Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Meanwhile, in Nigeria... humans at risk

[I wrote most of this yesterday morning, but we’re in midterms here, midsemester grades are due tomorrow, and blogging time is scarce.]

Interesting. I was thinking of writing a post called “Why I am not talking about The Anglican Situation here.” Just in case you all were wondering. The short answer is that there are plenty of other folks doing this quite well and the blogosphere is already full. So full in fact, that while I am grateful for the insights of many others (I list some of my favorites in the column at the right under “Blogging Anglicans”) I sometimes weary of our Episcopal and Anglican navel-gazing. If and when I do speak about the whole situation, it will be because a) I have something new and different to say (most likely from perspectives that aren’t out there – I note a dearth of ecumenical and feminist contributions, insights, and analysis) and/or b) I feel compelled, ethically or otherwise, to repeat here what others are also saying elsewhere, in the interests of communication to as broad a public as possible.

Enough on that.

Meanwhile, a more pressing concern, and one not unrelated to The Current Unpleasantness, has arisen and showed up in several messages in my inbox. In this situation, the safety and well-being of other humans are at stake. (Hmm. I thought of this blog initially as a place for some theological and spiritual reflections, and I see now that as in my theology and prayer, this cannot be separated from the real lives of real persons –and other sentient beings—who suffer in real social situations, nor can it be separated from social analysis or invitations to action. Not that I ever thought of all this as separate – I certainly don’t in my theological writings or in my teaching or justice work –but I’m noticing how this space is evolving even in this start-up phase. This post today is one more incarnation of my ongoing concern –dating back to college and then to sojourns at Taizé— about the intimate relationship between contemplation and action.)

Note this, search your conscience, and act. The Nigerian Senate is considering a bill, the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, that would criminalize all activities related to homosexuality—from private consensual behavior to speech, assembly, and commitment ceremonies. It appears that the bill will be brought up for a final vote in the Senate on Thursday, March 1st. The bill has already passed the Nigerian House.

Davis Mac-Iyalla, a courageous gay man from Nigeria who was present at the recent Anglican Primates’ meeting in Tanzania and is a leader in Changing Attitude Nigeria, has written contacts in the U.S. to ask for help. Here are two concrete things you can do.

1) Send an e-mail to Archbishop Peter Akinola ( (yes, that Peter Akinola) asking him to use his considerable influence with the Senate to defeat the bill. Remind him that paragraph 146 of the Windsor Report states that, "any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care." Keep it courteous and to the point.

2) Call the Nigerian Embassy (202-986-8400) in Washington, DC, to express your concerns about the bill. Remind embassy staff that Nigeria is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (brought to you by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which guarantees freedom from unfair discrimination and the right to privacy. Parts of the act are also inconsistent with the principle of non-discrimination found in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Nigerian Constitution.

Some perspectives from much closer to the situation than we are here are here and here.

Integrity, the Episcopal lgbt organization, has been working with Human Rights Watchand the Human Rights Campaign on other ways to defeat the bill. IGLHRC is also an excellent resource. (If you don’t know this organization, I recommend you have a look at their website. Just click the live link on their name in the last sentence. I first learned of them when a classmate of mine at the GTU got a job with them at least a decade ago.)

For a copy of the bill, see this site, which also has stories from Nigerians who have experienced discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation.

If you are moved to call and write, please do so ASAP. The Nigerian Senate vote is tomorrow, March 1.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"Putting My Body Where My Voice Is"

Rosalie writes that

..."The Well Behaved Women," a group of twenty from Chicago and Evanston and surrounding suburbs who were behaving as women should –protesting death-dealing government policies. We were part of a nationwide civil disobedience action coordinated by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the same folks who as Voices in the Wilderness did such good work against the Iraq sanctions before we invaded them again. The OP [Occupation Project] has tons of supporters, including Code Pink, whose Chicago members were very important to our action. (See either website for great photos and analysis.) I urge you to join this campaign.

