Monday, February 28, 2011

I was actually a millionaire once…and then my mother threw away my baseball cards!

The Duke of Flatbush is dead. Long live the Duke!

Imagine having the confidence to name your son “Duke.” Edwin Donald Snider’s father gave him (and us) that name, a name young Edwin grew into in an18 year professional baseball career. Snider signed a major league contract in 1943 but first enlisted to fight Nazis. He came back from the war to become one of the greatest. The Duke played professional baseball from 1947 until 1964, from the year before I was born until two years before I graduated from high school.

He was such a part of my life, I thought I knew him personally. He batted .295. If you don’t know, that means that nearly one try in three, he hit that ball so hard they couldn’t get to it in time to keep him off base! 407 of those hits were home runs and 1,333 of them scored runs…all in 2,143 games, played before anyone ever heard of much less used steroids.

The Duke hit the last home run ever hit by a Brooklyn Dodger at Ebbets Field. That matters to real Dodger fans.

In the old days there was no baseball in the Mountain Time zone. Though Larry Birleffi did a magnificent job of play by play off the ticker with all the appropriate sound effects, those of us who loved the game were confined to watching one game a week. The “Game of the Week” on Saturday afternoon.

In those days I was actually a millionaire…and then my mother threw away my baseball cards at least the ones left after we clothes pinned them to the spokes of our bikes!

I recall only three big teams in those days, the Dodgers, the Yankees, and the Giants. They each had centerfielders we all argued about. Duke Snider was the best though some of my Little League friends thought it was Willie Mays of the Giants. Still others said Mickey Mantle of the Yankees.

Now my old friend, The Bachelor,
Well, he swore he was the Oklahoma Kid.
And Cookie played hooky,
To go and see the Duke.
And me, I always loved Willie Mays,
Those were the days!

We all had it right. Willie, Mickey and the Duke. Can you even imagine living during a time when you could watch these three fellows play almost every week?

I saw the Duke play in 1962. I was a paperboy for the Wyoming Eagle and had won a trip to Los Angeles for the National Newspaper Boy Convention. They took us all to Dodger Stadium. It was brand new but it was the Duke’s last year as a Dodger. I actually met him again 32 years later. Then I was attending the 1994National Baseball Collectors Convention in Anaheim. I hung around my hotel room watching a great ball game between the Dodgers and the Rockies. When the Rockies won it with a home run in the bottom of the 9th, I headed for the elevator to walk to the convention hall.

The door slid open and I knew immediately who it was with whom I was about to share a ride. “You are Duke Snider,” I said. He said, “Yes, I am…do you know who won the Dodger game?” “It was Colorado, 14-13 with a last inning homer.” He shook his head and mumbled something disagreeable about Coors Field being a Little League ballpark. I said, “I gotta ask you, how would you have liked to hit today against these pitchers… and at Coors Field?” He just smiled…a knowing smile that said it all. Wouldn’t we all have liked to see Willie, Mickey and the Duke do just that?

Later I wished I had offered to buy him a beer but was too awestruck. He walked off the elevator, smiling…as he is smiling today even as Saint Peter asks for one last autograph.

Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
It was Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
I'm talkin' Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
Say Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)

“Willie, Mickey and the Duke”

Friday, February 25, 2011

It may be cold and snowy here but somehwere in the world they are playing baseball!

Yeah…there is a war in Afghanistan, the unemployment rate is too high, there are revolutions throughout the Middle East, Wyoming’s legislature forfeited our right to be called the Equality State and winter won’t leave. But, this weekend is the first spring training game for the Rockies and the baseball season in underway!

Baseball is just more interesting than all of our problems and infinitely more hopeful. The war has seen 10 baseball seasons come and go. That young men and women are killing and dying in Afghanistan is more important than men playing a kid’s game and yet baseball is more than a simple distraction from the problems of the world. In many ways it is what keeps those problems from overwhelming us.

George Will once acknowledged baseball is only a game, and, he added, “Likewise, the Grand Canyon is only a hole in the Arizona ground.” The last out of the last game of the World Series is the first moment of winter, cold, dark season lasting until the first pitch of spring training. Bart Giamatti was a poet who also happened to serve both as President of Yale and baseball commissioner. Giamatti once wrote, “The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again.”

By our very nature we Wyoming dwellers are people of spring. When you grow up in Wyoming it’s not the tulips’ bloom that tells you it’s spring time. By the time a flower blooms here it’s the middle of the summer. I can look out the window and see snow falling and wind blowing but simply knowing pitchers and catchers have reported to their spring training site tells me it is spring.

The hopefulness accompanying each season makes baseball different from the other realities of our lives. The legislature may pass laws creating different classes of citizens but 90 mile an hour fastballs don’t discriminate. The rest of our world may be too often defined by its injustices but as one of baseball’s great promoters, Bill Veeck, observed, “Baseball is the only orderly thing in a very un-orderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can't get you off.”

