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.