Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson, Androgyn

I grieve with the family of Michael Jackson and his world-wide audience.

"As he grew more famous, Jackson began altering his own appearance, going further into an image that appeared to be androgynous, beyond racial categorization and the bounds of age," writes Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times in the best cultural analysis of his life I have read.

In addition to the joy of music and dance he shared with the world, Michael broke some of the tightest cords strangling our culture: gender and race. What a gift to us all.

My daughter Roz kept a sticker on her bedroom door for many years: "Gender here is anyone's guess."

Michael's choices contributed to the cultural changes behind that message. He admired Diana Ross and chose to adopt some of the beauty and glitter that she represented.

The causes of his death? Two words say it all: Oxycontin and Demerol.

Note on July 29: One more word needed is needed... Propofol.

Two years ago, five blocks from my house, a schoolmate of one of my daughters died of an Oxycontin overdose.

Drug addiction can be to prescription drugs as well as to those that are illegal. Oxycontin is only a step away from morphine, which slows the heartbeat and breathing.

Today Deepak Chopra is reporting that Michael asked him to write a prescription for a narcotic; Chopra urged him to seek other means to alleviate physical pain.

Did Michael ever try going into a rehabilitation center for his addiction? He lived just a few minutes from Wonderland Center on Mulholland Drive, where one of my daughters was successfully treated.

Perhaps his fame prevented him from taking this course.

I grieve because he is like a little brother to me, ten years younger. When I first saw the Jackson Five on television, he was a little kid. I watched him grow up.

A few weeks ago my daughter Marie spent three days in the Intensive Care Unit on the seventh floor of Ronald Reagan Medical Center at UCLA, where Michael died. I walked up and down those halls where his family faced the worst news two days ago.

I remember being in the countryside of Italy in 1980, trying to be friendly with some children I met there.

They spoke no English and I no Italian, but the kids came up with two words I understood:

"Michael Jackson!"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Evin Prison in Tehran

We are all grieving with the people of Iran as their government imprisons, threatens, and tortures many... and kills some.

For a personal look at what it is like inside Evin Prison in Tehran, read Marina Nemat's moving story, Prisoner in Tehran. She was 16 in 1978 and survived (barely) imprisonment for three years... now lives in Canada.

The courage of the women and men in Iran is stunning.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Neda's Uprising

Suddenly women have become central in the fight against injustice in Iran.

*Neda, the young demonstrator whose death by gunfire in Tehran was captured on a cell phone. Now the fight against injustice there is being called Neda's Uprising.

*Christiane Amanpour with a CNN special on Sunday night, June 21 "Amanpour Reports from the Streets of Iran"--including her challenges directly to Pres. Ahmadinejad in a press conference. Listen to part of it or get the text from

*Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I've Been Silent About, speaking on CNN.

* Melody Moezzi, blogger on the, commenting on CNN.

* Many anonymous women, some in full chador, demonstrating in the streets.

I am deeply moved to witness all this courage and sacrifice. I drive about in Colorado, back to Los Angeles, but my heart is halfway around the world.

A few years ago, Iran and Iraq were distant places, remote from my thoughts.

Now when I can't get PBS radio or CNN or good newspapers or online reports about events there, I feel desperate.

Small world.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Iran on Juneteenth

Today the US House (and Senate?) passed a resolution apologizing for the enslavement of Africans and African-Americans--a tad overdue.

This action comes on Juneteenth (June 19), the day African-Americans have celebrated the end of slavery since the 19th century.

It's our third apology, recently, starting with regret over the interment of Japanese-American citizens and followed by regret over our killing and brutality toward native peoples here.

Today Iran's Ayatollah described last Friday's voting as President Ahmadinejad's "definitive election."

Today Senator John McCain said that President Obama has not done enough to support the people of Iran who are demonstrating against their government and the "re-election."

The US, however, can do nothing to help the people of Iran. Our hands are tied by who we are and what we have done in the past--both in the Middle East and in our own nation.

Iran's government-run media are blaming the US, Israel, and Britain for the uprising in Tehran.

If we do anything more than continue to make statements in favor of human rights in Iran, we only make things worse.

The 2000 election of George Bush did not reflect the will of our voters--the Florida courts and the Supreme Court had to decide it.

Since then we have imprisoned and tortured people unfairly, as the government of Iran is doing at this very moment and will do more of in coming days.

