Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Praying for New Orleans

The devastation in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is beyond belief.  I’ve found it difficult to tear myself away from photos and stories of people whose lives have forever been changed by this enormous catastrophe.  It’s especially sad to see that many of the people affected are poor and elderly.  Many trapped at home had no money or vehicles in which to leave the city.  I’ve prayed through much of the day and I know many others are as well . . . .

Clergy Sexual Abuse - How do we address non-denominational churches?

I sat today with a small group of local clergy and domestic violence workers, and we wondered together about how to address clergy sexual abuse in non-denominational churches.
Here's the problem: A woman from a local nondenominational church approached the Church Council last year with a sad story. She had been lovers with her pastor, a single man, for some months. Their relationship included many promises of marriage. When the relationship ended, she discovered that a) he had presented himself in the same manner to several women in the congregation, and b) her relationship of trust with the pastor and the church itself was deeply injured. She sought help to bring accountability to the pastor and safety to any other women who might also potentially be abused. She was unaware that sexual relations with a congregant by a pastor -- single or married -- is a breach of trust and an unethical act.
In a denominational church, the clergyperson would be accountable to the denominational hierarchy.  In a non-denominational, only the lay leaders within the church would have any ability to hold an abusive pastor accountable. This accountability would depend on the congregation's knowledge of sexual abuse guidelines and philosophy, something which is woefully lacking even in denominational congregations.
So, the question is: how do we approach that?  Any ideas out there?


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Polyamory Revisited

I've appreciated the great comments from folk about polyamory.  My interview with the London film crew is happening this morning, and here are some revised thoughts about polyamory from a church perspective.
A discussion of polyamory should recognize the church's well-earned and sad reputation for judgment and condemnation of human sexuality. I hope Christians have learned over the years that there is little gain from making people feel bad about their loving relationships. The gay/lesbian struggles of the last century have taught us that people often "color outside the lines" in their relationships, and non-traditional unions can bring happiness. We've condemned enough sex in the past to last us another couple of millenia.
So, "why wouldn't the church support polyamory?"  To understand why not, a person would have to dig into the roots of the Christian understanding of marriage.
Christian marriage has its precedents in ancient Jewish marriage practice, in which wives were not given equal rights with husbands.  A husband could have multiple wives, but women could not have multiple husbands. Husbands could divorce their wives in a simple, too easy process.  Wives had no recourse for divorce.  Marriage amounted to a form of slavery.
Jesus critiqued this view by opposing divorce as inappropriate except in cases of infidelity. The purpose was to protect the rights of wives. St. Paul then compared the relation of Christ and the Church to that of a husband and wife. He set up fairly strict norms for how marital roles were to be observed, and he proclaimed that elders in the church were to be "husbands of one wife."
As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, it took on Roman customs around marriage, most notably the idea that marriage was monogamous and there must be consent by the partners to the marriage. This has become the common viewpoint of Christian marriage - lifelong, monogamous, based on mutual consent.  The Catholic church ultimately determined marriage to be a sacrament - a means of receiving the grace of God.
Protestant understandings of marriage (most notably from the introduction to the wedding ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer) are that marriage is about 1) the nurturing of children, 2) avoidance of sin, and 3) mutual companionship. 
That traditional marriage is a positive model for the nurturing of children likely has few detractors. This concept is affirmed by modern family studies, which suggest that the best environment in which to raise children is one in which there is a strong "primary" bond between parents, followed by strong "secondary" bonds between parent and child. In other words, when the parents are together, committed, and loving of each other, the child has the best environment for nurture.
"Avoidance of sin" springs from the idea that sex is sacred and special and is to be experienced within the boundaries of a committed, permanent relationship. Sexual sin comes when we exploit another person for our own pleasure, or when we spend our sexual energy for a goal other than love.  Some people outside the Christian faith are justifiably tired of Christians equating sex in general with sin. Since St. Augustine, this has often been the case. In today's context, I think we should instead state that sex within the boundaries of a permanent, committed, monogamous relationship is our choice for people who follow the Christian faith. Within Christianity, experirence has taught us that monogamous marriage is the highest and best context for the full expression of our sexuality.
Why is this so? It comes from the third Protestant notion of the importance of marriage - the ideal of human companionship. If a person truly loves another person, they can express that by choosing that person as their sole partner. Monogamous marriage requires the decision: "I choose this lover, and this lover is enough." Inability to choose a single lover is failure to commit oneself in one's fullest being to the loving relationship. A person's potential for growth in depth of love is diminished. True commitment is demonstrated when one pays a price for his or her choice, when one makes a sacrifice for the choice he or she has made.
Our critique of polyamory would be that there is no sacrifice necessary, no choice made that forces the person to make a sacrifice.  Can there be true love without some sort of sacrifice? The Church would say, "no," and would encourage followers of Christ to say the same. Put another way, what better gift can a person give to their lover than to be their only lover all their life long?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Podcasting to the Masses

The New York Times ran an article today about the podcasting or "godcasting" of sermons. If your church is tech-savvy, folks who miss church could download their pastors' sermons for their I-pods. That way, at the gym, they can listen to their favorite preacher. It's a great idea! Here's the article.
I think many people go to for Podcast selections. I like Slate's articles on Podcast, and its August offerings can be found here.


