Sunday, June 25, 2017

After the Violence Usually the Debris, But Not Always

A re-portrayal of Seneca Falls meeting.
During a trip to upstate New York, Brook and I stopped off to visit the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls. It's where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others had formative, first meetings in 1848. It would be 72 years before that translated into rights for women as voting citizens. 

The gestation of this movement is fascinating. It began, in part, when women abolitionists were rebuffed from having a say at the world's first anti-slavery convention in London. Women had the same fever over the sin of slavery but had to sit silently in the gallery during debate. On the return voyage from England, Lucretia Coffin Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton used this indignity as energy for organizing.

The energy of the Women's Suffrage Movement, the rallies, the marches, the advocacy and the arrests were born of the violence perpetrated on them. 

That word, "violence", normally infers a physical injury, but violence--according to Webster--can have subtler forms as, "injury by distortion or infringement." Someone can grab your arm...or your rights; it still comes down to the same thing. 

(At this writing the Senate is contemplating removing millions of Americans from the Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act in the name of prudent fiscal policy. Their reason coincides with the conservative view of restricting how government interacts and provides social service. That might be academically reasonable--after all, if your rich enough life is about choices--but in reality millions of lower income Americans already have such social support. The "grab" or take-back of Medicaid allotments from millions of Americans will not pretty. Indeed, on a day-to-day level we will witness a certain violence to lives and health.)

As I addressed in titling this piece, violence can leave behind human debris. In other entries of this blog I've recorded visits to recuperative military hospitals in Germany and Walter Reed where brave women and men struggled to reclaim lives after an improvised explosive device (IED) injured a limb or brain. U.S. intervention in a foreign war has a new context after visiting these brave veterans. This could be that awful debris of unfulfilled lives.

But it's in those hospital rooms and adjacent hallways where the newly wounded military women and men practice their first moments of adjustment and living again. Those times are not that different from Elizabeth Cady Stanton's intention after being silenced and sent to that London gallery when important talk continued on in spite of them. Circumstances could have sidelined them. You're a wounded vet, so normal living isn't possible. You're a woman, so political action and full citizenship isn't possible. 

But this is the mystery of what violence brings because that dark force eventually runs out of energy. (Brook just reminded me of nature's rhythm that observes such energy coming and going like a wave, and, with that, follows an inevitable recoil.) In western terms, a space occurs in which we can realize what violence has done. Recognition of this takes some intention because we might witness a whole renewal of the violent cycle again. (Post traumatic stress can have a secondary bewilderment as we wait on the arrival of this insight.)

Or, we can live violence as small talk.
Am. Legion crowd after new officer induction.

Just today I met Eddie in front of the local American Legion Hall. A very nice guy, he and I, gray haired, settled into our war stories about Vietnam. It was OK but sentimentalizing about war and heroism becomes almost folk art by which we lull ourselves, trading camaraderie and comfort for facing the ugly truth of what we did. Such violent experiences should move us to something else beyond a mimic of trading ball scores. 

Too often the Church is like that for our culture. We'll talk about the awfulness of violence, almost like we're visiting the zoo. The terrible creatures of deadly force are "over there." 

As Rev. William J. Barber II sums it up for today's church, "do a little prayer, do a little worship, and do a little charity. That's pale Christianity." 

Rev. Barber's diagnosis? He recommends that the Church be the "moral defibrillator" for the culture. 

I would add, those paddles need to used on the Institution first. 

(I'm fully confident Christ's Body is healthy and beating somewhere.) +gep

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I'm Back, this time with new-old friends

Sorry for the absence. I've been living in a faraway land thinking only of my garden and a growing list of doctors' appointments.

However, while at the consecration of new bishop Carl Wright at the National Cathedral in February I was approached by Executive  Director Rev. Alison Liles and Administrator Ms. Shannon Berndt to return to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. (I had served as their chaplain for two years awhile ago.) "No", they urged, "this time we'd like you to serve as the vice chair."

I needed to mull that one over, some. It meant working for real and not from the safe, spiritual sidelines and  commitment had a sting these days. Read on.

It was a simple mulling, really. I'm not sure the institutional church matters much anymore. The stock answer is that the Body of Christ continues through history as an on-going presence and legacy of Jesus Christ. It takes a better mind than mine to validate all that but my experience with the Occupy movement convinced me that organized religion in America did not significantly contribute to the moral reflection a civilized culture needed. Mostly, it meanders using its own continuing existence as a point of reference. In nearly every occasion the expressed need in the world might be addressed but invariably attention would circle back to what the church was, had done, and would do (if the next fund raising was ever completed.)

I accept the generalities in the preceding paragraph and giving sad evidence of these facts will only be mentioned as an afterthought in this blog as I try to find and share the vestiges of a remaining relevant church. There is evidence of such a "church" but now it travels under different presentations and names...and at 73 I didn't think I'd be listing them. The easier ones to see are groups like The Episcopal Peace Fellowship (hereon, "EPF"). There are many reasons I say this. Primarily, for now, EPF is not "church" as we have known it but a factor in its journey of discovery. EPF has a history of cheering from the sidelines as it has--hat in hand--lobbied church conventions to emphasize significant stands. Its agenda has been advocacy and more advocacy.

