On Being a Pro-choice, Pro-marriage Equality Christian Woman

Reading the posts about the large gathering of Christian women, IF: Gathering 2016, I came across a blog post titled "Longing to Belong," describing the ways in which Christian women really do need to find and build community together as part of our spiritual practice of prayer and service. It's a lovely essay, warm and welcoming and accepting.

But I have yet to personally experience this welcome from the larger Christian community at large. I am a pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Christian woman. I worship at an Episcopalian church, and even the US Episcopalian Church has recently been dealt the censure and judgment of the global Anglican body by being banned from voting on any Anglican matters for three years, specifically due to our church's acceptance of marriage equality as part of our Christian mission in service to Jesus's love here on earth.

In 2013, when the Texas Legislature debated and passed the disastrous HB-2 law that shuttered nearly 3 out of 4 of all women's health clinics in the state where abortion had been available (among many other desperately needed women's health services), I went to the Capitol to file my opposition to the bill. There, I was confronted by Christian women who refused to talk to me, who looked upon me with contempt, or mistrust, or fear, or anger, or hatred--but never with acceptance. Never with kindness. I even brought a cooler full of water bottles, bananas, and granola bars with me to hand out to anyone I met, hoping to start conversations. The pro-HB-2 women walked a wide berth around me, although one commented that she liked what I was doing. But she kept walking away with her companions rather than stay and have a conversation.

I don't belong to this group of Christian women. They don't want me. They have judged me and found me wanting. I don't believe they could ever accept that a Christian woman could follow the teachings of Jesus and arrive at pro-choice and pro-marriage equality positions, but I have. I pray. I read the Bible. I am raising my children in the church. And I feel very fortunate to have found the community that I have found at my church--a church that is not specifically pro-choice or anti-abortion, but that welcomes everyone, truly. Both the same-sex couples and the man who sat beside me in a class and declared homosexuality "an abomination," unaware, I know, that my own family includes a same-sex family.

I do not evangelize in the sense of trying to turn the world around me into a Christian world. It already is. There is no part of creation that is separate from God's love. I accept the infinite, timeless, boundless nature of God. It is fantastically humbling. To suppose that the manner in which I name and worship God is the only way to be in a walk with God seems the ultimate in spiritual arrogance, and a deep insult to the true nature and power of God and God's love. It would be more a reflection of my own fears and limitations than anything to do with God. There is a hymn that is a favorite of mine that resounds often in my thoughts: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."

So when I see the signs for IF:Gathering 2016, it has an invisible asterisk for me. I don't believe that I would be welcome there. Not really. Not with the beliefs that I have. I still can see the disdainful eyes of the women who came to the Capitol in 2013, who sang and prayed in the Capitol rotunda by themselves, inviting only those women who wore the correct color shirts to join them and worship with them. Christianity was reduced to a version of Dr. Seuss's tale, "The Sneeches." It was heart-breaking. And it continues today, when I try to speak up as a Christian for pro-choice views on women's health in online discussions. If this post gains much traction on the interwebs, I feel confident I'll be able to measure on my kitchen clock the hours until a Christian comments to me that I'm going to Hell for my beliefs, or that I'm not really a Christian, or that I'm some other sort of failure as a child of God. All because I have arrived at different conclusions and had the temerity to say so while claiming a place in the cool shadow of the Cross.


Develop Your Conscience First

We learned some basic things as children:

--it's not okay to lie
--it's not okay to hurt people with insults and shame
--it's not okay to take or destroy what isn't yours
--if you can help someone who is hurting, do so
--share what you have with those who don't
--when you mess up, own it: apologize and make amends
--use your words
--don't yell or attack
--mind your own business; respect others' right to make their own personal choices
--be polite to strangers; you can never know what they've been dealing with

There is nothing in any of that that is a political agenda. Not a thing. It's just solid, proven guidelines for living a peaceful life and not spreading misery among the people who are forced by circumstance to share the world with you. You can pretty much assume whenever you break one of these, you're going to hurt someone, maybe several someones. Is that the legacy you want to leave for your presence in the world that day? Is that who you are?