Is 10-Year Homelessness Plan Too Conservative?

Word has it that David Irons, candidate for King County Exec, will be proposing his own "3-Year Plan" to end homelessness.  Kudos to Irons for proposing a solution to our housing problem, but his proposal begs the question: "Is the 10-year plan too conservative?"
If Irons can solve the problem of homelessness in 3-years, that'd mean he could a) come up with about 3,200 housing units each year over the next 3 years, and b) solve the legislative and structural issues that are the real reason for homelessness.  If he wants to rent 9,500 empty units each year -- assuming they exist --  to make the space, he'd ultimately need about $100 million per year to make it happen (at around $900/mo per unit).  If he could succeed, that'd sure be a big help.  I hope he's also considering however, that he'll need social services for the folks in those units.  That should just about double his cost.  Anyway, good luck to him if he can make his plan happen! 
But back to the question, is the 10-Year Plan too conservative?  It might be too conservative in that it's not changing the way we do business in addressing homelessness. For one thing, there seems to be little hurry about its implementation. Can we feel good that it has taken almost 9 months since completion of the plan for the County Council to get around to even reviewing it? As a member of the committee responsible for its implementation, I can't feel good that we haven't started attacking the structural issues that make homelessness happen -- economic disruption, social isolation, apathy toward mental health needs, and heartless discharge policies that move vulnerable people from institutions to life on the street.  The cost of these policies this year has been 31 homeless people dead on the streets. We're too conservative in the sense that we're maintaining a low priority for this problem -- just as we have for the last upteen years.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Invite Cindy Sheehan to Seattle?

Cindy Sheehan's apparently planning a bus trip through the U.S. Shouldn't she stop in Seattle? I'm thinking "you betcha." Today I'm writing my monthly column in The Source, and I'm thinking we all have a lot to thank Cindy for. She's helped remind us of the need to end the war in Iraq. She's also reminded us of the inaccessibility of our current administration in Washington. I think it'd be fun to meet her and to see what has driven this regular mom to stand up as she has.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Riding the Funeral Coach

I couldn't count the number of times I've ridden in the front seat of a funeral coach (a.k.a. a "hearse") while motorcycle cops have zoomed past, holding back traffic so our funeral procession could pass safely by.  Turns out funeral processions like this are currently not legal in the City of Seattle, at least temporarily.
Some time ago, Chief Gil Kerlikowske of the Seattle Police Department had a form cross his desk -- the recertification required for the local motorcycle escort service to do its work for funeral homes from throughout the city.  Remembering the two deaths of motorcyclists (not SPD officers, actually) over the last two years, Kerlikowske opted not to sign.  In fact, according to a Seattle Times reporter, Kerlikowske sent a letter to the escort companies saying he intended never to sign any recertification.
I called the SPD today and, with Chief Kerlikowske out, I spoke to Dep. Chief John Diaz.  According to Diaz, the SPD has called a meeting with the motorcycle escort companies and local funeral homes to come to some agreement about how to provide the service.  Diaz said the service will be allowed, and it's just a matter of figuring out how to provide it in a safe manner.
This is reassuring, since the practice of funeral processions is an ancient one.  As I told the Times reporter, in seminary I was instructed that the minister, priest or rabbi leads the procession, followed by the casket, the family, and the other mourners.  This has been done for hundreds, probably thousands of years.  I'm sure there are drivers who are annoyed at the delays caused by funeral processions, but in my mind this is an important tradition that really should be continued.  Isn't it worth a few extra moments of our time to pause, out of respect, for someone who's died?  I hope so.  And I hope the SPD will allow the custom to return to Seattle.


Tent City Operators Vindicated in Federal Audit

Sometimes things get buried in the paper and people don't see the conclusion to a story. Some time ago, tent city opponents filed a complaint against SHARE/WHEEL for its use of FEMA money to operate its tent cities. The money was withheld and a federal audit ensued. End of story? You'd think so. News of the complaint and audit were published in the King County Journal, but no follow up to the story ever took place.

