Jerusalem City wall en.wikipedia.org

Jerusalem City wall
en.wikipedia.org

As readers of this space may know from prior postings, I am deeply concerned about the plight of Israel/Palestine, a territory divided by politics, history, and violence. Coupled with that is my fear that voices in this country, like voices there, are shouting across a cavernous divide rather than finding ways to speak more carefully and softly in hopes of shrinking the chasm between two injured, and injuring, people.

Sadly, it is difficult to speak softly, gently for very long, even if your intentions to do so are clear and well grounded–largely because someone will take issue with you and point to a fact that they believe utterly disproves, or undercuts morally, what you are saying. It is easy to point with alarm and view with fear in every moment, because there is enough history of pain and suffering and violence on all sides to sustain endless argumentation.

Yes, on all sides.

Old City, Western Wall trekearth.com

Old City, Western Wall
trekearth.com

I want to be clear about one key point. I love Israel; I have felt that way for a long, long time. I am just two years older than that nation and I do not remember a time when in my home we did not support the right, the need, of Jews for a recognized safe homeland in that ancient land.

My love for Palestine is no less, although it has a shorter history. For a long time, I never thought about Palestine or Palestinians. There were just the people, a small group I thought, who seemed to get in the way of Israel. More recently, as the result of considerable reading as well as a visit to Israel/Palestine in 2014 and long discussions with people whose wisdom I trust, I have come to see the Palestinians as a people who deserve, who need, a home, a safe home for themselves.

For some time, I more or less thought that somehow these two peoples would, with the help of my country, work things out.

But that is not happening. The chasm grows instead of shrinking.

Palestine countryside palestine-family.net

Palestine countryside
palestine-family.net

I am quite sure that whatever I say will make very little difference in the effort to change direction away from confrontation and violence and repression toward real conversation, deep truth telling and confession, and reconciliation. But I must break through my own fears and speak as authentically as I know how. If I do not, who will speak for me?

I am going to have to write many posts about this, because there is much to say. Today, I start with some perspective about me.

I consider myself a liberation theologian within Christianity, meaning that I view the world from the underside of history, that I see through the eyes of faith a God who stands, and calls us to stand, with “the least of these,” that I read the Bible as a record of how, in many different contexts and eras, God calls people to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the power-less.

In that worldview, I am formed by a tradition that first goes way back to Hebrew prophets (my parish priest for 20 years was a lover of the Hebrew Bible and all things Jewish and he showed me the power and beauty of Judaism), as well as Jesus (himself a Hebrew prophet in many ways). and more recently with people and theologians and religious leaders in Latin America, Asia and Africa who have done and are doing theological exploration in what are sometimes called “base communities” (created by the poor themselves as well as those policed and kept in check by the privileged authorities) as well as groups in more affluent places, including Black and Latino people in our own nation, feminists, LGBT and Queer, Native American, and differently-abled communities of interest and struggle.

Israeli countryside, road to Jerusalem ronnaliyah.blogspot.com

Israeli countryside, road to Jerusalem
ronnaliyah.blogspot.com

The reader may begin to understand that, given this orientation which developed long before I had any awareness of the depth of the pain in Israel/Palestine, I have some real sympathy toward the Palestinians–definitely the less powerful of the two peoples. In a liberative world view, power and power analysis is central to understanding where we discern God calls us to stand.

But of course, it is not so simple. I have real sympathy for the Israelis, too, for Jews generally, because anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors–what is often called anti-Semitism (a misleading term in this context because Palestinians are Semitic peoples, too)–is still a major force of intolerance and violence in the world. Jews have been underdogs for far too long, and much of it due to people in my religion (I admit to being utterly baffled by why people who profess to love and follow Jesus hate his people so much).

The Wall walkerart.org

The Wall
walkerart.org

I started out today to write about some current events–Jewish efforts to get state legislatures to adopt bills against the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement, as well as new information about tourism in Jewish settlements in the West Bank (settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and others, and illegitimate by our own government).