Our protest was four-pronged--a meeting with Senator Durbin's staff, an outside supporting protest, a call-in to the Senator's office by others who supported our action, and the resistance action, where four of us were arrested --a poet, a medical doctor, a mother-to-be, and a grandmother--me. Twenty of us made an appointment with Durbin's office a month ago, hoping to meet with him as the Senate is in recess this week. Instead, he was campaigning in L.A. and as we met with his courteous staff, he was telling people he was voting for the supplemental "to support our troops." Even my arresting officer knows better--as we were walking to the elevator, he told me "All those big corporations are getting that money."

After we made the appointment, Durbin's office instituted a closed-door policy, which is clearly an abridgment of our First Amendment rights. We are surmising it's because four other Occupation Project protesters were arrested in his office two weeks ago. Only nine of us were allowed to meet with the staff and instead of going to the office, we were escorted by police to a separate meeting room on the third floor.

The rest of the women and other supporters picketed and leafleted outside the building during the meeting and the occupation action. Hundreds of others called the office voicing their objections to the Supplemental Bill. Or tried to call--apparently the phones became jammed. The meeting itself was wonderful, with each women speaking to a separate reason for de-funding the war--funding VA benefits, reparations for Iraq, needed community services in our own country, etc. etc. Some speakers gave cogent numerical analysis of what the money is earmarked for, one woman read a beautiful poem, and one spoke movingly of her wartime experiences as a child in Germany. At the end of the meeting I thanked the staff for listening and told them we were going to join our sisters who were not allowed into the meeting.

Just before the police ushered us all out of the door, Katie Dahlaw who was not able to get into the meeting, joined Dr. Marjorie Fujara, Laura Bernstein, and me in the lobby. We knelt down and immediately began our protest. Laura would sing the name of an Iraqi and then an American soldier killed in the war; I would ring my meditation bowl resoundingly, and then we would all chant, "Not one more death! Not one more dollar!"

The sound reverberated beautifully and people outside, including lots of media, could hear us. (Media was also able to sneak briefly into the building. I didn't see any of the television, but have heard there was quite a bit of it, including the Spanish language station and Chicago Tonight.) After about 15 minutes […] the police gently arrested us, took us to their office, issued us a citation for "Refusing to Obey a Sign" and released us. We had expected that they'd take us to a city precinct and hold us overnight, so we had phone numbers written on our arms and food stuck in our pockets. But we weren't, thank goodness, and this was surely one of my most pleasant arrests.

Chicago, however, is becoming a lock down. Yesterday, nonviolent protesters from the American Friends Service Committee, 8th Day Center for Justice, and St. Aloysius High School [did she mean Ignatius Prep?] were unable to even enter the doors of the federal building to deliver letters to Senators Durbin and Obama. Everyone should scream loudly about this further abridgment of our civil liberties. First the Senator's offices, now the entire building. Today will Federal Plaza itself be off limits to citizens?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Live links on the Chicago anti-war action

I've now made live links in my earlier post so you can click directly on the names of the two organizations to which The Well Behaved Women's effort was related.

More in a bit with details of the action from Rosalie's letter and some more links. Indymedia covered the event here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why are these women smiling?

My friend Rosalie (the woman with the white hair, a Catholic Worker and retired professor of English) and the three other women, one of them pregnant, engaged in a three-part action (education of the public, education of Senator Durbin of Illinois and his staff, and nonviolent resistance) in Chicago earlier this week. More later from Ro's letter, "Putting My Body Where My Voice Is," with quotes, information, and links. The photo was taken before the action.

The four are part of a group of twenty, "the Well Behaved Women," who took part in the education and lobbying action at the Federal Building in downtown Chicago, protesting Senator Durbin's plan to vote "Yes" on President Bush's Supplemental Appropriations Bills. Code Pink gave broader support to the action, which was also part of Voices for Creative Nonviolence's national action that day. The four, Rosalie, Katie, Marjorie, and Laura, were arrested.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Time for Lent

This will come out shortly in Guilford College's campus ministry newsletter.

