Thursday, January 29, 2009

Combatting Hunger: Flood-Tolerant Rice Increases Yield Three- to Five-Fold

CNN reports a really creative advance in the fight against world hunger: three scientists, two from campuses of the University of California, have proven that a new flood-tolerant rice they developed multiplies the yield of rice fields three to five times. They expect that will make a significant dent in the 4 millions tons farmers lose each year to flooding. Excerpts from the CNN story follow:

If every scientist hopes to make at least one important discovery in her career, then University of California-Davis professor Pamela Ronald and her colleagues may have hit the jackpot.

Ronald's team works with rice, a grain most Americans take for granted, but which is a matter of life and death to much of the world. Thanks to their efforts to breed a new, hardier variety of rice, millions of people may not go hungry.

About half the world's population eats rice as a staple. Two-thirds of the diet of subsistence farmers in India and Bangladesh is made up entirely of rice. If rice crops suffer, it can mean starvation for millions.

"People [in the United States] think, well, if I don't have enough rice, I'll go to the store," said Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at UC-Davis. "That's not the situation in these villages. They're mostly subsistence farmers. They don't have cars."

As sea levels rise and world weather patterns worsen, flooding has become a major cause of rice crop loss. Scientists estimate 4 million tons of rice are lost every year because of flooding. That's enough rice to feed 30 million people.

So Ronald and her colleagues -- David Mackill, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and Julia Bailey-Serres, professor of genetics at the University of California-Riverside -- spent the last decade working to find a rice strain that could survive flooding for longer periods.

Mackill identified a flood-resistant gene 13 years ago in a low-yielding traditional Indian rice variety. He passed along the information to Ronald, who isolated the gene, called Sub1, and introduced it into normal rice varieties, generating rice that could withstand being submerged in water for 17 days.

The team relied on something called precision breeding, the ability to introduce very specific genes into plants without the associated baggage of other genes that might tag along in conventional breeding.

Using precision breeding, scientists introduced the Sub1 gene three years ago into test fields in Bangladesh and India. The subsequent rice harvests were a resounding success.

"The results were really terrific," said Ronald. "The farmers found three- to five-fold increases in yield due to flood tolerance. They can plant the normal way. They can harvest the normal way and it tastes the same. Farmers had more food for their families and they also had additional rice they could sell to bring a little bit of money into the household."

"The potential for impact is huge," agreed Mackill in a statement on the IRRI Web site. "In Bangladesh, for example, 20 percent of the rice land is flood prone and the country typically suffers several major floods each year. Submergence-tolerant varieties could make major inroads into Bangladesh's annual rice shortfall."

The researchers anticipate that the flood-tolerant rice plants will be available to farmers in Bangladesh and India within two years.

But Ronald has no plans to rest on her laurels.

"I feel a great sense of gratitude that I was able to contribute in this way," she said. "But the farmers have asked us, 'Can you develop varieties that are drought tolerant, salt tolerant? Can you develop varieties that are insect resistant?' There are always more things to work on."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fraternity of St. Pius X Disavows Holocaust-Denying Bishop and Orders Him to Shut Up

National Catholic Reporter correspondent John Allen Jr. says the Vatican released a statement today by religious superiors of Bishop Richard Williamson, saying that his Holocaust denials "do not reflect in any sense the position of our Fraternity" and prohibiting him "from taking any public positions on political or historical questions."

If the gag order is in fact enforced, it might give the Vatican some help in its efforts to disentangle the issue of lifting the 1988 excommunications of Williamson and three other ultraconservative bishops from the issue of Williamson's Holocaust denial. However, since the Vatican II teachings which the Fraternity of St. Pius X deny include those affirming that God's covenant with the Jewish people is eternal and that anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews are sins, the Fraternity ought to be required to specifically affirm those teachings as a condition for being reconciled to the Catholic faith. The NCR story follows:

The Vatican today released a statement from Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X and one of the four traditionalist bishops whose excommunication was rescinded in a Jan. 21 decree from the Congregation for Bishops.

The statement is in response to the uproar created by a recent interview on Swedish television in which another of the traditionalist bishops, Richard Williamson, asserted that the Nazis had not used gas chambers and that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had died in the Second World War.

