Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Women’s History Month: Reflections on Female Clergy

Apparently, it has been Women’s History Month. I have to admit I had never heard of the observance until recently. A friend at church is a political science professor at a local community college and mentioned she was putting together a display on Women’s History Month at her school. The focus was the trail-blazing of women in science and in the church. Obviously those are very different disciplines, but women have faced similar professional obstacles in both. She had been interviewing our church’s pastor and deacon (both of whom are women), and asked for my thoughts as a mother of daughters in a church led by women. It was an intriguing topic and I thought it might make a good blog post.

My husband and I came from denominations that were very different culturally and theologically, but quite honestly they had in common very minimal roles for women. When we were kids, that didn't particularly bother us because I don't think any major denominations ordained women back then. I’m not sure it ever occurred to me that women might have a more prominent role. I was a very shy kid, so standing up in front of a congregation to lead worship was never appealing to me. As a result, the possibility of female clergy was not something of personal interest to me.

As an adult, I definitely believed it was a mistake to ban women from serving as clergy. There were numerous reasons for this belief, but it was not a deal breaker in determining which church I would join. Indeed, I was an active member for many years in a denomination that required clergy to be male and celibate. I disagreed with these requirements and was saddened by the minimal role to which women were relegated as a result. But it was not something on which I dwelt much. I had faith things would change over time.

But when my husband and I became parents of two daughters, we became concerned about raising our kids in that same church community. First of all, there were few opportunities for children to learn about their faith and take part in the faith community. Children were expected to sit quietly through services that they frankly did not understand or enjoy. That was our major impetus in leaving our former denomination. But secondarily, I had become concerned that that denomination did not provide strong female role models and did not seem to value the (many) contributions of its women. That didn't seem like a good environment, in which to raise our daughters.

Our family tried several different churches over the next few years and eventually joined an Episcopalian congregation last year. We chose it because it was close to our home, had a lot of activities for children, was theologically consistent with our beliefs, and had a strong social justice orientation. Serendipitously, the congregation is led by a female pastor and a female deacon. We had not sought out a female-led church. Indeed, there aren’t a lot in that category. But it has been a pleasant surprise.

They are very different individuals, but the respective styles of our pastor and deacon are quite unlike the styles of other pastors my husband and I have known. Both women are mothers of grown children. Consequently, they are very at ease with young children, who are valued as important members of our church. Both women were very prominent in Vacation Bible School last year, and were effective teachers to squirmy little ones. Our kids like them both a lot. When our pastor speaks, she has a very gentle but firm tone. Our deacon is also very approachable, and seems to have a constant and sincere smile on her face which is very welcoming—particularly to little ones. Both our pastor and deacon are very learned and helpful in answering theological questions that puzzle our family. They have also been good at tailoring answers depending on whether the question came from an adult or a child in our family. They have done a great job fielding our daughters’ tough questions including “Why did the Roman soldiers kill Jesus” and “Why was Joseph going to lie about his reason for divorcing Mary when he found out she was pregnant?” (Those were toughies!)

To be very honest, the sight of earrings dangling just above their priestly collars and ballet flats sticking out beneath the vestments did initially shock my husband and me. We'd never seen women in clerical garb, and we had to stifle some nervous giggles when we first began to attend our current church. But to our great delight, our daughters think nothing of these trivialities. Having women lead the church is second nature to them. They are still young, and they have no idea that for much of the church's history women were barred from leadership. It is exciting to me that they will grow up not feeling any limitation on their God-given potential--not in church or outside.

Indeed, in our church, there are plenty of other prominent women in addition to our two clergy. Our daughters' Sunday School teacher is an innovative, enthusiastic woman who has the children act out stories from the Bible, and on Halloween came to church dressed as Saint Martha in period costume. The music director is also female; she has an amazing range from traditional hymns to contemporary praise songs to kid-friendly music at Vacation Bible School. Finally, the current lay leader of the church (the "senior warden") is another woman who has an array of important duties to make sure the church runs smoothly; she handles everything from making sure the thermostat is set on the right temperature and getting us to process into the church in the right order for the Easter Vigil service.

