Thursday, December 19, 2013

Same-sex marriage not "slippery slope" to polygamy

With the federal judge ruling in the "Sister Wives" case, some are blaming same-sex marriage as the "slippery slope" leading to polygamy. 

While it's true that the advance of same-sex marriage may embolden those for polygamy to be more vocal in the public and the courts, same-sex marriage in and of itself does not lead to polygamy, as explained well by Jonathan Rauch in this NPR interview (and likely in his book as well).

"Same sex marriage leads away from polygamy, not for it. It's odd to argue that because children need parents, you should be against polygamy. That's one of the arguments polygamists make - that, you know, you have more moms and a dad. Isn't that great? In fact, the problem with polygamy is exactly what's good about same-sex marriage, which is that everyone should have the opportunity to marry. 
We are not asking, gay marriage advocates, for the right to marry everybody or anybody, just to marry somebody. We're asking to have that opportunity. The problem with polygamy, historically, and there's tons of literature about this, Michel - polygamy is the oldest form of marriage and the most predominant form of marriage in human society - the problem with it is that it almost invariably means one man, multiple wives, and when one man takes two wives, some other man gets no wife. 
So a lot of people lose the opportunity to marry and you get societies where you've got a lot of unmarried young males who are very unhappy, a lot of social disruption, a lot of violence. And there's a whole academic literature on this. Gay marriage changes none of that. In fact, gay marriage leads us away from that to a society where everyone can marry.... 
...we got rid of polygamy for very good reasons long before gay marriage came along, and all those reasons will still be valid and all of those reasons continue to hold in a world where you have gay marriage. 
Remember, fundamentally what I tell people is when straights get the right to marry three people or their dog or a toaster, gay people should have that too. But until then, that's not what we're talking about. We just want to be able to marry someone instead of no one.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Be kind to those remembering JFK's assassination

Today is the 50 year anniversary of JFK's assassination.

There are a lot of people remembering not just what happened, but specifically where THEY were when they heard the news.

There are some who are negatively remarking about these personal remembrances, as if to say with snark, "it's not about you".

Having been born in 1972, I have no personal memory of JFK's assassination.  But I do remember where I was when I heard that the Challenger had exploded...and that the planes had been crashed into the Twin Towers.  I know that there is something about those two events that, for me, I will always remember where I was, and why the world seemed different from then on.   

This kind of thing matters to our being community.

Be kind and patient today with those who are remembering:  listen to their stories, and understand that you share this moment with them...even if it happened before you were born.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Man-up" culture: the Miami Dolphins bullying case

The Miami Dolphins scandal concerning the treatment of Jonathan Martin by veteran player Richie Incognito is the major story currently in the sports world.
Washington Post writer Kent Babb interviewed Washington players on the locker room culture of the NFL, which includes this account:
Washington defensive lineman Kedric Golston, an eight-year veteran, said he was made to pick up breakfast sandwiches for teammates during his rookie year, and he and two others split a $2,500 dinner bill for defensive line teammates. The idea suggests a welcome-to-the-NFL moment, but Golston said the way a youngster reacts can offer hints at his commitment to teammates. 
“To see where a person’s mind-set is as far as his team philosophy, or you can be really trying to make him look silly. That’s where I think the line is drawn,” said Golston, adding that later in his rookie season, 2006, veteran players repaid the newcomers by springing for a far larger dinner tab. 
The Dolphins’ ordeal seemed to be ongoing, with some players refusing to ease pressure on newcomers, no matter how agreeable they were. The Miami Herald cited a source who described a culture in which veterans continually demanded money from younger players, with intimidation or threats implied if the youngster refused. In Incognito’s alleged profanity- and slur-laced voice mails, he threatened to slap Martin’s mother and “kill” his 24-year-old teammate, calling him “still a rookie".

The suggestion was then made in the article that one reason the Dolphins situation went so far, is that the coaches and player leadership did not step in. Veteran linebacker London Fletcher said:

“What seemed like was going on there was beyond hazing, beyond your normal rookie-type deals,” Fletcher said. “So I’m real disappointed in the leadership in the locker room down there in Miami. . . . I know Jonathan Martin didn’t feel comfortable enough to go to any of the guys because either you’re encouraging it or you’re just turning a blind eye and allowing the guy to get treated like he was getting treated.”