Early this month the local FEMA board - of which I'm a member - was notified that the audit was complete and everything was in order. I requested a press release so people would know that SHARE/WHEEL had been cleared and the money was released. The story finally hit the King County Journal today. Here's a full quotation:

The nonprofit organization that runs roving tent cities for the homeless -- including Tent City 4 now in Woodinville -- has passed an audit and received its money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

SHARE/WHEEL has received nearly $40,000 in emergency shelter and homeless prevention grant money, funneled from FEMA through the National Emergency Food & Shelter Program, said Angelynn Talcott, spokeswoman for the YWCA of Seattle-King County-Snohomish County.

The YWCA administers FEMA funds for its own shelter programs and for several smaller agencies, including SHARE, on behalf of United Way of King County.

Although half of the $37,224 grant had been released when SHARE provided records for the audit in June, the Food & Shelter Board held the second half until that documentation passed review.

It released the money Aug. 5 and the YWCA passed it to SHARE on Aug. 9, Talcott said.

Tent city opponents had raised questions about the propriety of SHARE using federal emergency money during a routine audit of the agency.

As a result, Talcott said, ``special attention was given to ensure all documentation was in order and expenses met the EFSP guidelines.''

Auditors examined records for two years and found them in order, she said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Polyamory. Huh?

I've been answering calls from London over the last few days, setting up the filming in my office of a response to a "polyamory" convention being held around Seattle sometime soon.  A London TV station is covering a new group, the "polyamorists" who have not only coined an unwieldy new term, but have also found a use for it.  It's the new name given to people who choose to have more than one lover at a time.  The London TV station wanted a response from a local clergyman who, they hoped, would give some spicy condemnations of this new group.

My wife's first response to the upcoming interview was a semi-suspicious, "Why do they want to talk to YOU?" I assured her I had no special knowledge of the topic (other than a doctorate in gender, sexuality, and spirituality -- which I'm sure the London station knows nothing about), and that the interview came exclusively because of my role at the Church Council.  She then asked, "What are you going to say?"

There are some obvious responses to the idea of polyamory:

    1) It's contrary to our Christian tradition of monogamy,
    2) It gives a fancy name designed to serve as a fig leaf for promiscuity,
    3) It denies what we're coming to know about marriage -- that just 2 people living together in love presents a substantial lifelong challenge, and
    4) Since apparently most polyamorists are men with multiple female partners (polygyny) isn't this likely just another vehicle for the exploitation of women by men?
Are there other things to consider in relation to polyamory?  If you have some suggestions, let me know your thoughts -- by Tuesday, when the cameras roll.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

O Bellevue! What Were You Thinking?

Bellevue's City Council majority looks even more odd this week as the City of Woodinville considers its own tent city ordinance. According to the Seattle Times, a Woodinville City staffer in charge of the ordinance says Woodinville has no intention of following in Bellevue's footsteps by limiting tent cities to 60 days. "'We didn't have a reason to shorten it. Our experience was it functioned well,' [Sturtz] said."

Bellevue's ordinance, supposedly made so restrictive in order to ensure public safety, looks even more strange given Bellevue's latest public release about tent cities. Here's a direct quotation:

Information gathered from other Eastside cities who have hosted Tent City IV over the past year indicates that neighbors are not significantly impacted by any increased crime.  Police are called to the encampment to respond to disputes among residents of the encampment or to provide assistance with removing or denying entry to a resident of the encampment.  However, the presence of Tent City IV has not led to an increase in crime against the neighborhood or neighbors.

What's left to ask of Bellevue is this: If there's no threat to public safety, what's the reason for restricting the rights of churches to host tent cities?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Remembering Brother Roger

A big thanks to Fr Mike Ryan at St. James Cathedral for putting together Friday night’s Taize service in memory of Brother Roger Schutz.  It’s a sad truth that we often don’t know someone until they’re gone, and that’s the case with Brother Roger.  Here are a few things I didn’t know until Friday:

  1. Brother Roger was Protestant
  2. Brother Roger had been at the work at Taize since 1940
  3. Brother Roger and his colleagues had protected Jews during WWII
  4. Brother Roger had started a community, and that Taize is more than a kind of music, it is a place, a community, a movement.

