Monday, January 30, 2012

Equal Opportunity for Life?

Last week three bills related to the practice of abortion in Florida were passed by the House Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee.  They are not the law, not yet.  But they are on the way.  In one way or another each of these bills further restricts abortion here in the Sunshine State.  HB 839 would ban abortions after the fetus is 20 weeks old based on the assumption that at that age a fetus can experience pain.  HB 277 would institute a 24-hour waiting period, expand prohibitions against certain types of abortion and require all doctors performing abortions to take a three-hour ethics course every year.  HB 1327 would ban selective abortions, those based on gender or race.

I am not in favor of unrestricted access to abortion.  I believe that there are certain limits that the state can rightfully legislate and enforce.  There are folks who say any limitations are wrong because they abridge a woman's right to make choices which impact her own health.  But we have many laws and regulations that already do that (for men and women) in other areas of medicine.  Abortion can't be totally exempt!

But that said, these particular regulations appear to be part of a growing attempt to make the definition of a legal abortion increasingly narrow.  HB 839, for instance, is based on scientific assumptions that are not universally supported.  While some researchers agree that pain can be experienced between weeks 20 and 24, others say it that doesn't happen until week 29. 

HB277, with its required ethics course, seems to ignore the fact that almost all of medicine has enormous ethical implications.  Why just single out doctors who perform abortions? 

And HB 1327, while seemingly noble, feels slippery at best.  It has been named the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas Prenatal Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity for Life Act.  Great title--two great Americans!  But wouldn't it be better attached to a bill correcting some of the social and economic inequities that mar certain aspects of American life?  Often the most vocal opponents of abortion fail to recognize that the abortion debate isn't just about prenatal realities, but post-natal realities as well.  It's not just about the rights of the so-called unborn, but also the rights of such children when they are unwanted and yet still brought into the world.  It is about the rights of women who struggle to live in the here and now. Don't misunderstand, I am not suggesting that it is OK to make decisions to abort or not based on race or gender. But race and gender are real issues in this life.  Why not work to provide quality healthcare, sound nutrition, affordable housing and meanigful education for those already in our midst?  Now that would provide a genuinely Equal Opportunity for Life! 

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Politics of Forgiveness

Many folks thought the battle for the  presidential nomination would be done and over by this time.  But the results from South Carolina mean that things are still far from settled.  There has been much talk over the past week about the allegations made by the ex-wife of one of the candidates.  The allegations have made choices more complicated for some folks.  The candidate says he has confessed his wrongdoing and asked for forgiveness, that he has changed his ways. 
I have no way of knowing whether or not what he or she says is true.  Nor is it my task to ascertain the veracity of such claims.  But as a preacher it is my job to clarify theological terminology.  And words don't get much more theological than the word "forgiveness."  So, in the interest of advancing thoughtful discourse, let me offer up my take on this rather important term.

First, it is essential that one remembers that forgiveness doesn't mean saying, "What happened was OK."  In fact, true forgiveness involves radical honesty.  It may mean saying, "What I did was very, very wrong.  it hurt others deeply.  It was inexcusable."  For, you see, if something can be excused, if something can be explained away, it doesn't need to be forgiven.  Forgiving and excusing are two different things!

Second, forgiveness does not necessarily involve forgetting.  For instance, an abused spouse can let go of her right to hit back, she can forgive her abuser by forgoing revenge, but that doesn't mean she needs to forget it happened!  Indeed, she is wise to remember it, and take necessary precautions to ensure it won't happen again.  For forgiveness doesn't side step the truth rather, it acknowledges the wrong.  It means saying, "I won't try to get even with you, I won't exact revenge.  I will let go of hatred."  But there still may be legal consequences that have to play themselves out.  There may be relational consequences that become necessary.  You can forgive someone, yet no longer be their best friend.  As author Anne LaMott writes:  "[Forgiveness] means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.  It doesn't necessarily mean you want to have lunch with the person."

In truth, forgiveness is really a matter of deciding whether one wants to live a life of love or a life of bitterness and hatred.  When you fail to forgive, the person you hurt the most is yourself.  "If you keep hitting back, LaMott says, "you stay trapped in the nightmare."  But if you forgive you discover a new freedom.  You replace the seemingly endless cycle of violence and hatred with a cycle of forgiveness, understanding and love.

In the end, then, forgiveness is about making a choice. So too is voting.  But let's not get the two confused!