I inherited little more than a love of baseball from my father, but what a treasure chest! We lived on 18th Street in Cheyenne in the 1950’s. There was a vacant lot next door. It was our field of dreams. The neighborhood dads and moms, girls and boys and dogs gathered there every afternoon as the men (it was the 50’s after all) got off work. We played ball until it was so dark the hitter could no longer see the pitcher. In that vacant lot we learned a lot about family values, sportsmanship and our responsibility to others.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to consider baseball a religion, but I don’t disagree with Ron Shelton who was a major league player before directing the movie Bull Durham. “I believe in the Church of Baseball. I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Before there was Matthew Shepherd there was Lester Hunt

                As the conference committee prepares to meet this morning to discuss differences between the House and Senate on HB74, they should be reminded of the extent to which homophobia has a prominent place in the state’s culture and history. Long before Matthew Shepherd, there was Lester Hunt.
As unseemly and even un-Christian as are recent political attacks on gays and lesbians, there is an even uglier Wyoming political history of the use of this tactic for political gain. As recent as during the lifetimes of most of the current legislators, a US Senator and former Governor of Wyoming was driven to suicide by politicians who understood the power of hate in the context of a person’s sexuality.
            Lester C. Hunt of Lander was the Governor of Wyoming from 1943 to 1949 and served as a popular United States Senator from January 3, 1949 until his suicide on June 19, 1954. During his time in the Senate, Hunt distinguished himself as a courageous critic of Wisconsin senator Joseph R. McCarthy. His criticism of McCarthy's demagoguery made him a prime target in the 1954 election.
The year before his re-election campaign, Hunt's young son was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover, male policeman. One account of this dark incident in Wyoming history reported, “Hunt, a Democrat elected in 1948, faced a tough fight to keep his seat in 1954. Republicans held only a one-vote majority in the Senate and saw the incumbent as a prime target. So avid were top GOP strategists to oust him that they fastened onto the arrest of his son. “Arrested, soliciting as a queer,” noted New Hampshire Sen. Styles Bridges, chair of the GOP campaign committee, when informed of the arrest by inside sources at the Morals Division of the D.C. police.”
Republicans reportedly delivered a blackmail demand ordering Hunt to retire from the Senate and not seek re-election. If Hunt refused, Wyoming media would be informed of his son’s homosexuality. This is the text of a report from then Washington DC columnist Drew Pearson disclosing the events:


Senator Hunt acceded to the blackmail (what we’d now call a hate crime), announcing he would not seek reelection.  A few days later, he shot himself to death at his desk in his Senate office. So you see, Wyoming does have a legacy of hate when it comes to this issue. Today we will choose whether to continue or to begin to overcome that legacy.
Among a few items of political memorabilia I have collected over the years is a note on which Senator Hunt wrote thoughts about George Washington’s Farewell Address. Apparently there was time in the US Congress when pothe timeliness of the first President's concern about threatening divisions among the Amercian people.
Washington was concerned then about the threat of regional differences. All these years later, the threat is different but just as ominous. If you slightly tweak the words of our first President by removing those words in parentheses, they aptly express a contemporary concern.  
One of the expedients of party to acquire influence (within particular districts) is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of others (districts). You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. ~P.J. O'Rourke

            I have just completed reading my first book ever…in electronic format that is. I said I would never switch from the hard copies but things change. Even I can be dragged into the 21st century. Actually I had to be dragged back to the 17th and 18th century books as well.
For as long as I remember, I have been a reader. Some of my fondest memories are afternoons spent in the labyrinth that was the old Carnegie Library on 21st and Capitol Avenue. For you newcomers, it was torn down many years ago. The Catholic Pastoral Center stands there now. As a youngster, it was my second home.
            It troubles me to learn how few adults read books. I wonder how the United States can sustain a democracy when one in four adults has not read a book in the last year. Eighty percent of families didn’t even buy a book in the last year. In our own school district, reading proficiency was achieved last year by only 63% of high school students. According to the Wyoming Department of Education, nearly a quarter of all high school graduates who attended a Wyoming college needed remedial help in reading. That may explain why a third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
            It isn’t only those who don’t learn to read well in high school. One of my professors at seminary said, “I can always tell when a minister graduated from seminary by the books on his or her shelves!”
            For many years, I read little other than contemporary non-fiction. When my wife encouraged me to put a little fiction in the mix, I informed her, “You know don’t you they make that stuff up?” But a few years ago, my colleague Korin Schmidt gave me a Christmas gift of Ken Follett’s novel The Pillars of the Earth. Because it was a gift, I felt obliged to actually read it, all 973 pages. My reading habits changed. For my next birthday, Korin gave me Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and I was hooked, finding there were more truths in works of fiction than I had found in all of the non-fiction I previously read. Korin’s kindness is also the source of my new Nook!
            Italo Calvino begins his book Why Read the Classics? , saying, "The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying 'I'm re-reading... ' never 'I'm reading.” Well, the bucket list of books I pulled together were mostly classics I was reading for the first time, though I am sure I had once assured a high school English teacher I had done so.  As I read Don Quixote, Tale of Two Cities, Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness and others, I came to a couple of conclusions. One is that Thomas Helm was right when he said, “My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter.” Two, there is good reason for calling them classics.  Those old writers understood the power of myth and metaphor. They understood that we may question whether the history books we read are accurate or slanted but the truths told in the classics are inescapable.
            This is where I met Tolstoy again for the first time. Interestingly it was a meeting that opened new and exciting doors for this old preacher to get a better view of the meaning of the Gospels. Who’d have thought that a 19th century Russian would have been able to shine that light?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I will arise and go and a cabin build there, of clay and wattles made, nine bean-rows, a hive for the honey-bee, and I shall have some peace there. – William Yeats(1893).

