Mistletoe

When I first moved to Mississippi and Alabama, I noticed after the leaves had fallen from the oak and other trees, these round balls of green in the trees.  I had never seen this in trees in Chicago or in New England so it seemed strange to me.  I knew this was not a form of lichen or Spanish moss that is associated with the south.   When I mentioned this to others, I would sometimes get a nonchalant answer.  It was obvious that my new southern neighbors paid this strange sight no mind.  And they couldn’t understand why I thought this was so unusual.

 

The balls of green were the American Mistletoe.  One of two varieties that grow in North America. The Dwarf Mistletoe grows along the pacific west and southwest.  There are over 1300 species worldwide.  This is a hemi-parasitic plant which means that it is not entirely self-sufficient.  Once it has matured it no longer produces the sugars it needs through photosynthesis  and embeds itself into the bark of the host tree.  When looking at mistletoe in a tree, it looks like it is a natural branch of the tree only that its leaves are evergreen and it produces a whitish sticky berry. 

While long thought of as a parasite that eventually destroys its host, it turns out this plant is actually mutually beneficial to its host and the diversity of the ecology of the forests.  The Mistletoe provides shelter for nesting birds and small animals.  And several bird species feed on the seeds to survive the harsh winters.  There are also three species of Butterflies known as Hairstreaks that are totally dependent on the mistletoe for their existence.   The one pictured here is the Great Purple Hairstreak and the American Mistletoe is its feeding ground.

Most of us know the role that mistletoe plays in our Winter holidays.  It is prominent in Winter Solstice celebrations and Christmas celebrations.   But I had no idea it was so prominent a species in the American south.  And it is vital to a healthy forest ecology.

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Published in: on December 27, 2008 at 1:04 pm  Comments Off on Mistletoe  
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Journey into Soulforce

Back in 1999, I participated in the 17 step journey into Soulforce.  It was a spiritual journey of readings, reflections, and preparation for joining Rev. Mel White and 200 delegates to meet with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and 200 of his congregants.  The hope was the meeting would help convince Falwell that his anti-gay rhetoric was bringing increased suffering to families across the country.  It was the inauguration of SoulForce.  The event made news. 

Many of my friends scoffed at my going  to meet Falwell.  What good will it do?  I was also told that I was being played the fool in thinking that a person like Falwell could change his bigoted opinions.  Well, I knew that Falwell could change.  He had already changed over the years from a strict segregationist to successfully integrating his congregation on Thomas Road.  That change happened through a life long friendship with a person of color.  It was the relationship that Falwell had with this person that led to his letting go of prejudice and racism.  And that was the hope in beginning this dialog with the members of Thomas Road Baptist Church and with Rev. Falwell to develop friendships.   I had kept in contact with a few of the students I met from Liberty University for a year or so after meeting them.  So from my point of view the visit with Jerry Falwell was a success even if Jerry Falwell’s rhetoric against gays did not abate.   

About the time we arrived at Lynchburg, VA to meet with Falwell.  There was a news report claiming that Falwell had said one of the cartoonish Tinkie Winkie characters was gay and promoting homosexuality.   Soon Falwell was derided by every gay joke on TV and in the press.  It turned out however that Falwell never said this comment.  One of his staff made the comment and the association of this staff member to Falwell meant to the press that Falwell said it.  It was an untruth. 

One of the pledges I took in following the journey towards Soulforce was to uncover and name every untruth about my adversary.  Only truthful comments would be used to dialog with my adversary.  Untruthful comments would only help maintain the barriers to the truth between me and my adversary and so, I need to know what is true and what is untrue about my adversary.   The Tinkie Winkie comment was untrue about Falwell and so I could not use that comment in dialog.  

Sexual minorities are facing increased hostility in this nation.  There is pain over Obama’s selection of Rev. Rick Warren, a known supporter of Prop 8 and whose church will not allow gays to be members and will excommunicate them if found.  There is distortion and hyberbole in the media regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s annual address to the Curia denouncing gender theory causing more pain and hurt, especially in the Roman Catholic Dignity community. 