The statement was released in Italian and French; the following is an NCR translation from the Italian.

We have become aware of an interview released by Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Fraternity of St. Pius X, to Swedish television. In this interview, he expressed himself on historical questions, and in particular on the question of the genocide against the Jews carried out by the Nazis.

It’s clear that a Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesiastical authority except on questions that regard faith and morals. Our Fraternity does not claim any authority on other matters. Its mission is the propagation and restoration of authentic Catholic doctrine, expressed in the dogmas of the faith. It’s for this reason that we are known, accepted and respected in the entire world.

It’s with great sadness that we recognize the extent to which the violation of this mandate has done damage to our mission. The affirmations of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any sense the position of our Fraternity. For this reason I have prohibited him, pending any new orders, from taking any public positions on political or historical questions.

We ask the forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff, and of all people of good will, for the dramatic consequences of this act. Because we recognize how ill-advised these declarations were, we can only look with sadness at the way in which they have directly struck our Fraternity, discrediting its mission.

This is something we cannot accept, and we declare that we will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to administer the sacraments of grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Menzingen, January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dear Pope Benedict: Your "Dictatorship of Relativism" Is Getting Old. Try Getting Real.

Dear Pope Benedict:

On April 18, 2005, using your homily at a mass after John Paul II's death to promote your own candidacy for pope, you said:

"How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.

"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine," seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."

It certainly impressed Catholic conservatives at the time. And it so impressed the College of Cardinals that they did indeed elect you pope.

Isn't it curious, then, that your papacy to date has so often been one that "does not recognize anything as definitive" with papal pronouncements that often reflect only your "own ego and desires"?

The latest example is your decision, announced over the weekend, to reverse Pope John Paul II's 1988 excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, ordained by schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to advance his denial of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council and even the church's authority to convene it.

So much was this decision a matter of your "own ego and desires" that you made it and announced it without consulting other top Vatican officials. Analysts expressed concern that you are increasingly isolating yourself within the Vatican and seriously undermining the credibility and moral authority of the papacy.

It did not help, of course, that one of the excommunicated bishops, British-born Richard Williamson, had already angered Jewish officials around the globe for denying the reality of the Holocaust. The Vatican insisted that rehabilitating Williamson was in no way an endorsement of his Holocaust-denial. In fact, however, one of the Vatican II teachings which the Lefebvre crowd denies was the council's condemnation of anti-Semitism and regret for the church's historical involvement in persecution of Jews.

It turns out too that the Holocaust is not the only area where Richard Williamson suffers serious detachment from reality. The National Catholic Reporter has links to documentation that Williamson has said that: pedophiles are merely lonely men who deserve comfort rather than condemnation; women who wear shorts or pants sin; for all sorts of reasons, almost no woman should go to a university; and airplanes did not take down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

This, of course, is not the first time you have attempted to let your "own ego and desires" over-ride the clear teachings of Vatican II.

You did it when you tried to deny that other Christian denominations are actually churches.

You did it when you condemned theologians who upheld the idea that non-Christian religions should be respected as worthwhile approaches to the Living God.

You did it when you allowed wider use of the Old Latin Mass, without requiring those who value it to agree that it is one valuable liturgy among several others and not the only legitimate one the church may have.

As John Paul II's dogmatic watchdog, you did it when you tried to foreclose discussion of women's ordination by making ordination of males a matter of faith, rather than the accident of history and church discipline which it is.

You did it when you tried to silence liberation theologians and others who were faithfully spelling out the implications of Vatican II's Declaration on the Church in the Modern World.

But your gravest self-worship has been your failure to respect the multiple ways Vatican II said God's Spirit leads the church. The council introduced a healthy, accurate relativity by balancing Vatican I's emphasis on the authority of the pope with two other authorities: the authority of the body of bishops and the authority of the faithful as a whole.

Of the bishops, the council said: "The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of the bishops when that body exercises supreme teaching authority with the successor of Peter. To the resultant definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, whereby the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith."

Of the People of God as a whole, the council said: "The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One (cf. Jn. 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. Thanks to a supernatural sense of the faith which characterizes the People as a whole, it manifests this unerring quality when, 'from the bishops down to the last member of the laity,' it shows universal agreement in matters of faith and morals."

