity – to work within the religious narrative."

My comment was along the lines of, "Believe me, those of us working within the narrative of Christianity will tell you it's not that easy." My point being the same may be true in Tehran as well, that working within the narrative is no panacea.

Well! The reactions to my comment truly surprised me. One legitimate critique was that my comment was very sweeping--fair enough. People then went on the presume I must live in a conservative diocese where this kind of dialogue is not easy. People also pointed out to me how obvious it is from the New Testament to argue in support of gay marriage.

The overall feeling I got from this was that "What you are experiencing is not true, and I will tell you what is true." It was a very odd feeling, them neither knowing nor asking. Believe me, these comments were mild, weren't critical of me or my person, were nothing in the overall scheme of things, but it was still a very strange experience.

And I very quickly became very grateful for my itty bitty blog. I don't have a thick enough skin for Big Blogginess. It was very strange for me personally to be the focus of all of this speculation even while I was right there. Trying to parse me. I wondered how many times I had done that to others while writing in real time on this blog or others. God forgive me, I don't know what I'm doing.

There are a lot more lessons in this I'm sure, but in the meantime, I appreciate writing about what I think in this tiny corner of the blogosphere.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A day on the beach

I enjoyed this little article in the Washington Post in which authors shared which literary characters they'd bring with them to the beach.

I've been thinking which literary character I would bring to the beach with me. In Fort Bragg, the beaches aren't exactly built for lying upon and sunning oneself. I realized very quickly I'm not much of a beach person, even if the beaches are sunny and warm and full of soft sand, which these are not. The beaches here are hearty, not leisurely, so I'm not going to be bringing Mr. Darcy, which was one suggestion (and not a very creative one, I'd have to say), or Jeeves, who was the character that first came to mind.

I'm kind of thinking Adam Dalgliesh who I doubt cares for indulgent beaches and can deal with fog. I've always kind of wondered about the Jaguar, however.

I like Christopher Buckley's suggestion of Abel Magwitch who also could deal with the kind of beaches that are in Fort Bragg and doesn't own a Jaguar. I'm just not sure how much of his company I could take or whether he would go home at the end of the day. I fear he would latch himself on to me and want to sleep on the couch.

I'm trying to think of some American characters that would fit the bill. It will come to me. Suggestions welcome.

(Image pulled from Flickr.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

News from Iran

I don't know how many of you have been watching the reports from Iran this weekend. I've had the good fortune of knowing about the protests following the presidential election because I follow Andrew Sullivan. Otherwise, I think I would have been in the dark.

All weekend, he's been posting firsthand reports from Iran, from Twitter feeds, asking for help from Farsi-speaking readers, posting videos and photographs, news reports...it's been absolutely enthralling. Lots of people claiming the election was fraudulent, presidential candidates under house arrest, hundreds of thousands of protesters in the street, students being beaten...it has been incredible to watch from the other side of the world.

If you haven't been following, I really do recommend that you scroll through Sullivan's blog. Or for the gist of it, start here. Truly, I hope you will take a look.

The picture is of a protest in Tehran. Green is the color of the presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is widely believed to have won the election despite the announcement that Mahmoud Ahmadinadinejad was re-elected by a landslide.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This week on the Colbert Report

I hope you got to see this week's episodes of the Colbert Report, broadcast from Iraq. I downloaded the episodes since there's no cable here, and every day found myself saying, "Bless his heart." Colbert did a lovely job of supporting the troops, and not in a sentimental way. He allowed his hair to be shaved off, for one. He talked to enlisted men and women as well as generals. He promoted the USO's care package program, encouraging viewers to participate. And he ended the broadcast by saying...well, here it is.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Operation Iraqi Stephen - Sign Off - Honey, I'm Coming Home
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorStephen Colbert in Iraq

You can find all the episodes here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

In a Fort Bragg alley

Posted by Picasa

Zimbabwe update

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangerai, is in Washington D.C. today to meet with President Obama. Man, that's a nasty situation, summed up pretty well in this paragraph:

Mr. Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister, received more votes than President Mugabe in an election last year but was pressed by regional leaders into an unsatisfactory power-sharing deal four months ago. It left Mr. Mugabe in control of the police, the spy service, the media and the criminal justice system, and he has used his power to countermand Mr. Tsvangirai’s recent efforts to re-establish the rule of law and freedom of the press.