Our language can either be inclusive or it can be exclusive.  It can invite people into dialog or it can oust people from dialog.  It is one of the lessons I learned from participating in the Soulforce delegation to Lynchburg.  It is a lesson we all need to learn if we are going to mend our nation from its polar extremes. 

Rev. Jerry Falwell and his anti-gay rhetoric is now amongst the pages of history.  But I have hope that the seeds planted in meeting the 200 delegates from his congregation will one day sprout into compassion and acceptance of all people.  That’s the beauty of seeds, they can remain viable for years after they have been planted.  Waiting for the right moment, the right conditions for them to sprout and grow into maturity.   

Here is a song sponsored by Soulforce.   Blessings,

Published in: on December 25, 2008 at 1:40 pm  Comments Off on Journey into Soulforce  
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Merry Christmas

Published in: on December 25, 2008 at 11:32 am  Comments Off on Merry Christmas  

More Sex Please, Says Pope

Got your attention?  Sounds implausible that Pope Benedict XVI would ever say this, right?  Well, The following headlines were found in the Daily Telegraph, a British Newspaper, when reporting on the Pope’s annual Curia:  Pope Says Humanity needs ‘saving’ from homosexuality:  The Pope has said that “saving” humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rain forests.”  

Well this sounds more plausible right, because we all know that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin.  The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that marriage is for the sole purpose of procreation (the more sex reference). But the thing is, the Pope did not really say either in his annual Curia. 
In a British journalist’s blog on this story, entitled “More Sex Please, Says Pope”  it is told that no where in the Pope’s Curia is the word homosexual or transsexual behavior even mentioned.  It may be implicit in his Curia because of the Church’s teachings but so could the headline “More Sex Please” be implicit in his talk.    Here is what the Pope actually said where the headlines and the outrageous story came from:

“[The church] must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to all. It must also defend the human person against its own destruction. What’s needed is something like a ‘human ecology,’ understood in the right sense. It’s not simply an outdated metaphysics if the church speaks of the nature of the human person as man and woman, and asks that this order of creation be respected.

“Here it’s a question of faith in creation, in listening to the language of creation, disregard of which would mean self-destruction of the human person and hence destruction of the very work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ in the end amounts to the self-emancipation of the human person from creation and from the Creator. Human beings want to do everything by themselves, and to control exclusively everything that regards them. But in this way, the human person lives against the truth, against the Creator Spirit. Yes, the tropical forests merit our protection, but the human being as a creature merits no less protection – a creature in which a message is written which does not imply a contradiction of our liberty, but the condition for it.”

Now, yes, implicitly one could infer the Pope is talking about homosexuality. He does later affirm the church’s position of marriage as a sacrament between one man and one woman.  But is he really saying what the British Tabloids stated?  Couldn’t he also be speaking about violence that we perpetrate on each other through wars and domestic violence?  Couldn’t he also be talking about various addictions that destroy the human persona?  These could also be implicit in his talk about developing ‘a human ecology’.

At the very least it is a distortion of the Pope’s intent.  The Pope and the Roman Catholic church has said and taught many things that are contrary to Protestants and others’ sensibilities, we do not need to be adding words to him that are not there.  To do so only increases the suffering of the people within the Roman Catholic Church who are sexual minorities.

Now I can argue about his use of the word ‘gender.’  Science is revealing to us that gender is not merely male and female.  One in every 1000 births are born as inter-sex beings.  Their chromosomes are not strictly XX or XY but some other combination resulting sometimes in undefined genitalia at birth or missing aspects of genitalia such as no ovaries or no testes.   Gender is no longer an either / or  male and female.  The Creator Spirit, as the Pope refers to god, made sure of that for some mysterious reason.    To purposely limit our understanding of gender is also to “live against the truth, against the Creator Spirit.” 

Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 5:50 pm  Comments (6)  
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Do You Hear What I Hear?

In October 1962, The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of Nuclear War.   As a child, I remember pushing our desks to the inside wall and squat under them.  Poor Peter who was too tall in second grade to fit under his desk had to go stand in the teacher’s closet.  We were told that missiles could hit New York City and if they did, we ninety miles away were in the heat blast zone.  No amount of squatting under a desk or hiding in a wooden closet would save us but we pretended as if it would. 

It was during this month that Unitarian Noel Regney (he was a member of the Westport CT congregation, do not know if he was a member in 1962) was walking along a NYC street and saw some babies being strolled by their mothers.  He decided to write a poem as a prayer for their future.  He asked his wife, Gloria Shayne, to write the music.  They had collaborated on other songs, but with Gloria usually writing the words.   The song was first released by Thanksgiving 1962 and became an instant hit.  People hearing it for the first time on the radio would pull over to listen to its lyrics.  Such was the power and poignancy of this song.  The following year, Bing Crosby recorded its quintessential recording.  The popularity of the song has soared ever since.  [The source of this information is found here]  Here is another version of the song.  It remains for me a powerful prayer in song for peace.  May it be so. 

 

International Day of the Migrant Vigil in MS

December 18 is International Day of the Migrant.  First established in 1990 by the United Nations to call to awareness the human rights violations of migrant laborers who travel far from their native homes to find employment.  Every year since, United States has been called to account of how it treats its immigrants working here legally and illegally.  We are not the worstoffender in the world by far, but we have certainly lost any moral high-ground when it comes to immigration policy and immigrant workers here in our country. 

Following the devestation by Hurricane Katrina legal migrants from India were brought to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi  by Signal International to be welders.  They were promised an hourly wage of $18.50, green cards, and permanent residency in exchange for a $20,000 fee.  Instead they got a 10 month work visa which barely covers the fee.  Signal tried to reduce their hourly wage to $9.50 an hour but were told by attorneys that $13.50 was the entry level wage for a welder.  They were  rented housing by Signal  which deducted living expenses at $35 a day from their wages.  Their housing is a small windowless bunker with two toilets and 5 showers for 24 men per bunker.   The workers were denied the opportunity to find their own housing off site and were threatened with deportation if they tried.   

This is how we have treated legal immigrants.  Undocumented immigrants have been subjected to fear with ICE agents storming restaurants with guns brandishing.  Following the ICE raid on Howard Industries where 600 workers were arrested on suspected illegal status, 491 workers were detained without charge for three weeks in Jena, LA, an unaccredited minimum/medium security prison.   They were 250 people in a room.  Meals consisted of boiled peas or corn and a bottle of water.  They were forced to share a toothbrush with 60 other people.   To date Howard Industries still has not surrendered 210 paychecks to workers nor have they returned personal effects of wallets, purses, cash, native countries passports and ID cards.   There have been reports of Latino employees being harassed at Howard Industries and scrutinized for their legal status post employment and post E-verify, the faulty system required by employers to screen legal status.  

On December 18, 2009,  Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance will recognize International Day of  the Migrant with a candle light vigil to bring public awareneness  to Howard Industries refusal to surrender paychecks and personal effects.    I intend to be there to stand witness to this injustice, to offer a prayer for justice with other clergy of conscience, and to grieve with God over our corporate greed.

Published in: on December 18, 2008 at 12:16 am  Comments Off on International Day of the Migrant Vigil in MS  
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Twilight: The Nature of Good and Evil

Twilight: The Nature of Good and Evil
Rev. Fred L Hammond
A sermon given at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

“One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good – he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad – he and the world is destroyed.” Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon

 

Every few years an event happens that becomes a major pop culture phenomenon.  In the music world we had Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles.   I remember watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and seeing the audience practically leaping onto the stage or fainting from trying.  In the late 1970’s we had the movie Star Wars.  I saw this movie some 10 times in the movie theaters and that was nowhere near the number my friends saw the movie.  I didn’t want to be a fanatic and there were only so many hours I wanted to spend waiting in line for a movie I had already seen.  And wait in line I did.