(Note:  The quotations from Anne LaMott are taken from her excellent book of essays titled Plan B:  Further Thoughts on Faith.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Of Civil Rights and Swimming Pools

This is 2012, right?  The Civil Rights movement had its heyday over forty years ago, right?  Segregation has been illegal in this country for decades, has it not?  Yet, somehow, we just haven't gotten it yet!  Perhaps you saw a news item this past weekend out of Ohio.  It seems that the landlord of a Cincinnati apartment complex posted a sign on the swimming pool gate proclaiming "Whites Only."  According to the Associated Press the landlord claimed that chemicals in the hair of a young black girl were making the pool "cloudy" and so he posted the sign in order to keep the pool clean.

I must say, I was shocked.  I shouldn't be.  As Dr. King once said, "Racism is a tenacious evil . . . ."  And so it is.  And on this Martin Luther King holiday, we are reminded yet again that we must continue to speak up and out for those who are denied their basic rights. 

Personally I take comfort in the fact that the above quote is only half of what Dr. King said.  The full quotation (from his book Strength to Love) is as follows:  "Racism is a tenacious evil, but it is not immutable."  It is not unchangeable.  It can be overcome.  But racism will fight back every step of the way.  Signs on fences will keep popping up, and we must see to it that they are taken down.  Not just the signs on pool gates and restaurant windows and schoolhouse doors, but also the signs posted on our hearts and the hearts of those around us.  For even as we fight institutionalized racism, so we must continually guard against it in our own actions and our own lives.

Yes, it is 2012.  Yes the Civil Rights movement had its heyday over forty years ago.  Yes, segregation has been illegal for decades.  But the work is far from done, the dream has yet to be realized in its fullness.

(Photo Credit:  Marion S. Trikoska)

Monday, January 9, 2012

No More Gym Class?!

OK, let's be clear, right from the start.  I hated physical education when I was a kid.  Gym class was truly the bane of my existence in high school!  I was the proverbial 90 pound weakling--and almost always picked last when we divided up into teams.  The "phys ed" teachers were always much more interested in the football and basketball players than they were in uncoordinated guys like me.  There was one of them who never even learned how to pronounce my name (Danner isn't really much if a tongue twister, but he somehow got it wrong, week after week!)

That said, I am appalled to learn that the State of Florida is seriously considering removing "phys ed" from the list of required classes for middle schoolers.  Florida House Bill 4057 is being sponsored by Representative Larry Metz, from Yalaha. This in the face of the childhood obesity crisis!

The American Heart Association estimates that 30 percent of all children in Florida are considered to be obese.  Thirty percent!  One-in-three!  Now is not the time to eliminate the one time many kids engage in physical activity.  It is so easy today to sit out traditional childhood play--why make it even easier?

As an adult I finally learned the importance of tending to my body through exercise and physical activity.  Theologically speaking, I came to understand that I needed to be a good steward of my body!  Now, I walk.  I practice yoga.  I ride my bike.  How much better off I'd be today if I'd had gym teachers who really paid attention to the non-athletes in their classes.  But, that said, I'd be much worse off if I'd had no such classes at all!

As a kid, I never thought I'd ever champion the inclusion of gym class in my schedule.  But adults are supposed to know better than kids.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iowa, New Hampshire and Beyond!

As I write this post the good folk of Iowa are gathering for caucus meetings all across the state.  After months and months of being wooed they will finally cast their votes for one or another of the potential candidates for president.  And then the attention (and media dollars) will shift to New Hampshire.  By all accounts it has been a rather brutal campaign, with negative advertisements blanketing the airwaves. 

I saw a piece on the op/ed pages of the local Fort Myers News-Press that summed up my feelings as well as anything I've read.  It was written by Dan Warner, a retired editor who once won the Pulitzer.  In the essay, Warner noted that their are two myths about politics that need debunking.  First, the idea that, in his words, "all of the candidates are unqualified and unworthy."  All too often we buy into the notion that politician is a four-letter word (it's not--it's actually a  ten-letter word) and that all persons who run for office are by definition useless.  Instead of such a negative approach, he suggest we honestly assess candidates looking intentionally for their positive attributes.  Bravo, I say!  If we keep emphazing the negative the day might come when it all becomes a self-fulfilling promise. 

The second myth, he notes, is that, again his words, "there is one answer."  Somehow, we have become so polarized as a society that we easily buy into the idea that there is only one way to resolve a problem:  my way.  I love Frank Sinatra--but my way is a lousy way to move through public life!  Instead, we need to recognize that compromise can be very noble. And often, it is the only way to move forward!

Near the end of his essay, Warner writes:  "The answer [to political gridlock] is not in the noise and slogans.  It is in reasonable thought generated by reasonble leaders.  And that means we must be reasonable followers."  When I read that aloud to my wife she said, "There's a sermon in that!"  And so there is!  But for now, it will have to stand as this post on my blog.

Thanks, Mr. Warner, for wise, wise words.  Maybe you should come out of retirment.  Maybe you should run for office!