Green Blade Rises

The hymn Now the Green Blade Riseth sung beautifully this morning loosely refers to the Christian texts in Mark 4: The earth beareth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And also the verse in John 12: I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

The hymn written by minister John Crum in the 1920’s takes these verses and weaves a wonderful metaphor not only referring to the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus but also to the resurrection / rebirth of love in a heart wounded and grieving. It is this second metaphor that I want to explore on this day of celebrating resurrection, this day of celebrating spring’s rising to new life.

We need that assurance that love not only can but will prevail ultimately. As Rob Bell writes, Love Wins. Love wins. And it wins even when all signs point to the opposite. The green blade riseth from the buried grain/ wheat that in dark earth many days has lain/ Love lives again, that with the dead has been/ love comes again like wheat that springeth green.

I officiated at an outdoor wedding last week and on the property were these 200 year old oaks whose branches were covered with small ferns—called the resurrection fern. In times of drought the fronds of this fern are dry, apparently dead/lifeless. But when the rain comes, these fronds become healthy and supple, vibrant with life. It had been raining and these fronds were full of life.

But there is another plant that is even more amazing called the Ibervillea Sonorae. This desert plant of the gourd family can appear as a piece of drift wood for years. When the rains come, it will burst forth in magnificent full bloom and produce gourds and then die off and wait again. NY Botanical Garden reportedly had one; they purposefully kept it from water to see how long it would live in its drift wood state. Each year it would tentatively send out green tendrils looking for a source of water. If there was none to be found, it would shrivel back and return to its drift wood state. For seven years the plant waited for the moment of rebirth before it died.

I found that number of years to be meaningful. Without delving too much into numerology, the number seven is a significant number metaphorically in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Genesis story has god resting on the seventh day of creation. A Hebrew slave is to be released in the seventh year. Hebrews insisted a field be fallow every seven years; and of course the notion that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath, a day of rest. Jesus was once asked how many times to forgive someone for the same offense, seven times? No, Jesus replied, seventy times seven. So seven years for a desert plant to wait for resurrection seems theologically significant. It suggests that we are not to give up on love. Even after waiting a time period numbering seventy times seven and the appearance of anything different still seems dead impossible—we are not to give up on love. Seven seems to be the number of the Sabbath, the rest needed to bring about rejuvenation/ new life/ or new starts can begin. But it also seems to imply that just when by all appearances everything seems to be forever in the dead of night, the moment of dawn occurs and a bright new day begins.

A blog post on this amazing plant asks the questions: How dead does something have to appear before it is dead? How dry and lifeless and alone and fruitless does something have to be before it is actually, and finally, beyond hope? *

For the Ibervillea apparently a very long time. When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain, Love’s touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

That is often the fear, isn’t it, that our hearts once bereft will be kept in an eternal wintry mess and spring’s warm caress of new life will never come or never come in time? So how do we wait patiently like the Ibervillea day after day, week after week? It isn’t easy.

I believe the point of Jesus’ message is not in his death and resurrection. At least not in the way the orthodox theology has established it. The point is that Jesus kept saying the kingdom of god / the beloved community was within us, the realm of heaven is indeed within us. He stated this before his death and resurrection. It was not a condition contingent on his crucifixion; it was already according to Jesus a reality. Christianity has placed the emPHASis on the wrong sylLAHble. Just as the Ibervillea has everything ready within it to burst forth with new vines of flowers and gourds, we too have everything within us we need to burst forth with love to transform our society from the dried piece of drift wood it seems to be to a lush garden of life.

This beloved community with in us is the green blade that riseth in the hearts of people who seek to live according to the universal truth that we are all one people/ one family. What we do to one person we do to all. I’ve said this before and I truly am convinced that Jesus’ core message is found in what he considers to be the greatest commandments of the Tanakh, the scriptures of Jesus’ day: “To love god / Life with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul, and with all one’s mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything else falls under these two commands.

