29 June 2015

Amazing Grace


I think Mr. Obama's oration at the funeral of Rev. Senator Pickney may be one of the great speeches in American history. Years, decades, from now, students of American history, politics, and speaking will study this speech. Do not miss it! Youtube has the entire thing for you here and you should listen to it.


"Amazing Grace" was written by a reformed captain of a slave ship. He wrote the lyrics, the musical settings have evolved through both the 19th and 20th centuries.

Think of it! That hymn is beloved in the African-American churches across the country. A brilliant poem, written by a white slaver, set to a number of melodies, sung, proclaimed across the American Christian experience, but especially in Black churches. Amazing indeed.

As Mr. Obama observed, grace especially amazing when the relatives of shooting victims confronted the alleged shooter in court. The will to forgive the sins of a man they believe (as do I) was guilty of the murders of their loved ones, is grace at its most amazing.

Rev. John Newton was a priest in the Church of England. My church, The Episcopal Church, is a daughter of the Church of England. So we have some claim on the hymn, and Newton. As the church that converted a slave trader to a clergyman, Church of England has a substantial claim.

For centuries, members of our churches participated in, and profited from the slave trade. In the civil war, bishops of my church became generals, for the Confederacy. gOur claim of grace requires a great faith in our receipt of grace.

In the diocese of Chicago, where I pray, the hymn has some history. Parish choirs love it, it is easy to sing, powerful and always appropriate. Well, almost. A former bishop of Chicago used to forbid its use when he visited parishes. He refused to sing that he was, "a wretch."

The Episcopal Church is my home, and I love it. One of the things I love is that we are not in the cover-up business. I have personally visited the church in Vicksburg where our bishop, then a Confederate general, directed the defense of the Union's siege. There are records of parish clergy who blessed local units as they formed to fight for slavery and succession. We know we have sinful conduct in our history, and we confront it. We rely on the grace the song proclaims.

I am white. Were I black, I think I would look into the AME. They seem to have themselves together. Thank you Mr. Obama, and the AME for a teaching moment.

26 June 2015

26 June 2015 An Historic Day


When I was young, I used to look forward to the early days of thawing warmth each Spring. We lived on a hill, and the street drained the packed snow from lawns, driveways, and sidewalks, past our home. As the snow melted, my brothers and I would carve channels in the ice packed down next to the curb by passing cars. We played by creating ice and snow dams, tiny ice water ponds, and rivulets: these were our playground. We watched the waters make their way past our home, and we learned.

I recall, the way dams broke. As the waters, slightly warmer than the ice, melted it, a tiny breach would appear. It would then grow. The base of the remaining portions of the dam would be undercut, and suddenly, without any apparent cause, whole sections of the wall would either collapse or break loose and move aside as the water now free flowed and broadened,

The dam broke today. Those of us who have advocated, demonstrated, and prayed for marriage equality saw the signs as breaches in the wall built by the bigots. As they began to let those tiny streams: civil unions in New Jersey, and elsewhere, marriage in Vermont, Illinois, California, and Massachusetts started the flood. These were the critical warming of the ice. The decision that the DOMA was unconstitutional, was a major event. The walls were eroding. As I type, States that had barriers to marriage equality are collapsing as the impact of the Supreme Court decision in "OBERGEFELL ET AL. v. HODGES, ET AL spreads. " Marriage is no longer, "straight marriage," "traditional marriage," or "gay marriage." It is simply marriage.

"The arch of history," Dr. King said, "tends towards Justice." And so, we have now solved the marriage equality issue. The dam has become the site where the waters broke through, a moment to be remembered certainly, but a barrier no more. Canoeists and kayakers are familiar with the sitght of embankments marking the site of abandoned bridges and dams. The "defense of marriage" laws have left a mark on history, but like those embankment sites, they no longer obstruct the stream.

Yesterday, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, to which I belong, was called to order. Based on prior conventions, the idea that the convention will be orderly is more pious hope than realistic expectation. But as conventions do, it will finish the business of the church it governs. One of the items on the agenda is as it has been for 40 years give or take, changes in canon law that will permit clergy to offer marriage liturgies to gay and lesbian couples. I do not know what the vote counts looked like last week. Today, I suspect, they look very positive. At this moment, the church is behind the civil society, and that on a justice issue, in particular, will never do. When the convention adjourns next week, we will I think, hope and pray, be changed.

Justice runs like water.

And we all may cry, hallelujah!

23 June 2015

Gathering


All over the Western Hemisphere, bishops and deputies are traveling to Salt Lake City, Utah. When it convenes, General Convention is the largest legislative body on the planet. Every three years, when it convenes, it has way too much on its agenda. It legislates canon law, comments on issues de jure, creates commissions, budgets, offices and officers; sets agendas, and establishes relationships. Getting all or even most of that done in a 10 day session is exhausting. Bishops routinely schedule vacation time after convention. Most clergy and lay deputies are not so fortunate, having to recover while working.