Pop Culture tends to reflect something of the prevailing mood of the culture.  There is something in the personality of the singer, or the movie that beckons the audience to want more.  It meets some basic need in the audience.

In the late 1970’s, America was still reeling from the disillusionment of the Viet Nam War and President Nixon’s resignation from office.  Star Wars with its supernatural “Trust the Force, Luke,” where good always triumphs, its futuristic special effects, and its military action of blowing up the very obvious bad guys resonated with America’s need to lick its wounds of the previous several years.

Stephanie Meyer’s book, The Twilight Saga; four books already out and a fifth to be released in the near future appear to be one of these pop culture phenomenons. The movie of the same name was just recently released.  Teens across the country waited hours to get tickets to the premiere midnight showing. And in full disclosure, I have now seen the movie twice and have read all four of the books in the saga. The first book I have already read three times in preparation for this sermon.   I happen to love vampire genre books and movies and Stephanie Meyers tells the story well.

For me the notion of having to live a secret life resonates with my years of living in the closet as a gay man.  Wanting to come out and tell the world, yet recognizing the possible dire consequences in doing so.  And while I could use the text of these books to bring to light what living a double life does to closeted gay men and women, that concept was not what drew me in to the storyline of these novels.

Instead what drew me was this notion of good and evil.  Is what we call evil, truly evil or is it only in the eyes of the beholder?  Could individuals who are on opposite poles of each other in viewpoints embrace as brothers and sisters?  Could a group that society calls evil rise above evil and be seen as good by society?  Could we honor the decision of another even if it goes against what we believe to truly be in the best interest of all?  And when the consequence of that decision finally plays out to its conclusion, can we embrace it as being good.

These are the questions being discussed in the course of the story by Stephanie Meyer.  And it reflects the current of what is happening in our polarized society of blue and red states, fundamentalist and liberal faiths, gay and straight people.  As I read these novels I found myself being very hopeful for our young people’s destinies because if these novels resonate with them, then they are considering very deep issues on some level in their lives.  Of course it is possible to read these novels as simply a modern day Romeo and Juliet romance and Ms. Meyer does not fail to point out the similarities.  There are further references to the romance in Wuthering Heights and that comparison also is made clear.

But even with the appeal of forbidden love for young adult readers, the saga resonates on a much deeper level of a belief in a singular world suddenly revealing itself as pluralistic with humans, vampires, and werewolves.  How does a person navigate such a world and is it possible to find a bridge across the polarization that exists between these groups?

A brief synopsis of the Twilight Saga.   This is the story of a 17 year old, Bella Swan, who moves to a small northwest community.  She is intrigued by a family who attends the school, most particularly with Edward Cullen, who seems dark and moody.  The family keeps to themselves.  The family is kept at a distance from the Quileute Indian reservation where another teen, Jacob Black, expresses his infatuation with Bella.

Edward is both repulsed and attracted to Bella.  This attraction causes him grave concerns because as we discover, Edward and his family are vampires.   They have sworn off human blood and only hunt animals for their blood source.  Edward has the rare gift of being able to read minds but for some reason is unable to read Bella’s.  This adds to his attraction to Bella, an attraction that he finds to be dangerous.

The Quileute Indians, after being convinced, that the Cullen family is not like other vampires, sets up a treaty with the family.  The Quileutes are shape shifters and their ability to become werewolves occurs when vampires are in the vicinity.  The werewolves are there to protect the people of the tribe.   The tenuous treaty states that if the Cullen family remains on their lands and do not seek to harm humans, then their secret of being vampires will remain safe.  But the werewolves and the Vampires are bitter enemies; each seeing the other as an evil threat to their way of life.

Edward Cullen loathes his existence as a vampire.  Jacob Black loathes his existence as a werewolf.  And Bella Swan is caught in between these two worlds.