But I realized along the way I need to address a deeper theological issue first: whose land is it? Or to put it another way, what can we learn about this dysfunctional situation by looking at history, both in that part of the world, and even in our own, when people contest with each other over territory?

I am not going to start that today, but I will be exploring that question in future blogs.

In the meantime, I invite you to sit quietly if you can, and contemplate peace, think peaceful thoughts, send out peaceful feelings any way you can–especially peace among Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps you can even use one of the pictures on this blog post as a point of meditation for peace.

 

 

 

 

Today, Iowans vote in the caucuses. Praise God that this round will soon be over!

Before the outcome is announced, I want to offer a couple of thoughts about one of the candidates–or more accurately some thoughts about the way I perceive many of us responding to one of the candidates.

I can hear some readers already saying, “Oh no, he’s going to write more about Donald Trump.” But not today (and I hope most earnestly I never have to say another word about him, even as I know I will).

Hillary Clinton speaks in Washington

tvguide.com

No, today, I want to talk about Hillary Clinton. Or, as I said above, about us and Hillary Clinton.

I am not endorsing her today, and do not yet know for sure who will get my vote in the Maryland presidential primary on April 26 (but it will not be Cruz or Trump or Rubio or Bush or Kasich or Christie or Fiorina or the doctor–I know . . . big surprise).

However, I do begin to feel very tired of all the people I encounter, in person and through the media, who say some variation of, “I just don’t know about her . . . not sure I trust her . . . seems too rehearsed . . . not genuine . . . says whatever she thinks she needs to say to get ahead . . . be nice to have a woman president, but . . .

It is that last one that really gets me. Be “nice” to have a woman president? Nice? Is that all?

shirley chisholm-1972

btchflicks.com

I cannot imagine why we do not hang our heads in shame that Hillary Clinton is the first truly serious woman candidate for President of the United States of America. Sure, others have run–my favorite was one of the first, Shirley Chisholm (and back much earlier, Margaret Chase Smith)–but none of them was really a viable candidate.

Nor am I sure there will be another one for a long time, because we are still trying to get ourselves ready to elect a woman. Of course, there are women Senators and Governors who could run, who may even run–Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobushar and Governor Nikki Haley come to mind–but given how we nitpick Hillary Clinton I wonder why they would even try.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren twitter.com

I do not mean that I agree with Clinton’s every position, any more than I agree with all any of the other candidates say (some obviously more than others!). What I mean is that all the reservations, while real, are also true about the men. But we reserve so much of this language for her, and her alone. I believe we are holding her to a higher standard than any man who has a serious chance of becoming President.

Do we not think that the men are calculating, too? Even Trump, seemingly shooting from the hip, tests everything he says, and if it is not working he stops saying it. We complain that she takes so long to admit a mistake, but when was the last time you heard one of these men apologize for a mistake, including for making outrageous, demonstrably false, statements.

We are still a racist country, and a sexist one, too.

Nikki Haley

Governor Nikki Haley christianitytoday.com

Of course, electing Barack Obama did not end racism, nor will electing Hillary Clinton end sexism. In some ways, the two Obama terms have resulted in racial tensions–white privilege and supremacy–becoming more obvious. That will, I hope, help us to continue the work of truly overcoming our ugly racialized heritage.

May it also be so whenever we do elect our first woman President. But first we are going to have to get over enough of our sexism to treat the woman (or women in the future) the same way we already treat the men . . . as politicians, flawed, incomplete, human beings, not saviors but ambitious folks who want to lead (and who have a host of mixed motives and drives).

We are not electing a dad or a mom, or a favorite brother or sister, or even aunt or uncle, and surely not our best friend or favorite neighbor. We are electing a President, a mortal human who will not meet all our needs or ever be perfect.

In that sense, they are each qualified, no more or less than any other, even allowing for differences in genitalia, breast size, and facial hair.

Philadelphiaspeaks.com

Philadelphiaspeaks.com

My friend Rob has been talking about his tough neighborhood 50 years ago in Philadelphia, where fistfights, dares, taunts, and threats were all too common. Still, he says, “we all walked away.”