I've seen firsthand the cruelty people are capable of when they believe they are "right." Being "right" is a poison to the mind and soul. It's the fool's prize, and the trophy is a golden ass on a pedestal. When we feel so "right" that we decide we can go outside the guidelines, we are that fool's golden ass on a pedestal. When I go online lately, I'm saddened by the things people will say to each other, complete strangers, just to be "right." Driving around town, I'm dodging people zipping past me in the right lane, running stop signs and red lights, riding on my bumper, and I'm sure they feel so "right" in their aggression and dangerous driving. People are letting fear make them feel "right" to arm themselves far beyond their training and competence, and to be irresponsible with lethal forces.

We who live in the US are fortunate enough to live in one of the oldest and most stable democracies. If we want to keep it that way, we have to follow those solid guidelines we learned as kids--whatever our political leanings. If we elect leaders who do not follow the guidelines, we are in big, big trouble. But more importantly, we rely on each other, our neighbors and fellow citizens, to form and reform the government and laws that we will live under from Congress to Congress, election to election, generation to generation. We must--must--be able to carry on conversations with one another without doing so in a way that burns bridges, that attacks, that seeks only to appear "right" and make the other look "wrong."

This is not a tall order. Kids in elementary school can do it. Grown-ups can do it too. Must do it. The future of our country depends on it.


Gluten-Free Vegan Lunch: Quinoa Mushroom Soup

This is a gluten-free riff on the more common mushroom barley soup. Today it's finally a little cooler, and a warm but not over-filling soup like this seems like it's going to hit the spot. Bread is in the toaster while the family plays Halo, and I'm trying to get this posted fast while the soup cools. I'll leave the fact that my 10 year-old son is already much better (after playing it twice) at Halo than I am for another post.

Here are your ingredients (this made enough for 4 and took about 35 minutes):

Olive oil
1 white onion
1 package mushrooms (any variety, but baby bellas will give a slightly richer flavor)
Worcestershire sauce (vegan gluten-free variety)
Balsamic vinegar
Yellow miso paste
Quinoa (regular white)
Potato starch (optional)
A little fresh chopped rosemary would be nice--a little will go a long way.

I made this soup in a large, cast-iron, enameled pot. Cast iron is my favorite material to cook in, hands down. It's heavy, too, so I don't feel bad about skipping the gym when I cook with it. Bonus! Also, an immersion blender comes in very handy for this recipe. If you haven't got one already, consider investing in one. A relative gave one to me years ago, which I thought was a bit eccentric at the time, but now it's one of my favorite kitchen tools.

Pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot and give the onions a slick bed to lie in. Don't be stingy. Olive oil is good for you, and it won't make your soup taste funny. Dump in your chopped onions with the heat on low-ish and throw a little salt on them. The salt will help them to release their liquid and soften. You want them to cook, but not so fast that they get brown and crispy bits when you have to run away from the stove to help your kid logon to Halo. Those brown and crispy bits will be bitter. Having said that, when the onions get away from me I carry on anyway and it turns out well enough.

While the onions cook, prep your mushrooms. Do not wash the mushrooms. I know, they have little gritty bits on them. Just get a cloth or a dry paper towel and brush it off. Mushrooms are like sponges and if you wash them they'll soak up all that water, which they will then release into the pot when you cook them, and instead of concentrating their lovely flavors you'll stew them prematurely. Once you've brushed off the dirt, slice them up, not too thick, so that they'll cook well.

After the onions have become limp and somewhat shrunken, turn the heat up to medium and throw in the mushrooms. Add a little more salt, and splash in enough Worcestershire and balsamic vinegar to have some liquid sizzling in there. You should be able to hear the cooking happening now, and there should be a little steam coming up from the pot. Here's how my pot looked as the mushrooms cooked:

In around 5-10 minutes it all should have reduced to this:

Now it's time to add in the liquid--good ol' water. I put in about 4 cups for starters and then got out the immersion blender and went after it. If you need to use a blender instead, just work in batches. The cool water should have cooled things down enough that splatters won't hurt you, but be careful anyway. It's better not to blend it to a puree. I like my soups a tad toothy. Here's how mine looked when I was done with it:

Put in some more water for your quinoa and then sprinkle in a couple handfuls. Stir, see what you think, maybe a little more would be better? Up to you. Put the lid on for a gentle simmer. If you want to add a bit of rosemary, now's the time. Also a spoonful of the miso for a little extra umph in the flavor. You know the quinoa is cooked when you see the pale little grain tendril in a circle with the expanded grain. You can see them floating there like tiny o's in the bowl at the top of this post. That soup is done.

