Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Roe at 41

As I've been reflecting on the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I've been remember conversations from my youth, seemingly disconnected, but all of a whole.

I remember the time, as a curious child,  I found a bottle of Lysol tucked behind the toilet. I wondered aloud why it wasn't in the cabinet with the cans of Borax and Ajax and other detergents.

My mother seemed embarrassed and flustered. "That's just where I keep it," she said sternly, in an attempt to cut off conversation. That, of course, just peaked my curiosity.

"But, why there?," I asked, looking intently at her face for clues. "Why are you hiding it?"

"I'm NOT hiding it," my mother said, raising her voice. "It's just where I keep it."

"But, why?" I persisted.

"It's how . . . It's how a woman . . . it's feminine hygiene . . . . which is how a woman . . . how she keeps herself clean . . . and . . . safe .... Oh," she said, flustered and embarrassed, "you're too young to understand! Now, get out of here and . . . and . . . go clean your room."

My father was at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper, listening in and clearly enjoying hearing the squirm in my mother's voice.

"It's Catholic Birth Control," snickered my father from behind his newspaper.

My mother shot him one of her looks that would stop a clock, which meant that I would spend the next year or so telling my girlfriends about the incident and setting up our own detective agency to uncover the mystery of the brown Lysol bottle that was tucked under the toilets in all of our homes.

It wasn't until I was in nursing school that I learned that "feminine hygiene" was a euphemism for contraception, in a day and age when "The Pill" was not yet available.

Diaphragms and condoms were available over the counter but they would never be encouraged by good Roman Catholic doctors - the only kind in my community - to good Roman Catholic women.

So, women - of all faiths who didn't want to get pregnant - douched. With Lysol - an antiseptic soap whose pre-1953 formula contained cresol, a phenol compound reported in some cases to cause inflammation, burning, and even death. By 1911, doctors had recorded 193 Lysol poisonings and five deaths from uterine irrigation.  Those are the ones they knew.

Despite reports to the contrary, Lysol was aggressively marketed to women as safe and gentle. Once cresol was replaced with ortho-hydroxydiphenyl in the formula, Lysol was pushed as a germicide good for cleaning toilet bowls and treating ringworm, and Lehn & Fink's, the company that made the disinfectant, continued to market it as safeguard for women's "dainty feminine allure."

But if false advertising with highly suspect results weren't bad enough, the ads promoted a level of misogyny and female insecurity both laughable and frightening by today's standards.

Images of wives locked out their homes or trapped by cobwebs are surrounded by text asserting a woman should "question herself" if her husband's interest seemed to have faded. If her husband is treating her badly, the message was, "she was really the one to blame."

All of that had a logic all its own that fit into the logic of the messages I got from the Roman Catholic Church of my youth.

I clearly remember the morning I forgot to bring my mantilla to church. A mantilla is a small, white, usually lace scarf which were mandatory head gear for women and girls to wear to church.

Well, women and young women wore long, lace scarfs.  Adolescent girls wore shorter mantillas, which came to their shoulders. Young girls in my church wore little white circular lace caps which we secured to our hair with bobby-pins. They looked very much like a yarmulke, except they were flat and thin and lacy.

It was like the difference between a brownie, girl scout and troop leader uniform for The Roman Catholic Church.  You knew your age and status by the length of your mantilla.

I didn't have mine. I had left it in my coat pocket and, since it was a warm, spring morning, I had only worn a sweater to church. My grandmother fussed a bit and then pulled a handkerchief from her purse, smoothed out the place where she had wiped the tobacco snuff from her nose, found some bobby-pins she also kept in her purse, and fixed it on the top of my head.

"Why do I have to wear this stupid thing?" I huffed and squirmed as she pinned the wretched, smelly rag to my head.

"Why do you always ask so many questions?" my grandmother scolded.

"Well, why?" I persisted.

She stopped and put her hands on my shoulders and looked me squarely in the eyes.

"Some people will say it's because women are unclean. Others will say that women need to cover their hair so they won't distract men from their prayers. But," she pulled herself up, straightened her spine and squared her shoulders, encouraging me to do the same, "When I put on my mantilla, I think of myself as a Bride of Christ."