Ay ay ay! Here's hoping the two of them can come up with some creative approaches to this extremely tricky situation.

Torture Update

I learned this morning that a group of religious leaders went to the White House yesterday to meet with members of the Obama Administration and ask for a Commission of Inquiry. They brought a letter signed by (among others) the Most Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori! I was pleased and surprised to see it. The full text of the letter is here.

Meanwhile, June is Torture Awareness Month. You'll notice I changed the widget in the top left of the blog to reflect this. Just so's you know, the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is on Friday, June 26, two weeks from today. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Today is the feast of St. Barnabas who is my favorite person in the Bible. Barnabas was actually a nickname, meaning "Son of Encouragement," and that's why I like him so much. He's the one who brought Saul/Paul to Antioch and worked with him for a year before they went out on their journeys. He's the one who said Mark should be given a second chance even though Mark had bailed on them the first time. He seemed to bring out the good in people, and isn't that what encouragement is?

The prayer for St. Barnabas emphasizes his generosity, how he "gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel." But I think the generosity towards others is just as important, that the people who are the church are a resource as well, and one we too readily squander.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quote of the day

Robert Colescott, an American figurative painter whose garishly powerful canvases lampooned racial and sexual stereotypes with rakish imagery, lurid colors and almost tangible glee, died Thursday at his home in Tucson. He was 83.

Though the obit itself is fun and interesting, I'm particularly drawn to the adorable parallelism ending with "tangible glee." Another great band name in the making.

His painting "George Washington Carver crossing the Delaware" is below.

It's like I died and went to obit heaven

Yesterday, I learned about an online magazine called Obit. Why hadn't anyone told me before? It's terrific! It includes thing like

*Died on the Same Day: a daily feature showing two people who both died on that day (today's deaths: Marcus Garvey and Spencer Tracy)

*The Grim Reader: This Week in Death Commentary on death in the news!

*Arts and Media coverage with things like Top 5 death songs (I note #2 is "A Rose for Emily" by the Zombies).

*Books all about DEATH

*And a weekly advice column on death and dying called The Check-out Line (and the advice (from today's column anyway) is good, too!)

Oh, man! I don't know if someone with a morbid streak should be allowed to be this excited!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Greetings from the edge of the world

I'm still trying to figure out the internet connectivity in the house where I'm staying so I was FORCED to come to the Headlands for tea and a pastry this morning in order to access some files.

I'm in Fort Bragg on and off through the summer, doing pulpit supply to fill in for a seminary classmate who has taken his family (5 kids!) to Alaska where they will live in a 600 square foot hut and do commercial fishing. So it's a bit rich of me to complain about spotty web browsing.

Fort Bragg, if you don't know, is on the coast. This is the view when I am driving from their house to the church. (I didn't take the picture while driving; I walked back yesterday and stood in the middle of the street.) It hadn't really occurred to me before that I live where the land comes to an end. Awesome, in the literal sense of the word. I wish the picture gave you a better sense of that.

More as it occurs, and as I am able.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday

[abridged from this morning's sermon]

The thing that struck me right off the bat when I looked at the readings for today is that they are full of metaphors. Take the Isaiah reading, first of all: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” he says. And an angel comes over with a coal, at which point, I can imagine Isaiah saying, “I meant ‘unclean lips’ metaphorically.” Because I doubt he was saying he had dirt on his lips or his lips were particularly germy (seeing as he lived long before germ theory was developed).