The meadow and the cabin had a familiarity about it. I was certain I had been there before, perhaps when the cabin was first built. A lone soul now lived in the cabin but there were others who lived in the meadow. I visited the meadow often at first but there came time when I stayed away longer and longer.
            In the early days, I thought it odd the others never entered the cabin. They remained in the meadow. He watched them closely as though they had something to teach and he something to learn. He was occupied more with some than I believed he should be and not near enough with others. There was no one to teach him, to warn him.
            I returned after years of absence and noticed the change. Some of the others now lived in the cabin. I didn’t recognize many of those now on the inside as having been previously loitering in the meadow. The more I saw of the new faces inside the cabin, the less I saw of him. There were full days when he failed to appear at all. I began to wonder whether he lived there at all.
Time passed. There were several visits when those on the inside never appeared, never looked out a window or stepped outside. Occasionally I got a glimpse of them passing quickly by one window or another but none ever appeared even curious about what was going on outside of the cabin. However, the activity inside was palpable.
            At first the noises from the cabin were playful. Laughter mixed with music. There was a certain youthfulness about what was happening inside. Later the sounds took on a different tone. The music stopped, the laughter grew dark. The cabin became crowded and not all those on the inside enjoyed one another’s company. Surprisingly, no one departed.
            The outside of the cabin showed signs of considerable neglect. Years passed since the cabin had been painted and weather exacted its toll. Windows, broken or cracked during some of the struggles on the inside were never replaced. In the early years, a beautiful garden surrounded the property. Its beauty overshadowed the meadow. But it had been long untended. Virtually nothing but weeds now grew.
            The condition of the cabin had deteriorated. I could no longer enjoy my walk through that corner of the meadow. Many days I avoided it altogether. It concerned me greatly those on the inside had become so consumed with themselves they were not willing to simply look out the window or wander out a door to see what had become of their beautiful home. If they could do so, they would readily understand the impact their neglect had on the entire meadow and all of us who walked its paths. But they did not. I could not help but feel a profound sadness.
            One afternoon I was sitting quietly on a hill overlooking the meadow. I noticed the front door of the cabin open. Faces appeared at every window. I tried to account for all whom I knew to be inside. I could not find many. I did, however, see new faces. They appeared dismayed as their eyes scanned the dilapidated property. Others seemed amused or disinterested. Those faces did not remain long at the window, but others did, talking anxiously among themselves. It occurred to me that if the outside was in such bad shape, the inside could be even worse.
            A lone figure appeared at the door, taller than the others and about my age. His demeanor was serious. I recalled he had entered the cabin years ago when the condition of the cabin had begun to deteriorate and he seemed to care little. He was much larger now. His presence was commanding.
            He stood on the porch surveying the cabin and the garden. He noticed but did not acknowledge me. Within a short time he was hard at work. Sounds coming from the inside of the cabin evidenced a struggle among those living there but he paid them no heed. He busied himself with the chore of cleaning up. He worked methodically and intently, taking few breaks. He clearly knew what needed to be done and went about his task with single mindedness. Occasionally he glanced at me and at times would walk back inside the cabin but spent little time there before returning to his chores on the outside.
            I offered to help but when he rejected the offer, I left. I returned later as he was finishing. Several were now watching from the windows. Some looked appreciative, others apprehensive. Upon seeing me, one called out to him to come inside. Then another called. He looked at me as though seeking approval. I smiled and nodded. I felt odd he had seemed to seek my approval. I had been little more than a spectator, perhaps even a voyeur. Clearly, some of those inside the cabin would not be pleased with his reappearance even while others were inviting his return. All understood having cleaned up the outside of the cabin, he would now insist on the same inside. I was sure there was much to be done.
If he went back in, I decided I would accompany him. His request for approval was more. He was asking my help and the decision he had to make became a choice for me as well. He turned to walk back through the door, I followed. I knew it was now time to return.

Monday, February 21, 2011

HB74: Want some revenge? Study the Bible!

