Taking the Next Step

One step forward.

That’s what the General Laws and Technology Committee of the Virginia State Senate took Wednesday when they reported out Senate Bill 66, a bill to prohibit discrimination in state employment, including any discrimination based on “sexual orientation.”

In the bill, sexual orientation is described as a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, or gender identity or expression. In other words, it is an inclusive defintion and a good bill.

State Senator Donald McEachin

Thanks are due to Senator Donald McEachin who introduced the bill and is working to get it passed.

Alas, the vote in committee was 8 yea, 7 nay, so there is work to be done. It may come up as soon as next Tuesday, February 2, in the full Senate. It is important that LGBT people and their allies contact their Senators to urge passage.

Governor McDonnell, and President Obama, are making new jobs the focus of the year. This is good. But let us also save the jobs people have, and give them assurance that it is their performance, not their sexuality or any other extraneous factor, that counts in keeping their jobs.

You can contact your State Senator at http://sov.state.va.us/SenatorDB.nsf/$$Viewtemplate+for+WMembershipHome?OpenForm Don’t know who your State Senator is? Visit http://conview.state.va.us/whosmy.nsf/main?openform

God’s Intimacy

I received a message today that wounded me deeply. Fortunately, I was home and could vent my anger and my hurt (I am grateful Jonathan and Cocoa listened to me and comforted me).

For a little while, I forgot that God also was listening and comforting me. Even if Jonathan and Cocoa had been absent, I was not alone (and of course God was working through them, too).

After a little time, I was able to reconnect with God, letting her relieve some of my distress, help me find my equilibrium, and guide me in finding the best way to deal with the situation.

Nona Brooks says, “God is everywhere, therefore God is here.” That means that God also is there, with the person who sent the message. He is needed there, too, and I am glad, because I love the person (even in my hurt and anger).

In classical theology, God’s “everywhere-ness”–omnipresence in theological terms–seems to make God distant. In reality, however, this is what makes God so intimate. It is an intimacy we may have trouble understanding, because we know we can’t be in two places at once.

But, with God, that, and so much more, is possible.

The Best Substitute

I am not enjoying the news much these days: too much anger, finger-pointing, and character assassination for my taste (how can the President be a socialist, a fascist, and communist all at the same time?). There is so much heartache in Haiti, not to mention fearsome terrorists seemingly everywhere. Besides, I continue to fight a stubborn infection and chest congestion.

So I am grumpy at times.

But I try to follow what Emmet Fox calls the Law of Substitution: “When negative thoughts come to you, do not fight them, but think of something positive.” Preferably, God.

For me, the only way to get rid of a certain thought, or mindset, is to substitute another one for it. Focusing on God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, or love, or hope, or joy do the trick.  

This is not simply the Power of Positive Thinking. It is calling on the power that is always available to me, divine power, and letting it deal with “stuff” that seems, falsely, to be more powerful.

This is similar to what athletic teams do when a player gets overtired: call in a fresh substitute.

And what a substitute!

Truth-telling while Naked?

[Note to regular readers: an infection has gotten into my chest and it has laid me low and unable to write for a few days]

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we talk with each other–and how difficult it is to say hard things without insulting and impugning people with whom we disagree.

Many people decry the increasing polarization of political discourse in our nation. I cringe every time a leader opines that a natural disaster is caused by the irreligion of people. Of course, none of this comes close to the horrors of suicide bombers and other forms of terrorist activity.

Even in smaller communities, like churches or other groups of seemingly like-minded people, people can say some hurtful, if not hateful, things–often in the name of truth-telling and love. It is not news to say that some of the worst of this happens through email.

There are alternatives. Don’t hit the send button, for one. As you think hard thoughts about someone, try to visualize them sitting across from you, listening to your diatribe. If you really need help to calm down, picture yourself naked while speaking “the truth” to them.

Pray (that’s the most powerful tool for me). I confess I have been praying a lot lately.

He Knew the Source of His Strength

The example of Martin Luther King, Jr., born on this date 81 years ago, is instructive about the life of faith.

Dr. King was born into prominence; his father pastored an important Atlanta church. He was expected to succeed his father.

But young Martin married and went to Montgomery, partly to please Coretta and partly to declare his independence. He intended to continue his scholarship (a Ph.D. from Boston University) and serve a quiet congregation.

It seems God was guiding him to be in that place at that time. Yet, few in Montgomery knew him and fewer still saw greatness in him. At the beginning.

He did not put himself forward, but when others did, and he felt God’s hand, he stepped up. That was 1955.

By 1968, he was dead, assassinated. In between, he led the pilgrim people–black and white–who sought justice.

The lesson: how you start life matters, yes, but more important than that is what you choose to do with what is handed to you along the way. Every time he faced a crossroads, a seemingly intractable challenge, he was on his knees seeking divine guidance.

