Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Amy Calls Out the Christians

This is in today's Johnson City Press:

After hearing from the young woman at Congressman Phil Roe’s town hall meeting Monday night, I am no longer holding back my anger at the right-wing, so-called Christians who continue to support Republicans like Roe because he’s “pro-life” and to claim moral superiority over those of us who work for health care for all. Are you even hearing yourselves? Roe and all the Republicans you “Christians” vote for support our current health care system, calling anything else “socialism,” as if this were an unspeakable evil.

You continue to support a system that will, if left in place, without a shadow of a doubt kill this innocent 26-year-old divorced mother of two young children. Our current system will not provide her with the care she needs to stay alive. She is going to die young and leave behind two devastated children, all because you stubbornly cling to your “prolife” candidates and their pro-big business religion.

How can any of you call yourselves “prolife” when this young mother’s blood is going to be on your hands? She has done nothing wrong. She has worked until she could work no more. Yet you are willing to allow her to die for the sake of your precious ideology. You are not Christians, because you do not worship Christ. You worship capitalism. You value capitalism above this woman’s life. And make no mistake, you will be personally responsible for shortening her life if you continue to support our current system.

I dare say that the Christ you claim to worship is quite upset with you, since you are blatantly ignoring his clear teachings on how to care for the poor and the suffering among us. I guess you’re only Christian as long as it doesn’t inconvenience you. I will never know how you sleep at night.

AMY WILLIAMS Elizabethton
Amy is mad as hell and she is not going to take it anymore. It is about freaking time.

The Press has a love affair with Dr. Roe. This was in Sunday's paper.



Gack. As if our hero, our local good ole boy, Dr. No, is knocking out any questions from socialist liberals. Of course if you read the Johnson City Press reports on the various Phil Roe Shows that is what you would think. Interesting image, isn't it? Dr. Roe wants to knock the crap out of his constituents who are trying to convince him to listen to their stories.

Truth is despite the fact that Roe controls the microphone, always has the last word, and chooses who will ask the questions, people are speaking up and challenging him point by point. In an area of the country infested by right wing misinformation, the number of people speaking out against Roe's fear-mongering is growing.

In other interesting commentary on health care, Anne Lamott writes to Obama about the friends he keeps:


We did not vote for you to see if you could get Chuck Grassley or Michael Enzi to date you. The spectacle of you wooing them fills us with horror and even disgust. We recoil as from hot flame at each mention of your new friends. Believe me, I know exactly how painful this can be, how reminiscent of 7th-grade yearning to be popular, because I went through it myself this summer. I did not lower my bar quite as low as you have, but I was sitting on the couch one afternoon, thinking that this adorable guy and I were totally on the same sheet of music -- he had given me absolutely every indication that we were -- and were moving into the kissing stage. Out of nowhere, I thought to ask him if he liked me in the same way I liked him.

He said, in so many words, no.

And Mr. President, that is what the Republicans are saying to you: They are just not that into you, sir.

Katha Pollitt writes in the Nation that it is time to keep the main thing the main thing and get off your asses and get mad as hell. She said it more eloquently than that...

Whatever happened to, um, health? Wasn't that a big part of the original case for reform? The 46 million uninsured, the 20,000 people who die every year for lack of medical care, the studies showing that people without insurance get worse care than those with it, even after car crashes? Where are all those people with infuriating stories of being denied essential care by insurance company bureaucrats, and those who thought they were covered when they weren't, and those who were hit with huge bills because of fine print in their contracts? What about the people who can't quit their jobs because they need the insurance? The people who struggle and sacrifice to pay enormous premiums? The people who cut their pills in half to save money, or who can't afford them at all? And what about doctors? My internist and gynecologist no longer even take private insurance because of the endless hassles and frustrations. Why don't we hear more about how fed up doctors are with the status quo?...

....Oh army of Obama supporters who swarmed the country less than one year ago, we need you back knocking on our doors and sleeping on our sofas. We need you to stand on street corners handing out fliers that explain what healthcare reform is really all about and how people can make sure it doesn't get swallowed whole by the drug and insurance companies. Surely you're not too young and strong and healthy and vegan to care about boring parent stuff like health insurance? The diss on you was always that you were infatuated with Obama's charisma and with vague notions of "change"--not with the long slog of political engagement. That isn't true, though, is it?


And finally TGW reports on Mad As Hell Doctors on Tour for Single Payer.

The Oregon physicians will stop at numerous cities and towns on their way to D.C. They'll be in Nashville on September 20. See their schedule here.

Obama refuses to meet with the doctors, but they continue to try to change his mind. Help the Mad as Hell Doctors get a meeting with President Obama to discuss single payer (go to the 'Letter to Obama' page).


Mad as hell? Good.

The JC Press still wants your letters and Phil Roe wants to "knock you out" in Kingsport at his next town hall.


Thursday, September 3 – Sullivan County
6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Kingsport Center for Higher Education
300 West Market Street
Kingsport, Tennessee

A Silly Love Song--A Sermon

The lectionary featured a reading from Song of Solomon. Had to go with that...

A Silly Love Song
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
August 30th, 2009

Song of Songs 2:8-15

The Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon) is about God’s love for Israel and Christ’s love for the church. I’ll show you:

How fair and pleasant you are,
O loved one, delectable maiden!
7You are stately as a palm tree,
and your breasts are like its clusters.
8I say I will climb the palm tree
and lay hold of its branches.
O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
and the scent of your breath like apples,
9and your kisses like the best wine
that goes down smoothly,
gliding over lips and teeth.

See? Obviously it is Christ’s love for the church. Case closed. Our Bible study is finished. Let us now take a cold shower and pray.

And you better hurry before Christ climbs your palm tree.

It is because this book was interpreted first as God’s love for Israel and then adopted by the Christians as Christ’s love for the church, that the Song of Songs made it into the Bible. The gatekeepers of the sacred canon would not have allowed this sexy text to make it past the censors if they thought it was just a silly love song.

