Expect Better & Demand More

March 26, 2010 @ 10:46 am by Jacqui Lewis

Friends, I am just back from three weeks in Africa, the trip of a lifetime. I have so much to share with you and will do so in the coming weeks.

I came home to an amazing accomplishment: the passing of a healthcare bill that realizes decades of work by several administrations toward providing healthcare for the majority of citizens of our country. You know as well as I do what a contentious process this has been, and the narrow vote speaks to both the divide in our Congress and in our country on this issue.

What is shocking to me is how a divide in opinion, no matter how deep, can lead to violence and threats and unspeakably uncivilized behavior by so many. Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner (Queens/Brooklyn) was the most recent recipient of this ridiculous and dangerous behavior, when a white substance was mailed to his office. 10 house democrats are under police protection now.

I am so sad about this, but I am more angry than anything else. I am heartened to know that both Democratic and Republican leaders are denouncing this behavior; we need to denounce it as well.

I got the note below from the people at MoveOn and Color of Change. No matter what your politics, join me in denouncing this violent behavior.

Let's expect better and demand more from our leaders, and from one another.


Last weekend, anti-health care protesters were out in force in Washington and some of their behavior was deeply disturbing.

A crowd of tea partiers shouted the "n word" at Congressman John Lewis, a former civil rights leader who marched with Dr. King. They yelled homophobic epithets at Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay congressman. And one protester actually spat on a Black member of Congress.1

Then this week, Democrats who voted for reform began receiving death threats; one had a coffin left on his lawn and another was told snipers would kill the children of lawmakers who voted yes.2 Several Democrats had their district offices vandalized, and a gas line was cut at a home that tea partiers mistakenly believed belonged to Rep. Tom Perriello.3

A few Republicans have spoken out against the racism and violence, but most are still treating them as "isolated incidents."4 They are not isolated. They've been part of Republican-supported tea parties for almost a year and they're a natural consequence of telling people that reform is a totalitarian plot.5

It's an outrage, and no American should tolerate it. So we're joining with our friends at Color of Change to stand up to the hate. Can you add your name to this letter asking Republican leaders to unequivocally condemn bigotry, hate, and violence among their supporters?


The letter asks the leaders of the Republican party to do two simple things:

Unequivocally condemn bigotry and hate among your supporters, and make clear that those who embrace it have no place in your party and that you reject their support. Make clear that you will not tolerate fear-mongering and coded appeals to racism from officials in the Republican Party, at any level. Instead of calming the tea partiers' anger, Republican members of Congress have stoked it. NBC reported that on Saturday, Reps. Mike Pence, Tom Price, and Michele Bachmann all addressed the tea partiers and that Bachmann stirred them "into a tizzy."6 Protesters from that rally then fanned out across Capitol Hill and were behind the assaults on Reps. Lewis, Frank, and Cleaver.7

Yesterday, Rep. John Boehner called the violence and threats "unacceptable."8 But just last week, he referred to fellow representative Steve Driehaus as "a dead man" if he voted for health care reform.9 And while Boehner's office insisted his remark wasn't meant to be taken literally, as Rep. Driehaus pointed out, "It doesn't really matter the way you meant it, nor the way I accept it. It's how the least sane person in my district accepts it."10

And there's more: During the debate on the floor of the House on Sunday, Rep. Randy Neugebauer shouted "baby-killer" at Rep. Bart Stupak.11 And after the vote, Sarah Palin told supporters "Don't Retreat, Reload," and then highlighted specific members of Congress she thinks are politically vulnerable using gun cross-hairs.12

The Tea Party movement has been marked by racially inflammatory and violent outbursts since its inception a year ago. And while most Republicans are probably disgusted by this behavior, the Republican Party and its leaders have repeatedly tolerated it at events they support.13 But the hateful rhetoric and the tacit acceptance of "isolated incidents" of violence have gotten way out of hand.

Will you sign our letter to the leaders of the Republican Party telling them they must stop it now?


Thanks for all you do.

Justin, Nita, Kat, Daniel, and the rest of the team


  1. "'Tea party' protesters accused of spitting on lawmaker, using slurs," The Washington Post, March 20, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87574&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=5

  2. "FBI investigating threats to Democrats," The Associated Press, March 24, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87575&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=6

"Coffin placed on Carnahan's lawn," Politico, March 25, 2010 http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0310/34982.html

"The backlash: Reform turns personal," Politico, March 24, 2010 http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0310/34907.html

  1. "The Map So Far," Talking Points Memo, March 24, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87576&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=7

"Severed gas line found at home of Perriello brother," Charlottesville Daily Progress, March 24, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87577&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=8

  1. "Steele: Slur-hurlers 'idiots'," Politico, March 21, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87578&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=9

  2. "Swastika painted outside Congressman's office," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 11, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87580&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=10

"10 Most Offensive Tea Party Signs And Extensive Photo Coverage From Tax Day Protests," The Huffington Post, December 28, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87579&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=11

