The State of the Union, in my dreams.


There have been several monumental "State of the Union" addresses throughout history, but most have not been. As we prepare to hear the SOTU this week, here is a little historical context, some inspiring words and thoughts from the past, and what I'd LIKE to hear, but no doubt will not. Yesterday I preached to my congregation about the State of the Union. The sermon version is
here. I include some of the info here just for a little historical perspective.

Article II Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States:

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;”

The Constitution has provided from it’s inception a mandate that the executive leader of the country in essence, “check in” with the legislature. This Tuesday evening, those wishing to tune in will witness the State of the Union speech given by the President of the United States. A response will be given from the point of view of the opposing party. This year it will be given by the new Senator from Virginia, Jim Webb. Throughout the history of this country, there have been addresses given, either written or in person, that have produced varying results in their wakes.

Most of the addresses were not the things of which history is made, but there are some very outstanding exceptions. In 1823, President James Monroe used his State of the Union speech to proclaim what became known as the Monroe Doctrine which warned the European nations from any further colonizing in the Americas and stated that the United States would only venture into European affairs if they directly related to interests of the United States. Lyndon Johnson, used his State of the Union speech in 1965 to proclaim the “Great Society.” He said:

“ . . we are only at the beginning of the road to the Great Society. Ahead now is a summit where freedom from the wants of the body can help fulfill the needs of the spirit.
We built this Nation to serve its people.
We want to grow and build and create, but we want progress to be the servant and not the master of man.
We do not intend to live in the midst of abundance, isolated from neighbors and nature, confined by blighted cities and bleak suburbs, stunted by a poverty of learning and an emptiness of leisure.
The Great Society asks not how much, but how good; not only how to create wealth but how to use it; not only how fast we are going, but where we are headed.
It proposes as the first test for a nation: the quality of its people.
This kind of society will not flower spontaneously from swelling riches and surging power.
It will not be the gift of government or the creation of presidents. It will require of every American, for many generations, both faith in the destination and the fortitude to make the journey.”

He then went on to lay out the proposed agenda:


I propose that we begin a program in education to ensure every American child the fullest development of his mind and skills.
I propose that we begin a massive attack on crippling and killing diseases.
I propose that we launch a national effort to make the American city a better and a more stimulating place to live.
I propose that we increase the beauty of America and end the poisoning of our rivers and the air that we breathe.
I propose that we carry out a new program to develop regions of our country that are now suffering from distress and depression.
I propose that we make new efforts to control and prevent crime and delinquency.
I propose that we eliminate every remaining obstacle to the right and the opportunity to vote.
I propose that we honor and support the achievements of thought and the creations of art.
I propose that we make an all-out campaign against waste and inefficiency.”

It was a bold new agenda. The forward push of its thinking was the kind of far reaching rhetoric normally reserved for inauguration addresses. Some of the institutions that grew out of the Great Society were Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, The National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. It should come as no surprise that one of the people who gave both voice and substance to the Great Society initiatives was then presidential assistant, Bill Moyers. The proposals given in this address are those that liberals and progressives in this day wish were at the top of the agenda. Fortunately, many are.

In 1941, President Roosevelt was preparing the nation to engage in war. His State of the Union speech spoke of this and more. This is where he so eloquently named what has become known as the
“Four Freedoms.”

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.
second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception--the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.”

Which brings us to the year 2003 and sixteen words that have changed the course of history, and not for the better: Four years ago the current President in his State of the Union Address uttered these words: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa .” These are the words that were used to set the wheels in motion for war. These are the words that began a tale of spies and intrigue that lead to the top levels of the White House. These are the words that underlie the trial just beginning in the Federal District Court of Judge Reggie Walton where the charges are perjury and obstruction of justice, but the underlying as yet uncharged crime is the “outing” of an undercover CIA agent. Almost four years later, more than 3000 American deaths and unknown hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, one and one half billion dollars spent per week, and all of this traced to sixteen words in a State of the Union Address used to justify an unjustifiable war. For those wishing to learn more about the finer details of the Irving (Scooter) Libbey story, I recommend to you the book Anatomy of Deceit by Marcy Wheeler which should begin to appear in book stores this week.