We can pray and we can call for respect for human rights, continue our economic boycott, but given our own interment of Japanese Americans, our history of slavery and lynchings and disrespect for African-Americans, our deliberate removal of Native Americans from their land and their rights, we can do no more.

Iran is a sovereign nation and will make its mistakes, as we did. Its people will use every means to regain their freedom... many will die and be imprisoned.

We can watch and pray for them.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Outrage Fatigue

I showed up for my 7 pm Bible study group tonight expecting some quality time with friends.

Instead, I had to deal with news of the latest demented shooting, this time at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

After spending the first ten days of June mourning the death of Dr. George Tiller, I felt this latest murder like a body blow knocking the air out of me. I groped for a chair to sit down on.

In yesterday's LA Times, Troy Newman uses the phrase "abortion fatigue" to describe his weariness of the tough job of being an abortion terrorist.

My main response to hearing today's news from my friends was something like outrage fatigue.

I can't do this again: write articles, letters to the editor, and blogposts. Pray, reflect, and mourn, going through the motions of living while my thoughts are focused on the other side of the continent three time zones away.

I push that outrage button in my brain, and the neurons just don't fire.

But the similarities between the two shootings are obvious:
hate speech and threats,
ties to organizations focused on hate,
previous years in prison.

In the death of Dr. Tiller, not the assailant but a woman whose name and phone number he carried had served time for an abortion-hate crime.

My friends and I switched tracks tonight and focused on our evening together. I'm not going to let this latest murder dominate the next ten days of my life as the last one did.

But I will still read all the sickening coverage and perhaps make a donation in memory of Stephen Tyrone Johns, the 39-year-old guard who lost his life.

A thoughtful quote in the LA Times story:

Authorities in Washington were on edge about the shooting, which came on the heels of several other racially or religiously motivated shootings around the country, including the slaying of an abortion doctor in Kansas, the fatal shooting of three police officers in Pittsburgh, and the killing of one soldier and wounding of another in Little Rock, Ark.


The Apostle Paul wrote that all things (even evil events) can be harnassed by God to work toward good in the lives of those who love their Maker (Romans 8:28).

In this case, the parallels between the two murders may cause greater public recognition of the high cost of hate speech.

If it's legal to go around saying that abortion doctors should be killed (or non-Aryans or the president), then perhaps we need to redefine the boundaries of freedom of speech.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Terrorists Win in Wichita

Abortion terrorists in the US are rejoicing today.

They had in effect "issued a fatwa against Dr. George Tiller," as Joel Jaffe noted in a letter to the editor in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, one week after Tiller was murdered while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita.

The family of slain Dr. George Tiller has decided to close the clinic that served Kansas and a wider area for 35 years. See the report by Robin Abcarian in today's LA Times:,0,6032915.story

They're not volunteering for any more suffering in the effort to give women choice in coping with problem pregnancies.

The most militant of the terrorists are not only exulting but whimpering. Troy Newman of Operation Rescue says he couldn't sleep for two days after the killing. Oh, really.

And now he's worried about a possible "witch hunt" against him and his allies, reports Abcarian.

Cheryl Sullenger, an OR "senior policy advisor" in San Diego whose name and phone number lay on a scrap of paper on the front seat of the gunman's car when he was arrested, also expressed fears of a "witch hunt." She's already served two years for conspiring to bomb a San Diego abortion clinic.

She says the news of that scrap of paper being found made her feel "like somebody kicked me in the gut." Poor baby.

Is there a term for the flip side of "blame the victim"--something like "pity the violent"?

Well, Jesus actually said to "pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44) in order to be children of the God who gives sunshine and rain to both good and evil humans.

I'm trying not to remember Paul's footnote to his words about blessing our persecutors and not being "overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:14-21).

You know, that aside about the burning coals.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Shouting Fire

My friend Karen Solheim makes the following comment on the role of verbal harassment in the death of Dr. George Tiller:

"If it is illegal to shout fire in a crowded theater, then this should be so obvious. "

Now why didn't I think of that?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sister, Carry On

Letha Dawson Scanzoni sends me an article by a young woman studying medicine at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

She vows to carry on the work of slain doctor George Tiller... yet she grew up in the Bible belt and took her parents' conservative Christian opposition to abortion for granted when she was younger.

Read her story, titled "My Choice", in the Washington Post.

IWMF Protests Sentence

The International Women's Media Foundation honors and encourages women journalists around the world who are risking their lives to obtain and print the truth in situations of oppression.