"Armed and Dangerous?" Talking Points Memo, August 11, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87581&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=12

"We have something to fear from fear-mongering itself," The Washington Post, March 24, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87582&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=13

  1. "Tea Party Protest Scene," MSNBC, March 20, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87583&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=14

  2. "'Tea party' protesters accused of spitting on lawmaker, using slurs," The Washington Post, March 20, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87574&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=15

  3. "Leadership decries threats to lawmakers in wake of health vote," The Hill, March 24, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87584&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=16

  4. "Exclusive: House Minority John Boehner on the Health-Care Vote," National Review Online, March 18, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87585&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=17

  5. "Amid Death Threats, Dem Rep Driehaus Points The Finger At GOP Leadership," Talking Points Memo, March 24, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87587&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=18

  6. "'Baby killer outburst fuels Republican's new funding ad," The Houston Chronicle, March 24, 2010 http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/6928920.html

  7. "Palin Uses Crosshairs To Identify Dems Who Voted For Health Care Reform," Talking Points Memo, March 24, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87586&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=19

  8. "Tax Day Tea Parties Officially Endorsed By Republican Party," The Huffington Post, May 15, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=87588&id=19573-9108008-4X4rrQx&t=20

  9. "Steele: I'd join the tea parties," Politico, January 5, 2010 http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31177.html

We Are All One

March 18, 2010 @ 09:18 am by Jacqui Lewis

As we enter the third week of our travel, and prepare to leave for Ghana, I am thinking of all I have learned. I am thinking of talks with Dutch Reformed Church and Uniting Reformed Church clergy, and their candor about their struggle to unite. One pastor, Johanne, said, "We must learn to live the reality that already is: we are all one in Christ. That is the truth. Now we must live it." As I looked upon the faces of children in Africa, as I processed learnings with John and Anne and Peter, and I think about coming home, I think this is the truth. We are all one. We must learn to live as though it is true. We must learn to live as though when one of us is cut, the other one bleeds. When one of us is hungry, the other has a stomach ache. When one is lost, neither can we see. This is what God wants from us, I believe, one human family.

We fly tomorrow to Ghana, we will see Pat at BASICS and we will see the slave castles and I will preach on Sunday about unity.

This is my passion, and I know it is also yours.

Checking In From South Africa

March 10, 2010 @ 10:52 am by Jacqui Lewis

Our conversations in South Africa these last days have been blessed by candor and vulnerability. The folk we met from the Uniting Reformed Church (Black and Colored) and the Dutch Reformed Church (White) are thrilled that the US is working on the Belhar Confession. They see signs of hope for reconciliation, but are sure this racial work will not happen in their lifetimes. The Church everywhere has so much work to do. We met a man who left the Dutch Reformed Church due to its slow speed at this work. When I preach against racism, it is my passion for a world free of racism that is on the table.

I am grateful for colleagues who share this passion with me. Hug Trish when you see her because we promoted her to Associate Minister. Along with administration, she will help with our social ministries like Celebrate Life/Momentum Project and the Clothing Closet.

We are off tomorrow to see some of this country, to let the words we have heard settle into our hearts.


March 5, 2010 @ 11:42 am by Jacqui Lewis

I was talking about teeth the last time we chatted in worship. When I preached Sunday, I was in pain. On Monday morning, my secondary expert dentist took five minutes to numb me and then another hour to do the work. There are some pains not easily numbed, but once we get together to work on stuff, once we learn each other, once we get it, it can go really well. We have to, like my Vietnamese dentist and I, learn how to work together, how to communicate, how to work it out. Some of us have, like he had for me, the clues to the other's healing. Some of us have a word on target. Some of us will tell stories that lead to transformation. Some of us will be great listeners and then replay a certain wisdom that will change the world.

I am here, with my heart burning and my brain churning with wisdom and candid sharing and confession from South Africans working on reconciliation. I have more to tell you, and I will. For now, God is in the business of making all things, and all of us new.

Those of us on both sides of the world need this newness. I love you...

and my tooth does not hurt. Maybe there are other healings to follow.

Watch this space!

March 1, 2010 @ 05:07 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Greetings everyone!

I just left for South Africa, and I will have so much to share! Keep your eyes on this space in the coming weeks.

The Women in Church and Ministry Lecture: “The Word Became Flesh”

February 24, 2010 @ 04:14 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Jacqui will be speaking on this topic at Princeton Theological Seminary on Thursday, February 25. Come check it out! Details can be found below, or on the Princeton Theological Seminary’s site.

The Women in Church and Ministry Lecture: “The Word Became Flesh”
Location: Main Lounge, Mackay Campus Center
Start: 7:00 PM
End: 8:00 PM

Free and open to the public

For more information, contact the Communications/Publications Office or call 609.497.7760.

Believe Out Loud

February 14, 2010 @ 11:44 am by Jacqui Lewis

Hello Progressive Leaders.

