Friday, December 19, 2008

Rick Warren/Obama Inaguration

People are up in arms about Obama's choice for Rick Warren of Purpose Driven Life fame being picked to give the invocation at the inaguration. Seems Rick Warren has made some anti-gay statements. See his remarks for yourself on the controversial Proposition 8 revoking same-sex marriage in California:



I'm disappointed in Obama's choice. Let me say that first. But I'm not surprised. Obama has never come out in favor of same-sex marriage. Obama wants to cozy up to evangelicals still. Obama is still fighting rumors that he's not Christian. Really, given the options of who the famous evangelical pastors are, he probably picked the best of the bunch, and he has some history with Rick Warren. He picked a liberal, pro-same-sex marriage pastor for the benediction, and that will be the final word. One could argue that this is balanced, and that the country is really divided on the issue of same-sex marriage, and to use to pro-lgbt pastors would be too unbalanced for Obama.

What do I wish had been the case? That's a different story. I happen to disagree with that point of view that says this is necessary for balance. I don't believe in giving an equal amount of my own time to hate to balance out the time I give to love. And it's impossible through two religious speakers to represent all Americans, so the idea that this balances out this one particular view ignores all the other things that it presents out-of-balance.

But more than being disappointed at an anti-gay pick, I'm disappointed in the exclusively Christian picks of the religious professionals in the inaguration. Rick Warren not only believes that lgbt people shouldn't be allowed to marry in same-sex relationships, he also thinks Jesus is the only path to salvation, and the rest of us go to Hell. That doesn't represent all Americans, either. I would've loved to see one Christian and one from any other religion (or representing the non-religious--now there's an idea!). Now that would be balance I could get behind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Singing Christmas Carols in Church

A popular Christmas carol parody by Christopher Gist Raible goes like this:

Gods rest ye, Unitarians, let nothing you dismay;
Remember there's no evidence there was a Christmas Day;
When Christ was born is just not known, no matter what they say,
O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact,
Glad tidings of reason and fact.

It's in good humor and it points to something very real about how we approach Christmas as a religion. For example, our UU hymnal changes a lot of words to Christmas carols. One example is "Joy to the World," which, in our hymnal, reads:

Joy to the world!
The word is come:
let earth with praises ring.

A far cry from:

Joy to the world!
The Lord is come:
let earth receive her King.

There are strong reasons for this change, obviously. Unitarians don't believe that Jesus was the Lord or King. That's point one. The second point is that our hymnal did away with a lot of heirarchical language in reference to God. We don't use the whole monarchy metaphor for God.

Yet, of course, were I to put the song in our service with just a hymnal number, the majority of people in our congregation would still sing right over those words: The Lord is come. Why?

The easy answer is tradition. At Christmas time, particularly, people seem opposed to changing traditional words in songs even for sound theological reasons. We'd rather be hypocrits to our beliefs than have our nostalgic Christmas interrupted by the jarring words of modernity. I say we, because I'm no exception. I'd rather sing "O Holy Night"
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

with all its sin and Saviors and angels than sing some sanitized version that strips it of the very majesty that I'm theologically opposed to yet make this song what I love.

But this is a bit hypocritical of me to want the old words. All old words were one time new. And, after all, the words I know to "O Holy Night" are not the original words, either. The original words were in French, and every time songs are translated they lose some of their original meaning in order to fit the verse into the song.

And, of course, even in English songs, there are words that get changed. For example, Lydia Marie Child's song:

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather's house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.
I don't know about you, but we always sang it as Grandmother's house. That's apparently the more common version, but not the original. And I know at least one grandfather who feels slighted by the change.

I understand this longing for the old words. I feel it, too. And yet, if we never give the new words a chance, they will never catch hold. And with songs in our hymnal that aren't Christmas carols, I'm more familiar with the new words than the old. And I beleive this is consistent with hymnody. Words change, because those hymns aren't in there just because we love them; they're in there because they're consistent with our religious beliefs. And for the next generation, the UU words will be their traditional songs. For me, our UU words to "Abide with Me" are the only ones I know:

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; still with me abide.

Until I look up on Wikipedia that it was:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.

And, ultimately, I think that's a good thing. Maybe this year I'll try singing "Joy to the world! The word is come."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If you haven't seen this...

You absolutely must. Funniest video ever.

Prop 8: The Musical

Many of you have already seen it, I'm sure. But I got behind while celebrating "Chalica." Sorry I couldn't embed it, but it was coming out too large to be seen in the blogger format, so I'll have to conquer that one another day.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

7 Principles in 7 Days: Part Seven

In honor of the somewhat newly created, and not yet fully embraced, holiday "Chalica," I'm doing a series of posts on the Seven Principles this week. This is my post for Sunday.

Day Seven: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Today's donation goes to the World Wildlife Fund, in honor of my brother-in-law, Cseh Peter.

It's been an interesting week, focusing on the principles. I've enjoyed it, the opportunity to spend a piece of each day reflecting on my faith and how to practice it. It was harder than I expected, too, to think about and write about each principle, and think about how to honor it best.

In the end, I think it's changed my relationship with Christmas and the rest of these December holidays, too. Finally I have taken my gift-giving and connected it to what I believe, in a way that is relevant for me, in this society, rather than honoring Jesus, a long-ago teacher. Although I believe he is still important and relevant, he is not my savior. I find "salvation by character," as 19th century Unitarian James Freeman Clark put it. This was an opportunity to better my character, in that search for living my religion. I'm glad I discovered Chalica.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

7 Principles in 7 Days: Part Six

In honor of the somewhat newly created, and not yet fully embraced, holiday "Chalica," I'm doing a series of posts on the Seven Principles this week. This is my post for Saturday.

Day Six: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

This is one of the largest principles, with arms to cover the whole world. Peace is, after all, the ultimate goal. All the other things--justice, liberty, truth, equity, compassion, inherent worth and dignity, respect for the interdependent web, the democratic process--all these other elements of our principles are steps to peace or results of it. If we can have peace, I think we can have the whole lot of them. It's inconcievable that we might achieve true peace without justice, for example.

How do we get there? My thoughts turn first to Maya Angelou, whose poem "Amazing Peace" I have used at Christmas Eve for the last few years:

Maya Angelou recites her Christmas poem
Maya Angelou recites her Christmas poem


A brief excerpt:

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves,
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:

Peace, My Brother.

Peace, My Sister.

"Peace, My Soul.


Today's donation is in honor of my sister, Carrie Landrum, a tireless advocate for peace. It goes to the Peace Alliance.

Friday, December 5, 2008

7 Principles in 7 Days: Part Five

In honor of the somewhat newly created, and not yet fully embraced, holiday "Chalica," I'm doing a series of posts on the Seven Principles this week. This is my post for Friday.

Day Five: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

This year being such an exciting election year, I feel like I've already reflected and written extensively on the democratic process. That being the case, let me point you to some other great words on democracy and this past election that inspired me.

Jim Wallis - "My Personal 'Faith Priorities' for This Election"

Forrest Church - "Religion and the Body Politic"

Where we struggle with democracy is when the vote goes against what we wanted, of course, and the results of a vote can easily go against one of our other principles. However, we must remain true to the idea of democracy, even when we disagree with the results of it.

I'm not going to write more tonight on the principle, but I do want to say that I'm making a donation today to the ACLU in honor of my father, who has often boasted proudly of being a card-carrying member of the ACLU and taught me to love liberty and democracy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

7 Principles in 7 Days: Part Four

In honor of the created holiday "Chalica," I'm doing a series of posts on the Seven Principles this week. This is my late night post for Thursday.

Day Four: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Tonight we had our community forum/outreach committee meeting. This is the principle we hold before us on the committee the most as we plan our forums. It's also a principle near and dear to my heart. Right now, in particular, I'm trying to instill this principle in others through teaching at the community college.

I was raised with education as a primary value. I come from a long line of educators, with two parents with education degrees, and three out of four grandparents who worked in education. In my family, my husband and I both teach college, as well as my father. My mother and one sister work for the University of Michigan, and one brother-in-law for Michigan State University. My other sister teaches in Detroit public schools, and my other brother-in-law is a student at Wayne State University. You could say we're all in education in one way or another. Clearly this value goes deep in my family.