Today they issued a statement on the imprisonment of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

IWMF Condemns Korea Sentence of U.S. Journalists

Washington, DC -- The International Women’s Media Foundation vigorously condemns the conviction of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling to 12 years of hard labor by a North Korean court today.

“We fear that Lee and Ling are caught in a landscape of broader international circumstances that are unrelated to their roles as journalists and the stories they were pursuing when they were arrested,” said Liza Gross, interim executive director of the IWMF. (or click on title above as link)

Prayers for Laura and Euna

US journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee have been sentenced to twelve years in North Korean prisons where the survival rate is something like 50%, according to the story on today's LA Times website.,0,3230915.story

Their crime: being on the China/North Korea border to report on human trafficking by the North Korean government.

"The first thing that passed through my mind when I heard about the verdict was that, from an American perspective, this is tantamount to a death sentence," said Scott Snyder, director of the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy for the Asia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

The US government is trying to negotiate for their release.

Meanwhile, we owe them and others in these prisons our thoughts and prayers.

The Ten Utterances

My Hebrew tutor, Gilla Nissan, told me today that those "ten commandments" aren't commandments at all.

Jews know them as "aseret ha-dibrot" which could be translated "the ten utterances" of God or even "the ten revelations" given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai.

They are God's first big gift to humanity, after the covenant with Abraham.

Yet somewhere along the way, certain Christian leaders translated them as "commandments" with all the heavy negative weight that word implies.

She and I sat for a moment in rueful silence after she explained this to me.

Kyriarchy once again--an emphasis on God as ruler and punisher rather than creator and nourisher.

That's why I wanted to learn Hebrew. I had an inking that the Psalms and other passages I love would have a different sound in their original language.

Now I'm feeling snookered, once again. I wish we women had gotten our hands on these texts sooner.

Women today are trying to avoid words like "Lord" and "King" for envisioning the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

I wonder if women in the past would have moved away from these words, had we gained access to the texts and the translation of them a millennium or two earlier.

What would Hildegard have done?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Letters on Dr. Tiller's Death

In today's Los Angeles Times there are powerful comments on the murder of Dr. Tiller last week and the misguided LA Times editorial on that event (see June 2 LAT).

I am quoted as well as others.

Stan Helfand calls the murderer "a religious terrorist, not an 'antiabortion activist.' "

Another person calls for a law to prevent the targeting of specific individuals and their homes, churches, and places of work that is now protected as "freedom of speech.",0,7835819.story

One Week Later

This morning as I prepare to go to church, I find myself thinking about Wichita last Sunday and praying, "God, please don't let anyone get shot in church today."

But immediately I question that prayer and consider: God does not stop most of the bad things that happen in this world. Perhaps Dr. Tiller and others were praying last week that no extremist would walk up and destroy the peace of that Pentecost Sunday.

Most likely Dr. Tiller and his wife started every day with that prayer.

I do believe in "the power of prayer"--that standing before the Creator in fervent prayer can alter events in this world, by means such as changing the behavior of humans, making someone not board a plane or walk across a particular street.

I believe God averted further death by many means on September 11, 2001.

But bad things do happen on this planet, even to those who are close to God in prayer, listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Example: Jesus in Gethsemane. That prayer, "Nevertheless, Thy [permissive--not intentional] will be done" accepts that evil exists.

Surely Dr. Tiller prayed such a prayer as he continued to do his work, go to church, and live his life.

Therefore, I amend my prayer: "Oh Divine Wisdom, be with each of us who enter your house today. Protect us from evil--but in the case of rampant evil that we cannot stop through our petitions without expecting a thunderbolt from heaven--give us courage to accept your decision to create a world in which "all creation groans and travails in pain" (Romans 8:22) until your wisdom and Holy Spirit truly reign.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Another Jewish First

On a happier note, Alyssa Stanton will be ordained as a rabbi at the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College today.

She will be the first African-American woman ordained by a mainstream Jewish seminary.

Rabbi Stanton will serve Congregation Bayt Shalom, a synagogue affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism in Greenville, North Carolina.

See today's New York Times, p. A13, or use this link:

As a child, she attended a Pentecostal church; later she joined a group of Messianic Christians who both practice Judaism and speak in tongues. Eventually she joined a synagogue in Fort Collins, Colorado, and then went to seminary.

The report cites statistics on how Judaism has grown more diverse.

