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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Starting School and Intergenerational Life

Every year I seem to write something about fall being the start of the church year and the start of the school year. For me, this year it's true again in a more concrete way.


Today I start teaching again. I'm teaching adjunct at Jackson Community College, and I'm teaching two sections of English 131, which is freshman composition. I taught freshman composition before at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, MA, but it's been four years since I've been in a formal classroom.


I'm looking forward to meeting my students later today. At a community college, you often get a very nice mix of traditional and nontraditional students which enriches, I think, the classroom setting. I remember my own college experience at the University of Michigan, and one thing that could be said is it isolated me from the rest of the community. I remember walking across campus one day and seeing a child and thinking it had been months since I'd seen a small child! There's a way in which, if all you are around is 18-22 year olds, plus professors and staff, that you start to forget that the whole world is not centered around 18-22 year olds.


Of course, one of the wonderful things about church life is it's a place where the generations mix. There's a growing trend of churches marketing themselves particularly to the young adult age group, a group that's sometimes missing from more traditional churches, but sometimes these churches have almost only young adults, and are not truly integenerational, either. In the UU movement, there's an on-line church specifically for young adults, The Church of the Younger Fellowship. I joined it briefly as a visitor, but I was the oldest age that they accept members in.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do We Want World-Wide Movement?

Three things I've heard lately have been coming together in my mind.

First, the Lambeth conference of the Anglican Church recently concluded. A major issue of the conference was the ordination of a gay bishop a few years ago. From reports I've heard, it seems that while the Americans and British are divided over the issue, they tend to lean more to the left than Anglicans in other parts of the world. It seems some churches under the Bishop of New Hampshire have been pulling out to be under African bishops.

Second, a local Methodist colleague remarked to me that the United Methodists would have a very different policy about homosexuality if they weren't part of a world-wide communion. But the African churches again were specifically named as some who band with the Southeastern U.S. and other conservatives in other parts of the world, and their votes dominate on the issue.

Third, I'm thinking about what people have often mused about American Catholics versus the entire Catholic church, and how we're much more ready to ordain women and married men.

So I'm putting these thoughts together and thinking, is it a good thing that we're as small a denomination as we are? Does it enable us to have a clearer voice? Does the fact that we're more homogenous in culture mean that we can take more liberal, open positions? These things would argue yes.

The other side of it, of course, is the gains one gets by being part of a world-wide movement, beyond just numbers and power. Perhaps we are too quick to act on things because we're a small group of people who agree on issues, and not because they're really grounded in our faith. Perhaps we vote ourselves into a corner where we're limiting who can feel comfortable in our churches. We run the risk of being so fringe we're irrelevant at times.

But, as for me, I'm proud of the stances we take as a denomination, and I cherish our ability to do so. And, at the same time, I'm glad that we as a denomination, and as a district as well, have been encouraging emerging churches in Africa and other parts of the globe, and I love our connection with our Transylvanian and Hungarian brothers and sisters, even if we don't agree on everything as far as politics may be concerned. Perhaps we have the best situation--a small denomination, with an ever-increasing network of related denominations around the globe.

But we have one thing that none of those denominations I mentioned have: congregational polity. And that gives us the individual ability, as churches, to call ministers of every sexual orientation, gender, marital status, and more. We have polyamorous ministers, transgender ministers, and straight married (to one person) ministers. What a wonderful thing our ability to hold this diversity is! Perhaps, with congregational polity intact, we could grow to the size of the Catholic church and not have the problem of these divisions. The trick is, as always, honoring our diversity. If we can in one small church here that I serve have Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Pagans, gay and straight together, then at least we know it's possible. We only need to sustain it and strengthen it as we grow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Last Lecture and Evangelical UUism

Randy Pausch, who gave the "Last Lecture" and became an internet sensation, died recently. I learned that he was a UU when it was posted on the UUA's website. I suspected he might be a UU while reading his book of the Last Lecture, however. Sadly, the reasons I suspected it were that he mentioned his church but didn't say what his church was, and he mentioned his faith, but didn't mention what his faith was. He says in the book, "I was raised by parents who believed that faith was something very personal. I didn't discuss my specific religion in my lecture because I wanted to talk about universal principles that apply to all faiths--to share things I had learned through my relationships with all people." I think if he was Christian and his faith had helped him in his battle with cancer, he wouldn't hesitate to say so.

It's a sad commentary on our faith when you suspect someone is a UU because they specifically don't say so.

This is not to be disparaging at all to Pausch. He had every right to speak about his religion or not speak about it, in keeping with what felt comfortable for him. But I am saying that we need to, as a whole, be a bit more evangelical about our faith. After all, our faith does address universal principles that apply to all faiths. And it's a lost opportunity for our faith when someone in the public eye like Pausch doesn't identify publically with our religion, especially when, again like Pausch, he's addressing and embodying universal principles that our faith stands for.

