Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Road to Bethlehem - Christmas, 2009

Every year at Christmas during Advent I tend to sum-up. It's a time for gathering the year about me and seeing how it looks compared to the last ones. I always see it as a walk to Bethlehem after sighting the star. There are some years I've done that walk on my knees, barely able to stand.

It's that time again. As I remember them, scenes from all my past Christmases appear like animated holiday postcards in the sentimental eye of my memory.

I imagine myself walking down a street full of houses with big windows, each window holding a view to a year of my Christmas life. It is snowing outside, and quiet, although the houses are busy and lively. On one side of the street the houses all have beautiful memories, each colored with the soft hand of time, the grace of forgiveness, the choice to recall what is best.

The windows on the other side of the street hold the rougher details, the harder moments, the details no one saw.

I don't want to look at the rough side. I don't want to focus on the sad years, the time of divorce, the first Christmas without my mother, or without my dad. I don't want to vividly recall what loneliness felt like, or searing grief. I don't want to recall being yelled at, or hit, or being crushingly poor and frightened.

And do you know what this year has taught me?

This year I have learned that I can choose where to look. I do not have to deny the rough side of the street in order to not walk on it. It's there, as real as anything in ones past can be.

But look, right there, on the other side of the street, are all the things that make me feel good, and warm, and loved.

They are just as real.

That there were tough times does not have to taint what was good, and true, and pure.

So this Advent my Road to Bethlehem takes me down that street of memory. I am 5. I see my Uncle Joey getting ready to take us all Christmas caroling in his green pick-up truck. We'll ride to the Polish neighborhoods and sing Polish Christmas carols. People will come out of their houses to listen and to sing with us. My Mother's favorite, and now now mine is a lullabye to the infant Jesus, sung below:

I hear it and cry. I cry because I miss Mom, but also I cry because crying during this carol is almost a family tradition! I suppose it is a part of our Eastern European melancholia, but it during this sweet lullaby carol that we unashamedly miss our departed mothers. We miss being held and coddled and fretted over. We miss being beloved children.

But the tears are not painful. They are not from that side of the road. They are also tears of my great good fortune. My family may have been clumsy at love sometimes, but I was loved. Through all the dysfunction, the upheavals, I was loved.

We do the best we can with love in this world. It isn't so easy. The best love that one person can give us might just be a fraction of what another can -- but with the right perspective, we come to see that it is all love, and that people largely do the best they can.

I walk past the windows of my marriage and divorce, choosing instead to see the good moments in my marriage, the shared experiences and joys and hopes. Did they all work out? Obviously not. But there was goodness there. I wasn't a fool for marrying, and neither was he. I choose to see what was right and good. I choose to see the best of us. Lives have moved on. He has grown children by another. It's been a long time. How silly it would be for either of us to not have moved on!

My father's last years were not easy ones for me or for us. But they too are over -- no sense lingering on the wound -- or it won't heal. Today I am the product of the love and the other stuff he delivered to our relationship. There are good things I can see when I look for them -- and I do not have to be an archeologist to find them. So that is what I have decided to do.

I walk down the street knowing that it has two sides. I choose to see the Christmas that my ex-husband and I gave what little we had to buy used warm coats for the poor. I recall how happy it made us, and how it still ranks as one of my favorite Christmases. I remember our car getting broken down driving back to Ohio after a Christmas in Massachusetts, and how much fun it was to discover that our gasoline credit card actually was effective at a local sweet hotel somewhere deep in Pennsylvania during a blizzard. After a day of craziness, we checked in, took warm showers, dressed up, charged a fabulous dinner from their restaurant, and felt like we owned the world.

I remember my godmothers, and my aunts and uncles. I remember always buying my Aunt Stella a fancy candle or candle holder, because she loved them so -- or getting my Auntie Jo another piece of her beloved Native American jewelry from our home in Denver.

I remember the look of joy on Mom's face when I gave her the kind of Christmases she had never had as a child -- full of presents from my travels around the world. I recall her sheer delight in preparing the Christmas Eve traditional meal that I will be cooking this week. She lived for Christmas. It was he great joy. No Santas for her -- her Christmas, and my family's has always been centered around the manger and the traditions of Poland. All of that is on this side of the road to Bethlehem.