She smiled and turned my body to the entrance of the church. She may have felt like a Bride of Christ, but I felt like the Bride of Frankenstein with a slightly-soiled handkerchief pinned to my hair that smelled of tobacco.

I made a mental note to wash the handkerchief - and my hair - in Lysol when I got home.

My other memory is of a young girl in my junior class in high school. For the life of me, I can't remember her name. She was very pretty, as I recall, and I was so very envious of her fair skin and beautiful, long blond straight hair.

My skin color was described as "olive" - could there be a more unattractive descriptive for a teenage girl? - and my hair was very black and very thick and very curly, which practically shouted to everyone, "I'm Portuguese!" - not something one was very proud of in my High School.

She was on the Varsity Cheerleader Squad, sat at the lunch table with all the "cool kids" and, as the euphemism of the day went, was "very popular with the boys." I was certain she would marry the devastatingly handsome Captain of the Soccer Team and they would have beautiful babies and live in a beautiful home with a dog and a cat and a fenced in yard.

Happily every after.

One very bleak and cold February morning, the news ran through the school corridors like a small brush fire. She had committed suicide. The word was that she had taken some of her mothers pills and drank her father's whiskey, then slit her wrists as she sat in the bathtub while her parents were out at one of their 'smart parties'. 

What? Why? For the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. She seemed happy and had great parents who were professional people (unlike my factory worker parents) and bought her fashionable clothes (no hand-me-downs like me) and drove her to school (I had to take the stupid bus). She was young and beautiful and popular and going steady with the most handsome boy in school.

Her life seemed so much better and her future infinitely brighter than mine.

Why on earth would she commit suicide?

A few weeks after her death, the school grapevine was set ablaze again. People said she had just learned that she was pregnant.

"She got herself pregnant" That's what everyone said. As if she could have done that by herself.

People took great pains to say that it was definitely - definitely! - NOT the guy she was going steady with, Oh, no! Not him - the captain of the soccer team.

She 'ran around on him', see? She was, you know, a S.L.U.T.

Other, more sympathetic voices asked, well, what else could she do? Have the baby and ruin her life? No, better to take her life than bring that kind of shame on herself and her family.

Some people said she did the noble thing.  Better than going to a back alley to have an abortion.

Which, come to think of it, was the first time I ever heard the word "abortion". 

Those memories are all pre-Roe v. Wade.  These events all took place all before "The Pill" became readily and conveniently available. They were expensive, however, and even the few people I knew who had health insurance did not find that birth control measures of any kind were covered by their insurance policies.

Indeed, each of these events happened long before there were "pro-life" and "pro-choice" movements.
That's because there weren't any real choices for women.

Well, except for Lysol.

The thing of it is that those attitudes about women and pregnancy still animate the so-called 'pro-life' movement. In many parts of these United States, in the early years of the second decade of the third millennium, women are still considered 'unclean' and unreliable and therefor, unable to make decisions for herself about her own body and her family and her future.

A woman is still considered "noble" is she puts her life in jeopardy rather than jeopardize the potential for life within her.

And, women who elect to have an abortion? Why, they are murderers! Evil! Monsters! Wanton sluts! Women who need to put a put a baby aspirin between their knees, lest they have a baby in their belly.

Better they should kill themselves than "kill" the "beautiful precious life" she's carrying.

Because, you know, if you're pro-life, it's all about the "beautiful precious baby" - but not the beautiful, precious, intelligent, responsible life of the woman.

I've never understood why it is that the same woman who can't be trusted to make an important decision like abortion is somehow to be trusted with a baby.

What really confounds me is that the same people who are anti-abortion are also opposed to contraception.  It's as if all of the progress we've made in science and medicine and as a culture of people has completely passed them by. Or, they've willfully ignored it.

The anti-abortion folks were out in force today, marching on Washington as they have every year for the last 41 years, protesting Roe v. Wade.