When I was in France in 2001, I drove right past the Taize sign on the tollway through Burgundy.  Never again!  How many other riches are there in the world that we never know about, because we don’t dig beneath the surface?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Tent City Bids Farewell to Lake Washington UMC

Lake Washington United Methodist deserves a pat on the back for its selfless and smooth hosting of Tent City 4. The church managed to apply for permits in time, stay out of court, mollify the neighbors, and most importantly, provide a safe home for people in need. The stay at Lake Washington proves that TC4 can be a good neighbor, and that all the hype and hysteria put out by tent city opponents just masks a cold, heartless NIMBYism. Congrats to Rev. Jim Head-Corliss and the Lake Washingtonians.

This TC4 stay, as well as the prior stay in Kirkland, illustrates the folly of Bellevue's city council in approving its unnecessarily restrictive tent city ordinance. What a huge difference from the compassion and hospitality shown by Kirkland's city council. In the end, Bellevue blew it for its taxpayers as well -- having spent $150,000 on legal fees in a futile attempt to keep TC4 away.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Death of Brother Roger

The death of Brother Roger Schutz of Taize is a very sad moment for the ecumenical community. Taize came to symbolize a common liturgical vocabulary for the church, one that crossed denominational, ethnic, linguistic, and national boundaries.

A favorite mode of contemplation for me over the years has been to listen to a cd of Taize songs
I purchased at the Episcopal Book Store and let the music wash over me until I would feel relaxed and prayerful. The Friday services at St. James have shown me this is so for many others, too. Taize is the one "liturgical" service that Catholic and Protestant can share in without division. I think others, non-Christians, also innately sense the genuineness of the Taize mood and recognize it as true, spiritual worship.

For this we thank Brother Roger. We thank God for the fruitfulness over many years of his ministry. And we wish him God's peace in his eternal life in Christ.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

There is a God

Alice Grayson was to bake a cake for the Baptist Church ladies' group bake sale in Tuscaloosa, but she forgot to do it until the last minute. She remembered it the morning of the bake sale and after rummaging through cabinets she found a dusty old Angel food cake mix in the back of her kitchen cabinet and quickly made it while drying her hair and dressing and helping her son Bryan pack up for Scout camp. But when Alice took the cake from the oven the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured.

She said, "Oh dear, there's no time to bake another cake."

This cake was so important to Alice because she did so want to fit in at her new church, and in her new community of new friends. So, being inventive and not wanting anyone to think she was not the perfect woman able to handle all things at all times or that, God forbid, she not participate in her church's bazaar, she looked around the house for something to build up the center of the cake.

Alice found it in the bathroom -- a roll of toilet paper. She plunked it in and then covered it with icing

Not only did the finished product look beautiful, it looked perfect!

Before she left the house to drop the cake by the church and head for work, Alice woke her daughter Amanda and gave her some money and specific instructions to be at the bake sale the minute it opened at 9:30, and to buy that cake and bring it home.

When the daughter arrived at the sale, she found that the attractive perfect cake had already been sold.

Amanda grabbed her cell phone and called her Mom. Alice was horrified...she was beside herself. Everyone would know ...what would they think? Oh, my God she wailed! She would be ostracized, talked about, ridiculed. She would have to move or kill herself! All night Alice lay awake in bed thinking about people pointing their fingers at her and talking about her behind her back.

The next day, Alice promised herself that she would try not to think about the cake and she would attend a fancy luncheon/bridal shower at the home of a friend of a friend and try to have a good time. Alice did not really want to attend because the hostess was a snob who more than once had looked down her nose at the fact that Alice was a single parent and not from the founding families of Tuscaloosa, but having already RSVPed she could not think of a believable excuse to stay home.

The the meal was elegant, the company was definitely upper crust old South.... and to Alice's horror the CAKE in question was presented for dessert.

Alice felt the blood drain from her body when she saw the cake, she started to get out of her chair to rush into the kitchen to tell her hostess all about it, but before she could get to her feet, the Mayor's wife said,

"What a beautiful cake!"

Alice who was still stunned and trying to formulate what words she would use to explain the situation, sat back in her chair when she heard the hostess (who was a prominent church member) say, "Thank you, I baked it myself."

Alice smiled and thought to herself "There is a God".
(Thanks to my sister Lori, in Honolulu, HI, for sharing this!)

Will the Space Needle Respond?

