Molly Is Free from Prescription Drugs!

Those of you who have been following my blog know that my cat Molly has been having problems with urination–or rather, I have been having problems with Molly’s urinating on my rugs.  I tried punishing her by calling her attention to the wet spot and saying, “Bad kitty, bad kitty!”  I know she understood, because the behavior would stop for a while–but then it would start again.

You may remember that I took my little Molly to the vet, who suggested that Molly might be having problems adjusting to my new human friend, who she believes has stolen my affection from her.  Well, it is true that she is no longer #1–that would be accurate.  So what to do?  The vet suggested that maybe she should go on kitty Prozac.  He said, however, that the drug “might change her personality.”  I can imagine that I might have a cat that would sleep all day, with a silly grin on her face.  I didn’t want to go that route. 

One friend suggested that I contract the services of a “cat whisperer” (the cat equivalent of a “horse whisperer”).  Another said that Molly should have cat psychotherapy.  Still another said that I should try to engage an “animal intuitive.”  All of these solutions sounded if-fy to me, not to mention expensive. 

So I decided on another approach.  I decided to give Molly . . . LOVE!  I reasoned that if she was feeling rejected, then telling her she was a bad kitty would just make her feel even worse.  So instead my new friend and I decided to shower her with love and affection.  We say things to Molly like, “Molly, you are the most beautiful cat in the world!” and “Molly, you darling kitten, I just love you so much!”  We pet her as soon as she comes round, and naturally keep her food dish full and her water dish fresh.  After only a few days of this LOVE treatment, Molly stopped her bad behavior and started purring most all the time we come near her.

Why didn’t I think of this earlier?  Isn’t this what all living creatures want–love, I mean?  No one wants to feel displaced.  No one wants to be told that they are “bad.”  Everyone likes to have a full food dish given to them–and fresh drinks prepared.  Everyone likes to be stroked and petted by those they love.  What a simple and pleasant solution!  And much cheaper than Prozac.  



Why Rick Warren at the Obama Inauguration?

Many liberals have taken Barack Obama to task for choosing the evangelical preacher Rick Warren to pray at the coming inauguration.  Many gays and lesbians, who strongly supported Obama, feel betrayed.  It is true that Rev. Warren came out for California’s Proposition 8, which disallowed gay marriage, and it is true that he has been an outspoken opponent of abortion.  Why would Obama make such a choice?

I believe such a choice is consistent with Obama’s core message: “I want to be everyone’s President–I want to bring this nation together.”  Whereas George Bush said that and did just the opposite, I believe that Obama will genuinely try to be inclusive.  For eight years we have had an administration for whom the only qualification for office, whether it be Attorney General or a lowly intern, was that you were pro-Bush.  Everyone else was methodically winnowed out.  I for one never want another such administration.  I want a President who is strong and confident enough to engage those who disagree with him, considering their perspective, and possibly pulling them into his sphere of influence.

Who is Rick Warren, anyway?  He is one of the “new evangelicals”–more like Jim Wallis than Jim Bakker.  He is serious about Jesus, and that means being serious about poverty and being serious about global warming.  He doesn’t understand Christians who dwell in the “end times” or pray for prosperity for themselves.  As I hear him, he believes that the Kingdom of God is to be made among us, here and now.  He is not one of your charismatic TV evangelists who is mainly an entertainer, collecting money from vulnerable people.  He is a man of integrity, so far as I can tell, who wants to follow the will of God.  And he is enormously influential with literally millions of American church-goers.

Do I agree with his theology?  Well, a big NO.  Am I looking forward to his prayer on the day of the inauguration?  No, again.  And I think I understand the hurt and disappointment of my gay and lesbian friends.  I personally would have preferred, say, Rev. James Forbes, the Emeritus Minister of Riverside Church in New York, where he succeeded William Sloan Coffin.  Forbes was the first African American to pastor this church, which is the pre-eminent American protestant pulpit; he is an amazing preacher; and he is a flaming liberal.  But after the Rev. Wright furor, perhaps another black liberal minister wouldn’t have cut muster. 

Obama made a logical and consistent choice.  He chose a minister who would be known and admired by evangelicals, signaling to them that he cares about them–that they, too, are part of the America that he will serve.  He made an appropriate political choice.  This inauguration is not like a wedding, where you choose your best friends for the various roles, so they can be there to love and support you.  The inauguration signals to the whole country that all are welcome in this administration.

Consider also that Rick Warren will not be making policy–he’ll be saying a short prayer.  Is the choice of Warren symbolic?  Well, yes.  But will Warren’s theology influence this administration?  I think it may be the other way around.  I think Obama’s friendship with Warren may make inroads for Obama into the evangelical community, as nothing else could.  I believe that this country is turning around on the question of gay marriage–the movement is toward inclusivity, toward acceptance of many kinds of love.  Rick Warren could change his mind.  Stranger things have happened. 