The anti-abortion folks have been out in force in what has become, once again, the hot political issue which is animating the Republican party for the senate and presidential election processes.

Forty-one years later, the controversy of Roe v Wade is as strong as it ever has been.

I suspect the heart of the controversy has a lot to do with the memories I have as I reflect on life before Roe v. Wade.

It's not really about the question of when life begins or "personhood" or even our Puritan-Victorian heritage which complicates our attitudes about human sexuality.

Those things just create a smoke-screen which cloud the issue.

The real issue is about the personhood and dignity and nobility and responsibility and liberty of being a woman.

It comes down to this: Either a woman has the right over her own body or she doesn't.

Misogyny and sexism are ancient bacterial strains of societal disease. 

And, not even Lysol, I'm afraid, can rid us of that. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dignity at Work

Four clergy from The Episcopal Diocese of Newark have submitted a resolution to Diocesan Convention, asking the bishop to convene a Task Force to develop a policy to address the bullying, harassment and abuse of clergy by lay persons.
It is very much worth reading the supporting information.

While Title IV Disciplinary Canons address in detail policies and procedures for bullying, harassment and abuse by clergy, there is no policy or procedure to address bullying, harassment and abuse of clergy.
Click on the following link to read the resolution and supporting information:


I think this diocesan resolution begins to break the silence of a widely systemic problem which needs close examination by the whole church.
I am very proud of the diocese of my canonical residence for addressing this problem and I hope this resolution begins a crucial conversation in the wider church.

The title of the resolution, "Dignity at Work," comes from the title of a wee bookie that was published by The Church of England in 2008. 
Unfortunately, I'm told by friends across the pond that, "The problem is that not all dioceses have done much about it.  A number have not officially adopted a policy, let alone published it. Where they have the identity and contact details for the harassment, advisers can be almost impossible to find so it is a policy on paper only."
Meanwhile, in other parts of the church:  Citing bullying and isolation, a group of United Church ministers has teamed up with Canada’s largest private-­sector union to create Unifaith, the nation’s first union for clergy.
In a recent article in the London Free Press, the following quotes give an interesting insight into part of the problem. 
The formation of a union comes amid unprecedented upheaval in the United Church, with the closing, on average, of one church a week. That pressure has been tough on ministers and congregations, leading to problems such as bullying, said Rev. Jim Evans of New Vision Community Church in St. Thomas.
“Somebody once said to me: ‘You can’t kick God, but you can certainly turn to God’s representative and kick her,’ ” said Evans, who served as interim president of the union chapter.

Evans said the wider church is aware of issues of workplace violence and harassment and has made efforts to address them. But ministers, often working in isolation, need more support than the church has provided.
This is a complex but not complicated problem. 
The causative factors are simple enough to understand. Bullying and harassment are always perpetrated by an imbalance - perceived or real - of power.
The "solution" is simple: We ought to have a Zero Tolerance Policy for Bullying and Harassment. At all times. By and for all people.  Everywhere. Especially in the church - by and for laity and clergy and, yes, by and for Bishops.
In the church, the simple solution is made more complex by the power structure inherent in our admittedly (whether or not we want to admit it for whatever particular purpose) hierarchical structure of governance.
I have heard concerns that the above resolution will "disempower laity even more . . . . . . devolving into a place where laity fear speaking up."
Here's my response: Generations of laity who have known their clergy as 'Father' (and now 'Mother' ) and laity who have assumed the attendant roles as "God's children" in "the church family" complicate the power dynamic.
I think the problem is not that the laity do not have any power. They DO have power. Our canons are guided by the principle of a balance of power between bishops, clergy and laity.

One example: The bishop has the power to ordain, but the ordinand must have congregational (laity) support and endorsement as well as the consent of the Standing Committee - made up of clergy and laity. Without that, the bishop can't ordain.
Balance of power. It's a beautiful thing. When it works.  When the balance of power is maintained.

