To the Imams Khan: I Have Sacrificed Nothing

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Like a vast majority of Americans who are not terrible people and have a soul, I watched the appearance of Khizr Khan and Ghazala Khan, the parents of fallen U.S. Army Captain Humayun Kkhan, a patriotic young man who lost his life owed to the reckless policies of the Bush Administration, with tears in my eyes. Anyone who questions if the American dream is still alive need only look at these dignified, proud people who understand what true political oppression feels like. Looks like. They know what it means to go to another country and seize opportunities, such as Mr. Khan has done as an attorney. As their son did as a soldier deploying and redeploying as called upon by his country. And the image of Mrs. Khan, standing silently but proudly, wearing a hijab, providing strength for her husband as we imagine she has done for family all her life, is now seared into the American consciousness. Watching them, I felt proud to be an American. I don’t say stuff like that a lot. False patriotism is ugly. I have sacrificed nothing for my country. I am not a veteran. I have taught at private institutions. My community service and work is not a sacrifice. It is a great joy. A privilege. My religious freedom is not as the result of anything I have done; it has been given to me. While I am a lifelong, dedicated pacifist I have friends who are Marines and soldiers in the Army; sailors and Air Force. Veterans and active duty. One of my dear friends’ father is a retired Air Force Colonel. Another friend lost her brother in Afghanistan. I live a stone’s throw away from the second largest AFB in the country, and there are armories to the south and east. I know lots of people who have sacrificed by serving in the Peace Corp or Teach for America.

I have sacrificed nothing.

The splenetic, infantile responses of the Orange Baboon are a perfect illustration of what is going on in this country right now. Really, if we are honest, it has been going on for hundreds of years. Rich men who never serve a day of their life in the military continually decide to send our volunteer forces into impossible situations with suspects motives to seeks amoral outcomes. See also: History. Drumpf, who is woefully unaware of geopolitics, including dangerously inaccurate statements about Crimea and Ukraine, claims that he has made sacrifices by working hard, creating jobs, and building “great” buildings. One is reminded of his statement that his love for the differently-abled community can be seen in his spending millions of dollars to

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comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sacrifices abound.

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We cannot ask for a better situation to demonstrate the macrocosm through the microcosm. Here we have an immigrant family who are fiercely proud of their adopted country; who raised a son with a sense of devotion and service that I have never even approached; who laid bare their own pain and suffering out of concern for their fellow citizens, to offer as an example an American who never would have existed had The Donald been in power when the Khans left Pakistan; who passionately used as their defense for having such fundamental questions about Drumpf’s qualifications, knowledge of the fucking Constitution of the United States. And as John Oliver has said, it seems the first time that noble document has been used as a middle finger.

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I felt proud because I see, in a small way, that we are inching closer and closer to fulfilling the maxim that all persons are created equal. A Muslim couple who still speak with accents, proudly and courageously challenging the odiousness that is passing for GOP policy positions. And, of course, the response is no longer a surprise. The asshat with “one of the great temperaments” reacted like a foul-mouthed parrot that has learned how to tweet. And, seriously. What the hell is with that sentence construction? One of the great temperaments? I must have missed the day in school in which Ms. Davis, the legendary history teacher from my high school alma mater, went over the Great Temperaments. As I am a man who likes to know things, I spent the morning doing deep research on the Great Temperaments (one cannot recommend enough the seminal work of Monsieur Derriere-Chapeau) and I found rare footage of Trump’s noble forbears:

I have written before (and before and before) about the darkness and irresponsible vision of the country the GOP nominee is presenting. But I am asking people to look very closely at what is happening: Drumpf wants to be president, but he can’t even fulfill the most basic tasks. He will send armed forces into areas of the world he knows nothing about, and will be unable to comfort the families when our heroes return in boxes. The man is a walking id, as I’ve said before. He is a blight on humanity.

But I’m about solutions. Positivity. Rejecting Trump does not happen just at the ballot box, it comes with the actions we engage in each day. Because this is what we are facing:

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This was left on a female friend of color’s FB post. I reported it and alerted my friend, who is out of the country. But this is what Drumpf is stirring up. We can be reactionary and go into word battles with them–which, actually, can be fun, so go ahead an inundate them with tweets and posts–but we can also engage in action. And that’s what this post is ultimately about. I feel like Mr. and Mrs. Khan have been our Imams. They have presented to us a challenge.