What he means is that there were no guns–boys and young men fought, they acted ugly to each other, but they did not kill each other.

No guns. What a concept! Think how different today’s Baltimore, or D.C., or Philadephia or New York or Detroit would be.

That would be my ideal world. No guns on the streets except for police when absolutely needed to stop crime. Indeed no guns in the forests or woodlands either (I am a vegetarian and don’t want animals killed for our food) except for those legally empowered to protect us from marauding, dangerous wild animals (similar to police protecting us from marauding, dangerous human animals).

Still, I know that is unrealistic, especially in the United States.

associatesinfamilymedicine.com

associatesinfamilymedicine.com

Still, something must be done. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in much of the nation today, deaths from gunshots now outnumber deaths from traffic accidents, and overall a person in the United States is as likely to die from gunshot as from auto accidents. This is a new situation, an indicator of two things:

  • how much has been done over the past several decades to make cars, highways, and driving safer (as well as improved medical treatment)
  • and how little has been done to make guns safer to use and to restrict their use by people not properly equipped to do so.

Gun-related deaths did decline in the 1990s but the numbers have since remained steady. And homicides by gunshot have declined, while suicides committed with guns have risen.

Thus, it feels to me that at least some of the rhetoric about Second Amendment rights is saying that people have a constitutional right to kill themselves with guns. And I suppose I agree (although I do not know if the Supreme Court agrees).

tenthamendmentcenter.com

tenthamendmentcenter.com

However, I am not sure I agree that it is an unlimited right. Can we not better protect people in the midst of mental health crises from killing themselves (as well as others)? Is that not a matter of protecting the public health (especially when unstable people have access to guns in order to kill others)?

Three things can be done.

  • First, we can make guns safer by mandating various safety locks and mechanisms so people (including children) cannot just pick up a gun and shoot.
  • Second, we can insist on background checks on all gun buyers and every purchase. No exceptions.
  • Third, Congress must remove the ban on many types of federal gun research–so we can be smarter about how to prevent gun deaths without denying the right of people to own guns. Much of the decrease in automobile-related deaths is traceable to extensive federal research, often undertaken in cooperation with the auto industry. The NRA and the gun industry could learn from this. Fewer gun deaths would make the cause of gun ownership less toxic in our culture.

There is another set of factors to consider here. Like much else in our nation, gun-related deaths reveal underlying racial and class divisions. For example, Black Americans are significantly more likely to be victims of homicide even though only 1 in 5 Black households has guns. In contrast, more than 2 in 5 Americans who call themselves white have guns in their households, but gun violence is more likely there to be from suicide.  Both sets of numbers make changing some of the rules imperative.

slideshare.net

slideshare.net

It feels to me that a culture of violence is growing our nation–verbal violence in our politics, gun violence on our streets, visual violence in the world of video games and even the traditional and social media. Of course, ISIS and the Taliban and other violently radical groups cause great anxiety–especially in light of San Bernardino–and many people seem to be trying to ratchet it higher.

The bottom line is that violence in response to violence does not increase safety or peace ultimately. Instead, it simply multiplies the overall level of violence. Hatred begets hatred, violence begets violence.

My friend Rob’s old Philadelphia neighborhood sounds almost idyllic–boys being boys, men or about-to-be men being men, contesting for territory and badges of masculinity but staying alive to shoot hoops or chase girls or just hang out and talk big.

It seems hard to believe that old days may have been less violent, and yet in some ways and places that may be true. We are often blinded by thinking that technological progress is the same as moral progress (though improved gun technology could lower the odds for gun deaths), but it ain’t necessarily so.

In talking to Jonathan the other day about a person he had not met I indicated she was a person of color, African American to be precise. 

Then, I realized I had done it again. Earlier, in the same conversation, I spoke of another person he had not met, who is not a person of color, but in that instance I did not mention that fact. I felt no need to describe what is essentially the default position. Among people who label ourselves white, we assume that our racialized identity is the norm. We don’t have to specifiy skin color, it is assumed to be ours. 

white privilege 2

buzzfeed.com

This is often called “white privilege”–the unearned status to be, and to assume to be, the norm. 

