Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bodies Exhibit Calls for Another "Quiet" Boycott

Any boycott can backfire.  Look at the boycott of "The Passion of the Christ," which is probably one of the reasons this graphic portrayal of Jesus' last days ultimately grossed over $370 million. That's why it makes sense not to proclaim an all-out boycott of the "Bodies" exhibit which opened this week here in Seattle -- sometimes the most eloquent opposition comes from just not showing up. A quiet boycott is in order. 
The exhibit consists of 21 "whole" human bodies and 240 body parts -- taxidermically preserved and then cut away to reveal anatomical details. There's no doubt the exhibit is crudely engaging.  The human body is amazing, and a view of its inner secrets is usually reserved for people in the medical profession.

The problem with the exhibit is the provenance of the bodies themselves.  First, this is not the famous Dr. Gunther Von Hagens exhibit, in which individuals have specifically donated their bodies for exhibition. That exhibit, which has also traveled the world, actually has a waiting list of hundreds of people who have volunteered their bodies to Von Hagens.


No, this is a competing exhibit, in which bodies from Chinese prisons are leased to exhibitors.  According to press reports, the bodies originate in Chinese prisons, are sold to a university in China, then are leased for approximately $5 million per year to exhibit organizers. The expenses are easily paid for by the $13 million in revenue from the traveling exhibit.  Organizers insist they have documentation on each body that shows there were no shenanigans in its origins, but they refuse to make these records public.  This stubborn refusal continues, in spite of the well-documented illicit Chinese trade in cadavers, body parts and spare organs -- all "donated" by residents of Chinese prisons.


So here are the questions responsible people should ask: "Why were these people in jail in the first place - were they political prisoners?" "How did they die?" "Were their deaths related to the potential bonanza of profits reaped by the Chinese authorities who sold them?" "Why aren't the records of these deaths open for public review?" "Is it appropriate to put on display the bodies of people who had no say in how their flesh is being treated after their death?"


And there are deeper questions, too, questions that apply to any exhibit, no matter the origin of the cadavers used: "Don't our ancient traditions call for deep respect to a person's physical remains?" "Is it right to make a profit out of our fascination with death?" "Is this exhibit another example of a 'Culture of Death' that is fascinated by death and pays little attention to nurturing life?"


I'd hate for these concerns to result in additional attention and revenue for the exhibit's organizers, but I'd also like to see its sloppy and questionable ethics go quietly away.  So won't you join me in a "quiet" boycott?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Too Much Driscoll?

My Saturday routine includes an iced green tea and guilty cinnamon roll pleasure at Starbucks every week.  Along with that, I open a copy of both Seattle dailies and peruse whatever religion news might be included.  This week I was pretty surprised by the Seattle Times and its Mars Hill-heavy content.

Mark Driscoll is one of the Times’ five religion columnists, and along with them he shares a column that replaces the long-running and popular Dale Turner writings.  What sets Mark apart is his evangelical passion about sharing the gospel — and his big-dollar ads that run adjacent to his column.  

This week’s column was a nearly-accurate discussion of crucifixion in the ancient world (can we call Cicero a Greek philosopher? OK, he taught Greek philosophy and spent lots of time visiting friends in Greece, but he was a Roman last I heard) that almost read like an AMA article from a few years back that described crucifixion in medical-detail depth.  On the bottom right of the page was a very large (and expensive) ad advertising Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church.

I guess I can’t think of another time in which a columnist’s writing was paired with an advertisement about his work, or that an advertiser was also given a free column to support his/her viewpoints.  I’d be interested to hear the Times’ rationale for its columnist’s dual-role, partly for ethics reasons and partly for theological reasons.

A Church Council board member shared a Salon.com (subscription only) article written about the Mars Hill Church, in which the church’s “Biblical” marriage gender roles are described.  I haven’t seen Driscoll describe these in a Times column, but if he did, I’d wonder how Seattle would respond.  Basically, women are to be in the home, raising children.  Men work outside the home and make the decisions.  Clear and simple.