I can imagine advocates for the Song of Songs saying to themselves, “Let’s see if we can get this book into the Bible. We’ll tell them it is about God’s love for Israel. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

So while I think that interpretation is a bit of a stretch, I am happy for it. Without it we might not have known this text.

I am pleased that the Song of Songs is in the Bible.

It is a just a silly love song.
And what’s wrong with that?
I’d like to know.

It is secular love poetry, a fourth century BCE equivalent to a Harlequin Romance. It would be literature that would be sung at banquets by performers. It is entertainment.

It isn’t really spiritual literature. God is not even mentioned.

But because this secular and sexy song is in the Bible, the Church is forced to recognize however grudgingly that sexuality is spiritual. So the idea that the Song of Songs represents Christ’s love for the Church, or Divine love for humanity is not so far off. In a sense the church is saying that eros (or romantic love) is sacred.

That truth is important in a tradition that has often viewed sexuality as a threat or something to be controlled. Eros is Earthy. And Earthy is Sacred.

No one expressed that better than Walt Whitman. Whitman was preaching against the preachers who suggested that the flesh (the earthy, the sensual, the body) was not sacred. Those fleshly desires needed to be transcended for one to be godly. Not for Whitman. Whitman was the champion of the body, the here and now. This is from Song of Myself:

I believe in the flesh and the appetites,
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me
is a miracle.

Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am
touch'd from,
The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,
This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.

If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of
my own body, or any part of it,


Like Whitman’s Song of Myself, the Song of Songs is about bodies and love of bodies:

I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me.
11Come, my beloved,
let us go forth into the fields,
and lodge in the villages;
12let us go out early to the vineyards,
and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened
and the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.

Their love is mutual and egalitarian. The woman initiates as does the man. Both initiate affection, express desire, and lavish praise on one another. This mutual, egalitarian, sex-positive voice is counter-cultural then as well as now.

To add a little scandal to the mix, it appears that the characters—the lovers—in the Song of Songs are not married. The “blossoming vineyards that the foxes are ruining” are our adolescent lovers, not married, and loving on the sly. A forbidden love.

The young woman has to sneak out at night to find her love.

I sought him, but did not find him;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
7Making their rounds in the city
the sentinels found me;
they beat me, they wounded me,
they took away my mantle,
those sentinels of the walls.


They risk their forbidden love amidst great danger.

Marvin Ellison, author of Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality, calls the Song of Songs a protest poem. He writes:

When this narrative is read critically through a justice lens, the Song of Songs appears to be not so much a “simple” love poem, but more a polemical protest song. This protest poem celebrates and even flaunts the moral beauty of a couple’s love because they stand in violation of prevailing cultural norms. P. 72


The forbidden love may have to do with ethnicity.

At the beginning of the Song the woman complains to the other maidens:

Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me.


Ellison goes on to say:

Womanist biblical scholar Renita J. Weems has carefully uncovered a hidden polemic with the Song. As an African-American woman, Weems has paid attention to the color imagery of this text and noticed how the female lover is portrayed as a dark-skinned, small-breasted woman. Her physical beauty is at odds with the prevailing cultural standards of her time. Therefore the Song is interested in highlighting more than the goodness of physicality and sexual pleasure, or even this woman’s boldness in expressing her sexual desire for her lover….the poet names as beautiful and right the love of two nonnormative lovers. As Weems contends, “They are two lovers whom society, for inscrutable reasons, sought to keep apart, perhaps because they were from different classes, from different ethnic backgrounds, or of a different color.” P. 72


Ellison concludes this point by saying:

This Song criticizes the dominant social order because of its sexual injustice. Sexual injustice is a tell-tale sign of moral dis-order more broadly construed. P. 73


The characters in the Song of Songs are heterosexual lovers. But those who advocate for sexual justice for all people regardless of sexual orientation find in the Song of Songs a resource for protest and resistance against sexual oppression. Marvin Ellison writes:

Here scripture, when read through a justice hermeneutic, offers a critique of tradition and “new eyes” to affirm on biblical grounds the beauty and moral integrity of love in unexpected places, including between interracial couples, people with disabilities, and same-sex couples. P. 73


The Song of Songs is more than just another silly love song. If Marvin Ellison and Renita Weems are right, it is a love song that celebrates the love of those who usually don’t have songs written for them. It is a song for the songless.

Sexual justice is a crucial aspect of social justice and of individual and social well-being.

Faith communities have been uneven regarding sexual justice. The inherited (and largely unexamined) ethic is that all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong and sinful.

This is hardly an ethic. It is simply a rule. It is based on heterosexism and a patriarchal definition of marriage. It says nothing of the quality of sexual activity within marriage including issues of power and consent, and it says nothing to the millions of people who are not married but (believe it or not) have sex.

There is no guidance for them from the church except be celibate or be silent.

Faith communities can and should do better.

What seems to be lost in the debate over gay marriage and gay ministers is the issue of sexual ethics for all people regardless of sexual orientation or marital status. Sexual ethics refers to theory and guidelines regarding when sexual behavior is good and when it is harmful.

Since I am nearing the end of the sermon, I am going to recommend four book titles and a web page. Just mentioning in a sermon that these resources exist might be helpful. I have read these four titles and recommend them even as the authors come from different perspectives.

The first is the book I mentioned earlier, Marvin Ellison, Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality.

Second, is Marie Fortune, Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us.

Third, Mary E. Hunt, Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship. And

Fourth, Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.

The Fox book isn’t about sexual ethics in particular, but it is related.

The web page is www.religiousinstitute.org Google “Religious Institute.” The full title is Religious Institute: Faithful Voices on Sexuality and Religion.