No one pretended after Vatican II that these sources of authority could never be in conflict, or that how the church should move forward if they were in conflict had been resolved. That became apparent with the controversy over birth control, a scant few years after the council's end. But Vatican II's bottom line was that all three authorities were entitled to consideration and respect by everyone in the church.

Yet the bulk of your ecclesiastical career has been devoted to disrespecting and diminishing the authority of the bishops as expressed at Vatican II, and to denying the authority of the People of God as a whole to balance your own. Is it any wonder that Catholic observers and Protestant observers and Jewish observers and academic observers regard this latest Vatican aberration as more of the same?

Perhaps you could explain where you get the authority to lord it over the other bodies by which the Spirit has chosen to lead the church. Perhaps you could explain what gives you the right to make common cause with those who have spent decades denying the very legitimacy of Vatican II.

Perhaps, in short, you could explain how your behavior and actions are anything other than "a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."


Gerald T. Floyd, Ph.D.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Darwin's Bicentennial, Evolution Tauted by Houston Museums, Libraries and Schools

In the University of St. Thomas library this morning, I came across a bookmark-size flyer for Darwin2009Houston, a website publicizing local events to celebrate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth, the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and "the importance of the science of evolution."

The website is hosted by the Houston Academy of Medicine - Texas Medical Center Library. Other institutions participating in and promoting the website include: Houston Public Library, Brazoria County Library System, Montgomery County Memorial Library Systems, Science Teachers Association of Texas, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston Zoo, Rice University's Fondren Library, University of Houston Libraries, and University of St. Thomas' Doherty Library. Other religious institutions supporting the website include Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church and Live Oak Friends Meeting.

The group's Advisory Board includes professionals from several of the institutions, including Donald R. Frohlich, PhD, professor of biology at the University of St. Thomas. The website also includes a blog that has postings on the importance of evolution going back to April 2008.

At a time when religious conservatives are trying once again to water down the statewide curriculum on evolution, it is gratifying that Darwin2009Houston is contributing to efforts to keep creationism, intelligent design and related religious claims out of the science classroom. It is also heartening that the library and the biology department of a Catholic university are continuing to uphold the Catholic tradition that there is no conflict between Genesis and Darwin's description of evolution.

The participants invite other institutions to join them. Here's hoping that many will!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Consider Baker Institute's 50-Cent per Gallon Gasoline Tax, Houston Chronicle Says

In an editorial today the Houston Chronicle says a 50-cent per gallon gasoline tax proposed January 18th by two energy experts at Rice University's Baker Institute has several merits and "deserves careful review" by the Obama administration. It is heartening that the necessity for such a tax is grasped by independent analysts in a city often touted as "the energy capitol of the world." The editorial follows, including a link I inserted to the original op-ed piece.

It was mere moments into his inaugural address before President Barack Obama warmed to the energy subject: “Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet,” Obama said.

And so they do. Gasoline prices may have backed off last summer’s $4-per-gallon highs, but there is widespread concern about a return to those price levels. Obama has spoken boldly about a new direction for the country in energy — including an ambitious green jobs program and eventual energy independence.

But the new administration has moved more gingerly on the question of a gasoline tax to slow demand and fund noncarbon alternatives. Steven Chu, Obama’s nominee as energy secretary, says such a tax is off the table for now, given the nation’s economic straits.

We understand sensitivities about adding to individual Americans’ tax burden while jobs are disappearing and household budgets are shrinking. But the interim before discussion of a gasoline tax returns to the national agenda, as it most certainly will, could be fruitfully spent with a thorough briefing on the subject. We would respectfully steer the new administration’s attention to the thorough scholarship on the subject done by energy fellows at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

In their recent Outlook piece (“ENERGY / Higher gas tax could help solve U.S. economic woes / Raise rates to wean country from oil imports,” Sunday, Jan. 18), Baker’s Amy Myers Jaffe and Kenneth Medlock laid out the benefits of gradual implementation of a 50-cent gasoline tax with a rebate for low-income consumers.