Mom collected manger scenes. Each window has a different one in it -- from the little wooden ones to the plaster, the porcelain, metallic, paper, plastic, stone -- you name it -- she had a manger scene made from it. And she loved them, setting them up each year with renewed joy, as though she saw them for the first time.

And that is what Advent feels like to me. It always feels like the first time. Every Christmas I walk anew to Bethlehem in reverie, as though I have never done so before. This year's journey is so serene, although there have been no great events to cause that -- and the year has had more than an average amount of challenges. Nonetheless, these walks have seemed to teach me something.

I can choose where to look in my life -- past, present and future. I wave to the little girl me, the young woman, the newly wed, the single woman, the aging woman. They all wave back at me. They know where I am going.

One by one they run from their homes to give me a small gift to carry to the manger. "Here, take this," my child self says, as she hands me a small toy, one that I loved at Christmas. And so it goes, each giving me something from that time of my life to bring to Bethlehem with me, and to lay at the manger.

When I get there, they will tumble from my arms, the jumbled gift of my life, the ingredients that have allowed me to see joy, to forgive, to have faith. I will fall to my knees then, but in thanksgiving. For the very gifts I offer Him, are those he gave to me.

The sweet Infant Jesus will just smile, as his mother sings him a soft lullaby.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is happening with troubling right-wing email?

In the past several weeks I have received several emails that trouble me. I'm not going to go into who sent them, or what I did about it -- that isn't the point.

What is the point, is that they are circulating. And that otherwise reasonable people believe them.
Here is one:

SAMPLES OF THE EMAILS: (bolding mine)

This one is blowing up an incident that occurred on a plane to be very race-baiting. (For the REAL story, which does not resemble what you will read below, see comment here)

I, Gene Hackemack, received this email from my good friend Tedd Petruna, a diver at the NBL facility [Neutral Buoyancy Lab], at NASA Houston, whom I used to work with. Tedd happened to be on this same Flt. 297, Atlanta to Houston.

In my opinion, the muslims are all getting very brave now, since they have one of their own in the white Tedd's story below.

Semper Fi
Gene Hackemack

PS...can you imagine, our own news media now are so politically correct that they are afraid to report that these were all muslims...unbelievable. Thank God for people like Tedd Petruna.

A. Gene Hackemack
(ED NOTE: I removed this and all identifiable contact info from the blog)

----- Original Message -----
From: Petruna, Tedd J.
To: undisclosed-recipients
Sent: Friday, November 27, 2009 11:32 AM
Subject: Long story short....

One week ago, I went to Ohio on business and to see my father. On Tuesday, November the 17th, I returned home. If you read the papers the 18th you may have seen a blurb where a AirTran flight was cancelled from Atlanta to Houston due to a man who refused to get off of his cell phone before takeoff. It was on Fox.

This was NOT what happened.

I was in 1st class coming home. 11 Muslim men got on the plane in full attire. 2 sat in 1st class and the rest peppered themselves throughout the plane all the way to the back. As the plane taxied to the runway the stewardesses gave the safety spiel we are all so familiar with. At that time, one of the men got on his cell and called one of his companions in the back and proceeded to talk on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively. This took the 1st stewardess out of the picture for she repeatedly told the man that cell phones were not permitted at the time. He ignored her as if she was not there.

The 2nd man who answered the phone did the same and this took out the 2nd stewardess. In the back of the plane at this time, 2 younger Muslims, one in the back aisle, and one in front of him, window, began to show footage of a porno they had taped the night before, and were very loud about it. Now..they are only permitted to do this prior to Jihad. If a Muslim man goes into a strip club, he has to view the woman via mirror with his back to her. (don't ask me..I don't make the rules, but I've studied) The 3rd stewardess informed them that they were not to have electronic devices on at this time. To which one of the men said "shut up infidel dog!" She went to take the camcorder and he began to scream in her face in Arabic. At that exact moment, all 11 of them got up and started to walk the cabin. This is where I had had enough! I got up and started to the back where I heard a voice behind me from another Texan twice my size say "I got your back." I grabbed the man who had been on the phone by the arm and said "you WILL go sit down or you Will be thrown from this plane!" As I "led" him around me to take his seat, the fellow Texan grabbed him by the back of his neck and his waist and headed out with him. I then grabbed the 2nd man and said, "You WILL do the same!" He protested but adrenaline was flowing now and he was going to go. As I escorted him forward the plane doors open and 3 TSA agents and 4 police officers entered. Me and my new Texan friend were told to cease and desist for they had this under control. I was happy to oblige actually. There was some commotion in the back, but within moments, all 11 were escorted off the plane. They then unloaded their luggage.

