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An Independence Day to Remember

     I write these words on the morning of July 4, but I celebrated the Independence Day holiday last night.  An outdoor concert, parking lot dance floor and lovely fireworks display took place at the nursing home/memory care facility where my mom lives.  It was my best July 4th in years.

 

     Many (maybe most) of the residents lined up in their wheelchairs last night to enjoy the beautiful July evening have, like my own mother (despite a lifetime of work), run out of sufficient financial resources to afford the care they need.  Their care is supplemented by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  As my mother and I often say, "Thank you, FDR."  But of course we also know it is right to say, "Thank you, America."

 

     Some of the residents are old.  Some of them are fairly young.  All of them have severe disabilities.  Some have family members who live nearby and visit often.  Some have close family who don't seem interested.  Others have loving family members who live far away.  Last night everyone had a family because everyone was included.

 

     The staff and facility owners were there with their own children.  Teens and adults served ice cream cones and hammed it up to entertain the crowd.  Some like my mom became captivated by young children and teens who clowned around, danced to the music, or sat down to hold hands with people who have few hands to hold.  The musicians used their electronic keyboard, toe-tapping percussion beat, and heartfelt songs to lift the spirit of those in attendance.  It worked with me!

 

     Whenever a disoriented resident seemed ready to join the band, one of the singers danced the resident back to the audience, all smiles and joy.  The fireworks at the end worried my mom a bit (they always did; once a mom, always a mom) but captivated some of the men who may have been remembering their own battlefield experiences when bombs did, indeed, burst in the air.  

 

     I am grateful for the generous hearts of the staff who hosted such an unforgettable evening and who care for my mother and others daily in so many loving ways.

 

     I am grateful for the kind of "safety net" which provides a secure home for the disabled, both young and old, who need one.

 

Posted by Diane | 8:53 am, 7/04/13 | Permalink





mazel tov !

     With yesterday's historic decision by the Supreme Court, it has now been established that federal law may not discriminate against same-sex couples whose marriages have been registered in any of the states which allow same-sex marriage.  Mazel tov!


     The decision is a good and long awaited ratification that all are equal to marry the one they love; families of gay couples are worthy of protection, respect and celebration; churches like ours who have been a bit ahead of the curve on this issue can now share the joy of our many members who are personally affected by this momentous change.  Mazel tov!


     I decided to look up the Hebrew term 'mazel tov' and found that literally it means "good luck."  However, its sense is not so much "hope things work out for you in the future" but rather "way to go and congratulations; you have much to celebrate." 


     That is truly the sense that I hold in my heart and mind as I say to all those who have risked so much and worked so hard to bring new understanding and affirmation for same-sex marriage.  Mazel tov!   Now, work remains to be done to guarantee marriage equality here in Oregon. 


     On that score I must still say, "Good luck."  Perhaps within the year this will change to "Mozel tov."  


 


    


  

Posted by Diane | 5:26 pm, 6/27/13 | Permalink





How to Defend Marriage

     Last week's fascinating Supreme Court hearings about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) made me think about the ways in which marriage might actually be defended.  It takes more to defend marriage than simply passing a law which refuses federal benefits and protections to any but "traditional" marriages between a man and a woman. 


     It is startling, for example, to realize fraudulent or frivolous marriages of the stereotypical "Hollywood" variety (think:  Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen, media personalities and mutually destructive relationships of many descriptions) receive protections and supports refused to any number of stable marriages in our own church family (those which, one hopes, will soon become legal in Oregon) simply because the marriages in our church family are between people of the same sex.   


     Aside from the legal questions, what can a church do to "defend" all marriages?  We have Biblical traditions which value longstanding covenants.  We have New Testament teachings which, while dated in their view of women, nevertheless do promote ideas of mutual love and respect within marriage.   We have the lived experience of church life which honors families and marriages by blessing and celebrating permanent commitments, and offering support during seasons of challenge which enter every marriage and family.  We have a value system which honors many diverse configurations of "family'"and seeks to weave us all together within the Body of Christ.    


