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Concord at Christmas

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A bit of a travelogue post here, maybe of interest to Unitarians who haven't had the opportunity to visit some of our historic sites...

Taking advantage of the sabbatical over Christmas, I inserted a week of vacation into December so that we might go to my husband's home of Rhode Island for Christmas.  While we were there, Peter (the aforementioned husband) really wanted to go to Concord with our daughter, and we hadn't had time over last summer's visit.  Our daughter really enjoys the Henry books by D. B. Johnson, which tell stories from the life of Henry David Thoreau through portraying Henry as a bear.  We have a complete set of the books, as does our church. 

Peter and I lived in Gardner, MA for two years (just beyond Fitchburg, where Henry hikes to in one of those books, which is how we got introduced to the books) and visited Concord several times during that period.  However, this was our daughter's first visit to Concord, and the first visit of Peter's…

For World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, so to create an opportunity to help people think about doing something for World AIDS Day, I'm going to tell you a story.  This is the story of how I first became involved in the issue.

Long before I knew that I knew anybody with AIDS or who was HIV+, long before I had the unfortunate honor of performing my first funeral for a man who died from AIDS, I recognized in myself a fear and a prejudice.  That was the start.  I knew that I was unreasonably fearful of people with AIDS, to the point where I feared I would act in a prejudicial manner towards somebody with AIDS.  My friend Manda and I had volunteered the previous year (1995) for a program called "Alternative Spring Break" and had spent our spring break working for the physical disability rehabilitation center in Warm Springs, Georgia the year before (we met during that program), and were both considering doing the program again.  I think it was Manda who first suggested that she was interest…

Ramblings and Rediscovering Christmas

Regular readers of this blog may notice I haven't posted in a month, which is unusual for me.  I'm on sabbatical, so my posting schedule will be pretty irregular for the next few months.  One of the reasons I timed my sabbatical the way I did--starting in late October and going through early April--was because one the areas I feel the most need to reinvent is the way I approach holidays, specifically Christmas.  I've been in ministry for 9 years now, and I'm finding little new to share in my approach to the message of Jesus' birth.  One of my main December goals is to go to other UU churches and see how they handle December.  My approach has been to have an every-other-year system where one year I'm doing a world-religions focus for December and the next I'm focusing in on the Christmas story specifically.  At this point in my ministry I've done Christmas sermons on the holiday blues, simplifying the holidays, Dickens, the historical Jesus, peace, hope,…

Freedom of press, speech, and religion

Juan Williams was fired from NPR this week because of comments he made on Fox News, where he’s a regular commentator.  His comments included the statement that he gets nervous when he’s on a plane with people who identify first and foremost as Muslim, as evident from garb.

I realized I have a particular perspective on this that might be different, and so is worth sharing. And I expect it is probably an unpopular opinion, as well. 

In this country we have a lot of freedoms, among them freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech.  Sometimes these freedoms come into conflict.  And sometimes we voluntarily choose roles that curtail these freedoms.  We’re free to not choose those roles and retain the full exercise of our freedoms, and usually we know in taking up these mantles that we are thereby giving up certain freedoms.

As a minister, I’m caught up by the freedom of religion that also requires churches, as non-profit agencies, to keep the government …

One More

Like a lot of other UUs, I got the message about "Spirit Day" and wore purple yesterday, and pink, too, since that was the color being used in my community.  Hopefully the national show of spirit helped someone, somewhere.  But we know it's not enough.  That point is made eloquently by Melissa Pope of Oakland University who said:
While the national press has picked up this issue over the last two months, we have been losing high numbers of LGBT youth to suicide for decades. In recent years, we’ve labeled the cause as bullying. But the root cause goes deeper – it goes to the very core of our society that discriminates against the LGBT community on all levels, including the denial of basic human rights that are supposed to belong to every person.This response from Pope comes following the news of the suicide of a young Oakland University student, Corey Jackson.


Meanwhile, I'm searching for answers after the death of this one young man that has hit close to home.…

It Gets Better/Coming Out Day 2010/Everything Possible

Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day, a holiday started over twenty years ago to mark a celebration for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth and adults who were coming out of the closet and sharing the fact that they’re gay. This year, the weeks leading up to Coming Out Day have been horrendous and sad as we’ve heard news after news of young gay people committing suicide because of despair in the aftermath of bullying or the accumulation of messages of hate they’ve received in their short lifetimes. Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Zach Harrington, and others before them and probably some other recent ones as well—a string of deaths of young boys who thought they had nothing left to live for.

It should go without sayingthat we do think their lives are meaningful and important, and cherished, and that whatever God there is or isn’t is a God of love. We think that people are born gay, and it’s not a sin, but a natural differe…

An Open Letter to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox

Dear Attorney General Mike Cox,

As a minister, a long-time Michigan resident, and also a University of Michigan alumna, I write to you imploring you to fire Andrew Shirvell for conduct unbecoming a State of Michigan employee.  Every Michigan employee has the right to their own political opinion and freedom of speech, and those must be protected, but Andrew Shirvell’s behavior has undoubtedly gone beyond mere political opinion and into the realm of hate speech, cyber bullying, and cyber stalking in his actions regarding the University of Michigan student body president.  As a state employee, he has lost the public’s confidence that he can perform his duties without bias.  Andrew Shirvell’s behavior is deeply troubling and unethical, and that he considers it within the normal realm of political discourse makes it all the more troubling.  Thank you for already recognizing his immaturity and lack of wisdom.  I hope you will take this matter further in the days to come, and urge you to con…

Wedding Tips - Part 2

(See here for part 1.)