It is inspiring to me that in our church our daughters have such prominent godly female role models. In past churches we attended, women were not as visible, so we would have had to search hard to find non-familial role models in our prior congregations. But to be honest, I find that I myself am also benefiting from having such female role models at our current church. I realized not long ago that I’ve actually had very few examples of female leadership in any aspect of my life. And frankly, not all of the few examples I’ve had were positive! As a 40-something adult professional, I’ve had few opportunities to witness women successfully fill positions of authority. Obviously, I’m not alone, and I think that makes it difficult for many of us to find our own successful approach to leadership. Even at my age, I feel like I’m learning a great deal by watching our pastor and deacon (and the other women in our parish) in their respective leadership roles in our church. It is a tremendous blessing!

Judges 4:1, 4-9 (Contemporary English Version)

After the death of Ehud, the Israelites again started disobeying the LORD.
Deborah the wife of Lappidoth was a prophet and a leader of Israel during those days.
She would sit under Deborah's Palm Tree between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, where Israelites would come and ask her to settle their legal cases.
One day, Barak the son of Abinoam was in Kedesh in Naphtali, and Deborah sent word for him to come and talk with her. When he arrived, she said:
I have a message for you from the LORD God of Israel! You are to get together an army of ten thousand men from the Naphtali and Zebulun tribes and lead them to Mount Tabor.
The LORD will trick Sisera into coming out to fight you at the Kishon River. Sisera will be leading King Jabin's army as usual, and they will have their chariots, but the LORD has promised to help you defeat them.
" I'm not going unless you go!" Barak told her.
" All right, I'll go!" she replied. " But I'm warning you that the LORD is going to let a woman defeat Sisera, and no one will honor you for winning the battle."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week

Today is Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week. Like at many Christian churches, in my congregation this weekend, we read the Gospel account of the arrest, condemnation and cruxifiction of Jesus. It is very powerful. The reading contrasts the joy and hope of people hailing Jesus as messiah when he entered Jerusalem, and the later shouts of the crowd calling for Jesus's death.

Our pastor's sermon was very touching and very humbling. She pointed out that we are supposed to recognize ourselves in both groups. We are also supposed to identify with Peter who passionately pledges his loyalty to Jesus, but then repeatedly claims to not even know him. We all fall so short of our best intentions. It is a pretty depressing thought. Indeed, our pastor confessed that Palm Sunday was her least favorite service in the whole year.

In listening again to the readings, I was reminded of several truths. We all need to be tolerant and gentle and forgiving with one another. This need comes from the fact that we are all imperfect. It is humbling to remember this. It is human nature to think of ourselves as better than the next fellow. We all tend toward self-righteousness. But the truth is that we all have plenty of short-comings, and we should always retain the humility to recognize that fact.

I think that point is not only important for theological reasons, but also for secular ones. I've read and heard a lot of news coverage in recent months about the break-down in civility in our political realm. If we'd all tone down the self-righteousness and adopt more humility, civility would be restored and there would be less cynicism towards government.

Matthew 26: 33-34, 74-75

Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Plugged In

The last few blog posts have involved “Culture War” themes, and the concerns of children being exposed to inappropriate media content. I wanted to blog on a resource related to these concerns. It is a resource, of which many non-religious folks are likely unaware. It is the “Plugged In” Reviews, a ministry of Focus on the Family.

I first became aware of the ministry several years ago. In Houston, the Christian radio station I used to listen to often had Plugged In movie reviews right before the weekend. The point of the reviews was to give parents a quick sense of whether or not new films might be appropriate for various kids in their family. The reviews were not prudish or closed-minded. They were not written by someone like Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” character. Instead, the reviews consistently looked to find both positive and negative aspects of every film. I was often surprised at the positive traits the reviews flagged with respect to films with very worldly themes. And the reviews were pretty detailed and reflective. They explained the precise concerns that reviewers had with various films, and gave specific age recommendations to help parents determine which children might be appropriate to take. Indeed, I was often surprised at the level of tolerance the reviews exhibited. They often gave (cautious) recommendations despite describing some objectionable content. When I first began to hear the movie reviews, I did not have kids, but I remember thinking how helpful the reviews must be to those who did.