When combined with an increase in average fuel economy (CAFE) standards to 50 miles per gallon, the two estimate that a 50-cent tax could cut U.S. reliance on foreign oil by more than 50 percent over the next 20 years. Such a strategy also would lower greenhouse emissions in a meaningful way. Lastly, a gas tax would make it less likely that American drivers would face spikes to $4 gas by moderating consumption levels.

Meanwhile, the revenues accruing from such a tax would be significant — $75 billion annually at 2007 consumption levels. Used wisely, these dollars could build a bridge from the carbon era to greater reliance on renewable energy sources.

The Baker Institute scholarship on the impact of a gasoline tax deserves careful review by the new administration.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shame on You, Barack Obama, For Inviting Bishop Gene Robinson, Then Silencing Him

Were gay Americans ever meant to be included in "We Are One," the inauguration kick-off event at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday?

Apparently not, judging from the organizers' contemptible treatment of gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.

The inauguration committee made a huge public deal about inviting Robinson to give the invocation for the event. But then they made him speak before HBO began its exclusive television coverage, before the sound system was working for most of the live audience, and before the president-elect was even in attendance. So much for atoning for promoting quirky evangelist Rick Warren as the new Billy Graham.

Shame on the Presidential Inauguration Committee for trying to keep Robinson from being seen or heard.

Shame on HBO for acceding to the committee's decision
to keep the invocation as part of the pre-show."

And above all, shame on Barack Obama for allowing his inauguration party to be yet another occasion to deny equal civil rights for gay people--at the memorial to the Great Emancipator, no less.

As far as the HBO audience knew, Robinson was never there. He was not seen during the live broadcast, from 2:30-4:30 ET, nor during any of the successive re-broadcasts on various HBO channels.

The only viewers who had any clue that Robinson actually spoke were those like me who watched CNN's coverage before the event. I could see Bishop Robinson standing at the podium, as pictured above. However, since HBO had exclusive rights to the production and would not allow CNN to show any of the performances, I assumed naively that the bishop was just testing the microphone. Once HBO began with Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," it became clear that HBO's audience was never going see Robinson or his prayer.

One blogger reports that a spokesman for the Presidential Inauguration Committee has just issued this apology for excluding Robinson: "We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev. Robinson's invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday's program. We regret the error in executing this plan - but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event."

But that apology rings false in light of HBO's statement that the committee instructed them not to cover Robinson's prayer. It also does not address why a sound system that was working fine just before the invocation suddenly broke down right when Robinson spoke.

the same blogger links to a YouTube video of Robinson's prayer, and gives a transcription of what he actually said.

Ironically, Robinson mentioned "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people" only once in his invocation, at the end of a sentence which began "Bless this nation with anger - anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color and ..."

How unfortunate that Robinson could be so inclusive in asking God's blessing on every human being without exception, but Obama's people could not include him.

It is now to the point that there is only one apology that would truly matter: let Bishop Robinson speak at the inauguration itself. Why should anything less than that be believed?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

GM Grasps Necessity of Higher Gas Taxes, But Obama Takes Them "Off the Table"

What's wrong with this picture?

For over a decade New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been the prime mover of a U.S. energy policy that would increase gasoline taxes and keep them high, so that the price of gasoline would, in one brilliant stroke, (1) induce consumers to buy fuel-efficient small cars, (2) lower domestic consumption of gasoline, (3) increase U.S. leverage against oil-states that wish us harm, and (4) reduce greenhouse cases generated by vehicle tailpipes.

So Friedman must really be sputtering with incredulity at Tuesday's turn of events.

On the one hand, General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Robert Lutz told Bloomberg News that lower fuel prices are discouraging U.S. sales of small cars and gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. The Bloomberg report continued:

Gasoline prices “are completely messing it up,” Lutz said today in a Bloomberg interview, referring to demand for small vehicles. “Nobody wants them.”

His comments reflect the swing back to pickups, sport- utility vehicles and vans at the end of 2008. The light trucks accounted for about 52 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. in each of last year’s final two months, as gasoline tumbled to $1.62 a gallon from its $4.11 peak on July 15. For the year, cars outsold light trucks for the first time since 2000.

“We can’t sell small cars right now,” Lutz said. “People are buying trucks again.”

