Why I am Going to Vote No on Question 1 (E-Verify) on February 7

These are the words I shared on August 30, 2011 at a rally to stand against the E-Verify Ordinance that was going before City Council.  The ordinance did not pass the council’s vote and is therefore going before the people in an election this coming Tuesday, February 7.  I attended one of the Civility Discussions on the E-Verify Initiative last night at Central High School and I have to say, the blatantly racist comments of Jerry Wilson in his closing remarks (the racist nature of which, I am sure, he was oblivious)) have further compelled me to speak out against this ordinance and urge people to stand in opposition to politics and policies of fear and hate when they vote this coming Tuesday.

I invite you to hear these words from Scripture.  In Exodus 22:21, we find, “You shall not wrong or oppress the alien among us, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  And in Exodus 23.9, “You shall not oppress an alien among us; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  Leviticus 19.34 tells us “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” And finally, in Deuteronomy 24.14, we find these words, “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.”

When I heard that an anti-immigrant ordinance initiative was being put before the people of Springfield, one of the least diverse cities in the country, I must admit, I felt grave disappointment in yet another attempt to play on people’s fear.  There is so much fear-driven legislation being pushed through at city, state, and national levels and it all runs so contrary to my faith as a Christian.  I am against this initiative that seeks to further marginalize the Latino community by unnecessarily arousing the suspicions of employers and neighbors simply because of the color of a person’s skin or the presence of an accent when they speak.  My faith compels me to welcome the stranger.  My faith compels me to reach out to the outcast, to the marginalized. My faith compels me to speak out against hatred and fear-mongering.  And so I come here today to bear witness to the call of Jesus to welcome the stranger.  It’s right there, in Matthew 25, when Jesus addresses the judgment of the nations.  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was a sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  The call to compassion, to welcome, to love, is a much bigger call than we often live out.  Too many of us live out our lives as though that call extends only to those who look like us or sound like us.  But God is so much bigger than that.  Jesus also said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?…And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?”  We are called to do more.  We are called to live lives of greater love.  That is why I come here today.  Let’s work to make Springfield a community built on welcome and compassion, not a community built on fear and hate.


Blinded by Emotion

Preached on Sunday, May 8, 2011, using the text from Luke 24:13-35

It had been a hard couple of days. And now the dawn of this new day made the previous days’ events confusing as well. As two companions walked down the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they tried to make sense of all they had been through. At some point along the way, a stranger came up to them. He saw they were deeply engaged in conversation, so he asked them, “What are you talking about?” The companions stopped in their tracks, their sadness overwhelming them. One of them said, “You really don’t know what we’re talking about? Are you the only person inJerusalem who does not know what has taken place over the past few days?” The stranger continued to probe, “Tell me about these things.” The companions let the words tumble out of their mouths, as if somehow explaining it all to this stranger might help make some sense of all that happened. “Jesus of Nazareth, have you heard of him? He was a prophet and spoke of God and God’s kingdom, his words were hard and true, he healed the sick, he dined with outcasts, he was mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. But this very week, the chief priest and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and he was crucified. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” They paused when they said this, their crumbled hope lying around them in pieces. After a few breaths, they continued the story. “And yet, this morning, it seems something incredible has happened. Some of the women of our group went to his tomb to attend to his body, but his body was not there! They had a vision of angels who said that he was alive! Some of the men went after them, to see if it was true, and they also did not find his body.” But something in their voices told the stranger that they didn’t quite believe it. And so the stranger said to them, “You were told that this would happen.Did your teacher not tell you it would be so? That it was necessary that the Messiah suffer and then rise again?  Let me share some things in scripture that might shed some light on this, some things in scripture that have been a part of your lives since you were very young and yet somehow, you have failed to integrate into your living and your being.”