This website has a number of resources including a statement: Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. I joined a number of other religious professionals in endorsing this declaration. I will close with it in honor of our two non-normative, passionate, Divinely-kissed lovers in Song of Songs:

Sexuality is God's life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. We come from diverse religious communities to recognize sexuality as central to our humanity and as integral to our spirituality. We are speaking out against the pain, brokenness, oppression, and loss of meaning that many experience about their sexuality.

Our faith traditions celebrate the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our sexuality. We sin when this sacred gift is abused or exploited. However, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing, and restored relationships.

Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.

God hears the cries of those who suffer from the failure of religious communities to address sexuality. We are called today to see, hear, and respond to the suffering caused by violence against women and sexual minorities, the HIV pandemic, unsustainable population growth and over-consumption, and the commercial exploitation of sexuality.

Faith communities must therefore be truth seeking, courageous, and just. We call for:

* Theological reflection that integrates the wisdom of excluded, often silenced peoples, and insights about sexuality from medicine, social science, the arts and humanities.


* Full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same sex unions.

* Sexuality counseling and education throughout the lifespan from trained religious leaders.

* Support for those who challenge sexual oppression and who work for justice within their congregations and denomination.

Faith communities must also advocate for sexual and spiritual wholeness in society. We call for:

* Lifelong, age appropriate sexuality education in schools, seminaries, and community settings.

* A faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.

* Religious leadership in movements to end sexual and social injustice.

God rejoices when we celebrate our sexuality with holiness and integrity. We, the undersigned, invite our colleagues and faith communities to join us in promoting sexual morality, justice, and healing.

Amen.

And out we went with the postlude:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Elizabethton Twins and the Shepherd's Inn

Summer has gone by and I haven't been to a Twins game. We haven't had a church outing either. So Sunday, August 30th let's go to see the first place Elizabethton Twins!

The special thing about it is that it is Shepherd's Inn Night.

Our church supports the Shepherd's Inn, the Carter County domestic violence shelter. The director, Paul Gabinet, is a member of our church board. Here is the scoop:


The Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department will be sponsoring “SHEPHERD’S INN NIGHT” this Sunday, August 30th with The Elizabethton Twins. The Twins will be playing the Bristol White Socks at Elizabethton. There will be a team photograph given to the first 500 fans with proceeds contributed to The Shepherd’s Inn courtesy of Walgreen Drug Store.

“We are happy to sponsor THE SHEPHERD’S INN NIGHT as part of our Twins season…The Shepherd’s Inn is a vital part of our community and worthy of our fan support…” says Mike Manis Director of Elizabethton Parks and Recreation and Manager of the Elizabethton Twins.

From 6:00 p.m. until 6:45 p.m. there will be Karaoke with well-known personality Michael Hawkins. All wishing to sing will be ask to make a financial contribution to The Shepherd’s Inn.

Also beginning at 6:00 The Shepherd’s Inn will be serving “Sundaes on Sunday.” There will be a charge of $3.00. All proceeds will go directly to The Shepherd’s Inn.

Elizabethton/Carter County’s only emergency shelter assisting victims of Domestic Violence and temporarily homeless women and their children, The Shepherd’s Inn is a 24 /7 operation. Shelter funding relies totally on gifts from the community. There have been over 1000 guest admissions to the shelter since beginning operation in 1997.

Everyone is invited for a fun night and support for the league’s first place TEAM ---The Elizabethton Twins and The Shepherd’s Inn.

Let's do it! See you Sunday at Joe O'Brien Stadium!

Mr. Roe Goes to Elizabethton

I attended the town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Phil Roe in Elizabethton yesterday. A good number of my church members were there and several of them spoke during the Q&A period. I am very proud of them.

I didn't speak. I thought of it. I didn't know exactly what to say or when. I did hold up my sign:

The U.S. Needs Universal Health Care Now!


And on the flip side:

Health Care is a Right (not a privilege)


Hoo haw.


As you may sense I am a bit discouraged about the whole thing.
So you all know our congressman is against the public option. He also wants to drill in Alaska. And he doesn't want us to worry about CO2 emissions or climate change.

You can read a report of the gathering in the
JC Press. I know the reporter, John Thompson. I like John. He is a good guy. He has reported on our church before. I didn't see it the same way John did. I wish John had reported more regarding those who spoke in favor of health care reform. He wrote:
A few people challenged Roe’s positions, but he corrected any mistakes or misconceptions in their statements.
I guess that is one way to see it. There were a lot of people who spoke in favor (and several quite eloquently) of the public option legislation making its way through congress.

For instance one woman said it is "morally indefensible" that we do not have health coverage for all Americans. I applauded.


Dr. Roe responded that it is morally indefensible to "ration care." What does that mean? It means that he thinks if we get a public option, care will be rationed like bowls of gruel in a Dickens novel. It is a corporate "scare" word and in his speech he used them all.

You can find most of his scare words on his web site. They are from the script he received from the health care industry.
I reported on that earlier.

Like a true thespian he followed the script that
Bill Moyers unearthed:
Moyers: I have a memo, from Frank Luntz. I have a memo written by Frank Luntz. He's the Republican strategist who we discovered, in the spring, has written the script for opponents of health care reform. "First," he says, "you have to pretend to support it. Then use phrases like, "government takeover," "delayed care is denied care," "consequences of rationing," "bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine." That was a memo, by Frank Luntz, to the opponents of health care reform in this debate.
Dr. Roe began his speech telling us that there are 47-50 million uninsured people in the U.S. He told us that we need reform and that he is in favor of reform.

But
...he is against the legislation currently being debated. He used words like rationing and bureaucrats and the government between you and your doctor. This is from Dr. Roe's web page:
One proposal I am opposed to is a takeover of our healthcare system by Washington bureaucrats. Whether you call it a “public plan” or a “government-run option,” the long-term result is a system where care is dictated not based on need but based on a budget.
It is the same thing he is saying at every town hall meeting. It is from the script.

The problem is that health care is "rationed" right now. The holders of our ration coupons are insurance corporations. They are the ones who ration health care. They are the ones who are morally indefensible.


