samedi, septembre 15, 2007

Moving over

Last night I had three friends (they didn't all know one another well) over for vegetable ragout, apple brown betty, wine and chat. Our agenda item was talking about setting up a consulting biz. It was my notion to bring us together, but we all had varying degrees of interest. All of us, to one extent or another, had been successful in our fields-all of us weren't sure where we wanted to go next.

And, I must confess, we only spent about 20 minutes talking about the business end of things-the rest of the evening was spent talking about dating, children, how great it was to sleep alone and not have to make beds when we could, biking and one (yes, we only analyzed one) woman not at the table with us.

But when we did talk about the possibility of doing consulting, one theme emerged-helping other women. We all seemed to want to help others succeed, inspire them and give back.

I guess that's our time of life-and the idea, perhaps inbred in us, that there is a time when its right to take a supporting role. I still have dreams, goals, ambitions. I'm not sure which ones I'll achieve. I'm not even sure that's it's important to be "successful" at all of them. I struggle to understand what it means to step to the sidelines-or at least stage left.

As daunting as this is, however, there is one great benefit-the company of women like the three who came over last night-my friends, my colleagues, my own mentors. After all, being middle-aged doesn't mean you can't become more mature, does it?

jeudi, septembre 13, 2007

My editorial from the Inky

At the crossroads,
a new choice
» More images
By Elizabeth
Let's toast Philadelphia's Cardinal Justin Rigali for his visit to a Northern Liberties pub. In a taproom crammed with young people, the prelate grabbed a microphone and shared tales from his decades working for three popes.
Rigali was the third prelate to participate in Theology on Tap, a national Roman Catholic program that sends speakers into places such as bars to reach out to young people.
The fact that Rigali shared personal narrative, not propositional theology, and his choice of venue, indicates that Catholics are hip to a simple truth many other denominational leaders have been slow to grasp: If you want to reach non-believers, disbelievers and used-to-believers, you don't wait for them to show up in your pew on Sunday.
In this post-Christendom age, you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone.
But with all due respect to Rigali and other proponents of taproom dialogue, those serious about engaging denizens of our postmodern culture need to venture a lot farther than a pub to make a real difference.
The fact is, Christian denominations of all sorts face the challenge of becoming irrelevant to a large segment of the American public.
A Barna Research group study in 2005 estimated that 47 percent of American adults attend church on an average weekend. Other pollsters tell us 40 percent is closer to the truth. Factor in the possibility that people polled sometimes embroider the facts to suit their own version of reality, and the number of church attendants is probably even smaller.
Enter the Emerging Church movement.
Born in places such as England and Australia, where Christianity has increasingly become a sideshow rather than an influential force, the movement tries to engage post-Christian culture in a two-way conversation, not a monologue.
If there is one constant characterizing these new faith communities (many are even uncomfortable with the label "Emerging Church") it is diversity. Participants meet in pubs, homes, warehouses.
They gather for large services or in small discussion or prayer groups. They write blogs and reach across cultures and continents. Some have ordained leaders. Others don't. They experiment with state-of-the-art technological worship tools and ancient monastic liturgies.
Blending contextual evangelism with a commitment to social change, a growing number of individuals and faith communities in the movement are becoming advocates for racial justice, creation care, and other causes.
Because it is quintessentially postmodern in its multiple-media networks and lack of an overarching bureaucracy, it is hard to know how many individuals or faith communities are part of it.
The reform movement doesn't lack for critics. Traditionalists and evangelicals alike sometimes accuse its leaders of giving in to unorthodox beliefs, relativism, universalism (the belief that salvation is possible for non-Christians) and syncretism.
But as author, pastor and Emerging Church activist Brian McLaren implies in an interview with the online magazine Precipice, many Emergents are driven also by frustration with the ideological battles that are tearing apart traditional churches.
"People who like to divide the world into those categories, and who themselves identify with the 'right,' may feel that anybody who isn't like them is 'left.' But really, many of us think that whole binary way of thinking is terribly problematic," he says.
Many of the faith communities that have arisen under the umbrella of the Emerging Church movement may eventually sputter out, or even morph, heaven help us, into institutions.
But even if they do, one message is loud and clear: that the institutional walls we build to protect us often do so at the expense of our Gospel call to engage the hearts and minds of those who provoke us most deeply.

