Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Monday, March 30, 2015

Top 10 Things That Have Nothing Whatsoever to Do With Your Religious Freedom

10. Your lawsuit seeking to erect a religious displays at taxpayer expense or on public property.

I get it, I really do. Don't kill! Don't steal! Who could object to the Ten Commandments? Honor thy father and mother! Tell the truth! All foundations of any civilized society, surely? Little problem, though: commandments one through four. All of which have as their subject the One God, called by Jews Ha Shem, "The Name," so as to prevent their uttering the holy name without proper reverence. This is religious expression. Feel free to summon a group of people of many faiths. Let them come up with mutually agreed upon "Ten Rules for Good Neighbors." But unless you leave Ha Shem out of it, you are violating the anti-establishment clause.

9. What I wear in your presence.

Unless I am coming into your place of worship, or into your country with a particular antediluvian, anti-woman bias permeating all its laws, my clothing is of no relevance to your religious expression. Period. 

8.  Writing "Jesus is always the answer" on your trigonometry exam.

(That's just funny.)

7.The fact that your local high school doesn't begin the day with prayer.

You are free to pray. You are free to pray in the church or synagogue or national park or ocean or restaurant of your choice. You are free to pray alone in bed at night or in a mega-church filled with 4000 singing and clapping souls. You are free to pray, or not to pray. What you are not free to do is to force anyone else to pray. You are not free to foist your sincere conviction that prayer is a good thing (and we agree on that!) onto anyone else.

6. The fact that your employee uses birth control.

I realize I'm swimming against the stream here, but the Supremes notwithstanding, the use or nonuse of birth control by someone in your employ is simply none of your business. The fact that the Supreme Court has given its (male Roman Catholic) blessing to this restriction of women's medical insurance coverage is beyond appalling, and I am going to go on record saying: it will not last.

5. The fact that I attend a different church than you, or a synagogue, or a mosque, or the Church of Croissants and the Sunday New York Times.

You are free to worship as you choose, where you choose. Me too. My decision to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster is none of your business. Go home Arizona. You're drunk.

4. The fact that your local public library has the "Harry Potter" books in them. Or "Fun Home." Or "Middlesex."

There are all kinds of books out there. Wondrous things, books. Some of my deepest joy has been found between the pages of a book. By reading the diary of Anne Frank as an adolescent, I learned about both the particularity of Anne's experience as a European Jew in hiding during the second World War, and the universality of the experience of adolescence itself. "David Copperfield" probably saved my life at a certain point, enabling me to escape heartache for the periods of time I was able to immerse myself in Dickens' gorgeous prose and labyrinthine plotting. I held my breath during portions of "Into Thin Air," as the Mount Everest climbers' oxygen was depleted and they started walking into the deadly night and freezing to death. My point being, books take us out of our own little worlds and into those inhabited by others, even if only in their colossal and gorgeous imaginations. You don't need to explore any of those worlds if you don't want to. But you have no right, absolutely none, to prevent others from exploring, even the worlds that frighten you, threaten you, or don't have Jesus as their main character.

3. The fact that I can legally marry my partner, who also happens to be a woman.

Oh marriage. I have already shared many thoughts about the biblical notion of marriage. I happen to dig the bible... for the record, it is #1 of my five desert island books. And as I interpret the bible, God is a lover of people and a lover of covenants. God desires that we love one another (even going so far as to demand it of us). The bible even tells us that love is a gift from God, and that those who love are born of God. The fact that New York state gives me and people like me the right to marry the one I love, even when that person is not of the so-called "opposite" sex, in no way inhibits you from reading the bible as you do, or from marrying the one whom you believe God permits you to marry.

2. The fact that your local public high school teaches Darwin's theory of evolution.

It's science. Your not believing it does not make it untrue. Feel free to indulge in other theories, but until you get your PhD and make a case for your theory that is supported by 99.9% of the scientific community, our schools are going to teach it and our kids are going to need to learn it. It has nothing to do with Jesus.