But I particularly love the very literal approach to Jesus’ metaphor in the gospel for today. When Jesus tells Nicodemus “you must be born from above,” Nicodemus, it seems to me, willfully misunderstands and exaggerates the metaphorical aspect of the thing: “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” And I’m grateful to Nicodemus for the joke, because he makes it clear that this is a metaphor that’s supposed to tell us something about what it’s like to be able to see the kingdom of God.

To be born is to be powerless and helpless, completely dependent upon others. It’s to not know anything and to spend one’s whole being in discovery every day. At least that’s what I get out of the metaphor of being born.

And it finally hit me that the Trinity is also a metaphor. Because it seems to me that there’s no language we can possibly have on earth to describe God. I think that’s one of the things Isaiah is talking about when he is stricken by this vision of God and says, “I am a man of unclean lips” – again, not that his lips are literally unclean, but that he realizes that what he and all of Israel have been saying about God to that point cannot possibly express this grand vision that he is seeing of a God whose hem fills the temple.

Metaphors are important to us because they help keep us organized and describe the relationship between things. It seems obvious, but it’s hard to remember that metaphors are not the thing themselves. When Pluto was demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet, did that object in space that we call Pluto change in any way? Was it affected by our name or designation? No. But there are still people fighting about whether or not Pluto should be called a planet. Because that helps us get organized. It helps us understand who we are and where things fit.

God is not going to be changed at all whether we call God Trinity or not. God will continue to love us even if we get God wrong. And we will. God won’t be contained in our notions, even one as powerful and long-lasting as the Trinity.

We do not worship a metaphor; we worship the living God whom we can never fully comprehend. And yet God invites us to try, using the best language and images we have to offer.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Crazy days!

I'm running around these days trying to get my act together before I take it on the road, up to Fort Bragg, where I will be doing some long(ish)-term pulpit supply this summer.

So I haven't been able to blog about Koko Taylor. This will have to do.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cairo speech and women's rights

I thought the President's speech in Cairo was superb. I appreciated the self-awareness that recognizes the shortcomings of the U.S. as well as honestly addressing what he feels are the failings of various groups and factions within the Middle East.

One thing that really impressed me that people don't seem to be talking about much is that he addressed the issue of women's rights. It was a small section, but the fact that it was there at all I thought was worth noting. Here it is:

The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights. (Applause.) I know –- I know -- and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. (Applause.) And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now, let me be clear: Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. (Applause.) Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity -- men and women -- to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams. (Applause.)

Applause here too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Martyrs of Uganda

Today is the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, which takes me right back to my pilgrimage to Namugongo a year ago. Here's a picture of the celebration that day at the shrine of the Martyrs of Uganda:

Here's what I wrote about it last year when I was there. In part, I said,

Here's the deal, very briefly: in the late 1800's, various pages and members of the Bugandan court became Christian converts, both RC and Anglican. In 1886, the Bugandan king, or kabaka, Mwanga II, told them to give it up. When they refused, these converts were tortured and killed in various nasty ways, leading up to a group of some 30 Christians being wrapped in straw mats and then burned at Namugongo, about 10 miles from the city center.

What I left out was that the Kabaka was having sex with these various pages and people in the court, all male. These new converts were encouraged to resist these advances, and it was this, as much as their refusal to give up Christianity, that led to the martyrdom of these men and boys.

As you can imagine (and I think I have written about this elsewhere), this would add to the very negative feelings that many African Christians have about homosexuality, as well as the confusion of "Why are you changing your minds? Why are you losing your faith?"

Of course (or maybe not of course, but at least in my mind), there's a huge difference between the power dynamic of a king demanding to have sex with those under his control and what we are generally talking about when we talk about homosexual relationships. But still...you can understand (or at least I can understand) why Christians in Africa would think we had lost our minds or at least our faith.

