Anti-Semitism is on the rise. The series of attacks and incidents taking place almost daily over the last several months have been a surprising wake up call for folks who don’t normally pay attention to such things.

I work hard to pay attention by following statistics about hate crimes and white supremacists through the DOJ, SPLC and ADL websites. I also read both extreme left and extreme right rhetoric on Twitter, and as much objective & non-mainstream news as I can manage.

Some days this is hard to take.

I had a really hard day recently when my kid sent me an extemporaneous essay she wrote after talking to her grandmother. My daughter is Jewish like her grandmother and the rest of her father’s family.  She gave me permission to post her essay on my blog.

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My grandmother asked me to stop wearing my star of David necklace when I traveled. She said “you never know when someone might be crazy, might hate you”. I wanted to tell her don’t be silly.

I wanted to say that growing up as an American Jew in the aftermath of the Holocaust, she inherited fear that is no longer relevant. And remind her that although the Ku Klux Klan had burned crosses on her college campus and her college roommate had asked to see her horns, that was fifty years ago. I wanted to remind her of the strength of the Jewish community where I grew up, where I live now, around the world.

But then I thought about having pennies thrown at me growing up, back when I didn’t even know what that meant. I remembered boys in school, people I considered friends, saying the Holocaust hadn’t happened and laughing at the expression on my face. I remembered literally being fetishized by multiple men who thought my religion made me sexually exotic. I remembered the faces of my students who told me kids at their school didn’t like them because they were Jewish. I remembered Pittsburgh. I remembered Nuremburg. I remembered the shiver of fear I felt when someone wearing military fatigues stepped inside the synagogue on Yom Kippur, and my family’s shaky, relieved laughter after services when we realized that every one of us had had the same reaction.

 I can’t dismiss what my grandmother said. And I can’t write off how I sometimes hesitate before I tell people I’m a Jewish Studies major. I don’t want this hesitancy. Judaism is the thing that I feel most passionate about, that helps inspire me and order my life. It’s given me a community [at my university], and connects me to a worldwide family that stretches back 2,000 years. I don’t want to be afraid for myself or anyone in my global community. We have gone through much before, but I fear that we have much left still to endure.

I know it’s important to keep ourselves safe at this time, but it feels just as important to shout from the rooftops – I’m Jewish, I’m proud, I’m human.

I am afraid to wear my Magen David. But I’m also afraid to hide it.

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Magen David translates literally as “Shield” rather than “Star” of David. And while it pisses me off that a piece of religious jewelry (and a boatload of empowered bigotry) could make my child vulnerable in the world, I am glad she is fierce enough to carry her shield.

I am privileged to have some really smart friends who often write things I wish I had said myself, or from a perspective outside of mine. Today I exercise my privilege by posting a Guest Rant from a sharp, insightful and passionate woman with her permission of course.

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I’m sick and tired of the “lesser of two evils” narrative. I already voted for Hillary–proudly and with excitement. I don’t believe she is evil–and I’m pretty cynical about politicians.

If you hate Hillary–if you think she is corrupt and evil–I will gently suggest to you that you are as wrong as a wrong thing can be, and that you are buying a deliberate media narrative that I’ve been watching in horror for nearly 30 years.

Sexism is a helluva drug–and I can’t think of another American female political figure who has faced the degree of rank misogyny that HRC has for nearly 3 decades.

And yet…she’s still standing. Given what she’s endured in this campaign–and in all the years since Bill first decided to run for the presidency–that pretty much counts as a miracle in my book.

That is not to gloss over Hillary’s flaws. She is not perfect–and neither am I. The difference is that I’ve been able to live my life in relative privacy and I’ve never had thousands (millions?) of people’s lives in my hands. I wonder how well I would have done had I been in her place? How well do you think YOU would have done? And are you sure of your answer? Why?

We essentially ask our leaders to be perfect–but how can they be? They take on the responsibilities that the rest of us will not–CANNOT–even contemplate.

There is a reason the Emperor Constantine waited until he was on his deathbed to be baptized.

I once heard Jimmy Carter–a genuinely good, kind, FAITHFUL man–talking about the terrible decisions that he had to make while he was in office–and he’s the only president in my lifetime who did not lead us into war or preside over one that was in progress. He said there were times that he simply had to lay his faith aside when he was President in order to do his job.

I can only imagine the toll that took on him.

I also keep thinking about my favorite episode of “West Wing,” (“Take This Sabbath Day”) where President Jed Bartlett allows a federal prisoner to be put to death, even though his faith and his heart cry out against the evil of the death penalty. Watch that episode to see what it is like to be the most powerful elected leader in the world–and to have zero power to stop something you believe to be an offense against God and humanity.

The requirements of the job are superhuman. I would not want to have to make them–or to have to answer to God for the choices and outcomes.

But I believe–I might even go so far as to say that I KNOW–that Hillary is a person of faith, and I trust her to try her best to listen to what God is calling her to do–and to do it, even when it is hard and heartbreaking.

She is not perfect. She has made many mistakes–and will make more. Her mistakes will be so much more costly than any you or I will make–and she will be the one who has to look in the mirror, or lay her head on her pillow at night, and ask for God’s guidance and forgiveness.

So I will pray for her, because she is willing to take on a job that would destroy most of us. I believe she wants that job because she loves this country, and because she believes she can make life better for ALL of us–but especially the most vulnerable in our midst. I believe this because I have been watching her for almost 30 years.

