Archive for February, 2012

Personhood and Peace in Our Time
February 24, 2012

I got an idea that could end the whole Republican war on women. In fact in the essence of bilateralism, that’s where I got the idea. Call it the sincerest form of flattery, if you will, the idea is this: A Personhood Amendment for Women.

It would define women as people, too, and make any effort to wrest control of their bodies away from them a Crime. Propose legislation that would take away women’s reproductive choices? You’ll be impeached. Consider making women pay for prescribed contraception? You lose your own cushy congressional health plan. And do your community service in a daycare center. Suggest crazyass, rapist-minded laws requiring vaginal ultrasounds for healthy women? Off to pound-your-ass penitentiary for you.

Sounds crazy, but it just might restore dignity to our discourse, allow us to focus on real life and death issues, and bring peace in our time.


At Church
February 24, 2012

MegaChurch, Fl — I learned at church the other day that you can buy a set of highlighters specifically marketed to use on your bible. The thin pages may require a particularly delicate highlighter. I don’t know, but you also can get a four-color pen that is sold as a bible underlining tool. In the same place, which is the bookstore of the particular church I was visiting, you can choose from a great number of books written to provide guidance with life’s choices. “Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes” was the title of one, the subtitle “giving yourself permission to lighten up” providing a hint of the good news inside, Chapter 4 “God Likes a Party.”

Which is good news, to the extent that it is news. I’m not sure. What kind of party? Not like a Sodom and Gomorrah one, I’m thinking. Depending on your interpretation of that story. Anyway, it was all reassuring that inside the church could be just like outside the church, which can be a good thing.

I was in this one because, having been raised as an orthodox atheist, I want to know more about shared understandings of the sacred and spiritual. I’ve been to Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, AME, and synagogues — in New York, Zambia, Dublin, Richmond, Virginia, for that reason.

“A house of worship is a house of worship, to me; I’ll go to all of them, Baptist, Methodist, synagogue, ” one of the women clustered in my coop’s pool surprised me by saying today. She was in the midst of a conversation of who had gotten ashes yesterday. I was reading a book and didn’t want to talk so I didn’t chime in to say “two minds one thought,” but also because they really are different. Churches are like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.

In Zambia, (Baptist and Pentecostal) the services are long, crowded, tend toward fire, brimstone and homophobia, and the benches are hard. In the synagogues I’ve been to, I had to sit in the balcony and couldn’t follow most of what was going on. In the Episcopal churches I can follow most of it, my mind wanders, and I love the melodies of the hymns. Aside from that, I can’t generalize.

A guiding principle of the one I went to the other day — with the bookstore, the cafe, the band, the ladies room with a line, the jokey delivery of the sermon — seemed to be to minimize the distance between inside and outside. But also to feel part of something by going in. The problem was I didn’t. The pastor resorted to tired sexual stereotypes for humor. That bothered my friend slightly more than it did me, but only because having grown up in an era when that kind of kidding peaked, my scar tissue has impaired nerve endings. I don’t think its a helpful way to make us closer to each other and our higher natures though. And it is at least as alienating as being sent to sit in the balcony. I didn’t get the joke.

That night, by some coincidence, I saw “For the Bible Tells Me So” an exploration of the interaction between organized religion and homophobia. It followed five families, all of whom suffered, in varying degrees because of what they believed, or didn’t know about homosexuality. In some cases their churches fostered outright hatred and intolerance. In the case of Bishop Eugene Robinson, the church gave its parishioners a chance to be part of a better world. In most cases the church did nothing.

And nothing, amid the tired jokes, no greater knowledge of how we can realize the promise and purpose of our shared humanity, is what I walked away with Sunday. The sermon was about the church being the bride of Christ, and how we all should work to get the bride ready, because He is coming soon. I don’t know how He will judge what he finds, but I believe history will judge the churches that stay silent or rooted in the past.


At the Beach
February 23, 2012

LANTANA, FL — The air was the exact temperature you’d want it to be: a touch of sun, a touch of breeze, fresh, embracing. The sea was all kinds of turquoise, topped with lacelike white waves, dancing against the shell-strewn sand.

Birds passing through stopped by to enjoy — short-legged ones with long yellow bills, strangers normally to this beach.

Fat families sprawled crowded together around sand-castles and coolers. Taut teenagers lay stoicly still, jumped up, took pictures of each other. A grandfather walked along the shore his face tilted down to his little charge, who stooped into the sand and delightedly raised a treasure he found there.

“Yeah, but that one’s not particularly special,” the grandfather replied, “I don’t see anything special about it.”

Skin in the Fight
February 9, 2012

West Palm Beach, FL — The expensive leisurewear that the comfortable retirees wore to plead their case at a county commission meeting made their turnout countable, but otherwise did them no favor. I, who am hoping not to spend my retirement years in a nursing home, am sympathetic with their plight. They worked hard, maybe inherited well, saved judiciously, and then, sadly, purchased property right on the beach. Unfortunately, apparently, the realtors forgot to tell them that the second-largest ocean in the world borders their backyards, and comes crashing in everyday, stealing some of their sand. What a crummy deal. Boy did they get screwed.

