Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Eight years

Eight years.  It's nearly how long President Obama has been in office.  It's nearly how long ago Prop 8 passed, banning marriage equality in California.

And today,  it's exactly how long I've been married to BP!

Like most LGBT couples, we have a variety of anniversaries.  The first kiss.  Falling in love. Moving in together.  We never thought we'd be REALLY married, it seemed impossible.  After all, Lawrence v. Texas , the SCOTUS decision that made homosexuality legal, was only in 2003.

And then, suddenly, we were married!  That blessed "summer of love", the few months when it was legal for same sex couples to marry in California. We married just a few weeks before Prop H8 passed, making us part of a lonely beachhead of married gay folk. We had a real anniversary--but it still had an asterisk, because our marriage evaporated outside of California.  We remained further off balance until May 2009 when the California court concluded that our marriages remained valid despite the proposition.

BP swam the Thames and in 2011, we had a church blessing.  Another anniversary to remember!

The marriage battles went on.  Windsor in 2013 made our marriage federally recognized, an anniversary of a sort!  And finally in 2015, Obergefell legalized marriage equality in all fifty states.

Throughout all this,  one thing remained and remains constant:  our love.  Is it possible to love more and more with each passing year?  I think it is.  We finish each other's thoughts.  We are never happier than when we are together.  Deeper and stronger every day.  She completes me.  I am so fortunate.

Friday, October 7, 2016

A secular Jesus-follower?

I often describe myself as a "cultural Christian" or a "secular Christian" as I hang out in church A Lot, even though i don't believe in God.

This recent article in the HuffPo puts a new spin on that idea.
Despite the fact I am a secular person, I find that there is something compelling and transformative about the figure of Jesus — that, indeed, this figure is someone worth following. Here are five important ways in which I continue to reshape my approach to life as part of a deepening commitment to being a secular Jesus follower.
He goes on,
Perhaps my most flagrant “transgression” in this regard is my engaging seriously with the figure of Jesus, who would seem off limits to a nonbeliever like me, who is deeply bound up with a Christendom that is not my world—but whose wisdom and way offer far too much to remain confined behind a culturally imposed boundary.
In my case, I don't think that I engage seriously with the figure of Jesus, who sometimes I admit I find annoying, but I do try to engage with his teachings. They are the teachings of MLK, of course, but Gandhi and the Dali Llama too.

The author describes them thus:
1. I have been inspired to hang out with the “wrong” people.
The poor, the marginalized, of course.  But for a scientist and an atheist, perhaps hanging out with the Christians is also the "wrong" people.  It challenges expectations and the barriers we put between us. :-)
 2. I have become cognizant of the futility of violence.
Didn't need church to see that.
3. I have been persuaded to worry less, trust more.
Yes, this has been a huge thing. But,  I ascribe it much more to the effect of being married to my beloved BP, as our relationship has had a huge influence on me and my sense of peace.  She has radically changed me, and it's not just because she drags me along to church.
4. I have come to see how Jesus can “save” us (and, no, it’s not what you think).

But I’ve come to see that the Jesus way indeed can “save” us, depending on what you mean — even if we are secular and find no motivation whatsoever in the promises and threats of a wondrous or hellish afterlife. Following Jesus, I suggest, can save us from trivial self-seeking, from consumerism and the never-satiated need for more, more, more, and from a life that misses the point. Jesus, I have found, can save us from the hell of a life lived only for ourselves.
Yeah, I don't buy this part.  I don't think you have to hang out around Jesus followers to learn to avoid consumerism and self-seeking.  I know a lot of engaged and thoughtful atheists who aren't part of that world.  There are a lot of non-believers who are social activists making a real difference in social justice and environmentalism.  This smacks to me of self-satisfaction and "us vs them"-ism.
5. The Jesus way has got me to see that we cannot cast off responsibility for the plights and problems of “other people.”
Again, I don't think that Christianity owns this.  See answer to 4.
This yearning for justice — justice for all — is something Jesus promoted and practiced. The Jesus way has got me to see that if we are going to live meaningful and ethical lives, we must reject the notion that we have to look out only for ourselves and our kind. Jesus taught that everyone counts, that the only “group” we’re part of is the human group, and that if one segment of our global neighborhood bears the weight of suffering and injustice, so do we all.
I suppose you can credit Christianity generally with some of this, just as a cultural force in what is a predominantly Christian culture.  Yet, you will find similar concepts in Judaism and Islam and Buddhism, and there are plenty of atheists who get this, so I think it's a straw man to claim this for Christ.

