Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Days After Reflection

As I drove up to the church on Christmas Eve, a half hour before services were to begin, I was surprised that the parking lot was already nearly full. The foyer was packed with people waiting for the choir to finish practicing so they could find seats.

And the thought crossed my mind, as it does sometimes at the shopping mall when it is very crowded, "I wonder what they are giving away free."

It made me smile.

Because of course we were giving "it" away free. A sense of community, of belonging, of inclusion. A gift of memories, shared hymns, and familiar stories. A refuge of hope and peace and good will to all -- at least for a few hours on Christmas Eve inside that very crowded sanctuary.

And my own sense that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Not just free...priceless.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

My homily this evening is based on Luke 2:12.

Here is how it is going to end:

The Christmas story is ultimately a story of hope…and a reminder that every baby born can bless the world. The angel reassures the shepherds, “Do not be afraid --I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The story reminds us that change can come from the most unexpected places. That we may find God, or if you prefer the sacred, where and when we least expect it. That sometimes we have to suspend our disbelief to be open to the miracles around us.

The miracle of our shared holidays together. Of family traditions. Of shared meals. Of watching someone’s face light up when the gift is just right.

May your holidays be filled with good news and great joy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Solstice blessings

It's the darkest day of the year.

We know how that feels. We wake today to more news of suicide bombings, this time in Pakistan, killing people at prayer. The war continues in Iraq; poverty and hunger seem intractable in so many parts of the world; we discover yet another example of this Administration's duplicity.

We know how it feels in our own soul and lives. Yesterday, a friend of mine found out he indeed has lung cancer. On the way home from work, my husband and son just missed being in a car accident, and my husband pulled a man gasping from a smoke filled car.

But, it's also the day that light begins to return to the earth. And we also know how that feels -- feeling hope returning to our lives, a rekindling of promise and expectation that things will and can get better. Scripture teaches that "joy comes in the morning."

I choose this morning then to feel hope rekindling on this dark day.

May your holiday season be filled with light.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Today's Teachable Moment: Celebrity Teenage Pregnancy

For those of you who don't read OK Magazine (and I'm guessing that's most of you) that's this week's issue, where 16 year old Jamie Lynn Spears, sister of Brittany and star of tween TV show, announced she's pregnant and going to have a baby.

She also tells teens in this issue that they shouldn't have premarital sex but she isn't one to judge. Nickolodeon says it respects her decision. The Today Show anchors tsked their disapproval. The AP story says her mother was shocked at first but is now supportive.


Parents of 8 - 18 year olds, you've been handed today's teachable moment.
They all know who she is, and I'm betting by the time school gets out today they will have all heard about it.

Ask your child what they think. Tell them YOUR values about teenagers having sexual intercourse and what you hope their decision will be. Make sure that they know that abstinence and contraception prevent pregnancies. Most of us will want our teen children to know that we want them to wait to have intercourse until they are mature enough for a sexual relationship -- and that if they do have sex as a teenager, they must use contraception and condoms to protect themselves and their lives. Tell them you hope they will talk to you if they are thinking about having sex -- and that they will come to you if they think they might be pregnant.

This will definitely be a discussion topic at my family's dinner table tonight. Tell me how it goes in your's.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


My colleagues at RH Reality Check asked me to write a piece for the holiday season on how our work in reproductive and sexual health relates to the holiday season.

Here's how I ended the piece:

These miracle stories are our stories today, and the stories of those most marginalized and most vulnerable. The stories together remind us that in the darkest of winters, in the physical world or in the dark parts of our souls, even the tiniest light can with faith become brighter and stronger, until the whole world is filled with that light once again. As reproductive and sexual health advocates, they remind us, that every human life, no matter how humble his or her beginnings, can indeed bless the entire world.

As you go through these last weeks of the year, take the time to rekindle the light within you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Birthday, Jane!

I have written here before how ministry has taken me to places that I never could have imagined...

Well, this was certainly one of them. On Thursday night, I had the honor of being asked by Jane Fonda to offer the invocation at her 70th birthday party gala. The gala was to benefit GCAPP, a Georgia based organization that works to prevent teenage pregnancy and support teen parents. Jane founded it seven years ago; on Thursday, the gala raised $2.4 million.