Tim Keown of ESPN also concludes that the Dolphins' hierarchy is responsible for its locker room culture. But he also suggests that the mind-set of the NFL is that it is up to a player to personally confront his bully, rather than for anyone to intervene on his behalf. And that's a problem:
"Even now, even after the extent of Incognito's viciousness has been revealed through voice mails and texts to Martin, there are NFL personnel people telling reporters, like Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter, that it's a man's game and Martin failed to handle it like a man. According to these unnamed men, Martin should have manned up and handled the situation face-to-face, with his fists if necessary. 
You know -- like a man.
Seriously, though, did these men's men read the things Incognito reportedly said to Martin? Don't we encourage people not to deal with the deranged, to let the professionals handle it? Does anyone believe Incognito would be cowed by a confrontation? 
To blame Martin is to ignore reality and uphold the twisted norms of the misguided subculture that allowed this type of environment to persist and -- dare we say -- thrive."
(This was first posted on The Lead in The Episcopal Cafe)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Should be noted...

Reality:  Twitter and Facebook make up a good deal of my online time, rather than the blog.

I'll still write longer pieces here, but I hope to see you on Twitter @kurtcwiesner and Facebook


Monday, September 23, 2013

Shrewd business and the reality of fear

Some final thoughts from Sunday’s “dishonest steward” Gospel (Luke 16:1--13).

I’m not sure that this story translates particularly well to the 21st century.  Even when you restore it to Luke’s narrative (and not standing alone in lectionary format), its meaning is hard to decipher.

The first thing worth mentioning is that this is one of multiple stories told in the presence of multiple audiences.  Before this was "Prodigcal Son/Forgiving Father/Angry Brother", and after it is "Rich man and Lazarus".  We have “the disciples”, who are not just the twelve, but the “tax collectors and sinners” that Jesus was eating with.  They were those who worked for the wealthy, doing the “dirty work”, and living monetarily well for it.  We also have the “Pharisees and scribes” who are rich in comparison, higher up on the food chain.

Remembering this, we don't need this story to be the central teaching of Jesus.  Also, we are less tempted to make “the rich man” the good authority in this story.  It is in fact seldom that a rich man is the good example in a Luken story.

The text says that “charges were brought to him that (the manager) was squandering his property.”  His response:  “What is this that I hear about you?” suggests that the rich man has only an accusation, not the proof.  But he acts on it:  while he asks to see the books, he declares even before doing so that “you cannot be my manager any longer.”

Is the steward actually guilty?  Is he dishonest?  There’s no way for us to know what has happened in the past, only that he is convinced that looking at the books will not restore his place.  Perhaps he has given himself too much of the profits.  But it is also possible that the books will show that he is not dishonest in the personal profiting sense, but rather that he has not come down hard enough on the clients to MAKE money, as shown in other parables:  “throwing people in prison” until they can pay (Matthew 18:23-35), or earning exorbitant interest (Luke 19:11-27).

What he does next seems dodgy:  he cuts people's bills in quick fashion, but it is tactically brilliant because everyone stands to profit.  Those who owe the rich man pay less, but then again, some is recovered so the rich man profits without great effort.  Furthermore, those who borrowed are more likely to do business again with the rich man because they associate the forgiveness of some of the debt with the rich man (because they assume his steward must be acting on his behalf).  And yet, the rich man now needs to rethink his letting his steward go.  If he fires him, the debtors will know the steward acted on his own accord, and all the good opinions of the rich man will vanish.

Jesus’ praise of the steward is ultimately based on this shrewdness.  Perhaps the best translation for us today is to be both shrewd in our financial dealings, but in a way that does not hurt others.

While I shared these thoughts with the Littleton congregation Sunday, I also thought that there are more relevant things to hear in the rough relationships of boss and employee.  I shared this brilliant offering from Hanan Harchol’s Jewish Food For Thought: The Animated Series.  I hope you enjoy it as well.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Talk With Your Sons About Robin Thicke

Lutheran pastor Eric Clapp has a fantastic article on reaction to the Video Music Awards.

I highly recommend reading his whole article, but here's a little of it:
If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter with any kind of regularity over the past few days, you’ve probably heard countless friends or followers sounding off on any number of objectionable things about the performance. Undoubtedly, 99% of things written about it throw around words like “obscene”, “offensive”, and the like. 
There have been a number of different parenting websites or blog posts who have come up with good ways to talk to your daughter about Miley. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about parents talking to their daughters about sexuality. 
But is no one going to hold anyone else on stage or behind the scenes accountable for that performance? Are we really going to have another one-sided conversation where we only talk to the girls about their sexuality while we completely ignore the boys in the room about their standards of behavior too?

Clapp quotes an excellent article by Shelli Latham:
Girls' sexuality is so much the focus of our ire. Women who have sex are dirty. Men who have sex are men. Girls who dress to be ogled are hoes. Men who ogle are just doing what comes naturally. This is the kind of reinforced behavior that makes it perfectly acceptable to legislate a woman's access to birth control and reproductive health care without engaging in balanced conversations about covering Viagra and vasectomies. Our girls cannot win in this environment, not when they are tots in tiaras, not in their teens or when they are coming into adulthood. 

