State of the Union

Watching these speeches is like watching a tightrope walk.

I’m on my way out, but a quick impression is that Barack Obama was looking forward– he stressed investment in education, research and infrastructure. His tone was optimistic, he praised our country for having the best workers, the most innovation. He named invited guests, last of all a business owner whose drilling company helped rescue the Chilean miners trapped underground.

I was in congenial company, met thru an email. I didn’t want to be alone. Six years ago I watched George Bush in the company of nuns and neighbors at a Catholic school and was glad to be with people.

This was a happier crowd. There were at least three teachers in the room, and they cheered every time the President mentioned education. WBRU sent two young men to do interviews and record first impressions. The mood was enthusiastic, but not without some reserve. Politicians compromise, it’s what they do.

The Republican response by Congressman Paul Ryan was a series of warnings about the deficit, and the need to lower taxes, and shrink the government. A talking point is never to say the word ‘stimulus’ without preceding it with ‘failed’. I have not yet heard Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s Tea Party speech.

Ten years ago George Bush assumed the presidency with a peace dividend, an intact economy. He handed it on with two wars, an economy on the brink of crashing, and a huge deficit. Along the way, a deepening divide among Americans and an angry electorate.

Barack Obama inherited a crisis, and the Republican Party has no answer but to defund the government and let the most vulnerable Americans sink or swim.

Ultimately, it depends on we the people. But good leadership is essential if our hard work is to lead us forward together, or to pull us apart, with each seeking a safe refuge while the country sinks.

Government is not the enemy. Not if we use our votes and oversight. Churches and corporations have their place, but a theo/corporatocracy is not democracy, and a nation of gated communities surrounded by poverty is not our America.

Live at the Liberty

Judy, concierge and cook extraordinaire, may be the star chef tomorrow. Today the word is that there is a run on chocolate chip muffins.

The inch of snow we were promised looks like about three and fluffy on the sidewalks, slushy on the roads. Coming north up Elmwood it looked like the Providence side had 2 lanes plowed vs 1 lane in Warwick, but it’s messy and slow all over.

Parking? Fuggedaboutit. I saw a man riding his bike in the unplowed lane. The sidewalks were buried a week ago. It would be nice to have a snow day once in a while, but too much of a good thing… Back to work, or no check.

Afraid of Our Own Shadow

Early visit is cancelled and I’m psyched for work but stalled for a half hour. The TV is on, Anthony Hopkins is starring in a re-make of ‘The Exorcist’. I’m still just Catholic enough that this stuff creeps me out, and Pagan/Earth Religion enough that I have several effective recipes for pest removal, even non-corporeal pests. Really.

So what’s with the new interest in exorcism? There’s a reality show planned, the Pope is seriously promoting it, evangelists consider it a part of their usual ministry– some are casting out gay demons in people who are just too fabulous.

Having firsthand experience in exorcism (more common than you might think) I take a materialistic view. People are in pain, they are frightened. Our own unacceptable shadow side can scare and torment us. Sometimes it is actually therapeutic to externalize what we can’t manage and ritually cast it out. Hey, my nursing philosophy is ‘whatever works’.

But since everything is political, I have to wonder. Is this the literal-minded demonization of the other? Fear of some kind of miscegenation of the spirit? A need for a purge of internal enemies? Desire for a dramatic showdown and victory, after which everything will be pure?

My experience of exorcism is that it scares the heck out of people but has little lasting effect. You can’t cut off parts of your self and throw them away– you are you. You can’t escape your own shadow, you just have to accept that there’s no vision without the dark and the light. The more you understand yourself, the less you are at risk of saying or doing something you will instantly regret, or causing such offense that others will have to sit on you.

I don’t know if the latest ‘Exorcist’ will drive some troubled people into treatment, and scare more into denying their own full self. It will probably rake in the bucks, though. We live in anxious times.

The Wild Hunt is a thoughtful Pagan blog, and they have great coverage including a witch’s interview with the priest featured in ‘The Rite’. Check it out here.

Trying to Make Sense of It

Two weeks after the rampage in Tucson, survivors struggle with ‘what if’…

So does Suzi Hileman, who days after the shooting awoke in her hospital bed shouting: “Christina! Christina!”

That Saturday morning, Ms. Hileman picked up Christina-Taylor Green, her 9-year-old neighbor, and promised the girl’s mother that they would return in three or four hours.

Ms. Hileman, 59, had simply wanted to take Christina to meet their congresswoman. They would make a day of it — going for lunch and a manicure after the “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a local Safeway. Instead, a gunman opened fire, killing Christina and wounding Ms. Hileman.

“I never got to bring Christina home,” Ms. Hileman said. By now, her voice is almost matter-of-fact. But her sadness is betrayed by the long pauses she takes, the way she buries her face in a throw pillow when the tears start to fall.

The guilt comes in waves. It was there in the hospital. It still lurks, threatening to return at any moment. When someone asks about it, she calls her husband over to hold her hand as she answers.

Another survivor, Joseph Zamudio, had a gun and came within a second of shooting one of the bystanders who was trying to stop Jared Loughner. It was a scene of mass confusion.

After the disaster ended, we were no less confused about who to blame, what to do.