Of course, we know this stranger who joined the companions on the road was Jesus. Jesus saw that they were being overwhelmed by their sadness, that they could not see what was right in front of them, even though Jesus had tried to prepare them for this, even though they could see this would be the inevitable conclusion to a life lived as Jesus lived. Challenging the powers that be, that’s dangerous work. But Jesus also knew that this work was so important, that this message of God was so transformative, death could not silence it. Thus Jesus said things to his disciples like, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.”  However, we shouldn’t be surprised that these words of Jesus did not sink in for his disciples as, in reflection upon these words of Jesus, the writer of Luke’s Gospel says, “But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” We are not so unlike these disciples, you and I. There are many things that Jesus has said to us that we have not understood, that we have not grasped, that we have failed to actually integrate into our ways of living. And I have to say, a prime example of this occurred this past week, in response to the death of Osama bin Laden. Now, please do not hear what I am about to say as condoning the terrible acts of violence and manipulation that bin Laden committed and was behind. His methods were reprehensible and he apparently did not feel regret over the many thousands of deaths he was in some way or other responsible for. Also know that I have seen and heard people from all sorts of political leanings different than my own express something similar to what I am about to say.  What disturbed me this week was the very public rejoicing that occurred in response to bin Laden’s death. The celebrations in the streets outside of the White House and at Ground Zero inNew York City. Hearing of these public celebrations (and again, when I say public celebrations, I do not mean the relief or even joy that flooded through many upon learning the news of bin Laden’s death, I mean dancing and singing and chanting in the streets), hearing of these public celebrations, I couldn’t help but think of the images of people in other countries rejoicing on 9/11 when they learned of the terrible attacks inflicted upon civilian targets in the United States. I thought such celebration then was shocking and sickening, and my response to the public celebrations over this past week was no different. Now, I don’t say these things out of a desire to be holier than though, but rather because it seems to me our faith in God as followers of Jesus compels us to respond in another way.

In Proverbs 24:17 we find the words – “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” And in Ezekiel 33:11 we read, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. And of course, whether we’ve integrated them into our lives or not, we know that Jesus shared words like these as well. Jesus himself said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Why did Jesus say this if he didn’t mean for us to follow it? I don’t think he was kidding. I don’t think there’s some cryptic message in these words. In Jesus’ words is a clear recognition of the fact that violence begets violence. As our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins reflects, “Maybe that’s ultimately in part why Jesus told us to love our enemies. Not just for the principle of the matter, but also because in practice, hate will circle back and strike at us again.” In her thoughts on the response to bin Laden’s death, she goes on to say,

“In the midst of these conflicting emotions, there is the reality that we can choose which [emotions] we act on. Jesus witnessed to the power of love and life. He brought his message into a violent and repressive empire. He expected his followers to resist evil with all their strength – but not by adopting evil’s methods of fear and hate. He called his followers to love at all times and to call upon the power of love to overcome evil, thereby being the sign posts of God’s empire of healing, hope and wholeness.”[1]

What I find even more powerful is that Jesus didn’t just say these words. He lived them. On that terrible Friday, as Jesus hung on a cross, spikes driven through his wrists and his ankles, a crown of thorns pressed into his flesh, people deriding him, spitting on him, on that terrible day, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Father, forgive them.” Such love in the face of such hate. Do you think the Roman soldiers felt remorse when Jesus uttered these words? My guess is they thought he was crazy. Was Jesus looking for their remorse before he asked for their forgiveness? No. Jesus just loved. And such love cannot be silenced by death.

As the companions walked on the road to Emmaus, they had Jesus there with them on the road, and though he drew upon scripture, upon their sacred texts that they knew and loved, their blindness continued, blinded by the emotion of loss and devastation in the wake of their beloved Jesus’ death. It was not until he broke bread with them, doing the thing he had always done with them, that their eyes were opened to his presence in their midst. On that Tuesday morning almost 10 years ago, as I watched the Twin Towers crumble, the first thought that flashed through my non-violence oriented mind was, “What do I think of the death penalty now?” In that moment of overwhelming emotion, I felt my stance against the death penalty wavering and it gave me pause. But over the past ten years, in the wake of warfare and further terrorist attacks (both attempted and carried out) and, I must admit, in my fear of the inevitable retaliation for Osama bin Laden’s death, my eyes have been opened to the fact that true justice cannot be brought about by human beings.  Many say justice was done last Sunday. Was it? One definition of justice is

“the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offence.”