So that's your new definition of "church"? It's a start, because the leftover institutional church has ignored or minimized the importance of witness. To be fair, old church has been urged into other domains such as coziness and member support. There is ample evidence of the present alienating, competitive environment we live in now so religious institutions have offered the kind of succor congregants need. Church leaders emphasize the security of liturgy, fellowship and study, That last item might lead to activism but the subject matter is self referential; highlights will always be prayer, solving modest personal social challenges and, of course, that old standby, "how to grow the church."

Let me give you an example of the quick-to-the-point energy of EPF. On the very afternoon of my acceptance of the vice chair position I joined a conference call on gun violence. During the call I met Bob Lotz, who after discussing some standard worries on the subject, added that there was even greater worry in his town of Lansing, MI about an anti-Muslim hate group, "Act for America" and their intended "March Against Sharia Law." None of us on the call felt that we had strayed from the subject of gun violence and later I wondered why that was so.

It used to be that old church conversation incorporated any social justice topic but now that continues through pan-need fund drives which in effect say, "relax, we'll scoop up all the requests for need and deposit them in a fund drive or a committee for you." In most churches the general population is spared social justice conversation; one can feel the shift of energy when those challenges are brought's not pleasant.

I believe if you are in tune with the deeper needs of the world you want to talk about these things and feel your life has been cheaply modified if you don't give some life time to the discomfort of it. There's an itch you haven't scratched. In old church meetings one can feel the dis-ease when the subject of commitment and action must be addressed. It's a visceral reaction, a serious development, and another subject for discussion here.

But back to Bob Lotz and that Muslim hate march. I think we talked about other things besides gun violence because we could...and we sorta knew no one else in the old church was going to. If EPF does that alone the search for vestiges for relevant church is vindicated. +gep

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Polite Justice is No Justice At All

The church may be grounded in hope – when it isn’t actively enabling oppression – but if I was a Palestinian reading this letter, I wouldn’t invest my future in Lutheran hope. In fact, I would admonish Bishop Eaton and the Lutherans for wanting the respectable ear of the President more than embracing the active reckoning needed as Palestinian hope for a real state and real freedom continues to recede. - See more at:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

General Seminary's Vanishing Safe Space

In case you didn’t know, The Episcopal Church has a seminary in New York City. Given the strains of organized religion these days, it has gone through challenges ranging from threats of insolvency to student attrition. Through it all “General” (General Theological Seminary) has honorably muddled through. You might imagine the seminary’s corporate management has wrung its hands over recent years through such fits and starts. 

Indeed, the Board of Trustees has resolved to keep the place on track. So far this a simple story but what happened next reveals a more unsettling narrative about why Americans are suspicious of institutions to include institutional religion. When it comes to things that matter you know where their hearts are and they ain’t with you.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hardly a Struggle

Though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a close vote recommending limited military action in Syria (10 for, 7 against) the fact that a vote was rushed to further conversation by the full body and the character of amendment says a lot of about priorities. They begin and end with us.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"The God Who Hates Lies"

The title of this piece is from a book by Rabbi David Hartman. He was writing about contemporary Jewish thought but his premise applies to any tension between a conservative, static interpretation of tradition versus a dynamic, ongoing dialogue. 

He writes, "...the authority of the past cannot claim our allegiance when it conflicts with the immediate reality of the present. Our experience must not be denied because of  the authority of the past. This is an image of a God that wants us not to use the authority of the past to lie to Him.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bradley Manning

The bombing of the village of Granai, Afghanistan occurred four years ago this month--that's how long the saga of Bradley Mannings's humiliation has  been going on, i.e., if you include the war crimes he exposed. In that case civilians where killed but our military covered it up. It was his first disclosure of classified documents and an answer to the arrogance of Dick Cheney's statement that after September 11th we (America, you and me) would have to work "on  the dark side." Morality would occasionally be set aside for the so gradually, bit by bit, the country we all love--the good guys--morphed into one the conspiracies Julian Assange wrote about. Later, a new President would concoct a paragraph in the National Authorization Act allowing him to arrest anyone, anytime. There would be no trial, and now with drone warfare any bothersome character could be snuffed out. 

I've seen heroism up close on the battlefield. It is never a pure thing. Often it's a quick reaction to training and certainly to the safety of friends. Oddly, because war is a young person’s enterprise courage can arise out of a swirl of immature ego need in young adulthood but mostly something prompts one to act in that crucial moment.

Sure, Specialist Manning had encouragement from his idol Richard Stallman as a new free software devotee, “fight for freedom anyway you can”, he wrote in essays as a gift to Brad. But in his disclosures moments of bravery all came together: a preference for the hacking community, his access to this wealth of forbidden information and his own distress in finding a place in the world.

That’s all psychological and solid but it doesn’t go far enough to describe this young soldiers stepping into the open moment. On the one hand he read the classified documents; on the other—as an inquisitive news junkie—he compared it to the actual outcomes…civilians were killed, and at Guantanamo the Red Cross was prevented supporting prisoners and there was a protocol for torture.

At the root of the word, courage, is the Latin word for heart, cor.  “Hearting” into that breach for Specialist Manning was less about his personal loneliness and more about holding onto some truth that mattered. This young man, who in early teen years was the only one to ride the Silver Bullet roller coaster, was braving it out again.

We owe him our gratitude and support since the Fort Meade trial will be a showcase for how much the system clutches to power yet how this 23 year old remains poised and resilient. And in our reflection on his behavior perhaps we can spend some time on our own: how is it that we have allowed these things  to be done in our name?