Like it or not, read it or not, accept this or not…the Bible just had an impact on your life. If we learn anything from Friday’s single-vote loss in the state senate on HB74, it is that the Bible was more influential than the Constitution. It’s kind of like Malcolm X explained black history. “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us!” In much the same way, we just got thumped by the Bible-thumpers.
Some in the GLBT community and their friends are calling for more political action, singling out legislators who supported the bill and looking to the next election for change. Others may choose cynicism and disengage from the public debate. I have heard a few advocate for educating the community about these issues.
One bold blogger suggested progressive, gay rights advocates move to Wyoming. “If about 40,000 of us progressives moved to Wyoming, we could turn that state, and the US Senate, on its head. Same with Alaska. WY has a population of about 550k, Alaska 680k. An influx of progressive voters could make those states spin 180 degrees.” However, the writer quickly added, “But I'm not willing to move to either outpost.” So much for that strategy!
I have an alternative idea. Study the Bible. Please give me a few more paragraphs before you hit delete. I know the Bible has been the weapon of choice for many of the proponents of gay discrimination laws. Rev. Benhard Kuiper, a former Colorado Springs Presbyterian pastor is famous on the internet for having preached, “It should be made clear that in order to live a Christian life, any Christian must be able to discriminate and hate, because that's what the bible says.”
That is not what the Bible says but throughout history, it has been used to justify the oppression of blacks, women, the poor and now homosexuals. People who take it literally may or may not have actually read it but they haven’t studied it. The same is true of those who use it to sanction discrimination. To those who actually study it, the Bible is no longer a weapon to support marginalization of others. It is a shield against discrimination. This book (actually it is an entire library) is far too authoritative in our culture for us to abandon its stories, its metaphors, its meaning and its authority to those who misquote it in self-serving ways.
The late Henri Nouwen, a Roman Catholic Priest and influential spiritual writer who was thought to have been gay) thought homosexuals have what he called, “a unique vocation in the Christian community.”  That vocation includes seeking to understand before asking to be understood. Carl Jung poignantly observed, “Nothing worse could happen to one than to be completely understood.”
Studying the Bible as the means to the end of understanding those who supported HB74 may be the best revenge we could exact. Any interest?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thursday the Senate amended HB74…but they didn’t change it one bit!

You don’t have to hang around the legislature very long to learn the ropes…or rather the tricks. One of the most useful is the amendment process. It is, of course, a parliamentary procedure allowing legislators to change a bill to clean up language and to improve the quality of a bill before it becomes law. However the amendment process can also be smoke and mirrors.
“Smoke and mirrors” is an expression first used to refer to an allusion to performances of stage conjurers who used actual smoke and mirrors to deceive the audience. The phrase more commonly refers to the obscuring or embellishing of the truth by political spin doctors. You may have noticed a lot of that going on these days.
Earlier in the week, the Senate Committee of the Whole debated HB74, the bill that would deny gays and lesbians rights accruing to their marriage even when performed in states where it is legal. The bill was nearly defeated that day, narrowly surviving legitimate concerns raised by a number of thoughtful senators. Those legislators pointed to a section of the bill that was especially onerous. It read:
“A party to a domestic civil union or marriage which would be void under subsection (a) of this section if contracted as a marriage in Wyoming, shall not be entitled to the legal obligations, responsibilities, protections or benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Wyoming to married persons and spouses, whether they derive from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil or criminal law.”

Some pointed out how radical this was and how it would have negative and unintended impacts on the rights of spouses to inherit, own property, speak confidentially with their spouse, be covered by insurance and more. Supporters of the bill implored their colleagues not to kill the bill on the spot but to give them an opportunity to “clean it up” before a final vote on third reading. The bill was placed on life support by a vote of 17-122.

And then the spin doctors went to work. Senators Meier and Perkins, two of the most outspoken proponents of the bill drafted an amendment. They offered to delete the above cited language and the senate agreed. The bill was therefore amended but it was not changed!

The senators who supported this bad legislation from the start are using “smoke and mirrors.” They hope their amendment will soften the harshness of the bill but it does not soften the impact. Even with their amendment, HB 74 will have disastrous impacts on the lives of families and children under certain circumstances.

Under the amended bill, marriages lawfully entered will still be invalid if the couple steps foot into Wyoming, nullifying numerous spousal protections currently contained in “statute, administrative rule, policy, common law and other sources of civil or criminal law.

Friday the senate has one last chance to do the right thing. The question is whether at least 15 senators will emerge from the smoke long enough to look into the mirror.