This has nothing to do with Jesus. This is another instance in which I believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the bible is. The bible is a collection of 66 pieces of writing of many different genres. It contains poetry, and letters, and history, and law. It also contains a unique genre, the gospel-- which is not history, or even biography exactly (compare the four gospels to get a sense of what I mean). The bible also contains poetic liturgical descriptions of the creation of the world that are designed to point to God as the Author of all that is. The bible is, for people of faith, the story of God's relationship with people: God's creating us, covenanting with us, forgiving us, redeeming us.

But there's something that the bible is not, and has never claimed to be. The bible is not a science textbook. To look at the creation accounts in Genesis and call them "science" is to bend scripture to the breaking point. You are asking it to do something it was never designed to do. It's like trying to learn to drive by reading the Kelley Blue Book, or trying to predict the weather by reading "A Perfect Storm." You are not going to find what you are looking for there.

1. My need for a cake. Or a pair of gloves. Or car repair.

Alright. You are going to need to show me the part of the New Testament where Jesus tells you to discriminate against people because of their sexuality. Find me all the things Jesus says about gay people.

No, don't bother quoting me Matthew 19:5. Jesus is talking about divorce there, not about whether LGBT people can marry-- oh, wait,  were you going to discriminate against divorced people?

Ah. I see. Well, I'll wait here. When you find the part where Jesus says, "Love your neighbor, except for the LGBTQ one," come on back, and show it to me. I'm not going anywhere.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The People in My Bible

There are people in my bible.

I'm not talking about Abraham and Sarah and Jesus and Mary Magdalene... though, of course, they are in there too.

I'm talking about the people who appear on my book marks. People who are no longer "with us."

Dead people.

Some of these folks are people I know only slightly, or because I am/ was pastor to someone who loved them. But more of them are people I know/ knew quite well. People I love. Loved.


This morning I opened my bible to mark a passage to read in church*

(*Ordinarily, I read from a very large pulpit bible, but today we had "Messy Church," a child/ young-person/ young-at-heart-person friendly service in the Fellowship Hall, so I used my personal bible. There was this pizza... But I digress).

I opened my bible, and the face of one of the people I love was there, looking off to the right, looking towards a future that was unexpectedly cut short for her, but which includes the odd truth that her face has now taken up permanent residence in my bible.

Hours have passed, and my heart is still sore from the appearance of that dear face. I cannot get used to its appearance, not yet. Not here, tucked into pages bearing the story of the young Samuel waking in the night to hear God's persistent call.

Other people appear in my bible, not because of their face on one of those little cards that is given out at funerals, but by virtue of their handwriting.

I have a slip of paper on which my mother wrote her instructions, some months before mediastinal cancer claimed her (I know! We all had to look it up...):

No embalming
Comfy clothes
Plain pine box
No obituary
No funeral service

She wanted to slip away, as if we wouldn't notice. I've met others-- loved others-- who wanted the same.

We noticed. I notice, every time I open this book, which is so important to me, and which, truth be told, I've staked my life upon. I notice the ones who tried to slip away, and the ones who tried desperately to stay. I notice the ones whose services were attended by a few dozen family members and those whose crowds spilled out into the parking lot. (The young, usually. Not always.)

I notice them all, my beloved dead, carried, held close, tucked into pages where I can read other beloved names.

There are people in my bible. I carry them all with me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

An Ordinary Couple

Well, of course, not "ordinary" for nineteenth century Vermont. But a couple-- Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake--  acknowledged as such by the conservative Vermont town in which they made their home and ran their business and lived for forty-four years. Their marriage was "an open secret."

What I love about this piece from the Washington Post is how their neighbors responded. From all appearances, Charity and Sylvia attended church (and gave, too). Their business thrived (Charity was a talented seamstress). They were, it seems, welcome to bring their business, in turn, to the other merchants of the town.

No one's marriage was harmed by the presence of this faithful couple in their midst.

Read their story here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Descriptions of Marriage

I wasn't waiting for the Presbyterian Church (USA), in which I serve as a teaching elder (pastor), to ratify Amendment 14-F, (which establishes marriage equality in our constitution) to write my second post here. But since that is what happened a little over twelve hours ago, here goes.

