Friday, February 18, 2011


To tell you this story I have to explain that I'm a big fan of the Philadelphia Eagles.  For those of you who follow the NFL, you already know that this year our quarterback was a man who served 2 years in prison for running a dog fighting ring.  That’s right, our quarterback was a felon who joined our roster fresh out of prison.  This troubled me.

Now anyone who is following this blog knows that I am crazy about our 2 dogs Trey and Sandy: they were both adopted from rescue organizations we were proud to support.  I have preached on occasion about the ethics of how we treat the other animals with whom we share this world. My son recently convinced his Sunday school class to do a fund raiser for the local animal shelter (hence the bags of dog and cat food stacked up in the social hall). I thought maybe I would have to give up being an Eagles fan for a season or two.

I won't even go into my heartbreak when we traded McNabb to one of our divisional rivals. He was replaced by a guy called Kevin Kolb who I was really having trouble getting excited about.  Then when Kolb was injured, enter the animal-abusing felon. But as Michael Vick took the field,  damned  if those football commentators didn’t preach to the minister.  They wondered if he had “paid his debit to society” if he had been “reformed.” And I started to think about words like “redemption” and “forgiveness.”  It made me ask myself – do I really believe in redemption?  I remembered back to my seminary days that I did. But was what I learned in school what I really believed in my heart?

I've preached on prison reform, arguing that prison should be more focused on rehabilitation than retribution.  Do we believe it is possible to pay off a debit to society after one has committed a crime? Can a person really atone for the things we have done wrong? Vick didn’t just make one mistake, he was deep in a lifestyle that was, let's say, not respectful of the interdependant web of life of which we are a part.  Can we be restored to right relationship even if we have lived a life filled with misdeeds?

I’m a realist about this, and I know nationally men have a %53 recidivism rate after a prison sentence. The friend who lets you down once is liable to let you down again.  Consequently I hold the position “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Changing one’s life is difficult.  But if we didn’t believe it was possible to turn a corner, how could we hope?  How could we go on? Maybe only 47 in 100 can be brought back when they have strayed, but I cannot give up on the one who might be brought back, and the Christian Scriptures back me up on this:

 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.  In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:12-14)

So it's not just because I'm a bleeding heart UU, it's in the BIBLE people! (Check out the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) and the Prodigal Son while you are at it.)

As we headed into the playoffs, the sports shows were engaged deeply in the question of whether Vick had been reformed, or whether he would go back to his old friends and old lifestyle.  I was so surprised to hear the commentators and call in shows wrestle with issues of reform and redemption.  (That one guy on ESPN radio should seriously consider becoming  a preacher.)  I had asked myself so many times "what was Andy (our coach) thinking!" but as the season wore on I was reminded that his own son had been in trouble with the law, of how important it would be for a young man looking to change his life to have a reliable steady father figure there to help him do it, and of how maybe Andy himself wanted some redemption in that role.  It turns out the well respected former coach of the Colts, Tony Dungy not only visited Vick in prison to support his re-entry into life outside and back into the NFL, but that prison ministry is his thing these days.

Now that football season is over, I have been thinking about Michael Vick not as a talented running quarterback, but as a person.  I hope that he really has reformed, not only for his own sake, but as a role model for all those in our country who have lost their way, for all those millions in our prison system, and all the rest of us ordinary folks and our daily mistakes, it would mean so much for us to see unfold before us the story of a modern-day prodigal son.   My prayers are with him, and with all those who long to be redeemed.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Happy Brigit (or Imbolc - your call)

I have to confess that of all the solar  holidays, I am the biggest slacker at observing this one.  Maybe because this cross-quarter is so very, well, in-between. Now when I lived in California, there was always the chance that the fruit trees would start thinking about flowers around this time (It usually ended badly for them if they did though; false spring can be deadly when followed by a late frost). Here in New York, however, we've just had the biggest snow drop of the year so far.  Beginning of spring?  Hardly.  I know that a primary image for Brigit is the well, but our waters here are pretty much frozen solid, and flow mainly down the icicles hanging from our neighbors houses.