In sum, I find this author much more Christian than I am.  He may not "buy" son of God and Resurrection, but I think he is more than culturally attracted to the community, and definitely much more of a disciple than I am. I don't think you need to be a Christ-follower to practice these rules, at all.   But it's good if you are, too.  :-)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The next generation

In real life, I teach college students, a large fraction of whom are pre-med.  Sometimes, I have a talk with a student who is struggling with the expectation of family and friends that pre-med, or pre-grad, is the path for them.  These are generally very bright students who may be under-performing.

What comes out in our talk is that they feel they are "supposed" to be on this clear cut career track. Their friends are.  Their family may expect it.  It's the Obvious Next Step.  They are supposed to have everything planned out, you see, and get their graduate / professional degree and The Big Job. But it doesn't feel right.  "What else can I do?"  they ask, often plaintively.

I am a subversive.  I tell them, "whatever you want."  I tell them, they don't HAVE to be on the pre-MD/PhD Career Track.  We talk about practical things they can do with a degree in life sciences:  from working in a lab, to developing interest in business, policy, law, science writing, administration, public service.  Maybe they should consider a few years with Teach for America or the Peace Corps.   Or maybe having a job that is sufficient for 9-5 but allows them time to develop their interest in the arts, music, or other creative or meaningful endeavors outside of work.

The scary thing to my students is that there's no path to this:  no signposts.  They have to figure it out for themselves.  They've been so programmed that that's very disconcerting.  And, it feels a bit like failure.  They are around high-achievers who are going to get into every med school to which they apply.  Striking out on their own is hard.  We talk about how to look for people (particularly alumni) who may be an interesting area, to do informational interviews.  We talk about how there's much more to life than job titles and enjoying what you do and making a difference is important.

They generally react with relief to this.  It's OKAY not to be on that track.  College is not just a career vocational school.   Not all these kids want that high-level traditional career achievement.

So I read this with some interest:
[D]espite struggling with debt, recession, and the jobs crisis, millennials are not motivated by money. Rather, they are driven to make the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable. This isn’t a stereotype; it’s simply the truth. 
Deloitte’s 2015 milllennial survey found that 75% of millennials believe businesses are too focused on their own agendas, rather than improving society. Only 28% believe their current organization is making full use of their skills. A full 50% would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, and 90% of respondents said they wanted to use their skills for good....
Clearly, organizations are not responding fast enough to this generation’s desire to align their work with purpose. Millennials don’t want to move “up” on a career ladder. Overall, we are less concerned with traditional metrics of success, like savings and home ownership, and more concerned with creating lives defined by meaning, community, and shared value.
And, this: 
[M]illennials of color are significantly more optimistic about their future than white millennials. That is another way that they mirror the perspective of their parents and grandparents. But given the disparities in outcomes as well as the overt racism we’ve been witnessing lately, that might surprise a lot of people. It is certainly something that deserves a lot more attention.
Interestingly, white millennials  are less confident. Paralleling that, only 10% of white kids support Clinton, which is very depressing to me.  (Now that Bernie's out, many of them seem to be supporting the Libertarian ticket. I doubt they have actually read Johnson's platform!)

But still, the data suggest that these millennials are interested in seeking meaning and doing good.  And that's something hopeful.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


The Times found that nearly 20% of Trump supporters did not approve of freeing the slaves, according to a January YouGov/Economist poll that asked respondents if they supported or disapproved of “the executive order that freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government”—Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

The Republicans need to own it that they are the party of white supremacy.  Democrats need to stand firm:  these views have no place in mainstream politics.

And I'd say this is a sad indictment of what had been a noble history.
For a very brief period after the end of the Civil War, Republicans truly fought for the rights of black Americans. Frustrated by reports of abuses of and violence against former slaves in the postwar South, and by the inaction of Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, a faction known as the Radicals gained increasing sway in Congress. 
The Radicals drove Republicans to pass the country’s first civil rights bill in 1866, and to fight for voting rights for black men (though not yet women) at a time when such an idea was still controversial even in the North. 
Furthermore, Republicans twice managed to amend the Constitution, so that it now stated that everyone born in the United States is a citizen, that all citizens should have equal protection of the law, and that the right to vote couldn’t be denied because of race. 

This article concludes:
Now the GOP is at a crossroads. It’s possible that the turn toward Trump and his ideas this year will be remembered as an aberration, and that a new generation of Republican politicians will find a way to be more than just the party of white resentment — rediscovering their roots as the party of Lincoln. 
But it’s also quite possible that Trump is just the beginning, and that the party will increasingly play to white voters by appealing to racial tensions. It’s up to Republican voters and leaders to decide just what they want their party to be.