We talked about the occurrence and were in disbelief that it had happen, when suddenly, the door open again and on walked all 11!! Stone faced, eyes front and robotic (the only way I can describe it). The stewardess from the back had been in tears and when she saw this, she was having NONE of it! Being that I was up front, I heard and saw the whole ordeal. She told the TSA agent there was NO WAY she was staying on the plane with these men. The agent told her they had searched them and were going to go through their luggage with a fine tooth comb and that they were allowed to proceed to Houston. The captain and co-captain came out and told the agent "we and our crew will not fly this plane!" After a word or two, the entire crew, luggage in tow, left the plane. 5 minutes later, the cabin door opened again and a whole new crew walked on.

Again...this is where I had had enough!!! I got up and asked "What the hell is going on!?!?" I was told to take my seat. They were sorry for the delay and I would be home shortly. I said "I'm getting off this plane". The stewardess sternly told me that she could not allow me to get off. (now I'm mad!) I said "I am a grown man who bought this ticket, whose time is mine with a family at home and I am going through that door, or I'm going through that door with you under my arm!! But I am going through that door!!" And I heard a voice behind me say "so am I". Then everyone behind us started to get up and say the same. Within 2 minutes, I was walking off that plane where I was met with more agents who asked me to write a statement. I had 5 hours to kill at this point so why the hell not. Due to the amount of people who got off that flight, it was cancelled. I was supposed to be in Houston at 6pm. I got here at 12:30am.

Look up the date. Flight #297 Atlanta to Houston.

If this wasn't a dry run, I don't know what one is. The terrorists wanted to see how TSA would handle it, how the crew would handle it, and how the passengers would handle it.

I'm telling this to you because I want you to know..
The threat is real. I saw it with my own eyes..

-Tedd Petruna


The others are just as bad -- one said the Cap and Trade Bill was going to make it impossible to sell a home, especially for mid to lower income people. A complete lie. The Snopes feedback can be found by clicking on Snopes.

A third accuses the Obama administration of advocating a dangerous sex practice for teenagers.

I am sure there are more out there -- and that I just got the tip of the ugly iceberg. But in today's point-and-click-to-forward environment, damage gets done, and gets done quickly. There is clearly an attempt being made to characterize the administration and what it tolerates as wild, sick and scandalous. Race baiting and fear-mongering are getting to be too common. They are so common that many folks just step away, hoping it will die down.

But I have news. It is not going away. And it will not until we stand up and speak out about it. We need to confront the "birthers" and the people saying that universal health care will create "death panels". There is just too much clever disinformation out therefor me to believe that it is not being orchestrated. What we need to be afraid of is that people are actually believing it without question.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Sheriff and a Bishop -- stomping on church-state separation

If it's not one astonishing imposition of religion, it's another! From a bishop to a sheriff -- this past month has brought news a-plenty that the forces wanting to mingle religion and the political world are alive and proclaiming.

First we have the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office. Note, this is Milwaukee -- not some tiny, never-heard-of-it, Bible belt burg. The sheriff , David A. Clarke Jr., invited the Fellowship of the Christian Centurions, a right-wing Christian evangelizing group, to do presentations about conversion at meetings that the deputy sheriffs were required to attend. A federal court of appeals upheld a lower court verdict this week, saying that this violated the separation of church and state.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal said: [ed.note: underlines/bold are mine. ]

"Clarke invited the then newly formed Fellowship of the Christian Centurions to address deputies at 16 roll call meetings in May of 2006, after the group also spoke to the Sheriff's Department leadership conference. The group offered peer support for law enforcement and discussed how officers could "impact others for Christ," according to the ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. One of the Centurion speakers quoted the Bible in a talk to deputies, saying that God "established government and that people in authority are ministers of God assigned to promote good and punish evil."