She is growing ever more in love with Edward Cullen even though in an instant he could lose control of his self restraint and take her life for the blood that pulses within her.   At one point, Edward Cullen states after being questioned on his super human speed and strength in stopping a van from crashing into Bella, “What if I’m not a superhero? What if I’m the bad guy?”

After Bella learns the truth of Edward Cullen being a vampire, he tries to tell her how dangerous it is for him to be around her.  He states, “ ‘I’m the world’s best predator, aren’t I?  Everything about me invites you in—my voice, my face, even my smell.  As if I need any of that!’     ‘As if you could out run me’ … As if you could fight me off’ ”

He compares being driven to drink human blood as an addict driven to shoot up heroin.   “To me, it was like you were some kind of demon, summoned straight from my own personal hell to ruin me.  The fragrance coming off your skin… I thought it would make me deranged that first day.  In that one hour, I thought of a hundred different ways to lure you from the room with me, to get you alone. And I fought them each back, thinking of my family, what I could do to them.  I had to run out, to get away before I could speak the words that would make you follow me…”

Somehow Edward resists the evil intent and in resisting finds the strength to fall in love with Bella.  “ ‘And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…’ he murmured.  … “What a stupid lamb,’ [Bella] sighed.  ‘What a sick, masochistic lion.’ ” Edward answered.

The nature of good and evil has been debated since time immemorial.  In recent years, especially in fundamentalist Christian circles there is a resurgence of the belief that there is a war in the cosmos being waged between the forces of good a.k.a. God, Jesus, and the angelic hosts and the forces of evil a.k.a. Satan and his demonic minions.   This is a dualistic viewpoint.

Edward Cullen sees himself in this light.  He is a monster that should be avoided at all costs he tells Bella. This cosmological concept of Good and Evil states that Satan and his dominions seek to steal the souls of all humans.  Edward believes that his soul has already been lost when he became one of the undead.  Once a soul is lost, this theology states it is now in full control of the forces of evil to tempt the elect.

The difference between Edward Cullen and the cosmological view of good and evil is this; for Edward he has internalized the war to be waged within himself versus the view of the war being waged outside of ourselves with us as the victims.  This theology states salvation from this war can only come from external intervention. Only by the grace of God could humans be saved from the onslaught of this spiritual war between good and evil.

Jacob Black, the Quiluete Indian also shape-shifter werewolf also falls into this dualistic view of good and evil.  While he loathes what he has become, he sees himself on the side of absolute good.  His people are the protectors.  Vampires are evil and are to be destroyed.  He is skeptical of the Cullen family being able to forever hold on to their side of the treaty.  And when they break it, he and his wolf pack will be there to destroy them.

There is, however, a problem with this scenario of the Wolves being the absolute good guys.   Wolves operate as a pack with an Alpha dog to lead them.  The alpha cannot be questioned.  The alpha must be obeyed.  When Jacob Black is in his werewolf form, he looses his ability to have free will, to choosing his destiny.  The only way he can claim his destiny in wolf form is to challenge the Alpha’s authority which could have dire consequences.  Therefore when he and his family have phased into being wolves, they operate as a pack.  They are in sync with each other’s thoughts and act as one unit.   All their vulnerabilities, all their secrets become known to the other wolves.  The pack will follow the alpha dog.  Whether right or wrong; the alpha dog will always be declared to be right and good.

History has told us that when we are in a hierarchical setting like the military but not exclusively military, when ordered to do so we will commit evil acts.  We saw this in Nazi Germany and we saw this in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. The only counter to this is the ability to question and if that has been taken away then the safe guard is gone.