John reported on this interesting exchange:
He also corrected another member of the audience who accused him of taking contributions from medical associations. Roe told the audience he made it a point in his campaign to only use his own money or donations from individuals and to accept no PAC money.
The questioner never said he accepted PAC money. She said he accepted donations from the health industry.

One of the marvelous things about the internet is that you can look this stuff up.
Check out this website.

Phil Roe received contributions from individuals connected with various industries. Which industry topped the list? Health.

Health Professionals$168,877
General Contractors$91,900
Retired$73,770
Lawyers/Law Firms$27,200
Real Estate$25,041
Oil & Gas$20,700
Misc Business$15,182
Retail Sales$14,900
Civil Servants/Public Officials$14,132
Insurance$12,600
Candidate Committees$12,000
Beer, Wine & Liquor$10,500
Education$9,950
Building Materials & Equipment$9,400
Hospitals/Nursing Homes$9,250
Commercial Banks$9,200
Construction Services$8,500
Crop Production & Basic Processing$6,950
Misc Manufacturing & Distributing$5,600
Automotive$5,600

This is what the questioner was talking about. The bottom line is that the health care industry has been lobbying and spending to defeat any kind of public option. We know why. It will hurt their profits.


Apparently the "Mr. Roe goes to Washington" schtick works pretty well. He uses it a lot. He presented stacks of bills that run 1,000 pages and contain fine print. How can he possibly read all of what is put in front of him? The point of this rhetoric is to convince you that "they" are pushing legislation without providing opportunity for discussion.


That is just lame. All of our representatives have a staff. Welcome to the big leagues, congressman.


What I found most discouraging in this entire exchange is the lack of care about others and our future. Not Roe so much but people. If you don't have health insurance you are an illegal immigrant or you are lazy.

Another person claimed that we need to be drilling for oil offshore and every where else. "We need to use it up!" he said.


Use it up? Then what? Do you people ever plan ahead?


One gentleman, a doctor who has lived in the United States for many years and has served the people of Johnson City as a physician, is from Peru. He speaks with a Peruvian accent. He spoke in favor of the public option. He spoke in favor of caring for others. That is what it means to be a member of a nation after all. That is what it means to be a participant in a government
by, for, and of the people. We care for each other. We care that our sisters and brothers have basic needs like health care. It is what it means to be human.

An audience member told him to go back to Peru.


Hi ho.



Thursday, August 27, 2009

Roe in Elizabethton Today

UPDATE:

Definitely at Elizabethton Airport today at 4 p.m. Need people there who support health care reform. Map

I saw this in today's Johnson City Press:

ELIZABETHTON — U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, will be at the Elizabethton Municipal Airport Terminal today from 4-5:30 p.m. for a question-and-answer session with the public. The session will focus on upcoming bills, especially proposed federal health care legislation.
Yesterday I received word that he was going to be at the courthouse. He doesn't even mention it on his website.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

All Dogs Go To Atheists


You can't beat this deal. Born-again Christians should take advantage:

You've committed your life to Jesus. But when the Rapture comes what's to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you've received your reward. Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

...Our service is plain and simple; our fee structure is reasonable. For $110.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved. Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $15.00 fee. A small price to pay for your peace of mind and the health and safety of your four legged friends.
Check out the FAQs. Apparently, this is a real deal as nearly half the population is concerned about what will happen to their pets when the rapture occurs.

I guess atheists are good for something.


Blame Sandy

Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us


Rev. Debra Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, in her latest article, Sex and the Single Minister, commends the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for their recent action that removed barriers to ordination for individuals in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

Then she writes:

All of this is excellent news for same-sex couples, of course, but the emphasis on "committed, lifelong relationships" leaves out the single minister, the divorced minister, the widowed minister -- whether gay, straight, or bisexual -- who must still adhere to a standard of celibacy unless their partner status changes.
Thank you, Rev. Haffner. We are not just talking about clergy or lay leaders in the church. The question is sexual ethics. The inherited (and largely unexamined) ethic is that all sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong and sinful.

This is hardly an ethic. It is simply a rule. It says nothing of the quality of sexual activity within marriage including issues of power and consent, and it says nothing to the millions of people who are not married but (believe it or not) have sex.

There is no guidance for them from the church except be celibate or be silent.

The church can and should do better.

A book that I have been recommending for many years (in fact I can't find my copy as I must have lent it to someone) is Marie Fortune's Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us. She writes:

As a society we have all but abandoned the responsibility to equip people with the skills to make serious ethical choices. The right wing continues to promote "family values" as the answer to every problem. This is only a thinly veiled code phrase suggesting that whatever happens in heterosexual marriage is good. This underlying presumption only works if one is never confronted with real problems and choices. The so-called Christian right also presumes that the only real Christians are those who are anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-feminism. This is not true, but they succeed in their propaganda campaign because they are filling a vacuum left when many of religious and community leaders, lacking courage and imagination, have remained virtually speechless in the face of critical ethical questions about sexuality and relationships.

This book is about "family values"--the values we bring to and derive from our intimate relationships: values like respect, honesty, love, loyalty, safety, acceptance, and support. It is about how we can make some difficult decisions that are consistent with these values. It is also about religious values--the values we derive from our religious traditions and experiences such as courage, faithfulness, justice, and hope....

...This book is for those of us often left out of the discussion because we don't parrot an orthodox doctrine. It is for the rest of us who live in the real world and are faced everyday with hard choices in relation to those we love. pp. 15-6.
Parents have found this book helpful to have read before they talk to their children about sex. High school and college students will benefit as well. It is also a good book for a class.

In addition to Dr. Fortune's book, Marvin Ellison's Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality is excellent. The Religious Institute has a number of resources as well.