This came back to me as I watched an excellent film about racism on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. “Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity” is a 75-minute film intended to lay out the various components of the system that put in place, and keeps in place, racial inequality. 

The film has enough didactic material to help the viewer understand the structural elements, and enough personal story-telling and commentary by a wide variety of individuals to give it depth and make it interesting and lively.  The audience, mostly people who call ourselves white, at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt–part of the monthly social justice oriented monthly series, Meal & Reel at the New Deal, sponsored by an alliance of activist groups– was appreciative of the film.

Cracking_the_Codes

dailykos.com

There was discussion, too. And that is where I noticed how the people of color in the room were much more ready to talk. Some who call ourselves white did talk, though a disproportionately small share (in terms of the ratio of attendees who were not people of color). 

Of course, the people of color had interesting, insightful, and important things to say. I am glad they spoke. 

What disturbs me, however, is how we who call ourselves white talk so little about race and racism. Even more, most of the time (as was true at the film-showing Monday night), when we do talk it seems to be about a time we noticed some other person who looks like us acting unjustly toward a person of color (and occasionally that includes our speaking up to object) or a time we realized the deleterious effects of racism on a person or persons of color. 

hand over mouth

media.co.uk

What we do not do is to talk about our own racism, our own learned attitudes and behaviors, our own complicity in maintaining systemic structures of racialized inequity. Partly this is due to the fact that the structures are hard to see. They are designed to work without our having to make any conscious choices. That is one reason it is called privilege–it is an accident of birth that goes with us throughout life. Membership has its privileges. 

But that does not let us off the hook. 

If we want racial justice, if we want a beloved community where all thrive–and I believe the overwhelming proportion of us who call ourselves white very much want that–we are going to have to get confessional. We will not overcome systemic racial inequities until we do the hard work of being open and honest about what we feel and what is at work in us. When we do that, we can change ourselves, and help others change, too. That is how the nation will really change, from the ground up. We can undo the white privilege that undergirds racialized inequity. 

confession time

guiltfreechristianity.org

For me, to start, I am going to really work at monitoring my speech patterns, and though patterns, too, to find out how I create my identity as a person I and others call white as the norm, and thus how many times and ways I replicate the model of racialized social domination in my daily patterns of living.  

And I am going to write about it, and I am going to tell others. I am committed to breaking the codes by breaking the silence. 

What about you? Where will you start? Feel free to write me here, with your ideas and personal commitments. 

 

Today is the day we celebrate the gifts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. to our nation and world. 

Martin Luther King, JRThis is a time when many in our nation participate in some action that they believe helps us achieve Dr. King’s vision of “beloved community.” My intention is to continue to do that continually throughout the year, throughout my life, and my hope and prayer is that is true for others as well. 

Yesterday, I heard a fine sermon by Rev. Dwayne Johnson at Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, D.C. in which he focused on the active love of God working in and through us. He drew much inspiration from early writing of Dr. King, such as “An Experiment in Love,” which appeared in in 1958 in a magazine and also as a part of his early book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Circle.

In that article, Dr. King focuses on the Christian ethical concept of agape (a transliteration of the Greek word for love), often described as God’s love for humanity. This love is different from love songs and courtship. He wrote

Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. 

Community. There are so many forces, so many people, seeking today to disrupt, even destroy community. From politicians to terrorists to intolerant individuals and xenophobic groups, our life in community is under siege. Dr. King would be preaching, writing, marching, praying to turn that around.

Jonathan and Robin JVP Islamophobia actionSome of the worst right now is virulent negativity toward Muslims and Islam (of course, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere, as well as transgender people, differently-abled people, and LGB people continue to face this, too). 

That’s why Jonathan and I, with other members of the DC Metro Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, went yesterday to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in our nation’s capital to focus on Islamophobia and to encourage others to join in opposing this harmful attitude that seems to be affecting, infecting, so much of our public discourse. 