Also on my mind is all of the original critique of Blurred Lines, especially Elly Brinkley's article:
I don’t think very many people are criticizing the song on the grounds that Thicke is going to go out there and start hurting women. The issue is that the song seems to undermine the importance of consent in sexual relationships. The very title of the song draws from the rhetoric of rape apologists who believe that date rape isn’t real rape and that sexual assault is often a “gray area.” 
Thicke’s defenders have argued that the woman in the song seems to want what’s going on. Some of the lyrics seem to indicate that the woman is interested.  We don’t often think of songs as works of fiction, but they are. I would think that Thicke would certainly say that it is fictional. Thicke, in writing the song, created the character that is depicted. Does he have a right to say that she actually does express consent? 
There is nothing productive about arguing whether the character actually/secretly wanted the attack. 
The idea that “she was asking for it” is a classic example of victim-blaming. That we might use that argument in public depictions of assault just points to how deeply rape culture permeates the way we think about sex. The fact that we don’t automatically believe that a lack of clear consent constitutes rape shows how rapey our culture can be. On TV, in movies and in music, there are “Blurred Lines”–and this is not a good thing. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

"The enemy today looks much like you and me."

This is currently found on The Episcopal Cafe, with commentary by Jim Naughton:

Dean Gary Hall of Washington National Cathedral took part in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Saturday, and then preached a sermon on Sunday in which he said it was time for the cathedral to confront its own institutionalized racism. An excerpt:

As a straight white man, I am coming to understand how much of my life has been lived under the protective canopy of privileges I have not earned. As one who now has led four prestigious Episcopal Church institutions (two large parishes, a seminary, and now this cathedral) I am increasingly aware of how—from our histories to our demographics to our hiring practices and investment policies—we are enmeshed in the institutional racism that we decry so vocally when we observe it in others. It is meaningless for me to criticize the Supreme Court, the voter identification laws proposed around the country, or the decisions of mostly-white juries when I have not examined, confessed, and changed the sinful practices of the institutions I both lead and serve.  

Talk, as they say, is cheap. As Jesus asked, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” [Matthew 7:3] As he goes on to advise, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” [Matthew 7:5]  

Friends, what we have here is a very big log in our eyes. Our problem is not the racism of any one individual, because racism is not only personal. It is also interpersonal, institutional, and social. This fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech and the march that occasioned it demands that we take an inventory of ourselves yes personally, but also interpersonally, institutionally, and socially. What does it mean to belong to an 86% white denomination when, by 2040, there will be no one majority race or ethnic group in America? What does it mean to call ourselves the “National” Cathedral when we confine our ministry to the whitest and most privileged quadrant of the District of Columbia? How can we live into the dream articulated by Dr. King when the evils we face in 2013 are so much more insidious than they were in 1963? The enemy back then looked and acted like Lester Maddox and Bull Connor. The enemy today looks and acts very much like you and me.

Hall concludes:

On behalf of Washington National Cathedral, I pledge today to initiate a process of cathedral self-examination, renewal, and reform, seeking to explore the racism inherent in our worship, ministry, staffing, and governance. We will always suffer from the legacy of racism that infects our culture and our relationships. But we can commit ourselves to act in new ways—ways that reflect the inclusive, gathering, indiscriminate love of God in Christ.

How can our church, both on the local and international levels, begin to root out institutionalized racism?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cool Christianity?

Couple of interesting blogposts using the idea of Christianity being "cool":

Rachel Held Evans struck a nerve with her recent op-ed on CNN.  She often speaks to her fellow Christian leaders as to why people leave the evangelical churches:
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.  
I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.  
Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”  
And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.

Held Evans is lamenting that "coolness", in the eyes of so many churches, is image and perception.  It is speaking the language of the current trends, even if the message continues to be shallow and exclusive.

Raushenbush's coolness is not the dressing that Held Evans talked off, but something deeper:  
There was a time when Christians like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Berrigan brothers, Thomas Merton, Paul Tillich, Dorothy Day, Henri Nouwen, Howard Thurman, Reinhold Niebuhr and John XXIII offered the basic framework for what Christianity meant to the world. 
Collectively, these men and women offered some of the most philosophically deep and socially relevant thought of any kind. They inspired a generation of young people to work in racial reconciliation, environmentalism, economic justice, and anti-war activism. They fed the spirit, while also walking in Jesus' way of justice and peace. 
In those days you could say you were a Christian and the above names might come to the mind of the listener -- and they were cool; meaning relevant, compelling, edgy, and forward thinking.