No matter what you THINK you know about her–Whitewater, Bill, Benghazi, emails–*I* know this: She has spent her entire life fighting for the people that Jesus fought for–the poor, the marginalized, women and children. The record is all there if you only bother to look for it.

She will make mistakes–and I will hold her accountable for those. But she will also admit when she’s wrong, and ask forgiveness, which is something I rarely–if ever–see male politicians do.

She will push policies I don’t agree with–and I will push back when she does. But I learned a valuable lesson from the Tea Party (and from Bernie Sanders as well, TBQH)–intellectual/political purity is a recipe for disaster. Politics is the art of the possible–and that requires compromises and deal-making. My far-left heart finds this almost intolerable, but my brain–the one reluctantly trained in logic, statistics, and data analysis–knows the truth. We move forward an inch at a time–slowly and laboriously, but in the direction of justice and peace if we just keep trying.

And that’s why I’m With Her.  If you give her a chance, I believe she will lead us in the right direction. And if she doesn’t, I’ll be the first one in line to tell her she’s missed the mark–as I recall my own failings and pray for her, myself, you, this nation, and the world.

Kyrie eleison. GO VOTE. Amen.

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Anyone who reads this blog for more than five minutes knows I am a staunch supporter of reproductive rights. All of them. All forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization, surrogates, tubal ligation, vaginal birth, home birth, planned cesarean, and abortions.

I’m Pro-Abortion, no apologies, no restrictions. Abortion is a medical procedure.  To deny one women access to a medical procedure because another woman (or man) thinks that procedure is a sin is one of the most fucked up things we do as a society. Electoral power being used to promote religious beliefs is obscene.

Denying, limiting and restricting abortions does not make us a people who value life. Denying abortions makes us judgmental and cruel.

I am reposting this mans blog post about a tragic time when he and his wife should’ve been allowed access to the abortion they wanted. Read it and tell me you have any right to make decisions for this couple.

Abortion is a compassionate choice.

Denied.

In 2013, a bill was introduced in the Texas Congress that drastically changed the access and availability of abortion services in the state. Among requirements of hospital admitting privileges and outdated procedures for administering mifepristone, was a change in when an abortion could be performed, down from 28 weeks to 20 weeks. The logic in this change was that a woman has enough time in 20 weeks to make a decision on whether to terminate a pregnancy. More than enough time, the bill’s supporters said, to make that decision.

Throughout the debate on the floor of the house and senate, I saw an amazing example of how Texas politics can work: Wendy Davis filibustered, for 11 hours, Leticia Van De Putte put the senate in its place, asking “at what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room,” hundreds of the bill’s opponents were in the gallery and the halls of the capitol building, chanting to delay the vote. Texas Republicans lied, claimed the vote happened, rescinded, and it was all a weird mixture of joy, confusion, and confoundedness that there was a group of mostly men attempting to making decisions about reproductive rights of women.

I attended the next voting session in the gallery. My mother gave testimony. We watched, and we waited, and hoped that reason would prevail. In the end, the damned thing passed. Currently Texas has eight clinics remaining.

Ever since I was a teenager, I wanted to be a father. Raising a child, watching someone grow into a being of personality, instilling values and love, to better shape a human and a generation is incredibly humbling, scary, exciting, and rewarding in ways unimaginable.

In late 2013, we found out our dream of becoming parents was coming true. We bought two pregnancy tests, they both were positive. We facetimed our parents, our friends, and were overcome with joy and planning and love for our unborn child. My wife, a prenatal yoga teacher and doula, made sure our preparation was immediate and immaculate.

At 8 weeks, we did our first ultrasound and saw our little gummi bear, its heart beating inside. I squeezed my wife’s hand, and cried with such joy. This was happening.

Just before 20 weeks, we had our anatomy ultrasound. We discovered we were having a boy. I kissed my wife, and cried with overwhelming happiness. He was happening. We did everything right that we could.

The day after our anatomy ultrasound, I get a text from my wife – she was having some spotting, and some cramping, and was headed to the midwives. She’d had periodic spotting throughout, due to a benign polyp, but this, it seemed was different.

It is my first day at a new job, but I (of course) drop everything and leave, to be with her. I’m on my bike, and have to find a cab or rental car to meet her. From her voice, I can tell she thinks it’s over already, but I hope and hope and hope.

I find a car, I scramble, I call my friend on the way to meet her, sobbing that I think it’s over already, but I hope and hope and hope. I arrive, and the midwife says she’s already dilated. From her face, I can tell that it’s over already. But I hope.

Through multiple ultrasounds, we find that there is a condition called (offensively) Incompetent Cervix, and we’re on our way to an inevitable early term birth. This is not a miscarriage. He is healthy inside. He is fine inside. He doesn’t know. He will just be born well before he should. The question is just: when?

We go to the hospital. We talk to specialists.

We have options – a cerclage (a stitch to keep the cervix closed), medicine to reduce contractions, waiting to see what will happen. Our fear and our wish is that we keep our child free from a life of pain. At 20 weeks, he will not survive. At 24 weeks, he will be a micro-preemy who may not live outside a hospital. There is a terrible window, and we are rapidly approaching it.

Any option that pushes us into giving our son a life of misery is one that terrifies us, not for us, but for him – we want him to live.

