Friday, January 27, 2012

10 Reasons Why I am a Political Junkie

Someone asked me the other day why I am so interested in politics.  They wondered why I watch CNN and C-SPAN, read political news and blogs, and pay close attention to the debates and public discourse of our political leaders and system.  Their reason … and they admitted it … is that they find it all too distasteful and polemical to watch anymore.  So here are my reasons for being part of the process by being a political junkie:

1.  I want to be part of the solution by being an informed voter.  So I pay attention to what candidates are saying during the election cycles – knowing they will likely not get everything done they promise during the campaign but it is important to note what they value and fight for once in office.

2.   Even national politics are local.  The decisions made in Washington affect my life in real ways – my taxes, the roads I drive on, the health care I have access to, the rights my family is afforded (or not), and the ways my son’s education is administered – just to name a few.

3.   I want to participate in creating dialogue between opposing sides of political debates.  This is hard to do but occasionally it can be an amazing process from which to learn and grow. (It can also be extremely difficult and painful – but I believe it is still worth the effort and risk.)

4.  I want to know where my tax dollars are being spent.  Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t but it is a good thing to know.  And if I disagree – I contact my representatives and let them know what I think about their decisions.

5.  Every once and a while you see our leaders come together to do something good.  This is rarer than I would want it to be, but it does happen.  Examples – and you may disagree – are increasing the number of kids receiving health care and keeping insurance companies from excluding people based on pre-existing conditions, caring for our planet, taking care of those less fortunate, and providing income help to those who have lost jobs.

6.   Being a participant and voting in every election since I turned 18 years of age allows me to complain with full confidence and integrity.  (LOL!)   I also know folks who never vote but whine all the time about elected officials.  This drives me crazy.

7.  C-SPAN can actually be fun to watch.  It shows us the “sausage making procedure” that is our political process.  It is often ugly and the ingredients are gross but the end result can be enlightening.

8.  I want my son to be part of the election and political process so we watch TV together and discuss the issues.  He is a very informed 13 year old.  He is concerned with the state of our political system and how it will affect his future so he wants to know what is happening.  That makes me proud.  (He also wants to be part of a political protest march someday.  We have marched against gun violence locally but he wants to march for/against something in Washington DC.)

9.  I can impact my community by advocating for new laws that protect the rights of the marginalized, disenfranchised, and powerless.  I can work to limit access to guns by person’s ineligible for purchasing them.  I can work to expand the rights of families who need protection.  I can convey to my elected officials what I value as they debate legislation.  This is the power of one vote – one voice combined with others.

10.  There are moments when I am proud of the system.  Like this week’s celebration of Rep. Gabby Giffords’ service to the House of Representatives.  The touching moment at the State of the Union and the next day's tribute were amazingly uplifting – from both sides of the aisle.  It reminded me of how we can be as a people.

These are just some of the reasons I am an active participant in the political process.  And obviously it is such a tough topic to discuss that I am sure some of you will disagree with my politics - but maybe we at least can agree on why we care.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Winter at the Beach!?

Going to the beach in the winter is not something I had ever thought much about.  In the best of circumstances I am not really a beach person.  I do not like the feel of sand in my clothes or between my toes.  I do not drink tropical drinks with little umbrellas in them.  I am not a super strong swimmer and the rough surf beats my knees up.  And I do not like to be in the sun too much.  I have, however, been on a number of beach vacations with family and friends.  Mainly I go to the beach because of my son and my friends.  They like the beach – in fact, they love the beach.  My son loves the water, making sand castles, riding a boogie board on the waves, and flying kites at the beach.  Me ... not so much.

I like being comfortable. I like TV, the Internet, my comfortable chair, and good leisure times.  But roughing it is not something I do.  And my definition of roughing it is pretty narrow.  I always say roughing it is staying in a hotel without room service.  So beach going is not really my "thang."

So when I found out the second leg of my Wabash Pre-Tenure Seminary Faculty group was meeting at Mustang Island in Texas – in the winter - I was less than thrilled, but open to going to a place 60 degrees above where it was at home when I left. So I thought I would give winter beach going a try (plus we are required to attend as part of our fellowship).

So off I went to the beach ... in the winter ... in Texas.

The first afternoon I walked the beach with one of my Wabash colleagues and caught up on job and family stuff.  It was a great visit.  I took pictures of birds, waves, and sand dunes.  I listened to the surf and watched the sunset.

The next morning I woke up to the sounds of waves and birds from my room.  It was amazing.  We had been told that if we wanted to get in the water there were two things to remember:  1) the water is VERY cold and 2) you have to do the "stingray shuffle" to avoid getting stung by the stingrays in the water.  The cold water was enough to keep me away.  Then they warned us about stingrays in the water and rattlesnakes in the brush.  So now I was completely ok with staying out of the water, on the boardwalk, and in the safe places.

But this place was growing on me.  How could it not?