And see the post below this one for an Ash Wednesday reflection from two years ago, "Ashes and Weeping," published in The Witness. Two very different audiences. The one in this post is not very churchy. The "Ashes and Weeping" one is much more so.

Time for Lent

“What are you giving up for Lent?” a friend asked me the evening before Ash Wednesday. I didn’t know and I didn’t want to think about it – I was in the middle of a late-night Mardi Gras party. Besides, it often takes me a week or ten days to figure out what I will “do for Lent.” By that time, it’s around the Second Sunday in Lent, but there’s a whole month left after that.

Lent, for those of you who don’t know, is the long season before Easter, the feast (and season) celebrating Jesus’ resurrection which begins with the commemoration of his suffering and death. For six weeks, Christian communities and their individual members engage in spiritual practices that foster a deeper relationship with God, a keener attention to charity and justice, and a reflective mood. Traditionally, this has also been a season of repentance – a season of turning, as in “turning back” or “turning around,” as in turning or returning, to God: in other words, a season of conversion, in the deepest sense of the word.

The three traditional practices of Lent –prayer, fasting, and almsgiving— are bodily and communal as much as they are matters for the individual and the soul. They are also intimately connected with one another, just as for Muslims the fast of the holy month of Ramadan is related to the injunction to give to the poor.

Christian congregations have various ways of living and encouraging their members to live Lent. And the individual members, depending on the shape and circumstances of their lives, adapt the ancient practices to the times in which they live.

And so we ask ourselves, and our friends ask us, “What will you do for Lent?”

There are some dangers hidden in this question. The first is this “doing for Lent” notion. We are, as a culture, preoccupied with and caught up in “doing” – producing, working, competing, achieving, being and staying busy. Our “doing for Lent” can get tangled up in that very pattern.

What Lenten practice or practices will help you and me get out of production mode in our lives and into relationship mode or contemplative mode? Is there a discipline we can practice that will bring us more life? That’s part of the point of Lent and its ancient practices. There’s a passage in the Gospels in which Jesus talks about coming to bring “life to the full.” I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean “a fuller schedule.”

If anything, Lent calls us not so much to do as to make room: for quiet time, for empty time, for time when we can receive the great message of embracing love.

Which brings me to the second difficulty with the “What will you do for Lent?” question. In case you hadn’t noticed, we have a big time problem at Guilford. Much of our community is sleep-deprived. Faculty and staff work twenty and thirty hours beyond the long-forgotten forty-hour work week. Students often do as well, juggling jobs and full course loads and in some cases, families or sports team commitments. Paperwork and deadlines abound. Meetings multiply. E-mail and cell phones are ever present. A constant stream of information and communication enters our ears, our visual field, our bodies and minds. Our weekends have shrunk. Sabbath time is scarce.

A telling conversation took place in my “Health, Spirituality, and Justice” class just this week. We’ve been reading The Sabbath, the classic work on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) by Abraham Joshua Heschel and a few essays on related topics. Students have learned about the Jewish Sabbath, but also had a chance to reflect more broadly on Sabbath in their own (mostly non-Jewish, in some cases Christian, in other religiously unaffiliated) lives and examining whether and how they engage in any of the practices associated with the traditional Sabbath: a regular weekly rhythm of rest, time for reconnecting with the sacred, festive meals with loved ones, the nurturing of community life, study of holy wisdom and sacred texts, attention to beauty and sensuality, honoring intimacy. Several in the class noted that they simply were not able to find time even for a Sabbath afternoon, let alone for 24 or 25 hours.How can we find time –not just once a week, which is hard enough, but on a regular basis during Lent, perhaps daily—for practice that fosters contemplation, reflection, and remembrance of the world’s need for justice and healing, when this time is “on top of everything else?”

Something’s got to give.