In light of this definition, could justice ever be achieved in the case of 9/11? Can a person really be proportionately punished in a proportionate way for the violent death of thousands? Such justice is not possible. Once a heinous crime has been committed, nothing can be done to make it right. Nothing. Does that mean that the perpetrator of the crime should not face consequences? Of course not. But we do need to recognize that the punishment will not make it better. It may give us relief, it may bring some modicum of joy, but it can never erase what has been done. The death of Osama bin Laden does not bring back any of the people who died in this country on September 11 or elsewhere in this world over the years as a result of his leadership in al Qaeda. It doesn’t really set anything right. Thus my conviction that justice cannot be brought about by human beings. It is only through the grace of God that justice can be achieved. Which my human mind wrestles with because I then wonder if perhaps true justice must have an element of forgiveness…

Something I have really been struggling with in the aftermath of last Sunday’s announcement is where my true allegiance lies and whether that’s something that can really be put out there for all to see and know. However, I feel compelled, no, I feel called to stand before you and say I am a Christian first and an American second. This does not mean that I do not love my country or that I am not proud to be an American. Not at all. But it does mean that when I say Jesus is Lord, when I proclaim Christ as Lord, those words need to have some implications on my life. It means that I need to take what Jesus says to us through scripture seriously and reorient my life accordingly. And my belief that Jesus is Lord goes hand in hand with my belief that God can bring about justice in ways that human beings could never dream of doing on their own. I think of God’s justice when I read about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, set up by President Nelson Mandela in the wake of the dissolution of apartheid. When I hear stories of confession and forgiveness that came out of South Africa during this time, I can’t help but believe God’s hand was guiding the process, for it seems so beyond what we as human beings can accomplish on our own.

And so I pray for God’s hand to continue to guide us. I pray for the risen Christ to be known among us in the integration of his words into our lives. I pray for our eyes to be opened to the One standing in our midst, inviting us to the Table to experience the fellowship that is shared when we break bread with one another. I pray for the wisdom to act on the emotions that compel us to love and forgive and reconcile rather than the ones that compel us to seek revenge. I pray for us to recognize that when we proclaim Jesus as Lord, our lives can never be the same.  Amen.

They Love the Church But Not the People

A few weeks ago, I found myself wishing like never before that I was Catholic.  May sound strange, but I believe that it is really easy to criticize that which you are not a part of and I didn’t want to come off as just another Protestant criticizing the Catholic Church because I have some really close Catholic friends and there are a lot of things I like about the Catholic Church, such as their care for the sick and the poor and their reverence for the mystery and holiness of God in ritual and worship.  But boy, have I wanted to criticize the Catholic Church over the past month!  You see, I’d received a text message from my sister telling me that the Catholic Church made a declaration that ordaining women was as grave a sin as priests molesting children.  Seriously?  So I had to check it out.  And what do you think I found?  An article from the Catholic News Service stating, “The Vatican is preparing to update the 2001 norms that deal with priestly sex abuse of minors…  At the same time, it will include the “attempted ordination of women” among the list of most serious crimes against church law, or “delicta graviora,””[1] Of course, such a declaration caused quite a stir among many, including members of the Catholic Church, so I looked for another article that addressed this concern:

As expected, the Vatican also updated its list of the “more grave crimes” against church law, called “delicta graviora,” including for the first time the “attempted sacred ordination of a woman.” In such an act, it said, the cleric and the woman involved are automatically excommunicated, and the cleric can also be dismissed from the priesthood.

Vatican officials emphasized that simply because women’s ordination was treated in the same document as priestly sex abuse did not mean the two acts were somehow equivalent in the eyes of the church.