God is in the rhythm of the waves, the beat of the birds' heart and wings, the gentle touch of the breeze, and the laughter/conversation with my friends.  I am taking the slow approach to being at the beach in winter.  There are no children needing to be entertained, no sand castles to be judged, and no bogie boards to go retrieve from the waves – which is the usual pattern of my family time at the beach.  It's just me and my thoughts (and sometimes my friends with me).

One night I took pictures of the sunset and we had a bonfire on the beach.  It is still not my favorite thing – cold, sand and wind.  But it was a blessed time with God.  We looked at the constellations and told stories.  I did not stay long but it was fun.

The last full day we did a group “5K Run, Walk, Crawl, Drag” on the beach.  Everyone participated in some way and everyone was so supportive of each other.  What a joy to be on the beach all together in God’s amazing creation.  That last night we sat around playing games and laughed until we almost could not stand it anymore.  We had a blast.

Honestly, this weekend did not sell me on time at the beach – especially in the winter.  But it once again gave me time with nature and with the Creator God who made it all possible.  It was a time of renewal and rest, a time of recreation and rejuvenation.  And all of us need that. 

So offer me time away with God and opportunities to be in the midst of nature, being with good friends, eating amazing food, having sights to see, and getting time for rest – and then tell me it is in the Winter at the Beach – and my response will now be, “Ok, sign me up!”

Sunday, January 15, 2012

An Iron Lady with Soft Spots

Yesterday we saw a great new movie about Margaret Thatcher, called The Iron Lady. Meryl Streep is a tour de force in the role. The film is about England under the leadership of the first and only female Prime Minister in their long history. She is depicted in an interesting contrast to her public persona. In real life she was thought to be defiant, demanding, and difficult. The movie shows other sides to this powerful woman. A softer, fragile, and more human side of Thatcher is shown as she ages and deals with love, memories, health, and loss.

As a progressive Democrat I was not a huge fan of hers when she was in office. But I did admire her tenacity and leadership skills. She is an enigma – both tough and tender. However, she was in a role in her public life that led her to only allow her tough side to be shown. It is an issue many strong, determined women must face on a daily basis.

But the issues we face today are nothing like those faced by women in the past.

I know that I am privileged by the amazing benefits of the feminist movements of the past. I am also privileged by a system of education that has allowed me to pursue and gain two Masters degrees and a PhD. I am privileged by an economic system that allows me to make decisions about my son's life and education that others do not have. I am white, middle class and highly educated. I have power just because of those facts.

But I am also a woman and the expectations of being tender, passive, and demure are still prevalent in our culture – no matter how far we think we have progressed. Being passive and demure is not part of my life - fortunately. (Those of you know me may snicker loudly now). Women who are assertive are called names, while men who do the same thing are called leaders. That is a sad fact many women must constantly deal with.

Even I have been told to "sit back and let the boys decide the important stuff" too many times. I work in the church and in academia and men still hold the majority of powerful positions. Growing up in Texas I was told on more than one occasion (not by my parents but by the culture around me) to be strong but never beat a man at anything, to let a man take care of me, and to not rock the boat when leadership required tough decisions (they said a man could get it done but not a woman).

Obviously I am not a woman who stands back and let's others make the decisions for her or take care of her simply because they are men. And it has gotten me in a bit of trouble in my life. I have had bosses that resented my strength and determination. That strength has probably resulted in the loss of a job at least once, as well. It cost Margaret Thatcher. But I believe that it has served me well on more occasions than it has hurt me.

I have had other women resent the roles I have played either because they thought I did not deserve the role since I was a woman or because they wished they had followed a similar path themselves. In ministry the most difficulties I have had were almost always with women – for the above reasons mainly, but probably for others as well.

I have a soft side, too. I have shared that in this blog before. I am a weeper. I cry easily and am a softie. I am sentimental and sappy. Some of the wounds and voices of the past still surface and try to derail me. I try not to listen but sometimes the voices are very loud. These moments make me angry and they make me feel weak.

But I am also strong as iron. I am determined and occasionally defiant. I will stand up to injustice for others but sometimes become demure and unsure when it is about me.  My upbringing in Texas probably taught me that - unfortunately. And I have to continue to love myself because of and despite of this.

I am a tigress when it comes to my kid.  Hurt him and you WILL deal with me. I am iron willed when it comes to my faith and moving the church forward.  I am a momma bear when it comes to my students.  I am a sometimes helicopter parent who is getting out of it more and more. I am a crying baby on occasion.  And I am a determined challenger to institutional racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, sizeism, and other things that belittle and demean others. I am a lot of things - some I love and some not so much.

I am an Iron Lady with soft spots. And that's ok.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Doctor Who and My Faith

My family is made up of late arrivals to the Doctor Who phenomenon.  We came to it backwards.  We saw the Torchwood: Miracle Day series on STARZ last year and then watched the earlier episodes of Torchwood through DVDs from Netflix.  That led us to try Doctor Who, the series from which Torchwood evolved.  So now we are seeing some of the earlier incarnations of Doctor Who – played by other actors from the previous ten evolutions of the series.  But we are obviously enamored with Matt Smith’s Doctor Who, since he is the first one we became acquainted with.

