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The gun nuts–oh, I mean lovers of the Constitution–are at it again. The response to the latest mass murder included the comment, “SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.” Clearly the author thought this settled the matter.

I’m pretty passionate about the Constitution, myself. So let’s look at a different amendment, the First.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Pretty strong language. “No law . . . abridging.”

Have the courts determined that the First Amendment entirely prohibits any overlap between religion and state functions?

No. It is acceptable, for example, for the Congress to invite clergy to give an opening prayer. Some argue that this constitutes establishment of religion; the court finds that it doesn’t.

Have the courts determined that we the people have an absolute right to exercise our religion?

No. If our exercise of religion conflicts with other responsibilities of the state, such as the protection of children, it may be restricted. People have been convicted of child abuse for denying their children medicine on religious grounds, and the Supreme Court has concurred in this “abridgement” of their religious freedom.

Have the courts determined that the press may print absolutely anything?

No. Libel and pornography may be held illegal. Is that abridgement of the freedom of the press? Sure it is. And yet it seems to be acceptable. First Amendment activists believe in balancing freedom of the press with freedom from defamation, not dismissing the latter.

Have the courts determined that freedom of assembly is absolute? It says right here it can’t be abridged.

And yet a crowd may not walk down Market Street at midday without a permit, or even gather in a public park in large numbers without prior permission. It turns out that in consideration of other important principles, such as people being able to move freely around the city, the government may reasonably abridge a right, even one stated as baldly as those of the First Amendment. Even the ACLU doesn’t disagree. It will argue that parade fees can’t be excessive, and so on, but it doesn’t argue against fees per se.

So, what do you think? May the government put reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, or does the Second Amendment–

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

–mean that everyone must be able to buy any kind of arms, without any restrictions whatsoever? No background checks? No limit on what type of weapon or how many? For example, someone with diagnosed paranoia and a history of making threats cannot constitutionally be prevented from walking into a gun show and buying a weapon of war?

I would like someone to explain to me why not.

I’m reading The Fault in Our Stars, and aside from loving it, I am deeply satisfied that the narrator calls Maslow’s hierarchy of needs “utter horseshit.” I have always thought so, at least if Maslow said what my teachers said he said: that you can’t be concerned with the needs on the top of the pyramid until you’ve satisfied the needs lower down. In fact, the same school that taught me that taught me about the kamikazes, who are an excellent disproof.

But you don’t need to take sophomore-year history to have observed that people who don’t even have shelter or safety still do art and philosophy and concern themselves with self-actualization.

Two years ago I wrote about the call for an increase in the minimum wage in San Jose from $8 to $10. It eventually passed, with excellent results, as reported here in the San Jose Mercury News: “unemployment was reduced, the number of businesses grew, the number of minimum wage jobs expanded, average employee hours remained constant and the economy was stimulated.”

The article doesn’t answer a question raised by a commenter on my earlier post: with the minimum wage still so far below a living wage, especially for workers with dependents, does this do anything to reduce the need for social services? I would really like to know. Wouldn’t it be something to pay people a living wage instead of letting their employers pay them poverty wages and then leaving the taxpayers to make up the difference (or fail to, since social services are rarely adequate)? We’re a long way from that, but it’s good to see successes like San Jose, especially as the argument is made yet again that an increase in wages will doom the economy–at least, if those wages go to the lowest-paid workers.

I came in a bit late to drawing today, because I’d realized a work report hadn’t uploaded and yada yada, had to take care of that–shortchanging my spiritual-practice time is not the way I like to start my Monday sabbath. Then when I got to the studio, I realized I was short on paper and needed to fit the remaining short poses onto one sheet. (I could get more at the break.) But maybe it was coming in late, working small, and starting fast that spurred me to draw only the darkest shadows, no subtle shading, no lines–or maybe it was just something dramatic in the light on the first two-minute pose I saw. I grabbed a small piece of soft charcoal and started in. No lines. Mostly black. Gradually, over the course of the session, I loosened up on both self-imposed rules, as they had the desired effect. This was one of the most satisfying mornings of drawing I’ve ever experienced.

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About once a year I do a Question Box service, when in lieu of the sermon I answer as many questions as I can from among those people have written down earlier in the service. It being impossible to get to all of them in the space of 20 minutes, I promised this year to take them up gradually in such forums as newsletter columns and blogs. This one is in reference to the benediction our choir sings most weeks,

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

May the rain fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his/her hand. (The choir alternates, one week singing “her,” the next singing “his.”)

The questioner asked: “Does God have a gender?” Here’s my response, which I also published in the forthcoming edition of our newsletter.

I love this question! In fact, I’ve given this a lot of thought for years. In a Feminist Theology class at Syracuse, we read pieces arguing that in imagining God as male, men—who had shaped most of Jewish and Christian tradition—were creating God in their own image and then worshiping themselves. In other words, committing idolatry.

I agreed with these theo/alogians (if God might be female, then the area of study might better be called thealogy) but thought they needed to go further. I didn’t believe in an anthropomorphic god at all (as you’ll hear in today’s sermon), and I wrote a paper called something like “Anthropomorphism and Idolatry” arguing that describing the divine exclusively in human images was as idolatrous as describing it exclusively in male images. After all, if God created everything, surely it would be a wild coincidence for us to be the one and only creature who resembles the Creator. It’s self-serving and arrogant to assume that’s true.

So, no, God does not have a gender. As feminist theology points out, does God have genitals? Chromosomes? A beard? Of course the answer must be no. It’s a metaphor, and when we start to take it literally, we end up worshiping maleness, and we’ve seen where that leads: misogyny.

And no, God is not a human being. As I pointed out in my long-ago essay, does God have blood? a brain? two arms, two legs? Of course the answer must be no. When we take this metaphor literally, we end up worshiping humanness, and that leads to our despising the rest of nature and destroying the environment.

This doesn’t mean that these images should be tossed aside. The fact is, we humans think in images and metaphors, especially when it comes to great abstractions such as love, peace, and God. Whatever the holy is—power, goodness, creativity—it is beyond simple understanding and beyond anything to which it might be likened. And yet, metaphors help us express what we mean. When people imagine the holy as something that creates life, they may imagine a sculptor working in clay (as in one of the Genesis stories, and many other religions’ creation stories) or a woman giving birth (as in Babylonian religion and others). Neither makes sense literally, but they’re good metaphors for the power of creation. When the choir sings, “May God hold you in the palm of her [or his] hand,” what they are saying doesn’t make sense literally, but it is a good metaphor for this wish: as you move through a life that is often hazardous, we hope that some of the great forces of the universe will carry you safely through.

Because I think metaphors are a necessary aspect of human thought (if I wasn’t convinced already, one of George Lakoff’s early books, Metaphors We Live By, with Mark Johnson,sealed it), I think the remedy to their limitations is not to shun them but to use a wide variety of them. This helps prevent us from taking any of them literally, or limiting our understanding to just a couple of characteristics of, in this case, God, or as I prefer to say, the holy. Maybe the holy is like water; this is a frequent image for the Tao, flexible and ever-changing and powerful. And/or, maybe it’s like a crucible, in which the unimportant aspects of our lives are burned away. And/or, maybe it’s like a healer, curing the illnesses of the soul, the body, even the planet. And/or, maybe it’s like a flower, growing where we tend it and needing our care to flourish. If we have enough of these different metaphors in the mix, then we can safely throw in some human ones too: male, female, and neither.

What metaphors express what you believe is holy?

Blessings,

Amy

 

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