What if we made treatment for mental illness as accessible as treatment for physical illness, instead of cutting mental health services? What if we demanded more accountability from people who buy and sell guns? What if we limited bullets as strictly as we limit how many pseudophedrine tabs we can buy? What if we re-instated the ban on assault weapons?

Since the Tuscon shootings the background noise of gun violence continues. More children have been shot, four police officers shot by a man who walked in with a gun drawn and ready.

Guns don’t make you safe if you don’t know how to use them. If you don’t keep them out of the hands of children. If you can’t ensure they won’t get stolen. If someone in your family is having a mental breakdown. There’s such a thing as responsible gun ownership, but it’s not politically correct to support stronger gun laws.

We can’t make sense of it until we recognize that glamorization of guns, loose gun laws and a culture of hate speech makes it certain that susceptible and troubled individuals will try to achieve fame and glory with a mass shooting– a crime that we are almost getting used to.

Standing on the Side of Love

Inspiring sermon today from the Reverend James Ismael Ford, posted on his blog, Monkey Mind Online …

Out of the horror that took place in Tucson on Saturday the 8th of January, amidst the fear and blood, there were several notable acts of heroism. I think of Dorwan Stoddard the seventy-six year old retired construction worker who as soon as he realized what was happening, threw his wife to the ground and his body over hers. She survived. He didn’t. I picture that event and cannot get out of my head. I am glad I can’t.

And who is now unaware of Daniel Hernandez, a twenty-year old junior at the University of Arizona, in his fifth day as an unpaid intern for Representative Giffords, and his actions in those awful moments? He wasn’t standing very close when the boy put a bullet through the representative’s head and then began spraying shots into the crowd. By his own account maybe forty feet away, Daniel simply started running toward the shooting. He ran toward the shooting. Another set of images I cannot get out of my head and am glad I cannot. Pictures naturally took shape in my mind of those firemen and policemen racing into the Twin Towers. Asked about this, Daniel who had limited nurse’s aid training in High School, felt, it really all happened too fast to say he thought, felt he could put that training to good use.

He had already assisted a couple of people when he found the congresswoman lying on the ground. He propped her up on his chest to stop her from choking on her own blood. At first he tried to staunch her wounds with his hands. Then took smocks someone brought out from the Safeway and created makeshift bandages that more or less did the job. Staying with the representative, holding her up, holding off the bleeding, at the same time he advised others how to help those they were tending. Medical authorities say it is almost certain that Daniel’s actions saved Gabrielle Giffords’ life.

Hernandez is gay, he is an example of the best of America. He deserves the right to legally marry and enjoy all the rights and responsibilties that marriage brings.

There’s much more to say, you can read the rest here.

Blessing the Union

Today’s Huffington Post reports that Pope Benedict has laid down some standards for priests counseling engaged couples…

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI told priests Saturday to do a better job counseling would-be spouses to ensure their marriages last and said no one has an absolute right to a wedding.

Benedict made the comments in his annual speech to the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal that decides marriage annulments. An annulment is the process by which the church effectively declares that a marriage never took place.

Benedict acknowledged that the problems that would allow for a marriage to be annulled cannot always be identified beforehand. But he said better pre-marriage counseling, which the Catholic Church requires of the faithful, could help avoid a “vicious circle” of invalid marriages.

This is the Church doing its job. The Catholic Church, or any religious group, can and should make it clear which life events it will celebrate, and who it will accept into its membership.

Also, the Pope is telling priests to offer the best pre-marital counseling, with a goal of preventing marriages that are likely to bring grief and breakup. This is religion helping people to live better lives.

Most people who seek pre-marital counseling from a priest didn’t just wander in the door. They want a Catholic wedding. They could just go to a Justice of the Peace, and make it legal, but they want the blessing of the priest, and for that they have to follow the rules of the Church.

We don’t demand that non-Catholics follow the rules of the Church. The Church has a moral stand that divorced people can’t re-marry, but we don’t expect the State to conform to that. Saints be praised.

I’m no longer a Catholic, so it’s as an outsider that I say that the custom of ‘annulment’ seems less respectful of marriage than legal divorce. To me, claiming that vows made in good faith and a marriage attempted never existed is to deny that we are fallible, and sometimes make promises we can’t keep. It also denies that most marriages that break up had some good times, and some ex-spouses are loving and unselfish as parents.

It’s got to be painful when after the trauma of divorce an ex-spouse receives a Church summons for annulment. It’s a protection for them that the State recognizes a legal marriage contract apart from any actions by the Church. The Diocese of Providence requires that couples obtain a legal divorce before they will consider an annulment petition, in line with standard Church practice. The legal marriage cannot be legally disolved by the Church, and the religious vows cannot be undone by the State.

My good friend, after a painful divorce, asked her Rabbi for a Jewish ceremony for healing and to put to rest the vows that could not be kept.

The State recognizes and validates a union. Religion meets spiritual needs. Both have their place.

If we accepted that the Catholic Church should influence divorce law, because a majority of Rhode Islanders are Catholic, we might please the majority– who might see this as defending marriage. But it would be a mess for the rest of us.

The Pope is absolutely right to focus on good premarital counseling as a way to protect marriage in his Church, and the Church should bless only those unions it considers valid.

They should let the State be the State, legal protection for all citizens regardless of religion. They should let same-sex couples, divorced, inter-religious, non-Catholic– go to City Hall. Or to a church that will welcome and affirm their union.