mercredi, septembre 12, 2007


Alex the African gray parrot died last week. Aged 31, he apparently died of natural cause, said Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who had worked with him since 1977, when, a doctoral student in chemistry, she bought him from a pet store. Now a comparative psychologist at Brandeis, she worked with Alex as he learned colors and shapes, more than 100 words, and shapes and colors. Although he was not able to generalize and show the sort of logic used by children, he was able to do things like tell an experimenter what color a paper triangle was and, after touching it, of what material it was made.

According to Pepperberg, who was working with Alex on hard to pronounce words up until right before he died, his last words to her were "You be good, see you tommorow, I love you."

There is so much we don't know about the potential for communication between members of a species, or between that species and us. It's not just parrots that we have relegated to the status of dumb animals. Primates, dolphins, whales and other animals have probably been more often the subject of often painful, sometimes fatal studies aimed at aiding us than of constructive studies aimed at understanding them.

What is it that we don't want to see? Would we treat them the way we do if we felt more compassion, empathy, awe? What decisions, what consequence, would emerge from a deeper look into the minds of the animals we have subjugated? In seeing the parrot, the gorilla, the whale as creatures in themselves, we might discover more about ourselves. But in considering why we choose to turn a blank eye to the intelligences around us, we need to understand, not solely what we could gain, but what it is we might lose by seeing-truly seeing.

lundi, septembre 10, 2007

Not like those other moms

I've been thinking about a little boy, one of Mr. C's classmates. Frankly, I think this little guy needs help-he seems to have poor impulse control, and a mouth that gets him into hot water.
I can't figure out why his mom doesn't seem to think he needs some clinical assessment, and the family some support. They are devout Christians of the more conservative kind-and perhaps they think that this can be solved through prayer and setting a good example. I wish they were correct-perhaps they are. But I'm a bit edgy around him-and worry that as time goes by, things will only get worse.

As long as he doesn't harm Colin, though-what business is it of mine? Why should I be critical of her choices (notice, I don't criticize the dad)? I ponder talking to her, as have a few other mothers, and then I think-no, she would get defensive, and nothing would come of it. But I still judge her for her perceived distaste for the road I would choose.

Recently I've read a few essays that have forced me to reflect on how hard we mothers can be on each other- and on ourselves. We are constantly comparing-stay at home moms think they are better than moms who work outside the home. Moms who work outside the home think they are more intelligent. Breast-feeding moms can become La Leche Nazis and moms who exercise look down on moms who don't.

I've seen lots of families where a little more attention, from both mom and dad, can make a big difference in how children do when they are away from their parents. But I've also seen mothers who deny they have a self that needs relaxation and hours away from their children now and then-and channel their exhaustion into anger at their spouses...or other women.

Why do we have this need to prove ourselves in comparison to other women? Why can't we find better ways to vent our aggression? Why can't we allow for the idea that most parents are doing the best they can...and try to help them, rather than cut them down?

Extraordinary Article from the Times

The question is: where are these directives coming from? Did the bureaucrats at the B of P think this one up on their own? Or did were they told to do this by an Administration which seems to think every problem, like a hit the mole with a sledgehammer, needs blunt force?

How darned ironic that the Bush government, such an advocate of faith-based solutions, takes away from religious prisoners one of the only comforts they have-one that might lead to contrition, repentance, and heaven help us, rehabilitation?

