Monday, December 23, 2013

The truth about marriage equality

Same-gender marriage has always existed. Two people loving each other, caring for each other, treasuring each other, building a life together is as old as humanity. Sometimes they were pressured into having other kinds of relationships as well, sometimes they were shunned or punished or killed for being different, but same-gender attraction and love and commitments are as old as time. What is new is that some denominations, a few religions, a handful of countries, some indigenous tribes, DC and 17 US states all recognize this truth and wish to afford equal benefits to loving couples whose relationships are equal in the site of Justice. More states, more churches, more countries will catch on...but they are not creating or allowing same-gender marriage; they are simply and finally acknowledging and blessing marital relationships that have been formed and anointed by Love Itself. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book of Mormon (finally saw it)

Before i give my (spoiler alert: FAVORABLE) review of the show, let me say:

1. I know that faithful Mormons cherish their faith.
2. I know that AIDS has devastated many lives (and ended far too many).
3. I know that these areas are off limits as entertainment topics for some people.

Now ~ I also know that
1. The creators of South Park wrote BOM. So, you know, gas stations sell gas, bars sell booze...sometimes you just know what someone is peddling. It rings a little hollow to walk into a bar and feel victimized that they are selling an addictive substance.
2. Most religions have beautiful and empowering truths to share and can uplift people, AND, religion can be used to intimidate, exclude, marginalize, and infantalize people. So, those of us who wish to be religious should work to make our religions more relevant and healing and we ought to have a sense of humor about it all.
3. I am both a spiritual person and a person who has personally been affected by HIV. I take both seriously, and sometimes, I deal with both with laughter.

So, fully aware that BOM is NOT politically correct in the least, I must nevertheless admit to loving it!!!

There were some profound moments amongst the satire ("It's a metaphor" says a recent convert to another about a story that would be ridiculous if taken literally..."It's a metaphor", by the way, is a phrase that should be said repeatedly in ALL religious education classes!).

The show wasn't as harsh toward the LDS as I expected and even the gallows humor often made political points (including the not entirely unbelievable conspiracy theory that the US has the ability to cure HIV but is waiting to release the cure until a "latter day"); but mostly, it was the sort of ribald hilarity that isn't mean spirited if it is otherwise insensitive. It also showed in a light-hearted way how religion can both oppress and liberate and how innately, if not intentionally, racist and imperialist missiology is. But even with the serious and intelligent subtexts, what BOM is primarily (to my delight!) is fun music, good dancing, and sophomoric humor. So, you know, THUMBS UP!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Great Piece by my seminary Church History professor

St. Nick in the Big City


Published: December 25, 2007 (NYTimes)


ST. NICHOLAS was a super-saint with an immense cult for most of the Christian past. There may be more icons surviving for Nicholas alone than for all the other saints of Christendom put together. So what happened to him? Where’s the fourth-century Anatolian bishop who presided over gift-giving to poor children? And how did we get the new icon of mass consumerism in his place?

Well, it’s a New York story.

In all innocence, the morphing began with the Dutch Christians of New Amsterdam, who remembered St. Nicholas from the old country and called him Sinte Klaas. They had kept alive an old memory — that a kindly old cleric brought little gifts to the poor in the weeks leading up to the Feast of the Nativity. While the gifts were important, they were never meant to overshadow the message of Jesus’s humble birth.

But today’s chubby Santa is not about giving to the poor. He has had his saintly garb stripped away. The filling out of the figure, the loss of the vestments, and his transformation into a beery fellow smoking a pipe combined to form a caricature of Dutch peasant culture. Eventually this Magic Santa (a suitable patron saint if there ever was one for the burgeoning capitalist machinery of the city) was of course popularized by the Manhattanite Clement Clarke Moore published in “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” in The Troy (New York) Sentinel on Dec. 23, 1823.

The newly created deity Santa soon attracted a school of iconographers: notable among them were Thomas Nast, whose 1863 image of a red-suited giant in Harper’s Weekly set the tone, and Haddon Sundblom, who drew up the archetypal image we know today on behalf of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930s. This Santa was regularly accompanied by the flying reindeer: godlike in his majesty and presiding over the winter darkness like Odin the sky god returned.

The new Santa also acquired a host of Nordic elves to replace the small dark-skinned boy called Black Peter, who in Christian tradition so loved St. Nicholas that he traveled with him everywhere. But, some might say, wasn’t it better to lose this racially stereotyped relic? Actually, no, considering the real St. Nicholas first came into contact with Peter when he raided the slave market in his hometown and railed against the trade. The story tells us that when the slavers refused to take him seriously, he used the church’s funds to redeem Peter and gave the boy a job in the church.

And what of the throwing of the bags of gold down the chimney, where they landed in the stockings and little shoes that had been hung up to dry by the fireplace? Charming though it sounds, it reflected the deplorable custom, still prevalent in late Roman society when the Byzantine church was struggling to establish the supremacy of its values, of selling surplus daughters into bondage. This was a euphemism for sexual slavery — a trade that still blights our world.

As the tale goes, Nicholas had heard that a father in the town planned to sell his three daughters because his debts had been called in by pitiless creditors. As he did for Black Peter, Nicholas raided his church funds to secure the redemption of the girls. He dropped the gold down the chimney to save face for the impoverished father.

This tale was the origin of a whole subsequent series of efforts among the Christians who celebrated Nicholas to make some effort to redeem the lot of the poor — especially children, who always were, and still are, the world’s front-line victims. Such was the origin of Christmas almsgiving: gifts for the poor, not just gifts for our friends.

I like St. Nicholas. You can keep chubby Santa.

John Anthony McGuckin is a professor of religious history at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

We Remember, Give Thanks, & Hope

World AIDS Day Prayer (2013)
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins

Spirit of Life,
On this World AIDS Day we remember those who died too soon from complications of a virus that has taken too many.
On this World AIDS Day we remember those who lost loved ones to the epidemic.
On this World AIDS Day we remember those who dedicated their lives to raising awareness and improving access to treatment.
On this World AIDS Day we remember those who never gave up hope.
On this World AIDS Day we remember those who had to face not only the pain of dis-ease and the terror of the unknown, but also marginalization and demonization from those who chose to "blame the victim."

On this World AIDS Day we give thanks for those who survived the most frightening days.
On this World AIDS Day we give thanks that life-saving medications were discovered and that treatment options get better all the time.
On this World AIDS Day we give thanks for complementary therapies.
On this World AIDS Day we give thanks that miracles have happened among us.

On this World AIDS Day we continue to hope for a cure.
On this World AIDS Day we wish for those who are not infected to remain uninfected and for those who are infected to remain optimistic and to live abundantly, joyously, and in good health.

Omnipresent, all-inclusive, eternal Love,
Receive our prayers today and rekindle within us a desire to live, to love, to share, and to make our world a better place.