Saturday, June 30, 2012

There is nothing more romantic than a June wedding, right?

Wedding bells are considered by most to be sounds of joy. But the bells ringing at one recent wedding may have sounded more like the cawing of a sick CROW to some Wyoming conservatives. The daughter of Wyoming Republican icon Dick Cheney was married. There is nothing more romantic than a June wedding, right? Not so fast for some. This wedding feted two brides.

These wedding bells hit sour notes for some of the former vice-president’s ardent supporters. Bells were ringing not only for Cheney’s daughter Mary, but also for her partner Heather. For 20 years, the lesbian couple has treasured the kind of committed, loving relationship most of us want for our children.

The Cheney’s come to Wyoming often. They spend time in their Jackson home, hunt and fish, give speeches, raise money for the Grand Old Party and enjoy time with their many friends. But…they could not come home to marry off their daughter. In fact, if many of Dick Cheney’s fellow Republicans had gotten their way during the last legislature, his daughter’s marriage license would have been rendered null and void in his beloved home state.

So now, what’s a CROW to do? The Conservative Republicans of Wyoming (“CROW” for short but hopefully not for long) have found GOPer candidates to run in this year’s primary. Their purpose is to elect people who agree to attack the sort of marriage the Cheney family recently celebrated.

CROW and their conservative allies call marriage equality an abomination. The Cheney family call it a blessing. Mary Cheney and Heather Poe have been in a committed relationship for two decades. They have two children together. Their relationship has all the earmarks of a traditional marriage; love, devotion, loyalty, commitment, family support and the desire to raise healthy, loving children together. But until the District of Columbia joined other states in permitting two people of one gender to obtain a marriage license, they couldn’t marry.

In 2004, George W. Bush used the same-sex marriage issue to divide the country just enough to get himself re-elected. His vice-president went along, caught between a rock and a hard place, between the politics of family values and the reality of his own family. He did what politicians do. He arrived at a nuanced position. Cheney said it should be left up to the states.

Cheney has changed that position. He believes everyone should be entitled to marry the person they love, just as has his daughter. But, it’s still state legislators who decide whether to give that much value to families they don’t understand.

Our children can humble us. We do the best we can to raise them with our values, to instill in their minds what we have come to cherish in our own. Yet, life happens. I do not believe homosexuality is a choice. It never made sense to me that anyone would “choose” to live in a way that brings them such humiliation, discrimination and judgment. “Choices” like that are counterintuitive to our natural instinct to pursue happiness. Our sexual attraction is God’s choice, not ours.

Whether you believe it’s a choice doesn’t matter when it’s your son or daughter who falls in love. When it happens, it’s now you who must choose. Dick Cheney chose to value his family over the wishes of the “family values” crowd. For my money, that’s the Biblical choice.

Now, Wyoming conservatives have a choice. The man you’ve held high as the standard for conservative thought, is telling you it’s time to take another look at this issue. Will the CROWS and other Wyoming conservatives continue to hold the right to marry hostage to their personal religious beliefs? Or will they finally decide it is none of their business who Mary Cheney and others fall into love with?

Here’s a toast to the happy brides. “Happy marriages begin when we marry the one we love, and they blossom when we love the one we married.” Best wishes to Mary and Heather.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

We are all guessing.

Last month my wife and I saw the Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman,” a rude reminder of what awaits those who are driven by delusion. I received another such reminder upon returning from New York and finding an email from an old friend.

Her child was diagnosed with an especially virulent disease. The prognosis is troubling.  Our relationship is close. I know she felt odd asking me for spiritual advice. But she wanted to know. Does God test us? If so, why? How do we know whether we pass the test? Why do we pray?

A professor at the seminary I attended warned, “Be careful of what you tell people. Some of them might just believe you!” My friend, like most of us, has been told over our lifetime that God does test us, gives us burdens God knows we can bear. Is that true? She wanted to know as she watches her daughter struggle.  Is this a time for guessing?

Starting with the question about whether God even exists, we are all guessing. We point to the creation as evidence of the Creator. That’s what lawyers call circumstantial evidence. It’s true, you can win a case with circumstantial evidence but you are still asking the jury to make its best guess.

Circumstantial evidence differs from “direct” evidence. It creates an inference from which a fact may be deduced. Circumstantial evidence isn’t first-hand eyewitness accounts. It consists of things like fingerprints at the crime scene, or the presence of the accused in the vicinity.
Direct evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, is generally considered more powerful, but successful lawyers often rely on circumstantial evidence. When circumstantial evidence is cumulative, the weakness of such evidence is strengthened.
It’s persuasive to suggest the beauty of the mountains, the sky, lakes, and oceans demonstrate the existence of God. There’s no reasonable doubt when you consider the complexities of our DNA, genetics and anatomy. Just look at the chemical and organic properties of life and the way in which it has all evolved over millions of years. It’s easy to see the hand of God in all of that. Easy, but still circumstantial.

