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:


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

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:

And for the full text of the millage, read here:

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.