Pastor friends, Christian friends, friends who teach Sunday School. Join me. Join me as I continue to teach the children of First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs the Five Pillars of Islam. I connect each pillar to Christianity, highlighting similarities and differences, but they are learning about Islam. We are then going to a local mosque, and in return we will invite members to come to the church. My hope is that we can become sister communities, coming together every year to share. To support. To love one another. I’m asking you to do the same, or to do something to connect the congregation you serve or attend to a local Muslim community. It is time to make sure that as many microcosms as possible shift. That this be the end of a major politician being able to stoke fear and xenophobia.

The Khans are doing their part. Are you doing yours?

 

Yes, I Really Do Have Republican Friends and This is to Them 


My dear friends,

You know that my grandparents were Republican. We’ve talked about that, and that’s a big part of why I respect you even though we disagree on some pretty big issues. You’ve listened to me, and I’ve listened to you, and while voices have raised in love, we’ve always walked away after a prayer or a hug, maybe both, and counted ourselves blessed to have one another. Please hear the sincerity of what I’m about to say: I am really sorry about what has happened to your party, to your principles, to your movement. I’ve spent my life on the “other side,” but I’ve read most of the major conservative thinkers. I’ve read dozens of biographies on Republican presidents, from Lincoln to TR to Eisenhower to Reagan to both presidents Bush. And, yes, I’ve made fun of Sarah Palin and ridiculed the Tea Party movement. 

We are none of us perfect. 
But I can honestly say that I would have voted for Eisenhower, even though I am a big fan of Adlai Stevenson, and on paper, without the personality, I could accept Nixon as an essentially capable leader. We won’t jump down the rabbit hole that is Vietnam, but any criticism I have of Kissinger I also have of MacNamara.  Let’s just agree, if we can, that I am not a rabid liberal who thinks everything Republican is evil. 

You can’t vote for Trump. I mean, you can. You can do whatever you want, but I’m asking you. Begging you to look beyond party politics and see that a vote for Trump is a vote for everything that is wrong about this country. Everything that is awful about a certain type of White American man, a sleaziness that surpasses a blowjob in the the White House or some emails deleted off a server. And I know that Republicans have made millions off of hating Hillary Clinton, and I’m not here to convince you to vote for her, even though I think you should, but I am asking that you look at this honestly. Soberly. Objectively. No matter what might be alleged against Hillary–as long as we can agree that any consideration of her killing Vince Foster cannot enter into a reasonable conversation–even if it is all true, she is still more morally acceptable than Trump. And, come on, you have to admit that she’s qualified. Hate the game, not the player. She’s whip smart and knows how to get shit done. And if Congress would stop acting like petulant children, we might be able to find some compromise and really start getting our government working again. 

There’s Gary Johnson. Perhaps it is hypocritical of me to ask my more liberal friends to not vote for Jill Stein but I’m asking my conservative friends to vote Libertarian, but that is how driven I am about keeping Trump from the White House. It is like Dan Rather said, this is the first time in American history that two conventions have been about the same person. And neither were about how great the guy is. Because that’s what Trump wants to make great again. Himself. I mean, where do you go after having the most successful reality show of all time? You run for president.

That is literally the chain of events. It is fucking surreal. Oh, his supporters point to his business acumen (well, they don’t because most don’t know what acumen means; I know, I’m such a catty bitch) as evidence of his qualifications, but it is already clear that his business dealings are a joke. Want to prove me wrong? You can’t because he won’t release his taxes. Think about that: the single attribute he is supposed to possess is contained therein, but he won’t let the American people see his taxes even though he pushed for Romney to do it in 2012. 

If Mitt Romney were running against Trump, I would vote for Mittt. That should demonstrate the urgency of my plea. 