I have come to believe that to focus on the crucifixion and resurrection is a form of cheap grace. There is no need for personal growth and health when this becomes the central piece of salvation. Even history’s worst villains of the western world claimed to be Christian because they believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Say the sinner’s prayer and be on your way—nothing more to be seen here. But when the person seeks to fulfill the great command—whether it is stated in the words of Jesus or the Dalai Lama or Karen Armstrong or Thich Nhat Hanh then the person becomes engaged and their lives are transformed in ways that are mysterious and wonderful. The rest, as the Rabbi Hillel said, is commentary.

So reach out to the person who is grieving or in pain with compassion, with love as you would want someone to reach out to you in love and become that life saving water that encourages the green blade to rise again. Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

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Green Blade Rises
Rev Fred L Hammond 31 March 2013 ©
Presented at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

* As found on March 29 2013 at http://shelovesmagazine.com/2013/never-dead-enough/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+shelovesmagazine%2FgZoz+%28SheLoves+Magazine%29

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HB360: Asks Medical Profession to Ignore Science

The state legislature of Alabama has introduced HB 360 which would amend a previous act regarding abortion with new conditions and new terms.  First it adds a phrase to the definition of abortion which is a prelude to the Personhood bill  (SB 205) that is expected to  come up this session.

“Abortion: The use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug, or any other substance or device with the intent to kill the unborn child of a woman known to be pregnant or with the intent to prematurely terminate the pregnancy of a woman known to be pregnant.”  (Underlined is new wording in the Act).

This new language sets the stage for a declaration of Personhood to a fertilized ovum by explicitly declaring abortion is murder.  It is intentionally offensive to those who do not share these religious beliefs.

There is a new  requirement in “§26-23A-4 (9) The abortion provider who is to perform or induce the abortion, a certified technician, or another agent of the abortion provider shall make the embryonic or fetal heartbeat of the unborn child audible for the pregnant woman to hear the heartbeat as described in Section 3 of the act adding this amendatory language.    (underlined is new wording in the Act).    How this is done for the woman who is deaf, I do not know,  but it would be the abortion provider who is required to make it so or be subject to fines.

But this is not even the crux of this bill as the most heinous and unscrupulous section of this bill is the following:

(8) The material shall include the following statements: “Your chances of getting breast cancer are affected by your pregnancy history. If you have carried a pregnancy to term as a young woman, you may be less likely to
get breast cancer in the future. However, you do not get the same protective effect if your pregnancy is ended by an abortion. The risk may be higher if your first pregnancy is aborted.” and ” If you have a family history of breast cancer or clinical findings of breast disease, you should seek medical advice from your physician before deciding whether to remain pregnant or have an abortion. It is always important to tell your doctor about your complete pregnancy history.”     (underlined is new wording in the Act).

This statement is blatantly false.  There is no evidence that abortions  result in greater risk for cancer–it has been proven there is no causative link between the two.   Dr Jen Gunter covers in her blog the scientific research that proves that there is no link between the two.   Here is a quote from her article summarizing the newest study:

A new study confirms this data, that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. The data come from a study of over 25,000 Danish women from the Diet, Cancer, and Health study. The women completed questionnaires and then were followed for an average of 12 years. This kind of study is probably the best way to look at two common and emotional charged occurrences, like abortion and breast cancer, because there is no recall bias. When something bad happens it is human nature to look back and try to assign causality, but collecting the data prospectively removes this element. The study was also well-powered to detect even a small increase, so another plus.

For Alabama legislators to codify such blatant lies into law is unethical and immoral.  It is placing the women of our state at great risk because  if their physician lies to them about this information, what else is the physician willing to lie about?  I do not expect our legislators to be well versed on every subject but I do expect them to know how to read scientific journals and able to discern between real science and the garbage the religious right calls science.

The religious right calls it science when they believe something to be true and then seek evidence to validate their belief.  That is not science that is magical thinking.   They interview women who have had breast cancer and then ask them if they ever had an abortion.  They do not even consider this fact about spontaneous abortions:

Around half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15-20%. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy.

