Monday, October 22, 2012

On Modern Sacraments and Religious Freedom

I would like to start with a personal memory. When I was young I would sometimes go to church with my maternal grandma. She was a devout Episcopalian. My sister and I would color in the pews and play with the kneeling bench during the service. As I got older my grandma would invite me up to receive a blessing. I didn't understand why I couldn't have a cracker and drink out of the cup like she did. I knew that it wasn't that I was a child as there were children younger than me who got crackers. Eventually as I grew older, and understood better the sacraments, I started understanding what was going on. I was not part of the community in that sense because I had not been baptized. I came to respect this position though my perspectives lean clearly on the side of anabaptism.

Baptism isn't really the sacrament that I am here to discuss. Communion isn't really the focus of this post either. Rather, I'm here to discuss the sacrament of marriage. Different churches have different standards, beliefs, and practices concerning the sacraments mentioned above. I'm okay with that. During my time at Pacific Lutheran University I really got an opportunity to explore the power of ecumenical fellowship. Churches are a safe place to come together with people of the same mind. Even so, the details of what distinguishes one christian from another in issues of faith does not change our common status as children of God.

In my grandma's church, I could have argued discrimination. I was excluded from the community sacrament due to my status as an unbaptized person. I didn't though and I think it would be unhelpful to think that way. It wasn't my church. It wasn't where I found like-minded people. I was an ecumenical visitor to their community. This discrimination was fine and justified to uphold the principles of faith within this church. The fact that I couldn't enter into communion there also did not impact my ability to receive communion at other churches. (And it certainly didn't prevent me from eating crackers and drinking grape juice either at home or in public spaces.)

This is very much how I feel about the sacrament of marriage. Marriage can have a personal, a civil, and a religious context. Religious rights need to be maintained. The sacrament of marriage is just that, a sacrament. It is sacred and its requirements vary from faith community to faith community. Churches should be able to maintain the right to choose whether or not to perform the ceremony, just like my grandma's church had the right to deny me access to communion before baptism. It is a matter of conscience, faith, and community.

Just like my grandma's church had no power to legislate the conditions of communion in other faith communities, so too the conservative faith communities that hold different biological sex to be a requirement for entering into the sacrament of marriage can't extend that requirement to other communities for whom same-sex marriage does not violate their faith and conscience. Same sex marriage does not violate the sanctity of marriage so long as churches maintain the right to perform or not perform marriage ceremonies according to their faith.

One thread thrown around concerning marriage sanctity from the left is about how a committed relationship is more sacred than the celebrity marriages that end in a matter of days or weeks. The right has claimed that the objective definition of marriage is one man and one woman and anything else is essentially something else. What I hear in these arguments is that there are real marriages and there are fake marriages. In my opinion it is not up to you to decide who has a real marriage and who has a fake marriage. It is none of your business. Discrediting other people's marriages doesn't actually make yours any more special. The fact that others have marriages that don't fit your marriage box doesn't mean that theirs is less special.

Not convinced? That's fine. Let's start from the presumption that there are in fact real marriages and fake marriages. The meaning attached is one of community and personal choice. A cracker and grape juice can be just that, or it can be a representation of the body and blood of Christ. If you believe in transubstantiation, it can be the actual body and blood of Christ. Each of these interpretations does not preclude the other interpretations. Perhaps you feel like marriage is more important than the distinctions here but let me remind you that these were issues over which christians of long ago would fight and die. We are peaceful and tolerant about it now but there was a time where people thought that a change in this sacrament would be the downfall of society.

Finally it is important to recognize that not all marriages are sacred by the technical religious definition. Many people get married without the sacrament being performed by a priest. People can get married by going down to the courthouse and filling out the paperwork. When people do this it is not a threat to the sanctity of your marriage because your marriage means something different to you. It is the same thing with same sex marriage. You can believe it is different if you want, because your church has a different definition but just like you wouldn't prevent people from eating crackers and drinking grape juice in a non-religious context, it makes no sense to prevent consenting adults from building a life together in a non-religious context or in a religious context that is separate from yours.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Seattle May 1 Protest Experience

It is May 2, which means it is time to reflect on the events of the May 1st Occupy and Immigrant Issues protests I attended in Seattle. 


The day started bright and early at 9am in Seattle's Westlake Center with some donated breakfast. Standing around with our food, we had the opportunity to connect with others in the 99% Occupy Movement and exchange views and experiences. I approached a group that was intellectually grappling with issues of the day. I just jumped in and was instantly welcome as part of the group. We were a diverse group in gender, age, economic status, race, and educational background and we likely would not have crossed paths without a protest bringing us together. This is what Occupy is about. It is about conversation and connection. Occupy is about causing a recognition that not only do we know that the system needs to be fixed but we know that there are others who see it as well. Occupy is about reporting to others our experiences because our experiences are no longer truly covered in the media. The only way to actually find out what is going on in other segments of society is to talk with those segments, and nothing says "diversity is welcome" like "the 99%."