We need to have discussions about what is good, ethical, just, and life-affirming. As Rev. Haffner points out in her article:

The Religious Institute has long called for a new sexual ethic to replace the traditional "celibacy until marriage, chastity after." This new ethic is free of double standards based on sexual orientation, sex, gender or marital status. It calls for sexual relationships to be consensual, non-exploitative, honest, pleasurable and protected, whether inside or outside of a covenanted relationship. It insists that intimate relationships be grounded in communication and shared values.

And it applies to all adults -- even those of us who are called to ministry.
I have endorsed this ethic as a religious leader. You are invited to as well:

Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Sexuality is God's life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. We come from diverse religious communities to recognize sexuality as central to our humanity and as integral to our spirituality. We are speaking out against the pain, brokenness, oppression, and loss of meaning that many experience about their sexuality.

Our faith traditions celebrate the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our sexuality. We sin when this sacred gift is abused or exploited. However, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing, and restored relationships.

Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.

God hears the cries of those who suffer from the failure of religious communities to address sexuality. We are called today to see, hear, and respond to the suffering caused by violence against women and sexual minorities, the HIV pandemic, unsustainable population growth and over-consumption, and the commercial exploitation of sexuality.

Faith communities must therefore be truth seeking, courageous, and just. We call for:

  • Theological reflection that integrates the wisdom of excluded, often silenced peoples, and insights about sexuality from medicine, social science, the arts and humanities.

  • Full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same sex unions.

  • Sexuality counseling and education throughout the lifespan from trained religious leaders.

  • Support for those who challenge sexual oppression and who work for justice within their congregations and denomination.

Faith communities must also advocate for sexual and spiritual wholeness in society. We call for:

  • Lifelong, age appropriate sexuality education in schools, seminaries, and community settings.

  • A faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.

  • Religious leadership in movements to end sexual and social injustice.

God rejoices when we celebrate our sexuality with holiness and integrity. We, the undersigned, invite our colleagues and faith communities to join us in promoting sexual morality, justice, and healing.

A Health Care Creed

Thanks to Arkansas Hillbilly for posting this Health Care Creed:

As one of God's children, I believe that protecting the health of each human being is a profoundly important personal and communal responsibility for people of faith.

I believe God created each person in the divine image to be spiritually and physically healthy. I feel the pain of sickness and disease in our broken world (Genesis 1:27, Romans 8:22).

I believe life and healing are core tenets of the Christian life. Christ's ministry included physical healing, and we are called to participate in God's new creation as instruments of healing and redemption (Matthew 4:23, Luke 9:1-6; Mark 7:32-35, Acts 10:38). Our nation should strive to ensure all people have access to life-giving treatments and care.

I believe, as taught by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, that the measure of a society is seen in how it treats the most vulnerable. The current discussion about health-care reform is important for the United States to move toward a more just system of providing care to all people (Isaiah 1:16-17, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Matthew 25:31-45).

I believe that all people have a moral obligation to tell the truth. To serve the common good of our entire nation, all parties debating reform should tell the truth and refrain from distorting facts or using fear-based messaging (Leviticus 19:11; Ephesians 4:14-15, 25; Proverbs 6:16-19).

I believe that Christians should seek to bring health and well-being (shalom) to the society into which God has placed us, for a healthy society benefits all members (Jeremiah 29:7).

I believe in a time when all will live long and healthy lives, from infancy to old age (Isaiah 65:20), and "mourning and crying and pain will be no more" (Revelation 21:4). My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters who watch their loved ones suffer, or who suffer themselves, because they cannot afford a trip to the doctor. I stand with them in their suffering.

I believe health-care reform must rest on a foundation of values that affirm each and every life as a sacred gift from the Creator (Genesis 2:7).

Amen.

From Sojourners.


Ted Kennedy and the Passion of His Life

Let us honor the memory of Ted Kennedy by taking up the passion of his life.



This is the cause of my life. It is a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic convention in Denver—to support Barack Obama, but also to make sure, as I said, "that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American...will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege." For four decades I have carried this cause—from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country. It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society. Now the issue has more meaning for me—and more urgency—than ever before. But it's always been deeply personal, because the importance of health care has been a recurrent lesson throughout most of my 77 years.

— Ted Kennedy
Here are some reports about the town hall meeting on Monday.
I received a notice today that Rep. Phil Roe has sent out a call for his supporters to show up in massive numbers because of the reception he received in Johnson City on Monday.

Let's give him another reception shall we? He will be in Carter County tomorrow and in Kingsport on Wednesday of next week.


THURSDAY, AUGUST 27, 2009

Congressman Phil Roe: 3:00 to 4:30 PM - CARTER COUNTY Courthouse

810 East Elk Ave., Elizabethton, TN

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2009

Congressman Phil Roe: 5:30 to 7:00 PM - Kingsport Center for Higher Education
300 West Market Street, Kingsport, TN

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Phil Roe's Town Hall Extravaganza

The Johnson City Press and The Kingsport-Times News reported Rep. Phil Roe's Town Hall meeting regarding health care reform. Two newspapers. One reporter. Same story. The tone of the article was to dismiss those who advocate for reform as "emotional."

One woman recounted an experience in which she was turned away from a hospital emergency room because “the waiting room was packed with the uninsured.”

“I was told to go to another hospital,” she said. “Meanwhile my system was going septic. Triage in this (health care system) is broken, and it will continue to be broken until the poor and the uninsured have other options than the emergency room.”

The rest of the woman’s message was punctuated with applause that escalated as her volume increased.

“Republicans have said that defeating health care will bring them back to power in 2010,” she said. “Although they had eight years, all we got was an underfunded prescription drug plan for seniors that has a big doughnut hole in it. Please tell your cronies to stop playing politics with our lives.”

Roe asked the other speakers to keep a quiet tone.

“I didn’t understand half of what you said because you were yelling,” he told the woman.