So here in this story we have Werewolves whose core intentions are good but they might do bad things and Vampires whose core intentions are evil but they might do good things.  Stephanie Meyer in her telling of this tale turns the dualistic theology of good and evil on its head.  And Bella Swan becomes the bridge between these two poles.
Her insistence in maintaining a relationship with both Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, despite their bitter opposition begins to soften their stances against the other.   She is determined to see the good in each of them and convey that to the other.
Bella Swan in her approach to Edward Cullen, the Vampire; and Jacob Black, the Werewolf is exploring another perspective on the nature of good and evil.
When Bella tells Edward that she has determined he is a vampire, she says: 
“ ‘I did some research on the internet.’ ‘And did that convince you?’  His voice sounded barely interested.  But his hands were clamped hard onto the steering wheel. ‘No. Nothing fit.  Most of it was kind of silly. And then…’ I stopped. ‘What?’ ‘I decided it didn’t matter,’ I whispered.  ‘It didn’t matter?’  His tone made me look up—I had finally broken his carefully composed mask.  His face was incredulous, with just a hint of the anger I’d feared.   “No,’ I said softly.  ‘It doesn’t matter to me what you are.’  A hard, mocking edge entered his voice, “you don’t care if I’m a monster?  If I’m not human?’ “No.’”
Her response to Jacob is identical.  There had been a series of unexplained deaths in the nearby forests.  When Bella realizes that Jacob was a werewolf, she wrongly assumes that it was the werewolves doing the killings.  
“ ‘No, Jake, No.  It’s not that you’re a … wolf.  That’s fine,’ I promised him, and I knew as I said the words that I meant them.  I really didn’t care if he turned into a big wolf—he was still Jacob.  ‘If you could just find a way not to hurt people… that’s all that upsets me.  These are innocent people, Jake, people like Charlie, and I can’t just look the other way while you—’ ‘Is that all?  Really?’  He interrupted me, a smile breaking across his face.  … “You really, honestly don’t mind that I morph into a giant dog?’ …  ‘I’m not a killer, Bella.’  I studied his face, and it was clear that this was the truth.  Relief pulsed through me.”

Bella’s response to both is a humanist approach to good and evil.  A humanist approach to evil states that evil is not a force in the cosmos seeking to destroy or steal our souls but rather evil has a human cause to it.

Bella Swan has taken the humanist approach; it is not who you are, but rather what you do that creates evil or good. Jewish Theologian Maimonides from the 12th century stated there are three types of evil—one is natural and two are moral.

1) “Natural evils occur because we are made of matter, of flesh and bones, and we are subject to coming into being and passing away.  We die and make room for others of our species.
“2) Human beings inflict evil upon one another by tyrannical domination and wars.  These evils are more numerous than natural evils. This kind of evil afflicts many people in wars, yet they are not the majority of events if we consider the world as a whole.

“3) Individuals inflict evil upon themselves by eating, drinking and indulging themselves to excess. A bad regimen produces diseases of the body and soul.”
Maimonides offers the beginnings of a humanistic approach to good and evil by placing evil in the hands of humanity’s actions.  Humanists tend to go another step, and that is an optimism that everyone has within them an inherent worth and dignity.
This seems to be Bella Swan’s approach as well to her two self-identified monsters.  There is an inherent worth and dignity within them and if they are willing to put their mind to it, they can overcome their monster tendencies.  As the Twilight saga unfolds, we begin to see how these two natural enemies, the Cullen Vampires and Werewolves,  come to embrace over time as brothers and sisters.
How can humanity rise above its tendencies to commit evils?  If there is any clue in this novel, it would be with some strong self-discipline and the self-sacrifice of pre-conceptions of what motivates the other.   There is another story that also offers a clue.  It is the Cherokee tale of the Two Wolves.

“An elder Cherokee was teaching his grandchildren about life.  He said to them, ‘A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
“One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
“This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.’

“The children thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’

“The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’ ”
Blessed Be.

[1] Evil and Christian Ethics By Gordon Graham New York, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

[3] website AAANativeArts.com.

All other quotes are from Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. 

 

 


World AIDS Day Observance in the South

 The 20th observation of World AIDS Day was on December 1st.    I attended the local observance of this event organized by West Alabama AIDS Outreach (WAAO).   It is now five days later and I am still reflecting on what I heard. 