The problem is not that the laity don't have power. It's that they don't think they have it or can use it. (It's the old "church family" dynamic stuff about "Fathers" and "Mothers" and "children").
Or, it's the dynamic of "magical," "mythical," "archetypal"  powers some ascribe to priests.
Or laity have lived in a hierarchical structure long enough that they really don't believe they either have power or can use it. This is a set up for passive-aggressive - or just flat out aggressive - behavior.
Or, they simply don't care to engage in conflict or have the emotional energy to invest in the situation and so they walk away. Or, walk to another church. Or, another denomination.
That, I think, is another part of the problem.

Bishops and diocesan leadership who avoid or ignore or are otherwise adverse to conflict add to the complication.
I know more and more clergy - good, competent, wise, experienced clergy - who have had breathtaking and heartbreaking experiences with a few, hand full of parishioners who have driven the congregation to near rupture or complete rupture and the sent the clergy fleeing for the protection of their hearts and souls and minds and yes, even bodies.
I understand - unofficially - that there are more clergy out on Medical Leave for PTSD following congregational conflict than ever before.
One clergy person out on Medical Leave whose bishop and canon essentially added to the conflict, tells me that whenever the CPG representative calls, there is always a profusion of apology.

Are there incompetent, controlling, unwise clergy who have broken boundaries, betrayed trust, bullied, harassed, and driven good Christians from their spiritual homes?
No doubt.
We have Title IV Canons - flawed and faulted as they are, in my opinion - to deal with these clergy and situations. That is prime facia evidence of the existence of clergy who have bullied and harassed members of the laity.
The flaws and faults I see in Title IV Canons, I believe, are part of the problem.
The balance of power has, in my opinion, been "over-corrected," placing too much power into the hands of the bishops, changing their jobs from "Chief Pastors" to "Judge and Jury".  Clergy are now presumed guilty until proven innocent - and all in the name of "reconciliation"
The balance of power is decidedly off-balance.
I have heard the argument that "legislation is not the solution". You won't find an argument here. Title IV, I think, proves that point.
But, please, do read this resolution again. It does not call for legislation. However, our polity does require the legislative process to ask the diocesan bishop to appoint a Task Force to look into the issue and develop a policy.

The legislative process is just how we roll in The Episcopal Church. It's how we got the Title IV canons in the first place.

In my opinion, this diocesan resolution is a pretty modest request. Indeed, it allows the bishop to appoint whatever members of his choice to the Task Force. It is certainly within the realm of possibility for him to set up a small group of people who will be blind and deaf to the problem and see no reason for a policy and process to be defined.
He won't, I'm quite certain, and while it is certainly a cynical view, it certainly is true that it places the power to define in his hands.
That having been said, the resolution is an important first step to admitting that there is a problem and that we have nothing in our polity - no tools, no policy, no canon - with which to address it, beyond the unsatisfactory 14 day excommunication which then sends the problem to the bishop's desk. (See that discussion above and below).

In my experience, excommunication simply creates martyrs and martyrs live on longer than the original conflict - or, worse, perpetuate the conflict, long after the initial incident has been resolved.
Besides, the 14 day excommunication is the "Father/Mother" in the "church family" equivalent of being sent to one's room without any supper. It's a rubric which emerged from another time in the life of our church that, perhaps, also needs to be reexamined and reconsidered.

A policy which defines the problem and begins to define a process to deal with the problem is, I think, the intended goal of this resolution. (But, please do read the supporting information.)
A diocesan policy to balance national canons is a pretty modest attempt to provide an avenue of some remediation for bullying and harassment of clergy by laity.
Forgive me if I repeat: The "legislation" of Title IV is not a solution to the problem.  In fact, I believe it is a contributing factor to the problem.
It places enormous power in the hands of the bishop, who, if they are adverse to conflict and/or unskilled in dealing with conflict (as so many are); or, as is the increasing case, are of the attitude that "clergy come and clergy go but the congregational pledge must always increase - at least incrementally", they tend to either make the situation even worse.
I have heard some clergy describe the feeling that some bishops see clergy as "ecclesiastical toilet paper," (this term was actually heard by an office worker being said by a bishop who, in absolute horror and disgust reported it to her rector) wiping up the mess in congregations, tossing them out and getting another in.
Wipe, rinse, mess, repeat. 