A commenter on the Times-News website. Janet Meek, countered the article with this perspective:
I was at this Town Hall meeting. The woman referred to in this poorly written article was obviously nervous at the microphone, she was emotional but not in any way threatening. It was clear that this woman had an unfortunate experience that she was reacting to and she needed Congressman Roe’s understanding and not his sarcasm. What the article overlooked was that the majority of the people who spoke were in favor of meaningful health care reform. The audience was calm and no one was interrupted or yelled at. People took turns at the microphone and both sides stated their concerns and observations. The one consistent comment I heard after the meeting was how calm it was and how well it went. I am just sorry that the reporter for this story was unable to get this in print and instead chose to elevate one person’s emotional story into some kind of distorted headliner.
My Presby peeps were there. Here's the word from one of them:
First Pres was well-represented, with a number of us there and challenging questions for Roe by Deborah ____ and Lydia _____. Can't wait to see the papers tomorrow - progressives definitely got in some zingers!
You wouldn't know it by reading the paper.

Thank Odin for Twitter. Here are Tracey's tweets from the Phil Roe Show:

  • Going to Roe's JC townhall tomorrow night. Hmmmm...which gun goes best with peaceable assembly?
  • Just kidding. I have faith tomorrow's meeting will be a calm and respectful gathering.
  • At town hall, so far so good...no guns, no screaming
  • ...In meeting. Very calm. Weird smell.
  • Listening to Dr. Roe talk about...well, himself.
  • Roe: talking about unfunded fed mandates, how can we spend when people don't have health insurance? NO sense of irony.
  • I feel like I am at a campaign event. Quit trying to get re-elected and let's get to the issues.
  • Talk about the issues already...
  • 85% of signs here are opposing abortion
  • Roe just misquoted DYLAN. For shame.
  • Roe: more about politics as usual. Again, no sense of irony.
  • AGAIN with the false TennCare comparison
  • AGAIN with the pro-HSA talk. HSAs are for the wealthy and healthy, Dr Roe, NOT for families!
  • Roe just suggested the bill would allow gov funded abortions.
  • Roe: now suggesting death panels are found in bill
  • questions just started - pro reform woman got booed.
  • Libertarian Teabaggers have taken over the questions.
  • Beth is OWNING Roe!
  • Roe is stopping the questions now.
  • http://twitpic.com/f5uge "We Are Not Raciests" full sign
  • I am going home to my wonderful and well-insured family. I am a very lucky American.
Now that is reporting, gol'darnit. You feel like you are there!

Don't forget to send your personal stories about health care to the Johnson City Press.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do the British Hate Their Health Care?

With the rhetoric from those interested in preventing universal health care (or even a public option), one would guess that folks in the UK wish they had the American system. Not quite. It seems that our friends in the UK are actually tired of the lies spread about their National Health Service.

My friend, the Madpriest writes:

The NHS was born out of my country's war with facism. It was based on the simple logic that if EVERYBODY in the country were equally prepared to give their lives for their country when attacked then the lives EVERYBODY should be equally cared for by the country.

The wartime government promised us the NHS and in 1948 they delivered it big time.

The vast majority of people in the U.K. would fight the Second World War all over again to protect it.

Any US citizen who wants to end their life, for whatever reason, should pop over here, walk into the nearest pub and diss the NHS.
MP also reports that the good folks in Britain are signing a petition to state the facts:

and he updates its progress here, Don't Mess With the NHS.

I appreciate the help from across the pond, but we need to step up and demand universal health care.

There is a town hall meeting today in Johnson City.

Unfortunately, I have an obligation I cannot reschedule with my day job and won't be able to make that. I hereby grant all my justice-lovin' peeps to be my proxy!


Media Bias in LGBT Reporting

This last week the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made headlines. According to the ELCA news service:
The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted today to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships.
You got that? Living in committed relationships. To further clarify:
The action came by a vote of 559-451 at the highest legislative body of the 4.6 million member denomination. Earlier the assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships," though the resolution did not use the word "marriage."
Here is the text of the assembly action (pdf):
RESOLVED, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America make provision in its policies to eliminate the prohibition of rostered service by members who are in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships; CA.09.05.27
"Publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The assembly action (merely 848 words) uses that phrase, by my count,
twelve times. The phrase is laborious but very clear. This action was NOT about approving carte blanche sexual promiscuity. How many straight clergy can meet the standard of "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, opposite-gender relationships?"

The Johnson City Press chose to publish the news of this action in this way:

The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination took openly gay clergy more fully into its fold Friday, as leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to lift a ban that prohibited sexually active gay and lesbian people from serving as ministers.
Sexually active? As if they are a bunch of horny teens making out in the back of the church van.

Over half the article reported on conservatives' objections. Four individuals and one organization were quoted in opposition to the action. One person was quoted in favor.




The Press accompanied the article with this photo of a dour-looking bunch.




The caption reports on opponents making a last stand against "sexually active gays and lesbians." Although here they at least used the phrase, "in committed relationships."


Not once in the article did they report the phrase that the resolution used a dozen times:

"publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

My friend, Drew, was one of the first to notice this bias.

Sex was not affirmed, but a very specific kind of relationship that clearly does not add provision for "sexually active gays" in the way that the AP wire has falsely reported it. That NPR, New York Times and others would choose to publish this wire shows how long we have to go before we understand that this is about the legitimacy of a kind of relationship, and not about sexual practices.
William Lindsey at Bilgrimage also reports on this media bias:
Such indefensible attempts of reporters supposedly pledged to objectivity to skew intra-ecclesial and society-wide conversations about justice for gay persons need to stop. And those of us who are gay, along with our supporters, need to stop putting up with this, and to demand accountability on the part of those who pay reporters’ salaries.
Right on.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Act Now Tri-Cities for Health Care Reform

Please spread the word on this one:

First:

Tomorrow (Monday, August 24th), there will be a town hall meeting with Rep. Phil Roe.
  • 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.
  • Science Hill Campus Auditorium (old Liberty Bell campus)
  • 131 Pactolas Road
  • Johnson City, Tennessee
We need people in a polite yet assertive way to go "John the Baptist" on Dr. Roe.

