Saturday, August 21, 2010

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, "I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there."

Here's the basic argument, as put forth by Pamela Geller, author of the blog "Atlas Shrugs" and a major player in all of this:
Ground Zero is a war memorial, Ground Zero is a burial ground. We are asking for sensitivity…It is unconscionable to build a shrine to the very ideology that inspired the jihadist attacks at Ground Zero, right there. We are asking the imam Rauf and Daisy Khan to be sensitive. For mutual respect and mutual understanding that is demanded of us every day.
If it was a shrine to "the very ideology that inspired the jihadist attacks," I would, indeed, think it was insensitive.  What is the ideology of the Cordoba Initiative?
The programs at Cordoba Initiative (CI) are designed to cultivate multi-cultural and multi-faith understanding across minds and borders. In the ten years since our founding, the necessity to strengthen the bridge between Islam and the West continues to prevail. Cordoba Initiative seeks to actively promote engagement through a myriad of programs, by reinforcing similarities and addressing differences.
The imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has been attacked as extremist and supporting terrorism is in fact a peaceful Sufi who has worked in interfaith circles for years, and, with Unitarian Universalism's own Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, co-authored "The End of Barbarism?  The Phenomenon of Torture and the Search for the Common Good."  In it they write that there are two great religious commandments, to love God and to love your neighbor, and:
...the core of Islamic law, the Sharia, is built on these two fundamental commandments, with the sole difference that “to honor God and neighbor,” rather than “to love God and neighbor," more accurately captures the nuances of these commandments in Islamic legal language... Even today in many parts of the non-Western world, to deprive someone of his dignity and honor, to make him “lose face,” is to make him suffer a fate worse than death.
There is, then, a code of behavior that is based on eternal ethical principles common to the Abrahamic faith traditions, namely, that if we would love and honor the Holy, we must treat our fellow human beings with basic respect. This principle in turn is fundamental to any notion of the “common good.” For the common good presumes that human beings share certain needs and values that transcend religious, racial or political differences.
The argument that building Park 51 close to the World Trade Center site is insensitive rests on the equation of this peaceful Sufi group with a history of both interfaith work and active work against terrorism and barbarism with the terrorists responsible for the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  It is an equation that is deeply insensitive itself in that it denies the differences that exist in Islam, ignores that Sufi Muslims are themselves often persecuted and targeted by those same extremist groups, and ignores that whereas the terrorists were not, these peaceful Muslims are Americans who have been living, working, and worshiping in New York City for decades--it is not a case of outsiders moving in and erecting a monument to something foreign, it is Americans building a house of peace in their own neighborhood.  It ignores that Muslims died on September 11th, too.  It ignores that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his congregation went and distributed water to the rescue workers after the September 11th attacks.  It ignores that the imam has worked with our government to understand Islam and to keep Muslim American groups terrorist-free.  It ignores that these Muslims have been victims of religious intolerance within their own country--America--and yet still care enough about our freedoms and our beliefs to want to create a center to help us explore our own stereotypes and learn to work more peacefully with them.

One of the saddest after-effects of September 11th has been the Islamophobia that has been demonstrated in our country, a country founded on principles of religious freedom.  I understand that a lot of Americans think that the building of this cultural center designed to create peace and understanding is "insensitive."  I also understand that there is a huge amount of ignorance about and prejudice against Islam in this country.  I've witnessed it both through knowing people who shared these prejudices and through hearing the stories of my Muslim friends.  The fact that the majority of Americans don't want this project to go forward near Ground Zero doesn't mean that they're right or that the creators of it are insensitive.  What it means is that there is a lot more education that needs to be done in this country about what our Muslim neighbors believe.  And it means that the Park 51 initiative is desperately needed.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"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 very next day, was a meeting with my clergy cluster, the other Unitarian Universalist ministers in the city, and we all talked about what we would be doing the following Sunday, and shared resources.  I'm still grateful for the advice I received that day from my more experienced colleagues whom I had barely met. 

