The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Media reactions to Sarah Palin

The following two reputable news services respond to Sarah Palin's new status as John McCain's running mate.

On a related note: regarding Palin's "foreign policy experience" - not only does much of her experience stem from being in a state so near Russia, I learned today that she received her first U.S. Passport in 2007. Just to clear up any confusion - it is now 2008 (that's not long...).

Now on to the news... Thanks to Elizabeth and Nina for letting me know about these!

In case you were hoping for more mainstream news, there's a pretty good commentary on Palin by Giovanna Negretti from the Boston Globe. CLICK HERE

And if that's not enough for you, check out this spectacular op-ed by Maureen Dowd in today's New York Times. To give you a taste:

The guilty pleasure I miss most when I’m out slogging on the campaign trail is the chance to sprawl on the chaise and watch a vacuously spunky and generically sassy chick flick.

So imagine my delight, my absolute astonishment, when the hokey chick flick came out on the trail, a Cinderella story so preposterous it’s hard to believe it’s not premiering on Lifetime. Instead of going home and watching “Miss Congeniality” with Sandra Bullock, I get to stay here and watch “Miss Congeniality” with Sarah Palin.

To read it all, CLICK HERE

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Truth by Blatant Assertion

That seems to be the favored tactic of conservatives these days - truth by blatant assertion. If the real truth isn't on your side, or if it doesn't produce the results that you desire, just lie consistently until people think your lies are true.

I was watching MSBNC this morning. In their continuing coverage of trying to figure out just who the heck Sarah Palin is, they've had opposing commentators - conservative and progressive. I've been simply amazed at the tactics that the conservative commentator has been using: he's actually been trying to argue that Sarah Palin has MORE experience than either Barack Obama or Joe Biden!

Sure, she has been a governor. So she does have more "executive" experience than the democratic ticket, but by that same measure she has significantly more experience than John McCain. Does that mean she's more qualified to be President than McCain? But let's not forget - she's only been a governor for a year and a half! While this is technically "more experience" in the executive branch of government than any of the other three, it's hardly enough to ready someone for the White House.

Her other executive experience is as the mayor of a town of 9,000 people. Is that enough to prepare her to be the President of hundreds of millions of Americans? I don't think so.

As an example of how desperate McCain supporters are to declare her "experienced enough" they also point to her leadership in a local chapter of the PTA as experience that makes her fit to be President.

What's annoying me in this debate is that progressive commentators actually seem to be taking these arguments seriously! When they are on these talk shows, progressive commentators should not be able to control their laughter when Palin is described as experienced. They should not be able to control their anger when it is asserted that Palin is "more experienced" than Obama or Biden.

Why are we not naming this "truth by blatant assertion" for what it really is - LIES.

This kind of lying, under the leadership of Karl Rove, has been a hallmark of the Bush administration. (Weapons of mass destruction???) Clearly it's being setup as a hallmark of McCain politics as well. We have to call them on it.

I think what troubles me most about this is that I see it time and time again when progressive people and conservative people are engaging in debates. Progressive people seem determined to fall for it!

It's the same in the church. Conservative "the sky is falling" arguments are made and made again until we begin to believe them. The breakaway churches in Virginia swore that they were just the tip of the iceberg - as soon as they left The Episcopal Church would disintegrate and they would be the only stable ones left to lead the new Anglican Communion. They swore this over and over, to the degree that many people began to believe them. Now they've gone - along with a minuscule number of other former Episcopalians - and the church is still holding strong.

It seems the Archbishop of Canterbury even buys these arguments. That's why the Bishop of New Hampshire was not invited to the Lambeth Conference. The conservatives threatened that if he was invited, they wouldn't come and the Communion would crumble.

In a decision based in fear and with the best intentions of holding tenuous relationships together, the Archbishop participated in injustice, and in the process, denied the Anglican Communion's bishops a chance to listen to the stories and experiences of LGBT people in a new and deeper way than has ever happened before.

So +Rowan gave in to conservative demands, and you know what? Most of the ones who threatened not to come if +Gene was invited, still didn't come after he wasn't invited. And despite their impassioned assertions, the Communion did not crumble in their absence.

I was at dinner with a friend the other evening who was also at the Lambeth Conference. She was insisting to me that the Archbishop of Canterbury did the right thing by not inviting +Gene. Mind you, this is not a conservative Episcopalian, this is an ally. She supports the full inclusion of LGBT people in all the sacraments of the church, but even she fell into the belief that it was right for +Rowan to deny access to +Gene because his absence meant that more conservative bishops were there.