So now we have a new congress led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid. Things will change. They will have to. The rubber stamp and lack of accountability of the last six years is about to end. In that light, this is what I would like to hear in Tuesday’s State of the Union Address (though I am absolutely under no illusion that any of these thoughts or concepts will be echoed):

To the citizens of this proud Nation. I apologize for the shameful way I have conducted the affairs of this country for the past six years. I hereby pledge the following priorities for the next two years or however long it takes:

The war in Iraq, at least our part in it will end forthwith. We will put in place all the operational personnel and equipment needed to affect a swift and careful redeployment of our troops. We will work with neighboring nations and the UN to help them establish a peace-keeping force to stabilize Iraq and allow for the rebuilding of that devastated country. At home we will provide for the needs of our returning military by fully funding the Veterans Administration and see to it that the physical and emotional needs of our brave service men and women are provided.

The rule of law will be re-established respecting the worth and dignity of every person. The Attorney General will be directed to reinstate the honest hard working prosecutors who have been dismissed because they have been attempting to investigate members of congress and the administration who have been committing crimes. The right of habeas corpus will be extended to all on our shores and in our care abroad. Every detainee will be treated with respect and have access to council. Those for whom we have a reason to believe have committed crimes against this country will receive fair trials according to the Constitutional rule of law. Those for whom we have no solid evidence will be released from custody with our apologies and transportation to their homes. Should restitution be needed, we will provide for it.

We will begin the serious work of diplomacy and peace-making between nations. We will call upon the most gifted and talented among our citizens to help in this endeavor. We will listen with open hearts and minds and work unsparingly to find common ground and equitable solutions to the problems that nations around the world are facing. We will work with the World Bank to find ways of alleviating poverty, firstly in the war torn nations as we know that poverty leads to despair and often to violence.

We will begin immediately with implementing the programs of the Apollo Alliance that have outlined a ten year plan to make this country energy self-sufficient. This will involve industries and creative thinkers across the board re-imagining how it is that we create and use power. If we can combine our efforts to send a man to the moon, we can do this as well. This program will also include the reduction of greenhouse gasses to pre-1990 levels. It is time to begin the long process of reversing the damage we have done to the environment.

We will concentrate efforts in scientific discovery in the prevention and fighting of disease. With that we will also begin the planning of a single-payer health plan modeled after Medicare so that every man, woman, and child in this nation will have access to excellent medical care without worry about the cost. Prescription drugs will be available to all in need through a plan that will set fair prices and reasonable costs.

We will respect your privacy in all matters. Who you choose to love and marry, how and when you choose to have children, how and where you choose to pray will be matters dictated by your own conscience without interference of the government.

We will introduce the federal funding of elections so that candidates no longer have to spend a large portion of their time raising funds for reelection. They will no longer be beholden to the corporations. We will also federalize the machinery used for elections. There will be verifiable paper trails for all voting machines and the source code will be open for inspection. Voter harassment or intimidation will be met with stiff fines and jail terms. Election fraud will not be tolerated.

The FCC will be further empowered to do all within its purview to reverse the media consolidation that has led to a dominance of the airwaves by one side of the political spectrum. We need to hear all voices and all opinions as we wrestle with the difficult challenges facing us. We will also move to restore the Fairness Doctrine providing equal time for the airing of issues and the interviewing of candidates.

There is much more to do, and things I forgot to list, but this is a start. And knowing that everything that is laid out above is antithetical to who I am as a human being and to the principles adhered to by the current administration, therefore I further announce that I, the Vice President, and the entire Cabinet are submitting our resignations so that a new administration can be elected to carry out this work.

That’s what I’d like to hear this Tuesday night. Perhaps in my dreams I will. A girl can dream, can’t she?


Pro-Faith, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice


I pulled the mail out of my box at the church this morning. There were two envelopes with handwritten addresses on them. Neither had return addresses. One was nicely written the other looked like the hand had been in spasm with red pen in hand. The nicely written one was a thank you from a parishioner whose brother had died and I helped plan and conduct the memorial service. The other . . .