I no longer live in Houston, and the radio stations I listen to now don’t seem to carry the Plugged In movie reviews. But in the age of the internet, it is still easy for anyone to get access to them. The Plugged In site below contains movie reviews—as well as reviews for television, music, games and other media.


The on-line versions of the movie reviews are much longer and more detailed than I remember the radio versions were. The link below contains a review of the Princess and the Frog, the latest Disney Princess film. I read it after I took my daughter to see it, but the review contains opinions and attitudes very similar to mine after we saw the film. The review is typical of the Plugged In format. It describes both positive and negative elements in the film. It also details for parents sexual, violent, and spiritual content in the film, and it summarizes any profanity and substance use. The review then provides an overall conclusion about the film’s merits. This format is very helpful to parents, and I’ve consulted the reviews in the past when trying to gauge the appropriateness of various movies for our kids.


Again, I find the movie reviews to be very thoughtful and open-minded. The link below contains a review of the film Precious. Because of the graphic nature of the film, I thought there might be a reflexive panning of the film. But the review is much more nuanced and shows a great deal of sensitivity towards the subject matter.


I really have to commend Focus on the Family for their Plugged In reviews. They are filling a niche that is important to many families from a variety of backgrounds. In doing so, undoubtedly they are attracting folks who eventually come to support their ministry in other contexts.

Matthew 7:11 (New American Standard Bible)

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Television and Family Values

The prior blog post discussed the disdain many Christian families have for television. Obviously, many families of other faiths and families of no religious faith have similar concerns. It is not something discussed much in the media, but so much that is on television these days is toxic for children (and not that great for adults). If you can navigate through the shows that contain pervasive sexualized themes and/or display graphic violence, you are still generally stuck with the commercials which can be even worse. This point was driven home for me again recently when our family tried to watch the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics.

When our family tuned in to watch the Super Bowl this year, I had to keep asking our kids to close their eyes for a moment to avoid commercials for brutal crime shows that showed images of corpses, commercials with objectified sexualized portrayals of women, and commercials featuring adults who were essentially worshipping beer. These were not images and concepts I wanted them to absorb. The barrage was so great and the commercial interruptions so frequent, I couldn’t have them close their eyes for all of the offensive commercials. It troubled me that to simply enjoy a football game, we had to endure so many disgusting images and messages. Moreover, it seems that many people are just so accustomed to these images and messages, they think nothing of it. What happened to our society?!

The Winter Olympics wasn’t much better. I was horrified when we tuned in for the Opening Ceremonies and NBC kept showing the heartbreaking, graphic footage of the fatal crash of the Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili. I suppose I was somewhat grateful that the anchors at least warned viewers of the deeply disturbing nature of the footage, which allowed me time to have our kids cover their eyes (and for me to close my own!). But if the footage itself was so graphic that a warning like that was necessary, why did they show it at all—let alone numerous times? Where was the respect for the young man who died, and the respect for his grieving loved ones? More fundamentally, where was the respect for basic human dignity? The death of a human being is a solemn moment. Why did anyone at NBC think it was important or necessary to show that footage even once? Perhaps I’m cynical, but I assume it was a warped ploy at ratings based on the base human appetite for blood and guts. In commercial television, is it necessary to try to appeal to such base appetites? ...I’m somewhat frightened of the potential response to that question.

It seems like not many people in our country even think about the impact of such television content on children. The implicit attitude in most circles is that guarding children from negative influences is the parents’ job—period. But how exactly can parents do that job when the inappropriate images and messages are so ubiquitous? If you have young children, are you just not supposed to let them near Super Bowl and Olympic coverage? Those sporting events in and of themselves are not offensive.

