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October 2005

September 2005

Holocaust Remembrance Exhibition

This has been quite a week. The Oklahoma Holocaust Remembrance Exhibition opened. There have been receptions, lectures, film screenings, and more, with more events planned over the course of the exhibition.

The exhibit itself is at Untitled [Artspace] on 3rd, just east of Gaylord. The exhibition contains two travelling exhibits. One if from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and is entitled "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals." The other is entitled "Rescurers" and is about those who helped Jews and other victims hide and escape the Nazis. Having the two side-by-side is something. The one exhibit fills you with a sense of anxiety and dread. The other, while making you cry, fills you with a sense of hope and courage. Besides the exhibit, there have been two films showing at the Museum of Art this weekend and there will be other films showing in other places during this event. Various universities, churches, and civic groups are sponsoring lectures and panel discussions and other events, so check out the website.

The event is put on by the Cimmaron Alliance Foundation in conjunction with many Jewish organizations, local corporations, civic groups, churches, and individuals. The event is the largest event in the history of the State of Oklahoma that is organized and sponsored by the GLBT community.

What is most shocking when looking at the exhibit or watching one of the films ("Paragraph 175" is amazing) is how much the anti-gay rhetoric in the early days of the Nazis' rise to power sounds like the anti-gay rhetoric of today. I'm not equating today's bigots with Nazis, just their views and rhetoric sound so similar. We have to remember that Berlin in the 1920's was one of the most gay-friendly places in world history, with even legal efforts underway seeking gay equality. By the mid-30's that gay urban life was destroyed and many were sent to prison or concentration camps.

It has taken so long for this side of Nazi history to come out because the discrimination continued after the war. The Nazi law against homosexuals remained on the books in East Germany until 1968 and West Germany until 1969. Only in the '80's did the victims begin to tell their stories, and some won't even now. By 2000 less than 10 men were still living who had been imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for being a homosexual. They have been denied the reparations that other victims of the Nazis received.

So, make sure you visit this exhibition. Read the stories of moral courage of the Rescuers. Powerful, powerful stuff here. And if you want to see the film "Paragraph 175," I bought it and would loan it out to close friends who I know will return it :).

Not Yea

Looks like the Roman Catholic Church is about to begin a witchhunt against gay seminarians and priests. This NYTimes article says that estimates of the number of gay priests vary from 10% up to 60%. Back in grad school I had a colleague who was gay who was going into the priesthood. When I asked him about it he said that the church didn't have a problem with homosexual priests because the vow of celibacy was the same whether you were gay or straight. I've since known other homosexual priests. I guess that we are now beginning to see some of the effects of the election of Benedict XVI.

The Mind of Christ

The Mind of Christ
Philippians 2:1-13
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
11 September 2005

Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine, recently wrote a book entitled God’s Politics: How the Right is Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. In this book, Wallis tells a story from 1980’s South Africa at the height of apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu had just begun a new phase of his campaign against the apartheid government. Wallis was attending services that week at the cathedral where Desmond Tutu was preaching. During the service, soldiers and the security police entered the cathedral; these armed men surrounded the congregation. Wallis writes that people were very afraid. It was possible that they would all be killed right then. Wallis says that Tutu then did something marvelous. If you’ve ever seen him in person or on tv, you’ll be able to picture the look. He smiled that gentle, kind smile he has. But his eyes had that strength they do. Tutu spoke out to the soldiers, “You have already lost! Today I invite you to join the winning side!” Wallis says that Tutu’s words electrified the room. The congregation rose and began to dance. They danced outside and past the soldiers and down the street.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “Nonviolence is Christianity in action.”

Today is the fourth anniversary of that horrible day when terrorists attacked the United States. In order to commemorate that day, I have played with the lectionary and moved this passage to today; it is really the epistle lesson two weeks from today. This is also my favourite passage of scripture. So many theological themes are suggested by it, that I could preach a whole series of sermons from this passage.

Today, though, I want to point out the key theme of this passage. It is that Christian unity is found in possessing the mind of Christ precisely at the point where Jesus demonstrates the virtue of humility. Jesus gives up his position of equality with God in order to sacrifice himself on behalf of others.

Humility has long been mis-characterized in Christian thinking. The way humility is usually described it actually ends up being a vice and not a virtue. Normally we are told that to be humble is to think less of oneself than one is worth. However, that is actually the vice of pusillanimity – a great English word that is rarely used. Its opposite is the vice of vanity – to think more of oneself than one is worth, though we more often connect it with physical appearance and not inner attitude. Vanity is closely associated with the Greek vice of hubris that attitude of exalting oneself and ones position above others to the detriment of the community. Hubris is best illustrated in Homer’s Iliad by the character of Achilles. Achilles is insulted by Agamemnon and reacts angrily, arrogantly, and petulantly. He believes his own position and worth to be greater than it actually is. His attitude results in devastating consequences for the community of Greek soldiers and eventually results in the death of Achilles’ own lover Patroclus.

