29 May 2012

My Kind of Army

Here she comes, her Most Britannic Majesty,  Elizabeth II, Dei Gratia Britannia rum Regnorumque Suorum Ceterorum Regina, Consortionis Populorum Princeps, Fidei Defensor, and so on.  She formally celebrates 60 years of being queen regnant ( as opposed to queen consort) putting her but three years shy of the longest reigning British monarch, Victoria.  Read about her: Queen Elizabeth II marks diamond jubilee - The Washington Post
I confess to a touch of Anglophilia, nourished at first by a recording of the Cold Stream Guards I owned as a boy. As a youngster in Washington DC pageantry was easy to find, and quite charming to a child – with all those shiny bits. I remember quite clearly going to Arlington Cemetery one Memorial Day and seeing both the silent sentinels before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and seeing President Eisenhower deliver remarks. Impressive and stirring. I missed that sort of excitement when we moved to Baltimore. That record of the British Band reminded me of the ruffles and flourishes years before. No doubt I was attracted to the Boy Scouts by the snappy uniform as much as the knots and trees.
I got a taste of my boyhood delight years later when my wife and I visited Ottawa Canada, the National Capital, where during summers the Governor’s Own, a ceremonial regiment, perform their own ‘changing of the guard’ based on that in London. We went back a few times over the years, as Ottawa is a great city. With our sons in tow back in 1990- something we waited for the show and our youngest, a blue eyed blond haired charmer, was selected to be part of the ‘intro show’ conducted by the National Capital people. He and a francophone kid were coached to ask questions about the ceremony, which he did quite well thanks to dad’s teaching beforehand. We even got a front row seat.
Then in 2001 I took the same son into London in late May to see if we could glimpse the parade going to ‘Troop the Color’ at one of the formal rehearsals that marks the Queen’s official birthday. Once again his appealing face got attention and a police officer handed us tickets to the grandstand and we saw the whole show.
I am faintly embarrassed by my fondness for military pageantry, but I am wise enough now to prefer the British form.  They do it best, hands down, with a wonderful combination or clueless arrogance, effeminate machismo, and Victorian frumpiness that makes it perfect.  But why describe it.  Watch it yourself, and when you’re done you’ll find yourself stiffening your upper lip, and thinking “There’ll Always be an England.”

20 May 2012

A Minister’s Wedding Vow

After performing weddings for 35 years I have had a conversion.  Clergy should not sign licenses. 

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I believe we should perform weddings, mind you, but we should not have the authority to make it legal as well as religious. 

What prompts me to say this right now is a report on our local TV station about the proliferation of online clergy.  They ran a story this evening: Do ministers need a license to wed? | WOOD TV8.  Do read and watch, but my conventional clergy colleagues are in high dudgeon about the fly-by-nighters horning in on the biz by these ordination mills.  They don’t have the training and expertise, you see? 

But strictly speaking, there is nothing we learn that trains us to be legal agents of the state.  It ultimately comes down to being a notary, someone authorized to witness oaths and promises that become legally binding.  The sexton of my last church was a notary.  He had a bunch of cool seals and ribbons.  I didn’t have that.

It is simpler to have a one stop shop, I know.  But in many countries civil authorities do most of the weddings, and in some the clergy are expressly forbidden the authority to make a couple ‘legal.’  In fact, the United States and other former British holdings are among the minority that give parity to religious authorities.  Several historically Christian nations such as Mexico and France and Germany are among the most secular when it comes to marriage. That does not mean there are no religious weddings, only that the religious ceremony is not legally valid.  And yet, somehow, people in all these nations (secular and religious, Christian and Muslim) get married no less than we do, despite having to do two ceremonies. 

The reason we allow clergy to sign licenses is because in British holdings, Anglican clergy could and that authority was extended to others over time.  In short, it is a vestige of established religion.  We may not prefer one religion over another, but we privilege religion when it comes to marriage. This privilege does not extend to birth, though baptismal records were once considered legal.  This privilege does not extend to death, which does not allow clergy to declare people dead as it once did.  Why do we keep it when it comes to marriage?