Who are those guys?” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I have been trying to figure out “who are those guys” (and gals)? What happened to the Wyoming legislature? Wyoming’s 2011 legislature has given us the biggest, most intrusive government in our state’s history.
  On the surface, it is a one-party affair. All but 14 of the 90 members call themselves “Republicans.” Below the surface of that label is a rather complicated and inherently contradictory set of beliefs.
These legislators claim to be “conservatives” and, in many cases, “libertarians.” Yet the way they vote and the things they say aloud leave me shaking my head, confused. It’s hard to find the core values you might expect from true conservative libertarians.  Conservatives have generally advocated a political philosophy that does not allow religious beliefs to get in the way of allowing all people the promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and one authoritative web site,, defines “libertarian” as:
  1. One who advocates liberty either generally or on a specific issue, e.g. "civil libertarian" (in favour (sic) of civil liberties).
  2. A believer in a political doctrine that emphasises (sic) individual liberty and a lack of governmental regulation and oversight both in matters of the economy ('free market') and in personal behavior where no one's rights are being violated or threatened.
A libertarian label doesn’t fit elected officials who impose their social views growing government big enough to deny individual liberties. Yet the label might stick to those who argue the federal government cannot require people to purchase health insurance. Even then I get confused knowing these same folks have enacted laws requiring, under penalty of incarceration, we all buy auto insurance.
They have passed a bill now to amend the state constitution to permit everyone to make their own decision about whether to have health insurance. I can see “personal freedom” in that choice, but no countervailing “personal responsibility.” The legislation allows those who don’t obtain health insurance to shift responsibility for paying for their health care to you and me either by higher taxes or cost shifting to our premiums. That doesn’t coincide with a “conservative” understanding of individual accountability.
Passing a law is one thing, but amending a constitution is another. Amending the constitution on a whim having more to do with contemporary politics than long term thinking is neither conservative nor libertarian. What we have here are “libertarians” who have delinked concepts of freedom from personal responsibility and “conservatives” who opportunistically grow government to impose their religious and moral views.
And that, Butch, is who those guys are!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Did the legislature (inadvertenly) guarantee a woman's right to choose?

Like gravity, Karma is so basic we often don't even notice it.  ~Sakyong Mipham
BULLETIN: Yesterday the House passed Senate Joint Resolution 2 by a vote of 49-11. The bill proposes an amendment to the Wyoming Constitution largely based on FOX News talking points about what they fondly call Obamacare. It is seldom a good idea to amend constitutions on a whim, especially a partisan whim. SJR 2 may prove to be a case in point.
Charles Edward Rice is a conservative American legal scholar and theologian. Rice is best known for his career at the Notre Dame Law School. He was instrumental in founding the Conservative Party of New York in the 1960s. Rice thought conservatives believed, When it is not necessary to amend the Constitution, it is necessary not to amend the Constitution.”
Constitutional language has a way of being interpreted over time in ways the initial drafters don’t imagine. Take Roe v. Wade, the controversial 1973 decision of the US Supreme Court recognizing a woman’s right to choose an abortion. The Court interpreted the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to protect, what the Justices called, “a right to privacy.” Right to Life advocates have argued unsuccessfully ever since that the Court made that up out of thin air. It is actually their role under the Constitution to interpret laws passed by the legislature.
That is what courts do in our system. When a citizen brings a case to the Court, it does its best to decide the case on the basis of language in the Constitution and a trail of the vapor from previous decisions, i.e. precedent. Some people call that “judicial activism.” Our system calls it their job.
That brings me full circle back to SJR2. In its zeal to insult the efforts of the President to reform healthcare, the legislature has enacted language that may well become the hallmark for judicial decisions upholding the right of a woman to choose an abortion. Consider this language included in the bill they passed yesterday.
“Article 1, Section 38. Right of health care access.

(a)  Each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions.”

I don’t know about you, but I think even a first year law student could make the case that a new provision to the state constitution expressly protecting “the right” of each competent adult” to “make his or her own health care decisions” is a lot stronger case for choice than the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Could it be that Karma just collided with dogma?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why I will be on the steps of the State Capitol Wednesday

No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session. - Mark Twain
                People have asked why so much of my blog has been devoted to the same sex marriage debate. Others have asked how a Christian minister can join a public protest against these proposed laws. I do so because I am passionate about this matter. And I am passionate about it because I love my brother Robert.
When I told my brother I had decided to attend seminary, his reaction was troubling. Bob had always been supportive. I was taken back when he seemed so aloof about this announcement. Days later I phoned to talk of it but he was clearly uneasy about the conversation. When he reacted similarly a third time, I asked directly what the cool reception was about.
            Bob was concerned my new commitment to Christianity would adversely affect our relationship. You see, my brother was, among so many other things, a gay man. I say “was” because he died in 2006, leaving behind a partner to a loving relationship of 20 years. How many hetero marriages last that long?  
Though unjust laws prevented them from marrying, Bob and Lee had a most committed, loving partnership. Bob worried my “coming out” as a Christian would require me to choose between him and the church. It is true I had to make a choice between the Old Testament and loving my gay brother…but then I made that choice long ago when I decided to follow Jesus.
A significant amount of my three years in seminary was used to explore parts of the Bible used by some to bolster prejudices against gays and lesbians. No doubt there are verses they can cite but then the Bible has verses about anyone can cite to justify about any number of social biases. Many are in the Old Testament alongside admonitions against eating certain animals, wearing certain clothes, borrowing on interest, shaving your entire beard, cross-breeding cattle of different species or sowing different kinds of seed in one field and women wearing men's clothing. Actually there are 613 such laws altogether and it is true, among them is a law against same sex relationships.
It isn’t that we don’t uniformly enforce all 613 religious commandments that renders the anti-gay section problematic. If you’re an Old Testament Christian, you might even justify believing in those laws. But Jesus said not one word about homosexuality, or heterosexuality for that matter. He did however talk of loving one another. Jesus was once asked which was the greatest commandment. He didn’t simply say “love God and your neighbor.” He added, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two.” That means the validity of all 613 laws must stand the test of love and if any fail that test, the law cannot stand.