I’d like to invite the Times to encourage Pastor Driscoll to share his views about women with its audience.  We deserve to know the whole truth, since we’re both reading his words sponsored by the Times and reading the Times sponsored by him.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tribute to Alan Mulally

When I was director of a small child abuse agency in Snohomish County, we asked Alan Mulally to come headline a special fundraising event for us to give it some star appeal.  And did he. He arrived on a helicopter, with TV cameras in tow.  His comments were on the evening news (and so was the name of our little non-profit).

I after I made my comments to the 350 or so folks in attendance, Alan prepared to get up to speak to the group as well. But before he did, he reached over to me  and handed me a personal check for $1000, made out to our agency.  His simple words to me were, “Keep up the good work.”

I’m proud of Alan’s current success — today he was picked to chair the Ford Motor Co. Boeing will miss him.  Sure, he ended up driving a hard bargain with the Machinists Union.  Yes, there were plenty of layoffs during the tough times following Sept 11th.  But Mulally brought Boeing and its high-paying jobs back from the brink, and every step of the way, Boeing continued its long tradition of strong financial support for human service programs like United Way.

Maybe it’s all because of something else Alan shared with me that day.  After we had both spoken, he looked across our table to me and said, “Have you ever heard of Rev. Dale Turner?”  I had, of course.  Every clergyperson in Seattle has.  “I was a little red-haired kid sitting in the front row of his church back in Wichita, Kansas, before he moved out to Seattle.  He taught me a lot and I’m in touch with him to this day.”

Alan, thanks for the good jobs for people in the Seattle area.  Thanks for the contributions to human service work.  Thanks for your living testimony to the contributions clergy like Dale Turner have made.

As he heads to Detroit – a place that needs good jobs for workers and their families - I’ll share with Alan the same words he shared with me.  “Keep up the good work.”

Keeping a Religious Tone

After a few months' reprieve, I'm back to writing for the Blog and hope you'll enjoy these musings . . . . .
Should religious groups care about the appointment of Sybil Bailey to the board of the Seattle Housing Authority?  First, some background.  Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) is the largest provider of housing to Seattle's homeless population.  In fact, it's the largest landlord in Seattle, overseeing roughly 10% of all housing units.  It has literally billions of dollars in real estate assets, and it will likely be the biggest player in the upcoming work of implementing the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County.
Last week, the Seattle Times carried a story that described the "uproar" caused by the nomination of Sybil Bailey.  Among groups decrying the nomination were one of the Council's programs, the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness (ITFH). 
The problem?  An ancient drug conviction was dredged up by someone in the anti-Bailey camp, and the Times made it look like the ITFH was jumping on the pig pile, with an elderly, African-American woman in a wheelchair on the bottom.  In reality, the ITFH did not bring up the conviction -- that was done by others.  But unfortunatley the Times article gave the impression it did.
The controversy underlines the difficulty we religious social justice advocates have when we join the public debate about controversial issues.  How do we keep from getting dirty when the mud is being slung by either side?
I think it's important for all faith-based social justice folks to follow these "rules of engagement," with which we can keep the conflict clean, and keep our prophetic voice clear.
1. Never attack an individual, ever.  It doesn't fit any religious principles I know of.
2. Always treat every individual, whether we like him/her or not, with respect, knowing he/she is a child of God.
3. Stay out of controversies about appointments or elections -- they ultimately revolve around individuals mostly, and not about the issues.
4. That said, stick to the issues.  We are only interested in the issues, not in the personalities who are supporting them.
5. Assume that all correspondence is public, so even write e-mails while asking the question, "Could this be read in worship?"  Ultimately, God is our audience, not the people who're making decisions.  What we write or say needs to be considered knowing that God is overhearing it.
6. Our public statements should be rooted in prayer.  If we've prayed in advance, we should come off as gentle, firm, and impassioned.  If we haven't, we'll may come off as angry, implacable, and shrill.
7. In a secular world, we are ambassadors of faith.  When people read what we have to say, they should sense that it fits in our scriptural and moral traditions.  Along these lines, it is ok to use the word "God" and to invoke religion in each paragraph.  That what people are looking for from us!
8. We always must speak with modest and politeness.  We never resort to foul language, and we speak so that even a child could hear us and not be offended.
These rules all sounds so simple . . . yet in the heat of battle, it's easy to resort to arguing or fighting the way we do in less guarded moments.  I hope people related to the Church Council will remember these rules . . . . they'll help us get the totality of our message across.