When I'm teaching, I'm aware that it's not just about conveying certain facts. It's also about conveying a love for knowledge.

In our religion, our search goes beyond the search for knowledge, although it includes that. It also includes this search for meaning. We take the facts and interpret, look for the deeper answers to the deeper questions. I'm proud to be part of a questioning, searching church.

In honor of my sister, Cathy Schrock, and her many years of promoting education in one of the most difficult of settings, todays donation is to National Head Start.

7 Principles in 7 Days: Part Three

In honor of the created holiday "Chalica," I'm doing a series of posts on the Seven Principles this week. This is my post for Wednesday, although since it's after midnight it is actually Thursday. Late board meeting--what can I say?

Day Three: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

One of the things that I love about our faith is that it doesn't stand still. We're always open to new revelation, always moving forward.

One of the most tragic and moving events of this year for Unitarian Universalists was the shooting at the Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville. One of the things we saw in the aftermath of the event was the third principle in action. The church community responded with grace, dignity, and compassion. And churches all across the community there responded to them. And churches all across the nation responded.

At our church, one member said to me after our vigil how important it was that we had lit a candle not only for the victims, but for the shooter. This is a measure of our faith, that we continue to honor his worth and dignity even in the wake of a tragedy of his making.

Our churches need to be places where we can continue this spiritual growth, even during the hard times, especially during the hard times. Today my donation goes to the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry, given in my husband's honor. He's someone I know who has endured a lot in life, and rather than close off his search in response to it, rather than grasp for easy answers, it sent him searching deeper, through Christianity and Paganism, until he found a home in Unitarian Universalism. And, of course, the search is never done.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

7 Principles in 7 Days: Part Two

In honor of the created holiday "Chalica," I'm doing a series of posts on the Seven Principles this week.

Day Two: Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.

Yesterday I wrote about LBGT issues, and so I won't repeat that today, although there are a lot of justice and equity issues there. However, the agency I'm donating to today is the Human Rights Commission. This donation is in honor of my mother, who has been a consistent advocate for LGBT rights for many years, in church, educational, and workplace settings, and who is an inspiration to me.

But to talk some more about justice, equity, and compassion....

This has been a year when we've talked a lot about equity at our church, particularly about the lack of equity caused by racism. And racism has been a subject in the news a lot this year, too. Obama's winning the presidency is, admittedly, a huge triumph, and a large step towards equity in our society. People are talking about Obama as a "post-racial" figure and this as a post-racial society.

But we're not there yet. In gaining our first African American president, we lose our currently only African American senator. When McCain called him "that one," it almost sounded like there could only be one.

So yes, we're not there yet. And our community, in paricular, lags behind. It's one of the reasons that Jackson Justice Watch was formed here following our commUnity forUm on racism in Jackson. There was a definite sense at that forum that justice was not being given equally to black and white in this community. I don't know what the Jackson Justice Watch has found in that regard, but I do know that lack of equity exists in other areas. One only has to drive a few blocks from my house towards the east to watch how as the poverty level increases, so does the percentage of African Americans in the area. It's true everywhere across this nation.

Meanwhile, there was also incredible sexism in the campaign for the presidency. Hillary Clinton saw it. Sarah Palin saw it, too. And lest we think we're immune as UUs, there's talk about racism and sexism in the UUA presidential campaign season, too, in this blog post by Suzie at "Echidne of the Snakes" I found cited by the Interdendent Web. Suzie points, and rightly, I think, to the existence of acts of domestic violence against women among members of our congregations as evidence that "there are liberal men who have such twisted feelings about women that they brutalize them" and asks:
Shouldn’t we be taking “authentic steps of transformation” to stop domestic violence and other forms of abuse and discrimination among our members?
Following our second principle means doing just that. But how? Our congregation has voted to support the Aware Shelter. It's one of the agencies we routinely pick for our quarterly collection. Members have talked passionately about how important it is that we support them. But there's not much that we've done lately, other than talk and a once-a-year basket. It's time to reaffirm our connection to them and do something deeper. I once went to them and asked to volunteer on a regular basis, but found that they only had the training for new volunteers twice a year, and I had just missed it. Perhaps it's time to ask again.

To return to the principle, it's interesting to me that our principle combines justice, equity, and compassion. I think compassion is the key. Too often I hear a lack of compassion for others, a lack of empathy. We harden our hearts against injustice, against the lack of equity. We're in survival mode. It was true before the economy started heading south, even. Too often we act like scavengers in a scarcity model. It's why we don't have nationalized healthcare yet--too many people have been convinced that universal healthcare means that they'll have to wait too long for a necessary procedure, and that puts the fear of death behind the hoarding of resources. It's why our schools are suffering, too, if you ask me--hoarding of resources.

If we only have compassion first, we can move towards justice and equity.

Monday, December 1, 2008

7 Principles in 7 Days: Part One

Someone on Facebook posted a link to a created holiday, "Chalica," and I decided to give it a go. In honor of "Chalica" in which we light a chalice and honor our principles for seven days in December, I'm going to try to write about what each principle means to me each day this week.

Day One: The inherent worth and dignity of every person

The suggestions for honoring this principle included writing a letter of apology or inviting someone to dinner that you disagreed with. That would take more preparation than I've given this, so I thought about the groups of people who have been most devalued in our society: religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Atheists, both of whom are reviled by many but in very different ways; gays and lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people; homeless people; imprisoned people; people with mental disabilities; people with psychological disorders; people with physical disabilities; and many, many more who find themselves outside of what has been declared normative for our society in one way or another.

LGBT issues are of great importance to me, and to our congregation, in particular. And Jackson saw a lot of flurry of interest in transgender people back when a certain person was fired by a local university for living the gender that she beleives God made her. That's all "water under the bridge" now, and you seldom see it in the letters to the editor of the local paper anymore, lost in the flurry of election issues. But for the LGBT people in our community, their issues are not "water under the bridge." They live with the inequalities in our community and struggle with them and with prejudice on a regular basis.

The focus has been on California a lot lately, with its overturning of same-sex marriage. It's easy to forget that we banned same-sex marriage "or any similar union" a few years ago here in Michigan, as have lots of other states, in the post-election coverage of California's protests and legal follow-up cases. But we have written discrimination into our constitution in this state, and it's so far been upheld. And it's a disgrace to our state.

But for me to live the first principle means more than fighting for the people that our society has been legislating against, more than fighting for the downtrodden or oppressed. It means, first and foremost, that I must honor the inherent worth and dignity of those that I disagree with most. I have to uphold the universal love of God/universe/interdependent web for all people, even whomever I disagree with most.

The hard part of living this principle is finding a way to demonstrate that without validating an opinion or position that I find abhorent. After all, I don't want to donate money, for example, to a cause that I believe is making the world a worse place.

In high school, one of the movies we watched in my Holocaust literature course I took was a movie about the Neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, IL and the ACLU defending their right to march. It's a heart-wrenching situation, where it's difficult to know who to root for. I thought about supporting the ACLU on this day, because of this. They do stand up for the rights of people they disagree with, such as the right of a Neo-Nazi to hold a march.

However, I have a feeling that the ACLU is going to come back up in the next few days. Instead, I turn to another organization that focuses on stopping hatred and promoting tolerance: the Southern Poverty Law Center. Today I'm making a donation to the SPLC in honor of my brother-in-law Gary, whom I often disagree with, but who also is a force for good in this world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

For those that can't be there, this is the sermon I'm preaching at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Service tonight, along with the scripture readings that were chosen by some of the participants to go with it.

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
3Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Colossians 3:15-17.

15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Qur’an 2:136-137

Say: “We believe in Allah (God Almighty) and that which is revealed to us; and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants, and that which was given to Moses, Jesus and other Prophets from their God. We do not discriminate any of them, and to HIM (God) we have surrendered ourselves. So, if they believe like you have believed, they shall be rightly guided; if they reject it, they will surely fall into dissension. Allah will be your sufficient defender against them, and HE hears and knows everything.