Circumstantial evidence leaves the jury wondering. Yeah, they are persuaded but they wish they had some direct evidence. They’re asked to make life and death decisions. Didn’t anyone actually see something, someone, hear a voice?

Is there an eyewitness to the existence of God? No. There are reports in the Bible of those who have seen God. Moses, Abraham, the prophets. Those reports don’t differ much from compelling claims of those who saw Babe the Ox and Paul Bunyan. Someone saw George Washington toss a silver dollar across the Potomac; another saw Abe Lincoln study by candlelight. Those stories gave us a reason to be patriotic Americans. The Bible stories give us reasons to be faithful. But all they give us is circumstantial reasons.

When someone about whom you care is suffering and asks for the evidence, can you simply guess? As a pastor, I find the answer in proclaiming the mystery of God. If God wanted the answers to be so easy they’d grace a bumper sticker, God could have created that world. God chose to create a world infinitely more complex, one filled with ambiguities rather than answers.

So I offer prayers to God for her and her daughter and the rest of us, trusting that the God I trust, the God of grace and love will be there for all of us in God’s own mysterious ways.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Are budget cuts alone Wyoming's only answer?

Reading the proposed budget cuts remind me of the recent Cheyenne Little Theater production of Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman says to Humphrey Bogart, “”I can’t fight it anymore. I don’t know what’s right anymore. You’ll have to think for both of us, Richard. For all of us.” Amidst all the talk about budget cuts, the people of Wyoming need to do some of their own thinking before they find that those elected to do it for them have not.

Clearly revenue projections are concerning. So is the impact of the loss of 130 state jobs and millions of dollars used to contract with the private sector for vital services.  Budgets were cut by 10% near the end of Governor Freudenthal’s term. Governor Mead asked agencies to slice another 8%. As cuts are considered, people need to think seriously about the impact in their own lives.

To begin, public safety is at risk. As a result of earlier cuts, the Department of Corrections eliminated treatment programs for sex offenders. State Senator Tony Ross, the next senate president, acknowledged the problem. "But certainly the hardest population to treat or rehabilitate is the sex offender population, so cuts in those areas may be quite harmful," he told the media.

Those cuts were harmful. Now the Department faces a greater challenge to its responsibility to maintain public safety. If Governor Mead follows through with these cuts, the Department will have to sacrifice a significant number of officers. DOC warned, the potential cuts could jeopardize “the safety and security of (its prisons), the inmates and the community.”

Other agencies also warned cuts will dramatically impact their ability to fulfill their obligations. Reductions will mean fewer public defenders to represent those accused of crimes. That may not bother you…unless you are the accused and can’t afford a lawyer. There’ll be fewer law enforcement officers and fewer resources for the District Attorneys to investigate and prosecute crime.

Notably the Governor and legislators focus is exclusively on cutting budgets. There are no fewer than three other options. First, raise additional revenue.  Second, if the legislature is going to make the easy decisions to simply cut budgets and eliminate positions, how about wrestling with which agency responsibilities should also be eliminated? Third, admit it’s “raining” and tap that so-called “rainy day” account they’ve set aside for some ambiguous reason.

There are revenue-raising ideas to be put into the mix. Wyoming has the lowest alcohol tax in the nation. The tax on beer hasn’t been raised since 1936. Surely the nexus between alcohol abuse and crime is enough to consider booze as a source of revenue for criminal defense and prosecution as well as probation supervision. Likewise, even though the legislature is aware tobacco is one of the main reasons the Medicaid budget is skyrocketing, Wyoming’s tobacco tax is among the lowest in the nation. The national average cigarette tax is $1.45 per pack. Wyoming's is 60 cents. Only tobacco growing states tax tobacco lower. Raising this tax could cover most of the shortfall. Also, in past years, severance taxes were reduced to accommodate market problems that no longer exist. How about revisiting those cuts?

Second, there’s the question of legislative responsibility. Every agency duty is the result of their decisions. The legislature mindlessly inserts unfunded mandates in the law, among them the requirements for agencies to expend hundreds of hours preparing useless reports that are never read. It’s easy to simply cut dollars. But what about all the responsibilities the legislature heaps on state employees? Are legislators willing to reduce the workload? Likely not. That would be far too risky.

Finally, what of the millions Wyoming has set aside for a rainy day? If the state cannot afford to hire probation officers, it’s raining hard enough to use some of that savings. “The rain in Spain,” they say, “falls mainly on the plain.” The rain in Wyoming, it seems, falls mainly on the heads of people who need services. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

For the times they are a-changin'

“This Is America. If you don't conform, you suck.” The fellow writing those words on a website asking whether English should be the official language of the United States never won the Medal of Freedom. But the one who wrote these words did.

Come gather 'round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown and accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you is worth savin' then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone. For the times they are a-changin’.”

Bob Dylan knows a Ponzi scheme when he sees one. He’s been warning us about the one many Americans have long, too-long and too much invested.