After what feels like an eternity in the hospital, going over every scenario, we find out we might be a good candidate for cerclage–only to find out hours later, that due to her cervix’s current dilation, a cerclage is likely to fail, to buy us only enough time to thrust us directly into that zone where he, due to even more laws and policies, would have to be resuscitated–and must live the life of pain from which we are desperately trying to save him.

A cerclage failure would force us beyond 20 weeks, and, due to the passage of the bill, into the time where we legally have no option but to give birth to a child who would likely not be able to live on his own, or would live with suffering we enabled by pushing him past that point. We would be forced into a time where our options had been stripped, as the legislature has told us “no more”, “this body, and this decision are no longer yours.”

We speak with our doctor, and are given the option that was previously unthinkable, completely out of bounds of possibility. Our doctor gives us the option — that if we feel this is over, if we have said goodbye, and we are ready to make the decision, that ending the pregnancy is a humane option. Our doctor, our medical doctor, tells us that it is a “reasonable decision”. Doctor speak, for “yes”.

We would have to make a decision that we never thought we would ever have to make. Whether to induce, and end a pregnancy that we both wanted so desperately, to save our child from suffering; to not inflict that agony on our unborn son.

The next day, still at the hospital, before we had been able to even begin to come to grips with such a final decision, we talk to another specialist, and we’re told they can’t do it. The bill had passed, and well, it’s just against the law. Sort of. Technically, it’s a a termination, and technically, we’re past the limit. Sort of.

The law itself says 20 weeks “from fertilization” (vs. “gestational age”), and we’re actually only 18 weeks from fertilization–my amazing wife tracked her cycle to a T. The hospital acknowledges it isn’t against the letter of the law, but it is a grey area their policies won’t let them touch. Too risky, too hot button a topic.

We are denied the opportunity to even make a humane and doctor sanctioned medical decision by a bill that we never thought would affect us. I was there at the capitol, fighting for the rights of women. It never crossed my mind I would be fighting for my own. Our last resort had become a no-man’s land.

We are sent home, to let things happen “naturally”. What this means, practically, was to spend days pacing the house, walking the neighborhood, waiting for our son to be born, so that he could die. We let him taste our favorite foods, we play him our favorite music, we show him Veronica Mars, we read to him, we tell him how much we love him. We wait for days, pace, wait, and wait, and we wait, so our son can be born, so that he can die.

The midwives come and see that our dilation is the same – maybe he can be saved? We go to an OB for a final ultrasound, who sees the amniotic sac bulging through the birth canal. The doctor describes the birth as “imminent and inevitable”. So we go back home, to wait for our son to be born, so that he can die.

Our midwife visits again and can feel our son’s foot hanging through the birth canal. Contractions begin, continue for hours and hours. Then stop. For a day.

We wait, for our son to be born, so that he can die.

The next day, contractions pick back up, my wonderful, beautiful, incredible wife labors for hours, breathing, heaving, so strong and powerful as only a woman can be in birth, so that our son could be born.

So that our son could die.

When some men think about abortion rights, they think about unwanted pregnancies. Some think about those victims of incest, rape, and terrible situations of abuse. Some think about those who may have a medical need for an abortion to save the life of the mother. Some think about access to medical services, the right for a woman to control her own body, the implications for women who live in remote locations, the impact on low income individuals.

Rarely, as a man–a man who wanted children more than anything in the world–did I ever think about how abortion rights would affect me.

In the end, we spent 3 days in the hospital, and another 7 days at home, waiting for our son to be born, and to die.

In the end, we had to force ourselves to will our son to be born, and to die, the physical, psychological and emotional trauma of which cannot be overstated.

In the end, the bill intended to save lives, didn’t save a life at all, but shattered two in half. Two that will heal, with friends, family, and time, but two hearts torn apart.

In the end, the bill did nothing but cause pain and anguish as our options narrowed and our decisions stolen.

In the end, our son felt our love for a few brief moments, and our son died.

In the end, our son was born, and our son died on April 10, 2014.

In the end, his name is William.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am Pro-Choice, Pro-Abortion and Pro-Reproductive Justice. The objections people raise about other people having an abortion don’t move me. I find it ludicrous that a stranger can disagree with, and try to influence, a medical procedure I elect to have.

Given this is an issue I have been championing for 30+ years, I thought I had read and/or heard all possible arguments for and against abortion. I was wrong.

I recently found myself listening to a broadcast called “Station of the Cross” while driving through a rural area. A project I am working on is requiring a bit of driving and when I am alone in the car I tend to cruise the radio stations rather than listen to music or pod casts.

Station of the Cross is a Catholic station that alternates call in talk shows with liturgy and religious music. The talk show I came in on was talking about a demonic possession in Gary, Indiana. A reporter, and supposed eye-witness, was relating the exorcism preformed on two boys under ten who it turned out were being infected by a demon that was actually possessing their mother.

The possession, with its details of children talking in demonic voices and floating to the ceiling at the pediatricians office was bizarre enough, but the explanation the talk show folks gave for the cause of the possession was even more bizarre.

The host asked the reporter how the priest discovered that the mother was the conduit for the “The Evil One” and she related the following story.

The mother had been engaging in extramarital sex with a boyfriend who was not the father of her children. This created a moral crack in her soul that allowed “The Evil One” to come in. It was this kind of sin that the demons were looking for when they were flying around trying to find a host.