What I love about Doctor Who is the humor, the camp, the adventures, the mythology, the companions, the history lessons, The Doctor himself, and the Tardis.  I love that The Doctor and his companions can enter into their time travelling machine – the Tardis – and go on amazing adventures (and I love that it is bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside – isn’t that a great image?).  The Tardis is a Time and Relative Dimension in Space vehicle.  It is spacecraft and time machine.  It is healing station and information portal.  It is a place for reconnecting and for flights of fancy.  It is a place of hospitality and a place of community.  It is a place of salvation and a station for regeneration for The Doctor.  And it is oh so cool!

Theology may not be an active part of the writers’ process, but maybe they are thinking of their own understanding of faith as they write – I don’t know.  I sometimes hear it in the dialogue and sense it in the mythology.  And it makes me happy to watch the shows.

The Doctor is not a human but often must act humanely.  He is often arrogant, cheerfully fun, and completely goofy.  He struggles with what it actually means to “be human” and marvels at the capacity of those humans around him both for grace and for violence (in a recent episode humans are cloned and some of their “Gangers” are completely like the originals and others are not – so it begs the questions “what does it mean to be human?” “And what does it mean if the “Ganger” is more human than the original human?”).  There are some both inside and outside of the show who talk about the double meaning of the word “doctor” – one means healer and the other means warrior.  The Doctor certainly creates this sense of dichotomy.  He is an interesting character.

There is a constant struggle between good and evil on the show.  There is even an episode with angels – who are none too nice in the show.  And there is a clear import to the companionship between The Doctor and those who travel with him.  There is a community between The Doctor, Amy Pond, Rory Williams, and River Song – they are family and they care for each other, are devoted to one another, and protect each other (Rory even stands guard over Amy for 2,000 years in one episode).  The Doctor – an amazingly talented and powerful being with a fantastic “sonic screwdriver”– is constantly in need of the assistance of Amy and others.  The communal nature of the story appeals to many people – as does its sense of the need for others in our lives.

I am not saying that Doctor Who has deep spiritual meaning or that The Doctor represents any deity whatsoever – absolutely not.  What I am saying is that it speaks to my faith and my own struggles with being human, dealing with issues of good and evil, trying to make sane decisions in difficult situations, being part of a community/family, and remaining faithful to one’s true convictions despite the circumstances.  

So I’m gonna stay a Whovian for a long time.  I love it.  I love its seriousness and its silliness.  So I include the video below for fun.  Enjoy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Power of Prayer

I had a very interesting discussion at lunch today about prayer.  I was eating with a group of Interfaith Clergywomen and the subject came up in connection to a family health crisis that one of our group members recently experienced.  The subject of prayer was discussed from several different faith traditions and it was interesting how we all viewed prayer as essential but also from very different perspectives, in some ways.

I have been on the receiving end of prayer on numerous occasions in my life.  I have had people praying for my health, for my job situation, for my family, for my ministry, and for many other reasons and occasions.  I felt those prayers each and every time.  I felt them profoundly and personally.  There were times when I felt totally enveloped by those prayers.   The power of those prayers cannot be understated. 

And I have prayed for others.  I have prayed with families before surgery on a loved one, I have prayed at death beds of church members, I have prayed with several youths about a crisis going on in their lives, I have prayed at civic events and public memorials, and I have prayed at many family meals in gratitude for all of the blessings we have received in our lives.  I have prayed for so many people in so many different circumstances that it boggles the mind.  I have prayed for God’s presence in their lives, for them to feel God’s embrace, and for God’s will to be done.  But I try not to ask for specifics.  I have never prayed for a specific job, a specific outcome, or for a new pony, but I know others do and I respect their understanding of prayer.  It’s just not mine.

The questions come when one asks – what became of those prayers?   Did someone who prayed for me to find a job actually make that happen?  Did someone who prayed for my son during his surgery last year make it easier for his recovery to happen?  Did my prayer affect the outcome of someone’s medical tests?  Or did those prayers simply affect how we felt during those times?  Did they cause us to feel more connected to a community of faith and support, thereby feeling less isolated and alone?  Did those prayers cause the events to change as they were uttered? 

I once heard a friend’s young child pray to God for a baby brother.  Her mother asked her, “Do you really think God is going to send you a baby brother? That’s not actually how it works, honey.”  The child looked at her and said, “I know, but it can’t hurt to have God on my side.”

I agree.  I always want God on my side – and believe God is.  But I also believe nothing we say or do in prayer changes how God is with us.  God is present with me always -- just as God is always present with others.  I pray to feel closer to God, to feel more connected to my community, to release my cares into God’s hands, and to remind myself of how I need to be present for others.

I am not diminishing the power of prayer – I believe it is enormously powerful.  But I also do not think prayer is a magic bullet to make things change course simply by our words. I pray because the power of prayer is real.   

I pray – often.  I pray because I believe it is important.  I pray because I believe the power of God in our lives is phenomenal.  I pray ... because prayer is part of me.  I pray because I believe it makes a difference. 

So … I pray.