Ann Lohman: 1878 Death for Abortion

In "Abortion Wars, the First Time Around," Kate Manning reports on the suicide in 1878 of Ann Lohman, an abortion provider persecuted and jailed for months without bail for helping women end pregnancies for forty years.

See the op-ed pages of today's New York Times, or go to:

Lohman lived in New York City and was finally trapped and arrested by a religious crusader, Anthony Comstock.

Sound familiar?

Facing years in prison at age 66, she chose to slit her own throat in a bathtub.

Today's providers are not driven to suicide--the choice to continue to live is taken from them by gunfire.

Manning is writing a novel based on the life of Ann Lohman.

Young Doctors Choose Abortion

A week before the murder of Dr. Tiller, the Los Angeles Times published a feature on young doctors choosing to take up the specialty of performing abortions.


Men Who Had Abortions

"We had abortions," say some men, finally taking responsibility for their role in abortions undertaken by women with whom they were sexually involved. Some even wear a t-shirt with the message.


Tributes to Dr. Tiller

Dr. Susanne Poppema, a close friend of Tiller and fellow provider of abortions, quotes his motto, "Trust Women."

He once explained to an interviewer: "It is my fundamental philosophy that patients are emotionally, mentally, morally, spiritually, and physically competent to struggle with complex health issues and come to decisions that are appropriate for them."

See today's LA Times:,0,1160316.story

She calls for more security measures for doctors who provide abortions and more doctors with the appropriate training to have the courage to use it.

Other tributes from his friends:

Cindy Cooper, who met Dr. Tiller during performances of her play "Words of Choice":

Dr. Warren Hern, a close friend and fellow provider of late-term abortions:,3,4312846.story

Pay Tribute in Peace

My prayers this morning are for those who attend the memorial service for Dr. George Tiller today in Wichita: may they gather in peace... may abortion opponents let him go to his rest in peace.

See Robin Abcarian's report on today's LA Times webpage:,0,5957036.story

Increased security is promised by the US Marshals Service. Dr. Warren Hern, Gloria Allred, and others will be there.

The National Task Force on Violence Against Reproductive Health Care Providers met in Washington yesterday, and the US Justice Department announced a federal investigation of the crime, possible involvement of more than one person, and possible violation of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in the shooting.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Words and Bullets

Sticks and stone may break my bones,
But words can never hurt me.

Many of us remember shouting these words when we were children, but now that we are adults we recognize that words lead to pushing and shoving, which can lead to knifing or gun shots.

Today Women's eNews published my commentary on the death of Dr. George Tillman while he stood in church on Pentecost Sunday.

To link to it, click on "Words and Bullets" above or copy this link:

Letha Dawson Scanzoni told me that Frank Schaeffer said in his blog on the Huffington Post that his words in the past made him an accomplice in this week's murder:

"I -- and the people I worked with in the religious right, the Republican Party, the pro-life movement and the Roman Catholic Church, all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words. I am very sorry."


When my daughter Ellen was in high school, she attended a party where words escalated to shoving; a girl left the party and came back with a knife, stabbing and killing another girl.

Dr. Warren Hern, a friend of Tiller's who performs abortions in Boulder, Colorado, says in today's Los Angeles Times that he does not believe recent statements by antiabortion groups since the shooting that condemn violence.

"It's exactly what they wanted," he says. "Give me a break."

See the full article by DeeDee Correll at:,3,4312846.story

Link to Obama's Cairo Speech

Those of you who, like me, may not be too quick with You Tube, may appreciate this link.

Hello -

As a Senior Advisor to the President, I'm here in Cairo, Egypt where I watched President Obama deliver an unprecedented speech calling for a new beginning for the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

We all know that there has been tension between the United States and some Muslim communities. But, as the President said this morning, if all sides face the sources of tension squarely and focus on mutual interests, we can find a new way forward.

The President outlined some big goals for this new beginning in his speech -- including disrupting, dismantling, and defeating violent extremism. It was a historic speech, and since many Americans were asleep at the time it was given we wanted to make sure you had a chance to see it:

A New Beginning

Majority-Muslim countries around the world are filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives, just as in America. Indeed, part of what makes America great is having nearly seven million Muslim Americans living here today and enriching our culture and communities.

We can extend that kind of relationship abroad. It won't always be easy, but if we make an effort to bridge our differences rather than resigning ourselves to animosity, we can move toward a more peaceful world over time.