I am totally up for a conversation about concerns you have with the Dems or issues with which you and Hillary might resonate. Or not. Perhaps yours is a Johnson vote or a write-in. But I am asking you to think about what is best and most important about our country: the idea that we all have rights, and that we are a nation of immigrants.. We are rich with a panoply of cultures and traditions, and  while we have a troubled and noble history, Trump doesn’t care. He has no qualifications for this weighty responsibility. Please. Anyone but Trump. 

And I hope that your party is able to reassess itself and return to being about ideas that adhere to a cogent philosophy of governance and public service. Our country needs it. 

Yours in love,

Aaron 

American Manicheanism at the RNC

Before Augustine of Hippo acceded to the pleas of his besainted mother Monica and St. Ambrose, he was a Manichean. This religion was a melange of Zoroastrianism, folk traditions, and Buddhism. But above all it was heavily dualistic, visioning the world as a fierce, clear battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. In some ways they were not unlike the Essenes that some scholars believe influenced John the Baptizer. The traces of the Essenes are not seen as heavily on Christian theology as are the large stains of dualism, and much of that has to do with Augustine’s misreadings of Paul’s epistles. While he didn’t create the notion of original sin, he did propagate the term concupiscence which essentially characterizes the human experience as being an ongoing battle between the lower appetites (what Paul calls sarx or flesh) and the soul; in this way the human person is a microcosm of the heavenly macrocosm, which will play itself out in an apocalyptic battle. Hatred of the body can be laid at the feet of Augustine, although not him alone, and by the Middle Ages flagellation and other bodily mortification were prevalent ascetic practices for monks trying to overcome the power of the flesh to elevate the spirit. This was borrowed directly from dualistic traditions of the ancient world. See, for example, the War Scroll of the Qumran community, which foretells the impending clash between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. The scroll depicts graphic scenes in which the enemies (the Sons of Darkness) are laid to waste by the heroes (Sons of Light). As they awaited this war, the members of the community lived under strict conditions and practiced extreme austerity. While this paragraph blurs some lines and loses nuance for the sake of expediency, it is safe to say that Gnostic influences can be found all over the formative years of Christian theology and tradition.

One might think that with the advent of science, philosophy, history, and knowledge over the last two millennia human religion–especially Christianity, which has under its umbrella an estimated 33,000 denominations— would have evolved beyond fantastical visions of an Earth that will be little more than a massive Risk board for God and Satan. One might think, but one would be wrong. Gnosticism is on full display at the Republican National Convention that sadly is being hosted in my beloved home state of Ohio. I thank God I am on the other side of the Heart of it All lest I be attacked.

Gird up your loins and give this a look. Or, if that’s too much read the text below. Or both. Your choice. I pride myself on service.

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Derrick Weston has written a good piece on how this is bad theology; Mark Sandlin has offered how he would have delivered the prayer; and the New York Post has reported that a Muslim-led prayer in the same place was met with screams of derision. I don’t want to rehash what has already been done well, but I do want to offer a new perspective that, perhaps, can add to intelligent conversation.

It seems clear that the GOP has abandoned even extreme Evangelical Christianity  in favor of what I’m calling American Manicheanism, a mix of nationalism, apocalyptic Christianity, and a heavily dualist view of politics, society, religion, and policy. It is evident not only in the prayer offered by Burns–notice all the blame assigned to one side; the descriptors are violent and divisive; and the name of God is invoked in a call to destroy so that peace may come–but also the language of Trump, for whom people are either winners or losers. Seriously. The New York Times ran an article detailing the 239 people Trump has dumped upon. We have seen Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and a whole host of other people have tried to get back into Trump’s good graces to once again be labeled a winner. Ted Cruz, it seems, did not achieve that with his non-endorsement of the nominee on Wednesday evening. Trump made his displeasure known.

gettyimages-578133654.jpg    Shudder. I keep expecting him to release the flying monkeys. 