I don't agree with everything Pausch said in his lecture. And I found myself somewhat disliking him while reading the book. Perhaps that is because he is a Tigger and was someone disparaging towards what he referred to as "a sad sack Eeyore." I know and love the Tiggers of this world--my husband is one--but I am an Eeyore, so I resented his characterization. But Pausch's overwhelming optimism is infectious, even if I think he doesn't cut enough slack to the people who have experienced brick walls as true barriers, not as, as he puts it, there to separate out the ones who truly want it from the ones who don't. His engaging honesty when he calls himself a reformed jerk, and the life lessons he imparts about how we should really treat each other are worth listening to.

Pausch is Emersonian self-reliance at its best. But if he just left it there, I would have to take more issue with him. He doesn't. One of his points is "Be a Communitarian," in which he says, "Everyone has to contribute to the common good. To not do so can be described in one word: selfish."

It's clear from watching and reading Pausch he lived by these words, and that his death is a loss to the world, to our faith, and most importantly, to those that he loved.

If you haven't seen the last lecture, you can view it here:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hope and Love in the Response to Hatred and Tragedy

The first draft of an editorial I’ve submitted to the Jackson Citizen Patriot. An edited version is scheduled to appear on Sunday, August 10.

By now most people have heard about the shootings that occurred on Sunday, July 27 in the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee. Two people were killed and seven other wounded or injured when a gunman began shooting during an intergenerational service featuring a production of “Annie.” People responded immediately with shock, grief, and anger. That was news.

But what people often don’t hear about is what happens afterwards—the small gestures, the work of a church community to pull itself together, the reaching out of the larger community. The responses we have as time goes on are of healing, love, and hope. These things are not news. But they are the important pieces of our lives as we respond to tragedy.

The next day after the tragedy, members of the Tennessee Valley congregation gathered at the nearby Presbyterian church for a vigil. The children and adults, who only a day before had witnessed horror and tragedy, sang out the words from Annie’s “Tomorrow.” While surely they were still experiencing shock, anger, denial, and grief, they raised their voices in a song about hope, and looking to the future.

The Knoxville congregation members couldn’t know it yet, but that night they were joined by churches across the nation in vigils—on that same Monday evening, voices were being raised in prayer and song in our congregation here, and in at least fifty other Unitarian Universalist congregations across the nation. By middle of the week, over 200 vigils would be held or scheduled—an amazing outpouring of love from a denomination with only a little over a thousand congregations.

A few years ago, the world watched in awe as the Amish people responded to a shooting in one of their schoolhouses. The Amish taught the world about their faith as they responded with love and forgiveness. Today, we learn about a very different faith community, but again the response is love and forgiveness. When UUA President William Sinkford was asked if he believed the shooter was going to Hell, he responded, “In my religious tradition, we would say that that person had been living in a hell here on earth, for years.”

Over time, we learned that the shooting was born out of hate—hatred for liberals, hatred aimed at a Unitarian Universalist congregation for their open acceptance of gays and lesbians, and their work against oppression and discrimination. One of the greatest tragedies is that if Jim Adkission had entered the doors of the church in peace, looking for help, he would have found a wonderful community willing to help him in his struggles. But the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation won’t let hatred and anger and tragedy be their last word. Their message of hope, their message of acceptance, their message of universal love will be heard louder than ever.

The sun’ll come out
Tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sun!

Update: The final version was printed Sunday, here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What Is a Milestone?

I recently submitted this letter to the editor. So far, it has not been printed, but that may be due to the editorial page being taken up by election issues.

Dear Editor,

I have recently been informed that the Citizen Patriot misguidedly refuses to print wedding announcements for same-sex couples in the “milestones” section alongside other wedding announcements, because they are not legal in the state of Michigan.

You do not discriminate based on where the wedding is, as in Sunday’s paper there are notices of weddings in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio. I assume you would also print weddings that take place in Massachusetts and California between a man and a woman. In those states same-sex weddings are also legal. If you were merely reporting legal transactions, this would go in a different section of the paper—with the legal notices. Anniversaries and Engagements are not legal procedures, either. Legality is not the issue.

Furthermore, there are two types of weddings: civil and religious. It is not uncommon for civil and religious ceremonies to be done separately. If a heterosexual couple was having only their religious ceremony in Jackson and wanted to announce it, but a legal ceremony was done at another time, you would print it. You do not ask for copies of the license with your submissions. Religious services for same-sex weddings are every bit as valid.

In short, sometimes the legal ceremony takes place elsewhere, and sometimes it is only a religious ceremony, but same-sex marriage ceremonies happen in this state, and to people connected to this community. They are milestones—every bit as much as the weddings, engagements, and anniversaries you print.

Please recognize that your milestones page is not about legalese, or what is state-recognized. It is about honoring and acknowledging the “milestones” in people’s lives. Many respected newspapers are printing same-sex wedding announcements, recognizing this. It’s time for you to do the same.

Sincerely,

Rev. Cynthia Landrum
Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty

Update: See this article in Between the Lines about the situation that instigated my letter. The Citizen Patriot has a policy of not printing letters that are about businesses, even their own, if that letter is essentially starting the news. Hopefully, now that this is news in another publication, they'll open themselves up to printing letters about it. Don't count on it, however.