The host went on to discuss at length how “The Evil One” especially hates and targets women for possession because the Virgin Mary defied him. Because he hates Mary he goes after women and tells them its okay to kill their children. He sets traps for women by making them think that killing your baby while its inside you is okay. He uses the so called Women’s Movement as a way to create cracks in women’s souls.

Women have to fight “The Evil One” by refusing to use birth control or having abortions, which lets him into your body.

That was a neat trick getting from possessed children to don’t have an abortion.

What really struck me about the discussion was their matter of fact acceptance of the existence of devils juxtaposed with feminism being a tool of Lucifer. I knew in theory that people literally believed in these things but I had never heard anyone in real-time admit it.

There is no space for rational discussion of reproductive rights if your belief system supports sins as means for the devil to enter your body and steal your soul.

That, my friends, is the ultimate reason that abortion must be protected by law.

Happy Valentines Day.

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Driving to work today I heard a report about the victims of the recent Philippine typhoon. The story was about the role of the Catholic churches in the recovery and the lives of the victims.

One of the women was talking about her trust in God. The typhoon reminded her that we can’t rely on our own powers, that what we can accomplish is nothing compared to God’s help through prayers. Another woman spoke about how material things are secondary in light of still being alive after such a disaster.

The priest was telling the congregation to take strength through the suffering of Jesus.

This is a phrase that has never been accessible to me. I understand accepting ones suffering because the other choices are railing against the elements or fate or allowing your circumstances to make you bitter. What I don’t understand is the minimizing of ones personal suffering because it cannot compare to Jesus’s suffering on the cross for all mankind.

Someone will always have it worse than you and Jesus is the ultimate trump card.

“Offer it up to Jesus” was one of my mother’s go to phrases when faced with a complaint from any of her children. Along with “Some people don’t have any legs.” Same difference – I wonder if she had criteria for when a complaint qualified for one or the other?

The problem I have with “offering it up” is that it seems to demand that you stop feeling what you are feeling because someone else has it worse. Maybe that is my interpretation.

I think you can always find perspective when you consider the scope of your problems or suffering (the first world problems meme covers this handily), but its okay to own feeling bad for a minute before you get perspective.

I recently read an article on Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter actor) who mentioned that whenever he would complain his father would say “You’re not down in the mines.” Granted there is a lot to say for knowing that your worst day will be better than some folks best day, but everyone is entitled to grouse once in a while.

Suck it up, do what you need to do, don’t wallow in self-pity. I agree with and use this philosophy with my daughter, but I find it more powerful if there is a moment of comfort where her father or I acknowledge “Yeah, its sucks, wish it weren’t so.”

I hope the Filipino’s find a moment of comfort when the priest reminds them of Jesus’s suffering. It is a deeply Catholic country. I hope they find grace and God’s love in the aftermath of the typhoon and the ongoing national disaster.

And for what its worth, I wish it weren’t so.

Learn about climate justice here

Moral restrictions on medical procedures. That is the framework of the anti-abortion movement and other conservative positions. My God says “No”, therefore it should be “No” for the whole country. We have been down this road before in history, which is why we have separation of church and state. Or we used to.

Ohio Governor John Kasich has until 11:59 pm on Sunday, June 30th to make any line-item vetoes on the state budget before he signs it into effect for July 1, 2013. Politicians should not be making medical decisions or forcing doctors to lie. For your Friday reading pleasure I give you an Op-Ed I submitted to Ohio newspapers, which they unfortunately declined to publish.


 

My Hands Are Tied
“My hands are tied” is phrase Ohioans we will get used to if Ohio House Bill 200 becomes law. This is the outcome desired by anti-abortion activists, and the future feared by those who believe medical decisions must be between a patient and their doctor. The people of Ohio cannot let this bill become law.
Women have been preventing and terminating pregnancies for 4,000 years. Because women who desperately need an abortion for whatever reason will do everything in their power to get one, they have died for lack of a safe, legal abortion. Access to safe, legal abortions has been the law of the land since 1973.  Since then, anti-abortionists have found ways to limit access, intimidate women, and yes, even kill physicians who have abortion practices.  This means that today 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties have no abortion provider.
Now Ohio legislators are attempting to further thwart this legal medical procedure by increasing the waiting period before a procedure and requiring doctors to give untruths to their patients and perform an unnecessary, invasive ultrasound or face criminal charges.
By increasing the waiting period to 48 hours, and requiring two visits to a provider before she can secure a safe legal abortion, the legislators effectively “tie the hands” of many women who cannot afford to travel twice in two days to obtain their medical procedure. By adding the provision that doctors who fail to comply with the House Bill 200 rules would be subject to a first-degree felony charge (the same class as rape, aggravated arson and kidnapping) and a fine of up to a million dollars, the legislature has tied and double knotted the hands of Ohio doctors.
This bill is a textbook example of a slippery slope. A slope that would be all but impossible to climb back up if it becomes law.
Doctors who are oath-bound to “do no harm” will be forced to lie. The bill requires doctors to provide patients with the patently false information that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. Good clinics already provide information and counseling through trained patient advocates who talk with women about their feelings and beliefs without pressure or judgment. The goal at Preterm Clinic in Cleveland is to ensure that every patient is informed and sure of her decision whether it is to have an abortion, choose adoption or continue her pregnancy.
The slope gets slipperier. This bill requires doctors to divulge in writing “their gross income and the percentage of that income that was obtained” by performing the procedure. Will we have the same declaration when from a doctor before an MRI or a hip replacement? How does this information help the patient? The theory that there is a multi-million dollar abortion industry exploiting and “tricking” women into having abortions they don’t understand or want is a lie.
By restricting abortion to a “medical emergency”, this bill removes the right of a doctor to decide what is medically necessary for a patient. How can we expect a doctor, under threat of a felony charge, to not hesitate when deciding if a situation has gone from “necessity” to “emergency”? The American Council of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly opposes legislative interference that “causes a physician to compromise his or her medical judgment about treatment in the best interest of the patient.” As women – as mothers – we oppose that interference as well.
Where does it end? House Bill 200 ruthlessly and viciously restricts a legitimate medical procedure, forces physicians to compromise their ethics, and treats women as incompetent. After abortion is effectively inaccessible, what will be restricted next because legislators don’t trust you and your doctor to competently decide your medical procedures? Will you allow your judgment to be overridden by lawmakers? Will doctors let their medical training be overridden by politicians? Will you trust politicians to make your medical decisions?
We must stop this bill – and the slippery slope it creates – before all of our hands are tied. Women, and men who respect the right of a woman to make choices about her health care, would be wise to contact Governor Kasich and demand that veto House Bill 200 in its entirety.
Call Governor Kasich at 1-614-466-3555 and tell him to veto this bill.
Tweet Governor Kasich @JohnKasich and tell him to veto this bill.
Contact Governor Kasich through his website and tell him to veto this bill.
Do something.
Please.
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It is oh so tempting to let myself get caught up in the posturing and brinksmanship of the fiscal cliff (non)negotiations – I think Jon Setwart’s “Cliffpocalypsemageddonacaust” says it all. However, it reminds me too much of other things I worried about to no avail (the manufactured debt crisis, the endless house votes to repeal ACA,  Occupy Wall Street), so I am trying to be more detached.