Humility is actually having a proper sense of self – not thinking one is worth less or worth more than one is. It is having a proper understanding of one’s place in relationship to others. Or, as Roman Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson defines Paul’s concept of humility, it is “placing oneself appropriately within the life of the community.”

So there is a form of pride that is a virtue and not a vice. If being humble is having a proper sense of oneself, then that means believing that you have worth and value. That you are a beloved child of God. To take pride in that truth, to take pride in our authentic self, is not a vice. It is not thinking too much of ourselves, because it is thinking accurately about ourselves and our role in the community.

Humility is connected to our sense of empathy and compassion for those who are suffering. When we see what is happening in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast and in refugee centers around the country, we realize that it could just as easily be us, that those folk who are suffering are just like we are. We want to help because we know that they deserve to be cared for.

Having a proper sense of ourself affects all our relationships. How different it is in a family or work situation where everyone acknowledges the worth and value of everyone else and no one thinks they are superior to anyone else. We need humility in our business and political relationships. We humans need to be humble in relation to the rest of creation.

In this passage, Paul is most concerned with humility as essential for the unity of the church. It is a church where folk are prepared to sometimes sacrifice what may rightly be theirs for the good of the greater community. It is a church where everyone values everyone else – their gifts, their role, their story, their uniqueness. It is a church that is less concerned with being efficient and practical and more concerned with being faithful.

It is humility that allows us to embody the Christian virtue of nonviolence. It is humility that makes us peaceable and peaceful people. Only when we begin to view all others as beloved children of God who are equal in worth to us, can we begin to act toward them in a way that respects their personhood, their sanctity, their lives and well-being.

Nonviolence is the more difficult road. It calls for imagination, creativity, patience, and sacrifice. Some say that the path of nonviolence and humility is not practical. But that is not the point. We are not called to be practical; all we are called to be is faithful. But history shows that when we follow this path of discipleship that we do assault the gates of hell, fling them open, and set captivity free. Gandhi did it in India. Bayard Rustin, who was Quaker and therefore a pacifist, studied Gandhi’s methods and applied them to Christian thinking. Rustin, a gay man, then instructed Martin Luther King in the nonviolent philosophy that achieved amazing success in the American Civil Rights Movement. Desmond Tutu and others followed both models in South Africa in the 80’s and the apartheid regime fell.

The true lessons of 9/11, the war, and of Katrina are that we humans are at our very best when we reach out in sacrifice and care for someone else. And that we humans are at our worst when we try to impose ourselves upon others. Violence is never the answer to humanity’s problems. As Dr. King said repeatedly, violence only leads to more violence. Only when we respond to one another in love as sisters and brothers can humanity move forward into that bright vision of the future.

To change the world we must start with ourselves. We need to cleanse ourselves of those aspects of our personality that keep us from being humble and nonviolent. We must then work to live this way in our closest relationships. Let us seek healing for our brokenness; then let us seek to live in communion with one another, so that we might be empowered to change the world by living like Jesus did.

Television Shows

I've watched three episodes of Rome. It is something of a slow start, but the reviews said it would be. Quite an amibitious project, and I admire that. I've long thought that there needs to be more done with historical material, because it is so good. Plus, the show is more interesting to discuss later than most, because you can discuss the history with other history buffs.

Last year I hated not being able to watch Lost because it aired on a Wednesday night, my busy night. Out of youth ministry, this summer I've been enjoying actually watching it. However, they skipped about one-third of the shows in re-running them. Which, for a show like this, makes you REALLY lost. I read the synopses on, and that helped. But I guess I'll have to rent the DVDs to actually see the shows. I probably should do that before next week's premier. I would have LOVED discussing this while it aired, but couldn't. Now I'll be able to this season.

The final season of Six Feet Under was good. I think that the first half was much better than the final month or so. The last episode was brilliant. I loved seeing the snapshots of all the characters' lives in the future.

The final season of Queer as Folk was good. John tivoed all summer, and we watched together when we were at his place. Two weeks ago while I was there we had a marathon session of watching the last eight or so episodes. I think this was a powerful season, particularly with the Prop 14 plot. When Babylon was bombed, it was very, very upsetting. The Cathedral of Hope is a pretty public target for a hate crime. Most of the time we don't think about it, but every now and then you do. I knew that when I took the job. John and I sat there for the longest time talking about our community's on-going struggles, the potential for martyrdom before we've achieved equality, and his long history in the struggle (he'll have been out 20 years in October). The episodes and the conversation depressed us, but that is the power of good tv. The final episode wasn't all that satisfactory, but it wrapped up about as well as it could have. It is still difficult to imagine that there is no more QaF to watch!

My new favourite show is Prison Break. It airs on Fox on Mondays and seems to be a new surprise hit, even Time wrote about it after the pilot aired. I didn't plan on watching it two weeks ago when it began. I had been home all day working on stuff and vegging and had seen commercials that day and thought the lead was hot. Nothing else was on at that time, so I thought I'd give it a try. And I'm glad I did. Sure, as Time said, much is implausible, but as they also said, it is really captivating. If you haven't watched yet, I would encourage you to.