First of all, I don't believe that's true. Perhaps a few of the bishops who attended the Lambeth Conference might not have come if +Gene had been there, but I doubt it would have been many. But even if it were hundreds it doesn't matter. There is a huge difference between choosing not to attend the Lambeth Conference because of your fear that you might be in the presence of someone with whom you disagree (or even someone whom you think is sinful) and being denied an opportunity to witness to your episcopal ministry and to learn and grow with your sister and brother bishops simply because of who you are.

Progressive people give in too easily to attacks. We cannot tolerate injustice in our desire to be accommodating. We cannot allow ourselves to endure unfair and untrue attacks because we want to make sure all voices can be heard. There is room for everyone at the table, but we must cry out against the enemies of truth - even when (and maybe especially when) they are our brothers and sisters sitting across from us.

No one should be expelled from the table - not those who speak the truth, nor those who deny it. But those who speak the truth should never silence themselves to keep the others from walking away. That's not the gospel.

The same is true in the world of governmental politics. Progressive people, in their efforts at achieving progressive ideals, should not sit silently while what we perceive as untruth is being spread.

The most effective conservative tactic against progressive people is to turn our ideals against us.

Again, I saw it this morning on TV. When the liberal commentator attempted to suggest that Palin was not experienced enough to be so close to the Presidency, the conservative commentator interrupted him and said that he couldn't believe that this liberal was suggesting that Palin couldn't be Vice President because she's a woman.

That's not at all what was being said! The progressive commentator was doubting that she had the breadth of experience necessary for the office for which she was to be nominated.

But the progressive commentator let that accusation of sexism go unanswered. Perhaps he was so terrified of being seen as a sexist that he couldn't take the argument any further. Perhaps it stopped him in his tracks.

But we can't let it stop us in our tracks anymore. Just because a threat or a doomsday prophecy or an untruth is asserted with enough conviction, that does not make it true. We must face it and name it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pro-life Feminist?

John McCain announced today that he has chosen Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in the 2008 Presidential election.

Lots of questions come to mind. The media is already swirling with questions of her experience and her youth. Does being governor of Alaska for about a year and a half prepare someone to be Vice President of the United States? What if she had to be President of the United States? There are already the beginnings of questions about whether or not this is just a stunt to try to change the story from the wildly successful Democratic National Convention and whether or not it's a shameless stunt to try to lure former Hillary Clinton supporters.

But Hillary Clinton said it best: "Were you in this campaign just for me?... You haven't worked so hard for the last 18 months or endured the last 8 years to suffer through more failed leadership."

This isn't just about picking a woman. And I don't think most women who are voters will fall for this.

Which brings me to the question that's been on my mind for the past couple of hours since this has been announced.

The media have been describing Sarah Palin as a "Pro-life Feminist".

The term confuses me. "Pro-life" in itself is something of a misnomer. Almost everyone in the world is "pro-life". There are a few sick people who aren't, but that's rare. It's not even that Palin is an "Anti-abortion Feminist". That would imply that the other side is "Pro-abortion" and that's simply not the case. Many "Pro-choice" folks aren't "Pro-abortion". The reality is that Palin is being spun as an "Anti-choice Feminist".

This just doesn't add up for me. How can you be a "feminist" - someone who supports women's rights - and be defined by your lack of support for women to have the right to choose the medical (or even ethical) decisions that they make?

I get that feminists can be opposed to abortion. But I don't get how feminists can be opposed to women's choice.

I just can't imagine that women (and other feminists) of America can be fooled into thinking that the same old song and dance is suddenly okay just because it's coming in new-looking packaging.

It's like the common advertising scheme: "Bold new look, same recipe". If you didn't like it before, a fancy new package shouldn't be enough to sell you.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Well, friends... We're only about 3 minutes into the speech, and I just have this to say:

Michelle Obama for President!

I'm still grieving over Hillary.

I was SO energized by the idea of the impact that our first woman as President of the United States could have. I was excited about how that step could help to break the binding power of sexism and heterosexism.

But it will be nice to have another strong, independent woman in the White House again - even if not yet in the Oval Office.

I knew I was never going to vote for John McCain. But I think I may have decided tonight to vote for Barack Obama, just because I want Michelle.

Good job Convention organizers. It's working for me!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Do not be afraid"

**Note: I know I've been a little remiss in posting since returning from Canterbury. Those last couple of days were too busy to post, and since I've been back, I've just been tired. But do keep an eye out - there will be a few more pics and some "wrap up" reflections coming soon. For now, here's a sermon I preached this morning at St. Peter's, Morristown. Complete with a little Lambeth thrown in for the fun of it!**

August 10, 2008
Pentecost 13A, Proper 14
Matthew 14:22-33

O God of peace, you have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: by the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We’ve all been there. The storms of our lives blowing around us, everything feels rocky and unstable, we become afraid. We feel so isolated that even the sight of help engenders more fear. We feel so vulnerable that we run away from what shelter we do have. We withdraw from the communities that would have made our perceived solitude untrue.

