Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To the Layman: Lay It Down

Occupying half of page five in the newspaper on my breakfast table this morning: an advertisement headlined "Presbyterian? What can you do?"

This ad comes courtesy of The Presbyterian Layman, a right-wing rag that my father used to read back in the 1970s.

My father, mind you, was not a churchgoer or Christian, but he had migrated toward the right politically during the Vietnam War protests. My mother attended church, and he loved to get The Layman.

Two weeks ago the 173 local branches of the Presbyterian Church USA voted to allow each local branch to determine whether to ordain openly gay or lesbian pastors, elders, and deacons in the churches under its jurisdiction.

See this commentary by a pastor in West Virginia:,0,4233480.story

What a tolerant solution to the debate that has lasted years--let each local area make up its own mind.

But that's not good enough for the folks at The Presbyterian Layman.

No, they need to invade my breakfast table with a call to "stand up and be counted" against this tolerant compromise. They want me to order their book, donate to their cause, and launch an inquisition against my local church.

No, thank you, laymen.

Your book shows a cute little steepled church perched on a slim pyramid of stones, the rest of the soil presumably eroded away. Its title is Can Two Faiths Embrace One Future?

Excuse me, but the last time I checked we both held the same faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. We just read the Bible differently.

I'm not going to scan your QR code to get a free copy or donate any money to you.

In fact, I'm going to write a check for $100 today to my local congregation, Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, to thank them for their continued support of tolerance, human rights, and the Presbyterian Church USA.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dissing Islam

So apparently the US has "buried Osama bin Laden at sea."

We aren't big enough to return the body to his family?

We fear a funeral that becomes a demonstration or a resting place that becomes a shrine?

On Sunday evening there were promises that the body was being handled with respect for Muslim tradition--but being dumped in the ocean is surely alien to Islam, even if it was done with prayers.

What an insult: an Arab's body given to the sea, not the sand.

Why not just put his head on a post or do a dance around the body?

The macabre joy of our nation reminds me of scenes from Beowulf--warriors displaying the torn off arm of Grendel.

Can't we do any better than this? We could have turned over the body to the Saudis and let them make the decision on where to send it from that point.

Instead we offend Muslim standards of decency.

I think also of the Roman guards posted at the tomb of Jesus in an effort to make sure the body was not stolen for false claims of resurrection.

If bin Laden is going to be a hero to some, we can't stop that.

The more human stance would have been to return the body to his family and hope that other warriors will show like respect for Americans who die at their hands.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Woman Who Was Used as a Shield

Prayers tonight for peace and quiet reflection--not jingoistic celebration.

At this moment--11 pm on the West coast--people are still cheering in Times Square and in the park in front of the White House.

Yes, it is good that the terrorist, Osama bin Laden, is dead. But let us light candles and pray.

It's not a football game, not a time to yell and cheer. We should be on our knees thanking God that this particular terrorist can plan no longer, that no US military were killed in the operation, and that very few others were killed.

I pray especially for "the woman who was used as a shield" and lost her life.

Was she a fanatic supporter of Osama and Al Qaeda? Or was she sold into this life through an arranged marriage?

In any case, one of these supposedly brave warriors used her in an attempt to save his own life. She became an object--not a sex object but an object to place between him and a bullet.

Human bodies are too soft and permeable to function well as shields, so it was probably her gender alone that he thought would defend him. Men who are fighting might be reluctant to shoot a woman placed between them.

Standard gender ideology requires a man to defend a woman--to risk his life to protect her. Apparently that can be thrown out the window when a man's own life is in danger. Grab her--use her as a shield.

Why does this situation feel so familiar to me?

Women are so often used as shields. We stand out in front of men who are in conflict. Our honor is a banner for our men's honor, our family honor. Our shame unleashes male wrath to kill and replace us.

Our hijab is a flag flying the Muslim colors. Our unplanned but completed pregnancy flies the Roman Catholic colors. Our silence proclaims the fundamentalist church's loyalty to Jesus.

We are all women used as a shield. We shield our men from child care and housework, from hunger and from wilting self-esteem.

Let us pray for this woman who died in her home in Abbotabad today, and for the men who died with her. Requiem eternam dona eis.

Let us pray for a world in which victors do not rejoice over their enemy's death but soberly, quietly turn to God, asking only:

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Allah eleison.