One of the biggest issues we discussed was the role of action within the system and outside the system. I believe that we were able to come to the consensus that neither set of actions by themselves will be able to stand up to those who want to horde power but that a combination of direct actions and involvement with the political process is our best chance to see the change we were sold in 2008 and that we have been needing ever-increasingly since trickle-down economics met multiple unpaid-for wars.

Signs and Interview 
Our group then briefly dispersed to gather information and make some signs. Mine said "Realize your Value, Fight Oppression." I believe that one of the biggest issues is losing our ability to bargain for fair wages and benefits. I believe that we are losing this ability because we no longer understand our own value in the equation. Capital, without labor, can produce nothing. Labor, without capital, can produce nothing. The big question becomes what is a fair division of the product of the labor with capital. As our population values the potential for their time and effort less, it is easier to convince them that they do not deserve fair wages and health care. In order to fight the extreme siphoning of wealth from those who labor to those who own capital, we need to stand up for ourselves and collectively bargain. This also means recognizing equality of all people. I talked with many disabled folk because of my sign. They found it inspirational to realize that their value is not determined by their ability or inability to get money from work their labor. The actions they can do, whether paid or unpaid, make a difference and benefit society, even if they are not recognized by society.

The core group of us from breakfast was then interviewed. I believe it was by Yes! magazine. I came by with my sign a little later as the interview was already in session. It was great to get the opportunity to discuss the purpose of the event with the media but it was also interesting to realize how very short the attention spans of the public have gotten. There wasn't time to really get into the nuance and details of what we are doing and why. It makes a lot of sense to me how Occupy can be so misunderstood. One cannot understand Occupy via sound bites.

During this rally and mingle time, I also appreciated all the people who came out to distribute literature for their various groups and perspectives. We need to share our ideas far and wide and consider a wide range of ideas as we look forward to how to best effect our society. Occupy is about only those values that benefit everyone. There are a lot of issues tied up within that that need their own space and movements because they are more specific and Occupy is a great place to get connected up with those groups.

Morning March

The morning march was an interesting experience. To some extent you don't really have a sense of scale of the movement until they are walking down the street. The relative disorganization really brought home the fact that Occupy is full of people who are just now waking up to the problems of our society. Many do not know how to protest, to herd crowds, to stay together, and to disseminate a clear plan. It was good to have the opportunity to march and voice solidarity but I also feel like more work needs to be done to ensure that such marches go well. Marches can be powerful to provide visibility to the movement but they must be properly planned.

The worst part of the whole day for me was the black bloc that infiltrated our movement. There is plenty to be angry about. And I understand that there are some that are angry to the point of violence. There is a time and place for everything. During time designated as Occupy, we represent the 99% and we need to act in a way that is consistent with that vision. The actions of the black bloc were not consistent with the message of Occupy. The second worst part of the day was probably the vigilante "super-hero" using tear gas. Given the destruction caused by the infiltrators I was not surprised to see the smoke behind us as we rounded the corner on our way back to Westlake. I had assumed that it was the police and that they had taken somewhat reasonable action against protesters that had chosen violence. But it wasn't, it was vigilante justice. He is not trained to apprehend and control people, he has no legal authority to use instruments.

One of the worst parts about the chaos that ensued was that it put people in danger, Namely our bicyclists who were controlling traffic. They would wait to enter an intersection until it was clear that we would be able to march through the intersection efficiently. Some of the chaos slowed our progress through intersections and at least once an occupied intersection was retreated from only to be occupied again later. When those bicyclists entered the intersection it was at great personal risk and to not follow through with the march was even more dangerous.


While much of the early part of the Occupy morning march was inspiring the later part of the march really just made me angry. I took a break to walk around and process my anger at those who had co-opted the movement in order to get some cheap thrills, or to try to radicalize us.

I then made it back and reconnected with some of my new friends who had made it back to Westlake as well. Debriefing together about our frustration with the radical fringe helped us to process our anger and move on with the rest of our day.

Trek to Judkins Park

I then started our epic trek to Judkins Park with two of my new friends. The rally would start there at 3pm and it was several miles away. Along the way we stopped several times to ask for directions and connected with people who were just going about their day. We talked to some people who supported us and some people who had other ideas for how to fix our societal problems. It was a good day for conversation and exploration. It was nice to have some time to just connect with my new friends and random strangers on the street without being in a huge group.