September 10, 2007
Prisons Purging Books on Faith From Libraries
Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.
The chaplains were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.
Some inmates are outraged. Two of them, a Christian and an Orthodox Jew, in a federal prison camp in upstate New York, filed a class-action lawsuit last month claiming the bureau’s actions violate their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”
Ms. Billingsley said, “We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.”
But prison chaplains, and groups that minister to prisoners, say that an administration that put stock in religion-based approaches to social problems has effectively blocked prisoners’ access to religious and spiritual materials — all in the name of preventing terrorism.
“It’s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” said Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian group. “There’s no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism.”
The Bureau of Prisons said it relied on experts to produce lists of up to 150 book titles and 150 multimedia resources for each of 20 religions or religious categories — everything from Bahaism to Yoruba. The lists will be expanded in October, and there will be occasional updates, Ms. Billingsley said. Prayer books and other worship materials are not affected by this process.
The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.
The identities of the bureau’s experts have not been made public, Ms. Billingsley said, but they include chaplains and scholars in seminaries and at the American Academy of Religion. Academy staff members said their organization had met with prison chaplains in the past but was not consulted on this effort, though it is possible that scholars who are academy members were involved.
The bureau has not provided additional money to prisons to buy the books on the lists, so in some prisons, after the shelves were cleared of books not on the lists, few remained.
A chaplain who has worked more than 15 years in the prison system, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is a bureau employee, said: “At some of the penitentiaries, guys have been studying and reading for 20 years, and now they are told that this material doesn’t meet some kind of criteria. It doesn’t make sense to them. They’re asking, ‘Why are our tapes being taken, why our books being taken?’ ”
Of the lists, he said, “Many of the chaplains I’ve spoken to say these are not the things they would have picked.”
The effort is unnecessary, the chaplain said, because chaplains routinely reject any materials that incite violence or disparage, and donated materials already had to be approved by prison officials. Prisoners can buy religious books, he added, but few have much money to spend.
Religious groups that work with prisoners have privately been writing letters about their concerns to bureau officials. Would it not be simpler, they asked the bureau, to produce a list of forbidden titles? But the bureau did that last year, when it instructed the prisons to remove all materials by nine publishers — some Muslim, some Christian.
The plan to standardize the libraries first became public in May when several inmates, including a Muslim convert, at the Federal Prison Camp in Otisville, N.Y., about 75 miles northwest of Manhattan, filed a lawsuit acting as their own lawyers. Later, lawyers at the New York firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison took on the case pro bono. They refiled it on Aug. 21 in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“Otisville had a very extensive library of Jewish religious books, many of them donated,” said David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group. “It was decimated. Three-quarters of the Jewish books were taken off the shelves.”
Mr. Zwiebel asked, “Since when does the government, even with the assistance of chaplains, decide which are the most basic books in terms of religious study and practice?”
The lawsuit raises serious First Amendment concerns, said Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, but he added that it was not a slam-dunk case.
“Government does have a legitimate interest to screen out things that tend to incite violence in prisons,” Mr. Laycock said. “But once they say, ‘We’re going to pick 150 good books for your religion, and that’s all you get,’ the criteria has become more than just inciting violence. They’re picking out what is accessible religious teaching for prisoners, and the government can’t do that without a compelling justification. Here the justification is, the government is too busy to look at all the books, so they’re going to make their own preferred list to save a little time, a little money.”
The lists have not been made public by the bureau, but were made available to The Times by a critic of the bureau’s project. In some cases, the lists belie their authors’ preferences. For example, more than 80 of the 120 titles on the list for Judaism are from the same Orthodox publishing house. A Catholic scholar and an evangelical Christian scholar who looked over some of the lists were baffled at the selections.
Timothy Larsen, who holds the Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, looked over lists for “Other Christian” and “General Spirituality.”
“There are some well-chosen things in here,” Professor Larsen said. “I’m particularly glad that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is there. If I was in prison I would want to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” But he continued, “There’s a lot about it that’s weird.” The lists “show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism,” he said, and lacked materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame (who edited “The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,” which did make the list), said the Catholic list had some glaring omissions, few spiritual classics and many authors he had never heard of.
“I would be completely sympathetic with Catholic chaplains in federal prisons if they’re complaining that this list is inhibiting,” he said, “because I know they have useful books that are not on this list.”