Instead of obsessively reading news sites when I need to “take a break” at work I’m going to attempt to get up from my computer and walk around the block. This will be my Hanukkah gift to myself. Which allows me to start obsessing again on December 17th (post-Hanukkah), the date Nancy Pelosi said a deal would have to be inked by in order to get the paperwork done so politicians can leave DC by the 23rd. We’ll see if getting home to Church services with family (and constituents) is a motivator.

I’m glad we have a week break between Hanukkah and Christmas this year. We celebrate both in our little atheist household, so it gets to be a bit much when they overlap. My husband is not big on decorations, although he does tolerate the tabletop Christmas tree because it means something to me. Because he was raised Jewish and I was raised Catholic our daughter gets an amalgam of holiday traditions as we both choose only the bits we like and make up everything else.

For Hanukkah we light the Menorah and put out eight small presents for my daughter. I know non-Jewish kids get all jazzed about the idea of 8 nights of presents, but in our house at least it is not the major haul of their fantasies. I think the excitement for her is that they sit wrapped on the buffet so she can touch, shake and choose what to open each night. One is always a “gift certificate” to our local independent bookstore where we all choose new books, and then go for french fries & milkshakes at a favorite restaurant.

To her dismay I have a rule about no Christmas decorations overlapping with Hanukkah decorations, unless the calendar forces me, so we will not put up the tree until the 17th. And down it comes on New Years day. And of course, like all good Jewish/Catholic/Atheist families, we go to a movie & get Chinese food on Christmas day.

That reminds me, I don’t think I have 8 presents yet. 48 hours to finish my shopping, find the blue wrapping paper and see if the leftover Menorah candles melted over the summer.  Then I can start working on the Christmas gifts.

I was going to call this post “My Republican Neighbors” but it is really about more than them.

During the election, and the rest of the time, I work very diligently to keep a hard line attitude about free speech. It only works if everyone has it so I support and protect your right to spew whatever illogical nonsense tickles your fancy. Few republicans, or tea party patriots, seem to appreciate what a tough stance this is.

In order to live by my values I have to make sure that Republicans/religious right/tea party yahoos, are able to work within the societal and political systems to undermine my civil rights.

For 72 hours this month I lost my ability and desire to do that.

I worked all day Sunday the 4th so I didn’t get back until after dark. The next morning I saw that my republican neighbors, courtesy of the Catholic diocese, had put another sign next to their Romney sign – “Protect Religious Freedom”. That felt like the final straw, the last insult, the point of no return. I lost my mind and descended into 72 hours of venom laced swearing and vitriol.

The idea that republican catholic religious freedom was somehow in jeopardy when in reality their version of religious freedom means imposing their religious views on me – well lets just say that frosted my cake.

I know it’ss business as usual to accuse the other guy of what you’re guilty of, but this seemed especially egregious. I have a personal dislike for the Mother Church with its special political status, unlimited funds and hypocritical, damaging policies crafted by men, in the name of God.  So to have the catholic contingent act as if the democrats would limit their rights (the flat out lies about the ACA contraception rules) made me lose all patience.

I remember saying to my husband. “I can’t talk to them ever again, they have crossed a line.” All I could focus on was the fact that my political views and values do not force anyone to do anything, but support every ones right to make their own choices.

Have an abortion or don’t! Use contraception or don’t – hope you can afford all those “rhythm method babies” without government assistance. Marry who you want – or don’t! Ain’t none of my business!

My neighbors values however want to impose on, limit, or remove my rights.