You could garnish this with some chopped flat parsley if you have any (or fried parsley or sage--yum). Pretty much any herb will work with this soup. We had it plain with crusty gluten-free toast and butter spread. My husband was cutting up some arugula for a salad while I was cooking this, and that would probably make a nice garnish too. Or a dollop of the cashew-based NeChevre (should be PasChevre, but I won't quibble) would work well, too. Or some tofutti sour cream. I'll stop now.


Gluten-Free Vegan Breakfast--Pumpkin Rice Pudding

Okay, my food picture-taking skills are not what they should be. I'll work on that.

This is one of those warming, comfort-food breakfasts that lets you sneak squash into your kids' tummies without them realizing it. I made it in a rush this morning, but I could have made it the night before and chilled it in the fridge overnight. Ditto for any leftovers. This would probably also serve well as a welcoming after-school snack. If you have leftover acorn or butternut squash you need to use up (as long as you didn't cook it with garlic or cumin...:-p ), puree those bad boys up and use that instead.


Leftover Rice (white works best since it releases its starches readily while cooking, for a creamy pudding)
Non-Dairy Milk (I used Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk)
A little pumpkin puree (a little goes a long way here; if you open a can, save the rest to whip up some pumpkin-choc chip muffins, or pumpkin "pie" smoothies for breakfast tomorrow or after-school snack today)
Ground cinnamon
Ground ginger
Ground cloves
Ground nutmeg
Maple syrup
Handful of raisins

Add the rice into a saucepan with enough of the milk to be able to stir the rice and milk mixture easily with a spoon. Add in a few spoonfuls of the pumpkin puree and stir in. Add everything else to taste. Heat through, stirring frequently. If you overdid the milk, heat until some of the milk cooks off and you get the right consistency. Alternatively, if your leftover rice is still a bit toothy, add in a bit more milk and keep cooking. Serve warm or chilled.

* For the most part I won't be using measurements in my recipes. This is partly because I'm lazy and in a hurry and this is how I cook. But I also think recipes with measurements are part of the reason we have so much food waste. Use what you have, make it work. It takes a certain level of confidence to cook like this, but your food budget will thank you as you make use of every little bit in one way or another. Sometimes you'll have a lot of something, sometimes just a little. Learn to improvise. It's all good.


Last Night's Gluten-Free Vegan Dinner

This is sort of a housekeeping post, for my own interest. I'm keeping track of how I'm starting to put meals together, in a visual way that I can start to see patterns and opportunities for improvement in taste, variety, efficiency, nutrition, ease (not necessarily in that order). I'm posting it on the off-chance that there's someone else out there in the same boat I'm in.

Last night's dinner was highly economical, easy, tasty, and nutritious. It might have been a bit boring for the kids, but they seemed happy enough with it.

The most expensive part was the "meatballs", which I bought frozen at Whole Foods. They were from a new company, they had a distinctive mushroom-y flavor that was appealing to the kids, and they were non-gmo, soy-free, and gluten-free. These browned in the skillet in some olive oil. Along with this, I had some leftover wild rice and some leftover black beans and some leftover black bean cooking liquid that I had intended to use as a soup base, but instead all three went together into small casserole dish. I added raw chopped kale from the garden for a little color and interest, put a foil lid on it and put it in the oven at 375 until it was all steamy hot and good. Served it all with a side of sliced carrots and avocados and pepitas and hot sauce on the side. I should have taken a picture, but I wasn't thinking at the time that the dinner was enough of an "accomplishment" to warrant  a photo. But it was everything a gluten-free vegan dinner should be, so--success.


Going Vegan, Again, This Time Gluten-Free

Well, it's been about a year since I've posted on this blog, and I'm thinking of starting up again to head in a new direction here. I've posted about food before. It's a thing for me. I do all of the family cooking, and after seventeen years of cooking every single meal for myself and the others in my life, miraculously I still enjoy cooking. I must like to cook *a lot*.

Last spring my son was confirmed celiac, and my husband is gluten-intolerant, meaning that if he eats something with gluten in it, he has horrific intestinal pains for the next 24-36 hours. Happily, his gut seems to make an exception for beer.

We watched "Forks Over Knives" a couple of years ago and nearly went vegan then. Nearly. The problem, you see, is that meat tastes so damn good. Then last weekend husband watched "Cowspiracy." Some tipping point was reached. We are exploring vegan.