     The Defense of Marriage Act is not nearly ambitious enough when it comes to defending marriage and family.   I believe we reach far higher in our efforts to defend but also honor, nurture and celebrate marriage and family.   May God guide us in searching for new and better ways to sustain you and yours, your children and your families, your expressions of commitment, and your relationships of love, loyalty and trust.   


 


 

Posted by Diane | 5:24 pm, 4/04/13 | Permalink





The President and the Settlers

     Following President Obama's recent journey to Israel and Palestine, several people have asked about my reaction to his actions and words there.  A few have been surprised by my deep disappointment in our president.  "But didn't you find satisfaction in his words before Israeli college students?" several have asked.


     It's true the president asked Israeli college students to imagine life as it is experienced by Palestinian children.   It's true the president articulated the idea that Palestinians deserve their own country.  It's true he "talked nice" about the need for peace between Israel and Palestine.


     However, this is what he also did:  he vowed eternal (!) support for Israel as a Jewish nation.  This Jewish nation currently includes 20% Palestinian citizens, and this, of course, does not count Palestinians who live under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, or as refugees elsewhere in the world.   A nation which gives significant legal preferences to a single religion or ethnicity is not, in my view, a true democracy. 


     The president also expressed support for the "two state solution" but did so without challenging ongoing construction of illegal Israeli settlements (actually large, permanent and imposing communities) on Palestinian land.


     In fact, the president expressed the idea that Palestinians should no longer demand the cessation of settlement construction as a prerequisite for peace negotiations.   I disagree.   Using a now-classic comparison to describe this option, one could ask:  is it sensible to have a negotiating session over a large, yummy pizza ... all the while watching the other side eat piece after piece of that pizza so that, at the end, there is only one piece left ... and that single piece is full of holes because the other side has picked out all the good stuff and has eaten its fill?   This is the current situation in the Occupied West Bank.  (Although Gaza is intact as a geographical unit, it is actually an open air prison under blockade from land, sea and air.)


     Finally, here is the crowning blow accomplished by the president did during his visit to Israel:  he promised continued, expansive military spending (more to Israel than to any other country; currently $2 billion per year) to support with no restraint or oversight Israel's policies both foreign and domestic.   This means the United States will continue to fund the brutal occupation of Palestine through building the Separation Wall and Bypass Road System which sustain this occupation.  This system turns the lives of Palestinians into a tortuous system of relentless military checkpoints, unbridled military power over daily details of living and travel, and perpetual suffering under the absence of human rights, denial of economic equality, militarily-blocked access to privately-owned agricultural land, and rampant degradation of the environment.


     No, I was not happy with President Obama's journey to Israel and Palestine.  The president has failed to earn his Nobel Peace Prize.   In my view he should give it back.


      


 

Posted by Diane | 9:27 am, 3/28/13 | Permalink





Old Testament Memoirs

     As I wrote in a recent entry, I enjoy reading memoirs.  I mentioned that I like my memoirists (is that a word?) to be honest about their real experiences ... the good, the bad and the ugly.


     Something I recently came across made me realize the psalms of the Old Testament are often something very close to memoirs.  Yes, they are also sometimes prayers, hymns, liturgies and poems.  There are many different types of psalms.  But many of them are memoirs in the sense they reveal some rather dark issues in the lives of the writers, often followed by deep reflection upon those issues.


     Would you like a few examples?  Take a look at Psalm 102 (a very personal reflection), Psalm 106 (the recounting of Israel's history of rebellion against God) or Psalm 139 (one of the most beautiful and at the same time one of the most unfortunate of psalms -- at least from a 'love your enemy' perspective) if you read it all the way to the end.


    Take some time with the psalms.  Remember that one of the amazing things about our Bible is its inclusion of negative portraits, words and deeds of our forebears.  In the same way that we learn from the mistakes of others when reading memoirs so, too, our holy scripture can provide a similar opportunity.  


    

Posted by Diane | 10:51 am, 2/26/13 | Permalink





Old Testament Memoirs

     As I wrote in a recent entry, I enjoy reading memoirs.  I mentioned that I like my memoirists (is that a word?) to be honest about their real experiences ... the good, the bad and the ugly.