So when we look at it from a purely natural-world perspective in the North East, Imbolc is not about spring at all.  It is right in the middle of winter.  It is around the time when folks START saying "enough with the cold and grey" but quite some time before crocuses and cherry blossoms. Winter stores of root vegetables are getting old, and most of last fall's apples are spotty and nasty by now. There's no planting of seeds in this frozen ground. So all we're left with is the seed catalog- time to start planning and preparing because sometime, some day the ground will thaw.

It's time for candles, for soup, for baking things in the oven, but how is that different from the winter solstice? Is it just that extra hour of sunlight each day?  The glimmer of hope that winter is more behind us than in front of us? How will I celebrate this most in-between of holidays?  Bake a loaf of bread, light a candle, and crawl back in my hole for 6 more weeks of winter.

Blame it on the birds

I was watching this "report" on Daily Show the other night.  I was, naturally, disturbed once again by the history of racism in our country and the injustices of the way emancipation happened.  As Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his book Where do we Go from Here: “Four million newly liberated slaves found themselves with no bread to eat, no land to cultivate, no shelter to cover their heads.  It was like freeing a man who had been unjustly imprisoned for years, and on discover his innocence sending him out with no bus fare to get home, no suit to cover his body, no financial compensation…to help him get a sound footing in society.” 

The report reminds us not only of the original injustice, but how we continue to undervalue African-American history, and to under-support African-American Communities.  But knowing what an eco-geek I am you probably know where I'm going with this.  This video ends up making the Audubon Society look like the foolish ones.  I mean, when folks were dying in Katrina, they were building bird houses, right? It must be they care more about birds than about people!  (Because goodness knows people in no way benefit from the presence of birds, and when all the birds disappear we'll just spray more pesticide on everything to deal with the swell of the insect population that will grow un-checked without natural predators...)  Let's not blame the industries that dumped industrial waste and agent orange in that neighborhood.  Lets not blame the officials for taking land through eminent domain or the long list of agencies that did  nothing, let's not blame the folks who sat on their couches and clicked their tongues, let's blame an organization whose mission statement is: " to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the Earth's biological diversity" for working to preserve an area when the NAACP and State and Local governments declined to help.   

There is an idea out there that we have to choose between saving birds and saving people.  There is a concern that we have to choose between ending racism and preserving habitat.  That is the premise of this genuinely well-written and often hilarious report.   But to me the real story is that in this case, as in many others, preserving habitat for humans and for birds can be woven together.  Creating healthy eco-systems and creating a just human community can be one and the same movement.  As a society we must somehow get beyond this taboo that says that when humans are suffering or struggling it is improper, indecent even to consider the eco-system as a whole.  As activist  Derrick Evans remarks "thank God for the birds."

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Environmental Impact

Recently the television news has been all a-flurry over snowstorms in our region, and how various municipalities have prepared.  Last night the mayor of a city effected by the impending storm showed us how prepared he was by enumerating all the trucks ready to go, all the salt ready to spread.  I'm sure most folks felt better after the report.  I, being the eco-geek that I am, was thinking about the salt.  I mean, in the bible when you want to destroy a people utterly you burn their buildings and salt their fields.  Let's take Judges 9:45 for example "And Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt."

It makes me wonder- have we really thought about the effects of salt on our cities and fields?  It seems to me like the attitude "if some salt is safe, more salt is safer" has become quite prevalent. But can we really use salt on our streets year after year with impunity?  And why is nobody talking about this on the news- couldn't we use a lively debate on the topic? What would happen if we asked our reporters to include an environmental impact statement in each news story: "Use of salt on roadways tends to increase salt in local drinking wells and has an often deleterious impact on roadside plants.  The carbon footprint of the snow plows will be roughly..."  I know, I know - it will never happen.  A girl can dream though.