AIDS is no foreign entity to me.  Those of you who know me, know that I co-founded an AIDS ministry in my hometown of Danbury, CT and then ran that organization in various positions for 15 years.   I witnessed a change of attitude in Danbury over that time period within the interfaith religious community.   Congregations that were homophobic lessened their fear in its relationship with AIDS and began to talk about HIV/AIDS prevention from the pulpit.   They were less afraid to admit that there were members in their congregations with the disease.   Clergy of all religious cloth began to respond to those with HIV/AIDS with compassion. This is not to say that conservative faith groups suddenly embraced everyone  impacted by this disease but there was a decrease in the stigma of having HIV/AIDS.    I like to think this change of heart was in some small part due to the presence of the non-profit organization I ran.  I know that it was because of a much broader community effort to educate ourselves on this disease. 

West Alabama is still steeped in ignorance when it comes to how HIV/AIDS is or isn’t transmitted.   WAAO is still trying, 30 years into this pandemic,  to separate the stigma of sexuality, primarily homosexuality from the disease.   It’s not who you are but rather what you do that puts you at risk for this disease.

So as I sat and listened to the speakers at the podium talk about HIV/AIDS in Alabama, I felt I was transported back in time to when I first was personally confronted with the specter of AIDS.   It suddenly made sense to me why Alabama and other southern states are seeing a resurgence in HIV transmission.     These are states that are afraid. 

Fear is a great paralyzer.  It causes us to behave in irrational ways.  It causes us to believe falsehoods because the falsehoods reinforce the fear.   In West Alabama, fear keeps people from being empowered to choose healthful decisions about their bodies.   The only antidote I know to fear is education. 

It will require the schools in Alabama to discard the failed Abstinence based approach to sexuality and to choose comprehensive sexuality education.  This is the only approach I have seen to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, reduce unwanted teen pregnancy, reduce the spread of other sexual transmitted infections and diseases.  It is also the only approach I know that reduces the fear that grips this region.

Published in: on December 5, 2008 at 4:07 pm  Comments Off on World AIDS Day Observance in the South  
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All I Want For Christmas

A conversation after church a few Sundays ago encouraged someone to say, “Well, add that to your Christmas wish.”    It is indeed a time of when we begin to wonder about what to offer our loved ones for Christmas.  And we begin wondering what we also want this time of year when hoping seems so magical

I remember the song, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.”  Sometimes it is the simple things that suffice our deepest cravings.  Two front teeth, to be surrounded by family and friends, to sit in front of a roaring fireplace with music gently playing in the background, these are all simple things.  Sometimes it is the more ethereal things that will comfort us.   The song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” written in 1962 by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, was in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is a powerful plea for peace in the world and one that still echoes its call in today’s world.   What is it that you want for Christmas?

Here are a few things that I would want for Christmas this year. Perhaps these could be suggestions to offer your friends and family about gifts you would want instead of receiving another tie or knick-knack. It is a means to giving the gift of hope to others.  I want a village in Africa to have safe clean drinking water through the efforts of Ryan’s Well Foundation. Click Here   I want families to receive assistance in learning how to create a sovereign food supply through Heifer International Click Here  or through the Hunger Project Click Here.    I want the indigenous people of the Rain Forests to be able to take active participation in saving their lands from deforestation efforts through the Pachamama Alliance Click Here.  I want Native American teens to be able to be to attend college and advance their contributions to their world through The Northern Arizona Native American Foundation  Click Here .  I want research done to help those impacted by spinal cord injuries Click Here , HIV/AIDS Click Here, and Breast Cancer  Click Here 

There are other efforts being done to promote racial equity, economic justice, and civil rights. I guess I am still like that little kid who wants the toy store for Christmas but in the manner that will change lives.  Happy Holidays everyone
Blessings, Fred

Published in: on December 5, 2008 at 3:06 pm  Comments Off on All I Want For Christmas  
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