  • Their religion does not believe in abortion, therefore no one should be allowed to have access to an abortion.
  • Their religion does not believe in gay marriage, therefore no one should be allowed to have gay marriage.
  • Their religion does not believe in separation of church and state, therefore everyone should have to pray and acknowledge God.
  • Their God of course.

Thankfully Obama won the election and the neighbors took down their offensive signs the next day. I calmed down a bit and by the following weekend I made a point of making neighborly chit chat with them.

I helped the man carry his wood rack to the porch and inquired after the health of the wife. We made nice for a bit and went back to our yard work when the husband came out and asked if we wanted any fresh herbs from their garden. I thanked him and said we would use some parsley which he picked and left in a bag on our front swing. It felt very much like  a peace offering and I am back to my high road tolerance of their opinions.

Unfortunately, other people in the neighborhood have left their religious freedom signs in their yards so I still have to look at them. They are allowed. Because my side won.

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Of all the things going on in the world I don’t know why this one thing made me so sad. Our local paper today picked up a story about Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) being attacked for their Mix it up Day program.  The American Family Association (AMF) is saying that mix it up day, programming to prevent bullying, promotes a homosexual agenda to elementary school children. And 200 schools cancelled their participation based on this.

Teaching Tolerance being demonized seems to be a new low. AMF has notified parents that their children’s schools are involved in subversive behavior and they have listed Southern Poverty Law as a hate group. That’s a petty retaliation for being listed themselves because of these kinds of campaigns, but it still gets reported. And repeated. All this when the SPLC is an organization founded to fight hate and bigotry.

I’m not even sure about the efficacy of Mix it Up Day – my daughter has a hysterical story about her experience of it last year – but I know it’s not evil to promote breaking down social and racial barriers at school lunch. There are many layers to cliques and popular groups that we all remember no matter how far removed from our K-12 years – looks, money, brains, sporting skill, sexual skill (or the promise therein) with other variables thrown in like class, race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. You get locked into who you are pretty quickly.

There is probably no more dangerous or difficult time in your life to attempt to change groups than school years. Teenagers are incredibly rigid in terms of what they believe is right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable, cool or uncool. This goes for people, places, and consumables (music, clothes, movies etc.), no matter how much they insist on their individuality. I speak from experience. Even rebellion is rigidly sanctioned.

I think I’m feeling this attack so personally because I benefited, in a very convoluted way, from an enforced Mix It Up Day. During my middle and high school years there was a court ordered desegregation plan for my school district, which meant that black kids were bused to white schools and white kids were bused to black schools. I’m old so the Hispanic population was relatively small at that point and didn’t come up much.

Busing “Mix It Up Day” meant that for the first time there was more than one black kid in my school. That kid moved by the way because as the notices were getting mailed to everyone about what school they would go to a small cross was burned on his front lawn. His name was Frank and he was the only black person I knew up to that point.

Busing “Mix It Up Day” also meant that I now attended High School in a part of town I had only visited once before. Because that’s where all the black people are. It was also where all the museums were but that was beside the point. The majority of white kids I’d been attending school with for my entire life transferred to Catholic Schools, or the bizarrely named and unaccredited “Freedom Academy”, so they didn’t have to go to the black school. They did however have to take a GED to graduate.

I was one of about 20 white kids in my class. This was no hardship. It was interesting. I got a terrific education and took AP classes. I met people I would never, ever have meet. I got to be the guest weirdly patronized by the grandma at my friends wedding (“Isn’t that nice Loretta invited that white girl!”), and had a glimpse of what it means to be a minority. Just a taste.

I know what it is like to experience prejudice because of various parts of my identity but I will never claim, because of this or any other experience, to know what it’s like to be a minority in the US. So if I was walking around in my white skin, looking indeterminately well-off in the way that white people do, and never had my Busing “Mix It Up Day”, how would I get around to expanding my world view? Why would I bother? What would compel me? Where would that information come from?

I don’t have those answers. Lots of folks call themselves life long learners but I wonder if they mean this kind of learning too. It appears that SPLC’s program Teaching Tolerance is one means to present ideas that might not otherwise see the light of day in some schools & households. Alternately, I would bet money on the the fact that limiting experience based on a religious or moral agenda does not reduce prejudice.

Teaching Tolerance offers this definition from UNESCO’s Declaration on the Principles of Tolerance:

“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.”

They go on to say “Tolerance as a way of thinking and feeling — but most importantly, of acting — that gives us peace in our individuality, respect for those unlike us, the wisdom to discern humane values and the courage to act upon them.”

Which do you think is more perverted – teaching tolerance to our children, or the AMF’s attack on Mix It Up Day? You know my answer.

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Since I only have a few minutes, I am only going to focus on a few minutes out of the Vice Presidential debate last night.

If you put aside all the “malarkey”, distortions and ideological nuances, what the debate last night gave us was a very clear picture of two forms of government. Answering the question asked by Raddatz, “What role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion”, the candidates gave voters a fundamental choice between systems of government. Continue reading

Had another close encounter at my gym today. The facility I use is owned and run by Orthodox Jews but is also heavily populated by black Baptist women. This means its not only closed for Simchat Torah but for Good Friday too. Holiday closings can get irritating and I am always on the verge of quiting and finding a new gym.