Rasushenbush says we have journeyed away from this type of Christianity in recent history, but perhaps we are now returning, seen in part by the recent words of Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu, and other current leaders found in today's churches (including The Episcopal Church, "headed by an amazing woman who is both a scientist and pastor and who is spearheading the conversation between science and religion").

He also shares a story of invite by his inviting colleagues to a "disco mass" on Gay Pride Sunday in New York:
We had a great time at the church. My friends fell in love with the pastor whose style was relaxed and hip, and whose sermon was smart and compelling. They loved the community feel of the congregation, and they thought the ideas they heard there a good way to start gay pride. 
Mind you, neither of them had been to church of their own volition -- ever. And they may never go back to church. I really don't care -- they are wonderful, spiritual, and ethical people -- I don't need them to become Christian. 
However, by being there they understood a little more about why I am Christian, and how Christianity guides the way I view the world and do the things I do. And even with that short glimpse they respected my faith more than they had before. 
If more Christians can speak out the way Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu have this week and so many have been in recent memory -- it will change the way people view Jesus and the faith that he inspires in so many of us. 
And that will be so cool.

This wonderful definition of "cool" (which includes Rasushenbush's cool understanding that inviting his friends to come and see is far more important that a desire to "convert" them) is a sign of hope that Christianity is moving towards what Held Evans longs for:  a change in substance that embraces holiness, caring for others, peace and justice.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To my fellow white, heterosexual men:  Stop talking (for now) and listen...

There is quite a convergence in the public sphere:  major story lines concerning race, gender, and sexuality.  Lots of people are speaking out over their personal experiences concerning one or more of these life aspects.
What’s a straight white man to do?
The answer is simple, yet powerful:   listen.  
If you speak, restrict yourself to clarifying questions, words of acknowledgement that you heard what was said, and if you feel so called, apologize.
Now I’m willing to bet that this doesn’t sit well with many straight white men.  I know that it doesn’t sit well with me.
I’m going to assume the best about us for the moment (myself, and any other straight white male still reading), and that the primary negative reaction is well intended:  whatever is in our minds as a racist, sexist, or homophobic person is NOT who we are.  We think of the racist as the one who “uses the n-word”, the sexist who abuses women, and the homophobic as the one who shouts “God hates F---”.  That’s not us, and we desperately do not want to be seen as that.   We’re better then that.  
But in our shouts claiming so, in our worry that we get lumped into a label, we for all intensive purposes attempt to shift the conversation back to us:  how different we are, how much we’ve grown, how much better things are, and how much progress has been made.
None of this should be the point.
The stories being told by non-whites, women, and GLBT persons are real stories of being hated, demeaned, and endangered because of a critical part of their very being.  They are being shared to support others who have been wounded, or in the hope of changing our society to be a better one.  The tellers range from a press conference with President Obama, to shared tweets from women around the globe @EverydaySexism.  The success of the person does not change the experience.  
I want to shout out that “I get it!”  You may want to do so too...
But at this moment, for all intents and purposes,  the personal stories of straight white men trying to show “that’s not me”, or say “I’ve been hurt too”, does nothing to change the realities of being a racial minority, a woman, or a GLBT person, other than push them aside.  Doing so also misses the places where we may hold more subtle views of an “ism” that we’ve failed to recognize, or to tell truth where we’ve not had to worry about things because of being straight, white, or male. 
Our stories matter, but they’re not for now.
I understand that many straight white men will argue with my opinion, citing examples that seem to counter my conclusions:
“People in these groups hurt each other; the experiences of these groups are not the same!”  ---That may be true, but it’s not for straight white men to solve, or to be absolved by.  
“Look at all these people who have had it easier than me!”  ---That simply does not change the truth behind their experience.
Are straight white men just supposed to feel guilty?  Well, perhaps for some things, and not for others.  Whether we specifically feel guilty or not isn’t ultimately where we are to end up.
I believe I am called to use whatever power I have to help these voices be heard.  I am to learn from their experiences.  And, if I am courageous, I can help be part of a common solution:  to continue working towards acknowledging the -isms that still plague our world, and to be part of a solution where our differences are simply that, and not the places of mistrust, fear, and oppression.
But right now, I really need to listen...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

At best, Man of Steel's Christology is Much Ado About Nothing

Perhaps I should begin by apologizing to anyone here looking for commentary on Joss Whedon's new movie rendition of Shakespeare's play (which I can't wait to see).  The phrase, however, neatly sums up the Superman movie Man of Steel.