If you do not get Religion Dispatches, you should sign up for it. See this piece by Jean Carstensen and the report on how much silence there is from progressive clergy when it comes to human sexuality. What we do not say from the pulpit speaks volumes. We need to say that economic justice, gender justice and sexual orientation justice are braided tightly together with racial justice. We need to say that when abortion rights are restricted young women and poor women are most affected. We need to say out loud and Believe Out Loud that women and LGBTI persons should be afforded full rights and inclusion in faith communities, and that includes the right to be ordained. We need to say that LGBTI persons should have the right to marry and raise families. It is not enough to believe it; we need to believe it and proclaim it. Our people need to have theological discourse from and with clergy they trust about human sexuality.

Sunday ends National Marriage Week. Let's make Sunday the beginning of a movement: Believe Out Loud that human sexuality is a gift from God and that there is a full spectrum of sexual orientations that express that gift. Let's preach and teach that from our pulpits and break the silence.

Toward the peaceable reign of God.


Cancel Haiti's Debt

February 8, 2010 @ 01:11 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Dear Progressive Leaders:

Critical to the rebuilding of Haiti is the cancellation of their debt, and then grants for the rebuild, not loans. Check this out and see what you can do to help.

Also, don't forget to register for our leadership conference "The Leading Edge".

In the struggle for a better tomorrow,


Melinda St. Louis Jubilee USA February 6, 2010

Today, the US government listened to your call for justice for Haiti and took action. Congratulations on all your hard work. This morning, the US Treasury announced its support for Haiti's debt cancellation and grants, not loans. "Today, we are voicing our support for what Haiti needs and deserves - comprehensive multilateral debt relief," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. We couldn't agree more. In the days following the devastating earthquake on January 12th, Jubilee USA Network helped lead efforts by US civil society to achieve debt cancellation of the $709 million Haiti owes to the international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank. Your calls to the White House, letters to the editor, and now thousands of petitions have shown our leaders that Haiti's debt cancellation is critical. Last week, over 80 US faith, labor, and human rights organizations sent a letter urging Secretary Geithner to negotiate Haiti's debt cancellation. This message was echoed in another letter sent yesterday by 94 Members of the House of Representatives - Members you called and emailed. Legislative momentum also continues to build in both bodies of Congress. This weekend we are sending your petitions to the Artic Circle in Canada, where the G7 finance ministers are meeting to discuss Haiti relief, among other things. The Treasury committed to using its leadership here to make sure that the ministers support debt cancellation for Haiti. As the country begins to rebuild, debt cancellation without harmful conditions and an assurance that Haiti won't get back into debt are critical and important steps in the right direction. In the coming days, we'll be watching closely to see how the Treasury and the G7 will fulfill this commitment. To stay updated, make sure you check out www.jubileeusa.org/haiti and follow our blog "Blog the Debt" at jubileeusa.typepad.org. Thank you again, Melinda St. Louis Deputy Director, Jubilee USA
Leadership Watch: Noteworthy News

February 1, 2010 @ 02:57 pm by Jacqui Lewis

News that has caught our interest:

I Choose Choice

January 27, 2010 @ 09:39 am by Jacqui Lewis

Hi everyone. I am not sure where you stand on abortion; this is a very complicated issue, and even those of us who are progressive leaders vary in our opinions. I am a leader and I am a woman who has never had to make that choice. I am also solidly and unwaveringly for women having that choice to make. I have been an advisor to the Religious Coaltion for Reproductive Choice for over seven years since I lived and worked in Washington, DC. Check this link out from the Director, Rev. Carlton W. Veazy and then do what you think is the right thing to do. I am writing CBS today.


Our his(Story) to Write

January 21, 2010 @ 10:06 am by Jacqui Lewis

In a lovely book, The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, edited by Edwidge Danticat, there is a poem in chapter one called “Present, Past, Future”. Penned by Marc Christophe, these are the opening lines:

What will I tell you my son?

What will I say to you, my daughter?

You for whom the tropics are a marvelous paradise

a blooming garden of islands floating

in the blue box of the Caribbean Sea

What will I tell you when you ask me

Father speak to us of Haiti?

What will the fathers and mothers who survive the aftermath of the devastating earthquake tell their children about Haiti? What will they say about a place named Ayiti Quisqueya, Bohio by its inhabitants? A place of mountains whose beauty was captured by the French and the Spanish? A place whose people were killed off by disease; a land inhabited by kidnapped Africans, whose land was tilled by forced labor? What will they say to their children about Hispaniola and Saint-Domingue-identities forced upon a land by colonial presences?

What will they say about slave rebellions and Francois Macandal and the Six-Year War? What will they say about those who fought in the American Revolutionary War and who went home to fight in their own? What will they say about François-Dominique Toussaint L’ouverture and the abolition of slavery in 1794? What will they say about January 1, 1804, the equalizing meal of soup, and Black Independence.