UPDATE:  Ta-nehisi  Coates argues that the polls back Hillary up.
Was Hillary Clinton being truthful or not? 
Much like Trump’s alleged opposition to the Iraq War, this not an impossible claim to investigate. We know, for instance, some nearly 60 percent of Trump’s supportershold “unfavorable views” of Islam, and 76 percent support a ban on Muslims entering the United States. We know that some 40 percent of Trump’s supporters believe blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier, and ruder than whites. Two-thirds of Trump’s supporters believe the first black president in this country’s history is not American. These claim are not ancillary to Donald Trump’s candidacy, they are a driving force behind it
When Hillary Clinton claims that half of Trump’s supporters qualify as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” data is on her side. One could certainly argue that determining the truth of a candidate’s claims is not a political reporter’s role. But this is not a standard that political reporters actually adhere to.

Friday, September 2, 2016

News from the C of E: Bishop comes out

As you may know, our friends across the Pond are having a bit of a wrestle about Teh Gayz.  Although marriage equality is the law of the land, the Church of England (which is established by the State) has managed to get legislation that actually prevents them from recognizing, performing, or participating in same sex marriages, and that inoculates them against accusations of bias for this. Priests and bishops are "allowed" to be gay as long as they are celibate, and under no circumstances can they marry a same sex partner. 

There have been a few cases where priests have married, and been fired, or lost their licenses.  I understand that a letter is forthcoming where a number of gay priests will out themselves as being married.

And, in a reflection of the schism that happened here, some conservatives have started making plans for a shadow synod, a possible break away. That would suggest they know they are going to lose.

Perhaps their fear was inspired by a comment from  Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (my emphasis)
Welby talked of an "incredible clash that is so important to so many people and goes to the heart of the identity of so many people". He added: "There isn't a simple solution... I haven't got a good answer." To applause, he said "I am constantly consumed with horror" at the way in which the Church has treated the gay community.
But the big news today,  the first C of E Bishop has outed himself, before he was outed by a journalist.
The bishop of Grantham has become the first Church of England bishop to publicly declare that he is gay and in a relationship. In a move that will be embraced by campaigners for equality but is likely to alarm conservatives who fear the church is moving away from traditional teachings, Nicholas Chamberlain said there had been no secret about his long-term – albeit celibate – relationship with his partner. ...
Chamberlain was consecrated last November, and all those involved in his appointment – including Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury – were aware of his personal situation. ...
Chamberlain said he adhered to church guidelines, under which gay clergy must be celibate and are not permitted to marry. In the appointments process, “We explored what it would mean for me as a bishop to be living within those guidelines,” he said.
The celibacy thing allows people to pretend that a gay man isn't actually gay.   But relationships are about much more than sex.  And, as  Bishop Gene Robinson has said, when this celibacy policy in the C of E was first promulgated,
I have to tell you this infuriates me and disappoints me. Let me try to say why. I don't care whether any couple, gay or straight, has sexual intimacy or not. That's not my business. That's their business. But to require someone to give up this piece of one's life, which is so central to who each of us is as a human being, just seems, it seems cruel, and it also, it bespeaks something that I think is not talked about enough around the issue of gay sexuality, which is that gay is not something you do, it's something we are.... 
I laughingly will say to a more conservative audience, you know, OK, so if it's OK to be gay but not act on it, could two men live together? Could we sleep in the same bedroom if we slept in twin beds?
Well, could we sleep in the same bed if we didn't touch each other? Well, could we touch each other as long as we only held hands? I mean, at what point, at what point is it gay? Do you know what I mean? It just doesn't make any sense. And it comes out of what I think is a very male understanding of sexuality, which is you're only being sexual when you're making love.  
But the fact of the matter is we are sexual all the time, and this bifurcation of, you know, being gay versus acting on it just seems to me ludicrous at best and cruel at worst.
Meanwhile, expect heads to start exploding in the C of E in any minute....

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Another purge: one sin above all others.

Well, another teacher has been purged from a Roman Catholic school for daring to have married her same sex partner, this time in New Jersey.
Drumgoole “was not terminated because of her sexual orientation,” the motion says. “Instead, she was terminated for violating the Ministerial Policies and the Code of Ethics – in failing to abide by the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith, i.e. by entering into a same sex marriage.