Lutz then went on to advocate what until very recently would have been heresy in Detroit: Obama's national energy policy must include higher gasoline prices. Score one for Friedman.

But on the other hand we have The Washington Post report on testimony to Congress 1/13 by Steven Chu, Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Energy. Departing from otherwise insightful and balanced remarks, Chu's comments on gasoline taxes led the Post to write this:

Although Chu once called for sharply raising gasoline taxes to cut oil use, yesterday he echoed Obama's comments that given the troubled economy, higher gasoline taxes are for now "off the table." He nevertheless continued to defend the idea of higher taxes, noting that they could reduce demand for petroleum products and encourage people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles, ultimately pushing down crude oil prices.

Clearly Obama needs to reconsider. The troubled economy will only get more troubled if Americans return to driving gas-guzzlers, thereby driving the price of gasoline back upwards, increasing greenhouse gases and making us even more dependent on oil-rich dictators. The time is ripe for higher gasoline taxes that should have been the centerpiece of U.S. energy policy for 20 or 30 years. If we let the moment slip away, shame on us all.

French Interventionism Is Out-Performing All Other Western Economic Models

Holder Schmieding, chief European economist at the Bank of America, writes Newsweek's The Global Investor column, more or less monthly. In his latest he argues that the French penchant for aggressive state intervention in the economy is the only Western model that presently is working well. His list of models which have failed include those of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark and the European Union as a whole. Here are the final paragraphs of Schmieding's analysis:

While all these models have lost credibility, French-style pragmatism is spreading across Europe. When financial markets were working well, the Parisian penchant for supporting state-favored industries and national policy objectives was met with deep skepticism abroad. But with the unfolding crisis, the French habit to readily intervene in market processes has become a more widely accepted norm.

At its core, the French approach to economic management reflects a deep-rooted suspicion that the free movement of capital may not always yield politically desired outcomes. Unfortunately, the global credit crunch has strengthened this French argument, although closer inspection suggests that much of the financial excesses that turned to waste can be traced back to misguided signals sent by governments and central banks, rather than to alleged private-sector malfunctions. We expect France to continue its calls for tighter regulation of global capital markets.

Fortunately, France's forceful president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is not only an interventionist. He also champions a common-sense approach to labor markets, with a strong emphasis on old-fashioned work ethics and a contempt for socialist lunacies such as the compulsory 35-hour workweek. So far, the European Union has been characterized by a very liberal regime for capital markets, and often grossly inefficient labor markets. If the French model continues to gain steam, this may be flipped—labor markets may be allowed to work better, while financial systems may be more regulated than before. Global investors can only hope that Europe gets the balance right. If ad-hoc interventionism spreads too far, the continent may eventually have to pay a hefty price in terms of constrained opportunities for innovation and growth. Europe would then be outclassed once again by the eventual resurgence of the more flexible United States.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

O Come, O Come Emmanuel: God Yearns for Union Just As We Do

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie L. Mansion, who received her master of divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, is director of social justice ministries at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church in New York. I thought her reflection on God-with-us, published in NCR's 12/26 edition, was poignant and insightful. It follows.

The line "Who mourns in lonely exile here," from the antiphon “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” runs in my mind and heart throughout Advent. Its haunting melody at once evokes loneliness and longing. It expresses exile, an isolation that runs so deep it seems that no human presence can bring any comfort. That such a profoundly personal experience is attributed to the group of people we know as Israel never ceases to fascinate and move me -- especially since I have been restless with loneliness and longing for most of my life.

My own personal mourning in lonely exile is in many ways a repercussion of a life-long battle with depression. I remember being caught in the throes of one particularly severe bout while I was in graduate school. I was sitting alone in my apartment, my head in my hands, feeling completely lost and alone, unable to think of one person to whom I could reach out.

Only words could keep me company that night. I remembered a quote from one of the letters of Vincent van Gogh. In an attempt to describe his own struggle with loneliness, Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo: “One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul, yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney and continue on their way.”

I sat there, immobilized by grief, and thought about the blazing hearth in my own soul -- the passion both of my innermost yearning and of my suffering in mental and emotional anguish. How desperately I wanted to think of someone who might be willing to follow the wisps of smoke through the chimney, and find the fire within me and sit by it. I longed for a hearth, a home where I could dwell and flourish. I was in exile, deprived of any human presence that could get through to me, heal my broken heart and release me from this prison.