Oh!  Well, that’s a relief!  And then…

“There are two types of ‘delicta graviora’: those concerning the celebration of the sacraments, and those concerning morals. The two types are essentially different and their gravity is on different levels,” said Msgr. Charles Scicluna, an official of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.[2]

I’d like to point out that while it did state that in some cases, a priest who abuses a child can be laicized (or de-frocked), there was no mention of abusive priests being excommunicated.  And let’s face it, in practice, the abusive priests are generally just reshuffled to another assignment.  Which says to me, admittedly an outside observer of the Catholic Church, that a sin against the celebration of sacraments is dealt with more harshly than a sin against a child.  Is the sacred ordination of a women so bad?  And if so, what does that say about the Church’s opinion of women?  The handling of the ordination of women and the abuse of children tells me they love the church but not the people.  And I wonder, what would Jesus think of that?  Well, the Gospel lectionary selection for this week is a gift in light of this decree from the Catholic Church.  Travel back with me to first century Palestine, to creatively reflect upon the life of an unnamed woman…

She knew it couldn’t be right.  Yes, they had promised to love one another through thick and thin, through good times and bad, through plenty and want.  But surely this was going too far.  Surely she wasn’t meant to love him through the black eyes, the broken teeth, the cracked ribs, the belittling words, the berating comments.  And so she went to the only place she knew to go.  She went to the religious authority in her town.  She was certain he would help her.  After all, he had known her for most of her life.  He had to know of some way out for her, some way that didn’t cause her so much physical pain.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t what he offered her.  No, he just offered words of sympathy and then sent her back to her husband with advice to try a little harder at doing what he asked, and to perhaps just stay out of his way if he seemed to be in a rage.

And so that’s what she did.  Because if that’s what her synagogue told her to do, that’s what she would have to do.  Who was she to question the religious authority?  He was speaking for God, right?

Now she had been married for 18 years.  And over those 18 years, the burden she bore crippled her.  She couldn’t even stand upright.  No longer could she feel the warm sun on her eyelids as she lifted her face to the sky.  No longer could she look people in the face when they spoke to her (which she must admit, wasn’t very often as people tended to avoid a woman crippled like her).  For eighteen years this spirit (which bore the specter of an abusive husband and a silencing religious institution) weighed upon this woman until it became the only way of life she knew.  She forgot what it was like to walk upright.  She forgot was it was like to be able to see the trees along the path rather than just the dust of the road.  She forgot what it was like to feel the sun on her face or to see the look of kindness upon the face of another.

So imagine her surprise when she walked into the synagogue one day and a man walked up to her and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  Jesus had seen her enter the synagogue as he taught that Sabbath Day and the pain of her disfigurement was more than he could bear.  He was moved with compassion and had to go to her.  “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  They were the first words she had heard uttered to her rather than about her in quite some time.  And before the import of what he said had time to sink in, he lay his hands on her in a touch that said, “Be silent no more.  Endure your burden no longer.  You are free from all that has brought you low.”  The woman stood upright and praised God!

Ah, but the story does not end here.  Because Jesus did something naughty in the eyes of the church when he healed this woman on the Sabbath.  Such work on the Sabbath is forbidden!  Who are you Jesus, to fly in the face of the rules of the church?  Don’t you know these rules and regulations, these rites and observances are built into the very fabric of our lives and cannot be disregarded so frivolously?  Jesus, don’t know you we need these rules to keep authority in tact, to keep order in the world, to keep people in their place?  They loved the church but not the people.  And that enraged Jesus.

And so it has continued through the centuries, only now the religious authorities claim to appeal to Jesus in their silencing of abused women.  They have been told, “You should rejoice in your sufferings because they bring you closer to Jesus.  Jesus suffered because he loved us.  If you love Jesus, accept the beatings and bear them gladly, as Jesus bore the cross.”[3] But really, would Jesus tell the abused wife to endure her suffering?  Would he say to her, “But I died on the cross, so you should gladly bear your cross?”  ABSOLUTELY NOT.  And yet, women are raped by men and when they report it, they are questioned, “Did you do anything to provoke him?  What were you wearing?”  Women have endured abuse and been made to feel as if they deserved it.  The story of Eve in the Garden of Eden has become a jumping off point for the Bible to be used over and over again to sanction this abuse, turning women’s sexuality against them, demoting them not only to second class citizens, but to property.  Just think of the tenth commandment, in the list of things you are not to covet, where your neighbor’s wife is lumped in with his house, his ox and donkey, and his male and female slaves.