What will they say about Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, a free Black man, the son of a French mariner and an African-born slave mother? What will they say about his time in Peoria and the way he founded Chicago, Illinois? What will they say about how his father took him to France to be educated? What will they say about a man who had the diplomacy necessary to befriend the area Native-Americans who considered him one of their own; who spoke several Indian dialects, as well as English, French, and Spanish? How can they speak about this Haitian American Hero?

What will they say when they speak of Haiti and of this time and of the reaction of the world-their neighbors? How will they speak of 40 seconds of terror, of two aftershocks and the aftermath of the crumbling of buildings and the crushing of bodies and souls? What will they say about the promises of an American president and a people? And when, more than a week later, there is another aftershock – a devastating 6.1, what will they say of how their spirits were rocked? What will they say about how the fault lines of race and class collided to crumble an infrastructure before the earth quaked?

And what will we say to our children, and to theirs?

A history of a people is just that – a story. Some of it is true; some of it is shaped and retold by those in power. In this month where we celebrate the African diaspora in America – African American History month, we think about how race is “storied”. We know there is only one race – the human race – but ethnicity and culture get “raced” in our country, and in other places around the globe. Race, skintone and color become signs for who is privileged and who is not; who holds the power and who does not.

How will we, on this soil, on this land help shape our history, and support and encourage the Haitian people to shape theirs? How we respond, what we do in these times can help reinforce the scars of a colonial past or help heal them. To be sure, money is the best way to help in these early days. Money can buy needed supplies and water, and money can flow over the internet; it needs no transport, airfield or road on which to travel. But in the days and weeks to come, as Haiti rebuilds and as we help, the way the world puts the power to shape policy, to name priorities; the way the world pardons debt and gives grants rather than loans – these tactics will help to create a story of hope, power and agency in a critical time in history.

Let’s do all we can to help write this chapter of history with love, grace and generosity. The Collegiate Churches of New York have made a first strike at this tragedy with a grant of $50,000; you can join in this grant-making by sending a check to Middle Church marked “Haiti Relief”, or you can go directly to www.churchworldservice.org and make a donation there. In time, we will do more – with our resources, with our time, with our love, prayers and support.

Let’s make African History Month a time of African diasporan connection. We all come from the same cradle of civilization – Africans, Europeans, Asians and Indians. So Haitian history, African American history, Chinese history – all of it belongs to all of us; and our future story is ours to write, together.

Help Our Haitian Neighbors

January 16, 2010 @ 04:06 pm by Jacqui Lewis

40 seconds. 7.0 Magnitude. More than 50,000 dead. Too many to count. A cloud of dust and debris. Brown bodies covered with soot and dust; with blood sweat and tears. 3 million people will require aid for up to a full year. Mansions and shanties, churches and hospitals--they all fall down. And Pat Robertson thinks the Haitians brought this on themselves.

These are the snapshots of the disaster in Haiti; pictures too horrible to even process.

Where do we see ourselves in that picture? Who is our neighbor?

This Sunday at Middle Church, we will celebrate the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr. We will sing, and pray, and dance, and hope and talk about what it means to be a neighbor in these days and times. And we will collect a special offering for our neighbors in Haiti. Please come and be with us for worship at 11:15 followed by our SoulFood Brunch and then a workshop and panel of The State of Race in the Union featuring John Janka, Dean Hubbard, Granville Leo Stevens, Bruni Pabon, Kendall Thomas, yours truly and you in conversation.

If you can't be with us, join us in helping by sending a check to Middle Collegiate Churchwith "Haiti Relief" in the memo, donating through Reformed Church World Service, or take a moment to look at Charity Navigator's guide.

Lead the Way

January 8, 2010 @ 05:35 pm by Jacqui Lewis

I was sitting with my god daughter Morgan the other night. She loves to hang with me and my husband and when we all go out in the world, we pretend that this gorgeous café mocha colored child is ours. Morgan is one of those women who look like she could be from anywhere; she gets that from her mother. As stunning as she is to look at, and she is stunning, when I am with Morgan, I think to myself, “I am in the presence of brilliance”. She is so smart! In her last semester of law school, Morgan is smart about the world, smart about politics, smart about torts and other legal things, smart about life, and smart about herself. She is honest, funny, forceful, focused, she takes no prisoners as she speaks her mind. She is at that age when she seems both older than her 25 years and younger (when she seems to be permanently attached to her smart phone).

People this age move from working on who they are to finding strength at standing apart from the parental ethos and a more widely cast net of influencers and influences. She and her peers at 18-30 scoff at hypocrisy and want to see clear evidence that words and actions match. They believe they can change the world, and they can. One of Morgan’s BFF’s decided that she could start a business in Africa, pull some friends in, and not only make a living but make a difference; she did and they do.

This is the Yes We Can generation. They get technology and want their media served quickly how and when they want it. They thumb at the speed of sound– as they text, email and Tweet. They want connections and they want action and they know how to make it happen.