This year, unfortunately, one of the items on the agenda is the "Anglican Covenant." It should not be there, because General Convention had a perfect opportunity to deal with it three years ago. It failed to do its job, so here we are. Three years ago, it was crystal clear that the Covenant was a disaster, that it was unworkable, and that it was targeted on North American and Northern churches generally. England had already rejected it, proving, were proof needed, that British common sense lives in the dioceses, not Church House or Canterbury.

So why is it on the agenda now? Cowardice is one possible explanation, those who made the committee decision to pass, "moderte" langage to the floor, (most votes in GC are straight line up or down on committee language. It has to be that way, or the convention would never adjourn.) were afraid to, "let yes be yes and no be no" as Scripture teaches. They were afraid that relationships with Central African churches, already stressed, would deteriorate.

As so often happens when fear rules, the worst one can imagine happens anyway. Bullies and that is precisely what CafCon is, a collection of bullies, are not satisfied by moderate responses. Nigerian bullies are busily dumping their own bishops for the singular failure of not supporting their kill-the-gays law. In doing so, they actually refer to that law as part of their doctrine and dogma. Maintaining good relations with those people in charge is like maintaining good relations with ISL. Except ISL may be a touch more honorable.

So now the convention cannot duck the marriage equality issue any longer. States have made marriage equality the law in their jurisdictions, and the Supreme Court will likely do the same thing nationally while the convention meets. To my amusement, the button being distributed by marriage equality supporters says, "Let your yes be yes, and your no be no." Some of the same people who acted with such crave actions three years ago have been sighted with those buttons.

A resolution to stop the madness and finally say, "no!" is before the convention. Unfortunately, its principal sponsor is ill and has been forced to ask for a replacement. I hope that does not doom the resolution. Fear may win again. But, perhaps finally, the passage of marriage equality will siffen some backs. That is what I pray for these evenings.

22 June 2015

Spin Can Sicken Us


It is at best difficult to express the horror that we feel as we contemplate the killing of nine people in a Bible study and prayer meeting in Charleston. Nine people shot by a man who in his own words was killing Black people.

I am quickly becoming almost as horrified or nauseated at least, by the emerging event spins arising from interest groups. There are a significant number of these. In my reading of the social media and viewing of the news channels, I have noted a few:
  • An NRA board member actually blamed the deaths on one of the victims who as a State Senator opposed a law making "open carry" apply to churches. I know, I also did not believe it. You can read an article on the subject here If you can stand it.
  • Several "white supremacist" websites are denouncing the shooting as, "anti-Christian" not because they suddenly love their African-American fellow citizens, but because they are worried about adverse publicity.
  • Anti-gun groups have lept into the spin game with various calls for new restrictions and laws.
  • A host of news reports seem determined to "analyze" the shooter's motivations so that their proposed changes in the law, ranging from pro-gun, to anti-gun, to pro-mental healthcare funding, are advanced.
I want to scream "STOP!" The rush to politics, especially on social media, is utterly disrespectful. Nine families have lost their loved one, and given South Carolina law, another will. It is time to mourn, we can spin the news later. OREMUS! Let us pray. The rest can wait.

25 May 2015

running?


This is a quote from Governor Bush, who is (not) running for president.
“So, irrespective of the Supreme Court ruling because they are going to decide whatever they decide – I don’t know what they are going to do – we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage,” said Bush, who converted to Catholicism 20 years ago.
Newsweek Online at: http://www.newsweek.com/jeb-bush-says-he-opposes-gay-marriage-333096, May 19.2015

In the odd game we call, with more humor than analysis, "The American Electoral System," announcing that one is thinking about running, or actually running has become a matter of tactics. There are fund-raising, contributor identification, and spending limit laws that apply differently depending on how status is defined.

So, for instance, Mr. Bush is nominally not running, but thinking about it a bit. That means he or friendly PAC's are able to solicit, receive and spend money with virtually no limits. He can make speaches, but has to be carefull not to say he is a candidate. When he starts officially thinking about running, that is when he forms an, "exploratory committee," some rules begin to apply. When he declares he is running, which we all know he will, more stringent rules limit funding.

Mr. Bush's problem is that the Republicans are internally divided between "neo-cons;" religious and tea-party (self-styled) conservatives; and what the media call, mainstream or business conservatives. The money is in the first and third groups, but the votes, especially in primaries are religious conservatives. So, making himself at least marginally acceptable to the so-callled, "Christian Right" is imperative. One cannot spend all that lovely Koch money if someone else is nominated.

Mr.Bush's problem is complicated by his Roman Catholic faith. The "Christian Right" (which is neither) does not like Catholics. There are any number of historical reasons for this, but they can be simplified by observing that the majority of the so-called Christian Right is located in the States that once formed the Confederacy.

It is generally true that one can get the most attention by being against someone. The problem for Mr. Bush and the other would-be Republican nominees is it is increasingly hard to find someone to be against. They are all against liberals, but that is the problem. There is nothing to distinguish them from one another. Being against women has worked rather poorly of late, and no one wants to admit being against blacks or Jews.

If there were no gays or lesbians in America, the Republicans would have to import them. They at least, among the religious loony-toon voters, are a group they think it OK to be against. Or if not against, at least they can claim those people are persecuting them, never mind how.