Sermon


Thank you, first of all, everyone for coming out this evening. In today’s busy society, there are always a million different things pulling for our time and attention. And at a holiday, in particular, there are competing demands. You might easily have chosen to stay at home and cleaned the house for company, or prepped some dishes for the meal. You might have chosen to get a head start on Christmas shopping. You might have chosen to be a number of other places tonight. And yet you chose to be here, spending your evening in worship and in prayer.

And, of course, we spend the evening thinking about the meaning of Thanksgiving. And the first thing we do, in my family, is go around the table and each say what we are thankful for. Usually we focus on personal blessings—our family, food before us, shelter over our heads, and so forth. We give thanks for new babies or new jobs, thanks for health and well-being.
But there’s another level of Thankfulness we share at this time, too, and that has to do with the Thankfulness we feel for being in this country.

There have been hard times in this country before. And there have been times that our blessings we not extended to everyone in this country. We tell a story about people coming together from different cultures, different religions, the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, and breaking bread together and giving thanks together, but our country has a hard heritage of slavery, of people brought to these shores in bondage and kept in bondage for generations. It’s a pain that goes deep in our country, a mark that cannot be erased. The horrible legacy of the buying and selling and enslavement and brutality left its trail of blood across this nation. And we have the hard heritage of the ensuing relationship after that Thanksgiving that we had with the Native Americans, where we pushed them off their land in some cases and killed them in others. We have the story of the Trail of Tears, where the Cherokee died by the thousands as they were forcibly marched from the warm lands of Georgia that they had known as home to the brutal winters of Oklahoma. This is the way we built this country, on the backs of one group of people even as we forcibly evicted another group of people.

I carry that heritage in me. My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Jeptha Landrum, was in the Jackson County Militia in Georgia in 1825-1826, and he was instrumental in driving out the Creek tribe of Native Americans from Fayette County, Georgia. He actually named his horse after the chief of the tribe that he had helped drive out, Black Hawk. And that same great-great-great grandfather, Jeptha Landrum, went on to found a plantation on the land given to him for his government service and own fifty slaves.

This is all part of the heritage we celebrate when we celebrate Thanksgiving in this country. So what is it that, today, we can be thankful for?

The answer is, for me, something that was also there in the founding of this country, along with the racism, along with brutality, along with the religious persecution: some wonderful, shining ideals. We had some beautiful thoughts in the founding of our country about what this country was capable of, what our goal was to become: a shining city on a hill, a beacon to the world of tolerance, understanding, freedom, democracy.

Now, I used to say that I wasn’t patriotic. I didn’t think I felt pride in this country. I was grateful, yes, for having been born here. It’s a good place to live. But I didn’t feel responsible for that greatness, so I didn’t feel pride. And I associated feeling patriotic with thinking that this country and all it had done and all it was doing was great. I thought of the words of Frederick Douglass, the famous writer, speaker, abolitionist and escaped slave, and, I have to say, a Unitarian, when he said:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Harsh, harsh words from Frederick Douglass, but well warranted to a country that had yet to throw off slavery. He was speaking of Independence Day and people who were not free. Just as he asked, “What to a slave is the Fourth of July?” it might be asked, “What to a Native American, is Thanksgiving?”

So, no, I do not come here today to preach a glorious history full of peaceful meals between Pilgrims and Native Americans, not I, whose family participated in the stripping of the Native Americans from their land, in their forcible eviction.

But I do say that I had misunderstood patriotism when I focused on the past. And I would misunderstand Thanksgiving if I focused on the historical events of our nation. A recent article in Time magazine summed this up nicely, saying, “America is less a common culture than a set of ideals about democracy, equality and the rule of law. American history is a chronicle of the distance between those ideals and reality. And American patriotism is the struggle to narrow the gap. Thus, patriotism isn't about honoring and replicating the past; it's about surpassing it.”[1]
On Thanksgiving we must struggle between our ideals and our reality, and we must struggle to close the gap. On Thanksgiving, I don’t want us to honor and replicate what the Pilgrims did, I want us to surpass it.

Our myth about the Pilgrims and the Indians, that tells of brotherhood being forged there and belies the bloody history that follows, however, does give us an important lesson, that ideal, from which we grow our future. A central message of that story is the message of interfaith cooperation. We remember, on this day, that we are a land of immigrants and native peoples, a blending together of many cultures. We remember what it says on the Statue of Liberty, of the “Mother of Exiles,” who says:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


So we celebrate Thanksgiving today, the coming to this land, and the blending of cultures that happened here, even from the first. In using bread from many cultures, we celebrate our diversity in this community. While my name, “Landrum” is Scottish, and I am descended from slave owners, our own reality is always more complex: my own ethnic heritage is German, Scottish, English, Swedish, Welsh, Irish, French, Native American, and probably a multitude of other things. In this room we represent many continents and many cultures, and we are grateful for that. We are grateful that we are a nation like a patchwork quilt. It links us to the past and to each other, but most of all, it links us to the diverse world and the interdependent web of which we are a part. One of the values of America that I’m proud of, and which I’m Thankful for, is this value of diversity, this value of welcoming in the immigrant.

Another American value I’m particularly proud of and grateful for is religious freedom. And we’re celebrating tonight, here at this interfaith service, that value of religious freedom and how it, together with the value of diversity, brings us to a modern version of Thanksgiving, to a time when we can worship together, across religious boundaries, knowing that while we have different cultures and different beliefs, we are one people, one nation. Sometimes people think of Thanksgiving as purely a Christian holiday. But it is, in fact, an interfaith holiday. The Pilgrims were there, but the Native Americans were, too. Thanksgiving, then, is a holiday which belongs to all of us. It is, if it is to remain true to its purpose, a time which brings differing people together across the table—the pilgrims and the Native Americans, or today, perhaps warring countries or event the most diametrically opposed of faiths. If we are to set our Thanksgiving table today, we must make room for Muslims, Jews, Christians, and people of Eastern and Native religions. Thanksgiving also includes atheists, agnostics, and Humanists. Our Thanksgiving table is the welcome table.

The scripture passages we read earlier show, too, how much we have in common. They speak of knowing God, of Thanking God, and of celebrating God. They speak of how we are to live together as people of different religions, yet all created by the same God, despite different scriptures and different passages. And so, tonight, as people of different faiths, we raise our voice together in Thanks, thanks for our creator, thanks for all the creation.

As people of faith, we come together this evening also, however, because we are part of one larger community, this Jackson community, and, as such, despite our different houses of worship, we have a common home in this community. And we know that this community is hurting right now. We have a national economy that is in shambles, a state that is particularly hurting and has been for a while, reliant on an industry that is going under. We have a community where we are high in unemployment, and low in economic security, high in foreclosures and low in economic growth. We have food pantries running low and shelters running full right now in this community. We are a community that is seeing harder days. The songwriter Irving Berlin, in a similarly depressed economy, said, “Got no check books, got no banks. Still I'd like to express my thanks - I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.” Despite our troubles, and I know some of you have troubles of health, or shelter, or jobs, we come together to give thanks.

In the Christian scriptures, it tells a story about loaves and fishes. Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and managed to feed five thousand. Some see that as a story of a miracle—food that expanded to fit the need. I see it as a story of people’s matching generosity with their own, and managing to see abundance rather than scarcity. People of a loving God know that there is no limit to God’s love. People of a loving community know that there is no limit to our resources when we pull together. In my tradition, we often tell the old tale of “Stone Soup,” a folktale that’s been told in different ways in different cultures. The story is a person goes into a new community, and this traveler is told that there is no food for him. He says that this is okay, he was planning on making soup to share with everyone. He is loaned a pot, and he sets water to boil, and he puts his magic stone in the pot that will turn it into soup. As villagers ask how it’s going, he tells them one by one “Oh, it’s good, but it would be better with a carrot,” or an onion, or a potato, and so forth. The villagers supply the items and by the end, there is enough soup to feed everyone, including the traveler.

I’m thankful today to live in this community, not because of our history, but because of our possibility. Because we have ideals of freedom, of diversity, of interfaith cooperation, and of generosity. I’m thankful to live in this community not only because of the blessings that it provides to me, but also I’m thankful that it provides me with opportunities to become my best self, to live from a perspective of abundance, rather than scarcity, to practice generosity, rather than to horde my blessings. I’m thankful that we have this opportunity to come together, to live our values and our faith in this circle of diversity, in this sanctuary of open love and acceptance.

