Friday, June 26, 2015

Caitlyn, Coke, Charleston, & Courage

       The word that had been struggling to rise to the top of my thoughts the last few weeks was "fear".
        It finally broke through as I was listening to an podcast/discussion about an article in a recent New York Times Sunday Review by Elinor Burkett in which the author, a noted feminist, dismissed much of Caitlyn Jenner's "womanly feelings".  One of the callers-in suggested that what underlay Ms. Burkett's negative article was fear.  A fear that the work that her generation of feminists had done to dismantle gender stereotyping was being undone by Jenner and Annie Leibovitz's Vanity Fair cover.  Several other callers spoke more positively about another dismantling, that of ALL stereotyping (including Burkett's), that allowed for Caitlyn Jenner to own and express her feelings/opinions out of her own reality.
        And, then, I recalled the recent uproar over the 
experience of my friend Tahera Ahmad, who, on a flight from Chicago to Washington, had to endure a humiliating act of discrimination  . . . all 
because she, a Muslim woman (and a very progressive one at that) was wearing a hijab.  She was told that she could not be served an unopened can of Dit Coke because "it could be used as a weapon", at the same time a fellow passenger was served an unopened can of beer.  As if that weren't enough, another passenger shouted religiously-motivated slurs at Tahera.  The awful, negative, experience of Tahera, other Muslims, Sikhs -- indeed many religious groups -- speaks of fear.
        Then, last Wednesday evening, the Charleston shootings.  An act of hate, hate born out of some fear, a fear we may never know.  A fear-driven act in an environment of love; an exclusionary act in an environment of inclusion.
        And the aftermath.  The "discussions" over how to deal with the Confederate flag.  The discomfort some presidential hopefuls have evidenced when they realize that doing the right thing in supporting the removal of that flag from statehouses may have challenging 
political consequences -- i.e., fear that they'll lose electoral support.  And underneath those discussions, it seems to me, lies a fear that a way of life is slowly, but surely, eroding.
       I'm afraid, too.  Certainly not of the same things that are reflected above.  But I have my fears; we all do.  The challenge is to not give in to them, not to let them fester into cowardice, prejudice and hate.  None of our religious traditions, at their core, would counsel this.  They would all seek to push us to courage, to address our fears honestly so that, held in the Light of Divine Wisdom, we might overcome them.  And, in overcoming our own fears, we might better dismantle unjust structures born of the fears of others.       In the words of the New Testament book of I John, "In love there is no room for fear; indeed perfect love banishes fear" (4.18, Revised English Bible).  That is the ideal to which we all -- regardless of tradition -- are called.  Love is courageous.  We saw it reflected in the voices of those victims' families who spoke, courageously of forgiveness to Dylan Rooff.  May we be so bold!


Friday, June 12, 2015

Where do you plug in?

     Okay, there's one at my desk in my office. There's one at my desk at home. There's one next to my bed. There's one in my car.  And I'm trying to figure out how to rig something on my bike so I can have one there in case my bike ride goes longer than I expected.  All are indicators of my concern that my portable electronics might be under-charged when I need them.
      And my concern is not just my concern! The photo above would have been quite the novelty just a few years ago, but most of us who travel fairly often know that, as soon the plane arrives, or folks enter into the concourse, many make a beeline for the charging station. Get the laptop and smartphone charged before the next segment of the journey. Why? Because, as the sign suggests, we want to "Stay connected - keep in touch - never miss a beat!"
      On the other hand, it's not just a case of "staying connected" or "keeping in touch".  We depend on those little amazing glass, metal and plastic boxes for so much. So much so that, yesterday, as I was getting ready to leave my house for work on my bike, I was delayed as I tried to get my phone to recognize my heart rate monitor, the cadence detector on the bike, AND link up with my bluetooth headphone so I could listen to a podcast on my commute.  I finally gave up, and, rode to work with only the sound of the traffic, birds . . . and the constant in-my-head conversation to keep me busy.  Harrumph!
      So that little tool has, in fact, enslaved me. I am keeping it charged and recharged, in some respects to keep me from being recharged.  My personality may predispose me to this malady, but I suspect that, in a mostly-hard-charging-academic-environment, I'm not alone.  Of course it's not just academics; some might say this is a problematic inheritance from our "Protestant-work-ethic ancestors".  I mean, golly, if we miss that call, or tweet, our lives will fall apart.
      If we settle back a moment, we probably would realize how wrong that is. And, yesterday, as I was riding to work WITHOUT benefit of headphones, I had a lot of time to ponder my own descent into that perdition of productivity!
      Many of us will remember the novelty of MTV's experiment showcasing musicians "unplugged".  A pretty big hit.  So much so, that the idea of "unplugging" has entered the cultural mainstream.  And I think that's a great first step.  But what's next?  Simply re-plugging into the same source?  Or, perhaps, taking the opportunity to plug into an entirely different resource -- be it the Divine, or nature, a restorative soak in a hot spring, or a deep conversation with a loved one.  Recharging may not need a cord. This closing photo arrive in my Facebook feed (yes, I'm guilty!) as I was writing.  It seems a fine ending:


Chaplain Gary