This morning, as I was leaving, a Christian woman (evidenced by the cross necklace and church group sweatshirt) flung “Have a blessed day” at me. The problem is that not only is this a religious ambush, but its also insistent. Not “I hope you have”, or a request like “God bless you today”, but a command –  “Have A Blessed Day”. When someone says it to me my impulse is to say something snappy in return like, “Make me” or “Not if I can help it”, but that seems unnecessarily antagonistic. It is after all a casual religious intrusion rather than a formal one. The kind we are supposed to ignore in the polite society. I may have to write Miss Manners about this one so I can get one of her socially appropriate, cheeky answers.

If you follow the standard that you are the religion of the vagina that expelled you, I would be considered a lapsed Catholic. I usually just say I was “raised Catholic” because that’s where it began and ended, but even when I participated in all the functions and folderol, I would never impose my religious beliefs on anyone else. That’s downright rude if you ask me.

That brings me to another bizarre moment. Some people higher up on the food chain than me were going on about how impressed they were that Romney did his mission work in France and had to speak French to try and convert people to Mormonism. As if it is somehow remarkable that he could be annoying in more than one language. Didn’t speaking French help label John Kerry an elitist? I sense a double standard in play – its OK to speak another language if you will use it to bend others to your will.

I am glad Mitt Romney speaks more than one language, everyone should as citizens of the world, but I draw the line at admiring his proselytizing for the Mormon Church. We are constantly being subjected to formal religious ambush. Our house is regularly visited by the “elders” from LDS that would like to engage us in hearing the word. And the Jehovah’s. And the Baptists from the church a few blocks over. You’d think we were a bunch of heathens or something to attract so much attention.

I do my best to get us off their lists by informing them that we are Jewish (my husband and daughter), and by stringing Tibetan prayer flags across the front porch. But in the atmosphere of the election, with Mormons living across the street from us and Pre-Vatican II Catholics on the other side, I can’t predict how long it will be before I counter-attack some hapless bearer of Good News with a big ole Sez You.

I’m sure my manners and religious tolerance will return on November 7th.

The fragment of ancient Coptic papyrus that contains the words “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’ ” has already left the news cycle but I can’t let it go unremarked upon. It may seem like a kooky bit of esoteric flotsam, but I predict it will boomerang back many times over the next 10 – 20 years in the  form of good old-fashioned, no one’s going to care about it, won’t get you a job, dissertations. Accompanied by religious tracts, conspiracy theories and quasi-intellectual books a la “The Secret” and “DaVinci Code”.

The people who care about things like this care very, very much. I’m not talking about just your garden variety religious nut (an unkind shorthand, but you know what I mean), but legions of academics, theologians, followers of all things Knights Templar, conspiracy theorists, and other “off the grid” kinds of folks.

Once upon a time, when I thought my life would go in a different direction, I took classes in Latin, Ancient Greek and Aramaic. I’m not a natural at languages but I worked hard and kept up. Ancient Greek was my favorite and I fantasized about reading The Trial and Death of Socrates in the original one day. (Failing that, I continue to reread it at least once a year, the Jowett translation, because it recharges my thinking and makes me happy, even in English.)

So in an advanced Greek seminar, when I was starting to get an inkling that I was not going to master this, the professor decided to mix it up and have us start translating the Old Testament rather than poetry or philosophy. Three weeks. That’s how long we spent on the first sentence. Why? Because not only are the copies of copies of copies suspect, the copies of copies of copies from multiple locations do not align. And then there issues with translation to the Greek from the Hebrew and debate about which century of Greek was used.

Why does the century matter? Not to go too far off on a tangent, lets take a look at the 21st century word Gay, meaning homosexual. During the 19th and early 20th century the word meant full of mirth, carefree, joyful. By the last third of the 20th century Gay meant male homosexual, by the last decade and bleeding into the 21st century, it not only describes a homosexual but is also used by some as a euphemism for “lame”. Now imagine explaining the sentence “…and God was gay” without knowing the century of origin. Century matters.

Last but not least, once we have determined what the actual words are that we are translating in the Greek Old Testament, we discover that there are some verb issues that make it possible that Genesis doesn’t say “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth” but may instead say, “in the beginning God separated Heaven and Earth”.

BIG difference if the Bible is your go to book. Creationism, or maybe not so much. See the problem? Now what does this have to do with a scrap of ancient paper no bigger than a business card? The rumors and theories about Jesus being married have been around for years, not just among the Dan Brown crowd, but with reformists who want proof that the Catholic Church was never intended to be a male hierarchy, or celibate. And here comes the conspiracy theory – many believe that through the years, beginning with the burning of the Serapium library at Alexandria ~390, the Mother Church confiscated and/or destroyed all evidence to the contrary. Except for this bit of Coptic papyrus.

The good news, if you will pardon the pun, is that anyone who believes Jesus was married will continue to do so. Anyone who does not will continue to do so. Usually evidence is not only unnecessary, but redundant when it comes to faith or the Catholic Church.

History is fascinating, religious or not. It is a living breathing thing, and anyone who thinks its static isn’t paying attention. We reshape the living record all the time when we admit alternate perspectives (women, people of color, whoever is not in power) and additional information (see Records, Suppression of.)

Churchill said “History is written by the victors” but that doesn’t mean that particular version is permanent. Even if you do try to burn the copies, delete the files or scrub all the servers.