Further, according Americans United: "During one meeting in Spring of 2006, Clarke announced that he would soon make promotions to the rank of captain and distributed a flyer stating that leaders often look for “people of faith” in their inner circles."

It seems odd that the Sheriff did not think this was out of line.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal goes on to say this about Clarke's response to the hearing:

When the suit was filed, Clarke said no one's rights were violated by the presentations. The Centurion presentations were not a prayer meeting, Clarke said at the time."Unfortunately, we live in an era where some people will make even God the enemy," Clarke said at the time.

There it is, the manoeuvrings seen so often -- the twist to obscure the perpetrator and turn him/her into a victim..."some people will make even God the enemy." This sort of double-talk is common among the religious right wingers. They would have you believe that anything done in God's name is God doing it/inspiring it -- as long as the religious right are the ones executing it.

And that is where the religious right is wrong. Gluing a God-label to a slice of baloney doesn't make it anything more than an even less appetizing slice of baloney with glue on it.

And, I suppose if the Sheriff worked for a Hindu boss, and had to listen to SIXTEEN talks about why Shiva is involved in law enforcement, he would split his shoe leathers running to the closest attorney. The right wing faithful would have us believe that they can be right or they can be wronged.

But they cannot be wrong.

But on to a stranger bedfellow, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin. The bishop informed Patrick Kennedy -- the son of Ted Kennedy, that he should henceforth stop receiving communion as he supported pro-choice legislation in Congress. While he claims not to have notified priests in his diocese to not commune Patrick, he went on record saying that he would have a little conversation" with any of his priests (Rhode Island) who gave Kennedy communion.

The bishop told Kennedy that in 2007, and it recently came to light as part of a very public argument between them about the role that the church should play in politics.

Communion in the Catholic Church is a BIG thing. Being denied it is being denied that which will ensure heaven ( in a rough summary of a complex theology.) In prior years, John Kerry was similarly told by teh church that as long as he supported policies that the church did not, that he should not receive communion.

There were also any number of conservative Catholics who thought burying Edward Kennedy with a full Catholic mass was not appropriate because he had supported issues like gay marriage and choice.

A church can take what position is chooses. That is their freedom in this country. But at what point does it leap its limits? The Sheriff was clearly over the line. But what of the bishop? I don't like what he did, but was it wrong?

Seems to me that if one says that one is a Catholic, then one can be held accountable to that -- politician or not. If you are a member of an organization with rules, then you agree to live by them. Violate them and there will be Consequences. If you say you are part of a church that believes that X is wrong, and you publicly support X, then the church should have something to say to you.

But, it must be done fairly, and that church must also hold itself accountable. If a church absolutely upholds the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" -- then why is it not a peace church, like the Mennonites or Quakers? If Kennedy is told not to commune, who else is told? Does his visibility make him more a target?

The lines are not as immaculate as one might hope, once it gets into acts by religious groups. Some, like the Sheriff, are pretty clear. Others are not.

If it is wrong for a church to deny communion to a politician because that violates church and state separation, then is it also wrong for churches to publicly advocate gay marriage legislation? Both are attempts to influence. But at what point to these attempts really violate the reason for the separation clause -- the prevention of a state religion.

But it makes one wonder. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported :
"The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care. "

The article goes on to say that " Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city."

Should church groups pay for what they do not believe in? Their point is eloquently stated by the Archdiocese of Washington here.

On the other hand, every time I pay another dollar to support political actions or policies that I oppose, I still pay, and do not feel that I have a right to withhold taxes because the government is not doing everything I want -- or because it does some things I do not support -- even if my objection is religious. I support gay marriage, yet I paid taxes in states where it was not allowed. How is that different?

I like what JFK said -

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. . . . That is the kind of America in which I believe. . . . Whatever issue may come before me as president - on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject - I will make my decision in accordance with . . . what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.
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