And, you know, they are entitled to do so.  The courts have found that religious schools have broad rights in this regard.  But it's strange that they are so selective about which violation gets one axed.
Drumgoole also says that several Paramus Catholic faculty members are divorced, at least one has a child out of wedlock, various employees cohabitate with members of the opposite sex, at least one other teacher is gay, and nude photographs of another teacher have been circulated online. 
She says she feels as though she was singled out. “There are people who are living lives that go against the tenets of the church and they’re still employed there,” Drumgoole said in an interview.
One sin above all others.

See here for our other posts on the purges.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

False Equivalence and internet hysteria

Social media is full of links to sites with hyper headlines.  Clickbait, they call them.  Did you see what Hillary did?  The Republicans said this!

Most of these have no interest in discussing ideas, or facts, but rather in driving clicks, eyeballs on adds, and fomenting partisanship and division.  Just STOP IT.

If you are forwarding these you are contributing to that air of hysteria. 

These false equivalencies do not help our discourse. Whether you are a Bernie conspiracy theorist or a Republican gun advocate.

Recently, Donald Trump implied that the election of Hillary Clinton could justify armed insurrection.

I have two thoughts on this.

First, this goes to a long history of the Right attempting to "nullify" elections that they lose.  They did this with Bill Clinton, they have certainly done it with Obama, and now they are trying to pre-empt Hillary.  Over at Washington Monthly, Nancy Le Tourneau calls this the Conferderate response:  the effort to de-legitimize this challenge to their world view. If the election didn't go to my guy, it can't be legit. 

Second, this has prompted my right-leaning friends to post clickbait saying, essentially, Oh Yeah?  The Dems did it too!

No, the Dems have never called for armed insurgency if they lose.  But from Sarah Palin's gunsight ad, to the lynching memes ever since Obama was elected, to Republican officers sending around threats against Hillary, to rallies calling to "Kill the B....." , Trump has now escalated to an anti-democratic strong-man dictatorship.  Don't like the results of the election?  Take up arms!

Oh yeah? In 2008, Hillary called for Obama's assassination!  

No, she didn't. In an admittedly insalubrious choice of language (for which she apologized), she justified staying in the primary race in case something happened to him,  invoking the assassination of RFK in 1968.  You can go Google Robert F Kennedy.  I'll wait. 

She did not threaten an armed insurrection if Obama won.

She did not tell sober gun owners to take up arms against the government, including  against the police. 

She did not imply that the popularly elected president is illegitimate as commander  in chief. 

This unreasonable hatred of Hillary (Hillary Derangement Syndrome) fomented by one wing of our media is dangerous to our democracy. You don't have to like or agree with her.  But don't claim that the extreme language from the Trump side is in any way equivalent, or justified.    Argue the issues, not the hysteria.  And stop contributing to it. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

The House Divided

We are horribly polarized as a nation on lines of race, class, ethnicity, and religion.  Squabbling family members in different rooms can't agree on how to fix the problems of our common home.   There are too many people shivering in the basement, while the ones in the penthouse don't seem to care what happens to the garbage they throw out the window.

Clearly , we need renovations, and we need them badly. We agree on that, though we haven't agreed on how to make them.  There are some new ideas, which have not persuaded everyone.  Indeed, one faction has lit the place on fire.

Here's the point, my friends.  You can't make renovations to the structure of the house unless you join together to put out the fire first.  You may not be very enamored of the house mother, but no one will have any place to live unless the fire is extinguished and the arsonist's influence defeated.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The response to "All Lives Matter"

Of course they do.  But This:

Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any! 
The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out. 
That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society...... 
Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem. - by GeekAesthete


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trumpism and the end of the GOP

Andrew Sullivan on the first night of the Republican Convention:
The degeneracy of conservatism – its descent into literally mindless appeals to tribalism and fear and hatred – was on full display. You might also say the same about the religious right, the members of whom have eagerly embraced a racist, a nativist, a believer in war crimes, and a lover of the tyrants that conservatism once defined itself against. Their movement long lost any claim to a serious Christian conscience. But that they would so readily embrace such an unreconstructed pagan is indeed a revelation. 
If you think of the conservative movement as beginning in 1964 and climaxing in the 1990s, then the era we are now in is suffering from a cancer of the mind and the soul. That the GOP has finally found a creature that can personify these urges to purge, a man for whom the word “shameless” could have been invented, a bully and a creep, a liar and cheat, a con man and wannabe tyrant, a dedicated loather of individual liberty, and an opponent of the pricelessly important conventions of liberal democracy is perhaps a fitting end. 
This is the gutter, ladies and gentlemen, and it runs into a sewer. May what’s left of conservatism be carried out to sea.