If you don't know all of the women in this picture, you surely know of them. (The women you may not recognize are Robin Morgan, Jane Wagner, Vanessa Vadim, and Eve Ensler...) I can hardly put into words how wonderful the whole evening was -- and how moved I was by the outpouring of love for this amazing woman, and her dedication and love to the young women and men of Atlanta. Because of her decision to turn her birthday into a fundraiser, 70 8th graders will now be shepherded through a 7 year program and guarenteed a college education when they finish high school. It's a replication of a program developed by one of my early teachers, Dr. Michael Carerra and I encourage you to read about it.

How amazing to offer Jane a blessing for her birthday and the grace before the meal. I ended by reminding the guests that the only prayer we ever need is "thank you, thank you, thank you" and asked them "to lift our hearts together in thanks for love and friendship and the light that fills our souls and lives."

I felt deeply grateful and blessed to be part of it all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Would You Change Your Sexual Orientation If You Could?

I'm guessing that most of my readers would say no. As sexually healthy adults, we affirm our own sexual orientation as well as those of others.

On a New York Times blog on Tuesday, John Tierney writes about intriguing new research that shows that the sexual orientation of fruit flies can be manipulated with drugs. He wonders if such a drug was available for humans, what would be the ethical considerations for its use?

Would parents be allowed to give the drug to children if they thought they might be gay? Might religious fundamentalist groups opposed to homosexuality advocate its use? Might straight women fed up with men (or vice versa) take it to change their orientation? And what impact it might have on the majority of folks who are Kinsey 2, 3, 4, and 5's?

Of course, as one doctor wrote on the site, it's a long way from fruit flies to humans. And another person asked why money was being wasted on this type of research.

Indeed. If we accepted that sexual diversity was part of God's blessing, would researchers be seeking ways to change it?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Holiday musings

I spent the weekend getting into the holiday season. I went into New York City with a friend to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the decorated store windows. We went to our church carol sing on Saturday night, and yesterday, I began decorating the house. Somehow, the box with our stockings has disappeared. It seems like every year, something we just know we put away has gone into hiding.

(Did you read "The Borrowers" when you were growing up? It's still the best explanation I know for what happens to those missing socks, spools of thread, and so on...although I don't know what they did with our Christmas stockings!)

My holiday mood was marred by some of the news of the weekend. Did Mike Huckabee really say that people with AIDS should be isolated? (Apparently he did.) Did the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin really voted to leave the Episcopal Church because of its position on homosexuality? (It did.) Did Rudy Guiliani really back away from his support of gay rights on Meet the Press?

Sometimes I think I need a sabbath from the news completely.

But, I'm determined this holiday season to stay not turn the season into one gigantic "to do" list but to celebrate the traditions I enjoy and to let go of those I don' take time each day to breathe and slow down rather than to speed up. I hope you will as well.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mitt Romney -- Misses the Point

He looks like he could be president.

But, I think it's pretty safe to say, he won't be. Despite his very conservative positions on just about everything, I'm betting that evangelical Christians will not vote for him because he is a Mormon. As one Southern Baptist friend told me, "I learned in Sunday School, that the Mormons were a cult."

Yesterday, Mr. Romney gave a speech about his religious views. As a minister who values the separation of church and state, and a person of faith who upholds the rights of others to have no faith, I found his speech a sad combination of a call to uphold religious diversity while pandering to the very people, who against the Constitution, would make religion a test for national office. Mr. Romney is caught between his own faith and those who are trying to make the U.S. a "Christian nation."

I don't believe "secularism" is a dirty word. I believe that people who practice no faith at all are Americans too. I believe in the separation of church and state. I believe that religious voices have an important role to play in the public square, but never as a litmus test for public office. Mr. Romney, I can't help but wonder who you think was going to be more favorable to you after this speech.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Are Teen Births Rising?

That chart comes via the Washington Post from a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It tells us that for the first time in 14 years, there was an increase in the rates of teenage births to 41.9 births per 1000 teen women aged 15 - 19, up from 40.5 in 2005.