Very quickly, the news came out that these attacks were the work of As-Qaeda, and the prophetic part of my ministry emerged.  We were contacted by a local Sufi group who had a visiting leader, and they asked to come and do a presentation on Islam at our church.  We had them come for an evening presentation and also a Sunday morning presentation.  The local paper did a very large article on the event, which was a plus.  As the country's attitudes toward Muslims in America grew increasingly hostile, and sometimes violent, it became clear to me that a very important part of the religious purpose of Unitarian Universalists right then needed to be in response to this, building interfaith dialogue and cooperation. 

Here we are, nine years later, and Islam and the attacks of September 11th, 2001 are back again in our news, showing that this need for interfaith dialogue and cooperation, as various people weigh in on the issue of "the Mosque at Ground Zero."

Let's get some of the misconceptions cleaned up first:

Is it a mosque?  Those who are against it are quick to call it a mosque.  Those on the other side respond that it's a community center.  Which is it?  Well, I think it's primarily a community center, but the site for  Park51 does say future plans include:
  • a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community
  • a September 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space, open to all
We need to stop pretending, on the left, that this doesn't include a mosque, when its own site clearly says that it does.  On the right, they need to admit that the mosque is not the primary function of the Park51 plan.

Is it at "Ground Zero"?  No.  It's really not.  The Park51 center would not be on the footprint of the World Trade Center.  It's on Park Place, one or two blocks north, depending on how you count.  This map may prove helpful:

View Larger Map

Also, take a look at this map, which shows where the buildings of the World Trade Center were.

Those who argue against Park51's placement need to explain the following, in order for their stance not to be hypocritical, anti-Muslim, or just plain silly:
  1. Do you believe that no religion should have a  house of worship at "Ground Zero," or are you just restricting Muslims from this wide geographic area?  If the former, fair enough.  If the latter, you need to explain how this is consistent with a land of equality and religious freedom.  There's a Catholic Church even closer at 22 Barclay St.  Of course, it's possible to believe that they should be allowed to have a mosque there but that the planners should just chose respectfully not to--similar to my arguing that we have the right to draw Mohammed, but I choose not to, for example.
  2. What span of land do you consider "Ground Zero"?  If you think this stretch Park Place is included in "Ground Zero," what does "Ground Zero" include?  If you just realized that your definition doesn't include the Park51 location, then your apology is humbly accepted.
  3. If you are restricting all religious groups from this large area of commercial land in lower Manhattan because this is hallowed ground in some way, by what reasoning do we restrict religious groups from creating houses of worship while still allowing everything from strip clubs to a "hookah lounge" in the same radius?  What should this hallowed land include?  Understanding that this is a huge piece of commercial land in the middle of New York City, what would you put there?  And how do we allow business but restrict it to only that which is palatable to all the victims' families? 
If I were to decide what was placed at the site of the former World Trade Centers, what would I put there?  I would include a memorial which would be carefully designed and thought out and probably immediately hated by much of the population.  And I would include some sort of center for peace and religious cooperation and understanding. Oh, wait, that's what Park51 is planning on doing!

Next post: I'll address this argument that putting a mosque within a few blocks of "Ground Zero" is distasteful and offensive to the victims' families and argue for what is most needed.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

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


Ringing of the Bell
Welcome and Announcements
Ringing of the Bell


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”


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 #209: “O Come, You Longing Thirsty Souls” (Verses 1 & 2)


Reading: Selections from Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your...Brains by Ryan Mecum

Hymn #137: “We Utter Our Cry” (Verses 1 & 2)
Sermon: “Sunday of the Living Dead” ~ Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum

Every year I have offered at our church auction, an auction item of a sermon topic, where the highest bidder gets to decide what I will preach on for one Sunday during the upcoming year. Usually I preach this sermon shortly before the next year’s auction, but because of my schedule with my sabbatical this year, I wanted to preach this sermon right away in this new church year.

Each time I have gotten a topic from you, the members, it has been something that has challenged me, something that I haven’t thought about preaching on before, and something that I’ve learned from in my research. Last year Jon Hart had me learning and preaching on the cosmology of the Native American tribes of Michigan, and Ann Green challenged me with the words of Miep Gies, who helped hide Anne Frank during the holocaust, about what it means to be a hero.