All of these people know a truth: people and institutions that talk the talk but don’t walk the walk are to be suspected. I believe they will wither and die on the vine. This is a newsflash for the church: if we don’t get relevant, if we don’t get with it, if we don’t get meaningful, if we don’t get relevant, we will die.

So we are doing a study of 18-29-year olds. Some of them go to church or synagogue or mosque. Some of them do yoga or chant. Others are recovering Baptists or Catholics. We want to know what they think, how they think about the world, about ethics, about doing the right thing. We want to know what gives them hope and what makes them want to make a difference. We think this generation will change the world and we better get on board or get out of the way.

If you are such a person, 18-29, who wants to get your voice heard in our study, January 29-30 at Middle Church (www.middlechurch.org) or you know such a person, reach out to Trish Sheffield at tsheffield@middlechurch.org. The conversations are on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, for 90 minutes each. We want to hear what you have to say. No compensation but lots of coffee will be provided.

Change the world, lead the way.

New Year's Resolutions

December 31, 2009 @ 01:23 pm by Jacqui Lewis

December 31, 2010, 10:00 AM. The last day of the year. The last day of the decade.

I have so many thoughts about the last ten years; I could not have imagined ten years ago how my life would be today. I have SO much to say about that, but it will wait until the New Year.

For now, I am thinking about how the sand in the hourglass is running out on this year. I am thinking about how the clock is ticking toward a new day, a new year, a new decade. I LOVE fresh starts and new beginnings. It is as though we get to wipe our slate clean and begin all over again.

Many of us will make resolutions in the next few days. We will resolve ourselves to be new, to do new things, to think new thoughts, to engage in new behaviors. I am a person who moves too fast, tries to do too much, needs to lose five pounds (maybe ten?), should give up potato chips forever, should stop swearing (a confession here), BUT

I want to use this reflective energy to think of deeper, more meaningful shifts in myself and in my life – the kind of shifts that make me a better human being and make me better at being human.

Here are the questions I am asking myself this year; maybe they can be good for you, too:

  • What was the most consistent attitude I had last year?
  • Was it helpful/hopeful or did it pull me and others down?
  • Is there anything I can do to get a new attitude? Is there anything I can do to keep that helpful attitude?
  • What was the hardest or most difficult thing that happened to me last year?
  • Where was God (or the Holy or the Universe) in that? Did I do anything to make that happen?
  • What is the most important lesson I learned from that hard thing?
  • What was the best thing that happened to me last year? Where was God/Holy/Universe in that?
  • What did I do to help make that happen?
  • What can I learn from that success/blessing/triumph/peace?
  • What is one thing I can carry with me from this year into the next that will make me a better world citizen?
  • However you engage with yourself in conversation about 2010, may it be a joyous, peaceful, purposeful year filled with new love for others, new love for yourself, new grace in tough times, and a new and abiding appreciation for the goodness of God — however you name God — and the Universe around us.

    Happy New Year!


    A Little Child Will Lead Them

    December 23, 2009 @ 02:26 pm by Jacqui Lewis

    Sunday was a very special day at Middle Church. Our gospel choir performed an amazing concert in the afternoon, and our children gifted us with a great Christmas pageant.

    Most meaningful to me among the special moments happened when the children helped me with my sermon. I wrote a child-friendly one. After one of our little people recited a scripture by memory, I used the letters of the word Christmas to talk about what Christmas means. With great respect for their intellect, I was subtle and did not say, "C is for the Child and R is for the Region in which the shepherds worked." I just preached it with the refrain "Christmas means..."

    I was good and theological until I got to the second "S", at which time I acknowledged that Santa is part of the deal for many. Our children first coached me on all the names for Santa. Then there was a Minority report. One of ours was simply outraged: "Christmas is NOT about Santa. It is about Jesus and it is about love," he said.

    Now as a Christian clergy person, I was totally going there. But this child beat me to my own conclusion! Christmas is about love. And it is about this Child who re-presents Love.

    Christmas is also about little children who, if we will listen and let them, will fulfill a prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures: "A little child will lead them."

    May the little ones be our leaders as we seek hope, peace, joy, and love this season, and in the next year.

    Happy Holy-days from me and the Middle Project


    Sex, Lies and Leadership

    December 11, 2009 @ 03:22 pm by Jacqui Lewis

    I have been working today on our Leading Edge Conference for next April and came across some blogs about Tiger Woods sent to me by colleagues. I was intrigued most especially by Maureen Dowd’s comments in the New York Times, December 10. Actually, the comments on her comments really fascinated me.

    I have to tell you from the start that I am not up on all the details about Tiger Woods’ infidelity… my apologies. I hear there are nine women and counting, and that Tiger was neither suave nor super sneaky about getting with these women. Ms. Dowd ended her comments with, “Now all we have left to look up to is Derek Jeter.” I was tempted to go to a few sites and see if, indeed, Derek is worthy of our adulation.