Clergy know that in many cases we're just one more prop in the elaborate affair that is your wedding.  The problem is, we went to theological school for three to five years to learn our profession, and for us a wedding service is a religious ritual.  And it's demeaning to know you're being picked not because of your professionalism but because you have a nice building or because you have the right "look" for the wedding day or will look good in the pictures.  We know you're shopping around based on location and whether or not you like us, but try to hide that a little, please.  Basically, we want to be treated like professionals, and nowhere do we get treated less professionally, sometimes, than weddings.  And don't tell us something like, "Well, we want to be married by a priest, but we can't because it's our second marriage, so we had to come to you, but we'll get this blessed by a priest afterward."  Great-…

Wedding Tips

I only perform a handful of weddings per year, but I've been performing them for over ten years, so that's plenty of time to see some of the best and worst examples of wedding behavior.  And every year lately I've been thinking of writing up this list of dos and don'ts, but I shy away lest a particular couple think it's all about them.  Trust me, folks, it's not.  Everything on here has been done by multiple people, and sometimes it's a colleague who mentioned the particular issue I'm listing.

1.  Entitlement & Importance - Your wedding is important... to you.  For your clergy person it's just another wedding, to some degree.  And for some clergy people who are barred from legal marriage due to lack of same-sex marriage in most states, it can be a bit of a thorn in the side that couples can have a sense of entitlement about their marriage without looking at the bigger societal picture.

2.  Religion - Presumably you've come to a clergy perso…

Qur'an Burning Hits Home

Well, the Florida pastor decided not to burn a Qur'an last Saturday, but somebody in East Lansing did.  While the local Muslim group was out participating in peaceful interfaith work in the community, somebody left a burned copy of the holy text on their property.  Some are calling it free speech, others a hate crime.  Yes, it is symbolic action.  But this Qur'an wasn't just burned on a church's property and left there, it was dumped on the doorstep of the mosque.

I would protect your right to burn a Qur'an or the flag or the Bible or any other heavily symbolic item on your own property, as long as the burning is done within proper guidelines for fires.  Of course, I wouldn't defend your choice as a good one. 

However, that doesn't give someone the right to bring that hateful symbol they've created and shove it in the face of a community that it means a lot to.  As the article linked to above rightly points out, you can't paint a swastika on the wa…

Islam, Fear, and Lies

I recently was in a discussion about Islam where a person said something like, "I had heard that the terrorists were just extremists, and the rest of Islam is peaceful, but then I got some e-mails that said that the goal of Islam is world domination, and that Muslims are allowed to lie about their faith if it serves the goal of spreading Islam, so how can you know what the truth is?"

I was a bit stunned into silence.  And the conversation moved on rather quickly, and before I gathered my thoughts, the moment was lost.  I'm still planning to go back to this person and see if we can have a longer conversation on Islam, one-on-one, or bring a presentation on Islam to this group that was meeting, but in the meantime, I'm, well, blogging...

I actually hadn't heard this particular myth that Islam was focused on world domination and that Muslims would lie to achieve this, so couldn't be trusted.  So I did a web search on "Islam world domination lie" and th…

Mosque at Ground Zero, Part 2

In my last post, I argued that it is arguably a mosque that is being proposed by Park 51 to be built on Park Ave near "Ground Zero," although it is not only or even primarily a mosque.  It is not, I argued, at "Ground Zero"--the real site of this community center (potentially including a mosque) is outside of the area most Americans would consider to be "Ground Zero."  And, finally, the Cordoba Initiative should definitely have the right to build there. 

However, I always argue that just because someone has the right to do something doesn't mean it's the right thing for them to do.  So yes, the Cordoba Initiative should have the right to build a mosque anywhere that it's not in violation of local zoning--any place any other house of worship could be built.  But it is the right thing for them to do, or is it, as many have been arguing, insensitive?  After all, even the president, after saying they had the right to build it, came back and said,…

"Mosque" at "Ground Zero"

I've been in ministry nine years this August.  This means I started my ministry in August 2001, and was about a month in when the attacks of September 11, 2001 happened.  Like many people, I remember what I was doing and where I was when I heard the news--a member of the congregation called me.  Immediately, my question was about how to minister to my congregation and community in this situation.  I've talked with other clergy who began their ministries when I did, and they have a similar response--our ministries were shaped immediately, and perhaps permanently, by September 11th.  Immediately, September 11th, 2001 became about our religious response, both pastoral and prophetic.  The first response was about the pastoral--a vigil held at the church for a congregation worried about friends and loved ones and the possibility of future attacks on the city we were in, home of major oil companies and the George Bush Airport. I remember the next event in my schedule, I think the ve…

Sunday of the Living Dead

There have been several requests that I post a copy of this week's sermon, a sermon subject purchased at this year's auction: Zombies.

Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty Clarklake, MI August 15, 2010
Arising
Ringing of the Bell
Welcome and Announcements
Ringing of the Bell

Gathering
Prelude: “Ase’s Death” from Peer Gynt ~ GRIEG

Opening Words: "Let Us Worship (with our eyes and ears and fingertips" ~ Kenneth Patton, #437 Singing the Living Tradition


Unison Chalice Lighting:

The torch still burns, and because it does,
There remains for all of us a chance
to light up the tomorrows and brighten the future.
…this is the challenge that makes life worthwhile.
~ Robert Kennedy, from We Light This Chalice, Rev. David A. Johnson

Hymn #1: “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door”

Feeding
Story for All Ages: Selections from Shel Silverstein's A Light In The Attic
and Where The Sidewalk Ends

Singing the Children and Teachers to Classes

Joys and Sorrows

Silent Meditation or Prayer

Hymn #2…