What the stories and the headlines don't tell you is that is approximately the same rate as 2004 and lower than it was in 2003. They also don't highlight that the birth rate was up for every age cohort of women.

So, what does this mean? Well, it may mean that after 14 years of going steadily down, indeed progress on teenage pregnancy prevention has stalled. That wouldn't surprise me because of the proliferation of abstinence-only messages that don't include contraception and because of laws that make abortions harder to get for teenagers. Indeed, it's been hard to understand how the birth rate has gone down since about 2000 because of these trends.

It's also possible that this is a one year uptick that's just an aberration in these trends, and that the teen birth rate will continue to fall or level off.

Either way, what it does mean is that we need to continue to do a better job as a culture helping teenagers avoid pregnancy. The U.S. continues to have the highest teen birth rate in the developed world. Our teenagers need their parents to educate them about sexuality; our faith communities must address adolescent sexuality; our schools must provide comprehensive sexuality education; sexually active teens must have access to reproductive health services. That's what happens in other countries that have a teen birth rate much lower than our's...that's what we need to do here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Chanukah!

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, where we retell an ancient historical story of religious freedom and a story of hope.

In case you've forgotten it, here's the basic story:

In 167 b.c.e., a Greek leader named Antiochus attempted to institute a Greek state religion. He ordered the takeover of the temple in Jerusalem, had a statute of Zeus built on its altar, and called for ritual sacrifice there and in other Jewish temples throughout the countryside. Mattathias killed the first Jew who came forward to offer a sacrifice as well as a state official, and he and his five sons were forced to escape to the hills. Together, they organized first a small band of rebels to resist Antiochus, which grew to a 6000 person army that retook Jerusalem and the Temple. Three years from the day that Zeus was erected, the 25th of Kislav, Judas Maccabeus and his followers rededicated and purified the Temple in an 8 day celebration. Chanukah has been celebrated more or less continuously for 2,170 years.

Chanukah is the first recorded battle for religious freedom and against efforts to have a minority religion assimilated into a larger whole, reason enough for us to celebrate it in today's world where religious fundamentalists claim that theirs is the only truth.

But the legend of Chanukah also speaks to me. According to a very short passage in the Talmud, the Maccabees came into the temple and after purifying it, went to relight the eternal flame. They only had enough oil for one day. Pressing new oil from the olive trees would take another week. Miraculously the oil lasted for the entire eight days. The Rabbis who wrote the Talmud transformed the telling of the history from a heroic military battle into a story of God’s miracle and grace to the Jewish people. They moved it from a story based on the facts to a story based on the universal need for faith and hope and redemption. It is a truth story, not a true story.

Who among us hasn't needed to find that light within during dark days of the soul? We have all needed to find hope when in the words of the song, "hope was hard to find."

So, whether or not you celebrate Chanukah, why not take a moment over the next week, to light a candle of hope...for yourself, your loved ones, and for this hurting world. Take a moment to be thankful for religious freedom and for religious diversity. And be thankful for all that is good in your life. I know I am.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Seminary Education about Sexuality

Kate Ott and I taught an intensive sexuality issues course for seminarians this weekend at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

It is always such a joy to lead this course -- although condensing a three credit, full semester course into two weekends felt a little to me like "speed teaching."

Unfortunately most clergy do not take a course on sexuality during their seminary years. As clergy, we are expected to be able to counsel couples and individuals about relationships, often without any specific training or background.

In our courses, we hope to be able to at least lay a foundation for preaching, educating, and counseling on the broad range of issues congregants face. Here's what some of our students wrote at the end of the day in a quick evaluation:

"I feel excited, affirmed, and empowered."

"I feel empowered, anxious, intrigued, and challenged to stay and work more on this issue."

"I feel equipped, engaged, eager, excited, encouraged, and inspiried..and rushed."

"I feel inspired to make sexuality a central part of my ministry."

I was especially moved by the last.

At the Religious Institute, we are just completing the first phase of a research and training project on how seminaries across the U.S. address sexuality with future clergy. There is so much to do to assure that clergy receive this important foundation during their training.

We've just started a Facebook page for seminarians to address these issues. We hope you'll help us pass the word.