It is frustrating to me and many other parents that television has degraded so much that we don’t feel it safe or appropriate to let our children watch even occasionally. And I worry about the effect of sexualized and/or violent content that is routinely viewed by children in families where the television is on more frequently and monitored less closely. But frankly, I also worry about the effect of such content on adults. Particularly when seen so frequently, it must have a significant impact on one’s thinking and how one views others. What does it say about our society that sexualized and violent content is so pervasive? It is a concern that rarely seems to be raised as a problem outside religious circles. As a result, critics are often dismissed (unfairly)as up-tight prudes to deflect and dismiss their concerns.

Matthew 18:5 (Contemporary English Version)

And when you welcome one of these children because of me, you welcome me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Veggie Tales

The prior post made several references to Veggie Tales. For the uninitiated, some explanation might be helpful.

Veggie Tales is a series of animated Christian-themed cartoons where all the main characters are vegetables. Veggie Tales is one of the series created by Big Idea, a company whose mission is to “enhance the spiritual and moral fabric of society through creative media.” The Veggie Tales series began in the 1990s with videos sold primarily in Christian book stores. As they took off in popularity, they became available in larger chains like Wal-Mart and Target. The Veggie Tales shows are now shown on the Qubo channel, and NBC includes them in their Saturday morning cartoon line-up.

The main characters include Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, Archibald Asparagus and Junior Asparagus. (Madame Blueberry is also a reoccurring character, but no one seems to mind that she—and Bob—are technically fruits, not vegetables.) The plots of each of the shows involve a moral issue. Biblical characters and bible verses are incorporated in fun ways. For example, the Old Testament story of Joseph was updated into a Western called The Ballad of Little Joe. The title character ends up slinging sarsaparilla for a saloon owner after his jealous brothers throw him off their ranch and sell him into slavery. In Josh and the Big Wall, the story of Joshua and the fall of Jericho is retold with snooty French peas who throw grape slushees at the Israelites from their perch on top of the walls of the town.

The stories incorporate catchy songs with modern touches. One of our family’s favorites is “Belly Button” by the Boyz in the Sink—who seem to have a striking resemblance to N’Sync. The song melodramatically conveys a squash’s wrenching admission to his girlfriend that he doesn’t have a belly button.

The characters in Veggie Tales are loveable but imperfect. Archibald is elitist, Bob is often impatient, and Larry is frankly a bit dim. But they are each trying their best to do right and often try to improve their behavior when shown the error of their ways.

Our kids have seen most of the videos, and adore them. Several years ago, I took our older child to a live Veggie Tales concert/show when the tour came to our town. The concert was held in a local mega-church, and the concert began with a prayer by the host congregation’s children’s minister. It was impressive to sneak a peek to see every little head bowed with eyes closed in prayerful concentration. Then the show opened with a few of the main characters coming on stage to sing a familiar song from the videos. The first character on stage was Bob the Tomato. Hundreds if not thousands of little voices shrieked “Bob!!!!” in a manner that was reminiscent of the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs our family’s general dislike of television. It is a disdain that many Christian families share. I think that is the primary reason for the phenomenal success of the Veggie Tales. In a video format, parents don’t have to worry about interruptions by inappropriate commercials. And the shows themselves are fun and have positive themes. The motto of Big Idea is “Sunday morning values with Saturday morning fun.” That is a winning combo for many families.

In relatively conservative circles, a lot of folks talk about the “Culture Wars,” but my sense is that many on the left don’t understand or appreciate what that phrase means or how it resonates with so many. Indeed, I have to admit that before I became a parent, I had a vague sense that those who spoke of “Culture Wars” were paranoid nuts. Until I became responsible for sheltering little ones from inappropriate content, I never had a sense there was really a problem with mainstream entertainment. But thinking about popular culture through the eyes of children opened my mind to the potential impact of such influences on little ones who don’t have the type of filters that older folks do. Based on my present appreciation of the problem, I think that the Veggie Tales phenomenon is emblematic of the Culture Wars, but is beneath the radar of many on the secular left.