You just can’t love your neighbor, but take away their birthright to love and live together in a marriage with all the legal rights enjoyed by your straight neighbors. In fact, the very act of using one’s public office to denigrate the lifestyle of another is a failure to follow the Great Commandment.

So tomorrow I will join the public protest because I love my brother, his partner and the others whose God given rights are threatened by some members of the legislature.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Raise your voice against HB74 - Wednesday 1PM at the Capitol Building

State issued marriage licenses will soon become little more than licenses for discrimination. If HB 74 passes the legislature and is allowed by Governor Mead to become law, Wyoming will begin issuing licenses limiting important Constitutional and God given rights to a select group of people chosen by the state to enjoy certain protections of the law while denying the same to others. A marriage license will be far more than a symbol of discrimination. It will become a tool by which discrimination is officially sanctioned.
And so…my wife of 33 years and I are going to burn our marriage license on the front step of theWyoming Capitol Building Wednesday February 16th at 1 PM…and we invite fair minded fb friends to join us!
Just as many states once used a tax receipts and a certification of literacy to deny people of color the right to vote, so now Wyoming plans to use a piece of state-issued paper to strip gays and lesbians of - to quote from HB74 - the legal obligations, responsibilities, protections or benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Wyoming to married (i.e. heterosexual) persons and spouses, whether they derive from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil or criminal law.”

A lot of young people have already decided that piece of paper doesn’t mean much. Increasing numbers of them are sharing their lives, raising children and living together without having applied for a marriage license. However, that piece of paper does embody important legal protections for children and families including property rights and other legal rights, medical care, child custody and more.

Unlike draft cards which were afforded statutory protection from symbolic acts of otherwise free speech, there is no law against burning your marriage license. Joining this protest won’t get you arrested, nor will it mean you are no longer married. But it will be an important act of solidarity and protest. All of us should be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have been singled out for the wrath of some legislators. This will also be a distinctive way to say tell legislators and the Governor how much we disdain using our rights to distance us from others.

Who will join us? Wednesday February 16th at 1 PM!

Religion? All or none...

Near the end, Woody Guthrie checked himself into a hospital, suffering from the Huntington Disease that would soon take his life. The admissions nurse asked his religious affiliation as she filled out the forms. He replied, “All.” She said that would not do. He had to make a choice. Guthrie said, “It’s either all or none!”
For a growing number of Americans, the contemporary choice is “none.”  The Barna Group, a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture, reports 28% of the adult population has not attended any church activities in the past six months. When their children are added to the picture, the data translates into 100 million empty seats in the pews. 
I know a lot of folks who fall into this category. They are good people who feel strongly about family and community values. They devote time and money to good causes and charitable endeavors. They are spiritual folks and it’s hard to imagine a heaven without them being there. But they don’t attend church.
If churches want to understand why, they will need to look into a mirror rather than through a window. One church historian and theologian, Diana Butler Bass, wrote a book after one of her close friends said to her, “I don’t understand how you can still be a Christian.” Church-going Christians might ask themselves the same question. Rather than wringing our hands about why “they” don’t attend our churches, we might reflect on why we still do.
Dr. Butler not only reflected. She wrote a book about it. A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story. Butler’s conclusion is that contemporary churches have failed to provide people with a “meaningful narrative” of their faith. Too many churches have failed to connect what it was about the 1st century church that started the movement with our modern lives. The story of Christianity and how it changed the world is far more complex and interesting than one might hear from too many pulpits. What is now largely a doctrinal system was once a way of life.
The church I pastor, Highlands Presbyterian, is exploring these issues, reflecting theologically. Whether you would answer like Woody Guthrie or those 100 million un-churched Americans, you are welcome to join us for a three week study of Diana Bass’ book.

We will gather informally on Tuesday evenings at 6-8 PM at Highlands (2390 Pattison Avenue, Cheyenne) starting March 1st concluding March 15th. Pick up her book. Even if you can’t join us for the book study, it is a read well worth your time.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Born this way!"

I have a confession. I did disclose it in my Facebook profile but some may be surprised to learn….I’m a big fan of Lady Gaga. I resisted for a long time but I guess I was just “born that way.”
There is indeed something in my DNA finding rebels appealing. I became especially enamored with Tolstoy’s views of the Gospels upon learning he had been excommunicated because of them. It’s why I read Daniel Berrigan and Marcus Borg and am intrigued by Che’ Guevara. For years I displayed a Sandinista flag in my office even after my mother expressed concern that might not be legal! It is also why I am drawn so closely to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
I write about Lady Gaga now because she is timely. She has just released a remarkable new song entitled “Born this way.” The sound is exciting but it is the lyrics that are especially compelling.
My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

"There's nothin' wrong with lovin' who you are"
She said, "'Cause He made you perfect, babe"
"So hold your head up, girl and you you'll go far,
Listen to me when I say"

I'm beautiful in my way,
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way.
Lady Gaga is a product of the Catholic education system As a child she attended Covenant of the Sacred Heart, a private all girls’ school, something both she and they may not like to acknowledge…background contributing to the genuineness of the words of the song.

