Christmas 2013 – A Word & Invitation

A preacher friend of mine started his Christmas Eve sermon years ago by saying, “I really need Christmas this year; I’m convinced we all really need Christmas this year.”  The clarity of that voice resonates deep within me this year.

Right now, the world, both near and far, is filled with chaos.  The plight of Syrians, the despotism in North Korea, and the conflicts in Nigeria and South Sudan are among many that are physically far away, but feel so near.  Legislators in Lansing and Washington have failed the citizens they are charged to represent in myriad ways.  They have forsaken the common good and statecraft, eagerly trading these things because keeping their job is more important than doing their job.  There is the shadowy, lingering prevalence of events of pubic mayhem evidenced by the anniversaries observed in Lockerby and Newtown.  Personal things touch us and weigh upon us.  The illnesses and deaths of loved ones disquiet us more than Marley’s ghost. Our individual and collective fears and failures, such as how, in a post-2008 world, to provide education for your child; care for an aging parent; contemplate retirement, or come out of retirement to work again because the pension for which you toiled for thirty years has been squandered by others’ greed and deception weigh on us.

We need Christmas, but we don’t need the world-version: a sentimental feel-good-aspirin that will wear off before the New Year or possibly the Feast of Stephen.  We don’t need to be caught and ground by the gristmill of the seasonal retail-machine.  We don’t need the dysfunctional expectations that heighten sadness or deepen depression.

I need Christmas because I need to know that God is, in every way, connected with the human experience.  I need God in the midst of the chaos.  I need to know that I, and others, are loved so much that God Incarnate came into our world, even my world, to be with me and be present to me and to all of us.  Christmas gets romanticized, but here’s the truth: Herod’s world was a violent and despotic world.  Statecraft, if you could call it that, was generally conveyed by the sword and spear.  Homelessness, hardship and daily survival were real experiences for Jesus’ family. I need Christmas because I need to know that God knows.  I need it to witness to me, and to anyone with longing, that God Incarnate enters into this with us, and meets each of my steps, our steps, in daily companionship.

There is a name for this.  It is Emmanuel; it means God with us.  That’s why I need Christmas: to be refreshed and reconnected with the truth that God is with us!  That’s why we sing with hope, and pleading, and expectation, O come, O come, Emmanuel.  And it is why the Cathedral Community and I want to share this Christmas with you.  Come and join the Cathedral Community as we seek and celebrate this Christmas.  Come, hear of Jesus; discover or rediscover – God with us – Emmanuel.

Christmas blessings and peace,

An Open Letter to the Michigan Legislature

Without apology, this is directed to the eighty-nine of members of the Michigan Legislature who, on December 11th, voted in favor of a bill that would require women to purchase a separate insurance rider in order to have medical care coverage in the event that a pregnancy needed to be terminated – for pretty much any reason, including pregnancy resulting from rape or incest (which is still rape).

A few important facts: First, I’m a guy, and since the people making general pronouncements about women’s health and body issues that should really be listened to are women, I hope they will grant me a small voice in this matter. Second, I am the father of a daughter, the brother of a sister, the son of a mother, and the husband of a wife. I am a Christian, and I am also a minister, specifically a priest. I am a citizen and a voter.  I absolutely believe in the sanctity of life, but believe in the constitutional right of a woman to make decisions about her own body.  But, the purpose of this letter is not to enter into that specific debate.  In my tradition of Christianity we have people at all points of the spectrum on this matter.  It simply seems honest to be transparent about some of my background.

As a part of my tradition we take some vows. Remember with me that vows are unconditional. They do not say, “If you do this, I will do that.” Vows are “I will do this regardless of what you do” declarations. One of them is a vow to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Not those who look like me, or think like me, or have the same ethnic heritage, or the same religious beliefs, or the same gender or orientation, or even live in the same country as I do. This vow is not conditional, and it is hard, and it sets a high standard!

This legislation fails to meet that standard in an incalculable number of ways. It penalizes over fifty percent of the population for being born female – something they had no control over. It seems to me, a non-psychologist, that it imposes the trauma of having to consider the likelihood of being raped, and having to pay for the opportunity to be a victim in advance. That seems to me to be one of the clearest examples of psychological abuse imaginable.

Here’s a question for you: Instead of the bill you passed, did you consider a law that requires every male to have to purchase an “impregnation rider” to their insurance?  Under current economic conditions it would make more sense. Men get paid more for the same work, so they can better afford the cost of the rider. Men don’t have to take time off work to give birth, so the chances of missing a premium payment would be greatly reduced providing the insurance companies a more stable revenue stream. There is another option as well. Since the bill speaks to the matter of abortion, the underlying condition would be pregnancy, right? Further, since pregnancy is a solely female condition, we are talking about laws which invade women’s sovereignty, right? So did you consider balancing this law with quid pro quo legislation that requires each male to have a vasectomy prior to puberty and then buy a rider in case he wants to have that reversed?