He knew from whence his strength came.

Weeping for Haiti


The latest devastation is mind-boggling and heart-wrenching. The land that was already consumed by poverty and disease is now overwhelmed by brutal, “natural” destruction.

My old friend and mentor, theologian Tom Driver, loves Haiti. He grew up in Tennessee, and spent his adult life in New York City, but he came to cherish Haiti. I imagine he is weeping.

And, knowing Tom, he is trying to help. I am going online to send funds to Mercy Corps. Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders are involved, too. You can help.

https://donate.mercycorps.org/donation.htm?DonorIntent=Haiti+Earthquake  http://www.oxfam.org.uk/oxfam_in_action/where_we_work/haiti.html  https://donate.doctorswithoutborders.org/SSLPage.aspx?pid=197&hbc=1&source=ADR1001E1D01

And here is a link to what one Richmond woman, and her church, are doing. http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/video/detail/07d9244e-51f1-102d-a6fd-001ec92a4a0d/317390/

And I am praying. I do not ask God “why?” because I, unlike Pat Robertson, know God is not responsible. But I do pray that enough of us in the rest of the world will help and that the Haitians themselves find the strength necessary to recover, rebuild, and remake their beautiful, tragedy-filled home.

I know God is weeping for Haiti, and walking among the wounded, the lost, the dead, the mourning, the hungry, the desperate people in that troubled land. We may not be able to walk there, but our hearts and our aid can be present.

Thanks, Doug.

Twenty years ago on this date, L. Douglas Wilder was inaugurated as the nation’s first African American elected governor. It was, and is, a signal accomplishment. He made history.

Still, I admit to being greatly disappointed in Doug Wilder. I met him in 2004 when he was running for Mayor of Richmond. In that encounter, at our church for a candidates’ night, he seemed pompous, a blowhard.

At the same time, he talked some sense about Richmond’s future. So, when he was elected with a large majority I had high hopes.

Four years later, he left office and I for one was glad he was done. The main achievement of his term seemed to be to show what a good fighter he was–not for us so much as against everyone around him.

When I first met him, I thought he could use some therapy and also some time in the confessional. His term as mayor did not convince me otherwise.

Still, today is an anniversary that deserves to be marked. Doug Wilder and the people of Virginia participated in a history-making moment, contributing significantly to the unfolding national story of righting racial wrongs.

Thanks, Doug.

That Is Why We Have Courts

The federal court case weighing the constitutionality of California’s vote to overturn marriage equality in that state began yesterday in San Francisco. It is going to be a humdinger of a case. Both sides are filled with passion. The stakes are high.

There is unclarity about whether video of the arguments will be allowed. The U.S. Supreme Court stopped, at least temporarily, streaming video while it considers the matter. That body has not been friendly to televised proceedings so I expect those who want an accessible courtroom will be disappointed.

But Ted Olsen, the conservative lawyer who made the choice to push the case for equality, did not disappoint during the opening arguments yesterday.

When Judge Vaughn Walker asked him why the court should intervene when the votes of the people were cast in an open election, Olsen said, “That is exactly why we have courts, why we have the Constitution and why we have the 14th Amendment,” he said, adding that while some groups “may not be the most popular people,” the court still should uphold their rights. “That is why we are here today.”


Stub It Out

Smoking cigarettes may be hazardous to your health.

There doesn’t seem to be much debate these days about that.

However, on this date in 1964, when the first Surgeon General’s report was issued, there was a big fuss  about government intruding into private lives and choices. Forty-six years later, we know about second-hand smoke. Even in Virginia, historically a stronghold of the tobacco industry, restaurants are required to be smoke-free (either no smoking or totally adequate ventilation systems in designated areas).

I used to smoke, at one point I consumed 2-3 packs per day. I know it is not easy to quit.

I have friends who still smoke. I pray every day that they find the strength–or the powerlessness, in the 12-step sense–to quit. I want them to stop abusing their sacred bodies. I give God the thanks when someone does quit.

I also pray that young people don’t start. It is easier never to start than it is to stop.

Cigarettes, no. Health, yes.

God Is Available

Emmet Fox writes, “There is only one way to make spiritual progress, and that is to practice the Presence of God.”

How do we practice? The prayer that is the surest practice is prayer that is conscious dwelling upon the Being of God.

Adam and God connecting, part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo

Breathe God in, breathe God out, let God be your breath, let your breath be God. Sometimes I say over and over again, God, God, God, God, God, God–not quickly, but slowly with the rhythm of my breathing.

Also, sometimes I say to God, “Please make your presence known to me.” Repeating that many times, slowly, I am given a level of peace that is quite remarkable. And it can last for a long time, at least as the underpinning to my day.

It is simply amazing how much God is available, when we seek God.