    But, I did not. I don’t care. I think Derek Jeter is a great baseball player and I think Tiger Woods is an outstanding golfer. He may well be the best golfer that has ever lived.

    I am sad for Tiger’s wife. I hope that she drinks wine with her girlfriends and gets good and mad about it. I hope she gets a massage and lets herself weep. I think being betrayed is a very difficult experience, and I will hold her in my prayers as she and Tiger work through this.

    I am just not worked up, though, about Tiger falling off some pedestal. Tiger is a man, a human being, a relatively young man who has spent much of his life in the public eye playing golf. He is not my hero, and I hope he is not yours. He is an athlete, a professional athlete, a wealthy professional athlete. He was a child, then a teen, he went to college, and he met some girls. He studied some, skipped some classes. He turned pro at 21. He lost his dad. He married his sweetheart. He had two babies. He hurt his knee. He recovered from his injury and is playing an amazing game.

    I have some psychology experience and so I could risk some analysis about his life: strong parenting. Not enough freedoms. A young and growing self impinged by the golf club (see Donald Winnicott on Good Enough Care/True Self/False Self). I could tell you about how many people go underground with their sexuality because they are expected to have a certain normative image, and they live in their persona (see Carl Jung), hiding out until they get discovered.

    I also have some theological training, so I am tempted to write about how and when monogamous heterosexual marriage got romanticized (it most certainly was not romanticized in ancient Judeo-Christian culture), and how unnatural monogamy is considered in many cultures. I can write to you about how marriage is a legal contract, one that should be available, by the way, to all adults. And I could say more about the religious/spiritual/theological piece of marriage that is primarily about keeping covenant or making promises, and that the best advice I give to couples when marrying them is to make a promise they can actually keep. I say, quite bluntly, don’t lie.

    We are not quite sure about the promises Tiger made to Elin; we think we know, but are we actually sure? I can’t imagine, though, that there was a provision for having nine mistresses.

    Here is what is most on my heart: I used to be perfect — when I was about… five years old. And now, at fifty, I am not. So, I am sad for Tiger and Elin, and I am hoping they can work things out for the sake of their children. I hope the nine or however many women there were are safe and disease free, and that they will think more carefully about whether it is worth the risk to make love to someone else’s husband — famous, infamous or otherwise.

    I hope Tiger learns something from this (not just how to be better at cheating, but what is this all about)?

    But, I am not judging him. I don’t care enough to judge him. When he plays again, I will watch. I will purchase whatever I was going to purchase, with or without his endorsement. He is just too ordinary in his humanity for me to judge him. He is not my hero; I don’t need another hero. We don’t need another hero, not Wheaties Box Front heroes, anyway.

    We need leaders. And neither Tiger nor Derek Jeter count in that category from where I sit.

    They are just professional athletes.

    I want a leader in my president. I want leadership from Congress and from my state legislators. I want community organizers and clergy and lay people in the marketplace to stand up for what is right — for healthcare for all Americans; for marriage equality; for a social justice ethic that ensures that all people have safe places to live and food on the table. I want leadership in the banking industry that will decide enough is enough and give bonuses to people struggling with their mortgage payments in the form of lower interest rates and grace to keep their homes. I want REAL heroes and heroines — leadership in parents who keep on working to take care of their children and courageous same sex couples and heterosexual allies who keep pushing for marriage equality, and people who keep going to New Orleans to help rebuild that city even though it has fallen off the news radar, and folk who blog and email and inform us about atrocities in Uganda and the ways we can make a difference around the globe. I want leadership committed to anti-racism and immigration reform. I want leadership in terms of peacemaking –everywhere. And I do mean an end to war in all the theaters where it is being performed.

    And besides wanting leadership, here is what else I want:

    I want my husband and I to keep the promises WE made to each other (I happen to know what those were) and if we get it wrong, I want us to find a way to love each other through it, hang in and grow old (I like my husband as much as I love him). And, if we really mess it up (GOD FORBID), I want our transgressions to be private, not the stuff for the front page of People or for Maureen Dowd’s column.

    And I want Tiger to save his apology for his wife.

    I don’t care enough to accept it.


    Tiger’s Apology:
    I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone.

    Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious. Elin has always done more to support our family and shown more grace than anyone could possibly expect.

    But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don’t share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one’s own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.

    Whatever regrets I have about letting my family down have been shared with and felt by us alone. I have given this a lot of reflection and thought and I believe that there is a point at which I must stick to that principle even though it’s difficult.

    I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology.
    From his official website.

    Marriage Equality: Justice Will Surely Come

    December 4, 2009 @ 06:37 pm by Jacqui Lewis

    24 – 38. That is how it shook out. 24 in the New York State Senate voted for the Marriage Equality Act; 38 voted against it.

    I was watching the live stream when the vote was taken on Wednesday. I was sad; I was disappointed.