This year was an altogether different type of challenge, as a coalition of members banded together to give me a very unusual topic: Zombies. Many, many weeks when I type my subject of my sermon into google, even if it is not a particularly overtly religious topic, one of the first links that will come up is a sermon of a Unitarian Universalist colleague. I take it that we, as a group, have similar ideas about what would make a good sermon topic. But let me tell you, when you Google “Unitarian worship zombie,” you find that this is a topic that the web has no record of anyone in our movement ever preaching on before. Now vampires, that’s another story. Last year Matthew Johnson-Doyle, who I knew in seminary, gave a sermon titled, “Buffy, Sookie, and Who Wants to Live Forever.” Another colleague told me he recently did a “Vampire Vespers” service, complete with communion with the congregation saying in unison, “I vant to drink your blood.”

But zombies are a wholly different creature from vampires, less glamorous, less sexy, more menacing, and so there is a completely different message to be shared about them. In researching this subject, I watched the more recent zombie movies of Zombieland, and Shaun of the Dead, and the original 1967 zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, and peruses zombie books such as The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks, some zombie anthologies, and, of course, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! by Seth Graheme-Smith and Jane Austen.  (As an aside, I learned that to like this book you have to be a person who likes Jane Austen and you also have to be a person who likes zombies, and the intersection of the two is a very, very small group of people.)

What I discovered is there are a lot of messages to be found in the zombies in our culture. And what I want to share with you is a few ways that zombies really are important to us.

Zombies in Religion

First: Zombies as an element of misunderstood religion.
What is more, if science ever gets to the bottom of Voodoo in Haiti and Africa, it will be found that some important medical secrets, still unknown to medical science, give it its power, rather than gestures of ceremony. ~ Zora Neale Hurston, author and anthropologist (Zombie.)
Zombies are commonly understood to be an element of Voodoo religion. The Voodoo religion is perhaps one of the most misunderstood religions in our culture, right up there with Wicca or Witchcraft—it’s commonly characterized as a Satanic religion, as devil-worshipping, and evil. We see this Voodoo in popular culture all the time, even in something like Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, where the evil “Shadow Man” character responsible for the froggy transformations is a practitioner of Voodoo. So it’s difficult to say anything about what zombies mean in Voodoo, since just about everything one can read on the subject is filtered through a biased lens by the time it gets into our mainstream culture. We saw a lot of misconceptions about Voodoo shared after the earthquake in Haiti, such as the quote from Pat Robertson who said that Haiti is cursed for making a pact with the devil.

So, as I said it’s difficult for me to say much about zombies in Voodoo without possibly spreading misconceptions. For example, in a book titled The Serpent and the Rainbow, the author, a physician, claimed that zombies were not just myth but scientific fact, resulting from the poisoning of individuals in order to give them brain damage and make them bend to the will of a master. This sounds like a scientific argument, on first glance. But his work has been greatly criticized and never corroborated. What I can say about zombies in Voodoo is that the word does seem to come from a West African word, Nzambi, which was the name of a God ("Voodoo Zombies"). In Voodoo, the zombie is the soul, removed from a person, not a person without a soul. Much more about this I cannot tell you, except to say to be wary of just about anything you read or hear about this vastly misunderstood religion that is a mix of Catholicism and African religions.

Of course, while the concept of zombie comes from Voodoo, people have combined the zombie idea with elements from other religions, as well. For example, one contemporary anthology of zombie short stories includes one titled “Lazarus,” where the Lazarus who Jesus brings back from the dead comes back a little, well, wrong.

Zombies as the “Other”