Happy Thanksgiving.

[1] Peter Beinart, “The War Over Patriotism,” Time Magazine, Thursday, June 26, 2008, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1818195-2,00.html.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Proposition 8 - And It Gets Worse

One of the ugliest aspects of the fallout around Proposition 8, which struck down same-sex marriage, is how quickly African Americans have become blamed by so many for its passage. For example, here's an article on the subject by Dan Savage, noted sex-advice columnist and himself a gay male. In it he says,

I’m not sure what to do with this. I’m thrilled that we’ve just elected our first African-American president. I wept last night. I wept reading the papers this morning. But I can’t help but feeling hurt that the love and support aren’t mutual.

I do know this, though: I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.

Now, on one hand, Dan Savage is known for being inflammatory. On the other hand, we have had him speak in a workshop at the UU's General Assembly. And he's someone who, while extreme, is read by a lot of readers. So take that example with a grain of salt, but I could throw a lot of examples your way about this.

The numbers people have been looking at are based on an exit poll - see here - which says that 70% of African Americans voted yes on 8, while a bare majority of white Americans voted no.

Two things that can be said about this. Most problematically, is how people zeroed in on race, in an election where race was such a major issue. There are a lot of demographic groups that this exit poll could pin it on (Hispanics also voted yes on 8 in this exit poll, but not by as big a percentage). For example, you could blame lack of education--people with post graduate degrees voted 60% against, while people with a high school diploma only voted 57% for. Party affiliation is a big one, with 82% of Republicans voting for 8, and 85% of conservatives. Protestants and Catholics both voted overwhelmingly for 8, at 65% and 64% respectively, and white Evangelicals at a whopping 81% while the nonreligious voted against. Married people, voting 60% for, could also be blamed, and married with children more so at 68%. Another big break was by age. The older the demographic, the more likely they voted for 8. New, young voters age 18-24 voted against at 64%.

Yet with all these demographic groups to blame, people started quickly pointing the finger at African Americans. What's the problem with that? Plenty. For example, if the white vote had been 70% against, do you think we would hear, "It's white people who are to blame for this"? No, we wouldn't. We would break it down into the other demographics immediately--it'd be about white Republicans, or white evangelicals, or white married people with children. But with African Americans, we treat them as one monolithic group. Also, the African American vote is a small percentage of the vote. It took a whole lot of white people voting that way for their vote to be added to for this to pass. Numerically, rather than by percentages, there are way more white people who voted for 8 than African Americans.

It's significant that people pointed the finger at African Americans rather than the Hispanic vote, because Hispanic people vastly outnumber African Americans in California. So why are people focusing on African Americans? Barack Obama is African American, that's why. So the popular mythos has people saying, "Those black people showed up to vote for Obama, and if they hadn't done that, this wouldn't have passed."

But that's just not true, which leads to another major problem with all of this, which is how quickly people jumped to accept the poll's results, without question. If you want to read a good rebuttal of the CNN exit poll and the assumption that's being thrown about that African Americans made up enough of the electorate to turn the election against 8, look here.

Robert Cruickshank paints a more reasonable explanation:

“The other data that appears to be emerging (BUT yet to be totally verified) is that African-Americans who early voted (which was a huge number) voted YES while those on election day voted NO. Remember we did not do extensive campaigning in many of the African-American precincts until the final week or so which was long after tens of thousands had already voted. Our campaign was slow to use Obama's opposition to Proposition Eight which he gave the day after the initiative qualified five months before the election.”

That explanation makes much more sense than anything else I've seen. Early voters tend to be older and it would make sense if some of them in the African American community were strongly associated with Yes on 8 churches. Once the No on 8 campaign finally got its act somewhat together and did outreach to African Americans, we saw the rewards on Election Day.

Ultimately this reminds us how cheap, stupid, and misguided the scapegoating of African Americans over Prop 8 has been. Prop 8's passage revealed that the marriage equality movement has a lot of outreach to do in this state - to older voters, voters living in "red California," to some Latinos and African Americans but also to numerous white voters (if whites had voted strongly No, this discussion would be moot), to Asian and Pacific Islanders, to some religious groups, including LDS Californians.
The people doing the scapegoating and finger-pointing are quick to say, "It's so sad how this minority group doesn't stand up for another minority group." So true--stand up for the African Americans, folks. Proposition 8 is not their fault.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Standing on the Side of Love

I've been struggling to put words together on how I feel about Proposal 8 in California in an eloquent enough way to post publicly. I feel like I'm just too emotionally torn between anger and sorrow to speak rationally, much less eloquently, on the subject. I'll try to do so soon.

Meanwhile, the UUA has produced this lovely video.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee?

This is a cute video with some good lessons on Membership for any church.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

After the Election

With apologies to Howard Thurman for the paraphrasing/plagiarizing:

When the polls have all closed,
When the votes have all been counted,
When the candidates have gone home,
When the crowds have dispersed,
The work of rebuilding our nation begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the brothers,
to make music in the heart.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Making a Difference

I was experiencing writer's block, so I went over to my livejournal account and looked at their writing starters for writer's block. One, from about a week ago, caught my eye:

"When it comes to making a difference, some people donate money and others volunteer their time. What cause gets your time or money?"

Apparently, October 25 was "Make a Difference Day." Well, I'm five days late to write on this, but I'll give it a go.

It's not surprising that our church and related organizations get the largest percentage of my time and my money. My largest charitable contribution is to our church, and I've only just started to increase my other charitable giving. Some of that is to denominational organizations I support: the UUA itself, Chalice Lighters, Meadville Lombard Theological School and Starr King School for the Ministry, and the UUSC. Sometimes I only give to these in little ways, like the "Guest at Your Table" effort that we'll be handing out boxes for in church this month.

The organizations I give my time to are largely through my work as a minister. In our community, I've been involved to greater or lesser degrees at various times over the past year with PFLAG, the United Way, the Jackson District Library and the Big Read program, Planned Parenthood, and others. Right now I am a board member for Family Services and Children's Aid.

Our church has a number of organizations we've voted to support. I've been involved with some of these, as well. That list (which you can read about here) includes:

  • AWARE SHELTER
  • BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS
  • BROOKLYN FOOD PANTRY
  • CHURCH WORLD SERVICE – CROP
  • COALITION FOR ADOPTION RIGHTS EQUALITY
  • DISABILITY CONNECTIONS CENTER FOR INDEPENDENT LIVING
  • JACKSON INTERFAITH PEACEKEEPERS
  • JACKSON INTERFAITH SHELTER
  • PARENTS, FAMILIES AND FRIENDS OF LESBIAN AND GAYS (PFLAG) – JACKSON
  • PLANNED PARENTHOOD – JACKSON CLINIC
  • UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST SERVICE COMMITTEE (UUSC)
  • JACKSON FOSTER CARE GRADUATION PROGRAM

If you're looking to "Make a Difference," I enourage you to find out more about these organizations. Often there are ways through the church to participate in them, or ways to get church members involved with you. And if you have an organization that you believe in, bring it to the church's attention and use our social justice process so that we can add it to the list!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Old Fat Naked Women for Peace

My cousin Wes Weddell was in from Seattle and performed at our church a couple of weeks ago. Now, his parents have e-mailed me another West-Coast music sensation: the Righteous Mothers. Here they are singing "Old Fat Naked Women for Peace."



And if you missed Wes, here's one of the songs he performed for us:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ballot Proposals

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been at two conferences back-to-back last week and the week before, so I'm catching up from two weeks away. Here's a little something to chew on, though: a preview of November's minister's column in our newsletter, which won't come out for a couple more days.


**********

I’ve been writing a lot about the boundaries of what we talk about and do not talk about in our churches, such as partisan politics. But it’s important to remember that in November we also talk about ballot issues, and that we as a church can take stands on ballot issues, and have in the past. We have not voted on any of the current ballot issues as a church, but there are many things we can say about the stands that Unitarian Universalism, as a whole, has taken.