Please do not mistake the pervious paragraph for sarcasm. I am not being sarcastic at all. I am also not naive. It didn’t happen, and it is not going to happen because, despite the fact that GM named the first female CEO of any major automotive manufacturer (yeah, GM!), the continuing patriarchy would laugh it out of the room, if it could even fathom such a thing.

In the Christian tradition our Holy Writings (the Bible) tell of a situation where a woman is brought before a council of men with the intention of stoning her for adultery. The question is, “Where was the guy?” since I am certain that adultery back then, as now, was a two part invention. Anyway, when Jesus is asked for an opinion on this, he indicates that the one without sin should case the first stone. One by one they all left.

It appears that I have underestimated many in the Michigan state legislature, because on Wednesday, December 11th, there were 89 battering, destructive, lethal stones hurled at every woman in this state. Not only did I not know of your sinless state, but I failed to recognize that you possessed the ability to look into the lives and hearts of Michigan’s women and condemn them.  The only person I know that possessed that ability did not condemn the woman about to be stoned, but you condemn every woman in this state. And, while you were at it, you humiliated the women who were part of your own legislative community, compelling them recount the greatest horrors of their lives – only to have you dismiss the truth in favor of your own moral messianic complex.

The “yea voters” on this matter are, from every way I come at this, either victims of being bullied by 4% of the voting population (which when you realize it should be prompt changes to in this state to protect people before they become victims), or they are myopic messiahs anointed to impose their godly will on populace. Either way, it is a sad day for Michigan. I hope you quickly realize this terrible mistake and rescind this act before the 90 days pass that would enact this legislation.  Failing that, I hope the courts quickly strike it down for the undue burdens in imposes.

The Very Reverend Dr. S. Scott Hunter

“I am not a saint …”

Nelson Mandela
1918 – 2013

There are those moments in one’s life which can instantly and precisely be recalled. For my grandparents the top of the list was the 1929 stock market crash. I am told my father’s father lost everything. For my father and mother it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For me, for a long time and until now, there were two: Hurricane Hugo and September 11, 2001. Now I must add another. I had just put my gym bag down readying for a workout when a television sports station was talking about Nelson Mandela. It seemed out of place. “Has he died?” I asked. “Yes,” came the reply.

I got dressed and headed toward the workout room, but as I moved into an area by a pool and no one was around I found that all I could do was stop, find a bench and let the weeping I didn’t even know I was holding back overwhelm me. During my remaining workout time, people seemed to keep asking how my day was going. I could not even push the word “sad” out of my mouth.

Probably the first act of a truly political nature I engaged in, apart from the act of voting, was to cut my Shell Oil gasoline card in two and send it back to them with a letter. (I also did that to Exxon after the Valdez incident.) I recall the Episcopal Church’s General Convention action directing the TEC, and encouraging others, to divest of Shell Oil stock.

Mostly, I remember a man, who at times had had a hand in violent acts, emerging from a brutality in Robbens Prison that could have so easily and expectedly cemented a commitment to bitterness, hatred, violence and revenge, emerge different. His mission when he left prison was, as he shared it in Long Walk to Freedom, “to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both.” You do not need me to rehearse the details of the journey that followed. You either already know large parts of it (I hope!), or you will hear it, if you choose to listen, over the next several days.

Nelson Mandela’s clear-focused understanding and commitment was to forgiveness and reconciliation. He saw that it was obtainable, and that it was obtainable only when all cultures meet on equal terms. Further he never allowed one of those convictions to be separated from the other. I shall never forget that at his inauguration as the democratically elected president of South Africa, he insisted that his jailer be seated with his family. As he lead the new government, he insisted that workers from the former government remain. He understood that fear casts out forgiveness, so he endeavored to cast out fear. His wisdom with respect to the essentials of forgiveness and reconciliation overwhelm me, amaze me, and inspire me, all at the same time.

If it were left to me, Nelson Mandela would be added to the calendar of saints and worthies of the Church this very day. But he said of similar things … “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying”

If it were possible, somehow, I think even the precincts of heaven would find themselves more reconciled tonight. Now may I, may we, keep on trying because there is still much fear to cast out, much forgiveness to be given, and much reconciliation to be accomplished.

God’s peace,