These sort of quasi-intellectual posts might be fun, or an opportunity for me to momentarily stop crying over the nearly $150k student loan debt I’ll have by the time I finish the doctorate in early 2018 and show that all this education is not for naught. I can be witty and sarcastic with footnotes! The average person probably does not care that what we are seeing is a repeat of what has happened for millennia when empires begin to teeter. It might make me feel witty to quip that Commodus is about to take over for Marcus Aurelius. Time for guffaws is long over. We are faced with a terrifying situation. Out of fear, the GOP has retreated to their corners to prepare for an epic battle; they believe themselves to be led by a higher power who has charged them with defeating an enemy, one that is sly and difficult to detect. One that is close, familiar, and perhaps was once a friend. They have cast complicated issues as either/or propositions, and depict the world as dark and dire with suffering to come, unless those who are in the right gather together behind a leader and overthrow the demons.And have done so with a buffoon as a candidate who, according to experts, could create chaos in the world.

This is pretty much what messianic expectations have detailed for thousands of years. A time of crisis; fear gripping the land; and the cries to God to send an agent of delivery. Take a look at Burns’ prayer again; look familiar? But gone are the subtleties and finer points; absent are notions of grace, compassion, and love; peace is pitched as occurring only in the wake of destruction. Blessings are bestowed only upon those with the secret knowledge, the proper pedigree, the anointing of the divine. Hope is placed in the idea that the destruction of the many is necessary for the salvation of the few.

And Trump is expected to win the Evangelical vote.

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Define “Religious”

I talk about religion a lot, often because I am asked to or I am asked questions about religion. For a number of years, even after my conversion and after I became serious about practicing the faith, I hesitated to call myself religious. It seemed to have so many negative connotations for others and even for myself. I actually fell, for awhile, for the New Atheist insistence that to be really religious means to be a fundamentalist, which is absolutely not true and perhaps the topic for a future blog post. But in the past five years, and right around the time I started this blog, I have evolved on my position. Yes, I am in fact religious. As the tagline of this page states, “Reasonably Religious, Religiously Reasonable.”

The origins of the English word religion are interesting. It begins with the Classical Latin religare, which means “to bind.” Religare morphs into religio, which adds a connotation of reverence or high regard. Scholars trace the first written use of it to Cicero, who employs the term in connection to strict observance of local cultic practices. Further, we see that by the time Middle English emerges with “religion,” Old French had added to the word ideas of monastic strictures such that the term has been freighted with all sorts of expectations and requirements, yet without the specific details of what expectations must be met. We know what religion means, but what it is remains to be decided.

At its heart, religion seeks to bind us. To God, to ourselves, to one another. Religion is about relationships, and a sense of obligation and commitment to remain in those relationships even through difficulties. Religion might mean a commitment to certain behaviors and moral codes; it might mean the performance of certain rituals or rites; it can be attenuated by sacred scriptures or other written/oral traditions; and a whole host of other features. And defining religion? Well, it depends on your discipline. The legal definition is very different than the one provided by the IRS. Academic definitions can vary widely; and if you ever want to start some static in a room full of intellectuals, ask whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion. Then run. Or get a drink and some popcorn. Either way, something dramatic is going to happen. I used to give the assignment as a final essay to my students, and some of them would hand in the papers with the look of someone who had been crying all night.

I offer all of this because I have spent most of my academic and professional life thinking about and reflecting upon religion. I love having conversations with people in various traditions and disciplines to talk about religion, faith, community, and all the other things that come hand-in-hand with religion. That wonderful yet terrifying creation that has been responsible for some of the most beautiful and more destructive forces in the world. And the more I learn and discover the more I know that I don’t know, and the more that I understand religion can come in ways that are surprising, revolutionary, and unexpected.A religious act can be eating bread in mindfulness, or anointing the body of a person recently deceased. It can be sprinkling water on the forehead of a child, or the passing of an ancestral sword to the next generation. Religion–that which binds us–can be indescribably beautiful.

What it can’t be is the amoral, opportunistic, vapid, insubstantial, self-aggrandizing, Mammon-serving claptrap that Donald Trump displays in his life. He is bound only to himself, to his fragile ego that can only be protected by a worldview that relegates people to being either “terrific” or “losers.” He has never asked forgiveness from God because he does not know how to extend it. Or maybe that should go the other way around. He famously holds grudges for decades, sending quippy notes and emails to rub his perceived success into the face of someone who was inadequately fawning. For him, being religious means winning the Evangelical vote.