So, Mr. Bush announces the Constitution does not protect lesbian or gay marriages. We shall see what the Court says about that soon. I suspect Mr. Bush may be unhappy, noisily, when the Court rules. In fact, I think he is looking forward to being disappointed. Until the general election, being a homophobe plays well the electorate he cares about.

The quote is interesting because it is so careful. This is a man who thinks he will be the nominee. He does not say ignore the courts. He does not say break the laws. After all, if the Court finds a Constitutional protection for Lesbian and gay marriages, those who do not agree will still have a right to disagree.

For a man not running, he is speaking like a candidate. My mind, indeed my entire being shudders.

04 May 2015

Police, and Politics


When I was young, long and long ago, police were in the business of enforcing laws. If, I was taught, one behaved one's self, obeyed the laws, and participated in the process of creating laws, we had nothing to fear. I now know, albeit I did not in the late 40's and early 50's, that black children did not hear that. They were told, especially in the South, but all across America, that police represent an enforcement arm of a white political power structure. In some sense, both views were and remain true.

What has changed is the level of irrational fear expressed in the way we instruct and arm police: the content of the power structure's instructions. None of the changes look all that good of a morning.

From Florida to Missouri, to Maryland, the last two years have shown us that for a great many people, black lives do not matter. In New York and Missouri, dead black men do not even generate court cases, even in the face of damning video evidence. In New York, killers, if they are cops, are defended by other cops. In Baltimore, the union has been franticly trying to keep possible killers out of court. We have some real, major issues.

Yes I am aware that Mr. Obama is black. I also knew that in the midst of Jim Crow laws, de jure segregation, and a white population capable of calling someone, "a credit to their race," America found it possible to celebrate Ralph Metcalfe and Jessie Owens' achievements at the 1932 Olympics. We seem quite capable of having the singular black American success. while maintaining the oppression of the community.

We need several things.

We need to ask ourselves how in the world we reached a point where the weapons systems in places like Ferguson have become not the necessary tools of law enforcement, but rather the military weapons of combat and repression. Legitimate police functions do not require combat vehicles armed with .50cal machine guns. The program under which the Pentagon sells off combat equipment to police departments should be the first casualty of reform.

We need to finally begin to reverse the incredibly draconian drug laws that make such very small violations a big deal. The single most odious of these may be the law that treats Crack as somehow different. At the time that provision slithered into the US Criminal Code, and today, the simple fact that Whites generally do not use Crack, while it is the Cocaine form of choice in Black communities was either ignored, or by some racists, celebrated. It is time to fix this.

My view is that if you have a war, you need to keep track of who is winning. In the war on drugs, there are winners: prison construction and staffing companies, and their employe's unions, are winners. Makers of certain weapons are winners, either because police want them, fearful citizens want them, or because they have., "street cred." Foreign cartels in Central and Southern America have been short-term beneficiaries. I think this comes under the heading of, special interest constituencies. The losers, the one-third of black men who experience prison growing up, the communities whose farm economies are devastated by the cultivation of drugs. Mexico in particular, is a loser. Americans do not note the reverse smuggling of weapons into Mexico and the violence that results. Mexican police find it hard to take seriously the idea that American cops are at risk. Which lead to other losers, as our police are indeed at risk.

WE know it does not have to be this way. We can move from penal to treatment responses to drugs. We have examples in Switzerland, England, and Belguim. We know this idiot war is not necessary.

We need to stop blaming Black families for the social ills repression and poverty visit on Black families. When dad was a young boy, during the Great Depression, his dad left the family. We have never to this day, heard from him or of his fate. The depression put huge economic strains on families, and some buckled. Decades later, I have encountered family members, who should know better, who blame black family issues on black families but my grandfather's conduct on poverty.

Here is a simple truth: the economy is a mess that only benefits rich people. Somehow, using a mix of fundamentalism and fear, the super rich, or at least some of them (cf. Koch Brothers) have co-opted enough of the voters to sell the laughable were it not tragic idea that poor people choose to be poor. The idiot idea that blacks who cannot get jobs choose to sell drugs not because there is nothing else, but because they "do not want to work."

It is time, and past time, to put the blame where it belongs. Yes some black men break laws, and yes most police are good people doing a tough job. But we have over-loaded the cops with a population that feels oppressed precisely because it is. When that population blows up, as it inevitably does, the reaction of the power elite (especially the Republican power elite) is to want more weapons of repression, more repression, and less freedom, all paid for from reduced, "failed programs."

The system is broken. We need to fix it. And we need to do that so that all of us, yes even those in prison, have both a voice and a stake. Otherwise, Ferguson and Baltimore are coming to a city near you -- soon.

27 April 2015

General Convention


Some years ago, I was asked to produce a short prayer for General Convention, something that could be used as a petition in a congregation's Sunday intercessions. I wrote, ""Keep them from foolishness, Oh Lord." A bishop who will remain anonymous said it was a great way to think of and pray for GC. Nothing has proven either him, or me wrong in the intervening years.

I commend the thought to you as we approach GC 2015. Everything I see suggests a lot of foolishness will be on offer.

St Laika's

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