    And I am inspired. I am inspired by the speech made by Senator Eric Adams, who encouraged his colleagues to “benchmark” their lives by the way they voted on that day, and admonished Senator Diaz for speaking from his heart, not from his mind about this issue. I am inspired by the speech that Senator Diane Savino gave, where she said, “So if there’s anything wrong with the sanctity of marriage in America, it comes from those of us who have the privilege and the right and have abused it for decades.”

    I am inspired by the amazing community in which I do my ministry — a place where everyone is welcome just as they are as they come through the door; a place where we really mean that welcome, and in which we work together for justice.

    Here are some excerpts from an email chain that went around right after the vote.

    “The NY Senate just voted on the Marriage Equality bill. 24 – aye; 38 – nay. Equality lost today, but we must use this as a rally cry. Now we KNOW. We KNOW who supports us. We KNOW where we need to focus our efforts. We KNOW where to start.”

    “I think it is amazing that it went so far. New York State may not marry people but Middle Church does. Be not discouraged…”

    “Middle Church is a prayer realized. It is a green branch that is grown and cannot be stopped…”

    I wrote, “The People united will never be defeated! We can rock it; it is the right thing to do and that is why so many people (not quite enough) voted yes.”

    And then one of my wonderful congregants touched my heart with this: “On a rough day like today, your short, perfect email reminded me what a great ally we have in you — and it filled my heart with hope and resolve. I’ve been working in the LGBT movement for almost two decades, from doing AIDS prevention education in Chicago in 1990 to being the ACLU’s marriage campaign manager to my new position as ED of the National Stonewall Democrats…I have been on the losing end of the stick quite a lot when it comes to the fights like we lost today. Tonight, though, I’m reminded that I am on the side with the right people, the right side of history and the right side of God’s wish for equality for all of us. ..”

    That’s right. We are on the right side with the right people on the right side of history and on the right side of God’s wish for equality for all of us.

    We who believe in freedom will not rest. We who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.

    This will happen. It will become law not only in New York State but all across this nation. Why? Because it is right — it is the right thing, and even though justice is too often a long time coming, it will come. It will surely come.

    So join in the growing throng on the right side of right. Write to your senators and articulate your point of view (how your senator voted). Come to Middle Church on December 13 and participate in our PeaceTalks/Justice Works program and send a letter to your congressperson.

    We live to fight another day, until it passes.

    Rogue? Rouge? Or is Leadership the Issue?

    December 2, 2009 @ 02:01 pm by Jacqui Lewis

    Hello everyone. Pardon my silence. I literally lost my voice these last two weeks and upon finding it, I was, well, a little tongue tied about how to speak about the Sarah Palin moment. I am calling it a moment because with the launch of her new book, Going Rogue: An American Life, and the parody, Going Rouge: An American Nightmare, written by Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, two editors of The Nation, Ms. Palin is enjoying a media surge, with interviews by both Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters; commentary in various blogs and print media; and polling by Gallup about her popularity.

    I was slow to speak (actually, I edited myself) wanting to refrain from my gut reaction (why are we talking about this so much?!?) to an analysis (why are we talking about this so much?!?)

    Among other pieces, I read an article in The New York Times Magazine by a blogger named Lisa Belkins (November 29, 2009). Her comments feel really true to me. Alaska’s former governor struck a chord in the hearts of women when she was Senator McCain’s running mate last year. She was a great hope for many — relatable, attractive, seemingly balancing home and work, caring for both a baby boy with Down Syndrome and a teenaged-pregnant daughter. Her homespun droppin’ of the g made her seem to many as one who could save the Republican Party from within the populace. She polled at 54% at the beginning of her candidacy.

    Even as Tina Fey helped us to laugh at Ms. Palin’s mistakes, even as she polarized her own party and offended feminists with her winking and flirty presence, even as she showed herself to be a poorly researched and not well rehearsed public speaker, she still polled at 42% at the end of the campaign. Now, even now, 69% of Republicans give her a favorable rating with 29% unfavorable and 6% offering no opinion. (This compares to 14% favorable in Democrats, with 72% unfavorable and 13% no opinion and 41% favorable for Independents, 48% unfavorable, and 11% with no opinion. See the Gallup Poll October 2009.)

    Why all the buzz? Why does hope remain in the hearts of many that Sarah Palin can… lead us… anywhere?

    Does Sarah Palin understand national or foreign policy? Does she understand the dynamics of power and privilege that under-gird the racism and classism in our nation? Does she know how to exert ethical leadership in the public square?

    No, she does not. But Sarah is spreading seeds that are taking root because the ground is fertile in America for this sort of leader — unethical, unedited, unaccountable, and perhaps even unintelligent. There are people in our culture who are sad, afraid, and anxious that the America they love is slipping away. They are angry, suspicious, clinging to some dream that belongs to only a few, and they need a hero/ine who can articulate their feelings in a covert way. They are thinking that Blacks, immigrants, lefties, progressives, Latinos, and the poor are taking what rightfully belongs only to them, but they can’t really say that and be politically correct. Sarah says these things in code — to and for a certain group of people who are looking for someone/something to lead them. There is no one else quite ready to say those things, no one quite ready to stand in that place against the marginalized in our country and for some values that are archaic at best.