Give yourself prudence and love your friends
Subway kid, rejoice your truth
In the religion of the insecure
I must be myself, respect my youth

I'm beautiful in my way,
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way
“In the religion of the insecure.” The very idea that God makes no mistakes seems to create “the religion of the insecure." Thoughtful stuff to chew on these days, huh? We old fogies need to consider how much a sermon her song is to young people who are not sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. 
Here’s a link to the song: or if that doesn’t work, Google “Born This wa

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's time for a public demonstration against HB74...will you join?

As we watched Egyptians successfully use social media like Facebook to mount nation-changing demonstrations, it occurred to me to experiment with that in Wyoming. And so, my wife and I are going to burn our marriage license on the front step of the Wyoming Capitol Building and we invite fair minded fb friends to join us!
State issued marriage licenses will soon become little more than licenses for discrimination. If HB 74 passes the legislature and is allowed by Governor Mead to become law, Wyoming will begin issuing licenses limiting important Constitutional and God given rights to a select group of people chosen by the state to enjoy certain protections of the law while denying the same to others. A marriage license will be far more than a symbol of discrimination. It will become a tool by which discrimination is officially sanctioned.
Just as many states once used a tax receipt and a certification of literacy to deny people of color the right to vote, so now Wyoming plans to use a piece of state-issued paper to strip same sex persons of - to quote from HB74 - the legal obligations, responsibilities, protections or benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Wyoming to married (i.e. heterosexual) persons and spouses, whether they derive from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil or criminal law.
A lot of young people have already decided that piece of paper doesn’t mean much. Increasing numbers of them are sharing their lives, raising children and living together without having applied for a marriage license. However, that piece of paper does embody important legal protections for children and families including property rights and other legal rights, medical care, child custody and more.
Unlike draft cards which were afforded statutory protection from symbolic acts of otherwise free speech, there is no law against burning your marriage license. Joining this protest won’t get you arrested, nor will it mean you are no longer married. But it will be an important act of solidarity and protest. All of us should be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have been singled out for the wrath of some legislators. This will also be a distinctive way to say tell legislators and the Governor how much we disdain using our rights to distance us from others.
Who will join us?

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Irish could teach us a thing or two

Listening to the Legislature’s debate on social issues, I am reminded of my Irish heritage. Long ago, when the English attempted to “convert” Irish Catholics, they first sent in the priests. But the priests didn’t speak the language of the Irish. Though the Irish spoke Gaelic, they nonetheless loved God. They simply couldn’t understand the words spoken by the Protestants. The priests were not able to make their case.
When preaching and proselytizing failed, the English resorted to politics. The politicians sought favor by promoting the passage of laws imposing the religious views of those they perceived as the majority on all of the people.
Under penalty of law, the Irish were given a choice to either accept the views of the religious majority or face the consequences. Laws were enacted making it unlawful to do otherwise. If you withstood, your rights were taken, your views derided, your life devalued. You’d either believe what the religionists believed or lose your legal rights to own property, hold public office or to have the relationships sustained by your views of God.
And, when that didn’t work, the English sent Cromwell and his armies.
Wyoming is witnessing a 21st century effort of some to impose their beliefs on others. Their “priests” have failed to persuade us of the substance of their argument. We haven’t agreed that government should make decisions belonging in the confidences we have with God. They have construed scripture to inflict a narrow view of God on the rest of us. But those who would use scripture to divide God’s people have failed to speak the same language as their parishioners. Tolstoy said these people have elevated the myths of the Old Testament and Paul’s letters to the same sacred level as the words and teachings of Jesus in order to support their prejudices. Even so, they have not succeeded in making a theological case for treating some of God’s children differently than others.
And so they too have resorted to the politicians. When the “priests” failed, they hired lobbyists and formed political action committees. Like the old English, they want the politicians to enact laws imposing religious doctrine found unpersuasive when delivered from the pulpit.
Politics being what it is, they may succeed temporarily. Theology being what it is their successes will be short-lived. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed the arc of history is bent inevitably toward justice. That seems to be true…not because of politics, but because the love of God inevitably determines history.
Rev. Rodger McDaniel is the pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church at 2390 Pattison Avenue in Cheyenne.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

“The poor will always be with you” and the legislature will make certain of that!