First off, I simply did not enjoy it.  It is not fun:  at all.  I have no problem with and welcome darker takes in superhero genre, but feel that at least some aspect of it should be fun, or at least smart.  The loud mostly non-stop action of Man of Steel lacked joy in every aspect:  and without some joy, there's little exploration of humanity (which is the usual realm of superhero movies).

Man of Steel, however, has received some attention because of the attempt by Warner Brothers and other PR groups to link it to pastors and churches by saying "Hey, Superman is like Jesus!"

Is this an accurate statement?  

Certainly the Superman to Jesus comparison has been made numerous times over the years.  There are at least two big-time attempts in Man of Steel to invoke Jesus:

(Here come the spoilers)

Clark (he gets the Superman name later), in his discerning whether or not to turn himself into US authorities so they can extradite him to General Zod, goes into a church to talk with a priest.  He recalls his conversations with his human father, Jonathan Kent, who (in the best scenes of the movie, thanks to Kevin Costner) counsels that humanity will hate and fear what they don't understand.  "So should I trust humanity?", asks Clark, with the Jesus in Gethsemane (where he discerns and prays) stained-glass window in the background.  The priest counsels the need for faith.  

As Clark pushes away from Zod's ship, and the vision of his Kryptonian father, he forms the shape of the cross.

(Some would give the ending "He saved us...he saved us all" Jesus billing as well, but it alludes to Jesus only because of the other images.  Superheroes save people a lot, without necessarily invoking Jesus.)

There are problems with the Superman to Jesus comparison in general, and they mostly revolve around violence.  Two smart reactions are found by Mark Sandlin, who addresses the violence issue, and Aric Clark, who brilliantly describes a plot that would make Superman like Jesus.

One thing I ask myself:  do I think the filmmakers really trying to say Superman is like a modern day Jesus?  Or were they just trying to give a bit of potential conversation towards savior and chosen one aspects, not unlike Neo in The Matrix?  I wrote this on Facebook after seeing the movie:

Well: I saw the movie. Didn't care for it at all. Costner was the best part... I have to agree with Chrisi in that there's just not that much worth discussing in this movie, other than the way WB has tried to market it to pastors. Sure, they threw in a lot of Jesus/Christ images and words that get associated with Christianity...but really didn't say much other than "look: Superman's sorta like Jesus...  Were they attempting to appeal broadly to Christians by saying "We've framed Superman in a picture with a Jesus scene...and they're BOTH wrestling with what they are going to do next...and they both do what they should!!!" (Oooooooo....) Or were they trying to appeal the more "Americanized "kick-butt" Jesus" that gets preached by Driscoll and the likes? 

Whichever one it is, it's a pretty shallow attempt.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Blogger "search blog" not working...but God is still here!

There actually are posts on this blog that contain things like "God", "Jesus", and of course, "Buffy".

But currently, Blogger's "Search This Blog" device is not working, so you won't find the posts that contain them.

Rest assured:  U2, Harry Potter, Glee, Dr. Horrible and The Gospel of Mark can all be found in past posts.


James Gandolfini's death sparks some religious debate

James Gandolfini's sudden death has sparked some religious debate on two fronts.

Some people object to the fact that a popular actor's death gets far more press than people who have "accomplished much more for the greater good".

Others (or in some cases, the same people) are frustrated that his major claim to fame is having portrayed the part of Tony Soprano, the "likable" brutal mobster.

In the comments section of a post on The Episcopal Cafe, editor Jim Naughton counters these two objections:

Expect no apologies from the Cafe for giving a man who created an iconic role on one of the most significant and morally complex programs in television history his due. 

And while I am at it: Church folks, if you feel the need to deliver instruction to the broader population on how its most innocent pleasure reveal how far it has fallen below the high standards that you uphold, take a breath. No one is going to attend a church whose leaders make a specialty of telling people that the things they care about are not actually important and that they should hold their immediate reactions in check until they are validated by their moral superiors. 

David Chase and James Gandolfini explored the nature of evil and complicity at a depth not reached by any preacher I've ever heard. They didn't undermine my faith, they deepened it.

As of yet, I haven't seen any of The Sopranos:  I don't have HBO, and the series I watch tend to be viewed with my wife who doesn't like violent shows (although exceptions were made for all of Joss Whedon's canon).

But my sense is that Jim is spot on here...

The End of the World's Leading 'Ex-Gay' Ministry

The Atlantic has an excellent account of this story, which began with a public apology released by Exdous' long-time leader whose agenda for 40 years has promoted through an ultra-conservative reading of the Bible "...that homosexuality was unholy and that through counseling and prayer, you could change your sexual orientation."  