So they came before the county commission and pointed out that they pay taxes for a bunch of things they don’t even use, like roads and schools on the other side of the bridge, which they’d rather attend their own funeral than cross, evidently, so it’s time they caught a break. The break they want is for the county to build some groins — picture them — to hold the ocean in place for their convenience at a nearly quarter of a billion dollar cost. Yes some uncountable costs come with that plan — to the sea turtles who make up part of our earthly family, to monitor whether their numbers are decimated, to tear the things out if they are, to taxpayers who will have to pay exponentially more if some part of that doesn’t go right, but this is urgent.

One Islander put it this way, with a catch in his voice: “I stand on my balcony and all I see is water.” Oy! It makes you picture those who stood on their roofs in New Orleans in 2005, doesn’t it? Except that it’s a balcony and not a roof, and it’s like, 27 stories up, instead of one, and when he says see, he means  “see,” he doesn’t mean “drowning in it and my bloated body not being found for three weeks.”

The highlight of the evening was when an otherwise majestic elderly gentleman, dressed for golf, with absolutely no doubt that he was making the best point ever, said that the issue should not be decided “by outsiders with no skin in the fight.” Well, that wasn’t really the highlight. The highlight was when the gadflies, who live way in the hell and gone out west where there is not only no beach, but nothing else to write home about, and who pay for their own dank nasty canal cleaning and road improvement, got up one after another and said, I do, in fact, have skin in this fight, I pay taxes, I go to the beach, except, you’re right, usually not yours, because you’ve fixed it that there’s nowhere to park anywhere near there.

The county commission has gotten much better at listening since three of them went to jail (charges are pending on another) in the last few years, so they voted for the people who didn’t have any skin in the fight except for their own hopes and dreams of how their tax dollars could be spent to make a better world on both sides of the bridge.

I’m pro-abortion
February 6, 2012

In Zambia, where a woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy must get a doctor’s note saying her life would be endangered if she did not, physicians address this restriction in a logical way. The doctors ask their patients what they would do if they do not get permission for a legal abortion. Invariably, in a country where traditional healers, including a growing corps of Chinese herbal practitioners, offer an alternative to modern medical care, patients respond they will pursue other means to end their unintended, unwanted, and, for many reasons, dangerous pregnancies. The doctors then have the answer they sought: without access to a safe, legal, medical abortion, their patients’ lives are, in fact, in danger.

Yes, legalized abortion is a matter of equality and the human right to have control of one’s own body. But it also is a matter of life and death. The disregard the Susan G. Komen Foundation showed for women’s lives when it cut off funding that made mammograms accessible to poor women should have highlighted how twisted a debate nurtured by fraudulent politics has become. That the term pro-life has been claimed by the side of the debate who would return women to the time of desperate life-endangering choices in their own country is maddening enough. That we, on the side of life, have backed away from what this argument is about by accepting the mealy-mouthed euphemistic “pro-choice” label, is sad. We are pro-abortion — pro-abortion rights — if you want to go to greater lengths to explain yourself than the argument deserves — because it is a matter of life and death.

February 3, 2012

Multicultural County, FL — As the Republican road show moved west, its two stars left Florida, having agreed only that if you can’t vote in English, you shouldn’t vote at all. Besides showing a desire to rid our democracy of millions of pesky voters, and reject existing law, this served as further proof that the main choice Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich offer Republican primary voters is a poke in the eye with a sharp stick or a poke in the other eye with a sharp stick.

Apart from the anti-democracy mean-spirited thing, whatever happened to self-interest? You would think these two would want to cut down on the number of people they have to apologize for their “gaffes” to, by having as many people as possible who aren’t fluent in English eligible to vote.

In any case, why, of all the issues compromising our quality of life is getting down to one language supposed to be a good thing? What a dull place a Yiddish-free New York would be — meshuge. Or a New Orleans that can’t laissez les bon temps rouler. Or a South Florida without the music of Spanish, not to mention Kanjobal, Kreyol.

Currently the Kreyol class I am taking has among its students a woman married to a Haitian man, a health worker, and a real estate agent. We could all just say we don’t care what these Haitian Kreyol speaking people in our midst are talking about, but aside from how nice it is to meet people halfway, we would miss some nice turns of phrase. When you ask a friend S’ak pase? (how’re you doing?) a common answer is M’ap boule (literally “I’m burning,” but actually, according to the teacher, more like “I’m making it through the fire”) or M’ap kenbe (“I’m maintaining”). You emphasize things by repeating them a lot, as in “Mesi anpil, anpil, anpil, anpil” — Thank you very, very, very, very much.

And if you say, see you tomorrow, you add “sidyevle” (if God wishes), a reminder not to take life and plans for granted.

Which brings me back to the English-only ballot and the two hate-mongers who found that to be their point of agreement while visiting our great state. I’ll be happy to see the last of them, sidyevle.

February 2, 2012

I always knew there was something I didn’t like about the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I thought it wasn’t it, though, it was me. I thought it was how detached the pink water bottles, t-shirt, caps and especially the annoying ubiquitous ribbons left me feeling from what the actual point was. I always felt bad about myself, with my jaded view of pink marketing. The frothing good will and sentiment the race managed to whip up did, at least resemble solidarity. Now its directors have proven that classism can override solidarity, as they cut off Planned Parenthood, severing money that only had the purpose of helping women who didn’t otherwise have access to the screening — that they say they feel is necessary. Absolutely sickening. Saying “I’m not concerned about the very poor” is not a gaffe, and acting on that sentiment, as Susan G. Komen has, is not a “pro-life” statement either. It is a statement of fact.