Matthew 19:13-15 (Contemporary English Version)

Some people brought their children to Jesus, so that he could place his hands on them and pray for them. His disciples told the people to stop bothering him. But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and don't try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God's kingdom." After Jesus had placed his hands on the children, he left.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Focus on the Family’s Welcome Center

During our recent road trip, we passed through Colorado Springs and saw a sign for the Focus on the Family Welcome Center. Frankly, we had never heard of it, and decided to be spontaneous. We exited the highway and followed the signs. As we got out of the car and walked in, my husband half-jokingly asked me if we were going to get arrested for protesting. I rolled my eyes in mock annoyance. Focus on the Family is an organization that has caused me great consternation over the years. But I always try to have an open mind, and try to find common ground with people and organizations, with which I don’t typically agree. Moreover, I had just been very encouraged to read about the success of Focus on the Family’s “Wait No More” program.

When we went inside the Welcome Center, a cheerful young woman greeted us and asked us to sign the visitors’ registration book. As we complied, she gave us a quick summary of what the Welcome Center had to offer—a number of exhibits on Focus on the Family ministries, free coffee in a cafe, an art gallery and a book store. Then looking at our young children, she added that we would definitely want to go downstairs to the kids’ area.

Before we went downstairs, my husband found a small kids’ theater upstairs showing Veggie Tales movies. He sat down with our kids in the theater while I tried to look at the exhibits briefly. Frankly, our little ones were antsy and I didn’t get to explore for long. The exhibits I saw described efforts to encourage Christians to impact their communities for Christ. There was nothing overtly political about the exhibits I saw. There were exhibits on helping the poor, finding homes for foster children, and ministering to expectant mothers to encourage them to not have an abortion. I’m down with all those things.

Then we went downstairs and were blown away by the kids’ area. Among other things, there was an old-fashioned plane where kids could play, an indoor playground, a puppet theater, a stage with kid-sized costumes, a collection of books with a comfy place to read them, more Veggie Tales screenings (including one in a mock Grand Canyon), as well as a huge indoor, winding slide that towered several stories high. Our kids had a blast! It was like a small children’s museum. Our kids didn’t want to leave. I was very impressed with Focus on the Family’s ministry to children in their Welcome Center. It was an amazing facility, and it was generous of them to open it to the public. No one asked for a statement of faith or any money.

Before we left, our family spent a little time in the bookstore, and my husband and I got a free cup of coffee at the cafe. The folks who worked at the Welcome Center were all so cheerful. They seemed genuinely glad we had stopped by, and were pleased to answer questions or just point us to the restrooms. When we initially exited the highway, we had thought we would just pop in briefly to the Welcome Center and stretch our legs. We ended up staying several hours! Particularly for those with children, I highly recommend stopping by the Welcome Center if you are in Colorado Springs. It was a lovely, serendipitous stop on our voyage. We were very appreciative of their hospitality.


3 John 1:5-8 (The Message)

Model the Good

Dear friend, when you extend hospitality to Christian brothers and sisters, even when they are strangers, you make the faith visible. They've made a full report back to the church here, a message about your love. It's good work you're doing, helping these travelers on their way, hospitality worthy of God himself! They set out under the banner of the Name, and get no help from unbelievers. So they deserve any support we can give them. In providing meals and a bed, we become their companions in spreading the Truth.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wait No More

While on our family’s recent road trip, I had occasion to read the Denver Post and was really encouraged by one article in particular. The link to the article is below.


The article described the phenomenal success of a program to encourage the adoption of children in foster care. The program, “Wait No More,” was initiated by Focus on the Family, which is based in Colorado Springs. When “Wait No More” was launched in Colorado in late 2008, there were almost 800 foster kids eligible for adoption. But just over a year later, there were only 365 such foster kids left. That is an amazing placement record.

Focus on the Family began the “Wait No More” program because of the biblical command to care for orphans. The group works with state agencies in several states to raise public awareness of the need for adoptive families and to recruit prospective adoptive parents. A link to the program’s homepage is below.