Here’s what we have said as part of our larger association on one of the issues that’s before us: stem cell research. In 2006 the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association passed an “Action of Immediate Witness” titled, “Pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act,” in which we called on members and congregations to “Oppose restrictions to the advancement of stem cell science, as long as the rights of women donating eggs and couples donating embryos are appropriately protected and there is no intention of human reproductive cloning.” Now, the Michigan ballot initiative is not about restrictions, it’s about permissions, but if you’re interested in some of the argument that this Action of Immediate Witness built its resolution on, in order to inform your vote, it can be viewed at http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/socialjustice/statements/8064.shtml

Another issue on our Michigan ballot is the legalization of medical marijuana. The General Assembly did pass a general resolution titled “Legalization of Marijuana” in 1970, and in a 2002 “Statement of Conscience” passed by the General Assembly titled “Alternatives to the ‘War on Drugs,’” we said, “Make all drugs legally available with a prescription by a licensed physician, subject to professional oversight. End the practice of punishing an individual for obtaining, possessing, or using an otherwise illegal substance to treat a medical condition. End the threat to impose sanctions on physicians who treat patients with opiates for alleviation of pain.”
However you vote on the ballot issues this November, however, the most important thing is voting at all. One of our UU principles is “The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” It’s time to get out there and live our religion!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Eid, Muslim While Flying

Last night our family attended the annual Eid celebration hosted by the Muslim Association of Jackson County. It's a wonderful event every year, held at the Potter Center at JCC. It includes a wonderful dinner of Pakistani food, and a program to educate people about Islam. It also includes a program which has speakers who explain a little about Islam for the non-Muslims present, and a children and youth presentation, where verses of the Koran are recited , songs sung, and poetry written by the youth is shared. This year, they felt that they wanted to do something a little new, in addition, so they brought out a Muslim comedian from California, Baba Ali. There are a number of videos of him available on YouTube. Here's a clip in which he talks about being "Muslim While Flying."



And another one on the same subject:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Vote Yes on Library Millage!

In all the discussion about what we aren't allowed to say from our pulpits, I've been forgetting to say something I can legally say from the pulpit or anywhere: I hereby endorse the Jackson District Library's operating millage on their November ballot! I, personally (as our church has not taken an official stand on this), encourage people to vote in support of their local libraries!

Whew. Glad to have that off my chest.

Our church is very much blessed by the presence of our district library. We have banded together with the library to co-produce our very successful commUnity forUm series. The library also heads up the "Big Read" initiative with grant money from the NEA Big Read, and we've tapped into the Big Read program for the last couple of years (2009 book: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck).

This millage is not the same as the last millage for the library. That millage, which failed, would've provided for expansion of the library. We would've benefited from that, as it included a community room that would be locked separately. Our forums could've gone longer, without the trouble of special permission from the library to do so. And, and this is the real kicker, it would've included a little coffee shop. I think half the reason I spend so much at bookstores is because the library doesn't have a coffee shop. The other half of the reason is the hours. Alas, this millage didn't pass, and we, as a community, lost out on these possibilities.

This millage, on the other hand, just lets the library continue operating as it has been. It doesn't provide for expansion at all. It just lets our library continue operating as it has been, which is something that they won't be able to do if it doesn't pass. It's imperative that we vote yes on this, unless we want to see our community just go further into decline.

Libraries are more than a place for books, these days. Our forums, alone, show how the library is a center for community. The library provides all sorts of programming to a wide variety of ages and types of people. The library provides space for groups in the community to meet without charge. The library, increasingly, is used as a spot for technology accessibility for those who don't have the resources to purchase computers and internet access themselves.

I know we are having a hard time in this community. And I know that the millage means more money taken from each of us. But in hard economic times, people use their libraries more. I know people who have cut down on subscriptions because of the economic times--those periodicals can be found at the library. If you've had to cut down on internet, that can be found on the library. You can rent (at a small, small cost) DVDs at the library. You can find the latest books at the library without purchasing them at hardcover prices. And we're blessed to have a library with so many branches, making it more accessible to people who have limited transportation means, or just people who are trying to cut down on mileage.

If you'd like to hear a nice NPR piece on how library usage goes up in hard economic times, here's one: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93041368

And for the full text of the millage, read here: http://jackson.lib.mi.us/proposal

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Preaching Partisan Politics from the Pulpit?

This past Sunday, a group of 33 pastors preached a partisan message, endorsing a presidential candidate, from their pulpits in defiance of the tax code, which forbids such practice, the penalty for which is loss of tax-exempt status for the church.

Here's what I think.

The reason the average person gives for why this prohibition should be in place is "separation of church and state." However, this is a misunderstanding of what "separation of church and state" means. People often think that our country is founded on the idea that church and state are two totally separate things, therefore the state should say nothing about churches, and vice versa. In fact, what separation of church and state, as I understand it, is about is two-fold: First, there should be no state-sanctioned religion. The state should not endorse, promote, or show preference to any religion. Second, this is about freedom of religion. All religions should be free to practice as they see fit. Neither of these prohibit a religious organization from making statements about the state.

Which brings me to the second issue: freedom of the pulpit. Our church, indeed our whole religion, believes in freedom of the pulpit. My own letter of agreement with the congregation states, "It is a basic premise of this Congregation that the pulpit is free and untrammeled. We want a 'strong pulpit' that confirms UUA principles, embraces the Congregation’s Universalist heritage and reflects the variety of world’s religious traditions. The Minister is expected to express her values, views, and commitments without fear or favor." Similarly, our by-laws state: "The Minister shall have complete freedom of the pulpit, as well as freedom to express personal opinions outside the pulpit. This means that all those who speak from the pulpit have the right - and the duty - to express their true thoughts and feelings about the topics on which they speak. They have the freedom to choose topics that may be controversial. Their words are their own and should not be construed as the voice of the Congregation nor the voice of the UUA."

As I read it, "complete freedom of the pulpit" is absolute. I have the right, according to our congregation's beliefs, to speak about anything from the pulpit, and that includes partisan politics, if I choose to.

It's rare that I side with a group of evangelical ministers, but in this case I believe they're right. The tax code rule stifles freedom of the pulpit and is a violation of our right to freedom of religion.

Of course, whether or not we have the right to tax-exempt status is another question. And if the American people decided churches shouldn't be tax-exempt, I would have a hard time arguing that we should be special in this way. Separation of church and state means the state shouldn't support us, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't support the state. And we use the police and fire protection that those tax dollars go to.

So, I believe I should (and do, according to our church) have the right to preach partisan politics from the pulpit if I believe it's the right thing to do.

At this point, however, I don't believe it would be the right thing to do in our church or for our church, however, and that's where I break from these evangelical ministers. We are a church made strong by our diversity, and when I get partisan that can threaten our diversity. There are issues we take religious stands on, and those issues may lead us more to one candidate than the other, but that doesn't mean that someone can't be UU and a member of either party.

So, for now, if you want to know who I'm voting for, ask me outside of church. Or, for that matter, look at the back of my car or my front lawn. I am a person with strong political opinions, and I show them. But for now, our pulpit will remain silent on this issue.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

White Privilege & Election Fever

The UU Blogosphere has been abuzz with discussion about an article titled "This Is Your Nation on White Privilege" by Tim Wise. To read what other UUs are saying, a brief description of some of the responses can be found at the Interdependent Web, along with links. I will say that I find the article snarky and abrasive, and at a couple of points I took exception with it, but there were a lot of places where I thought it was, sadly, right on in its analysis.

What you think of this article, I believe, comes down to what you believe about the concept of "white privilege." If it's a new concept for you, the classic essay by Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," is a great place to start reading. White Privilege is a concept we've been discussing at our church in our adult religious education group on "Building the World We Dream About," if you're interested in discussing it more and are in our area.

White privilege is by no means a concept universally accepted in this country, so there are people who disagree with it as a concept, and then people who may agree with the concept but think that Wise goes too far or that it's not applicable to an election. I think Wise may take it too far at points, but that it is a concept that's applicable to this election.