The breadth of Chambers's apology was unprecedented and startling (you can read the whole text here). For many people, though, it wasn't enough. Dan Savage, creator of the It Gets Better Project, tweeted, "Alan's work destroyed people. Sorry is nice, I guess, but it won't raise the dead." LGBT activist Daniel Gonzales added: "'Sorry' also requires you stop what you're doing that hurts people and is wrong. Exodus hasn't stopped.'"

Hours later, that actually happened....  From The Atlantic's interview with Chambers:

What parts of Exodus's teaching do you renounce?
What I renounce: the whole gay-to-straight process. That the goal is changing your sexual orientation, which we realized isn't something that happens. That that's what makes you acceptable to God. And that gay people couldn't ever be acceptable to God.

So what changed for you that got you to this place?  
Realizing that the deepest part of the Exodus narrative is really a religious church narrative has been the biggest change. We are a church that has mostly been about waging war and battle. But I believe God has called us to be a people of peace. I've realized he can love a gay person or a lesbian person the same as anyone. For me as a Christian, those aren't boundaries or barriers, and I don't believe they are barriers for God. We felt it was absolutely necessary to close the ministry of Exodus and do what people who have been hurt are asking us to do: make amends in a way that makes a difference.

The interview is a fascinating, and dare I say, a hopeful one for those associated with the group.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Post CREDO, more blog posts to come

I'm now back from the latest CREDO conference.  It's such a privilege and joy to spend time in discernment with Episcopal clergy, and to support them in their journey.

Now that I'm back, I want to reengage my blog post writing.  Okay, a few things at work have to get done first...but AFTER that...more blog posts.

My best to all students and educators as they finish up for the year.


Friday, May 3, 2013

First Saturday in May

I think that each year, until something changes, I will be reposting this.

So tomorrow, I will be spending my time saying to everyone "May the Fourth be with You", rather than "Happy Derby Day".

Only Sadness on Derby Day (originally written May 2012)

The biggest sports day of the year for me used to be Derby Day.
My mother’s love for horses sparked my interest in The Triple Crown, and especially the Kentucky Derby.  
I had absolutely fell in love with the 1979 movie The Black Stallion.  I was 7 years old, and I imagined that I could be young Alec:  a young unknown riding a racehorse to victory by means of a bond between boy and horse (hopefully WITHOUT ever being stranded on an island)...
The movie was a gateway to the stars of horse racing world:  Citation, Man O’ War, Seattle Slew, Seabiscuit, Carry Back, Affirmed and Alydar, and the greatest of them all, Secretariat. 
But it was some years later that a current horse caught my eye and made Derby Day among the most important of the year.  A horse named Alysheba was bumped twice in the 1987 Kentucky Derby, and found himself far behind the herd. He had nearly fell to his knees.  But he made an eventual charge for the finish to shock the horse racing world.  I was now a big fan.
The next year’s thrilling battle between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence had me hooked.  I knew I would be doing for every Triple Crown race for years to come.
It was the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Distaff that started to change how I felt about Horse Racing.  Go For Wand, in a highly anticipated race with Bayakoa, ruptured her cannon bone on the home stretch.  She horrifically got up and limped across the finish line before they were able to get her to lie down, so they could euthanize her on the track.  
I already knew by heart the tragic story of Ruffian, the most famous filly of all time, who broke down in her match race with Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.  I had always thought of it as a great tragic accident.  Seeing Go For Wand break down got me thinking.
I watched for the next 15 years of racing with a sense of anticipation and dread:  wanting my heart to be captured and dreading it would be broken.  And while certainly horses swept me up with joy, I saw two more horse euthanized from the Triple Crown races.
The end came for me in the 2006, when Barbaro broke down in the opening steps of the Preakness.  He was a beautiful horse, incredible personality, and light years beyond his competitors.  After trouncing the Derby field, Barbaro crashed the gate (false started) at the Preakness.  The track veterinarian quickly decided he was sound to run.  Moments later, his leg shattered in front of millions of horrified eyes.  I have not watched a race since.

Horse people will tell you that “these things just happen.”  That’s just not good enough.

If there is one thing horse racing has proven completely inept at, it's fixing its own problems. This is the ultimate can't-do sport: bereft of a national governing body and generally lacking in leadership, cohesiveness, vision, adaptability or a sound plan for connecting to the masses.
(Joe DeFrancis, chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club) drew an analogy to auto racing, saying that the potential for tragedy is there as well. But here's where that analogy falls short: When Dale Earnhardt was killed at Daytona in 2001, NASCAR didn't just shrug. It reacted, changed its safety regulations -- and became a safer sport. Lethal crashes are down since then.
That's the difference between a smart, assertive sport and an inert sport. Doing nothing only guarantees that the same injuries will keep happening.  
Animal Aid reports that since 2007 in Britain, 823 horses have died on-course in Thoroughbred racing.  Their research indicates that around 420 horses are raced to death every year when you additionally consider training and disposal of commercially ‘unproductive’ horses. About 38 per cent die on racecourses, while the others are destroyed as a result of training injuries, or are killed because they are no longer commercially viable.
HBO did a television drama series called Luck on racehorses in 2011.  It was cancelled in 2012 after three horses died during production, unintentionally shedding new light on the problem.  In 2011, 186 horses in California alone died or were put down, as a result of racing and training injuries, mostly broken legs.  