Some bishops always see the clergy person as at fault and the "solution" to the "problem" is to initiate "dissolution of a pastoral relationship" (without a thorough examination of the situation or characters or actors or dynamic involved, so "the problem" continues).
Or, some bishops simply strongly - but earnestly and tenderly and kindly- suggest to the clergy person to leave - quietly, sometimes requiring the clergy person to sign a statement that they will never speak of the situation.
And then, these same earnest, kind, tender bishops hang them out to dry in the deployment process while the congregational members continue to make phone calls and run a whisper campaign.
Is it any wonder that there are so many "unhealthy, dysfunctional congregations" in the Church?
Are there bishops in the church who are strong leaders, more concerned with congregational health and vitality than the congregational pledge to the diocese? Of course. Unfortunately, the anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that they are few and far between.
Then again, since silence is such a big part of the problem, how would we really know? 

As President / Convener of The Episcopal Women's Caucus for 10 years, I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with clergy - mostly women, but some men - who have been under attack by a small group of congregational members. The stories have sickening similarities which are all there for the reading and understanding in a series of excellent books by various authors on the subject.
I am reminded of this quote from one of those books, "Clergy Killers" by G. Lloyd Redinger: "The record of human history shows that the tribe that kills its shaman loses its soul."

Other good resources include (but are not limited to):
When Sheep Attack
I'm glad we're talking about this. Out in the open. As mature adults.

Specific solutions will come.

First, we talk and acknowledge, learn and discuss.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Bully from NJ


"I am who I am. But I am not a bully." 

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE OF NEW JERSEY, as he apologized for his administration's ordering traffic lanes closed at the George Washington Bridge as an act of political revenge. 

I don't know where you live, but here in "The First State" - well, at least down where I live in Lower, Slower Delaware  - it's been "all-Chris-Christie-all-the-time" (ad nauseum).

Even some of the conversations at local diners and coffee shops, men and women who normally don't care two figs about New Jersey or New York are all abuzz about "Bridgegate".  

Unless you've been living in solitary confinement or on silent retreat in a monastery or convent somewhere, you no doubt know what I'm talking about. 

Seems as if some of the top staff order the closing of some of the lanes from Ft. Lee, NJ into the George Washington Bridge, which delayed traffic for hours. 

It was more than just a dirty political trick. Conspiracy theories abound, but the allegation is that the closing of lanes and ensuing traffic jam was ordered to "punish" the Democratic mayor of Ft. Lee for not endorsing Governor Christie in his bid for re-election as Governor.

Problem was, it meant that thousands of kids were late for school and thousands of adults were late for work. Emergency services were also delayed, apparently resulting in the delay of the ambulance transport of one 91 year old woman to the hospital; the woman later died. And, it also hampered the search for an abducted child.

Not cool.
No joke.
Part of what I was hearing today, in conversations from "the locals" included these observations:
"Either he's lying or he's a bad leader not to have known what his staff was up to."
"Well, his staff must have thought they were doing what they needed to do to make their boss look good. At least he took responsibility for that. But why did it even occur to them to do something like that? What else have they done that 'the boss' doesn't know about?"

"If you can't be trusted in small things, you can't be trusted in big things. Says so right in the Bible. (I'm just reporting here). So, if he's a bully about small things, he's going to be a bully about big things, too. He's from NJ. What do you expect?"
"Seems to me that when a leader does something you agree with, he's 'decisive'. When he does something you don't like, he's a 'bully'."

"Yeah, and if you like a leader and he stays on task, he's 'focused'. If you don't like him and he does something you don't agree with, he's arrogant.
"Yeah, well what about Benghazi?  Four people died in Benghazi! Who died in NY?
Okay, forget that last one. This is Sussex County, DE. None of our legislators voted for Marriage Equality. That will give you the temperature of the political water here where it's still "All-Benghazi-All-The-Time".

What caught my ear was the conversation about "decisive v bully" and "focused v arrogant".

It's a slippery slope, isn't it?