This fact reveals the nonsensical element of their finding alleged causative links.  There are lots of factors that lead a person to develop cancer but abortions (spontaneous or intended) have been ruled as not being one of them. Our legislators need to put their religious beliefs aside and reconsider the impact this legislation will have on a state already tarnished as being uneducated.

Requiring physicians to betray their professional ethics and standards by codifying lies into law is harmful to all of Alabama.  This bill needs to be defeated not only for the reasons that it attacks a woman’s right to choose but mainly because it is simply bad legislation. Period.

Reproductive Rights: The Right to Choose

Reproductive rights in Alabama is heating up this year with several bills being presented before the legislature in Montgomery.  Whose right is it to determine what happens in one’s body?

HB108: The Religious Liberty Act of 2013,  dubbed the Hobby Lobby bill, would allow businesses to deny birth control and other contraceptives and abortifacient drugs, devices and or methods from the medical benefits  offered to employees under the guise that it violates the employer’s religious freedom.

Not every woman who is on contraceptives is taking them to prevent pregnancy.  Some women are on contraceptives to treat medical issues. To think that contraceptives only purpose is to allow women to have sex without pregnancy is ignorant and reveals a lack of moral maturity. We as a nation,  as sophisticated as we are in many arenas, when it comes to morality especially when it pertains to sexuality are very sophomoric about it.  We still believe that it is alright for boys to sow their oats but girls must remain pure and innocent.  This double standard implies that if females  take contraceptives then they must be as Rush Limbaugh so infamously announced: sluts.  The males? — well they simply cannot control themselves.

Using the religious liberty angle is equally immature.  We do not live in a religiously homogenous society and have not ever since the puritans divided into Trinitarians and Unitarians–not to mention the exile of the  Baptists to what was to become Rhode Island.  To act as if we live in a homogenous society results in bills that seek to impose one’s religious views over another.  This is not what religious freedom means. Religious freedom means that I have the right to worship and practice my faith according to my conscience in equal measure to your having the right to worship and practice your faith according to your conscience. It means that together we seek to lift up values that are held in common and we legislate to protect those common values. It does not mean that one religious view is superior or should have precedent over any other religious view.  This is what using the religious liberty angle attempts in this legislation.  It is stating the religious beliefs of the employer are superior and carry more validity to those religious beliefs or non-belief of the employee.

So for example: We have a common value in road safety.  So while it could be argued that texting while driving is an interference to performing one’s business (personal or professional) obligations , it is also an endangerment to the other drivers on the road and would no longer uphold the value of  road safety.  Because we as a society value road safety as a higher priority than the instant need to text someone, we in Alabama have banned texting while driving. Someone, presumably, could argue that texting while driving is a form of prayer in the same vein that rattlesnake handling is a form of prayer for some religious sects. Texting while driving is a matter of proving one’s faith so to speak. Do we then pass a religious liberty act protecting drivers who as an act of faith text and drive?  Of course not, it’s absurd but that is the same rationale behind HB 108. It is absurd to pass legislation on religious grounds that alleges that one’s religious morals are superior to another person’s–disregarding the potential harm such a stance may have the employee’s health and well-being.

I have already written on HB57 “Women’s Health and Safety Act.” You may read it here.  But let me add this act also is based on a very specific religious point of view that  pretends to be the singular view.  It too is filled with subjective language that assumes everyone agrees with this singular viewpoint. The best example in the bill is where abortions are equated to the “taking of a human life” –implying murder.   There is no factual evidence presented to back up the claims made in this proposed legislation. Because it assumes this singular view of religious thought as the only view that matters, it attacks a value that is as American as baseball and apple pie.

