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Clean coal, leprechauns, and unicorns

I recently wrote a guest post about the rally to stop a coal-fired power plant in Bay City on the Great Lakes Law blog. Check it out. Continue reading →

What does Genesis teach us making room for new things?

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. (Genesis 1:9-13)

Notice how God had to move the water out of the way to make room for land?

Sometimes to create new things the existing ones need to move out of the way.

I’ve seen this in committees. Sometimes a group gets so established in its ideas, its activities, and its ideas that there is no room for new people, new thoughts, or new ways of doing things.

And sometimes then the only way to allow the new ideas is to flourish is apart from the established structures, and that means that the existing structures need to get out of the way.

This can sound harsh, but note that the Genesis story doesn’t say that the new land was good and the old sea was bad. God calls both good. So to say an established thing needs to make room for something new is not to judge one or the other.

For me, this is freeing. It means I can stop trying to plant a new tree on top of the sea. Instead, I can recognize the need for new land and to start making room for a new start.

Reverent Agnostics

I just finished A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically. I picked it up expecting to be entertained, and I was.

What’s not to like about a modern-day germ-phobic secular Jew from New York with obsessive-compulsive disorder trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible for a year? He even stones an adulterer (but since the Bible doesn’t specify, he uses a very small stone).

What I didn’t expect was to relate to his spiritual experience.

At the end, A.J. says:

I’m no a reverent agnostic. Which isn’t an oxymoron, I swear. I now believe that whether or not there’s a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday. It’s possible that humans created this sacredness ourselves, but that doesn’t take away from its power or importance.

I fully agree with Jacobs’ experience here. I do not know for sure if there is a God or not, but I do know I have experienced the sacred.

What’s more, I have also found the Quakerism, Christianity, and the Bible to be tools to help me understand Truth and to experience the Sacred.

And that is enough for me

What happens when oppression is no longer bitter?

This Saturday is the first night of Passover.

Part of the tradition of the Passover observance is to eat bitter herbs during the Seder meal as a memory of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.

But what happens when slavery is no longer bitter?

According to Chabad.org, that is exactly what happened in Egypt, “tradition tells us that 80% of the Jews said, ‘This is our land. How can we leave it?’ And they stayed and died there.” Bondage had lost it’s bitterness. They had become accustomed to slavery and injustice, and that led to their demise.

For those who were liberated, however, slavery was hard to swallow. During the Passover meal, Jews remember that bitterness even as they celebrate freedom.

Today, I find myself wondering if, like 80% of the Hebrew slaves and even more of the Egyptians, we too have become too accustomed to the bitterness of oppression.

Do we find continued racial inequality hard to swallow? Do we want to spit out the violence and injustice of the war in Iraq? Or have we stopped tasting the harshness of the fact that 17% of children in the U.S. live in poverty?

Rabbi Waskow teaches “every generation, Pharaoh; every generation, freedom.”

This Passover is a time to remember both Pharaoh and freedom. It is a time to taste and remember the bitterness of oppression, and to remember that bitterness is still with us.

Protecting religion from Government: Why we need church-state separation

I just got one of those emails from a family member.

You know the kind, the ones with knee-jerk arguments for hyper-conservative policies. The kind that can ruin your evening.

This one was calling for “prayer in schools” and told people who didn’t believe in God to “sit down and be quiet.”

Here’s my response…

—————-

“As long as there are tests, there will always be prayer in schools.”

Our nation was founded by religious minorities. Puritans, baptists, and others fled religious persecution in Europe to the United States so that they could be free of state-sponsored religions that persecuted them for their religious beliefs.

The establishment clause of the first amendment of the constitution is part of the genius of the American system. It protects religion from the state.

For example, Episcopalians use pre-written prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. Pentecostals rely on spontaneous, spirit-led prayer. If we teach prayer in schools, which type do we teach?

The job of government and schools is not to teach religion. Public schools should not force protestant children to say the “Hail Mary.” Nor is it to force Jews to end their prayer with “in Jesus’ name we pray.” Nor is it to tell atheists, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, and others to “be quite and sit down.”

I try (and admittedly often fail) to maintain a daily prayer practice, one that is rooted in my Quaker spirituality and tradition. It is different from the Muslim practice of praying toward Mecca. It is different than the charismatic Pentecostal tradition of spontaneous prayer and speaking in tongues. It is different than the Episcopal reliance on the Book of Common prayer. I would hate to insist that the schools teach Pentecostal, Muslim, Episcopalian, or other kids that the right way to pray is how the Quakers pray. The only way to safeguard our religious liberty is to keep the responsibility for religious education in the hands of our religious institutions.

That’s why the establishment clause is right there in the first amendment. That’s why Thomas Jefferson talked about a “wall of separation between Church and State.” This method of protecting religion from governmental encroachment is a brilliant American innovation, one that we should honor, cherish, and preserve.

-Chuck

p.s. Yes, for the record I recognize that some colonial settlers fled religious persecution from one state-sponsored Church to attempt to set up a new state religion that then went on to persecute other religions. I am painfully aware of how the Puritan settlers had Quakers whipped for proclaiming Quaker theology. I don’t want us to make that mistake again.

The power of a faithful witness for peace

I’ve just finished reading the Pastoral Letter from Friends Church in Kenya (FCK), a response from the Quaker Church in Kenya to the recent violence.

It’s brilliant. And I say that as someone who is deeply ambivalent about the value of “words on paper” to create social chance.

The letter reaches to Quaker tradition and Biblical texts to call for actions based on truth, peace, economic justice, and reverence for life. It lays out a proposal for addressing the impasse in Kenya that respects civil society, all ethnic groups, and fair process.

Spiritually-rooted activists here in the US can learn much from their example. And in the meantime, we can pray for peace and reconciliation in Kenya.