     Something I recently came across made me realize the psalms of the Old Testament are often something very close to memoirs.  Yes, they are also sometimes prayers, hymns, liturgies and poems.  There are many different types of psalms.  But many of them are memoirs in the sense they reveal some rather dark issues in the lives of the writers, often followed by deep reflection upon those issues.


     Would you like a few examples?  Take a look at Psalm 102 (a very personal reflection), Psalm 106 (the recounting of Israel's history of rebellion against God) or Psalm 139 (one of the most beautiful and at the same time one of the most unfortunate of psalms -- at least from a 'love your enemy' perspective) if you read it all the way to the end.


    Take some time with the psalms.  Remember that one of the amazing things about our Bible is its inclusion of negative portraits, words and deeds of our forebears.  In the same way that we learn from the mistakes of others when reading memoirs so, too, our holy scripture can provide a similar opportunity.  


    

Posted by Diane | 10:50 am, 2/26/13 | Permalink





Old Testament Memoirs

     As I wrote in a recent entry, I enjoy reading memoirs.  I mentioned that I like my memoirists (is that a word?) to be honest about their real experiences ... the good, the bad and the ugly.


     Something I recently came across made me realize the psalms of the Old Testament are often something very close to memoirs.  Yes, they are also sometimes prayers, hymns, liturgies and poems.  There are many different types of psalms.  But many of them are memoirs in the sense they reveal some rather dark issues in the lives of the writers, often followed by deep reflection upon those issues.


     Would you like a few examples?  Take a look at Psalm 102 (a very personal reflection), Psalm 106 (the recounting of Israel's history of rebellion against God) or Psalm 139 (one of the most beautiful and at the same time one of the most unfortunate of psalms -- at least from a 'love your enemy' perspective) if you read it all the way to the end.


    Take some time with the psalms.  Remember that one of the amazing things about our Bible is its inclusion of negative portraits, words and deeds of our forebears.  In the same way that we learn from the mistakes of others when reading memoirs so, too, our holy scripture can provide a similar opportunity.  


    

Posted by Diane | 10:50 am, 2/26/13 | Permalink





Would I want him as a friend? Probably not. But I like his book.

     An interesting discussion took place last week at Readers' Rendezvous.


     This is a group in the church which meets every two months to discuss books we have all been reading.  We read fiction, memoirs and the occasional literary nonfiction selection.    Last week we discussed Cactus Eaters by Dan White.  It is the story of White's journey along the Pacific Crest Trail with his girlfriend.  It is fun and funny to read.  For some in our group it was also off-putting and  irritating.


     Why the negative reactions?  Because Dan White describes his own behavior and it is often not very nice.  He fails badly in offering compassion toward his girlfriend ... who sometimes  was the one who saved both of their skins, but who developed some physical problems along the way which kept her from completing the entire trail.  Dan showed himself lacking in sympathy and sometimes sense, while oversupplied with selfishness and preoccupation and a few other "me first" attributes as well.  


     Our group discussion centered around the question:  Do you enjoy reading the story of someone you don't like very much?  Would you read another book by the same author because he is interesting or funny ... despite the fact he sometimes fails the Decent Guy Test?   Some of us will never read another book by Dan White.  Others of us would do so for sure.  


     I fall in the second category.  In fact, I favor both memoirs and works of fiction which portray far-less-than-perfect people that I end up liking anyway.  I admit:  if they get TOO irritating I will put the book aside.  But I consider the "clay feet" of main characters a positive attribute in the literature I read.  That's why I believe anyone who works with people should read lots of fiction --- it's a good way to learn about people in all their complexity, imperfection and lovableness.  It's also a good way to spend time getting to know someone with whom you don't have to be in a relationship in real life!


    The same goes for the people in the Bible, after all.  Many of the figures we revere and from whom we are still learning valuable lessons are shown in the pages of our scripture to have been flawed and at times infuriating.  Even Jesus got mad once and knocked over other peoples' tables!  He occasionally called names ("Brood of Vipers" comes to mind) and he wasn't always sweetness and light to his mom.   