Think about Lent as a time to do less. Let go of something. Maybe that’s what fasting means for us this season. A little less television. A little less web surfing. A weekly or daily time of prayer or meditation, indoors or out, that can happen because something “gave,” or rather because we gave up something. Without the building of a protective boundary around some portion of our time –on a regular, repeated basis—we cannot even begin to live the practices of Lent.

We can start “small and simple.” This is not the spiritual Olympics. God isn’t standing over us with a stop watch. Not ever, but especially not in a season meant to help us rediscover the tenderness of divine love.

Giving up time in order to make time, for the sake of life to the full, life to the full in the here and now: this is a choice. Most of us have it. Most of us can make it.

But sometimes –often— the time bind is systemic. It isn’t just about our lacking will power or discipline. More and more, the culture in which we live, both in the U.S. and at Guilford, reinforces doing rather than being, production rather than celebration and contemplation, and the lack of boundaries between work and home. It squeezes out time for contemplation and relationship. It affects privileged people whose salaries are high but who are pressured to work 70 hours a week and who worry –I have seen this!—about what kindergarten their 3-month-old baby will get into five years hence so that she can get into the best prep school to get into the best college later on. Even more, it affects the greater number of people who don’t have the choice whether or not to work that extra shift so they can pay their rent or feed their children, or to attend school full-time while working twenty hours a week at minimum wage.

So what keeps us from adopting spiritual disciplines –in Lent and elsewhere in time— is sometimes a cultural or economic or institutional factor: the encroachment of work on private and community time, economic necessity, the structuring of workplaces, schools, and religious communities.

The solutions to spiritual need, then, are not just individual. Like the solutions to physical hunger, they are communal. The loss of Sabbath time – and by extension, the loss of Lenten contemplative time – will not be remedied only by individual choices and mindful acts of spiritual practice. It will also find restitution, repair, and healing through campaigns for living wage, through creation of healthier workplaces, through collective and leadership decisions to consider and honor the hungers of body and spirit.

Which brings me to a final point. “What are you going to do for Lent?” and “What are you giving up for Lent?” are individual questions. Alert: Lent is a communal journey. A colleague of mine once spoke of it as a retreat on which the whole church community goes together for six weeks. The Christian community looks toward Easter together and it journeys together. Spiritual practice isn’t just something that happens as one more personal choice. We can’t do it alone.

Find a community of faith and practice, on campus or off. (You won’t be signing your life away. We’re talking six weeks here.) Find a buddy and share your Lenten practices with a partner. Find or start a small group, whether it is a Lenten group for prayer and meditation, or one of the campus ministry-sponsored “Passional Attraction” groups. Seek out wise elders and peers. Ask for help and for resources. Use your imagination and tap the imagination of others. Stillness needs and requires support.

Time for Lent. Think about it.


One possible source of support for the Lenten journey, written especially for students:

Sitting Still, available for free download at .

Or, if you want, you can sign up for free daily e-mail meditations by sending a blank e-mail with your e-mail address as the subject line and the words “join meditations” in the body of the e-mail to .

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Recovering lament: "Ashes and Weeping," revisited

Gospel entreaties to private prayer notwithstanding, Ash Wednesday is one of the most public days of the Christian year. At what other time do Christians from the liturgical churches have a visible mark on their skin?

No rose tattoo, this. Ashes.

“You have created us out of the dust of the earth. . .” Thus we pray before the imposition of ashes in the Ash Wednesday liturgy. Meditating on the day's scriptures in the past weeks, I have thought often of that dust, more as earth than as ashes; the prayer reminds me of our createdness and of the planet and soil on which we live. From earth we come, to earth we shall return, through earth we are connected to all that lives.

But as Ash Wednesday grows close – and as I hear the
news each day, look around me, and search my own heart – I find myself thinking of ashes as . . .

For the rest of the essay, see

I wrote this reflection in anticipation of Ash Wednesday two years ago, for the recently defunct and much lamented The Witness.

I think it is still pertinent this year.

Blessings, all, for this Ash Wednesday 2007.