Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Birthday, David. Were you glad you were born?

More memories. We just passed the 40th anniversary of when David Vetter was born.

Known in the press as David the Bubble Boy.

He and I lived in the same area. I didn't know him, but several of my friends did. For a while, he "took" classes at our school. And some of the kids "played" at his house.

A lot of quotation marks there. I guess it means he "lived" to be 12 years old.

In that "your friends are my friends" way of understanding community that kids have, all of us felt connected to David. We followed the stories, we were protective of David (even if some felt he was kind of a pill) and his sister. We didn't understand the big picture, we just knew that he was trapped. We thought it was a pretty bum deal.

I won't get into the whole story. You can read it here. I will sum it up by saying it tells what happens when you put science first, and ethics second. It's a damn heartbreaking story.

I remember when he died. I was a freshman in High School, at home by myself. This being a local story, they broke in on the tv and gave the news. I remember they said he died of a heart attack, I don't know why -- I guess because they didn't actually know the cause of death yet. I turned off the tv. I turned on the radio. Total Eclipse of the Heart was playing. Crying, I danced, giant leaps around the living room. I was 14, but I knew that David had never been able to have even that little freedom. I remember thinking I was dancing for David.

His doctors are celebrating. They say his life and death meant life for many others. They say profound scientific knowledge came from the science experiment that was his life.

David, was it worth it?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I am Troy Davis

Andy asks, "Do you remember the day you were able to really comprehend what the death penalty meant?"

I don't remember that, but I do remember when I realized that an innocent person could be put to death. I remember the dawning horror of realizing that the government, my government, the police and all the "good guys" could, not accidentally, but deliberately and with malice, make it happen, even when they knew the person was innocent.

I was in high school, and Clarence Brandley, who lived in my town, was on death row.

My brother was a young lawyer following the case. He told us about all the details that were coming to light -- the racism, the destroying evidence, how those in power conspired to bring this about.

I think it was the first time for me to really understand systemic evil.

Do you think the "collateral loss" of some innocent people being put to death is worth it? I mean, we know it happens.

Some think that's an acceptable loss.

I don't. I can't.

Clarence Brandley, no thanks to the system, yes thanks to many civil rights activists, was eventually exonerated and set free.

Troy Davis was not.

For further information, see The Innocence Project

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My Pond is Gone

I haven't been to my pond since May, partially because of CPE, but mainly because it's been so beastly hot. Hottest August on record, they say.

We got a cool front. It will be gone by this afternoon, so I pulled on my shoes and as soon as the children were out the door, I slipped out. Ah. Sweet coolness.

I got there, walked down the hill ...

My pond is gone.

I know they say this is one of the worst droughts we've had in decades, but it still hit me like the cliched ton of bricks. Where I used to watch minnows swim and see the occasional splash of a larger fish, is a field. Only a puddle remains.

I walked around the far edge, toward where the water was deeper.

Splat! A bird pooped on my head.

"In some cultures, this is considered good luck," I muttered grimly, wiping it off.

I walked farther. A bit of the pond remains and it was filled, filled with cranes and ... pelicans? Not pelicans, but some type of pink bird. Which means it has come from some place else.

My phone rang. It was the husband. His best friend and his family just had to evacuate their house from the wildfires to the north of us.  More wildfires are burning through the state park where I went to so many family reunions. The small town where my mother grew up during WWII.

One of the top search strings that leads people to this blog is "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." For a panentheistic, process-theology, Jesus-inspired UU, that works just fine. We are interwoven in all of that, and yet there is also a power far beyond our control.

I continue walking ... it's possible to do that, with a broken heart.

I walk down to my favorite little part, where the turtles used to poke up their heads, then furiously splash away if I blinked. My turtles ... Now, it is just dry, cracked earth.

I turn the corner and a giant bunny, as big as my fat old cat at home, bounces across the path and into the woods. I've never seen a rabbit here, and though I know it speaks to the dry conditions, still, I am thrilled by the gift.