About 20 of us handed out flyers, talked to people on the street, and visited store managers and owners asking for permission to put posters in their windows. About 25 retailers accepted the posters and quite a few hung them immediately in their windows. We are shown with one poster, and the other is below. 

Many of us also wore small stickers in the shape of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear in the Holocaust with the word “Muslim” (and the Islamic crescent) super-imposed where the word Jude (German for Jew) was usually displayed. This was not without controversy for some, but the intention was to express solidarity with a people being marked for ugly treatment on the basis of their religion and heritage.

yellow star with Muslim and crescentI also know that expressing that solidarity right in the face of so much hatred is what so many should have done in Germany and elsewhere, including in the United States, when Jews by the millions, and many others (my own tribe, gay men, wore the pink triangle), were being forced to leave their homes and be slaughtered. Just think what might have happened, how different things might have been, if people–non-Jews all over–had stood up in 1935, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, etc.! Hitler and his minions did the deeds, just as others engage in genocide and racial profiling that leads to death and imprisonment for far too many today, but we all bear responsibility for whatever we did not, do not, do to stop it. 

Refugees are welcome here posterThis is what Dr. King meant when he often spoke of the silence of the “good people,” the ones who look the other way in the face of injustice. As Dr. King, and so many who marched with him, knew well, we are called on to speak truth to power when, as it so often is, it is on the side of oppression. And too often for some, perhaps many depending on the circumstances, the power that oppresses some actually sustains, even raises, the rest of us. It is not easy to stand up against our own group when it is wrong, but if we want beloved community, the community which is the whole of God’s people (all people are God’s people) to survive and thrive, we must do just that. 

The fate of community, beloved community, rests not only with others but also squarely with us. Thank you, Dr. King, for not letting us forget that truth. 

 

The death of David Bowie has not only denied us more amazing music and cultural creativity but also the answer to a question that continues to burn in some hearts. That question: was he straight, gay, or bisexual . . . or something else? 

David Bowie

91x.com

I did not realize the level of interest in this question until a clergy friend of mine,  not gay although certainly supportive of LGBT equality, asked me what I thought about Bowie’s sexual orientation and how I thought the LGBT community viewed him as a sexual being. He seemed genuinely puzzled by the lack of clarity about his orientation (really, I think, because he just assumed Bowie was gay). 

And then, I watched a post by comedian Sam Kalidi on Queerty (click here for link) in which he pasted together interviews with Bowie about his sexuality. Bowie was quite funny as he more or less dodged answering the question, except one time when he said he was bisexual (and in the same interview, said he was very promiscuous). 

No one asked him if we were queer. And that’s how I tag him–queer, as in not wanting to be locked up in unhelpful boxes. 

David Bowie with boa

theguardian.com

I have written elsewhere about queerness, specifically about God’s queerness (“Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God Who Is Always up to Something New” in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013). Although I am not equating the late British singer and actor with God, I do see in Bowie behavior similar to what I identify as God acting queerly . . . “to act unconventionally or oddly, irregularly in response to the normal . . . interfer[ing] with and spoil[ing] the expected by acting outside normative social boundaries and rules.”

As I am using the term, it is not a catch-all term for LGBT people or certainly the old pejorative term applied to homosexual men. Instead, it is a capacious term, leaving boundaries open for people who live, who act, in ways that feel congruent with their own selves whether or not their actions, their lives, fit within existing social molds.

DavidBowie naked cock TheManWhoFellToEarth-12_infoboxAnd that it seems to me is how Bowie often acted. Indeed, as my clergy friend said, he seemed gay, and he certainly helped create gay sensibility. But that doesn’t mean he had to “be gay,” whatever that means (at least not to fit the expectations of others). 

I identify as a gay man, I am married to a man (18 good years, and counting), and we have sex with each other. I like looking at men, clothed and naked and in between, and being naked with them, too (but sex only with my husband). That surely makes me gay. And as a political and social statement, I am glad to stand on that ground with gay brothers, lesbian sisters, and bisexual and trans siblings of all sorts. 