But things are better now, right?  Women and men are equal right?  Especially in the United States, right?  Well, we may like to believe that, but when we see data in 2010 stating that women make 77% of what their male counterparts make, it gives us pause.  And even in our church, the Disciples of Christ, there are more women than men graduating from our seminaries, and, yet, as Phil mentioned last week, more men are being offered the big steeple senior minister jobs, often relegating women who want to be a senior minister or solo pastor to small rural churches that don’t pay as much as their big city counterparts (because you see, you don’t have to pay a woman as much as you have to pay a man, making a woman  more affordable for a church with a small budget).  It’s important for us to remember that we can’t relegate such action to just the Catholic Church.  That would be unfair and untrue.  Because religious people from the dawn of time and into the present day have sided with the rules and regulations of the religious institution over the needs of the individual person.  We love the church but not the people.  We pledge allegiance to the church and silence the people.  We uphold church doctrine and slam the door in the faces of those who need the love of God the most.

But Jesus reminds us of something very important in the reading from Luke.  Jesus reminds us that the people are the beloved of God.  It is not the rules and regulations that we need to be accountable to, it is our fellow human beings.

When we want to know what God looks like, we look to Jesus, not the church.  We look to Jesus, not to the ones who have a vested interest in power staying exactly where it is located.  We look to Jesus, not to the rules and the regulations that keep people silent, that keep people out.  When we look to Jesus, we love the church, but we love the people more.

Jesus looked at the crippled woman and saw one thing and one thing only: a person in need.  He didn’t see the rules that told him to stay where he was and continue his teaching.  He didn’t see the rules that had been twisted away from their original intentions of liberation from the bondage of slavery.  He didn’t see the rules that told him this woman wasn’t worth breaking the rules over.  He saw a human being and he acted.  And when the religious authorities didn’t waste a moment before jumping all over Jesus for what he had done, he was reminded of the grave need for his work in the world.  As Jesus said in the gospel text from last week: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”  Jesus is making good on his promise, bringing division for those who refuse to acknowledge what their blind adherence to the rules and the institution is doing to people like the woman in our story, bringing division for those who love the church but not the people.  So what kind of Christians are we?  Are we those who value the silence of the suffering over the challenging up the status quo?  Are we those who value peace and quiet over the laughter and squeals of exuberant children?  Are we those who value order and predictability over the shaking up that differently-abled people bring to our surroundings?  Are we those who value power in the hands of the few over equality and dignity for all?  Oh, we love our peace and quiet, we love our order and predictability, we love our power, we love our rules, and yes, we love our church.  But we are called to love people more.

[1] http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1002827.htm

[2] http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1002901.htm

[3] Quoted from Proverbs of Ashes pg. 23 by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker

Where are the Explicity Female Images of God?

In response to the rampant sexism and imagined female oppression of men displayed in the Super Bowl commercials, I am looking for music to use in worship that celebrates more feminine imagery for God. I am sorry, though not really surprised, to report that there is a derth of music to challenge the maleness of God. In fact, the very small number of hymns in our hymnal that use feminine pronouns for God makes those hymns merely token hymns, and therefore not meant to challenge the dominant patriarchal structures.

Though this is the practice I have generally used, just saying “God” for God instead of “him” really doesn’t do anything to challenge those structures either, because the term god is inherently male. But heaven forbid we refer to God as “Goddess.” Oh my gosh, I think the walls of the church would come crumbling down if I did that on a Sunday morning! Not that I really plan to, because unfortunately, the word “Goddess” carries too much baggage for people. But the really sad thing is, so does the pronoun “She”.

