My favorite hymn of the season is “In the Bleak Midwinter” written by the English poet Christina Rossetti in 1872. It begins by describing the environs that we in the northern hemisphere experience in December: “In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter Long ago.”
On this day after the announcement by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, it is cold, dark and rainy here in Seattle. The weather seems fitting somehow to reflect the despair and hopelessness that so many people are feeling. The announcement that there would be no Grand Jury indictment of the police officer who fired 12 shots to kill a young black man in Ferguson, MO, was made under the cover of darkness because it was shameful. The justice system failed.
Every day seems to bring a new chapter in the National Football League's drama of discovering the urgency of addressing domestic violence in its ranks. Team sports are about statistics. Football is about yards gained/lost, touchdowns scored, passes completed, third downs converted, etc. Here’s a statistic: conservatively speaking, 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence at some time in her life.
A Reflection for Rosh Hashanah: There is an old Jewish blessing offered as the New Year arrives: “May the old year and its troubles end, and the new year and its blessings begin.” A beautiful and hopeful thought, until you think: each new year begins with aspirations of change, redemption, blessing, and healing, and yet each ends with disappointment, struggle, and challenge. Perhaps this is the human condition.
I confessed my enjoyment of football last year when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. I also understand that football (and the National Football League) is a huge part of the fabric of American culture, for better and for worse. It is certainly a primary factor in the socialization of boys and men in our society. So, yes, I do read the sports page every day. Sometimes a story jumps from the sports page to the front page. This seems to be the case with the Ray Rice story.
The recent death of Joshu Sasaki Roshi and the publication of an extensive article on John Howard Yoder raise once again the contradiction of beneficial teachings and abusive teachers. What legacies do these prominent faith leaders leave?
A 14 year old child goes to her priest and tells him that an adult parishioner has been initiating sexual contact with her. She asks the priest what she should do. “The child testified during deposition that [the priest’s] advice to her was to handle the issue herself because ‘too many people would be hurt.’ Court documents also say she testified, ‘He just said, this is your problem. Sweep it under the floor.’"
The 200 plus girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria are not home yet. Despite efforts by Nigerian military, U.S. military, and the United Nations, the girls have not yet been rescued from the terrorists.
I had trouble keeping up this past week. We saw a barrage of commentary in response to a troubling Op-Ed published in the Washington Post on Wednesday. In an apparent homage to Fathers’ Day, W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson offered their opinions under the title: “One Way to End Violence Against Women? Married Dads.” The critical response and push back to the article have been almost instantaneous. That’s the good news.
In the wake of the Santa Barbara murders, I had been waiting to hear men’s voices respond. Actually I had been waiting for reasoned, thoughtful men’s voices. This is my favorite so far: Arthur Chu’s piece in The Daily Beast, “Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds."
Is “misogyny” [the hatred of women] listed in the DSM V? Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage last week in Santa Barbara was horrific. Seven dead and thirteen injured. But his YouTube message and Manifesto served to multiply the horror. Scary as it is, he did leave us with insight into the mind of a young man who hated women.
Perhaps this is all we can do now. The story of the kidnapping of hundreds of Christian and Muslim school girls in Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram has outraged the entire world. And the misuse of Islam by Boko Haram leaders to justify their actions, claiming they are being directed by Allah, only magnifies the outrage. Boko Haram using the name of Islam in this way is like the Ku Klux Klan or Fred Phelps using Christianity to propel their actions of hate and violence.
Dear Pope Francis: I want to commend you for owning the painful fact of sexual abuse of children by priests as part of your Good Friday comments. Lent is surely the season for such a public acknowledgement. You named the reality of the abuse; you asserted the necessity of stringent sanctions; you acknowledged the profound vulnerability of children. All of this suggests that you are serious about acting to rectify the harm that has been done, to bring justice where there has been injustice, and to bring healing where brokenness remains.
Orthodox Jews can divorce but, under Jewish law, the husband controls the document known as a “get” which finalizes the divorce. If he refuses to give his wife a get, she cannot remarry under Jewish law. In a recent case, Meir Kin, who divorced his wife seven years ago under California civil law but still refuses to give her the get, has remarried. Many familiar with this case consider Mr. Kin a bigamist. Having multiple wives is forbidden under Jewish law. But refusing to give a wife a get is allowed. The wife becomes an agunah, “a chained wife.” Mr. Kin divorced his wife but then refused to give her a get. There is no reason to do this except to continue to control one’s ex-wife and make her life miserable.
Dear Pope Francis: Did you really say this in a recent interview? In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Francis acknowledged the “profound” wounds abuse leaves, but then added: “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No one has done more. And yet the church is the only one that has been attacked.”
It is an interesting juxtaposition. Ash Wednesday, March 5 this year, began the period of Lent in the Christian calendar, a time of fasting and reflection, which precedes Easter. It is not a major religious holiday but it is customary to observe Ash Wednesday by receiving ashes wiped on one’s forehead or hand as a sign of our finitude.
Last week, I wrote about my love for football despite the many contradictions inherent in the world of professional sports. This week, I want to draw your attention to Dale Hansen, sportscaster in Dallas, Texas, who confronts these contradictions head on as he calls out cases of violence against women committed by some NFL players. Not to mention he quotes poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde.
I love football. And I especially love football this week as my hometown Seattle Seahawks have brought home the Super Bowl trophy. (I also love baseball but that’s another season.) I have come to appreciate the elegance of the game itself, so many moving parts coming together to accomplish a goal, so many stories of kids who have made it through some hard knocks into manhood and learned the value of hard work, focus and what teamwork really means. I love the 12th Man and Woman which is what we call the fans here in Seattle, people from all over the region who are committed to this team and who undoubtedly contribute to its success on the field. I love Coach Carroll whose philosophy of positive reinforcement and working with players who are still works in progress has paid off big time. Other people in leadership might take note.
I was encouraged in early December by your announcement that you are convening a Vatican Commission on Child Sexual Abuse to help you address the needs of victims and the structural changes that must take place in order to avoid repeating the past. This seemed like an appropriate Advent effort coinciding with the new church year and the nativity of Jesus. While this planned Vatican Commission falls somewhat short of the call by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired Bishop from Sydney, Australia, for a Vatican Council to address the child abuse tragedy (For Christ’s Sake: End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church...for Good), it is a step in the right direction.
In the aftermath of the death of Nelson Mandela, many speeches and articles have celebrated his generous heart and forgiving spirit. In fact the media has consistently framed Mandela as a kindly, forgiving grandfather as he neared the end of his life. But this snapshot betrays a lack of appreciation for who Mandela was and for what we can learn from him about forgiveness.