On his web page he parrots the insurance corporations' talking points and scare words:

One proposal I am opposed to is a takeover of our healthcare system by Washington bureaucrats. Whether you call it a “public plan” or a “government-run option,” the long-term result is a system where care is dictated not based on need but based on a budget.
Rep. Roe needs to know that he was elected to represent people not corporate interests. Please make it, Monday. If you cannot, give him a call:

Washington D.C. Office
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6356
Fax: (202) 225-5714

Second:

The Johnson City Press published a request for your personal stories regarding health care.

A national debate on health care reform has taken center stage this summer. Members of Congress are holding town hall meetings during their recess to hear from their constituents Many are getting an earful from Americans who are either unhappy with President Obama’s health care proposals, or who are unhappy with the current status of health care in this country.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, is scheduled to hold a public meeting Monday to hear from residents of the 1st District.

The meeting will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. at Science Hill High School’s 8-9 Campus, 131 Pactolas Road.

Health care reform is an important issue and one that deserves a serious discussion by all Americans. That’s why we want to hear from you. We invite readers to send us their personal anecdotes concerning their experiences — good or bad — with the health care system.

Don t have health insurance and face a medical crisis? Then we want to hear from you. Unhappy with your Medicare coverage? Let us know what l you’d like to see done , to improve it. We also want to hear from you who are pleased w with your current private health care plan and want to keep it. You can “Sound off” on health care by sending your comments to

Mailbag,
P.O. Box 1717
Johnson City, TN 37605-1717

or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com. You can also e-mail comments to rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification.

We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.
So the two action items are the town hall meeting Monday and your personal stories.

Also in the JC Press today, I found an opinion by Gene Lyons. He nailed it:

Fear is, of course, largely a confidence issue among human beings, too. Anybody who’s watched flash mobs shouting down senators and congressmen over the Obama administration’s health insurance reforms ought to see that. For every dogmatic tough-guy channeling some talk-radio blowhard, there are many citizens who give every outward indication of being scared witless.

Video of a “Town Hall” meeting with Democratic congressmen at Arkansas Children’s Hospital showed protestors trembling with emotion. Writing in the Washington Post, historian Rick Pearlstein (“Nixonland”) noticed the same thing: “The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair, the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president — too heartfelt to be an act.”

Stage-managed? Absolutely. Somebody like Betsy McCaughey doesn’t invent a lie as brazen as the so-called “death panels” out of nowhere. She’s a professional; a paid propagandist for the rightwing Hudson Institute. Back in 1993, her article “No Exit” in the allegedly liberal (but incompetently edited) New Republic magazine helped sink President Clinton’s health care initiative.

Then McCaughey claimed the Clinton bill made it a crime to buy supplemental insurance or pay your doctor out-of-pocket. The bill itself said, “Nothing in this act shall be construed as prohibiting ... an individual from purchasing health-care services.”

But McCaughey’s a poised and superficially attractive woman who performs capably on television. So why wouldn’t low-information voters get taken in all over again? Particularly after her “death panel” falsehoods got amplified by figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and the supposedly “moderate” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Pearlstein: “If you don’t understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both [mad lies and heartfelt fear], you can’t understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.”

And yet the Obama White House got caught napping as the paranoid train left the station. Once again, presidential aides told reporters that the barrage of falsehoods and insane comparisons to Nazi Germany “had caught them off guard and forced them to begin an August counteroffensive.”

So where were these geniuses back when President Clinton was being called a drug smuggler and mass murderer? When militiamen spotted U.N. “black helicopters” over western skies? When thousands hoarded canned food and bottled water in advance of the imaginary “Y2K” catastrophe?

Conservatives determined to prevent Obama from succeeding understand that their best chance is to frighten poorly informed voters historically susceptible to conspiracy theories — particularly in rural states far from centers of power.
East Tennessee is most certainly rural and far from the center of power. Apparently, there are not enough people in our area who have an opinion regarding health care so the Johnson City Press needs to publish a letter filled with typical corporate fear-mongering from someone in Florida. The editors give the letter top billing with the headline "European-Style Health Care System Will Damage Everything."

Come on, JC Press. A phony letter from Florida? You know better than that.

Time for a push, ladies and gentlemen. We have some fight left in us, don't we?

Say 'Yes' To What Is Within!

Here is the text of today's sermon. This weekend marks the beginning of Ramadan.

Say “Yes” To What Is Within!
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
August 23rd, 2009

O believers, the fast is ordained upon you, as it was ordained upon those who came before you—perhaps you will fear God—for a number of days. Whoever is sick among you or on a journey, then a number of other days. Upon those who can bear it, a penance: the feeding of a poor person. He who willingly proffers good, this would be better for him. To fast is better for you, if only you knew. The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur’an was sent down—right Guidance to mankind, and clear signs of Guidance and Distinction of truth from false-hood. Those among you who witness it, let him fast therein.
Surah al-Baqarah 2:182-5

Christ passed by a group of people who hurled insults at him, and he responded with blessings. He passed by another group who insulted him, and he responded likewise. One of his disciples asked, “Why is that the more they insult you, the more you bless them, as if inviting this upon yourself?” Christ said, “A Person can bring forth only what is within him.”
Tarif Khalidi, ed. The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (London: Cambridge, 2001), p. 106.


Yesterday marked the first day of Ramadan. This is a month of fasting and worship for our Muslim sisters and brothers. For thirty days Muslims will fast during daylight hours. After the sun sets they will eat and socialize.

It is believed that during the month of Ramadan, on the 27th day of this month to be precise, that Muhammad received his first revelations. It is also during this month that God determines the course of the world for the coming year.