If this is not a gut-check time for Evangelical America, I don’t know what is. You’ve been saying to us for years that you vote your values. You have excused horrible treatment of women who seeks abortions, GLBT persons who want to marry, and immigrants who want to have a track to citizenship for years because of your values. And you’re willing to vote for this man, and accept that he calls himself “religious”?

So, I guess I’ve been wrong the past five years. Guess I’m not religious after all.

 

It’s Not About the Samaritan

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We always focus on the Samaritan. Whenever I preach Luke 10:25-37, I trot out the history of the Samaritans. How some scholars maintain they came to be as the result of the Assyrian destruction of the North c.722 BCE. How they assumed the identity of being the “true” chosen people. How they were vilified and reviled by the Jews of Jesus’ time. How women were thought to be born with perpetual menstruation. How the men oftentimes were not allowed to enter town centers during the day. And then I’ll make some comparison as to who would be a Samaritan today: Osama Bin Laden. Saddam Hussein. ISIS.

And that stuff’s important to know. But until last night, when I suddenly switched the texts for the week to those in the Revised Common Lectionary, I never realized that the parable isn’t about the Samaritan at all. Not really.

Most often, we focus on the violence done to the person lying in the ditch. And we should. Those are the wounds that need tending, the life that needs protecting, the victim who needs attention. Nothing can be done to take back the blows delivered to his body; we can dry the blood and set the bones, but the memories of the act remain.

To decrease the chances something like this happens again, we need to look at the forces that push the robbers into lives of brigandry. We have failed them. Our schools. Our communities. Our churches. Sure, some people choose crime but a vast majority are forced there. Desperation is as desperation does.

We need to look at the violence done to the persons who walked by. The priest who perhaps feels afraid of violating strictures on coming into contact with blood. The Levite who has internalized codes and ideas about purity that keeps him out of relationship. What are the lies they have believed, the indifference they have developed in their minds and hearts, the ways they have somehow dehumanized another person? How is that born? How is that nurtured? How is that developed? We need to look at the institutions and forces that create such a perverse and inhuman life philosophy. Because we know that human nature is to help. Just watch a child respond to human suffering. A child will try to assist, will cry out with empathy.

Remember, God creates us and declares us very good. That is our ontological condition.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not just a story about how we should act, it is a damning indictment of the forces and beliefs that actively keep us from doing the right thing. That keep us complicit in acts of violence, acts of malicious indifference, acts of apathy. The parable is about our own racism, our own prejudices, our own systems that value too many things other than human life. Other than human dignity, security, and happiness.

The parable is about what keeps us from being good.

To be sure, the title of this piece is provocative. The Samaritan is important. I believe the Samaritan presents us with three crucial points for pondering. One, beware of your assumptions. The priest and the Levite are expected to do the right thing, and they do not. I argue because of systems not put in place by them, but ones that they accept even though they violate the will of God that we care for one another. The Samaritan does do the right thing, and we must ask: is this because the Samaritan is a better person? Perhaps. Or perhaps the Samaritan shows us that we can learn lessons from unexpected people. Perhaps the Samaritan shows us that our assumptions about others keep us from seeing the way God is working through them; our prejudices and assumptions prevent us from seeing them as fully human.

Two, the Samaritan shows us the model of someone who does not accept rules and regulations that result in people suffering. The Samaritans largely followed the same Torah as their contemporary Jews (and please note that Samaritans still exist to this day). They were beholden to the same commandments of hospitality and the same laws of ritual cleanliness. This Samaritan put aside those strictures in favor of tending to a life barely holding on.

Three, the Samaritan demonstrates the failures of society to have structures that are life-affirming.What the Samaritan does for the beating victim is wonderful. It is an inspiration for each of us individually. But we also know that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. All of us. Each and every one. So why are there systems and strictures that keep people in lives of crime, in religious systems that alienate, and social systems that do not provide adequate healthcare for everyone simply by virtue of being human? Why do we have a society in which one must risk financial ruin or need to rely on the kindness of strangers–who cannot be expected to help everyone–and continue to make excuses for why it is not different?