Judkins Park Rally and March to Wells Fargo

The rally at Judkins park and the subsequent march was about immigrant rights and equality issues. This movement was well organized and involved. Although the Rally was in both Spanish and English, it held my attention. There were activists that went around registering people to vote, getting petitions signed, and collecting donations for the march. Many leaders of local faith communities spoke. At the rally the context was framed as it really is. A native leader blessed the march and welcomed us all as immigrants to share in the opportunity of this land. We heard a lot about the hopes, dreams, and struggles of immigrants today.

Before the march there was very clear conversations about what was and was not allowed and to cooperate with the police. That we were allowed to keep our messages but if the stakes they were on were deemed potential weapons the stakes could be confiscated. I really appreciated that little bit of extra preparation for the march. It also seemed that there was clear communication and understanding between the police, peace officers, coordinators, band, and marchers about what was happening. This march was completely peaceful to my knowledge and had broad community support. I think this extra preparation helped the event to run smoothly. The march concluded at Wells Fargo, a bank that makes significant profit over the detaining of immigrants waiting indefinitely for deportation.

Special Thanks

 I want to put a special THANK YOU out to the Seattle Police force and the Mayor for their restrained approach to protest management. I support the actions to confiscate weapons after the damage that was done in the morning. All my interactions with the police were civil and completely recognized our rights to demonstrate.


This is my first time reporting on my experiences at a protest, Occupy or otherwise. Feel free to leave questions in the comments or notes about what you would want to see more of from my personal experiences in  the future. Thanks.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Requiring Contraception as Part of Required Purchase Plans

A response to "The Leading Edge of Tyranny".

I'd like to say start off by saying that framing this as a question of "free contraceptives" would turn all health care debates into "free X". Health care is not about "free X". It's about paying and contributing to a health care system that supports the needs of its members.

Contraceptives are an absolutely integral part of health care for women, therefore any health care system that provides care for women needs to include them. Any woman age 12 to 50 may be in need of contraceptives, whether for actual conception prevention or managing their menstrual symptoms. Some women need contraceptives to keep from bleeding constantly and developing anemia, while other women need it because they are married* and their finances are not sufficient to support a child.

If you design a health care system that does not support this very important use case for women, or allow companies to remove this from their plan, you are taking away one of the most important features of health care for women under 50.

That's why this has been so irritating to the majority of women. Any woman who works at a company that provides health care but decides their religious beliefs don't support contraception will be forced to pay exorbitant fees to get their insurance elsewhere. It is a big deal for us.

Many people are reasonable and would agree that there are some cases where contraception should be a legal requirement for health care plans where purchase of a health care plan is required, regardless of the moral views of the employer, such as anemia or poverty.

I'd like to take this a bit further.

There are many other reasons than poverty that a married woman may wish to not have children at a particular time. For example, she may believe that she cannot be a good mother because her work requires her to travel all the time. Or, she may believe that she is too old to have children without too high of a risk of having a child with Down Syndrome. Or, she and her husband may believe that they already enough children, and they do not think they can provide sufficient love and attention to their children if they have more children.

At what point would it become the business of the employer to judge whether that reason is sufficient to allow contraception via their company insurance plan? I would argue that any attempt to give the company a voice in this matter adds a horrifying element to the work relationship. In fact, the discussion itself would likely cross into protected territory under federal harassment laws.

Can you imagine discussing with your boss or HR department that you and your wife have a healthy sexual relationship, but she travels too much to take care of children right now? That's preposterous.

If men are unwilling to consider that discussion for their wives, perhaps fathers would be more inclined to take care of their daughters? At what point does it become the company's business that their daughter has need of contraceptives under the company family plan that they pay into?

Admittedly, all this discussion is only relevant given the premise:

"Given that companies must provide health care coverage, must companies provide coverage that is against their stated moral beliefs?"

If we instead decided that that premise was an invalid place to begin because you think that companies shouldn't be providing insurance coverage in the first place, I believe that this issue becomes even more clear.

If we had coverage at the national level that we all paid into, it would be a given that some members may be providing coverage that other members don't believe in. In fact, this is the way of democracy. Sometimes people pay for things they don't believe in because we all have different beliefs. I carry around money that says "One Nation Under God" that was added in the 50s, and I certainly don't believe in that. This doesn't hurt me. Nor does it financially hurt a company to allow contraception in their health care plan for any of the above non-medical reasons. In fact, it would be cheaper on them to allow it because the medical costs of an additional person to take care of are far greater than the costs of contraception. So this debate can not be framed as "put your money where your mouth is", because it is cheaper for the company to allow it. It is about letting the company have control over their employees personal medical care, which is unacceptable to me.