Where is the line between being absolutely clear about what is right, and fighting for what you believe is right?

Where is the line between being focused on your task and being blind to the rights of others?

I think the proof is in the pudding.

A long time ago, one of my political mentors gave me this standard: "You have the absolute right," he said, "to wave your arms as wildly as you wish; but that right ends at the tip of my nose."

Yes, Governor Christie and his administrative staff have the absolute right to pursue a course of action that he and they believe is consistent with what they believe and what they believe is best for the people who elected them to office.

No, they do not have the right to hurt people in the process.

Ah, but here comes the rub: What constitutes 'hurt'? 

Opponents of everything from the Affordable Care Act to Reproductive Justice to Marriage Equality say that these laws 'hurt' them, and hurt this country.  They even claim that their 'religious freedom' is being compromised.

There are a surprising number of law suits and pieces of litigation pending concerning these three areas of social concern which allege 'harm'.

In the strict sense of personal affront, they may well be absolutely correct. In terms of the law of the land, however, their claim holds no weight.

Indeed, their claims distort the principle of 'freedom of religion' to a state where the principle itself is barely recognizable.

Not so with "Bridgegate".  Not only were people actually hurt - one woman died! - but the act itself was against the law. This is no doubt why several of the men involved have "taken the fifth" when asked for their testimony unless granted immunity from prosecution.

How does stuff like this happen? Well, it can't be denied that there are lots of 'political dirty tricks' that happen every day which fly under the public radar. Stuff that actually hurts individuals. That is an unfortunate reality of political life.

Bridgegate, however, goes way past 'decisiveness' and 'focus' and is a perfect example of bullying and arrogance. It's pretty clear that this was mean-spirited political retribution. 

The leader sets the tone. Governor Christie is known for his sharp, pointed political rhetoric. He is, in a word, blunt, even calling the staff person who lied to him about Bridegate "stupid".

No argument here on that, but might there have been a different adjective he could have used? Oh, there is no doubt. "Ill-advised". "Unwarranted." "Not smart." And a few others come to mind.

"Stupid" pushes the point of necessity and is unnecessarily demeaning.

But, the truth is that Christie has gotten accolades for being a "straight talker". Indeed, he won reelection as Governor by a whopping 24 points. Remember, he's a Republican in a Democratic state.

He fits the stereotype of someone from New Jersey, but it's just a stereotype, same as the 'hick' from the Midwest, the 'city slicker' from New York, the 'granola head'  from California or 'cheese head' (full of holes) from Wisconsin.

He "doesn't mince words" and "tells it like it is." It's "refreshing," some say, for a politician to say what he means and mean what he says because "you can trust him".  He's "one of us" - a "Joisey boy" - who doesn't put any spit and polish on public discourse. We understand him.  He may be "a little rough around the edges" but, see?, "he gets the job done".

Well, it seems that would not always be the case.

More to the point, that kind of standard for rhetoric and action creates a climate and an environment which sets the stage for a Bridgegate to become possible.

Indeed, I think the Governor of NJ needs to do a little soul searching this weekend. A little of what the nuns he and I both grew up with would call "an examination of conscious".

When Christie takes responsibility for establishing an administrative environment which permitted - and, in fact, encouraged - the behavior of his staff, I'll start to believe that he is 'presidential material'.

That would be "refreshing". I'll start to believe he may be worthy of "trust" (as politicians go).

I'm remembering all those things my grandmother and mother and nuns taught me:
When you point a finger, just remember there's a nail at the end.

When you point a finger, just remember that there are three more pointing back at you.

When you try to make someone else look bad, you never make yourself look good
I'm also remembering what Shakespeare would have said about his statement "I'm not a bully" - which is reminiscent of Nixon's "I'm not a crook.
"The lady (man) doth protest too much, methinks."  (Gertrude, scene ii)
Unless and until the Governor of NJ begins to take some personal - not just professional, personal - responsibility for "Bridgegate," he'll just be "The Bully from New Jersey".

Not a focused, decisive leader who is worthy of election as President of The United States.