David Bowie on stage nearly naked

gregwilson.co.uk

But I really am more queer than anything. I wear earrings, long dangling ones most of the time, and I like to wear skirts or sarongs (I used to do this at Radical Faerie gatherings, and occasionally I would ride the New York subway that way on the way to a gay club, but it has been some time since I have done so). The latter is not because I want to be a woman, but because I like the bodily freedom of not wearing pants. 

I just like to be playful with my body and I don’t think much of rigid gendered behavior; I certainly don’t want to enforce rules on people, other than the prescription to do no harm to others or myself. 

David Bowie all art is unstable

theodysseonline.com

This is how I saw Bowie. As you can see from the videos, he could be very funny. And who knows how he actually identified himself to himself. Probably bisexual, if he had to choose. But somehow I think he did not really want to choose, and maybe he never really did. 

I honor him for that. I doubt anyone has any doubt of his solidarity with LGBTQI folks and other sexual minorities, so he did not need to declare sides for that reason. What he leaves us, I think, is a legacy of living as himself, creating his own persona not bound by the rules or boxes of society. 

David Bowie older

galleryhip.com

 

Thank you, David Bowie, for sharing your freedom. I am inspired, and I trust others are, too. I am glad you are shaking things up a bit even now on earth, and suspect your spirit is having good fun with your fellow angels right now. 

These wintry days in the northern hemisphere mean layers of clothes even inside and more darkness, too.

winter darkness

flickr.com

As someone who likes to wear as little as possible as often as possible–barefoot is always my desire, and nakedness often a delight–this is not good news.

And yet the darkness can be a joy. I appreciate slowing down as dusk descends, preparing for dinner and an evening of quiet at home. Also, I most definitely enjoy morning darkness in which to meditate before dawn, and even to go walking in the winter grayness, seeing the tree limbs arched gracefully against the sky.

But more in these days of angry talk about people from other places and locking up more of our own citizens–usually people whose skin is darker than mine–I am cherishing even more darkness. I mean the darkness that actually expands our awareness of life, the beauty of cultures and lands and people and beliefs that have their own integrity, and challenge and enrich my own.

light shines in the darkness John 1-5

pinterest.com

It seems no accident that in a nation built from the ground up on the architecture of white supremacy there is little valorizing of darkness. Of course, this is in line with so much Christian theologizing that turns to light to overcome darkness. I have not done sufficient research to determine the intertwining history of all this, but clearly neo-platonic dualisms, Euro-American colonialism, manifest destiny, theological paeans for light over dark, all help produce an ideology of dark/black/native as less worthy than its “opposites,” and even downright bad or evil.

A key element in the work of those of us not dark–by whatever definition–to heal our nation is to begin to celebrate what is dark. It is right to oppose the targeting of immigrants and the mass incarceration of black men, and many other policies and attitudes built on negative views of darkness, because we believe in justice and equality, but we must go further: we must valorize, we must celebrate that which we have ignored, belittled, and oppressed and tried to kill. Even more, we must let darkness change us.

We must claim our own darkness.

Stanton MI map

simonhoyt.com

I have written elsewhere about how my mother and my aunt repeated many times to me that my grandmother was “the first white child born in Stanton, Michigan.” (map left) Somehow that was seen as a mark of distinction for her, for us, a heritage of which I was to be proud.

As a child, I suppose I did see it that way. But along the way I began to think about all the babies born there before her, and after, who did not, do not, meet the definition of “white.” There were, are, beautiful babies, too.

africa-flag-map

potentash.com

And more to the point, our ancient heritage, black, white, native, brown, is rooted in Africa. We are all, at base, African.

Perhaps it is time go home, not as missionaries, to change people there, but as pilgrims on a spiritual journey to be changed, to come into our own deep, dark selves.

And absent the opportunity for that, we can open our borders, our minds, our hearts, to those who have much to teach us right here, right now.