In the envelope was a torn up newspaper article from a local Cape Cod paper a week ago that quoted me about the war (surprise, I'm against it!). The quote was marked and there was a notation in the margins. Included in the envelope was a bumper sticker, " Be grateful your mother was Pro-life." OK, I hadn't had one of those kinds of mysterious envelopes in a while, years even. Into the garbage it went.

I had forgotten that today marks the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. An odd thing for me to forget as I am an activist for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. But there is so much going on in my life right now it had just slipped. It happens.

Whomever the troubled person was who felt the need to press her or his views upon me obviously does not know my mother. Back in the early 1950's my mother had two back alley abortions between my birth and the birth of my brother 2+ years later. They were horrid experiences for her and she never talks about them except to confirm that they happened. Fortunately for me, when birth control failed and I needed to find my way to a clinic, it was there. At a time in my life when I could not in any way, shape, or form bring a child into this world, it was there. It was legal. It was safe. It was a caring place for women in need. It also happened to house a facility for women who wanted to carry their fetuses to term and then give them up for adoption. That is what choice is about.

It was a hard decision to make. It is always a hard decision to make no matter how right it is. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. It changed my life. For the better. I doubt that I would be in ministry today had it not been for that choice that I was forced to make. Yes, there is a sad moment now and again when I think about the child I did not have, but I have no regrets. I also have great thanks for the brave and sensitive people who risk so much every day when they go to work so that others may exercise the same choice that I did.

To whomever sent me the bumper sticker, thank you for reminding me how supportive my mother is of my work to preserve a woman's right to choose.

No Rescue in Sight


In the Episode,
"Take This Sabbath Day" (number 14 season 1) the subject is the death penalty. Pres. Bartlet is faced with a request to commute the sentence of a convicted murderer before he is executed. Bartlet, a "good" Catholic is troubled by the death penalty and also has the heavy weight of the office of the President and setting precedents that reflect his religion rather than the judgement of the courts frightens him. He asks to have his family priest come pay him a visit the night of the execution. Earlier, lawyers for the condemned man tried to get the President's ear through Toby and did so through Toby's rabbi and a targeted sermon. Also Bartlet has a conversation with a Quaker political consultant who happens to be in the West Wing on business. The following quote is from the script. The priest tells Bartlet this story:

Father Cavanaugh:

You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, 'I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.'

The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, 'Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.' But the man shouted back, 'I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.'

A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, 'Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I'll take you to safety.' But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety.

Well... the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. 'Lord,' he said, 'I'm a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?'

God said, 'I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?

Bartlet is looking for help. An answer to his dilemma on whether or not to stay the execution. He actually asks Toby, Joey Lucas (the Quaker) and his priest. They all tell him to act to stay the execution, that state sponsored killing is wrong. He listens to them but does not hear them. He is too concerned with what he sees as a bad precedent to do what he knows in his heart is morally right.

The war in Iraq is a nightmare, a quagmire, a travesty, a tragedy. It was undertaken by an unelected President who wanted to prove to his daddy that he was "strong." He is the guy on the roof trusting God to rescue him.

Over a year ago in November of 2005, Rep. John Murtha took a bold stance and put forth a resolution on
Removing the American Armed Forces from Iraq. That was the "radio report." Everyone who knows how things work on Capitol Hill knew at the time that he was speaking for the generals who could not voice their concerns publicly.

Election Day 2006 was the rowboat. If it wasn't made obvious by the Democratic rout in the House and the miraculous one vote marigin in the Senate that the American people were shouting for a change in Iraqi policy . . . well, the rowboat moved on.


Then there was the
Iraq Study Group report. that was released on December 6, 2006. A metaphorical helicopter with a dropped ladder if ever there was one. Bush 41 nudged his most loyal army to try to rescue his errant son. What did 43 do? He looked at the helicopter and gave it the one fingered salute.

So here we are. The water is rising faster than the storm waters of Katrina and W. is waiting for God to take him to safety.

What will God say to W when he drowns? Or will we be able to get to him before that happens and we all drown?