samedi, novembre 23, 2013

What next for the United Methodists?

The story I did this week on reax to the sentencing of the Rev. Frank Schaefer for presiding at the marriage of his gay son (back in 2007 - yes, the timing of the complaint was strange) brought back many memories.

The Methodists are an international bodies, with approximately 12 million members around the world. But this was quite the local story.  Schaefer (who is on leave from his position) is a clergyman in Lebanon County, and his

As most of you know, if you follow religion news, the Episcopal Church was consumed, for more than a decade, with internal strife over the ordination of practicing homosexuals and whether or not clergy could officiate at gay unions.

Now we've straightened most of that out, as it were.  But we are a much smaller denomination, at least in the United States (the Anglican Communion is still one of the biggest Christian bodies in the world), with conservatives having decamped, either for other denominations, or new ones they created.

I couldn't include it in the story, because investigating it would have taken the article in a completely different direction but I heard concerns about outside bodies meddling in church affairs.

But there's a bigger concern among some clergy: that the internal battles over these issues are going to split the denomination... and repel those who already think Christians are out of touch.

Please read, and feel free to comment on where you think the UMC is going -- and what it means for Christian practice in the United States.

lundi, novembre 18, 2013

Monday morning heroes

WHY don't we get together and figure out some sane gun laws?

WHY don't the anti-abortion-rights and pro-abortion-rights advocates collaborate on an alternative choice for the shocking numbers of women who have abortions (one-in-three in the U.S.)?

WHY can't nations get together and figure out how to curb the greenhouse gases that promote climate change before we cause irreversible harm to this planet we claim to love?

There are moments when I think I'm gonna turn from a cynic into someone who is just maddening to be around -- 24/7.

But then I think of  people like Cathleen Falsani (a.k.a "godgrrl"), Keith Bradsher, and some dude named Mark in East Portland, Oregon -- and damned if I don't start to feel better about humanity.

Without men and women to inspire us, this world would be a bleak place indeed.

Sadly, we can't look to our Congress, or our President, or even our local leaders to do that for us (regardless of our veneration of the founding fathers, I don't know if even they lived up to our inflated and perhaps misguided ideas).

Men and women of faith are going to let us down at some point (though Pope Frances is giving us a good run for our money).

And while many of us believe that Jesus saves, or have faith in God or humanity, we all need some boots on the ground inspiration.

So let me tell you a bit about Cathleen, and Keith, and Mark of Portlandia.

I haven't met the God Grrl in the flesh, (not yet anyway).  Because we both write about religion, and have a set of mutual friends/acquaintances we started to follow each other on Twitter, and then "friended' each other on Facebook.

She just wrapped up the three-day "find a cure for breast cancer" walk.

That's very cool.

But what impresses me most about her, what I observe on Facebook, is how kind she is, to flesh-friend and relative stranger alike -- kind enough to adjust the lighting on my column photo to warm it up and humanize me a little bit.

Kind enough to share her enthusiasm with us.

Kind enough to have friends all over the country who reach out across the miles and engage her in conversation with reciprocal warmth.

(Not to mention smart and creative and an excellent writer).

Kindness has as big an impact as cruelty -- perhaps bigger, because it is, sadly, often rarer.

I don't know where she learned such open-hearted generosity, but I'd like to be more like that.

And then there's someone I don't know at all (although we exchanged a few brief emails).  He's Keith Bradsher, the Hong Kong bureau chief for the New York Times.

Right now, Mr. Bradsher is in Tacloban. Actually, right  now, I have no idea where he is, but he's been covering the devastation in the Philippines.  In this story from the Times, he took questions from readers via Twitter and Facebook.  In this paragraph,. he answers a reader's question about how he and others are managing to do their work themselves amidst unimaginable disaster:

"This has been a tough story for logistics, starting with the Tacloban airport, which had been completely gutted by the storm surge. I slept outdoors next to a makeshift Filipino civil aviation command post on my first night here, lying in my clothes on a piece of plasterboard debris that I placed on the concrete slab. I was under a yardwide extended roof and chose the downwind side of the damaged concrete structure, which was fortunate as it rained very heavily that night, but I stayed dry. Security was a question mark, as hungry and thirsty refugees were milling around, even asking for paper from my notebook to write notes to missing loved ones, which I provided."

But it was Bradsher's story about the 27-year-old farmer who died from an untreated leg wound  that prompted me to shoot him an email.  

To call this story heartbreaking is a gross understatement. 

Hard to read.  But imagine sitting by this man's bedside, talking to him, day after day, and watching him die (he was the main breadwinner for his family) because of the chaos around him.
Even to step into that situation in virtual time feels dangerous, frightening.

Most of us will never walk the ruined streets of a city where, for hours that stretched into days, death seemed to have the last word.

Keith Bradsher did it for us.

And for that -- for all of the correspondents who risk their lives to bring us the story while people like me sit behind our monitors and pontificate -- I am profoundly indebted to him (and to them).

A toast to Keith Bradsher!

Finally, for tonight, anyway,  I present to you a Portland activist named Mark.  Featured on NPR's "State of the Union," Mark lives in a part of Portland that has been suffering from neglect, benign  or not, from city authorities, until pretty recently. (It only became part of the city in the 1980s, according to the report.)

So Mark didn't wait around for the government to pave all the streets and provide the basics the rest of town seems to get. Like sidewalks. Groceries. Even convenience stores.

In a neighborhood where they do have any retail shops within a mile and a half radius, he opened a food truck.

On his lawn.

He doesn't charge more than four dollars for anything.

Instead of waiting around for the authorities to get their act together, Mark is one big cog in the wheel,  the change he wants to see.

(Not that he's letting the city fathers and mothers get off that easy).

These stories warm my heart, and inspire me.  Next time my mood threatens to turn sour because there doesn't seem to be much good news out there,  I'm going to try to remind myself that those who make a difference  tend to deal with life the way it is, not the way they hope it would be -- one act of mercy, bravery, and compassion at a time.

Like Fred Rogers, I'm looking for the helpers.

Who are your Monday morning heroes?