I am sure there are purists who are offended by anything but absolute veganism. We may get there. But we may not. We raise chickens, and we get a lot of pleasure watching them happily roam our half-acre. We also get a lot of pleasure from the eggs that they produced. These are the most beautiful, delicious, nourishing eggs available on the planet. The yolks are huge and as deep orange as a pumpkin. There is so much goodness in there. And I have read Nourishing Traditions and I believe in bone broth, particularly given the gut issues we have here. Lastly, we are also fortunate to have access to a local farm that raises a heritage breed of hog in the pasture. I still have about a third of our last hog we bought in my freezer. We are on the fence about whether or not we will continue to buy from our local farmers, who we like very much and want to see continuing to succeed. We are considering a rule of only eating animal products that we raised ourselves, killed ourselves, or that someone we knew killed for us. There is a lot of venison around in Texas, too. Hunted meats seem to be an exception to consider. We're still working this out.

Having said all of this, there is also a lot to recommend a primarily plant-based diet. Substantial evidence connects consumption of animal protein and incidence of cancer. Diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure--all of these things are improved with plant-based eating. In general, the carbon footprint and water consumption necessary to produce plant food is considerably less than to produce meat. My husband flew over a portion of the Amazon Basin five years ago and never forgot the view of a horizon filled with waves of billowing smoke from the continuous burning--to clear the jungle so there would be more room for cows to graze to feed America's beef addiction. Is my desire for braised short-ribs worth the destruction of the planet's lungs? There is also a social justice implication in choosing to eat a plant-based diet. So much of the grain we produce goes to feeding animals for consumption by people who can afford it instead of to hungry people elsewhere in the world. By eating meat, I'm supporting an economy that perpetuates scarcity of food for the rest of the world. That stops me in my tracks. It's unfathomable. It's the food equivalent to the shortage in affordable housing in urban centers where the jobs and opportunities and services are, when developers naturally develop properties to achieve the highest return on their investment possible, by building to the highest price the market will support.

These are all of the things we have thought about and discussed in arriving at our decision to go vegan. The kids, 8 and 10 years old, are reluctantly along for the ride. I'm a pretty good cook, and I do magical things with chicken thighs and pork belly and lamb chops. It's hard to contemplate passing these things up for largely ethical reasons--reasons that require a long-view to see the benefit, while the sense of deprivation is immediate and present. But here we go.

In the last couple of years I have become a bit of a boss at gluten-free cooking and baking. There are others who are better at it than I am. For instance, I don't have the patience to let my batters and doughs stand in the fridge for hours at a time so they lose some of their gritty texture from the rice flour. Instead, I amp up the toothiness of my doughs and mixes by adding ground millet, ground almonds, psyllium, ground gluten-free oats, and gluten-free hot cereal blends. I've got biscuits down. Cakes, quickbreads, pancakes, waffles, gravies, soups, sauces. Working on pizza crust. Sandwich bread, the bastard, has eluded me repeatedly. I am optimistic that I will succeed with pie crust and pastry crust.

I haven't found a gluten-free vegan resource yet who cooks like I cook--sort of southern, sort of Italian, sort of French, sort of Mexican. Also, I'm cooking for a family, which is a different way of cooking. Ingredients have to serve multiple purposes; last night's dinner has to be good as a base for today's breakfast. Recipes that stand alone, whose ingredients don't relate to a week's worth of healthy eating, aren't really useful. Very few people can afford to buy groceries for 21 separate meals a week whose ingredients don't flow one meal to the next. Economy is important, but so is simplicity. Excuse my french, but I fucking hate fussy food. So I'm going to post my successes, and probably some of my failures, here, in case there is someone else out there who has a palate like mine and has traveled down the same road to vegan and gluten-free. And yes, I know that I can't personally claim the label "vegan", but the dishes and recipes that I post here will be.


9 Alternative Gifts for the Kid Who Has Everything

A friend of mine posted a great question on Facebook: what could she get her kids this winter other than toys? In her case, she felt that her three kids had enough "stuff" and didn't need more of the same. The crowd-sourced answers were so inventive and wonderful that she suggested "someone" should write a blog post about them. I volunteered, and here it is. I hope you find some of these ideas useful.

1) Make a donation in the child's name, in a way that the child can appreciate who was helped and why.

This is something my dad does for my kids every Christmas, and I always look forward to it. He puts together a nice package with pictures and explanations of why he chose the particular non-profit that he chose, and how the donation is going to help people. Through his donation, the kids get to participate directly in the joys of philanthropy, they learn about other people and places in the world that are having challenges the kids might never have imagined otherwise, and they get the reassuring knowledge that there are organizations and people who are committed to solving these problems and helping the people (and other kids just like them) who have been affected.