I do think racism is a factor in the presidential election. And I think it's a bigger factor than we realize. Polling numbers often can't control for racism; people don't want to admit to racism to the pollsters. Of course, there are other isms in play, too, in this election. I've heard plenty of people talking against racism against Obama one moment and turn around and use ageism against McCain. Xenophobia and religious prejudice play a part against Obama, too (since so many people continue to think he's both not a real American and is a Muslim). Sexism has been used against Hillary Clinton and now against Sarah Palin. Religious discrimination was used against Mitt Romney. I've even heard lookism--a person gloating that Michelle Obama was so much better looking than Cindy McCain! People who are on one side or the other may not want to admit that the opposing candidate faces discrimination, too, but it is there.

What I would call on us, as UUs to do is simple: listen for it, speak out against it, try to avoid using it yourself. Think twice before speaking, and don't be afraid to speak out, gently, when you hear these isms at work. Don't demonize those who disagree with you by calling them racist or sexist, but work to challenge the underlying assumptions or call people into remembering to be their best selves. Our work as religious liberals during an election season is not to tell people how to vote or change their mind about how they're voting, but to call us into, as always, living our values, to "live your religion" as our closing song at our church reminds us to do.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Should We Have a U.S. Flag in Our Sanctuary?

Our worship committee has been thoughtfully discussing this question, "Should we have a U.S. flag in our sanctuary?" for the last few months. And we have not arrived at a final conclusion yet. We have, however, done a few things:


  • Asked members of the church for their opinions,

  • Read articles from other denominations and individuals,

  • Talked to individual churches about their policies,

  • And talked to UU ministers about their beliefs.

I believe this is an important question, with strong feelings on both sides, and needs to be approached slowly, deliberately, and thorougly.


And I believe that emotions are too strong right now on the issue. I, personally, would like to see any decision delayed until at least a month after the upcoming presidential election, so that the political feelings that have reached a fever-pitch have some time to die down first.


However, we do, in the mean time, intend to do a couple of things:



  • We'd like to continue to hear feelings and impressions on an individual basis.

  • We're planning a congregational discussion to occur sometime after church during the month of October. I'll post the date here when we have it, but it should be in the newsletter, as well. This will be a time to state your opinions, but, much more importantly, it is a time to hear opinions as well. As always, it is respectful listening to opinions that differ with our own that makes us a caring community of UUs.

If you'd like to read up on this issue, here's a few articles I found through a quick Google search. I do not endorse any, nor do I pretend they represent an unbiased sample.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Thoughts on Cultural Misappropriation

Since the Interdependent Web quoted my previous post on cultural misappropriation, I've been doing some more thinking on the subject.

It's not that I don't think cultural misappropriation is to be avoided. We all should strive to be as sensitive to other cultures as possible. It's that I think a code of conduct, at this point, on the issue is not really possible. (And putting cultural misappropriation in our bylaws feels close to establishing a code of conduct on this issue and may, indeed, lead to one.) We haven't defined sufficiently what is and what is not cultural misappropriation. I was at a workshop on this issue at our General Assembly a couple of years ago in which it was seriously suggested that, essentially, if something is done well, it's okay, if a piece of music is done poorly, then it's misappropriation. I have significant disagreement with that rule, as one is who is not the greatest musician! Can I never, therefore, be using something from another culture appropriately, if I am a poor musician? If someone is a great musician, is he or she always appropriate? Frankly, it makes no sense.

The problem with trying to judge someone's appropriateness is that you're looking at the person's actions and trying to judge the content of the person's heart and the nature of the person's character. Did this person study this religion or culture enough? Has this person engaged the struggle of the culture that the piece is from? Is the person from the culture? Does the person have connections to the culture?

We can't know all these things. Nor can I, as a worship leader, spell it all out each time. When I use a song from our hymnal, take "Shalom Havayreem" (#400) for an example, you can't know whether or not I've engaged the struggle of the Jewish people enough that I'm allowed to use the hymn. And have I? I've taken only one actual class on Judaism, if you don't count a class on the Hebrew Bible. I've had some Jewish people who were close to me in my life. I've studied the Holocaust. I've gone to synagogue. I've talked with Rabbis. I've preached about issues related to Judaism (although this may be another sign of misappropriation). Is any of this enough? Perhaps not. It's all fairly superficial. I'm not currently engaged in the work of anti-Semitism in any significant way, beyond the occasional preaching about it.

But here's another side of it, for me: "Shalom Havayreem" was the first song I learned in church. For me, it carries that meaning, of a song I learned and loved as a child. And it's in our UU hymnal--it's part of, to me, what it means to be UU. Maybe that's enough. Maybe we should sing the song, and proudly.

I don't really think we should be in the business of judging the content of people's heart and character by the choices they make in leading worship. Maybe the only rule that is reasonable to put forward is, "Did they sound respectful when they introduced it?" Maybe the workshop was right, and the rule really should be, "Was it done well?"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hurricanes, Reaching Out, and Our Interconnectedness

We spent a rainy weekend here in Michigan this weekend. It was a reminder, every time we stepped outdoors, of what was happening on the other side of the country from us, down in Texas.

Some may remember that I served a congregation in Houston briefly before heading North again. I checked that church's webpage and other church's webpage as we anxiously awaited news of how our fellow UUs were surviving the storm. The Southwestern Unitarian Universalist Conference now has more information posted here. No news of my old congregation, the Northwest UU Community Church, has been posted, but there's a lot to learn about other UU congregations, especially, the UU Fellowship of Galveston, which is presumed flooded.

The UU world is a small one, and the interconnection easy to observe, from the fact that I served a church in this area and a former minister of our church, the Rev. Susan Smith, is now district executive of the Southwestern Conference. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her, to the churches, their ministers, members, and friends.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cultural Misappropriation and More on the P&P

UU minister James Ford has written a very thoughtful piece on one piece of the proposed revision of the Principles and Purposes here. It's definitely worth reading. He focuses in on the proposed sentence in the section on "sources":

“Grateful for the traditions that have strengthened our own, we strive to avoid misappropriation of cultural and religious practices and to seek ways of appreciation that are respectful and welcomed.”


I completely skipped this sentence when I gave some of my thoughts a week ago, so let me address this sentence, as well.

James Ford says (I've deleted some, show by the elipses; the entirety is worth reading):

The problem is enshrinement in By-Laws, and therefore raising the possibility of institutionally defining appropriate behaviors and with that the possibility of punishment and expulsion for offenders, particularly ministers.

And this is not paranoia. Already a trial balloon of this sort was raised for the minister’s ethical guidelines. Objections to enshrining what I hope I've shown here as an ill-defined behavior “cultural misappropriation” as an ethical concern prevailed and it was withdrawn....

If the proposed language were to be adopted as a By-Law, I am absolutely convinced there are those among us who will volunteer to become the purity police, attempting to enforce private and wrong-headed definitions of cultural misappropriation....

I sincerely hope this sentence will be deleted.


The ministers in our association have, indeed, been debating this issue for a while, both on-line and in person. I wasn't at the UUMA meeting when a proposed revision along these lines was being discussed, but I do know that I heard a lot of discussion among ministers about this proposed change to the UUMA Code of Conduct for ministers.

The biggest questions with a guideline or bylaw that deals with misappropriation are: Who decides? What guidelines do we follow as to what is cultural misappropriation and what is not?

Every description I've seen of what is cultural misappropriation has been very sweeping and poorly defined. For example, the UU Musicians Network defines it like this:

Cultural misappropriation is the term given to the set of injuries marked by:

using music, reading, symbols, ritual, or iconography of a group without a willingness to engage in their struggle and/or story and connecting their struggle and/or story with our own (UU and community).
the use of cultural practices as bait rather than an as organic part of our cultural experience
an unwillingness to respect the community of origin or dishonoring the refusal of a community to share
disrespect or casual engagement with a practice, or
unwillingness to share the pain caused by intentional or unintentional misuse.
(Found here.)