This is the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water. It’s not the story of a magic trick. It’s not just some story about Jesus going out for a stroll on the lake when he happens to run into his friends. It’s a timeless parable of the human experience.

You can always count on the stories of St. Peter to be that way – to be timeless parables of the human experience. He is impulsive and fallible, but somewhere beneath all of that he is loyal and dependable. He is Peter – the rock – on him the church was built, and whether he is at his worst or his best, he is like us. And like us, even the rock can be shaken by the storms of life.

I’ve spent the last three weeks of my life in Canterbury, England at the Lambeth Conference. It was the decennial gathering of the bishops of the Anglican Communion to discuss issues related to inter-provincial unity. Don’t worry – I’m not planning to use our time together today to present a news report about what happened at Lambeth. That would be hard to do anyway, because nothing really happened at Lambeth. There was essentially no news. No decisions were made. The communion was not dissolved, nor was any relationship within it. We’re all still Anglican. But I do find it providential that we should hear and reflect together on this story – this story of humanity, and our responses to anxiety – on this, the first Sunday after the Lambeth Conference.

If any one word were to define my experience of the Lambeth Conference it would be anxiety. Questions, rooted in anxiety, hung heavy in the air all around us. Would Rowan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, attempt to railroad some punitive, so-called “covenant” across the Conference in a desperate attempt to hold our tenuous alliances together? Would the Bishop of New Hampshire be kept safe in spite of the threats that had been made against him? Would we all be able to communicate effectively in spite of the often-paralyzing cultural differences that separate us? Would the Communion disintegrate around us?

All of these questions, and many more, came out of anxiety. And that anxiety, I believe, was our very human and Petrine response to our Anglican ship having been rocked by the winds of change.

And we are in a season of change in the church. Women and gay and lesbian people are being afforded new opportunities for ministry. Voices from the Global South are beginning to be heard, almost for the first time in the wake of colonialism. Those who had been cast down are being lifted up. Every day the church is changing around us, and its institutional powers are afraid.

In the Gospel lesson this morning we were told that the disciples were afraid. They had been sent into the world while Jesus went up alone to pray. But while they were apart, the disciples began to feel battered by the storms around them. In their anxiety, they could not see Christ in their midst, they could only allow themselves to see more cause for fear.

The story does not begin to shift until we hear again that familiar refrain: “Do not be afraid.” So often, when we find ourselves in the explicit presence of the Holy, our first instinct is to fear. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus, they announced themselves with a plea to not fear. When the women discovered the empty tomb, the figure inside implored them, “Do not be afraid.”

What holy moments in your life have felt like fear? Which fear-filled moments might have been holy?

Even after Jesus announced himself, Peter – the rock – the one on whom the church was built, was not convinced. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He needed proof.

It would be easy to judge Peter. It would be easy to ridicule him for needing that extra nudge. It would be easy to feel superior to him “of little faith.” But I’m afraid it wouldn’t be honest. How often are we, the church of his progeny, unconvinced when we are faced with the presence of Christ? How often are we, when battered by the winds of change, debilitated with fear? And even when we, like Peter, finally take that leap of faith to step out toward Christ, don’t we, too, often begin to sink into the mire of our own self-doubt?

Like our sisters and brothers around the Anglican Communion, we of St. Peter’s parish are also being swept by the winds of change. As we look into our future, we are re-imagining what it will mean to be the church in our context; we are re-imagining the kinds of leadership we would have for ourselves; and in the midst of it all, we are rediscovering our own humanity. Like our namesake, we can be impulsive and fallible, but also like Peter, somewhere beneath that rocky exterior there is something more – something truer to whom Christ is calling us to be.

After Peter stepped out of the boat, he paused to notice what he had done. His anxiety churned at his feet and he began to sink back into it. In desperation, he reached out to Jesus crying, “Lord, save me!” and he did.

It’s a timeless parable of the human experience.

When we traverse the seas of life and feel overcome by the often-stormy winds of change, Christ is there. And even when in our fear-filled and desperate search for stability, we remove ourselves from our communities and seek to find the way on our own; even then, Christ is reaching out to draw us back in. When we are at our best and when we are at our worst, Christ is there, holding us up through the storms and luring us on.

Thanks be to God. Amen.