No one is forcing people who don't want transfusions for religious reasons, or who don't believe in using contraception, to use contraception. Instead, we are asking that those of us who do want contraception not be punished for working at a company that believes differently than we do. If I went to work at Logos Bible Software, because I'm a software engineer who can make software that they can use, I expect not to be punished in my health care for doing so, or to be forced to have an awkward conversation with my boss or HR department explaining why contraceptives are medically relevant for me. (I'm not picking on Logos here, they seem awesome, and I have no idea what their health care policies include or don't include. I'm just trying to make this relevant for people who say you should just "work elsewhere".)

Similarly, a Catholic person at a non-Catholic company would not want to be forced to have a discussion with their boss or HR over why they are not making use of provided contraceptives, as their children are becoming so expensive to the company's healthcare policy. I would not want to be a Jehovah's Witness person at a Catholic company explaining to my boss, on my deathbed, why I would die rather than accept a blood transfusion. It's just not their business.

And here's the thing. Catholic women use contraception too. [1] There is no reasonable argument for allowing clueless male policy makers and exclusively male church leaders [2] to attempt to dictate conception and family planning policy to women employees, Catholic or otherwise. It is clear to the overwhelming majority of women, Catholic and otherwise, that natural family planning does not work. Contraception and abstinence are the only options that have a hope of working, and YOU try to tell your husband that he can't have sex with you tonight. If you are the husband, maybe you get it? But the point is, abstinence doesn't work either with humans, so...contraception is the only valid method for controlled family planning.

Ultimately it is the woman who has to deal with the fallout of a pregnancy or developing anemia, and women are overwhelmingly arguing that men should stop trying to legislate control of their bodies over to people other than themselves. Money dictates whether women have access to contraception, especially poor women and students, so that's why it is so important that it be included as part of the health care plan where health care plan purchase is required. If I was required to buy into a health care plan for my company, and that health care plan did not include contraception, I would be extremely angry. If I was forced to purchase a health care plan while in college (and I have been), and that health care plan didn't include contraception, I would also be extremely angry. I am in no way dictating that Catholic women should use contraception, but even for Catholic women working at Catholic companies, it should be available to them if they choose, and based on available data, they do largely choose to use contraception.


* Please note that I'm not making a personal judgement on whether or not women should be married to have sex. I just think it is easier to argue with religious people while staying in their moral boundaries. This debate is primarily happening between religious people, so I frame my examples in ways that they have absolutely no reasonable claim that you would be harming yourself by having sex.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Blaming the Victim('s Wardrobe)

This country has a tradition of blaming the victim. If you are poor, it is because you are lazy. If you are sick, it is because you didn't take good enough care of yourself. I believe one of the most insidious forms of blaming the victim comes when it involves harassment, assault, rape, and murder. Judging a victim's clothing is a ridiculous addition of insult to injury.


This conversation is consistently brought up in cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Our traditional mythology is layered. It says that if a woman is wearing a short skirt or a tight shirt that she is intentionally signaling that she wants sex.  It also says that if she wants sex that she is okay having sex with any one at any time. This translates to judging any woman in a short skirt or a tight shirt as "asking for it."

This mythology has many major flaws. The core flaw is that rape is not about sex. Rape comes in three varieties: Anger Rape, Power Rape, and Sadistic Rape. The rapist is not overcome with sexual desire. The rapist is angry at the victim, wants power over the victim, or wants to hurt the victim. Rape is always caused by the rapist and not the victim.

The mythology also makes it seem like a rapist is a random stranger off the street. This is largely untrue. 73% of all sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. And who are these victims? 1/6 of all women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. This is an epidemic and it is not the victims who are sick, it is the perpetrators.

If this mythology were true, wearing swimming suits would be dangerous and beaches would be danger zones where one should expect to be attacked at any moment. The thought of getting a swimming suit for a child would be abhorrent to all parents. 


Recently there have been two very clear cases of violent discrimination. Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager wearing a hoodie was killed on February 26th. Shaima Alawadi, an Muslim American wearing a hijab, was killed in her home on March 21st.

Trayvon Martin, 17, was attacked by George Zimmerman, a vigilante with a gun who was intimidated by the way Trayvon looked. The teen was carrying Skittles and iced tea. Amid the accusation of panicked discrimination at best and hate crime at worst an interesting alternate theory emerged. Geraldo Rivera propose that the hoodie was to blame. Blame the victim by blaming his choice in clothing.