As it gets harder and harder to cobble together the time I need to put coherent thoughts in a blog post I am reminded of what a friend says about her writing – “I write a blog post every day in my head.” From head to page (or post) can be a big leap some days. So my new tag line is “Sent from my head, please pardon any typos.”

I was recently in a group of women who were talking about how women constantly judge each other. I could have pointed out that we should substitute “humans” for women, because men judge themselves and each other as well, but that would have derailed the topic. Another time.

People brought up how we judge how other women raise their children, or where they send them to to school, or if they are a stay-at-home mom, or a working mom. This landscape is so familiar that someone piped up immediately “As if a stay-at-home-mom is not a working mom!” The problem, an older woman postulated, is that women are their own worst enemy, tearing each other down when they should be supporting each other.

Now I am all for sisterhood, but that just sounded like one more freakin thing to add to my to-do list. Maybe I was just tired. Luckily someone else raised the level of discourse away from its-our-own-damn-fault to how women being unsure of their choices allows them to be more manipulable by society, media etc. The conversation swirled for a while but what caught my attention was someone naively asking, “How do we make it safe for women to talk about topics without judgment?”

The context for this was how do we talk publicly about abortion so that it is de-stigmatized. A simplistic answer was offered: “Wear a button that says I live in a glass house and I don’t throw stones.” I’m thinking I would not be inclined to talk about the weather to someone wearing that button, let alone abortion.

The question of safety included an unacknowledged shift from the visible to the invisible. We can judge a woman’s choices in child rearing and work because they are visible, we can only judge her choice to have an abortion if it is revealed. Hence the de-stigmatization efforts. I wholeheartedly agree having an abortion is nothing to be ashamed of, and most women experience relief rather than shame. So what else is behind the silence? I think we are back at judgment.

Judgment influences behavior because of its complexity. Whether it is internally or externally imposed it can be a verdict (You are a bad person), or an opinion (You are that kind of person), or a statement (This is who I am). We make choices every day about what we make visible because we know we are judged. Revealing information is like pouring Kool-Aid into water –  it can’t be unmixed. So to talk about your abortion in our society calls for either a whole lotta trust or a whole lotta nerve.

As one woman said the fear of judgment is less about her feeling bad about the abortion than about what crap is going to blow back from the other person –  “I don’t feel like dealing with their 92 different feelings about my choice.” Interestingly, as the conversation continued, people revealed other seemingly taboo information kept invisible because of its potential to shape how we will be viewed:

  • I had an abortion and didn’t feel bad (the implication being you should feel bad)
  • I don’t have children because I can’t have children (the implication being you are a failed woman without children)
  • I don’t want children (see above)
  • I am an atheist (too many implications of bad badness to list here)
  • I was sexually molested (the implication being you are a victim)

The list could go on and on, especially around less political but still volatile issues like “I slept with a married man.” How many currently married suburban women do you know that will reveal that to their currently married friends?

I think we all live in glass houses and we all throw stones. So to the question, “How do we make it safe for women to talk about topics without judgment?”, my answer is we need to find ways to build trust into casual friendships so the invisible can be visible. Invisible parts revealed are not a burden, they are the bits that turn a casual friend into a true friend. So we need to trust first, reveal first. I need to trust first. Hmmm. Lot more to think about.

In following all of the upheaval in the Middle East, starting with the needless death of Ambassador Stevens and three others in Libya, violent protests Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen and ongoing protests in front of multiple embassies, I noticed a phrase being used that I found particularly disturbing.

In reporting on the video that is fueling the ongoing violence, some journalists used the phrase “anti-Islamic activists” and included Terry Jones, the nut burger pastor from Florida, as part of this group. I started to wonder, has 9/11 been subtly framing the reporting on this incident, or have we as a society forgotten what the word activist means?

Pro, Anti, and Activist can be tacked onto just about anything, but that doesn’t mean it belongs there. Activism, the way I understand it, means doing something (protesting, boycotting, campaigning) to change something (social, economic or political) to something different (better). For example, a person who is anti-abortion can protest outside a clinic to change minds (social) or write their legislature to change laws (political) and this makes them an activist. Misguided in my opinion, but an activist nonetheless. If you want a refresher, this website has some interesting links and background history on activism.

So what is a person making a movie trailer about a Islam, ridiculing its major religious figure, trying to change? It’s a far stretch to say this is political activism, but lets stretch for a minute:

If you are a political activist/social critic trying to rally supporters by exposing damning information that is withheld, obfuscated or overlooked by mainstream media, you would still have to have a desired outcome for other activists to take action on. Otherwise it is exposing information for titillation sake, which makes it tabloid news not activism.

The trailer-maker – I think we really should stop insulting filmmakers by referring to him that way – stated his goal as exposing the hypocrisy of Islam because “it is a cancer.” By any stretch of the imagination I still can’t consider him an activist.

The purpose of his trailer (which its reported that almost none of the protesting Muslims have seen) appears to be to portray Muslims as violent and insult their Prophet so as to provoke protests and violence. Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood use all opportunities to promote unrest, so now Muslim protesters are chanting “Death to America, Death to Israel” across six countries. The snake eats its tail and the trailer-maker can now say “See, I told you they were violent and want to destroy America.”

Now what.

There are all sorts of free speech & hate speech nuances with this incident, not to mention the way it is playing out with Romney’s statements, and the GOP are circling the wagons, I suspect I will revisit this topic again.

Here’s hoping I will be using the past tense for all further discussion.