There was no one in my life who could be with me at that level. As my depression lifted and I got older, I realized there probably never will be one person who could do all of these things for me -- not unless I wanted a lifetime membership to codependents anonymous! But nevertheless, I learned a lot about feeling utterly alone and abandoned that night. Mourning in lonely exile turned out to be quite formative.

There is so much noise now, so many ceaseless opportunities for distraction, that I wonder how many people have had the chance to be aware of their longing and conscious of their isolation. The current hallmarks of progress -- cell phones and text messages, e-mails and Web sites, smart phones and Skype -- have made us more connected, but less communicative; more contactable, but less present; more reachable and yet somehow so much more isolated. These communications devices have done much to temper and mute longing and loneliness, especially for my generation. Yet, paradoxically, all of this progress has created conditions for unprecedented experiences of loneliness. By embracing my own exile, I learned about the human need for God. In my yearning, I began to understand Emmanuel.

God is with us. Yes, God was present to me during this suffering, whether I was aware of it or not. But I believe that God was with me, and with all people who have an experience like mine, in a much deeper sense. God was with me, and Van Gogh and the wandering Israel, in all of our longing, because God yearns for union just as we do. This, after all, is what Advent celebrates and anticipates: the glory of the Incarnation. The awesome realization that God so desires to be with us that God is willing to take on human flesh to seek a deeper union with us. No higher level of academic learning or childlike sense of wonder can ever capture a mystery so great and so extraordinary. Our yearning for divine presence is united with God’s longing for human presence. Though our longing for both divine and human presence seems so intense at times, it is only a glimpse of the longing that God has to be with us.

As our drive to find community continues to break down and the church persists in fracturing our hearts, it may seem more challenging than ever to find a place to dwell with God. Yet, I believe that if we can attune our vision, we might find that God is right here, trying to break through to us, longing to be found. God is that blazing hearth in our midst, who shines out to us in the faces of loved ones and strangers, who reaches out in the mightiest waves of the ocean and the gentlest breezes in the desert, who calls to us in the cries of the broken and the shouts of the joyful, who yearns for us in the stroke of paint on the canvas or the crescendo of the song. We must continually beckon, O Come Emmanuel, and seek out a hearth, the intimacy that will free us from exile. But the truly glorious mystery is that God beckons us with a desire that far surpasses ours.

God is with us, shining in the darkness of our deserts, gleaming as a bright morning star in our own nights of loneliness, and radiating above our broken mangers as the promise of union both present and future. And this is truly a reason to rejoice, rejoice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gay Bishop Will Give Invocation Sunday at Lincoln Memorial Inaugural Kick-off

The Huffington Post, among several other news outlets, reports that openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson has been invited to give the invocation at "We Are One," the kick-off event this Sunday for Barack Obama's inauguration festivities.

Obama's gay supporters were quite dismayed by his choice of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration itself--largely because of Warren's support for outlawing gay marriage in California (despite his church's significant outreach to AIDS sufferers). Several see inviting Robinson as atonement of sorts for that slight.

While it is possible to view Robinson's invocation as a consolation prize, it should at least be seen as a significant one, for several reasons.

Robinson himself has made it clear that he finds the event and its physical location especially important to advancing gay rights. It is not lost on him that choosing the world's most prominent gay clergy-person to lead off an event called "We Are One" is a marvelous opportunity to stress that gay people should be included in equal rights for everyone. Staging the event at the memorial to the Great Emancipator and the site of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech ties the struggle for gay equality to the historic struggle for racial equality that achieved its zenith with Obama's election.

The Robinson invocation is being seen in England as prominent support for the Episcopal Church USA in its fight to keep Robinson a bishop despite sustained harsh criticism and schismatic actions by conservative Anglican bishops from the Global South.

Several commentators also see Robinson's position as the first prayer-leader at the first official inaugural event as a sign that even though Obama may never be in a political position to support gay marriage, he may yet emerge as the president who does the most toward actually achieving full civil equality for gay people.