Georgia Re-Instates Poll Tax

I have posted the entirety of this disturbing NYTimes editorial:

In 1966, the Supreme Court held that the poll tax was unconstitutional. Nearly 40 years later, Georgia is still charging people to vote, this time with a new voter ID law that requires many people without driver's licenses - a group that is disproportionately poor, black and elderly - to pay $20 or more for a state ID card. Georgia went ahead with this even though there is not a single place in the entire city of Atlanta where the cards are sold. The law is a national disgrace.

Until recently, Georgia, like most states, accepted many forms of identification at the polls. But starting this month, it is accepting only government-issued photo ID's. People with driver's licenses are fine. But many people without them have to buy a state ID card to vote, at a cost of $20 for a five-year card or $35 for 10 years. The cards are sold in 58 locations, in a state with 159 counties. It is outrageous that Atlanta does not have a single location. (The state says it plans to open one soon.) But the burden is also great on people in rural parts of the state.

The Republicans who pushed the law through, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, also a Republican, who signed it, say that it is intended to prevent fraud. But it seems clear that it is about keeping certain people away from the polls, for political advantage. The vast majority of fraud complaints in Georgia, according to its secretary of state, Cathy Cox, involve absentee ballots, which are unaffected by the new law. Ms. Cox says she is unaware of a single documented case in recent years of fraud through impersonation of a voter at the polls.

Citizens who swear they are indigent are exempt from the fee. But since the law does not define who is indigent, many people may be reluctant to swear and risk a criminal penalty. More important, the 24th Amendment, which outlawed poll taxes in federal elections, and the Supreme Court's decision striking down state poll taxes applied to all Americans, not just to the indigent. A Georgian who votes only in presidential elections, and buys a five-year card to do so, would be paying $10 per election. That is no doubt more than many people on fixed incomes, who struggle to get by but are not legally indigent, are willing to pay to vote.

If Georgia's law remains in place, other states are likely to follow. There is also growing concern among voting-rights advocates that a self-appointed election reform commission, led by James Baker, the former secretary of state who played a troubling role in the disputed 2000 election, and former President Jimmy Carter, may be about to propose national voter ID standards that would similarly make it harder for poor people and blacks to vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union is planning to challenge Georgia's law. It will have several strong legal claims, starting with the 24th Amendment. The Supreme Court said in 1966, in striking down the poll tax, that "the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened." It still is.

Weekend Recap

Friday I went to see The Constant Gardener. The reviews had been pretty positive, plus I usually like Ralph Fiennes and loved the director's previous film (City of God, which was the best picture of 2003). However, I didn't enjoy this one. I thought the plot in large perspective was pretty predictable and in detail somewhat confusing (I credit this to editing, because it seemed once or twice that a transition sequence had been edited out). In fact, it got sorta boring as the film went along. 2 popcorn kernels; 2 film reels.

Saturday morning found me travelling to Norman with the federal judge from my church in order to attend the OU-Tulsa game. I've been an avid fan of college football the last five seasons, but haven't really gotten in the mood yet this year; attending the game helped. You know, this was my first OU game to attend in 13 years! I never went when I was a student (the sucked every year except the last). Well, despite the final school, we played horribly. I didn't think we were going to have a great year; now I'm worried that we might have a really bad year. Maybe we can get it together before the really big conference games?

Saturday afternoon I spent floating in the judge's pool before church members arrived for our end-of-summer church pool party which was a lot of fun. Last night at church we commemorated the fourth anniversary of 9/11 with a healing and peace service. Bill, my music minister, wanted to do this service that include a rite of annointing with oil and praying for people. It was quite moving. In fact, I was so moved by it that I was crying while saying the words of institution over communion. When I picked up the bread and went to say the words "He took it, blessed it, and broke it, and said 'This is my body'" I thought immediately of all those bodies broken in 9/11, the war, Katrina and was overwhelmed by emotion. It got even harder at "He took the cup and lifted it and blessed it and said, 'This is my life which is poured out for you.'" I was grasping the chalice so tight like it was the precious life of so many who have needlessly died. I wanted to go sit in a dark room by myself for ten minutes instead of continuing on with the service and the fellowship time afterwards. Because of the healing service, I had an abbreviated sermon that used my favourite passage of scripture. I'll post it sometime later in the week.

At the Council on Ministry meeting, we elected a Facilities Team to begin researching our facilities needs and to plan for moving forward in getting our own building. Quite an exciting move. Also, we solidified a set of objectives for the next six months that are comprehensive and ambitious. We need some new leadership to step forward because everyone in leadership currently do four or five things. Fortunately, a few new people have stepped forward. And we keep having lots of new visitors. I keep thinking that we will move out of the period where people come to see the new minister, but we keep having guests. I think there were 8 first time visitors last night, which is about ten percent of our current weekly attendance average. Tonight the Finance Team meets, and we'll revise our plans for stewardship this fall -- just feel bad asking for more money post-Katrina and with the economy tanking. Tomorrow our new circle in Norman begins, which is going to be quite exciting. It is the first geographic extension of our OKC ministry, even though it is still in the Metro.