It's too bad we get all hooked on the sexual politics part of the story, because it seems to me that the message could be more generally applied: those in power are often out to screw you and will want you to forego your beliefs and values in order to do so. Resisting those powers and principalities may be a very difficult road indeed. That's the message I'm hearing today, which has very little to do with gay or straight and a lot more to do with the kingdoms of earth and heaven. "Grant that we who remember before you the blessed martyrs of Uganda, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience, even to death."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Danny LaRue

Two obits to bring to your attention today. The first, brought to my attention by Andrew Sullivan, for Danny La Rue, OBE, "the self-styled grand dame of female impersonation."

It's hard to say what my favorite part of the obit is. Is it the part where "At 18 he entered the Royal Navy and joined the ship’s concert party. 'My first part was the native girl in White Cargo,' he remembered. 'I looked stunning.'"? Or the part where, after being conned,

Asked, as a staunch Catholic, “Where is your God now?”, La Rue replied: “He’s still there. He probably thought I’d got too carried away with myself and needed teaching a lesson. He took only my money, not my talent. Religion is a great consolation. Certainly it’s affected my sexual life. I find the promiscuity in the world rather frightening. You can’t be happy and promiscuous.”

I love that this man does not, will not, fit neatly into any container, aside from a frock.

Actually, my favorite part is probably the pictures. Below is a picture of Danny with Princess Margaret. Danny's the one who looks fabulous. But you knew that.

Ronald Takaki

In both the Times and the SF Chronicle, I read the obituary of Ronald Takaki, a professor at Cal where he created the first doctoral level program in ethnic studies. Such a Berkeley thing, but also, it seems to me, a way of thinking that is reflected--incarnated, actually--in the election of Barack Obama and the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. And that's no bad thing.

I love this story about him that is related in both articles:

The Watts Riots in 1965 helped push UCLA to develop the first course in black history a year later, Professor Takaki told The Chronicle. He was asked to teach it.

When Professor Takaki walked into the classroom for the first time, students grew silent until one of them chirped, "Well, Professor Takaki, what revolutionary tools are we going to learn in this course?" Professor Takaki recounted in 2003.

"I said, 'We're going to study the history of the U.S. as it relates to African Americans. We're going to strengthen our critical-thinking skills and our writing skills. These can be revolutionary tools if we make them so.' "

I wish more people understood that.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Feast of the Visitation

In the church calendar, June 1 is actually the feast of Justin Martyr, but since yesterday was Pentecost, which is not budge-able in any way, we missed the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is a big feast of its own and gets to bump ol' Justin, there.

I'm particularly moved by this feast of the Visitation, when the unexpectedly pregnant Mary visits the unexpectedly pregnant Elizabeth, in conjunction with yesterday's tragedy of the death of Dr. Tiller, and the further unearthing of all the other tragedies of parents choosing a late-term abortion rather than having (as best they can understand it) their children suffer.

As I read these stories from parents who traveled to Kansas after deciding to end a much-wanted pregnancy, I was reminded of a time when I was doing a hospital chaplaincy and had a late-night call to sit with some young parents who had to decide whether or not to take their infant son off of life support.

These were devout Evangelical Christians who had been told by friends and family of good will that God would provide a miracle and that their faithful prayers would be answered. The young father kept consoling the young mother, telling her "You did everything right; you did everything you could," as he himself cried so hard that the tears dropped onto his shirt, making little dark dots.

And it has made me think how much that is of vast importance in people's lives takes place, not secretly, but privately; how little we know of other people's lives and choices. Pregnancy seems a good metaphor for this because there's so much going on that cannot be seen. But for those who are encountering the past couple of days' events, both in the news and in the church calendar, pregnancy in all its mystery and complications is no metaphor.

A day later, I find myself angrier about this murder than I expected because with this murder, all of these painful stories of parents taking their beloved child off of the life support of their own bodies have begun to emerge. Mary, I think, would understand that suffering.

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly." Challenging words from Romans in the readings for today. That ain't no metaphor neither.