There is no way to completely take out the risk in horse racing.  But there is too much that could be done that hasn’t happened.  Here are three things:

1)  Horse racing has a drug problem.
Alysheba, the horse that had really entranced me, used the anti-bleeding drug called Lasix in both of his dramatic victories.  The drug was, at the time, banned in New York.  Running without it, he lost in the Belmont Stakes.  More race horses now currently run on Lasix than without.
The idea that horses need drugs in order to race is a major problem.  The industry is still resistant despite losing fans and horses.  Just last month, A proposal to ban Lasix on race days in Kentucky lost by a vote.  From ESPN:

The proposal would have made Kentucky the first state to ban race-day use of furosemide, marketed under the brand names Lasix or Salix. The drug is used to treat pulmonary hemorrhaging in racehorses. Furosemide is the only medication allowed to be given to horses on race day in the United States. Its use is banned in other countries because it enhances performance.
Last year, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers sought a national ban on performance-enhancing drugs in a bill that came three years after death of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. A drug test proved that the horse was clear of steroids, but the death helped shine a light on safety problems and the lack of a single governing body for the sport.
Rick Dutrow, trainer of the 2008 Derby winner Big Brown, acknowledged he regularly injected the horse with the then-legal steroid stanozolol.
To think that this just is about the race day meds is frightening.  The drugs used in training have continued to rise over the years.

2) Track surfaces need to be safety first and embrace new thinking.  
There is something racing can do to address the problem: It can seriously and aggressively study widespread installation of Polytrack, the synthetic racing surface that gained popularity in Europe, is establishing a beachhead in North America -- and has a reputation for being safer than dirt. Polytrack is formed from polypropeylene fibers, recycled rubber and silica sand covered in a wax coating.
The data is far from complete on Polytrack, but early indications are that breakdowns are dramatically reduced on that surface. According to Turfway, there were three catastrophic breakdowns during the first meet on Polytrack. The year before Polytrack was installed there were 24.
CBS News reported in March of this year:
In 2006, the California Horse Racing Board ordered the state's major tracks to convert to synthetic and Santa Anita spent $11 million to do it.
A study of horse deaths over five racing seasons in California revealed 37 percent fewer fatalities on synthetic surfaces. That's also been the trend on the synthetic track at Keeneland in Kentucky. 
There were, however, new injuries to be found on the synthetic tracks (though fewer leading to death), especially during training.  The track maintenance was expensive, and racing days were periodically canceled due to drainage problems.
After a near revolt by trainers and riders, Santa Anita (for 2010) won permission to go back to dirt.
But so far, the death rate at Santa Anita has nearly doubled on the dirt, now just under four for every 1,000 racing starts.

3)  Uniform rules for horse safety on race day.

Could you imagine the uproar if the track veterinarian, with only a few seconds to make a decision, had declared Derby winner Barbaro unfit to run the Preakness, denying a shot at the Triple Crown?  I will certainly give the vet the benefit of the doubt that pressure had nothing to do with the decision, but it should not have been a decision to be made under fire.
If your horse breaks through the gate, disqualify for that race.  Throws his rider?  Disqualify.  People more knowledgeable than me can come up with the list of things that automatically say, “no, not today, the horse is not in its best condition to run.”  Take it out of the subjective, and set the clear rules.
There have been 11 Triple Crown winners in horse racing:  the first in 1919, and none since 1978 when Affirmed beat Alydar in three dramatic races by a length and a half, a head, and a nose.  I was too young to remember seeing those races live, but for years I dreamed of a day when I would finally see a horse accomplish it. 
But until racing changes, I for one will not tune in to find out.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A few additional Boston shares

I posted these on Facebook, but I used them again at last night's Vestry meeting, and wanted to share them here.

Susan Russell posted a beautiful prayer by Steven Charleston:

"Come, Spirit of God, come stand with us in this darkness. Hold the fallen in your arms. Heal the injured. Comfort the broken-hearted. And if you cannot tell us why we do this to ourselves, show us how to love more deeply, that such pain will never be the final word, but rather mercy that needs no explanation. Amen." 