I was really encouraged to read of “Wait No More” for several reasons. First, the plight of children without forever families is a particular concern of mine. Our immediate and extended family has been blessed by adoption multiple times. My heart always breaks at the staggering numbers of children in this country and in others that don’t have a permanent home with at least one parent. Children without the protection, guidance and care of adults are among the most vulnerable members of any society.

I was also encouraged to read of “Wait No More” because it seemed like a hopeful example of common ground. There are many who disagree vehemently with the politics of Focus on the Family. (In many respects, I’m probably in that camp.) But whether or not you agree with Focus on the Family’s political bent, who amongst us doesn’t care about orphans? Christians of all perspectives understand the biblical command to care for children—particularly orphans. Regardless of whom we supported in the last presidential election, it seems to me that we can all get behind the work done by “Wait No More.” It transcends what might otherwise divide us, and it is incredibly important work. In our current politically-fractured, dysfunctional climate, that seems like a very good thing indeed.

Isaiah 1:17 (New American Standard Bible)

Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

James 1:27 (Amplified Bible)

External religious worship [religion as it is expressed in outward acts] that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Law & Rural Livelihoods

The last post touched upon the often bleak economic conditions in small towns. As a follow-up, I would like to spotlight the scholarship of Professor Lisa R. Pruitt of UC-Davis. I met her serendipitously a few years ago at a conference, and have been really intrigued by her work. Her primary focus is the intersection of Law and Rural Livelihoods. It is an important area of social justice, but it is one that seems to not get a lot of attention in mainstream media. I'm glad she brings attention to this area.

Professor Pruitt's articles are available at the following link:


In addition, Professor Pruitt also contributes to a blog on Legal Ruralism.


The blog and Professor Pruitt's articles may be of interest to those interested in learning more about social justice issues involving people in rural communities.

Mark 4:2-8, 14-20 (New Century Version)

Jesus taught them many things, using stories. He said, "Listen! A farmer went out to plant his seed. While he was planting, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground where there wasn't much dirt. That seed grew very fast, because the ground was not deep. But when the sun rose, the plants dried up because they did not have deep roots. Some other seed fell among thorny weeds, which grew and choked the good plants. So those plants did not produce a crop. Some other seed fell on good ground and began to grow. It got taller and produced a crop. Some plants made thirty times more, some made sixty times more, and some made a hundred times more."

The farmer is like a person who plants God's message in people. Sometimes the teaching falls on the road. This is like the people who hear the teaching of God, but Satan quickly comes and takes away the teaching that was planted in them. Others are like the seed planted on rocky ground. They hear the teaching and quickly accept it with joy. But since they don't allow the teaching to go deep into their lives, they keep it only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the teaching they accepted, they quickly give up. Others are like the seed planted among the thorny weeds. They hear the teaching, but the worries of this life, the temptation of wealth, and many other evil desires keep the teaching from growing and producing fruit in their lives. Others are like the seed planted in the good ground. They hear the teaching and accept it. Then they grow and produce fruit—sometimes thirty times more, sometimes sixty times more, and sometimes a hundred times more."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sacrifice and Support in Rural America

Recently, our family took another road trip to visit relatives out of state. We had occasion to see some really beautiful parts of this amazing country. Traveling in Arizona, Utah and Colorado, we gazed at countless breath-taking geologic wonders. We also passed through a number of small towns to reach our final destination. Our family has relatives who live in similar small towns in other parts of the country. At holidays and on vacations, we spend a fair amount of time in such towns. Being a person who has always lived in large urban centers, several things always strike me about small towns.

First, in rural communities, economic opportunities are not abundant and educational resources are often scarce. To get an education, one typically must move far from home. Once one has a degree, there are usually not many suitable jobs in rural communities beyond teaching grade school. My husband is from a small town. Most of the kids from his high school who go to college don’t return; they end up going to large urban centers where they have better prospects. The kids who do stay in town after high school generally do not have a lot of economic options, and the ones they have are not terribly promising. There aren’t many employers in my husband’s hometown. Additionally, there is just not a lot of local money; starting one’s own business is tough due to the small potential client base. Whenever I spend time in small towns, I feel awe and respect for the challenging lives that many folks have in rural communities. And despite the fact that I enjoy the pace and friendliness of small town life, I always feel grateful that I grew up in an urban community because I have had many more options with respect to earning a living.