Second: Zombies as symbols of the “other”.
…zombies are a great metaphor. The great mass of humanity often comes across to us as unreasoningly hostile and driven to consumption, and the image of the zombie captures this perfectly." ~ David Barr Kirtley, author (Adams 2).
Zombies are the perfect metaphor for any group of people we see as other than ourselves, and that we fear in some way. We can see zombies as metaphors for minorities, for example. George A. Romero’s iconic movie, Night of the Living Dead, which created the genre of the zombie movie, does this with the issue of race. As Stephen Harper writes:
To many people, it seemed as though there might be a race war in America. Conservative, reactionary discussions of this possibility often focused — as they sometimes do today — on the possibility that "we" might soon be outnumbered by "them." The line in Night of the Living Dead "we don't know how many of them there are" highlights this racist concern with numbers and the fear of being outnumbered or "swamped."(Harper)
Zombies can also be seen as an AIDS metaphor. Ever since Night of the Living Dead, the image of a zombie as created by a witchdoctor has been replaced by the image of a zombie plague—zombies are created through some sort of initial virus, which then spreads to each person the zombie bites, creating new zombies that become a zombie plague. It’s easy to see the parallels that existed in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, where people didn’t know what was causing AIDS, feared that it would become a plague that would kill humanity. Richard Bamattre writes:
In many films the monsters are set on fire by the humans; this not only makes for dynamic filmic imagery, but references the burning of bodies during epidemics, particularly the Bubonic Plague. Other issues of viral containment are explored; the entire nation of Great Britain is transformed into a quarantine in 28 Days Later as global authorities hope to contain the virus until the infected die out. The concept of quarantine is distinctive in that it attempts to physically separate the kingdoms: citizens of the kingdom of the sick are imprisoned within the terrain of the healthy and are subjected to surveillance and often experimentation of a scientific or medical origin.(Bamattre)
Writer Nina Auerbach has said, “Every age has the vampire it needs.” Arguably, the dominant monsters of every age reflect the dominant fears of the society. And so, of course, Ramero’s original zombies reflected issues of racism, later zombies reflected issues of AIDS, current zombies reflect issues of illegal immigration. These are our fears, and we take them, label them other, and make zombies of them so that we can defeat them. As Max Brooks said, “"It's safe to do something like a zombie walk -- it isn't so fun to do a swine flu walk," Brooks said, “If, at a party, you bring up how you'd survive a zombie attack, you'd be the life of the party. But if you say, 'What would you do if super-AIDS came to America?' you'd clear the room" (Gross).  Mark Dery writes:
The zombie is a polyvalent revenant, a bloating signifier that has given shape, alternately, to repressed memories of slavery’s horrors; white alienation from the darker Other; Cold War nightmares of mushroom clouds and megadeaths; the post-traumatic fallout of the AIDS pandemic; and free-floating anxieties about viral plagues and bioengineered outbreaks (as in 28 Days Later and Left 4 Dead, troubled dreams for an age of Avian flu and H1N1, when viruses leap the species barrier and spread, via jet travel, into global pandemics seemingly overnight.(Dery)
Zombie Civil Rights

The flip side of this is our third perspective: Zombies as civil rights metaphor. 
"Live" Free or Die.

Throughout history, great men and women have had to struggle against dictators and tyrants who wanted to keep them from living the way these men and women felt that they should.

Zombies might not be "alive" or "living" in the traditional sense, but does that mean that they're letting anybody mess with them or keep them down? Hell no. ~ The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead, Scott Kenemore. (112)
A little while ago, when I was teaching English composition, a student of mine asked if for her argument paper she could write a paper on why zombies deserved equal rights to the living. I let her do it, and then another student jumped on board with the counter-argument. It was an interesting dialogue about the nature of civil rights, and how and why they get extended to the next group and the next group and the next group—to African-Americans, to women, to gays and lesbians, to immigrants, and to the undead.

It’s a humorous approach to zombies, but one that’s increasingly being taken as both a mockery of the left and of the right. For example, there’s Rising Up: The Story of the Zombie Rights Movement, and the movie American Zombie, both of which take a documentary-style approach to zombie rights.

What these examples tell us is that we use humor both to deflect arguments of real civil rights abuses, and also that we use humor to engage people in a real dialogue around civil rights.

Zombies and Human Death

Fourth: Zombies as our human fear of death personified.
The appeal of zombies is that it plays on everyone’s fear of death. A zombie represents death to the characters, and to readers and viewers. Death will always be in the back of their minds. It’s an unrelenting, unstoppable force, just like death. Zombies are out to get you; no matter how hard you try, eventually everyone has to succumb to it. It’s really an exploration of everyone’s natural fear of death. ~ Robert Kirkman, author of The Walking Dead Compendium Volume 1 ("What Do")
This is the obvious: the greatest, most ultimate fear of humanity is death. Our religions of the world are all about what is ultimate, but also what is after death—and we have a hundred answers for this greatest question—heaven, hell, purgatory, reincarnation, becoming one with the universe, becoming part of God, becoming dust. And so many religions and cultures give us examples of triumph over death, from the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, with Gilgamesh seeking eternal life, to figures who go down into the land of the dead and return such as the Sumerian goddess Inanna (or Ishtar), or the Greek stories of Orpheus trying to rescue Eurydice or Persephone who goes and returns each year to and from the land of the dead, to Odin in the Norse tales who dies and is resurrected, to Jesus of Nazareth triumphing over death both through performing miracles of resurrection and his own resurrection. Through our religions and our folk tales we are constantly telling tales of ways people triumph over death, or not.