The bodies in the ditches are stacking up, and the voices are crying out. Are we simply walking by? Are we regurgitating lies or nonsensical reasons and defenses of indefensible behavior? Do we really think that being pulled over for a taillight should even happen anymore? That playing with a toy gun is a capital crime? Do we start spouting criminal histories that have no bearing on the brutal circumstances of innocent deaths? Do we expect our police officers to follow procedures and practices that leave them afraid and uncertain? Do we defend the system over human life? Human worth? Human dignity?

The parable is not about the fucking Samaritan. It’s about what we’ve gotta do to get woke. God does not care about our doctrine and our dogma. God cares that we do the right thing. Start tearing down everything that keeps that from happening, and begin with yourself.

And remember: Jesus broke himself so we would stop breaking each other.

 

Blessing Zay

In case you don’t know her, this is Zay. Click here for a short film The Cincinnati Enquirer did on her and the family last year. Knowing her story is pretty important to understanding this blog.

I met Zay when she still went by her birth name and responded to male pronouns. She was full of energy and in the cast of The Three Penny Opera, a show that also featured my wife. I thought that it was really cool that her parents supported a gender-fluid child. Over the coming months I–like many of us lucky enough to be in her life–understood that Zay is a girl. She is not a boy who likes to wear dresses; she is not confused or experimenting or trying to be cool. She is trying to survive. She is trying to be who she knows herself to be.

There are not many people I will say I admire; respect? Yes. Love? Yes? Appreciate? Yes. But admire? That’s a high bar. Zay’s parents, Chass and Jason, are two people I admire. Because as hard as it was for Zay to give voice to herself, it was equally hard for them to understand what was going on, what they needed to do, and how they could go about doing it. I have marveled at their tenacious dedication to let love and compassion overpower fear and uncertainty. Having held the hands of trans* persons as they recounted horrific tales of unspeakable violence by their own family members, I know (as well as a cisgender person can) how incredibly important family support is when coming out and transitioning, and how lucky Zay is to be facilitating transition as she goes through puberty. This community is not unfamiliar with trans* persons; we already helped produce the inimitable Trace Lysett (although I speak with no authority on Trace’s transition or experiences), but we are by no means a perfect community. There is trans* phobia here, and transitioning can be rough. Zay’s parents have done an incredible thing for their daughter, while all the while mourning the loss of a son. It is a tough dynamic.

I’ve been on the organizing committee for Yellow Springs Pride for the past several years, and that is really how I go to know Zay and Chass the best. The year I was the featured speaker, Zay was crowned Pride Queen. She led the parade and the village rallied around her. I’ll be honest and say that I only ever see Zay smiling, but I know there have been difficult times. I know that being who she is takes a toll on her, on her family, on the dynamics they face each day. I wish it were different, but it is not. As wonderfully supportive as family and friends are, fear and uncertainty make people behave badly and there is no avoiding it. That’s why days like today are so important.

I was asked several weeks ago to put together a blessing service for Zay on the day that her name becomes legal. Friends and family gathered at the county courthouse before packing into a small courtroom to witness the historic event. The guards, court officials, and magistrate were lovely. Absolutely lovely. They recognized this as a huge event and were nothing but cheerful, enthusiastic, and helpful. As nonbinary people continued to join our ranks, there was no snide remarks, no persons pointing, no untoward questions about genitals. It was an amazing moment when the magistrate declared that “Zay Irene Crawford” is now one step closer to being her legal name recognized on all documents. We clapped and cheered and laughed and hugged and cried. It was beautiful.

After, we gathered together at a local park to break bread and share stories. Zay flitted around and fed the ducks, danced, and greeted her admirers. It came time for me to give the blessing, which I did–and you can read it below–while trying not to cry. Zay stood next to me as everyone encircled us, a physical representation of our spiritual commitment to surround Zay with love all of her days.

In many Christian denominations, I would be defrocked for what I did today. The fact that I am so open about my support of the GLBT community–a community to which I belong–means that many churches and many Christians won’t have me as a member or as a pastor. But I feel that today I followed Christ in one of the most significant acts I could do: affirming the idea that Zay is not an abomination, not an affront to God, not a boy who thinks he is a girl, but rather a wonderfully made, radically loved miracle. I was able to be a vehicle to communicate God’s love and compassion, to express that God’s wondrous creation is so much more intricate and beautiful than the binary spectrum reflects.