     Connecting with the experience of negative behavior and learning to understand people who make mistakes or persist with genuine flaws --- these are factors in all the enduring relationships of our lives.    This is literature's gift to us:  to let us know people we will never meet ... and might choose not to meet even if we could.  


       


    

Posted by Diane | 9:05 am, 2/05/13 | Permalink





In Memorium: Emily Gottfried: bridgebuilder and interfaith leader

     With great sadness we have learned of the death yesterday of Emily Gottfried, Executive Director of the Oregon American Jewish Committee.  


     Emily was one of the world's relentlessly positive, engaged, warm spirited and thoughtful people.  Her presence in the circles of interfaith activism and dialogue stamped the Portland and Washington County interfaith world with a positive focus and deep friendliness. 


     She was deeply and joyously rooted in her Jewish faith.  She was as pragmatic as she was optimistic.  When things didn't go her way, she didn't allow a disappointment to slow her down.  She was a loyal friend to many and always honored the human dimension of professional relationships.


     When our congregation began hosting both the Interfaith Thanksgiving Worship Service and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Celebration, Emily was always present to help plan, lead and widen the involvement by including new faces and communities.  When invited to participate in an interfaith event, Emily simply never said no.


     One of the things I remember coming several times from Emily's lips was a sentiment expressed in a Jewish saying which she enjoyed quoting.  I may not have this exactly correct in its original form, but this is what I remember:


     In our labors for justice, we are not required to finish the work ourselves but neither are we allowed to cease working toward the purposes we hold.


    Thank you, Emily, for all you have taught me.


     Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors and their works do follow them.

Posted by Diane | 3:44 pm, 1/28/13 | Permalink





Could it be the American Spring?

     That's my question of the day.  Could this be the season of the American Spring? 


     The "Arab Spring" has brought successful toppling of dictators and greater freedom for millions in the Middle East.   While political and military developments have not been without turmoil and the final result is still much in the making, it's obvious a pent-up desire for freedom from dictators recently unleashed momentous change in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere.  Surprising results have produced previously unthinkable freedom of speech, popular elections, and genuine hope for a better future.


     Here in the United States, I sense a similar unleashing of hope born of repressed despair following recent gun massacres in shopping malls, movie theaters, college campuses and  classrooms.  We read the newspaper differently now when learning about domestic violence which is all too simple to accomplish when vast stores of weapons are tucked into closets and cupboards of normal households.  We are discussing types of guns and rifles and bullet capacities in ways which reveal significant distinctions and necessary judgments.   


     Suddenly the news of gun violence in its many forms is 'sticking' again.  We are noticing patterns to which we have long turned a blind eye.  The president has proposed overturning a rule which had prohibited the Centers for Disease Control from studying the effects of gun violence.   How could a law like that even get passed?  I believe today it would not pass.  Its cancelation will provide helpful, horrifying, difficult and necessary information.


     Now we are beginning to fit pieces of reality together into an uncomfortable portrait of our society. This is painful but it is essential.  Ultimately it is a sign of hope.  


     Are we finally able to claim responsibility for what our culture has become?  Are we ready to stop capitulating to economic and political bullying by the gun lobby?  Can we affirm both a constitutional right to gun ownership and the necessity for laws against placing weapons of war (too often silently and secretly) into the hands of perpetrators of monstrosities?    Yes. We can do this now.


     I hope the American Spring will summon from rank and file Americans a similar courage,     yearning for change, and hope for the future which drove much of the Arab Spring.   As with the people of the Middle East, it won't be a simple process or a straight line to fulfillment of all our goals.  But it is a sign of hope that we are gathering in various locales, media outlets and community settings to discuss the problem of gun violence in our cities, towns, media and families.


     If you would like to join people from our church who are involved in this conversation, I invite you to gather for this purpose Sunday, February 10, 12:15 in Mayflower Room.     It will be a safe place to examine our American epidemic of violence.  It will be an opportunity respectfully to strategize ways of stemming its tide. 


 


 

Posted by Diane | 5:02 pm, 1/24/13 | Permalink