Thank you,
David Axelrod
Senior Advisor to the President

The White House • 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW • Washington, DC 20500 • 202-456-1111

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Violent Words, Violent Acts

The man who killed Dr. George Tiller revealed the ugly underbelly of the effort to make abortion illegal again.

For years people in the antiabortion movement have been successful in centering the argument around the concept of "life." They've tried to make "choice" a bad word.

"Life" gets respect, they say, but conscience--a woman or doctor's own struggle to find and do the right thing--gets no respect.

This shooting was about control, however, not about life. It reveals the deeper issues motivating this not-really-pro-life movement.

The antiabortion folk spend a lot of time talking about "murder" and "baby killing," and this talk attracts people who need to gain a sense of righteousness and power by fighting another group labeled as evil. Escalation from verbal to physical assault can be very tempting.

If after this killing, leaders of the reproductive control movement want to regain the country's respect, they're going to have to give up the word "murder" for a legal medical procedure to end a pregnancy.

My dictionary defines murder as "the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another." A legal decision made by a doctor, a woman and perhaps her partner, family, or friends, often in prayer and concern over a difficult situation, is not murder.

Whether in the home, on the streets, or in the schools, violent behavior starts with demonizing and dehumanizing the other.

"Because severe violence is typically the product of a process of escalation," writes Roy F. Baumeister in the 1999 edition of his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, "it is essential to understand what contributes to such escalation... Recent studies indicate that the usual sequence is an escalation from verbal to physical aggression."

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, has said he fears that the US government might "use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions" (Women's eNews, June 2).

Yes, someone might ask them to stop intimidating doctors, clinic workers, and women.

"Those who have inflamed emotions and dehumanized their opponents around the issue of abortion should take pause before they continue such dangerous rhetoric," warns Michael B. Keegan, president of People for the American Way, in an official statement.

Don't blame us, retorts the current president of Operation Rescue, Troy Newman. "We are pro-life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe."

Should we accept the claim that inflamed speech has nothing to do with the murder of Dr. Tiller? Or do words lead to violence?

Since beliefs and religion are such a big part of this mess, let's ask, "What would Jesus do?"

In fact, Jesus addressed this very issue in his Sermon on the Mount (the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 5).

You've heard that our ancestors were told, "No killing" and "Every murderer will be subject to judgment." But I tell you that everyone who is angry with sister or brother is subject to judgment... anyone who vilifies them with name-calling will be subject to the fires of Gehenna." (The Inclusive Bible, 2007).

Jesus takes name-calling seriously. Hmmm.

We too need to recognize the power of words. In our conversations, we need to stop using the term "pro-life" to dignify the anti-abortion movement. It's their term for control of reproduction through government and religion. Note: major newspapers this week are not using the term except in quotes.

Let's use words like "conscience" and "individual" more often.

And let's put that bumper sticker on more cars: "Prayerfully Pro-Choice."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"The Cost of Verbal Extremism"

Read Tim Rutten's excellent commentary "The cost of verbal extremism," which appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. (It made up for the editorial the day before.)

His final sentence says it all:

"In the American debate over abortion, the extravagance of the moral argument and the intemperance of its expression have had consequences--and we have the graves to prove it.",0,1620217.column

Monday, June 1, 2009

Requiem: Dr. George Tiller

"Any man's death diminishes me," writes John Donne.

With the death of Dr. George Tiller, we are all diminished.

Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus of Nazareth, Harvey Milk, Benazir Bhutto, Tiller was a courageous human living out his compassion for others, well aware that he was risking his life.

Like Thomas Beckett in 1170, Tiller was murdered in his church by someone who disagreed with his moral choices. In 2009 as in the 12th C., politics was behind the assassination, and then as now humans stood aghast at this ultimate violation of human values. T.S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral is an attempt to grapple with the horror of the event.

The most confounding aspect of Tiller's murder is that religion is so mixed up in it.

On Pentecost Sunday at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, a day when Christians around the world were celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit, a middle-aged man fired at Tiller and threatened others.

"Hail thee, festival day, blest day that are hallowed forever," we sang in church today, but evil stained this particular Pentecost.

Known as Shauvot, fifty days after Passover, the day started as a Jewish holiday celebrating God's gift of the Torah to Moses.

With one bullet this killer ended a human life and desecrated a day holy to both Judaism and Christianity.

To Dr. Tiller, a man serving God according to his conscience, requiem in pace.