Zombies are a portrayal of our worst fear about death—continued existence but without will, without consciousness. They are the inverse of other images of death, from angels to ghosts, where we retain consciousness, will, personality, and relationships and lose only our bodies. Zombies are our worst fears—no longer having our minds at our own control, falling apart physically, and yet remaining among us.

Through defeating zombies, we defeat death and celebrate life, giving a sense of our own immortality.

Zombie Invasions and War

A special metaphor that zombies represent is our fifth perspective: Zombie invasion as a metaphor for real-world wars.
…do we embrace these ideas as an indirect way of processing the horror that we feel at the reality of war and torture and death? The films that have covered the war in Iraq, its foundations and its consequences, have by and large been ignored by audiences, and yet during the height of our horror at the developments there, horror films that dealt with parallel subject matter in a setting and genre divorced from reality were hugely successful. ~ Christopher Golden, editor of The New Dead. (Golden x)
and a second quote:
"I will never forget that I am a member of the Living, fighting for freedom and life, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principle that keeps my country and earth alive. --Code of Conduct, from U.S. Army Zombie Combat Skills
Zombie movies are all about the battle, and they are popular at a time, like all times, when we have people out there fighting real wars, against real enemies. It is possible that the zombie movie is our way of dehumanizing our enemy, or, conversely, of making the real fights seem less real through our absorption of fake violence. When we watch a zombie movie or play a zombie video game, we can cheer at the decapitation of the enemy without guilt. We can rejoice in violence against an enemy that is unambiguously evil. Do we then extend that over to our real wars, and carry the dehumanization to the real enemies we fight?

Lest you worry too much, however, let me give you this quote from Seth Grahame-Smith, author of several books about zombies and other undead:
Anyone who's killed by a zombie ought to be ashamed of themselves. It's the equivalent of a fighter jet being blown out of the sky with a Nerf dart. Humans are superior to zombies in every imaginable way: We're faster, smarter, stronger, more adaptable, and better looking. And yet, in zombie movies, our so-called heroes hole themselves up in a highly vulnerable location at the first sight of a limper. They sit around scratching their heads and getting hysterical while an army of the dead amasses outside instead on simply planning a counterattack. (Graheme-Smith 108-109)
Our Zombies, Ourselves

Sixth: Zombies as ourselves.
Zombies don’t worry. Not about themselves. Not about others. Not about climate change. Nothing.
Zombies have “enough” of what they need in life (with the exception of living brains). Yet are, at the same time, “driven” with a passion and intensity that any CEO or motivational speaker would envy. Zombies don’t stop. Zombies don’t rest. And yet, zombies are at peace with this ceaselessness. You can be too. ~ From Scott Kenemore’s The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead (Kenemore 2).
Zombie is a term used in our popular culture for someone who is just going through the motions. We’ll say, “He was a total zombie at work today.” Many people today have a sense that what they are doing from day to day lacks meaning, lacks importance. They’ve become zombies in everyday life.

In the film Shaun of the Dead, we see this at the beginning of the film.  The film opens with a series of people going through their everyday lives looking like zombies, shuffling off to work or staring at the TV with glassy eyes.  Over and over they make the point that we're all going through life like a zombie.

Zombies are a pop culture phenomenon that’s very popular right now, with such things as zombie walks, where people dress up like zombies and go ambling down a city street together. There’s one scheduled for September 4th in Lansing, if you’re interested in becoming a zombie yourself.

But even if you don’t enjoy acting like a zombie, or reading about them, or watching them at the movies, there’s something to be learned from the fact that this pop-culture phenomenon has become as large as it is. Zombies are metaphors for what scares us most—the other in society, the wars we fight, the ennui we all face, the finality of death.