The Church Council board, the mayor and the county executive were asked by employees of the Space Needle to help them deal with an employer who seems to want to decrease their pay and benefits. In response, the Council's Executive Committee wrote a July 28 letter to the Space Needle director, Dean Nelson. On August 15, we had still not received a reply. Here's the letter we wrote:
Dear Mr. Nelson,
On behalf of the 418 churches of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, we write to urge speedy progress in negotiations leading to a just and fair contract for your employees at the Space Needle.
As the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider in Seattle and King County, it is increasingly important that your employees earn sufficiently to support their families with good health benefits and with a voice on the job without undue restraint or interference by their employer. In addition to being a nationally-recognized landmark, the Space Needle is located at the Seattle Center, which is a vital public trust. Certainly, you have much to be proud of with your restaurant's listing among the top 50 nationally. At the same time, there is a concommitant responsibility to uphold standards that demonstrate a partnership between employer and employees to enhance not only productivity, but also job security, worker participation, and due process.
Specifically, provisions in your negotiations that recognize the unique situation that immigrants face as they settle into this country are paramount for their continued contribution and participation in society. Also, please restore the basic rights ofunion employees to progressive discipline and just cause. Honoring these provisions would certainly be signs of good faith and help the advance of the negotiations.
We intend to monitor closely the progress of negotiations. If we can be of assistance int he ongoing negotiations, please do not hestitate to contact us through our Social Justice Minister, Michael Ramos, at 206-525-1213.
Members of the Executive Committee
Church Council of Greater Seattle

Monday, August 15, 2005

Raging Grannies Sing Praises to Social Security

At noon today I spoke at a rally in Westlake Park about the 70th anniversary of Social Security. Gail and I were talking at dinner last night about how our parents and grandparents all enjoyed the benefits of a secure retirement system, backed by the government. Our great-grandparents and all previous generations weren't so blessed. We quickly forget that for most of human history to be old and without family meant to be living in grinding poverty. Childless widows in the Bible were the object of great compassion by Jesus. Now we take for granted that elders can make do on modest pensions, backed by their own hard work and the government's promise. It's a system that's worth protecting, and any tinkering in Washington should be done only to safeguard it.

The Raging Grannies joined our Social Security 70th Anniversary event at Westlake Park. Here they are, in full regalia, sharing their song: "I've been working toward retirement, all the live long day . . . " We also heard from Mayor Greg Nickles, several from the City Council, and many others. My comments are included below.

Social Security Comments

The religious community strongly supports Social Security and celebrates this 70th anniversary. Why is this a religious issue? Our faith makes it clear. The Prophet Isaiah wrote, "Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” In the Book of James it’s written, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” Jesus himself said, “Woe to those who devour widows’ house,” and he remembered with great respect, the widow’s gift in the temple of two tiny copper coins.

In the Biblical world and for most of human history an elderly person or a child or a disabled person with no family was certain to be destitute, and grinding poverty was a death sentence. The prophets of the Bible and leaders of the Early Church made it clear that religion was about caring for those who had no one else to care for them.

70 years ago, the USA made a huge step toward fixing the problem of grinding poverty among the elderly, the disabled, and children without families – it established Social Security -- one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in all of human history because of these principles: It was mandatory, it was based on earnings, it was universal, and it was protected for all time against inflation.

Here’s just how successful it has been. In 2004 the combined programs of Social Security provided benefits to 48 million people including retirees, survivors, and eight million people living with disabilities. Survivor benefits supported more than five million children. Without this basic income security, over 50 percent of women and 40 percent of men over age 65 would likely be living in poverty

In April, a group of 16 religious communities met in Washington DC and adopted these statements about how the future of Social Security should be addressed:

  • continue to reflect the highest moral values of a compassionate society
  • assure the fulfillment of basic human needs for all participants in times of need
  • build upon the present structure, assuring equity, fairness, and progressivity
  • balance revenues and expenditures over time and assure future generations will not be unfairly burdened by this generation's debts
  • Social Security must remain the third leg of 3-legged stool -- promote private savings and employer-provided pensions -- in addition to Social Security.
The job of a just society is to care for everyone – we pray that America will safeguard its Social Security system so that the lives and hopes and futures of Americans will always be preserved.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

First Day

This is the blog's first day, and I'm already wondering what to write. I'm thinking this blog will be a collection of thoughts, musings, rants, and dreams about ecumenical social justice in Seattle. My hope is it'll allow folks a peek into the challenges and joys of the Church Council, and that most of all it'll be fun. My goal is to write something every day (at least M-F).

To start with, I'd like to point to a great event today -- the celebration of Tent City 4's presence at Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland. Mayor Mary Alyce Burleigh was there, and she deserved all the praise she received about how well Kirkland has handled the challenge of TC4. We all feel the same sense of consternation about Bellevue's approach, and I've been interested to sense real fighting spirit on the Council board's part, on the part of churches who've hosted TC4, and on the part (second hand albeit) of the Temple Bnai Torah folk who'll be hosting TC4 in November.

Nice note today from a local Buddhist leader who proposed some Buddhist/Christian dialogue and joint events. Great idea!