    We know from the history of our world that when there seems to be a vacuum of ethical and moral leadership; when people are divided by class, fear, and poverty; when racial and ethnic tensions rise, they will let themselves be led by… anyone! I think the parts of this country that reject President Obama as their leader are looking for the anti-Obama to articulate the racism, classism, fear, and fascism just under the surface of the American psyche.

    And for those people, Sarah Palin is not even really a person or a subject; she is an object onto which they can project their hopes (just like Obama is an object on which to project their fears and hatred).

    I wish I could get Ms. Palin in our Middle Project leadership lab for a week. We could teach her how to think ethically, to move morally, and to have a vision for a just society in which the common good is a gift for all. We could teach her how to organize a community, how to manage conflict and change, how to have the back of the “other” and build coalitions.

    She won’t come; she knows all there is needed to know to go rogue and hold the projections and fears and rearticulate them for the masses.

    But if she did, maybe, just maybe we could give her the opportunity to learn to be a leader. Then, maybe if she did run for office in 2012, there would be a real subject there, a real person there, not an object shaped by the projections and fantasies of an America in trouble. Maybe there would be someone on the Republican ticket who would want to pull the country together, not pull us apart.

    Jacqui is also featured as a guest blogger for Advent for the Beatitude Society. Join the site and be part of the lively discussion.

    Listen to the Children Cry

    November 17, 2009 @ 10:06 am by Jacqui Lewis

    Yesterday at our church in the East Village, we celebrated National Children’s Sabbath.

    I know that children are not everyone’s flavor, and I also know that they can be distracting in public places. Who doesn’t get annoyed when a baby starts shrieking on an airplane or in a movie theater? Personally, I really love children, but in THOSE moments, I find myself moving between, “what is wrong with that child’s parents?” to “did anyone think of putting Benadryl on the pacifier” to “that poor tired baby; maybe I should go and rock her!” A baby’s cry, especially a tired or hungry or angry cry, can pierce us right to our souls, right?

    We celebrated our children so that we can listen more closely to their cries. Adults need to listen for meaning to the cries of little people. There is a cry that goes up each day in America. Each day in America, one child cries as his mother dies in childbirth. Four children cry each day before they are killed by abuse or neglect. Five children every day cry before they commit suicide. Eight children or teens cry, right before they are killed by firearms. Thirty three cry before they die from accidents. We need to hear the cries of the 192 children arrested each day for a violent crime and the cries of the 383 arrested for drug abuse.

    When we listen to their cries we can learn how to respond. Parents learn to discern the “she is just tired” cry from the “he is in pain” cry. The children in our nation are in pain. When we listen carefully, we can know how to respond. They need our advocacy; children can’t advocate for themselves. The need our activism; children don’t’ have enough power often to be activists. They need our attention as we address making the nation and the world a safe and loving place for them. They are our future, they are our present. If we don’t act on their behalf, who will? If not now, when?

    For more information on how to help our nation’s children, go to www.childrensdefense.org.

    Out, damn spot

    November 9, 2009 @ 04:32 pm by Jacqui Lewis

    I think we need a coming out moment; a national day in celebration of coming out of the closet on race! It would be so great to get some of the racism out of the closet and on the table. Let’s talk about it, fight about it, try to navigate our way through it.

    Race matters, still, and in these United States, class and race run so closely together that underneath the poverty, underneath poor housing, underneath shoddy schools, underneath lack of health care is the racial schism on which our nation was built.

    It seems to me that there is such virulent hatred underneath the criticism of President Obama. There is such shameful blatant bad-behavior—signifying, mocking, hurling insults, hissing and booing, shouting out of turn. No white president, no matter how stupid, would be assailed in this way. How do we know?

    Well…history is a great predictor of the future, that’s all I am saying. If the shoe got thrown, wear it (is that OK to say?)

    And here it is. I am still hopeful that this administration will pull this nation together in a way that no other before could. I hope not only in our president but in those around him.

    One year ago, history was made. It is history in the making. No matter your party, or your political persuasion, I wonder: What are we going to do? What is our part in this reparation?

    I am not sure that we always feel as though what we do matters, but it does. We have the ability to make a difference, in our prayers, in our sharing information, in our speaking and writing and texting and blogging and twittering. YOU can make a difference by what you do and how you are in the world. Err on the side of patience and peacefulness; give the other the benefit of the doubt. Send positive energy out and expect it back. Read and know, rather than suspect and speculate. When a petition comes by, when there is an opportunity to show up with your feet and hands, sign it; go there!

    Love is a verb that can change the world.

    President Obama can’t do it by himself, but we can do it with him.

    Yes, we can.

    About This Blog

    Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.

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