I am reminded of what my feminist theology professor said: There can never be reverse sexism in this country until Congress has been made up of entirely women for 200 years. And even then, it may never be possible because patriarchy has been the dominant form of western civilization.

We have such a long way to go.

Taking Responsibility

So I had an interesting experience on Saturday morning.  I almost walked out of a church meeting.  I should have done it, it would have made the story more exciting to tell.  The keynote speakers at this gathering were a couple and they took turns speaking during the presentation, which took us on a brief journey through the Bible, starting with Adam, then on to Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua…you get the picture.  About a third of the way into their presentation they made it to David becoming king and meaning so much to the people, even though he was flawed.  And then they moved onto Solomon, who loved God and wanted to show that love by building a temple to God.  But you see, Solomon had a problem.  Most of us know what this problem was.  But I wasn’t prepared for the way the problem was about to be presented.  The wife said something to the effect of, “Solomon had a lot of wives.  And I’ll beat you to it,” (I assume she was addressing her husband with this comment) “I’ll go ahead and say it.  The women led Solomon astray.  Now women, we all know how we can do that sometimes.”  The husband then picked up the “joke” and said, “Come on men, we’ve had this happen before.  Can I hear an ‘Amen’?”

I sat there in shock.  I turned to my co-worker and asked him, “Did they really just say that?”  He looked as shocked as me when he nodded.  I was stunned and then thought a second later that I should just get up and walk out.  But I’ve never done something like that before, and I had to lead a workshop later, so I didn’t want to cause a stir (I was sitting in the middle of the room).  Instead I sat there, stony faced, disbelieving of what I just heard.

So the women led Solomon astray, did they?  It was THEIR fault that Solomon couldn’t keep his pants on, huh?  Did Solomon have any responsibility in this?  Or was he just along for the ride?  Why, oh why, do we continue to blame women for the sins of men?  Will it ever stop?  I have a friend who had to take his youth to a True Love Waits conference in which the girls and boys were separated for the lessons.  Fair enough, but there’s a problem with what happened in these separate groups.  The girls’ lessons consisted of in depth talk about appropriate dress, being responsible in dating, remaining strong because “the boys just weren’t going to be strong about stuff like this.”  They were taught that the ball was in their court and they alone were responsible for remaining “pure.”  You know what the boys lessons consisted of?  They put on velcro suits so they could run and jump up against a velcro wall to see how high and in what position they stuck.  Are you kidding me?  There was no discussion for the boys, just fun and games.  The boys were not entrusted with any responsibility to remain “pure” or to help the girls remain “pure.”  It simply wasn’t something the boys needed to worry about at all!  And we wonder why our girls feel they are to blame when a boy rapes them.  The girls wonder what they did wrong, if they maybe should have worn a longer skirt or a higher cut blouse.  They don’t stop to think that maybe they didn’t do anything at all.  And it sounds to me like maybe we’re teaching our boys to justify such abuse by saying, “But she looked so cute!  You know she wanted it, dressed like that.  How was I supposed to resist?”  How indeed.  Clearly our keynoters at this event didn’t think that Solomon had any strength to resist those women who were leading him astray, so why should any other man be expected to do so?

I wonder, what did the young girls in the room think when they heard that on Saturday?  What did the other women in the room think?  What was reinforced for the men?  What was taught to our young boys?  When our keynoter said the words, “The women led Solomon astray”, I was enraged, but more than that, I was heartbroken.  I thought I was part of a mainline denomination.  I thought this was the year 2009.  I thought we were making progress on this issue.  We do ordain women, after all, and we have been for many years.  But when statements like the one our keynoter made are uttered, even if they are meant as a joke.  It is all too easy to make the leap from women leading men astray through their sexuality to “We better be careful in hiring a woman to be pastor.  She could lead us astray.”  There is a fundamental distrust of women at work here.  And the fact that a woman felt the need to beat a man to the punch makes it worse.