This, friends. This is why I went to seminary. This is why I seek to serve. I am invited into the most powerful, intimate moments of people’s lives as a symbol of God’s presence, as a reminder of our undeniable connection to one another. I may have delivered the blessing today, but Zay IS the blessing.

The Ceremony 

William Shakespeare famously queried, “What’s in a name?” The ancients believed a lot. Abram, the founder of the three great monotheistic faiths, became Abraham as a testimony of his transformation; Sarai, his beloved and the matriarch, became Sarah. Millennia later, a passionate Jew named Saul was so overcome with a sense of God, be changed his name to Paul and helped bring forth a new revelation. Around the world, Jews and Christians take religious names at bar and bat mitzvahs, christenings and confirmations. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are named in honor of their prophet and revered figures. What’s in a name, indeed.

Names are highly symbolic within the vast variety of Native American tribes and nations. The blood of Native ancestors runs through Zay’s veins, and while today is not an official naming ceremony in a Native tradition, the spirit of such a hallmark event is present in this moment. Zay—in ways that most of us cannot imagine at her age—understands central aspects of herself, an understanding that transcends years on earth. She has a deep, intrinsic knowledge of who she is, and she has spent most of her life explaining that to others. In her bones, in her body, in her mind, in her soul, and in her heart Zay Irene Crawford understands that she is a young woman meant to grow more fully into her identity. Today, we recognize that; we recognize her strength and beauty as a child of God.

I now ask that Zay’s family come forward. Please repeat after me.

On this special day, we surround you with love. We affirm who you are, and embrace you on your journey. We will walk in solidarity as you continue your path, and we pledge our unwavering support. In this family, you are a daughter, a sister, a niece, a granddaughter, a beloved of our own. As long as we are with you, you will never be alone.

Zay, please repeat after me.

I, Zay Irene Crawford, do proclaim that this is my name. It identifies who I am called to be. I take the name of my grandmother, Irene, which means “peace,” and the name of my family. I am to you a daughter and a sister, niece and granddaughter, and you are beloved to me. As long as you are with me, I will never be alone. 

In every tradition, a community gathers around a new name. A community that pledges to love, to seek justice, to extend compassion, and to be present in the wonders and mysteries of life. Will those present who feel so moved, affirm their continued support of Zay and her family by repeating after me: As long as you are together, we will be here.

In the Love of the Creator, the Source of All Things, the Unnamable Spirit, we lift up our hearts and present to the world, Zay Irene Crawford.

Color me confused: Abortion politics in 2012

I take umbrage when people call me pro-abortion. Personally, those are fighting words. I, and no person I know, is “pro” abortion. Such a charge is little more than invective meant to cast an aspersion upon those who are pro-choice: You are pro murder, this charge intimates. You wantonly take life and think nothing of it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But I also find the moniker pro-life to be equally problematic. Believe me, I understand the issues people have with abortion. It is not a pleasant topic, and it is one that elicits a great deal of emotion. From the very terminology–fetus versus baby; mother versus pregnant woman–we find ourselves engaging in coded speech that, by its very nature, is meant to engender a response. But more and more, I wonder how “pro-life” are many of the opponents of reproductive choice. Take, for example, the most recent bill that passed the Arizona Senate by a vote of 20-9. According to the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/wrongful-birth-bill-arizona-senate-abortion-bill_n_1335117.html), this bill will allow for a doctor to withhold information from a pregnant mother and not face future lawsuits if/when a child is born with disabilities or birth defects. Indeed, similar bills are already law in nine states, and are known as “wrongful birth” or “wrongful life” laws. These laws allow for an individual doctor to place his or her personal opinions regarding abortion at the forefront, and thereby color the medical information that is provided to the pregnant woman. This doctor may not know the financial situation in which the woman finds herself; this doctor may not know the way in which the woman came to be impregnated (by rape or incest, for example); and this doctor may not know if the woman is emotionally capable of caring for a child with severe developmental issues. None of these factors need to be taken into account. Nope. If the doctor is “pro-life,” then this doctor can withhold whatever he or she decides is worth withholding, especially if it means that the fetus will be brought to term.