Yesterday the NY Times published an amazing photographic article called “The New Team” (p. A12), and it was a full page picturing 25 of the choices Obama has made to help him forge policy for our country.  Of the 25, there were only 12 white men.  Consider that–only 12!p  When have you ever seen anything like it?  There were 10 people of color, and there were 7 women.  I would have preferred more women, of course.  But you know what?  I’m ecstatic about our new President.  He’s moving carefully and well, and I for one am not going to try to second-guess him all the time.  Liberals have been known forever to fail because of internal squabbling.  Just this one time–let’s hang together and let this good man have a break and find his feet.  He has enough challenges before him, don’t you think, without having to constantly fend off criticisms from his friends.  


How Do You Decide When to Throw a Shoe?

A ferocious conversation about shoe-throwing is taking place all over the Middle East just now.  It appears that there are two schools of thought at the moment regarding the action of Muntader al-Zaidi, the journalist who threw two shoes at President Bush during a press conference.  Some people are saying that the act was wrong, that traditional Arab hospitality towards a guest demands respect, even if a person disapproves of the guest (as most Arabs apparently do, of this guest).  Far more people, however, seem elated by the defiant act–in fact, Muntader al-Zaidi has become something of folk hero to many.  In the Sadr City section of Baghdad, people are taking off their shoes and sandals and putting them on long poles, and waving them high in the air, demanding that Americans immediately withdraw from their country.  (See NYTimes, 12/16)

I must say that it was pretty amazing to see repeated television images of someone throwing a shoe at the President, hard and fast, and the President ducking, and then, whoops, here comes another one, again just barely missing.  Bush made light of it, saying “This is how democracy works.”  Well, actually, no–being in a democracy doesn’t give a person permission to fling shoes at their President.  The act, no doubt, was disrespectful.  But was it brave and appropriate–or rash and foolish?

I grew up in the South, in a society in which politeness was paramount–rules were followed.  It was “Yes, Ma’am” and “Yes, Sir.”  It was speaking softly and slowly, it was moving gently in the world.  And yet often, out of the mouths of these good and gentle people, who would stretch and strain never to offend, came horrendous remarks and acts of racism.  The rules about black and white were clear: “Nigras” were fine so long as they “stayed in their place.”  When they did not, when they dared to violate the rules, violence erupted.

Well, who makes the rules, and for what purpose?  And when should rules be broken? 

I am of two minds of this.  I am all for rules of decorum.  I prefer polite behavior.  Let me tell you, that a man can open the door for me any time.  And I like to visit the South, where children have been saying “Yes, Ma’m” to me since I was 35.  I believe that these rules of behavior are there for a reason, and generally that reason is so that society can remain civilized, and people will remain respectful of one another.

On the other hand, sometimes rules and traditions need to be broken, and their very breaking shines a light on something that is awry in the society.  Martin Luther King, Jr., taught his followers to practice civil disobedience, and so they sat in restaurants and at drugstore counters that were “White Only.”  Rosa Parks did not follow the rules of the city bus line.  The Berrigan brothers poured blood on draft records during the Vietnam War.  Every year demonstrators go to the School of the Americas in Georgia, where the U.S. trains foreign soldiers to terrorize their own citizens, and these demonstrators break the rules–they step over the government “line” and are arrested, and many have been jailed, some for as long as six months–nuns and priests and ministers, among them.

Every person must discern for himself or herself when it’s right and appropriate to break the rules.  One rule of thumb would be your motive, of course–are you breaking the rule for your own benefit, or to grandstand–or because you believe a statement must be made that cannot better be made another way. 

I myself–well, I’m a good girl and always have been.  I follow the rules.  That’s why I was elected “Best Christian” in my senior year in high school.  And then I became an English teacher, and you know how they are about rules.  Now I’m a minister, and we all are aware of the rule-bound-ness of religion.  Except there’s one rule in religion that’s bigger than all the others–it’s called the Rule of Love.  So when we face a dilemma, we can ask, “What is the most loving thing to do?”  Sometimes it’s fasting.  Sometimes it’s not eating British salt.  Sometimes it’s speaking the truth to power, even though that’s going to get you in a mess of trouble. 

Sometimes it’s throwing a shoe.


Something You Don’t Want to Read About

Did you know that when men stand up to urinate that this “sends a fine spray around the room (as does every toilet flushed without the lid closed).  Spray becomes vapor,which leaves a chemical deposit on anything surrounding the urinal.  It can also change the color of wallpaper”?  This interesting bit of bathroom trivia comes from a book by Rose George, entitled The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters.  (Reviewed by Dwight Garner, NY Times, 12/12/08)

Incidentally, German men are heavily into the sitting-down approach.  And this doesn’t mean you are a girly-man, Gov. Schwarchenegger.  Having raised two boys, I would say that sitting down is just polite and expedient.