The other thing that always strikes me when I visit small towns is the much more visible expression of pride in our nation’s military. I’ve seen such expressions numerous times even in small towns where there is no military base anywhere in the region. On our family’s recent trip through Arizona, Utah and Colorado, we saw numerous banners, homemade posters and other displays to express publicly love and support for our nation’s troops. In urban areas, such expressions are somewhat apparent, but never to the level that I see when I am in more sparsely populated communities.

This pattern used to puzzle me greatly, especially since Christian faith also tends to be a core value (at least in the small towns I’ve visited). It was difficult for me to reconcile those two sets of values. I used to wonder whether rural folks were just more patriotic or more hawkish than those in urban centers. But the more I spent in my husband’s hometown and came to understand the local culture, I became aware that so many young people in small town communities join the military—typically more so than in suburban or wealthier urban areas. I only knew of one person from my high school class who joined the military; my husband couldn’t begin to count how many of his classmates did. Young people from rural areas clearly join the military out of pride and love for their country. But frankly they often also do it because there aren’t a lot of other options.

Ultimately, I don’t think people in rural communities are any more patriotic or hawkish than in other parts of the United States. Instead, I think that their support of the military is often just more personal. When they put a “Support the Troops” bumper sticker on their car, it is not an abstract statement. It has a very real significance because they are often supporting their loved ones and their neighbors’ loved ones.

Matthew 5:1-4 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn,
because they will be comforted.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

El Paso Museum of Art’s American War “Propaganda”

During the Christmas holidays several months ago, my family was in El Paso, Texas and had occasion to visit the El Paso Art Museum of Art. It has an architecturally impressive home in downtown El Paso. Among other things, there is a lovely collection of European religious art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. And during our visit there was an exhibit of art depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe. However, for purposes of this blog, I actually wanted to focus on another part of the museum.

Tucked away just outside of the gift shop, the museum displays a collection of what it termed American “propaganda” from the World War II period. It was a fascinating series of posters encouraging the American public to do various things in support of the country’s war effort. I was born well after World War II, and have only learned about that time from history books and documentaries. The posters were encouraging a wide variety of sacrifices of ordinary citizens—from participation in air raid drills to using less meat to recycling an array of industrial materials (well before the first Earth Day). Citizens were being asked to use less of just about everything and to do without certain items, many of which were considered staples of every day life.

And despite the great sacrifices being demanded, it seemed to me that Americans did all this—in other words, the war propaganda was successful-- because the average American ardently wanted to support the troops on the front lines. One could argue that support arose simply because our country had been attacked and our future seemed in jeopardy. And one could argue the same situation has been present in our country since 9/11. But its seems to me that the level of support was different, more personal during World War II in part because of the widespread mobilization of the nation’s young men. The war directly touched every community many times over, and touched most families personally. People were sacrificing not just for abstract ideals and to support folks they had never met. During World War II, Americans were literally sacrificing to support their sons, husbands and brothers.

Since our invasion of Iraq in 2003, some have called for a return to a mandatory draft. I’ve had mixed feelings about that proposal. I tend to have a great skepticism about wars generally, and that skepticism has intensified in recent years for fairly obvious reasons. However, it does seem a persuasive argument to me that nations with a more widespread conscription of their young people would be more reflective and cautious in following their leaders’ call for war, particularly in cases when the war is preemptive or elective in nature. (Indeed, many countries in Western Europe have compulsory military service for their young.) It seems strange to me that our own country has been at war for about 7 years now, but that fact seems to not disrupt the lives of most of our citizenry. For most of us, life goes on with only occasional remembrance that our troops are abroad fighting two wars.


Matthew 5:9 (New International Reader’s Version)

Blessed are those who make peace. They will be called sons of God.