I was quite taken by Bonnie Ford's article on ESPN:

I had another sensory memory of the one and only other time I wrote about the regular people on the course of a major marathon. It was in November 2001, when I stood at the finish in New York City and watched runners stream across. Seeing them run for joy, rather than in mortal fear as they'd done just two months before, and seeing people bow their heads in thanks after wrapping themselves in foil blankets, deeply thankful not for the time they'd logged, but simply for being alive, was a profound experience. 

I am stricken by the reversal of that image here in Boston, the fact that people were running away from something terrible seconds after running toward something good. But I also know that will turn again.

Amateur marathoners push themselves for a whole host of reasons. To test their physical and psychological limits. To raise money for worthy causes. To compete. The next time this -- or any -- marathon is run anywhere in the world, they will run for yet another. To show that the power of communal achievement can be beaten on one day, but not on most days and never indefinitely. And that is what makes sense on a senseless day.

And, finally this cannot be forgotten:

On the same day as the bombings at the Boston Marathon, 31 people were killed and more than 200 were injured in a series of explosions across Iraq.  (Here's the BBC account).

While we are certainly shocked and profoundly saddened by what happened in Boston, we need to be in solidarity with those afflicted by terror around the world.  We must see that our human spirit is wounded whenever people give way to violence.  At the same time, we are called to be a people who refuse to allow these tragic events to define us as human beings.  God's vision is one that finds new life even in the midst of destruction:  at home, and across the world.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tragedy at Boston Marathon

There are few things more joyful than the end of a marathon: true for runners, supporters and volunteers. I am profoundly sad...

The words of Mike Kinman are helpful to me right now:

When events like this happen there is the temptation to get sucked into the coverage and spend hours in front of the TV. Resist that temptation. Giving in to it only gives power to those who would kill and maim and destroy. You will lose nothing by waiting until 10 pm for an update or waiting until morning. But if you use that time caring for someone in need, or saying your prayers, or even having a cold beer with a good friend ... you will have done your part to testify that the forces of evil will never, ever be victorious.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Where do we go from here? Buffy's "Once More, with Feeling"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS)
Once More, With Feeling
Season 6, Episode 7

The famous musical episode is both an incredible tribute to the musical genre, as well an incredible accomplishment for a fifty-minute show. I chose it in this case, however, not for its style, but its substance.

The sixth season of BtVS is sometimes talked about as a disappointment. Some fans even swore off the show at this point. I think the truth is that BtVS was hard to watch in the 6th season because the show was really dark. It was difficult to watch characters that we have grown to love hit such lows.

That, however, mirrors real life.

The musical episode crystallizes this, centering on Buffy's inability to tell her friends that, when they resurrected her, they pulled her not out of hell and torment, but out of heaven.

(The base assumption: she sacrificed her life at the end of Season 5 to close a hell dimension. In order to justify using magic to bring Buffy back to life, her friends convince themselves that she must be stuck in hell.)

Being pulled out of heaven, (full of joy, at rest and in peace), Buffy is now back to the endless fighting of evil. That seems like hell, and she feels none of the passion that she felt while she was alive before.

Buffy can only confide in Spike: soulless, undead, and in love with Buffy.

That's not the only thing going on. Willow is treading water in her growing addiction to magic: which started with Buffy's death, realized with the spell to bring her back to life, and has continually worsened. She has committed a terrible act against her lover Tara, a memory-altering spell to "forget" the fight they had about Willow's magic use.

Dawn, meanwhile, is shoplifting, moping, and getting herself into deeper trouble, craving the attention lost from the death of her mother and the "sleepwalking" Buffy.

Xander and Anya continue towards their wedding date, hiding the fears that they have from each other (Anya's fear that Xander will hurt her and stop loving her, and Xander's fear that he will hurt her.) Ironically, they both have different aspects of the same fear, and instead of dealing with it, they push on to the wedding.

Finally, steady Giles is convinced that he's in the way of Buffy's growth. Buffy's inability to take adult responsibility (for Dawn, and for herself), always leaving the "adult decisions" to Giles, seems to be growing worse.

The brilliant plot device, as in the case of musicals, is that the truth comes out in song. Hurts and fears are sung (to each other, and the audience) thanks to the spell of a demon. Beating the demon doesn't change the fact that everyone has been hiding the truth from each other (and themselves.)

The characters have yet to hit rock-bottom, but the plot and dialogue expose how difficult it is to live in this world. "Where do we go from here" is the final question: and the answer (as in real life) is, at this point, unknown.

One of the finest hours of BtVS: perfectly setting up the rest of the season towards the faceoff with the season's "big bad", life itself.

(I first published this reflection on 3/10/2010)