By this rule, we would have to carefully show with each piece of music we use, each reading we use, each ritual we use, that we had "engaged the struggle" of the author/composer's "group". The presumption is that this means any group that we're not a part of. And then we would have to connect that struggle to our own. So before you use a hymn from our hymnal that's not a part of your own culture, think about what that would mean. For me, if I'm not a Christian, does that mean that songs from the Christian tradition need to be put through this rubric before I can use them in worship? Before we can sing Christmas carols, do we need to engage the struggle of Christianity as a group, and then connect that struggle to our own? Maybe we can just sing Christmas carols? Maybe we're close enough to that tradition that we can enter it without offending? Maybe not? Who decides? Would some Christains be offended that last Easter I had a communion of grape juice and bread and pomegranate juice and eggs all together? Undoubtedly. Especially if they heard how I introduced it.

Today we’re going to have a special communion. Because we come out of different theologies, we have different ways to honor our religious traditions, but we do them together in community—the root of the meaning of communion. So today we have different elements—the traditional bread and grape juice (not wine today), for in the Gospels it is said, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is my blood of the* covenant,” and so we remember that we are covenanted together in community, in remembrance of the message of Jesus—that message of justice, of God-consciousness, of soul-lifting. For our bread, remembering that the last supper was a Passover Seder, we have Matzos. Wine is also common at the celebration of Purim, and it so happens that Purim was this week as well. But we are also a community which remembers the older, Pagan traditions, and so we have in memory of the Goddess Eostre, eggs, and in memory of Persephone, pomegranate juice. I invite you to come forward, and partake in communion, using whatever elements are comfortable for you, but to join in the celebration of religious community, that we might be fed by our presence and witness to the hope and power of these traditions, and fed by the mission of this congregation. May it be so. Please join me in a moment of silence for prayer or meditation, and then following I invite you to come forward for communion.

Does that mean we shouldn't do this? I don't think so.

We've engaged this conversation around misappropriation at several levels in our church. We've talked about it at the worship committee, where after discussion of our display of the Hanukkah menorah around the winter holidays led to my discussing that display with a Rabbi. We've had the discussion in RE and adult RE around how we engage other cultures through our curricula and whether or not this crosses this line that's being drawn. There are no easy answers that we've found in our own discussions. Surely, we do want to be sensitive; however, it's not always possible to make everyone satisfied.

Much more discussion of cultural misappropriation is definitely needed before we enshrine the concept in our bylaws. Thanks to James Ford for his attentiveness to this issue!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Banned Books

Between my sermon series of last month on books that changed my life, and the discussion of banned books happening in the media and blogosphere due to recent political events, it seemed like a good time to remind you that Banned Books Week is coming up later this month.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Principles and Purposes?

The UUA's Commission on Appraisal (COA), which is an review body independent of the UUA board, takes on a different subject pertinent to the UU association every three years. Recently, they have been studying Article II of the UUA bylaws, better known as our "Principles and Purposes," as Article II was required to be reviewed every 15 years (we're a bit late). The COA has just posted their draft of a proposal for the P&P, including many large changes. If you're interested, they can be found here. It's important to note that the COA can't change the P&P document, which is part of the UUA bylaws. Nor can the UUA board of trustees. It has to be voted on in two subsequent general assemblies by the delegates--that means representatives of churches and their ministers. If you follow the link and read the draft document, you will find a survey there where you can leave your thoughts and feelings. Then the COA will meet again and consider the survey responses before creating a final document that goes to the UUA board and then to the general assemblies.

So... here's some highlights of what it says and does, and what I think.

There was a section in the current Article II that many people think is the "Purposes," but which isn't, but which does not have it's own name. The proposed version calls it by another term we've often called it, "Sources." It currently lists several sources we draw from, including naming separately the Jewish and Christian teachings, direct experience, words and deeds of prophetic men and women, wisdom from the world's religions, Humanist teachings, and earth-centered traditions. The draft version says:

Unitarianism and Universalism are grounded on more than two thousand years of Jewish and Christian teachings, traditions, and experiences. Unitarian Universalism is not contained in any single book or creed. It draws from the teachings of the Abrahamic religions, Earth-centered spirituality, and other world religious traditions. It engages perspectives from humanism, mysticism, theism, skepticism, naturalism, and feminist and liberation theologies. It is informed by the arts and the sciences. It trusts the value of direct experiences of mystery and wonder, and it recognizes the sacred may be found within the ordinary.

Wisdom and beauty may be expressed in many forms: in poetry and prose, in story and song, in metaphor and myth, in drama and dance, in fabric and painting, in scripture and music, in drawing and sculpture, in public ritual and solitary practice, in prophetic speech and courageous deed.

Overall, I think it's good. But there are a few problems or discussions to be had about it. First of all, the bullet-type approach of the former was handy for responsive readings, as well as for literature like bookmarks, wallet cards, etc. This doesn't lend itself to ritual or propaganda (whoever thought I'd pair those two things together?) nearly as well in paragraph form. Second, while it is impractical to list out all of what is meant by "world religions," it replicates the problem the current version has of listing out some things while not focusing on others. I agree with highlighting Judaism and Christianity separately, because they have a different relationship to our religion historically. I like the inclusion of feminist and liberation theologies, particularly. But I know many specific world religions have had large impacts on our beliefs and practices. How many people do you know in UU congregations that participate in a yogic practice or a Buddhist meditation practice? I know in our congregation it is several, and we're a small congregation with a strong historic and contemporary emphasis and connection to Christianity. It would be extremely controversial to lump in earth-centered traditions with world religions (although I believe they are), but when we pull them out, I believe others similarly deserve to be pulled out. And with Judaism and Christianity mentioned first, I don't think they need to be with "Abrahamic traditions" mentioned again. And I would love to pull out Islam in particular, as I think it's not the largest impact on us but it's very significant right now in our country and world that we include Islam in our living tradition.

As for the second paragraph above, I think it's completely unnecessary. We know that, right?

As for the principles themselves, the COA leaves them largely intact, and does not add additional principles. What they do is add an explanation after each principle, which I really have no problem with, as they're still somewhat bulleted and the principle can be pulled out still for, as I said, ritual and propaganda. In fact, it now reads something like a responsive reading, which I like. There are a couple of minor changes to the principles:

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations - "in our congregations" is dropped and "to" is changed to "of." I like the dropping of the congregation-specific (why wouldn't we encourage spiritual growth everywhere?) but dislike the preposition change. It now sounds like we accept spiritual growth, rather than we're trying to spiritually grow. Any church that doesn't accept spiritual growth, well, I don't even know what to say to that.
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large - the "within our congregations and in society at large" is dropped. Fine. Unnecessary. Reads better without it.

That's it. Of course, they didn't change what I dislike, which is that justice is mentioned twice in two different trinities: "justice, equity, and compassion" and "peace, liberty, and justice." I dislike it both for redundancy (although one is talking about human relations and one about world community), and because I get them mixed up and invariably forget one.

There are also changes to the other sections of Article II, which the average person probably cares less about, but which are interesting discussions to have, as well. I encourage you to read the original Article II (here) and compare it to the COA proposal, and then leave your comments on the draft with the COA. They've been trying hard to make this a process where the congregations are involved. We did a COA-suggested adult religious education class on Article II and I submitted our thoughts to them, for example, and they had similar things at district and denominational events. So let them know what you think. They are, after all, your principles and purposes, because this is the bylaws of your association.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

When Will We See Humanist Religious Leaders at the Conventions?

This week's On Faith (Newsweek/Washtington Post) features an article by Humanist Harvard chaplain Greg M. Epstein on "Don't Exclude Humanists, Atheists from the Melting Pot." In it, he writes:


I've seen several signs that an Obama administration might recognize the single most essential truth of American religion and politics in the 21st century. That is, not only is the U.S. not merely a "Christian Nation," we have become something new entirely: the world's first truly "Interfaith Nation." As my Harvard colleague Diana Eck has eloquently described, the U.S. is now the world's most religiously diverse nation. If we embrace the values of religious pluralism, our diversity will be a rich resource, rather than a source of division.

However, this historic opportunity would become an historic tragedy of prejudice and discrimination if we fail to recognize that an Interfaith Nation must make room for Humanists, atheists, and the non-religious as equal partners alongside Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many others.