If clergy and religions did not have legal standing when it came to marriage, would we have such a protracted battle about ‘gay marriage?’  If clergy and religions were not acting as agents of the state at all might we have a clearer consensus about issues of ‘church and state?’

It was fun to sign my first licenses, a sort of acknowledgement of my status in society,  But the excitement is long gone,  And now that the same honor is available to Dudeists and Universal Lifeists in a matter of minutes, that tiny honor is completely gone.  And why should we depend in any way on our legal status to dignify our religious status in the first place? 

I say it is time for clergy to renounce their authority to legalize marriages.  It is not necessary, not healthy, and occasionally in conflict with our primary sacred duties.  It’s been fun, but justice trumps ego every time.  So let’s resign our worldly power, colleagues. We lose nothing and gain both honor and integrity. 

19 May 2012

Starting the Day with a Sigh

For some reason, despite the lovely weather and the many good things all around me, a sense of poignance surrounds me. 
Perhaps it is the proximity of two anniversaries – my son’s stillbirth in May of 1983, and my father’s death in 1999 – but I am in the habit of feeling sad in spring; even as spring has become my favored time of year. 
I choose the word poignance on purpose, as it attaches to the past more than the present.  And it comes with a note of regret.  The word is related to pungent, as a sharp odor is pungent, and originates in the Latin word pungere which means to pierce or prick.  I pricked my finger Thursday evening in fact.  It is healing but if I press it in a certain way it still hurts as if fresh.  That is what poignance is about.  When we feel it, the pain is fresh. 
Over the years I have come to prize these moments, even hoard them, because they transport me back in time.  Poignance is a kind of time travel.  When we feel it, we feel exactly as we did back then.  It is not a remembered feeling but the actual feeling – when we longed for a love, were hurt by a friend, disappointed someone, grieved. 
Where did I read recently that we remember more keenly the tough times than the hard times?  It makes sense, as tough times make us ponder and question.  Good times rarely give us pause. 
It was also the tough times that gave me my tenderness, perhaps the way people pound meat with a hammer to soften it.  However it happens, I have been most in love with the world and its denizens when heart broken.  Those times remind me that I am alive.  Like the Tin Man says, “Now I know I have a heart, because it’s breaking.” 
Of course, with the majority of my life behind me now, it would be very easy to spend most of my days conjuring up poignant scenes.  Lord knows I have sins and regrets and pains a plenty to be poignant about.  After a few minutes, like those I spent writing this, my mind scolds me and says, “On with it man. Today is here, and there is work to be done.” 
We love the world best by saving it, even imperfectly.  But a little poignant savoring is also important.  A little…

06 May 2012

Naïve or Noble?

It seems that the senate race in Massachusetts is confounding the pols and pundits.  According to the NPR, both candidates have sworn off attack ads and have asked third parties to do so as well.  Here is the story: Pledge Holds Attack Ads At Bay In Mass. Senate Race : NPR

Now, what got my attention was the complaint down in the report, to wit:

… the ceasefire depends on the cooperation of outside groups, and many are already restless on the sidelines.  When the Coalition of Americans for Political Equality, for example, was asked to pull its ad in March, chairman Jeff Loyd did so only reluctantly.  "We disagree with the purpose of the pledge because we wish to exercise our freedoms and legal right to support anybody we want," Loyd says.”

Yes, they have the right to say whatever they want.  Short of “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater,” of course.  But as that old curmudgeon G. K. Chesterton observed long ago, “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

This idea is what is missing from out libertarian times.  Our civil rights give us room to be wrong.  No law can perfectly circumscribe right and wrong, being made by imperfect human beings.  Therefore it is best to give people as much room as possible to act and speak, which is what the ‘clear and present danger’ standard is all about.

But that does not include the right to do wrong, by which I mean to use the broad power of free speech to deceive.  We all know that political advertising plays fast and loose with facts, including those who make those ads.  What saddens our hope and sours our trust is that the ends of election justify the means of campaigning. 

It is wrong, and everyone knows it.  It is legal, yes, but it is wrong.  Thus we despair that the freedom we grant each other is not equaled by a similar decency toward each other.  Society depends on both.  In Massachusetts they are trying at least.