dimanche, septembre 09, 2007

My editorial from the Intel-Politicians Fail to Lead by Example

Politicians failing to lead by example

By Elizabeth

If the Republican Party leadership wants to hold onto a significant number of Senate and House seats in next year's elections, they better not run on the "family values" platform.
In the face of a torrent of scandals, when it seems like every time we look around another pillar of the right wing is being busted on ethics violations or admitting to sexual "sin," that phrase is coming to seem increasingly hollow.
Thus somehow it wasn't surprising when, last spring, that icon of the right, the architect of the '90s Republican Revolution, Newt Gingrich, admitted he was having an affair right around the time he was investigating former President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair.
When it comes to the idea that politicians can be role models for us or for our kids, the bloom is long since off the rose.
That is really too bad, because those of us who are trying to raise children with sound, faith-based values in a throw-away culture need all the help we can get.
We shuddered when we heard about former Florida Rep. Mark Foley sending sexually explicit messages to former Congressional pages who could have been our sons.
We were disgusted when Louisianan David Vitter's acknowledgment that he had a business relationship with a dubious D.C. escort service went virtually unrebuked by his Senate cronies.
As the mother of a 10-year-old boy, I was both outraged and grossed out when Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig (who may be contesting the charges against him and reconsidering his decision to resign) was arrested on charges of trolling for sex in a public restroom.
It's not that Democrats haven't had their own share of ethical misdemeanors — former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned after revealing he had an affair with a man he had once appointed to a state job, and Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson was indicted last spring by a federal grand jury on bribery and corruption charges.
What is nauseating is the idea that, again and again, various denizens of the religious right have acted as though they alone were defending public morality against the depredations of those who threatened it — particularly immigrants (illegal and in some cases legal), abortion-rights activists and gays who want civil unions and the ability to marry.
As evangelical scholar (my former colleague) and Palmer Seminary professor Ron Sider has pointed out for years, American evangelicals in general don't have a great track record on traditional "sin" issues, from sexual promiscuity, racism and domestic violence to divorce and materialism.
The point here is not that because various members of the religious right are constantly being exposed as hypocrites, that makes their ideological foes correct. Nor does it let various liberal mainliners and their ethical relativism off the hook.
It's rather that the pride and self-righteousness of some religious conservatives, the gap between their public avowal and private practice, not only disgusts the faithful, but drives away those who desperately need to have faith in God, who is both just and merciful.
One theme that threads the Gospel stories is the encounters Jesus has with the religious authorities of his day. By and large, he doesn't appear to have been too fond of them.
Why? They majored in the minors, and they were much better about attacking other people for their misdeeds than about admitting their own sins.
A comment by journalism professor and blogger Jeff Jarvis in a recent New York Times article on open secrets in the political world left a deep impression on me. If the public expects that politicians will be moral leaders, they are naïve, he asserts. "There is always a taint of, if not corruption, then compromise about them," he said. "This idea that they are moral leaders is moronic."
In my more cynical moments, I am impelled to agree with Jarvis. Our political leaders at the moment are not role models I would like my children to emulate.
But call me a moron (many have).
I do continue to believe that contrition can be genuine, and even the most hardened sinner can turn from the path they are on and repent. And I also know something else — that what I criticize in them I am most afraid of in myself.
A politician chastened by the acknowledgment of his or her own brokenness, slow to judgment, quick to mercy, is not necessarily going to make a flashy campaigner — may not even win the election. But he or she has the capacity to win the trust of a people weary of having that confidence abused and to transform a culture sick of half-truths into something both healthier and more whole.
Isn't that, at least in part, what politics is all about?