2) Give the gift of your time.

Commit to a schedule of one-on-one time where your child gets to pick out the activity. Even if it's just fifteen minutes every day, that time is precious. Play hide and seek, card games, make experimental "snacks," color and draw together, sit down and read a favorite book together. Another option is setting aside an entire day that your child gets to design all of the activities. Take lots of pictures!

3) Give entertainment.

Theater passes, passes for Jumpoline/Pump it Up/indoor obstacle courses a la American Ninja Warrior, tickets to a favorite sporting event or musical concert or other arts performance, museum or zoo memberships, magazine subscriptions.

4) Give outdoor fun.

Skiing/snow-tubing passes, horseback riding lessons or trail rides, commit to a visit to a favorite museum or water park or putt putt course, drive out to a great skateboard park or bike course.

5) Give lessons.

Piano or guitar, horseback riding, skateboarding, ice skating, lessons in an obscure language your child has expressed an interest in (you might be able to find a tutor on craigslist), rock-climbing lessons, survival camp classes, cooking classes, sewing classes. Maybe you join your child in the lessons...? And you may have friends or family members that you can employ to provide a few lessons. Maybe you make great breads and your brother's daughter wants to learn, and meanwhile your brother started playing guitar when he was 12 and your son wants to learn. It's a great way to get a little more one-on-one time with extended family and build bonds that will last a lifetime.

6) Make a kid "date".

Schedule a mani-pedi with your daughters; give a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant and let them pick their friends to invite and order dessert; or let your child pick the activity--making her favorite food together from scratch, or working on a craft project together that your child picks out.

7) Give travel.

Commit to a trip to a nearby town, park, historical sight, nature sight, dude ranch, wilderness, big city.

8) Consider some non-toy "stuff".

Tinkering/arts and crafts supplies; a watch; a calendar; sports equipment; a fishing pole; a camera; a flashlight or headlamp; camping gear; puzzles.

9) Get kids BOOKS.

We love books. Kids love books. Even kids who say they don't like books, if you get them one, will spend days going through it. Don't know which books they like? Get them a gift card to a bookstore.


Forgiveness in Absentia

Many of us encounter people in our lives who will hurt us in immeasurable ways. Siblings, parents, friends, spouses, teachers, doctors, priests. People we relied on, because we had to or because we had chosen them. People who were in a position of trust with us, and who thus had greater access to our tender and vulnerable places.

Like everyone else, forgiveness is something I've been working on all my life. I don't work on forgiveness because I'm some spiritual ninja who puts healthy practices first in my life. I can promise you I'm not that good or disciplined. I work on forgiveness because it's essential for my own survival. Forgiveness, for me, is the process of spitting out the poison that others have fed me.

There are biblical and other faith teachings that say that forgiveness requires reconciliation. That's a nice idea. What if all of our woundedness could be healed and packaged and pretty and sewn up with a hug and a smile. As I get older, I'm learning that this is not always possible. The practice of forgiveness transforms me, but it does not transform the person I am forgiving into a person who would no longer offer me poison and call it love.

If you forgive a wolf for attacking you, would you believe that real forgiveness requires you to welcome the wolf into your home? Of course not. If you have finally clearly seen a wolf for who he or she is, forgiveness means forgiving them for being a wolf, not pretending that they are something else.

We never see "forgiveness" hanging out there on its own. It's always "forgive and forget," or forgiveness and closure, forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes there is only forgiveness, and this is okay. For the wolves we have encountered in our lives, for the ones who hurt us and are gone, forgiveness can be especially challenging because that sense of closure is more difficult to achieve without the other person's participation. But sometimes, not having the other person's participation is either unavoidable or is necessary, because he or she is a wolf and not safe to be around. This is what I am calling "forgiveness in absentia," and here is what I have learned about it.

It's hard.