A lot of ink has been spilled over what constitutes "the biblical definition of marriage"-- by which the writers are usually referring to "marriage between one man and one woman." And yes, that notion appears in scripture. What a lot of folks either don't notice or don't understand is this: scripture is many things. In terms of marriage, for the most part, scripture is not proscriptive, it's descriptive.

proscription:   noun

1. the act of proscribing or the state of being proscribed
2. denunciation, prohibition, or exclusion
3. outlawry or ostracism

description: noun

1. a statement, picture in words, or account that describes
2. the act or method of describing

Scripture describes marriage as it occurs during the biblical period. Occasionally, it makes specific judgments about those descriptions. However, for the most part, the bible is not telling us anything useful about what God believes marriage should be.

So when we read in Genesis 2:24 that "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh," that is a description of marriage as it was practiced several thousand years ago, and is still, in many ways, practiced today. (Except, anecdotally and from the perspective of one who counsels and marries some of these couples, nobody's "leaving" anywhere-- they already live together.)

And when we read, in Genesis 16, of Abram (Abraham) taking a concubine, Hagar, in addition to his wife, Sarai (Sarah), that is also descriptive of biblical marriage, as it was practiced once upon a time, and is also practiced in some areas today. Similarly with Jacob, and his two wives and two concubines (Genesis 29-30). Also, Solomon, with his seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Biblical marriages, all.

Also biblical? Marriages used to solve the problem of rape.

"If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives."   ~Deuteronomy 22:28-29

All these passages constitute "biblical" marriage. And all these passages are descriptive of the way marriage was practiced at the time the biblical writers were committing their accounts to papyrus, parchment, or paper.

What we don't see in the bible?
  • Marriages which grow out of compatibility and love
  • Marriages which the parties decide to enter into as adults and equals 
These qualities do not exist in biblical marriages. Compatibility can grow in marriages arranged by family or law (see Ruth and Boaz). Passionate attachments can be rewarded by the family consenting to the union (see Jacob and Rachel). But the qualities we moderns most value (again, from a Western perspective) either never existed or were considered entirely beside the point to the biblical authors. So they are not visible to us in the collection of 66 books we call the bible.

Yesterday, by achieving a majority concurrence of its presbyteries, the largest Presbyterian denomination (PCUSA) has changed its constitution to allow for marriages between members of the LGBTQ spectrum. It has also allowed for its pastors to perform these weddings, as our consciences permit us, and for churches to host them, again, as the conscience of the church leadership allows.

Nowhere in this change is anyone mandated to perform a wedding ceremony against the dictates of their conscience. We pastors have always had the discretion to say "no" to performing weddings we considered ill-advised for any reason. That does not change.

Here's the full text of the change, because I think it's important that we know what it does and does not say:

"Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.
In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and acknowledges.

"If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the teaching elder, who may agree to the couple’s request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.

"The marriage service shall be conducted in a manner appropriate to this covenant and to the forms of Reformed worship, under the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session (W-1.4004–.4006). In a service of marriage, the couple marry each other by exchanging mutual promises. The teaching elder witnesses the couple’s promises and pronounces God’s blessing upon their union. The community of faith pledges to support the couple in upholding their promises; prayers may be offered for the couple, for the communities that support them, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness.

"A service of worship recognizing a civil marriage and confirming it in the community of faith may be appropriate when requested by the couple. The service will be similar to the marriage service except that the statements made shall reflect the fact that the couple is already married to one another according to the laws of the civil jurisdiction.

"Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God."

Marriage is a gift of God involving a unique commitment between two people. Our constitutional change wisely describes marriage as we have witnessed it-- just as our biblical forbears have done. Those of us who are or know LGBTQ people have seen it. Years, even decades of loving commitment between two people who do not fit into the "one man and one woman" paradigm, but whose lives are clearly, joyously enriched, and who, in the strength of that love and commitment, are thus able to live more fully and authentically as God's people in the world. We've seen marriages like this. They exist. And we are describing them, and affirming them, and welcoming them into our churches.