We wonder why it’s so hard for women to get through ordination councils.  We wonder why it’s so hard for women to be called to lead big churches.  We wonder why women are paid less than men.  Well, not much need to wonder after Saturday.  That morning also reminded me of why women in abusive relationships don’t just leave their husbands.  It’s because the church is teaching them it’s THEIR fault.  Your husband hit you for not taking out the trash?  Well, you should have taken out the trash!  Your husband’s cheating on you?  Well, maybe you’re not a good enough wife.

It is so hard to work within an institution that has done so much to contribute to the denigration of women over the centuries.  I thought we were moving past it.  This past weekend showed me how wrong I was.

Oh, and one other thing.  To those keynoters, a word to the wise…it’s not a joke if it makes us cry.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” is a line from a Roman poem that can be translated “It is beautiful and honorable to die for you homeland.” But I notice that it does not say, “It is beautiful and honorable to kill for your homeland.”

I just watched the Clint Eastwood film Letters from Iwo Jima (I have yet to see its sister film, Flags of our Fathers, but I hope to watch it tomorrow) and I found myself reflecting on something as the story unfolded: can there really be any honor in war? For those of you who do not know, Letters from Iwo Jima is an account of the battle from the Japanese point of view (making the film almost entirely in Japanese). I greatly appreciate what Clint Eastwood sought to do with this film: put a face on the enemy. Of course, now, in the year 2009, the Japanese are not considered the enemy (nor have I ever considered them the enemy, having not been alive during WWII), but for all intents and purposes, as an American watching this movie, it was a movie about the enemy. And in this movie, the enemy fights with honor, the enemy has families and experiences before the war that make them just like you and me.

For those who know me, it is probably no secret that I am a proponent of nonviolence. I will even go so far as to say that I am a pacifist. This is not a popular thing to say around most people, especially in this part of the country. Nor is it a popular thing to say even among my friends and family who may agree with me on many issues, and yet will not claim the name pacifist. I can’t help but feel that they think I’m a bit naïve in my pacifism, and perhaps even a bit cowardly. Because pacifism just doesn’t seem very practical (or very strong), does it? And it may not be. (Practical, that is. I’m not for a moment going to concede that it pacifism is not strong.) But that is not what I am seeking to argue today. No, what I want to lift up is the notion of honor in war. Because this film made a point of illustrating the honor with which the Japanese fought (of course, as is the case in most films, there were some soldiers who fought with more honor than others). And of course, we believe that the American soldiers fought with honor as well. However, I was struck with the notion during a particular scene that perhaps, when you really get down to it, honor is not actually possible when fighting a war. Because in order to fight, in order to be able to shoot and kill the enemy, you must first dehumanize that enemy. You must make them less than you are, less worthy of living, less justified in their fighting. And I fail to see the honor in that.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to belittle the sacrifices that so many have made by serving in the armed forces. It’s just that I think we have done too much, as a nation and as the human race, to make the taking of life acceptable. We have done too much to justify violence and glorify war. And, to put it quite simply, the taking of life is not acceptable. Violence should never be justified and war is putrid and messy and horrifying and heartbreaking and hell on earth, and to pretend it is not any of those things is what is truly naïve. And arguing that war is a necessary evil seems to me unimaginative and surrendering to the very worst in human nature. I recall the dilemma Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself facing when he collaborated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He felt justified in participating in such a plot because killing Hitler would result in so many lives saved, but at the same time, he also believed he was committing a sin by working towards the death of another person, no matter the evil deeds perpetrated by that individual. And he did not for a moment believe that God smiled upon him for working towards the death of another. It would behoove us to consider Bonhoeffer’s conviction that God did not condone the taking of life and approach such action with great fear and trembling.

And so I go to bed tonight with the quiet piano melody from Letters from Iwo Jima haunting my dreams, goading me with the knowledge that we clothe atrocities with honor, grieving me that, after all this time, we continue to fail to live another way.