But it is possible. It is possible to be in a state of forgiveness of a person and simultaneously want nothing to do with them. It is possible to sincerely wish someone every comfort and peace and healing, and to wish them to enjoy those things far, far away from you. The difficult step necessary to make this happen, I'm learning, is letting go of your feelings of woundedness and hurt. Being the one who was hurt, the one who was wounded, brings a certain power with it in our sick and wounded culture. It assumes a sort of moral superiority over the one who did the wounding. Letting go of that is hard, because if you're really honest with yourself, you'll admit that it feels good to feel superior to the person who hurt you. It feels good to get sympathy from others for how shitty another person was to you. But watch out, because this is you becoming attached to the poison, making it a part of you that you hold out for others to see and tell them the terrible story of how it was given to you. No one will stop to ask you, but why are you still carrying it around? But they should. And you should ask yourself this. You may not like the answers, but again, you're carrying poison given to you by someone else. Let it go.

Forgiveness in absentia has another challenge: in realizing and accepting that the one who wounded you is not someone you are safe around, there is grief for the loss of that relationship. Even relationships that ended horribly, painfully, cruelly, had some grains of good in them, some moments of connection that are worth holding onto and remembering. But mostly, when you are willing to release your feelings of woundedness and your identity as the victim of cruelty and attacks, you free yourself, finally, from the poison that was fed to you. You have spit it out. It is not who you are; it was who they were.

It is tempting at this point to tie the package up with a nice bow and say, "And then, you'll see the other person in a new light and there is space now to see them as a whole human and not just as the person who attacked you, and the two of you can start anew with a deeper and stronger connection than you had before." But no. The first part of that sentence, about seeing them as a whole human, yes, that's true. But not the second part. Unless they have also undergone their own transformation, you are still dealing with a wolf. And when, by now, there are so many happy mutts in your life occupying your heart, it's okay to leave that wolf alone.


Birds and Anxiety

When the kids were very young, I made a habit of pointing out the beauty around us in ordinary moments - the white swirl of clouds larger than skyscrapers, the dramatic and also subtle hues of sunset and sunrise, the towering grace of trees, the ever-present chirps and songs of birds.  I would tell them that one of the amazing things about living on this planet was that its beauty was always there, right in front of us, at every single moment, and that no matter what was happening for us in that moment, no matter how bad a day they were having, there would always be this, here for them, and all they had to do was remember to notice and enjoy it.

I did this in hopes that I was giving them a tool, a means to cope, to find solace and balm.  I didn't realize how much it would take root for them.

The boy, now 8, has become a bit of a junior ornithologist and naturalist.  He knows things about species, particularly birds, that I had never known, and I'm 44, and I read a lot and have been a nature lover and explorer for years.  And he still stumps me, and also his stepdad.  When he first started to rattle off facts and information to us, some of it sounding a tad implausible to our skeptical grown-up know-it-all minds, we would say, Really?  Are you sure?  I don't know, that doesn't sound quite right.  And then we would look it up, and the boy would have been right.  About all of it.  So we've learned.  Tonight, DH couldn't help himself, because the boy was talking about the cookie-cutter shark.  I would have thought, with a name like that, I would have heard about it by now.  DH apparently felt the same way, and during dinner he whipped out his phone, looked it up, and sure enough, the boy was right again.

I now know things about birds that I would never have known if the boy didn't love them so much.  I know that the female cardinal is a warm, nutty brown next to her more flamboyant partner, and I can tell their song every time I hear it.  I have a deeper appreciation for the singing prowess of mockingbirds.  I never realized how many birds around us are marked with yellow.  I have seen and correctly identified a red-winged blackbird.  I have watched a woodpecker and its mate build their nest.  I have seen a green heron on the phone line, fluffing its feathers in the cold morning air.  And I love all of this, this amazing gift of appreciation from my 8 year old son, but it also scares the hell out of me.  Because, something about going through what we've been through, it leaves you with a large residue of anxiety.  Now you know that horrific things happen.  Not just on the news, not just to people whose FB page your friend "liked" and it showed up in your feed.  They happen to you, in your life.  And once one horrific thing has happened very close to you and ripped through your own life - and worse, the lives of the people you love most of all, it feels like the next horrific thing is lurking in the wings, hiding behind the furniture, waiting for its chosen moment to leap into your life and wreck you and what you love again.  So for every joy, there is a frame of anxiety around it, like the photo frames at Target that say "Friends" and "Love" and "Family", except yours says "The Next Disaster Could Happen At Any Moment".  And how do you argue with that?  It's true.  You know it. 