I go home. I take a shower with clean water. I go to my refrigerator and cold, filtered water fills my glass.

I drink it, reverently.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Religion Should Be Delicious

First, I read the short version of Lillian Daniel's essay about "Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me," that is making the rounds.

Part of me, I must confess, had that triumphant, "Yeah, what SHE said!" feeling. And then, rather quickly, I felt ... quite uncomfortable. Was sneering at someone else's sneering the way to go?

And it kept sitting with me.

Then, I read the longer version. And felt heart-achingly sad.

A man sits next to her. He tells her his story. Of going to a church where he's not supposed to ask questions. Then going to a church that defines God in such a rigid way, he can't make it fit with his reasoning about the divine.

Then, he finds a church that is like a big warm hug. He fits. But when he goes through the pain of divorce, backs turn. It is his wife's church, he discovers.

Disillusioned, hurt, he begins sleeping in, reading the NY Times, taking long walks. He finds God in the trees and the cicadas. He describes himself as deeply spiritual, but not religious.

Me, I would call that healing. Daniels does not.

After having his intellect, his sense of God's love, and trust in human relationships all abused, we should say, Sorry, Bucko, you should have gone to another church? Tried harder?

Are you kidding?

Yes, I know there are plenty of folks out there, shallowly tralalaing about being spiritual but not religious. They fit with "self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating."

Don't you understand that these are the people who most need us?

I can't judge them because I recognize my own demon in it. The demon that tells me that if I buy these storage bins or watch this documentary or read this book, my life will be better. I struggle with this demon, over and over, but I sure do like my toys... 

We are needed. But here's the deal: we haven't shown that our way -- the religious life -- is better. In fact, as in the case of the man on the airplane, we've often shown the opposite.

I don't spank my kids, for many reasons. But I'm also pragmatic. I've watched the families where the parents do spank their kids, and if their children were better behaved, heck, I would have considered it. But they weren't.

By your fruits you will know them.

I have a minister friend who is a runner. He talks about the difference it makes in his life. And his life backs him up -- he is physically healthy, and it obviously helps him, spiritually and mentally. Because of this, I'm trying out running as a spiritual practice.

In A Treatise on Atonement, Hosea Ballou writes about loving God:
I am asked if I love an orange; I answer I never tasted of one; but then I am told I must love the orange for what it is! Now I ask, is it possible for me either to like or dislike the orange, in reality, until I taste it? Well, I taste of it and I like it. Do you like it? says my friend. Yes I reply, its flavor is exquisitely agreeable. But that will not do, says my friend; you must not like it because its taste is agreeable, but you must like it because it is an orange. If there be any propriety in what my friend says, it is out of my sight.

We have not made our case. First, we have to let people know: If you come to this church, your life and the world you affect, will be better.

And if we can't say that ... then close up shop. Take a walk in the woods.

Going to church should transform you. Going to church should make your life better, and because of your transformation, should make the world you impact better.

I understand the complaints about a consumer-driven culture that affects our attitude about church. But goshdarnitall, we have to give people a reason to go to church. 

I have a friend, a local missional pastor here in my town. His little church is Christian, so they have communion. Every so often, they do it with cake. Why? Because they believe religion should be delicious.

Religion should be delicious. No, not like "deep-fried appetizers," but deeply, soul-satisfyingly delicious. Which means struggling with hard questions, fighting and panting, but knowing the next day, for our struggles, we will be renamed Israel. Delicious, like the pride a parent feels for their child who ventures out, making their first theological pronouncement. Delicious, like sunsets and beaches and walks through the woods. 

Is your church delicious? Does it provide opportunities for spiritual transformation? Does it encourage you to transform the world? If it does all that, you should be out there, letting everyone know. You should light the way so that others, caught in the grip of the demon culture that says we can buy meaning, purchase fulfillment, may find their salvation. And if your church is not delicious, you should damn well either make it delicious or find another one. Because we are needed. Desperately needed.

You say you're spiritual but not religious? 

Come sit by me. I want to hear your story.