Trayvon's case again comes down to a mythology around the meaning of clothing and how it intersects with discrimination. The dominant mythology is that a Black or Hispanic male is dangerous, especially if they have tattoos, if they have a hooded sweatshirt, or if they have baggy pants. They are instantly judged suspicious at best and a dangerous threat at worst. This mythology equates this appearance with criminal activity.

Again this blaming of the victim through their choice of clothing is ridiculous. Blaming the hoodie is ridiculous. Again, if this mythology were true, then high schools and colleges wouldn't brand them. Most companies wouldn't want their logo on them. Right now I am wearing a hoodie I got in high school to commemorate when my orchestra went to Carnegie Hall. This hoodie is in no way related to criminal behavior.

In the case of Shaima Alawadi, she was killed in her home while wearing her hijab. A hijab is a traditional head covering worn by Muslim women. The hijab ties in to the Muslim values of modesty, privacy, and morality. Her attacker left a note before the attack and afterward accusing her of being a terrorist.

Alawadi's attacker likely associated her as being Muslim because of her style of dress. Religion is often a private matter in America, so visible symbols of religion are the most likely way to identify someone's religious beliefs, unless they have a personal conversation with you about them. There are some who use this reasoning again to turn blame around onto the victim. It is not the head scarf that killed Shaima Alawadi, it was a person who hated her because of where she was from and what she believed.

In a country that has freedom of religion and freedom of expression, wearing a hijab is a protected right as much as wearing a cross is. If someone were attacked for wearing a cross the appropriate outrage would be against the attacker who was targeting Christians, not against the Christian who saw wearing the cross as a core part of their religious lifestyle.

Blame the Attacker, not the Victim, nor their Clothing.

Rape and assault are not about what we wear. It is about who we are. If we are women, black, Muslim, gay, or homeless we are seen as objects to be attacked, either because we are perceived as weak, or as threatening, or both. The problem is not how we dress. The problem is how those with power choose to see us and act toward us.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Consider the Bill: OSTA

I just joined to keep track of what's going on in this country by paying attention to what Congress is actually doing. There is a lot to do on this site. You can read the actual content of the bill, read news and blogs related to it, read comments from fellow citizens, connect with like-minded folk, vote on bills, check and compare voting records, connect with your representatives and senators, and track and share information that pertains to your interests.

While perusing, I came across OSTA (H.R. 3806: One Subject at a Time Act). The purpose of this act follows its own guidelines by covering only one subject and making that subject clear in the title. On face value this is a piece of legislation that the people have been wanting for a long time.

Congress has a problem with this and the people are getting sick of it. Senators and representatives will tack on completely unrelated legislation, called riders, in order to sneak changes into law that should have gone through their own process but would probably not succeed on their own. Sometimes these riders are even attached for the purpose of killing a bill that would otherwise pass.

The current system serves no one. Both sides of the aisle have times when allowing these riders will destroy work that they have done to promote what they believe to be the best for the country and for their constituents. It really isn't worth the periodic perks to have such a broken system.

That said, I am a little concerned about a couple of points related OSTA. Firstly, there is the clause "...and for other purposes" which concludes the introduction. By the rules of the OSTA itself there should be no other purposes. Secondly, the term "subject" is not well-defined. This may be why we have not yet passed this legislation, but it is a problem to consider. Despite this flaw, having only one subject would be a great step forward. Even if the subject scope were too broad like a hypothetical "Transportation Act," at least the American people would know that everything in the bill pertained to transportation. While not perfect, I believe that it would be a step in the right direction.

I encourage my senators and representative to support OSTA unless they have ideas for how to mitigate its flaws in which case I encourage them to take the time to craft a better bill with the same driving sentiment that is felt by so many Americans.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Raising Hell for Votes

I don't know everything about everything. If you ever catch me acting like I do, feel free to give me a reality check. It's just not feasible; the world is too big. I'm a software developer, and my job eats my life, and I love it.

There is something though, that I think I know a tiny little bit about. And I think you know something about it too. There ought to be a bit of a hullabaloo here.

Nuclear war with Iran is not a fucking joke. It is not a political toy. It is not something you ever talk about as if it's going to happen, or inevitable. This is not the 70s, and we're not in a Cold War with Russia.

Nor are we in the 1300s. Conservative leaders are acting like this is a righteous Christian crusade, and that they are protecting the world from the evil Muslim empire. I guess I thought that we were past this, as people. As humanity. I mean, how many thousands of years have we been killing people who don't have the same religious beliefs? And we still have politicians fear-mongering hate of those who aren't like their core constituency? We still trump up the behavior of a few radicals and say that an entire nation deserves to be treated like shit?

All I can feel is shame.