America has a long history of honoring the value of individual rights and in this context over one’s physical body.  We have as a nation lauded the individual spirit, the do or die attitude of the American.  It had however, a masculine aroma surrounding it excluding women.  When our nation was founded the phrase  “all men created equal” referred only to white males who were landowners.  But that sentiment has expanded and developed in America to hopefully encompass everyone (soon it will even include gender and sexual diversities) but to be still debating it in regards to women in 2013 is a painful and embarrassing shame on America. We still have not passed basic individual rights like equal pay for equal work.

The few gains in individual rights regarding women’s health issues have been undermined in recent years. The right for a woman to determine when she wants to be pregnant is fraught with stigma and shame.  And the woman, if she is single, it does not matter which decision she chooses, she is wrong and shameful.  It is wrong for her to keep the child and raise it as a single parent and it is wrong for her to abort the pregnancy.  I have known women who have chosen one or the other and regardless of their choice, their lives were made difficult by others and by legislation enacted for choosing incorrectly.

I long for the day when a woman’s choice is honored and respected, regardless if it is to keep the pregnancy (even in the best of circumstances that decision is life altering) or if the decision is to abort.  Their decision needs to be honored, respected, and supported.  This save the fetus but damn the child that is born is the most morally depraved stance I have ever witnessed.

One of the speakers at the HB57 hearing said it best, when she said there are ways of reducing abortions.  We can educate people in advance of pregnancy through comprehensive sexual education (a proven way to reduce teenage pregnancy by the way). We can provide services that will support the choice to carry out the pregnancy with child support, aid the single mother to finish her education so she can afford a position that will not only feed and clothe the child but also pay for childcare.  But the bottom line is we have got to stop stigmatizing women who choose differently than we would have.

Stigmatizing others  is not congruent with any of our religious texts–instead we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. This teaching is in the Christian, Hebrew, and Islamic texts.  It is found in the Mormon, Buddhist, and Tao teachings as well.  And it is congruent with the  principles of my Unitarian Universalist Faith.

We must respect and trust the individual to make the choices that are right for her.  That is the American value I was taught by my Republican parents and grandparents.  We value  individual freedoms and we have fought wars to prevent governments from curtailing those individual freedoms on their citizens.  And I can not think of any individual freedom that is more important than the ability to choose as best as we are able to discern the life path of our bodies.

Imposing our religious beliefs on a woman who is struggling with an unwanted pregnancy is spiritual violence.  It causes more irreparable and long term trauma than any other kind of violence committed against a person.  Yes, by all means offer counseling, offer education, offer alternative options but do not tell her her decision is wrong when she makes it.

Personal story:  I was the co-founder and executive director  of an  AIDS ministry for many years.  One of our clients, who discovered her HIV status when she was pregnant with her first child and born HIV positive, became pregnant several years later.  By this time our treatment of pregnant women with HIV had improved considerably but this woman’s health was extremely fragile.  She had just found a combination of drugs that reduced her viral load.  She wanted to have this child.  But the risks to her health were great. She  had to come off all  medications and go on AZT which would not help her own immune system and given the state of her health might not prevent perinatal transmission of the virus.  Her case management agency was advising her to abort.  My agency took the view that as long as she had all of the information needed to make a decision, it was her right to choose and then our responsibility to stand by that decision and support her as best we could. There were many arguments between the two agencies regarding our refusing to support her getting an abortion.  There were way too many things that could happen. Emphasis on could happen.  She had the information including the risk that she could die in the process.  She chose to keep the pregnancy. It was a difficult pregnancy, fraught with all sorts of complications that late stage HIV disease could have on a woman.  The baby was born healthy against all odds and her health with medications returned.  We stood by her decision to see this pregnancy through. It could have ended tragically and her first child could have become an orphan as a toddler.  But her ability to set the course for her life was utmost more important than anyone’s  religious convictions.

I believe in a woman’s right to make an informed choice regarding abortion.  The stigma surrounding her choice in this nation is harmful and needs to end.  I stand in opposition to HB108 and HB57 because they curtail a woman’s ability to choose what she feels is best for her.  And these laws further add shame to her for choosing differently.

I will write on the upcoming SB 205 Personhood Bill in a separate post.