So along with my delight in all of this new-found appreciation given to me by my son, my anxiety has also stepped up, because I've realized that birds now will always remind me of him, like looking at a rock makes me think of my geologist dad.  I feel so naive not realizing how much my kids were imprinting my world while I was deliberately trying to imprint theirs.  Anxiety is a patient bastard, I have to say.  I'm fortunate not to be plagued by depression, that constant gnawing monster.  But anxiety, mercifully mild most of the time, is a regular visitor.  I believe this is part of what's to be expected with post-traumatic-stress-disorder.  I believe, with time, it is supposed to be self-correcting.  Sometimes I look at how much has passed in these last three years - half a lifetime for the kids, but sometimes just a blink for me.  And I tell myself, you're doing fine.  Keep moving forward.  Everyone's safe and okay.  Tomorrow will be beautiful and ordinary and good, even the feisty bits.  And then I notice all of the art from the kids hanging around the house, the many "I love you" notes, and I try to focus on that and ignore the frame.


Why Separation of Church and State Means Churches Must Abide by the Laws They Don't Like

I guess there have always been attempts by churches to be excused from following the laws that go against their religious teachings.  I am being careful not to say laws that go against their morals, because morals and religious teachings are separate sources of what's right and wrong, that for some people are very connected, and for others - are not.  So I'm speaking here only about the church's interpretations, based on their particular dogma and doctrines, for what is acceptable conduct and what is not.

Recently, several churches, hospitals, universities and private individuals claiming religious belief have argued, and even sued the federal government, for their right to go against current legal requirements for allowing their female employees access to birth control under their health insurance (even if the insurer pays the full cost, which they're willing to do because family planning is much cheaper than the alternative), for example, or for recognizing the homosexual marriage of employees, patients or students who are legally married in states that recognize them (or the legal civil unions and associated medical power of attorney in states that do not).

There has also been a steady drumbeat from the very far right that Islamists in America are trying to create Shariah-law friendly zones and to implement Shariah law in jurisdictions across America.

I want to sit these folks down and explain to them very carefully that the one thing they are trying to do above, opens the door for exactly what they most fear and oppose.  I think most people understand this, but in case they don't, I'm going to spell it out, step by step, so that folks understand that when we stand up and say, no, the church cannot pick and choose which laws it will abide by, it's to protect them and the rest of us, not to harm them and not to disrespect them.

Let's say, for example, that a law is passed that says churches and organizations affiliated with churches may submit applications for waivers from local and federal laws that would otherwise require them to go against their religious teachings.  The way laws work, it would not be possible to say specifically which type of churches are allowed this privilege.  For example, it would not be okay to say only Christian churches could exercise this privilege, because that would be a state endorsement of a specific religion, which I think we all agree is a no-no under the First Amendment.  So the law would be written to generally allow religious institutions and their affiliates to be excused from following laws that go against their teachings.

All churches, of all faiths.

The effect of a law like this would be to create a massive loophole in democracy for all religious organizations to do as their holy books, cardinals, imams, rabbis, elders, etc. instruct instead of what the law requires.  A child denied life-saving cancer treatment on the basis of the parents' religious beliefs?  Excused.  Daughters denied education on the basis of the parents' religious beliefs?  Excused.  Polygamy?  Excused.  Chopping off a hand as punishment for theft within the community?  Excused.

This is the problem.  Once it is put into law, in any degree, that religious belief is allowed to override laws that conflict with faith or beliefs, the principle that religion trumps the democratic process has now entered the law and become legal precedent.  This is exactly what you do not want in a free country.  It is an extremely dangerous path to start down, and it opens the door to religion - any religion - to override secular principles of justice and individual freedoms and liberties, including most importantly the right of freedom of conscience, that are the foundation of our country's legal and political system. 

Those who follow a specific religion are already, right now, free to make choices in their own, personal lives to live as they see fit:  don't believe in gay marriage?  No one's forcing you into one.  Don't believe in science?  Then forego your own medical care and stop using the internet.  Don't believe in birth control?  No one's forcing you to use it.  But the examples given above are all cases where members of a religious organization would require others to also live by their particular religious beliefs rather than by the individual's own conscience.  You can't have it both ways, folks.  If you want freedom of conscience, which is the law right now, then you have to respect everyone else's freedom of conscience, too.  Even if you disagree with how they are living their lives.  It's their choice, their life, but most importantly, it's the law.  It's the result of the secular, democratic process.  And once we give special dispensation to avoid the law based on  religious beliefs, we open the door for all religious beliefs to avoid the law.  This is a sacred boundary, and it cannot be breached, for anyone, ever.