As a result of this, the denomination in which I serve is now saying to all its members: You are welcome here. Your relationships are real and valid. God has made you who you know yourself to be, and we rejoice with you in what that means for the world. In your marriage we see-- not pie in the sky perfection, but real human beings, children of God, striving to live with meaning and joy. Just like all the other married people, in the PC(USA), and beyond.

Thanks be to God.

I know there are folks who do not feel thankful today. I know there are those-- including people I know and dearly love-- who are not able to let go of the idea that Genesis 2:24 mandates that marriage be between one man and one woman only (despite the bible's descriptions of other permutations of marriage). This story is for them.

A few years ago I was taking a continuing education class at my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, taught by none other than the eminent Old Testametnt scholar and UTS professor emerita, Phyllis Trible. We were reading the creation accounts in Genesis. A participant in the class asked about 2:24, and said, "What does that have to say to the debate about marriage equality, so-called same-sex marriage?" Prof. Trible looked at us all for a moment, and then asked us a question.

"In order for this passage to speak to the debate around LGBTQ marriage, there would have to be WHAT or WHO in the passage?"

And we all nodded our understanding, and someone said it aloud. "Another man or another woman."

She pushed the point home. "This passage says nothing about same-sex marriage. It does not address it, one way or the other."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

About the Title

It occurs to me it might be good to give a little background for the title of this blog.

Here's a start on that.

Hello there. Lent or Knitting? You decide!

It's been a while.

Having stopped blogging regularly several years ago, I find that I want, once again, to get back into the swing of it, but this time, under my own actual name.

So hello again!

So many things to blog about, too.

There's Lent.

There's the state of Civil Rights in the U. S. of A.... though I feel ill-equipped to add constructively to the commentary on the current nightmare. Lots of brilliant people of color commenting, though, so no dearth of things to read and places to learn and people to learn from. Some of my favorites are here and here and here and here, not to mention, here.

Not prepared to weigh in on the great issues of the day. Instead, I'd like to talk about knitting.

I'm not a champion knitter. I'm a solid beginner. I've mitered a corner (or two) in my day, but I need to keep returning to the directions. One thing I have down, though, are these baby hats.

"Umbilical Cord Hat" from Stitch 'n Bitch

That's because I make them for all the babies in the church... and we have a good number of those, all the time, it seems.

Now I'm starting something different. Last year I was intrigued, though not sufficiently motivated to jump in, when I read Stacy Simpson Duke's post about her new pattern, Crackerjack. A few weeks ago, upon re-reading that post, I learned of another conceptual knitting project: the My Year in Temperatures scarf by Kristen Cooper.

First, you gather up some yummy yarns in an array of colors-- I chose colors that I felt could correspond with the various temperatures, like an icy grey, or a warm merlot.

There's yarn on my piano! Andes Superwash from KnitPicks

Then I created a chart, with temperatures in increments of ten degrees, covering what I feel are all possible temperatures I might be exposed to this year (what if I travel? Go to Fiji, for example?). Each increment is assigned a color.

Can you see the problem with my chart?

Then you start knitting: one row for each day of the year, color chosen to represent the high temperature of that day.

I just started, so am catching up-- still finishing up January. But I am already in love....

Yes, that's a Buzz Lightyear Band Aid. What of it?

It was 50 on the day of the "Semolina" row... other than that, Zero to thirties, all through January.

So, maybe this is a tiny bit about Lent. I am not sure I realized it at the outset, but one of my Lenten practices has turned out to be around "a little bit at a time." I am really not very good at taking things in small increments. From losing weight to writing sermons to organizing my house, I'm very good at "ALL NOW" or "NOT YET." A little bit at a time is a sustainable practice for me-- or it could be. This scarf is one example of my attempting to make peace with a way of being in the world that is about small but deliberate steps towards all kinds of things... prayer and meditation, health goals, achievement of work-related goals...

And, yes. This lovely scarf.

Oh, and also blogging.

I'll keep you posted.