The whole arena of human waste is a subject more delicate than sexuality (our own) or even money (our own), surely two of the biggest taboos in our culture.  Why do we end up saying such ridiculous things as, “The dog went to the bathroom in the living room”?  We don’t have the language, for one thing, to talk comfortably about these necessary functions.  “Defecate” sounds awfully clinical and s___–well, I’m even loathe to write the word in a blog that will end up on the church web site.  Maybe the language has never evolved because–well, we just don’t want to go there.  And yet as George, a British journalist, points out, the average human being spends three years of life going to the toilet.

George’s book has its lighter side (well, the topic begs for humor), but when George becomes serious, she makes us think profoundly about this universal function.  “Four in 10 people have no access to any latrine, toilet, bucket, or box.  Nothing.  Instead, they defecate by train tracks and in forests.  They do it in plastic bags and fling them through the air in narrow slum alleyways.”  Just pause for a moment and meditate upon this simple fact–4 out of 10.  That’s pretty close to half the planet, isn’t it?  It makes one consider how fortunate we are every time we thoughtlessly flush the toilet and go on about our business.

Naturally, there are consequences for not disposing of human waste properly.  George points out that children suffer the most–they die from diarrhea, 90 percent of which is caused by fecal contamination.  She quotes from a sanitation expert, “Cholera and typhoid kill so many kids a year” that it “amounts to two jumbo jets full of children crashing every four hours.”  We think of the outbreak in Zimbabwe.  And cholera is not an easy way to die. 

Something else we may not be so savvy about–George tells us that many sophisticated cultures don’t do much better than slum cities in disposing of human waste.  Many coastal cities–she cites Vancouver and Brighton–simply throw it into the ocean.  When this happens, she says, untreated sewage moves into sources of drinking water.

I note that they’ve done a re-make of the apocalyptic film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a film whose obvious message is that as a species we humans are too stupid and violent to survive.  What will Klaatu, or some other visitor from outer space, say when he finds our planet in ruin and the people desperate?  He will shake his head in wonder and dismay and think, “Who are these people who didn’t know better than to foul their own nest?”


Will God Save S.U.V.’s?

On the front page of the NY Times today is a picture of three S.U.V’s–great white behemoths–sitting on the altar of Greater Grace Temple, a Pentecostal church in Detroit. Worshipers–including hundreds who work in the automobile industry–are surrounding the vehicles, some with upraised hands in supplication, asking for the miracle that it would take to save their companies.  Officials from the United Automobile Workers union were invited to speak at the service, followed by a sermon by Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, entitled “A Hybrid Hope.”  (The S.U.V.’s were all gas-electric hybrids on loan from various dealerships.)

Well, I guess that’s the way we usually run our lives–we screw up, and then we beg God to DO SOMETHING and bail us out.  Really, God, I’ll never hit my little brother again, I promise!  When do we grow up and begin to take some responsibility for the consequences of our actions? 

Let’s talk about General Motors, the biggest baddest auto company.  G.M.’s chief executive, Rick Wagoner, earlier chastened and turned away by Congress, upon his return testified   that “G.M. has made mistakes in the past.”  Wagoner named three of those mistakes: agreeing to expensive union contracts, not investing in smaller cars, and failing to convert plants so the company could build more than one kind of vehicle.

But G.M.’s biggest failing, according to some analysts, is the company’s refusal to invest in innovation and to support those inside the company who were pushing the company to innovate.  Instead, they allowed the finance executives to carry the day, the guys in the company who were more interested in short-term returns on investment than in making products appropriate for the 21st century.  Their excuse?  “We were giving the public what they wanted.”  Well, yes, by pushing hugely expensive ads and lobbying Congress to set fuel standards criminally low.  And the result of taking this direction?  Inflated stock values for investors and fat checks for executives.  Oh, and yes, now bankruptcy.

Let’s talk about leadership, shall we?  When a person leads a business or an institution of any kind, that individual should consider his position as a sacred trust.  People will be depending upon that leader for their livelihood, and the company itself must remain not only viable but trustworthy, in the eyes of the public.  It is a public trust of sorts.  Of course a company must make a good profit in order to flourish, but the core mission of the company should never be solely to make a profit.  The core mission should include creating the best possible product for the most number of people at the lowest cost to them and to the environment, while ensuring that the line workers are respected and compensated apporopriately. 

The problem with G.M is a values problem, not a business mistake. Their executives went after the money, disregarding environmental issues and the quality of their product.  A business mistake can be rectified–but a values problem?  That will be more difficult to deal with.  I would suggest that a good beginning might be for Congress to insist that the current executives be relieved of their positions.  These are the leaders who made the decisions that fattened their own wallets and ran the company into the ground.  The leopard has shown its spots.  Should we now trust them with billions more?