You think of “Ponzi schemes” as financial investments, swindles in which early investors are paid off with money put up by later ones to encourage more and bigger risks. But, “keep your eyes wide. The chance won't come again and don't speak too soon. For the wheel's still in spin and there's no tellin' who that it's naming.” For the loser now will be later to win. For the times they are a-changin’.”

The greatest Ponzi scheme of the day is cultural.

Like the person posting the comment above, there are those who are heavily invested in a future that neither Wyoming nor the United States will ever see. Their investment in the past is being paid off today with the fears generated by the scammers. They take bigger and bigger risks by adopting decidedly un-American beliefs in an effort to realize the investment they thought they were making in America.

If you’re investing in that Ponzi scheme, you might want to consider getting out while you can. It’s on the verge of collapsing. Come mothers and fathers throughout the land. And don't criticize what you can't understand.”

That investment some made in defining marriage by their own terms is about to crash. You can’t bail it out now even if you supported a bailout. The courts interpret the Constitution, not your Bibles, in favor of same-sex marriage. Last month’s federal Court of Appeals decision is the future. “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly agin'. Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand. For the times they are a-changin'.”

As for those who still think the world, or at least their part of it should speak English alone, that investment is fast going south. Those you see as “minorities” i.e. those of any race other than white, constitute a third of the U.S. population today.  By 2050, 54 percent of the population will be minorities, or should we say the majority. If you like “white privilege” you’d better enjoy it while you can. As the present now will later be past. The order is rapidly fadin' and the first one now will later be last. For the times they are a-changin'.”

Knowing how hard change is for many people, there are some changes on the way for which you should start preparing yourself. Lament it if you will but the future in which you’ve invested your prejudices is underwater. And it’s not why you think. It’s not illegal immigration which has, despite the talking points, stopped for the most part.

It’s the belief in America and its future giving non-whites faith enough to have children. The growth of Latino-Americans is, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the result of a younger population and higher fertility rates. Asian populations are increasing for the same optimism. Four states -- Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas, plus the District of Columbia -- already have majority-minority populations.

Your investment in a white, English-speaking America that could have its personal moral structure defined narrowly in accord with your beliefs was always doomed. The arc of history, as Martin Luther King said, is bent inevitably toward freedom. And freedom, as it should be, is America’s future.

Friday, June 15, 2012

It really isn't about the Bible...

It is about hate. From Mother Jones...

North Carolina's GOP Wants to Protect You From Discrimination–Except if You're Gay

| Wed Jun. 13, 2012 3:02 AM PDT
north carolina flagNo rainbow flags for this state's GOP. 
During the first weekend of June, Republicans, including guest speakers Donald Trump, Rick Perry, and former Minnesota governor Tim "T-Paw" Pawlenty, gathered at the North Carolina GOP State Convention in Greensboro.  Energized by last month's passage of Amendment One, which banned recognition of any domestic legal union except heterosexual marriage, the state's GOP presented a platform with a plank that effectively condones discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Section 3 of Article III (titled "Individual Liberty") reads: "Government should treat all citizens impartially, without regard to wealth, race, ethnicity, disability, religion, sex, political affiliation or national origin. We oppose all forms of invidious discrimination. Sexual orientation is not an appropriate category."
"This [plank] is something that has been ongoing," Buck Golding, a member of the 2012 Platform Committee, explained in a phone interview. Referring to Amendment One (whichpassed with 61 percent of the vote) he added, "We had a poll here. Marriage in my state is thought of as between a man and a woman and I concur with that."

North Carolina LGBT rights groups called the platform an inaccurate representation of Republican interests, pointing out the broad bi-partisan opposition to anti-gay legislation. Equality NC, an active opponent of Amendment One, released a statementshortly after the convention denouncing the state's GOP members for "seek[ing] to put our state on the wrong side of history."
"The state Republican Party platform targeting LGBT North Carolinians stands in stark contrast to the recent tidal wave of Republican opposition to the anti-LGBT Amendment One," said Dan Gurley, Equality NC's Board Chairman, who was formerly a RNC Field Director and the Executive Director of the North Carolina Republican Party. "North Carolina Republicans deserve better than an agenda that would ceaselessly expand government encroachment in the lives of LGBT North Carolinians as well as singling out gay and lesbian citizens for exclusion from basic provisions."
And while the gay marriage ban dominates the current conversation, alarm bells are going off for those who noticed that the language of the plank goes further than denying same-sex couples the right to get hitched. As the New Civil Rights Movement, an online journal of LGBT issues, pointedly blogged:
Sexual orientation is not an appropriate category…of school kids to protect from bullying?
Sexual orientation is not an appropriate category….of workers to protect from being fired?
Sexual orientation is not an appropriate category…of travelers to guarantee a night's lodging?
Sexual orientation is not an appropriate category…of college kids to keep from being hung on a fence post?