It’s true. Jesus did say, “You will always have the poor with you.” And the legislature wants to make darned sure this happens…but they have missed his point! 
Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center reports the latest effort of the legislature to assure the poor will not only always be with us but that they will continue to be poorer. This week the House rejected a bill to provide meager unemployment benefits. The reality of seven straight quarters of decline in new business formation and the loss of 15,200 Wyoming jobs wasn’t persuasive. Somebody’s elected representatives still turned down 38 million dollars in federal unemployment funds in favor of stereotyping those who are without work.
That is 38 million dollars that will remain in Washington for who knows what instead of circulating in Wyoming through the wallets of landlords, grocers, clothiers, service providers and others who could have used those dollars to create jobs here.
This follows the defeat of another bill that would have limited the ability of payday loan sharks from exploiting the poor. It seems clear someone has a stake in making certain the poor will always be with us.
Fifteen years ago, President Clinton and Congress “reformed” the welfare laws. Wyoming took full advantage tossing more than 90% of the old AFDC population off the “welfare” rolls and into the deep end of the employment seeking pool. People often ask what happened to those people. Most of them who were able went to work. Welfare reform created a forced labor supply for employers who paid substandard wages with no benefits such as health insurance. 
As Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Evansville) said on the floor, “I think the compassionate thing to do is make it difficult for people who don’t have a job so they go out there and hustle to find one.”  That attitude assures wages remain low and also requires the taxpayers to pick up the tab.
This assured labor supply makes it possible to pay even lower wages. Low income workers continue to be eligible for other public benefits such as food stamps, child care and Medicaid. Taxpayers are required to subsidize employers who get off with “compassionately” paying low wages. You see, the reason poverty continues to exist is that someone always has a stake in its perpetuation…and it’s not the poor.
Can you now understand a little better why a majority of someone’s elected representatives would reject federal funds to help unemployed workers survive this recession? It also explains why the legislature is so reluctant to put limits on how much usury they will tolerate from those who loan money to workers whose paychecks won’t quite stretch to the end of a month. But it doesn’t explain the handwringing about the Medicaid budget. If the legislature acts with one hand to make certain the poor are always with us and uses the other hand to point a finger at Medicaid’s budget as a culprit, what we have is a failure of one hand to communicate honestly with the other.
Oh by the way, when Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you,” it was not an invitation to exploit them, but a judgment against those who do. The Bible Jesus read included a promise from God.  There should be no poor among you… if only you fully obey the LORD your God. If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.”  (Deuteronomy 15:4-11)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others!” George Orwell

Should Wyoming continue calling itself “the Equality State”? Is it time for a new motto?

The gloss is off the image. In a recent study completed before the current legislative session, Wyoming was ranked the least tolerant state in the Union. The ranking was earned not only on our attitude toward gays but also on religious tolerance, the number of job discrimination cases filed and hate crimes committed.

As this crop of legislators continues to vote and speak, the score drops even further. Legislators, including House Speaker Ed Buchanan, have argued the same sex bills are not about discrimination but only an attempt to “clarify” traditional marriage. Yet, is hard to escape the conclusion that the body of their work is anything but discriminatory.

Exhibit One is Rep. Frank Peasely. During the debate on HB74, a bill nullifying same sex marriages legally recognized by other state, he offered an olive branch.   “I think all this is, is an outpost in culture that says, 'Listen, I feel like you're destroying everything else that I have…just let me define the relationship I'm in, OK?” He concluded, “You want to have civil unions? You want to have multiparty contracts with complex marriage relationships? Fine,” he said. “Everything you need to do, do it.” And then a few days later, Rep. Peasley cast the tie breaking vote killing a bill to do just that.

Exhibit Two is Rep. Cathy Connolly’s bill to add gays and lesbians to the list of those protected from discrimination by Wyoming law. HB 142 gave her colleagues a chance to say as they often do, “We may hate the sin but not the sinner.” The bill sought to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. For example, if the bill was enacted gays could not be prevented from serving on a jury, using public facilities, denied the necessities of life, employment with the state of Wyoming, or access to quality child care, membership on the veteran’s commission, admission to a charter school, enrollment in kindergarten and attendance in public schools, or equal wages for public employment and protected from other unfair employment practice. In short, Rep. Connolly’s bill would have given gays and lesbians the legal protections the rest of us enjoy regardless of the color of our skin, our gender or religious preferences.

The “Equality State” legislators voted the bill down. It is hard to imagine explanations other than discrimination. I suppose we could cling to the “Equality State” motto in a sort of Orwellian way. In his book Animal Farm, the farm animals started out believing “all animals are equal.” Later their leaders quietly evolved to a new slogan. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Exhibit Three was the debate over “Equality Day.” For years, Wyoming legislators resisted setting aside a day to honor Martin Luther King. When we were the last holdout, they finally agreed. But the day could not simply be “Martin Luther King Day.” It had to be known as “Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyoming Equality Day.” And am I the only one who notices that while the legislature schedules a recess so they can celebrate “Presidents’ Day” they have never afforded such status to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyoming Equality Day.

A little honesty is always good for the soul. There is no longer a basis (other than in an Orwellian sort of way) for continuing to call Wyoming the Equality State.  It is time to consider changing the state’s motto. Any nominations?