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.
In the forest, when an old tree comes to the end of its life, a strong wind may topple it. As it lies on the ground, slowly releasing its life energy, it becomes something new. It becomes a nurse tree. Seeds from other trees land on it; moss grows; new trees begin to take root. If you walk through old growth forests, you will see many large trees growing with their roots firmly attached to a fallen nurse tree. And so the cycle continues. A very large, old, stately tree has fallen in South Africa. The seeds of the next generation are already drawing nourishment from his life energy.
Dear New Pope: I thought I would give you a few months to settle in before I wrote to you. I have carried on a (one way) correspondence with your predecessors so I thought I should continue the tradition and be in touch with you. I want to commend you for what appears to be your actual concern for the people of God whom you lead. I also want to commend you for reaching out to your people and inquiring of their experiences and opinions about urgent issues in their lives, particularly about their experiences in families. The information which you gather will be critical to your discernment of the path ahead for your church.
You may have noticed that the Blog has been quiet for the past few weeks. That is because I just returned from a trip to Australia where I was the guest of Safe Church Ministries. I did training for them in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. I also keynoted their conference in Sydney, “Safe As Churches?” My first visit to Australia was around 15 years ago when I worked with Uniting Church leaders and others to begin to address clergy misconduct and abuse issues. Then 5 years later, I spoke at a national ecumenical conference during which I began to see the early efforts across denominations to put policy and procedures in place to address complaints of clergy misconduct.
The tragedy of the killing of Trayvon Martin could have been averted if George Zimmerman had walked away after alerting the police to someone he thought was “suspicious.” But he chose to pursue Martin, got into a fight, had a gun and used it. Martin is dead and now Zimmerman walks away with impunity. I cannot see how an unarmed teenager was a threat to Zimmerman’s life; scary, maybe but not life-threatening. In the aftermath of the Martin killing and Zimmerman acquittal, the media and activists have focused on the Florida case of Marissa Alexander.
High Holidays were important to me as a child. They afforded me privilege. Being the oldest grandchild, I proudly accompanied my uber frum [very observant], Yiddish speaking grandma to shul in St. Louis. Already a wife and mother when she arrived at Ellis Island, she was let down when her children, who were interested in fitting in and casting off the old ways, did not maintain her ultra observance. She worked down the list finally getting to me, the oldest of the next generation. I was awed by the aura of the shul. I loved the rhythm and the repetition; I loved hearing my grandmother recite the prayers in Hebrew. She knew them all. I loved how so many knew her and when they exchanged greetings, they made over me.
“There can be no healing without justice. And justice requires courage.” This has been our basic message from FaithTrust Institute for many years. As we have worked with individual survivors, perpetrators and institutions, often people have asked, “well, what does this justice look like?”
Ramadan began on July 8. It is a month of fasting, prayer and study of the Quran with an emphasis on self-sacrifice for Muslims around the world. Malala Yousafzai spoke to the Youth Assembly at the United Nations just after the start of Ramadan. Malala was shot in the head last October by the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley because she was going to school and advocating for education for all girls. So on her sixteenth birthday, she spoke to the United Nations continuing her efforts to encourage compulsory education for all girls and boys. In her speech, she reflected on her own experience of being assaulted: "The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same."
I think the thing that wearies me is this tendency to slap the label “Christian” on something to somehow justify or legitimize a program, practice or ideology. My latest encounter with this came as I walked by a storefront for a business called “Totally Christian Karate.” What in the name of Jesus does that mean? I continue to struggle with the way “Christian” is used and what its use conveys.
Some days it’s embarrassing to be a Christian – and not in a good way. It’s those days when something like “Christian Domestic Discipline” is spread across the internet and I have to wonder, who are these people? For those of you not readily familiar with this lifestyle choice, here is the definition: "A Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD) marriage is simply a traditional, male-led, Christian marriage which utilizes aspects of Domestic Discipline. It is set up according to Biblical standards." The "methods" include corporeal punishment such as spanking with objects.
It turns out that being fired for being a battered woman is not all that unusual. In fact it is legal in 44 states. Carie Charlesworth, a teacher at a Catholic school, was fired after her abusive husband came looking for her at her work. Her case has brought this circumstance to the fore. Here is an update from one online resource, Ultraviolet, which includes a way for you to get involved.
The invisible war of sexual assault of female and male military personnel by their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines continues even as the U.S. Senate holds hearings and presses for substantive changes in the way cases of sexual assault are handled. The Academy Award nominated documentary tells the story of survivors of rape and of an institution long on rhetoric and short on change.
Carie Charlesworth taught school at Holy Trinity Catholic school in San Diego for the past 14 years. Because she is a battered woman with four children, she has been fired. Clearly the problem here is Mr. Charlesworth who has a history of violence, restraining orders and is currently incarcerated. But the consequences of his violence have now been exacerbated for his victim by her employer, a faith-based school.
The convergence of several very interesting situations in recent weeks in Australia reveals the complexity of the institutional responses of churches to child sexual abuse. In response to questions in a Victorian parliamentary inquiry, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Melbourne, said he was “fully apologetic and absolutely sorry” about the years of sexual abuse of children by priests.
This year as we approach Father’s Day, I remember my father. He passed away on May 12 after a short illness. He was 97 years old. He was a small business owner and church lay leader. He loved his garden and had been nurturing geranium starts in his greenhouse to be ready for the summer flower season. Family and friends were his priorities with college basketball a close second. I remember that he was a decent and generous man who generally spoke his mind but usually with the grace and charm of a Southern gentleman. Fortunately his mind grew more open with age. Although his strong will and mine did clash from time to time, we always circled back to what was most important. I am grateful that he was always present in my life.
The recent song, “Accidental Racist,” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J got me thinking about how one accidentally oppresses other people. As a white woman raised in the South, I’ve heard the angst expressed before. I just don’t buy it. Yet it inspired me to write another version.