When I first heard that I had a visual of God in his study with his yearly planner, charts, newsprint, and markers as he plans the universe for the next year. A couple of hurricanes, maybe a pandemic, some pretty sunsets, and a bumper corn crop.

Or maybe God is She on the beach with her doodle pad wondering if she ought to so something nice and provide world peace this year or at least universal health care.

I thought it was fun to think of God using the month of Ramadan as a planning period for world events. With our modern consciousness the idea of gods and goddesses or even God with a big G planning things seems rather, well, antiquated. Things seem to take care of themselves.

The major consequence of modern science for religion was to put God in the unemployment line. The universe handles itself and there was nothing left for God to do. Nevertheless, it is fun to think of God out there planning things. I guess it provides some sort of comfort. Somebody has planned this mess. Perhaps that idea makes the mess bearable. Whether we find it all believable or not, religion is a tribute to human imagination.

During Ramadan, observers may spend more time than they usually do praying or reading the Qur’an. Or maybe they just feel guilt for not praying or reading the Qur’an as much as they think they should. This period of fasting is similar to Lent for Christians in that it is a time of spiritual and personal renewal. Observers are to avoid telling lies, being greedy, and gossip. Instead, they are to be kind, do well to the less fortunate, and so forth.

The idea is to be conscious about doing good and to avoid being mean. It would seem to be a swell idea to do good and avoid being mean all the time of course. But setting a time a part helps us to remember.

Here is an explanation of Ramadan from a woman in the United Kingdom. Her name is Arfana and she lives in Wrexham in the UK:

Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims all over the world and it's a very important month. We fast for 30 days - we can't eat after sunrise and then all day until after sunset. Prayers are most important at this time. It's a spiritual journey more than anything.

It is difficult not eating during the day especially in the UK as it's not a Muslim country and you still have to go about your day to day life, like going to work where your colleagues might be sitting having fish and chips for dinner! Whereas in a Muslim country all the shops would be closed during the day and it's easier, but it's still a challenging thing to do.

I work in Wrexham and my colleagues are fascinated by Ramadan! They ask lots of questions and think it must be a difficult thing to do, for anybody.

In Wrexham we all get together on Friday, which is a holy day, and break the fast together at the Mosque. Generally people in their own homes would invite each other round to break the fast together. It's a tradition to invite people to your house and break the fast together.

At the end of Ramadan comes Eid, which is a celebration of Ramadan, and it's when we all have a big feast.

Every year Ramadan starts 10 days earlier so it starts at a different time every year. Obviously it's harder when it's during the summer as the days are longer. We've had fasting over Christmas too which has been interesting.

Fasting is only observed by healthy individuals. They have to be of an age that they know what they're doing. Pregnant women or people who are unwell or on medication don't fast and children have to reach a certain age before they can fast.

Notice that in her explanation of Ramadan, she included no theological speculation. There was no mention of God. No reference to God planning the upcoming world events or Muhammad receiving the Qur’an. I am not saying she doesn’t believe in that. Whether the theology is important or not, she doesn’t mention it. What is important from what she says is what is done--30 days of fasting and all the perils and challenges associated with that. Then come the evening meals, celebrations, and socializing culminating with the big feast at the end of Ramadan. That is the important stuff.

Ramadan is a month long celebration of tradition and human connection. There is perhaps a theological mist behind it, but the real value is the party. If God is to be found, it is in the interaction. God is in the feast and in the fast.

One of the most important sayings of Jesus, or perhaps I should say a saying of Jesus that resonates with me is found in the Gospel of Luke. In response to the question of when folks should expect the kingdom of God, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” It could also be translated, “The kingdom of God is among you.”

I don’t know for sure whether that statement originated with Jesus or was placed on his lips by creative storytellers. Whatever the case, it represents a huge step in the evolution of God. In this one sentence of Jesus, God made a monumental shift. God, or the kingdom of God, is within you. This is in opposition to an external authority or reality out there in time or in space, or even outside of time and space.

Leo Tolstoy was so moved by that saying of Jesus that he wrote his famous, radical, too-true-for-us-to-handle book, and titled it The Kingdom of God is Within You. It is a book about Christian pacifism. His book was banned in his home country of Russia. In it he claimed that all war and violence was against the will of Christ. If humanity was going to survive it would require us to take Christ’s message, "turn the other cheek," to heart and to live it. The kingdom of God is realized as people of conscience refuse to cooperate with all forms of violence and oppression.

Peace arises from within the individual, that is, the Christ within.

A new book I recommend is Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God. It is a fascinating book that traces the development of the concept of God as human consciousness changes. He shows how “God” has evolved throughout our religious past and into the present day. This is a very important book regarding how we think about God and how we use God to control our surroundings including other people.

You can tell a lot about a person by the God they believe in. For example a God…

• who desires you to kill in his name,
• who sends the unbelievers to hell,
• who makes you recite a list of 160 commandments before breakfast,
• who sends tornadoes to Minneapolis as punishment on the Lutherans for welcoming gays,
• who says Jesus was tortured on the cross because you are really, really bad,

is not God or reality at all. It does say a lot about those who invent that God and evangelize for that God.

We are no better than the God we invent for ourselves.

The kingdom of God is within you.

Just in case there might be one person who has not heard this Cherokee fable, I will share it with all of you.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather:

"Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee replied, "The one you feed."

The kingdom of God is within you. What wolf--what God—will we feed?

Religious celebrations, like Ramadan, give us an opportunity to be conscious about the God we feed.

Even for those of us who are not Muslim, yet out of respect for Muslims, Ramadan can be a month of observance. This is a good thirty day period to learn about the Muslim faith, to make connections with our Muslim neighbors, to search for common ground, and to do things that make for peace. An act as simple as taking a moment of silent meditation and offering it as a gift to our Muslim sisters and brothers is a gift of peacefulness.

Compassion, creativity, joy, peacefulness--the kingdom of God--is within us and among us.

That for me is a God I can believe in.