How does this support the life of the mother? Or of the child, once it is delivered and is no longer in the sanctity of the womb?

Color me confused, though, as to what is going on nationally. With the most recent law in Virginia, women who are seeking an abortion must submit to a medically unnecessary ultrasound (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57392796-503544/virginia-gov-bob-mcdonnell-signs-virginia-ultrasound-bill/). While the doctor cannot force the woman to look at the results, one wonders: if the ultrasound reveals that the fetus will develop certain problems, will said information be withheld from the pregnant woman? Let’s suppose that there emerges a perfect storm in which the Virginia legislation and a “wrongful birth” law both pass in the same state. A woman comes in for a legal abortion and is forced to submit to an ultrasound; she views the ultrasound image and decides that she will carry the fetus to term. Unbeknownst to her, the fetus will develop a myriad of developmental problems that will require tens of thousands of dollars a year to treat, and around the clock care. This woman has no insurance, no support system, and works a minimum wage job. My questions is: Who will be willing to help her? Where are the programs that have adequate funding to provide consistent, dependable care for both the child and the mother? Where are the pro-life groups when this woman loses her job because she is caring for a child who will never mentally develop past the age of three? While I do not mean to say that there is not nuance to the pro-life position, and I know that there are good groups out there which do provide some assistance after the child has been delivered, the fact is there are not enough such groups. Many organizations focus on seeing that the child is brought to term, and then abandon the mother in order to “save” other babies.  Most often, the mother who has delivered a child with developmental disabilities finds herself alone, having to fend for herself (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13857062/ns/health-childrens_health/t/more-disabled-kids-living-single-women/#.T1p9F3mcySo).

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT advocating that all fetuses that are identified with developmental issues be aborted. While respecting the privacy of my friends, I will say that two of my lifelong friends have a child who has a severe developmental disability. This child is one of the most beautiful, energetic, amazing human beings I have ever met. This child brings a smile to the face of everyone. It is difficult to imagine the world without this wonderful, amazing little girl. But I see how they struggle, and the challenge it has been for them, the strain it has put on them both financially and emotionally. Luckily, they are surrounded by love and support. I have other friends who also parent children with disabilities, and I cherish these children as well. In all cases, though, the parents were provided information about their situation. It was not hidden from them, so they were able to go about preparing themselves. Not knowing, one parent told me, until the day of delivery would have been so much worse than finding out beforehand.

To me, being pro-life is about respecting both the quality and quantity of life. It is about respecting how the lives of the parents and those close to them will be changed by the reality of a disabled child. It is not about eugenics; it is not about wanting to do away with those who are not “normal.” Yet, I do not see how keeping vital information from a pregnant woman is the right of a doctor, and I fail to see how a government can have the ability to reach into an examining room and allow for a trained professional to use his or her own personal feelings as a measuring stick for administering medical advice. How is that being “pro-life”?

In the end, I see this onslaught of laws concerning women’s health to be paternalistic, condescending, and hypocritical. A person who supports the Virginia legislation on the basis that it “provides the greatest deal of information” cannot logically support the Arizona bill, which allows for information to be withheld (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/0223/Abortion-wars-Virginia-retreats-on-invasive-probe-in-ultrasound-bill-video). Despite what talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Rielly say, I do see a war on women being unleashed. More to the point, though, if we want to be a society that values lives, why not be honest about the needs of the children and families that live with the challenges presented by severe disabilities? Even Rick Santorum, who has a child with a disability, acknowledges how expensive it is to care for such a child (http://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-santorum-explains-his-low-rate-of-charitable-giving-70799/). Mr. Santorum has been blessed to make a very good living and can provide for his family; a vast majority of Americans who have disabled children do not have the financial or family resources available to the former senator. Is that an argument for abortion? Not necessarily. I believe that it is the right of each mother (and father, where applicable) to make that decision, but we should have a serious conversation about how insurance companies, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations need to provide cradle to grave assistance (financial, emotional, services-based, etc) if we really want to advance “pro-life” values in this country.