Hear, hear! One of my struggles in this primary season has been that we're coming so close to understanding and expressing this country as an interfaith nation, yet we're still so far. Anti-Islam sentiments are still strong and have not been loudly enough decried from the leaders on either side. And, as we move towards an interfaith understanding, there's often a "Well, all faiths believe in the same God" kind of many-paths-one-mountain expression of inclusivity that's expressed. Umm... no. We don't all believe in the same God. Many paths.... whole different mountain ranges? There is a commonality to all faiths, perhaps that could be expressed, but it's not the common belief in one God. When you look at Barack Obama's statements, he expresses inclusivity, but I'm still waiting for the "we don't all worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we have atheists in the red states." My guess: I'll be waiting a long time.

Epstein restricts his comments to the Democrats, because, as he says, "I have no basis for believing the McCain campaign would be interested in my opinions, so you'll forgive me if I don't waste your time with advice for the Republicans." I, for one, would like to hear what he might say to the Republicans, as well. Well-known UU blogger Philocrites had an interesting article about Romney back in December--"Romney's Pluralism Tolerates All Conservative Religions"--which, I suspect, could be applied to the Republican party as a whole. In it he quotes Romney as saying, "I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God." Umm... no. Apparently Romney has never encountered Buddhism, Humanism, many expressions of Unitarian Universalism, etc. Has McCain? It remains to be seen. My guess is we'll hear plenty of God blessing America at the Republican convention, as well.

Yes, there is a new openness towards religious inclusivity being expressed. From both Republican and Democrat, however, there is a long way to go. Neither is yet expressing anything close to the diversity of faith that you get in one little country UU church like ours.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

About This Blog

The UUA's Best Practices for Unitarian Universalist Blogging report suggests that UU bloggers consider several questions. Here are the questions, along with my own responses.

1. Why do you blog? What goals do you have for your blog?
I've started blogging because I see it as one way to keep in touch with my congregation, to respond to issues that are of interest to UUs that are not appropriate for a full sermon for any reason, and to share thoughts and opinions with a wider audience.

2. Who is your intended audience?
Unitarian Universalists, particularly members of my congregation, but also members of other congregations, colleagues, and UUA staff.

3. Who owns your blog? Does it belong to you as individual or to your congregation
or other organization?

I see blogging as a service to the congregation, but owned by me. Similarly, our church has agreed that I have ownership of my sermons.

4. How frequently do you post?
My goal is to post once to twice a week.

5. What is the tone of your blog?
Discussion-oriented.

6. What steps do you take to make sure that your blog is a safe space, both for you
and for other participants? Do you have a code of conduct?

I do not yet have a code of conduct, but I screen all replies before posting them, and I reserve the right to not post any comment for any reason, be it offensive language, unsubstantiated gossip, or even a harshly negative tone.

7. What kinds of boundaries do you observe around confidentiality?
I don't print anything personally that I believe to be confidential, and I don't post anonymously. Anonymous comments are likely to be screened if there seems to be a reason to the anonymity other than a poster forgetting to write a name.

8. How do you respond to comments and e-mail from readers?
I don't respond to every comment or e-mail, but I try to respond when appropriate.

9. What are the most challenging aspects of blogging in your experience?
I'm new, so it would have to be getting started, getting my blog's name out there, and adhering to the discipline of posting that I've set for myself.

10. What are the most rewarding aspects of blogging in your experience?
I'm enjoying that it's another way to have conversations with people, particularly people I don't see very often.

11. What advice would you give to Unitarian Universalists who are new to blogging
and want to get started?

Play around with a sample blog first to get used to it, and then just go ahead and do it! My first attempt at blogging was at http://uurev.livejournal.com/, and then I moved over here when I was more ready to go public.

12. How do you evaluate the success of your blog? What have been your most
successful blog posts or series?

I evaluate success by whether or not I live up to my goals, but also, of course, how much response I get, which is, so far, not much!

13. What do you wish you had done differently in your blogging?
Started it earlier!

14. What other online tools do you use to promote your blog? (i.e. social networking
sites, Twitter, social bookmarking tools, etc.)

So far, I'm still learning about these.

15. Do you use a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed? How many subscribers do
you have?

I think blogspot does this automatically, but I'm still learning about it. I don't think I have any subscribers so far, but I don't know.

16. Do you track site traffic? How many unique visitors do you have per day (on
average)?

No, and I don't know.

17. Do you find Unitarian Universalist Association resources helpful to you as a
blogger? What additional resources could we provide to Unitarian Universalist
bloggers?

Yes, the UUA is helpful. A more direct route to letting the UUA and UU World know about new UU blogs would be helpful.

18. Please write any additional comments or suggestions.
I expected to find both a "how to" and a "don't do this" section in this document, but it didn't really do either. But it has been helpful to consider these questions for now.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Politics and Religion

It's tough to stay on my side of the line between politics and religion during this intense campaign season. I personally have never been so caught up in a presidential race as I have been in this one. And there's been so many issues that have been brought up in this race, issues that I am free to comment on, professionally and personally, like race, gender, the economy, war. There have been issues of religion brought up by this presidential race, too, that I have found absolutely fascinating, and sometimes infuriating. For example, there is the fact that a substantial number of U.S. Americans still believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, and the anti-Muslim sentiments that have been e-mailed around the company accompanying statements of his supposedly Muslim identity. This campaign has also brought up what I would consider the most religious issue of all: hope.

Our church web page links to this blog, because I am its minister, yet this is not a blog that is run by or owned by the church. It is mine. However, I've steered away from talking about candidates on my blogs, because I want to tread carefully around that line, and I know this blog is a blurry spot, as I do say on here that I am a minister of a particular church, and I call the blog Rev. Cyn. And, too, I know our congregation must remain non-partisan. I know I cannot endorse a candidate from the pulpit or in the newsletter. I know we have members who are both Democrat and Republican. And, in fact, I treasure those things. I treasure our diversity. I treasure the separation between church and state. At the same time, as an individual I have strong political leanings, and I feel free to express them in private ways--in yard signs in front of my own house, in bumper stickers on my own car, or as links from my own facebook page.

All that being said, here is a video that a colleague posted on his blog that I found very moving. And it is partisan. It is clearly a video endorsing Obama. Yet if one just listens to the words, it expresses a deep and religious hope, a prayer for our country, that cannot be separated from the religious. And that shows just how complicated this all is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Marriage

There are a couple of new developments in the same-sex marriage issue in our area. First, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, the Jackson Citizen Patriot has refused to publish a same-sex wedding announcement in their "Milestones" section. They're also refusing to publish letters about the issue, claiming that they don't publish letters criticizing business practices of any business, unless that is already an issue in the news.

Well, now it is. Former Jackson resident Chuck Meade has taken this issue to another level, contacting the state's leading lgbt periodical, Between the Lines. You can read about it at http://www.pridesource.com/article.shtml?article=31586. The CitPat says that Meade's wedding isn't legal in either this state or the state it's happening in, but if they were approached by a Jackson couple getting married in a state that recognizes same-sex weddings, then, well, who knows? They're taking it on a case-by-case basis for now. I notice, however, that the CitPat did publish an Associated Press news article about Ellen DeGeners' wedding. The policy lines they're drawing are definitely out-of-touch.

Meanwhile, Marriage Matters Jackson is getting ready to roll out their signing of the Community Marriage Policy in September. Strangely, you won't find anything about it at http://www.marriagemattersjackson.org/. The last time I saw a copy of the CMP, a document they're asking clergy and justices to sign, it declared that marriage was an institution ordained by God and that marriage is between one man and one woman. Like the CitPat, their explanation at Marriage Matters for why they state this is that state law defines marriage in our state as between a man and a woman. After working with the committee and striving for openness and inclusiveness, I quit it several months ago.

I'm getting tired of saying this, but it is civil marriage in the state that's defined as between a man and a woman. Religious marriage is not defined by the state, nor should it be. Same-sex marriage happens all the time in our state, and there's nothing that prevents the United Way/Marriage Matters or the CitPat from recognizing it. There's no reason the Milestones section of the paper couldn't print the announcements, as over 900 other papers, including the Detroit Free Press and News do. And there's no reason that Marriage Matters couldn't include same-sex couples in their workshops and advertise that they do so, and include same-sex weddings in their Community Marriage Policy.