Here in our church, in our faith, I discovered, we preach a very un-zombie-like message: we talk about the sanctity of life, the purpose and meaning to be found in living life deeply—sucking all the marrow out of life, as Thoreau put it, rather than sucking the marrow of death as zombies do. When I read through our hymnal, I found that what we celebrate is life, life, life, and freedom, freedom of thought, freedom of action, and hope for the future no matter what the fallen state of the world may be.

In some of the most popular zombie movies the zombies have destroyed everyone in the end, or, like in Romero’s classic work, the people have destroyed each other. Here in Unitarian Universalism, we hold out hope that in the world such as it is, or in a zombie apocalypse, the truest side of human nature will prove to be the best side of ourselves, and that hope for life and future will illumine our path through all our tomorrows.

May it be so.

Gifts of the Congregation: “Trio”


Hymn #324: “Where My Free Spirit Onward Leads”


It is written in Deuteronomy:
I call heaven and earth to witness today
That I have set before you life and death,
Blessings and curses.
Choose life, so that you and your descendents may live.
~ STLT #707, adapted

Take courage friends.
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
And the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For deep down, there is another truth:
You are not alone.
~ Wayne B. Arnason, #698 STLT

Unison Chalice Extinguishing

Unison Closing Song 

Works Cited

Adams, John Joseph. Introduction. The Living Dead. San Francisco: Night Shade, 2008. Print.

Bamattre, Richard. "Epidemic of the Living Dead - Zombies as Metaphor." Scribd. 29 Apr. 2010. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.
Dery, Mark. "Dead Man Walking: What Do Zombies Mean?" True/Slant. 17 Mar. 2010. Web. 15 Aug. 2010.

Golden, Christopher. Introduction. The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2010. Print.

Grahame-Smith, Seth. How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills. Philadelphia: Quirk, 2007. Print.
Gross, Doug. "Why We Love Those Rotting, Hungry, Putrid Zombies " 2 Oct. 2009. Web. 15 Aug. 2010.

Harper, Stephen. "Bright Lights Film Journal: Night of the Living Dead." Bright Lights Film Journal: August 2010, Issue 69. Nov. 2005. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.

Johnson-Doyle, Matthew. "Buffy, Sookie, and Who Wants to Live Forever." The Unitarian Universalist Church, Rockford, IL. 20 Sept. 2009. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.

Kenemore, Scott. The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead (Zen of Zombie Series). New York: Skyhorse Pub., 2007. Print.

Louison, Cole. U.S. Army Zombie Combat Skills. Guilford, CT: Lyons, 2009. Print.

Mecum, Ryan. Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your...Brains. Cincinnati, OH: HOW, 2008. Print.

Rojas, Carlos. "Our Embrace of Vampires Reflects the Needs of an Age." The Herald-Sun. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.

"Voodoo Zombies." Web. 14 Aug. 2010.

"What Do Zombies Represent?" Ragnarfan's Blog. 2 Aug. 2010. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.

"Zombie." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Getting Arrested & Effective Civil Disobedience

After reading the blog posts highlighted on "The Interdependent Web" and some of their comments, I've been thinking about whether or not I think getting arrested while doing public protest is always, sometimes, or never helpful/effective, and whether or not this particular instance of UUs getting arrested in Arizona was meaningful and helpful or not.  Obviously, an extreme being very seldom the right answer, I'm going to go with "sometimes" here, but then the second question needs further addressing.

Lest you think that as a radical lefty UU, I am always lock-step with the "party line," let me give an instance of what I think was not the most helpful or effective use of being locked up for the cause.  While I support Jay Carmona personally, and I support the cause of ENDA strongly enough that I've gone to Washington D.C. to lobby on that issue, something I've only done on this one occasion, the sit-in in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office that led to the arrest of the "ENDA Four" left me scratching my head in wonder.  Nancy Pelosi supports ENDA, doesn't she?  Why do we want to get in her way and on her bad side?  Yes, she's moving too slowly on it, but is getting arrested in her office going to be an effective way to change her mind?  When I went to my representative's office, I worked to continue my good relationship with him, brought personal stories of people I know whose lives have been affected by discrimination, and shared them with him.  It affected him enough that Schauer spoke about it the next time we ran into each other and thanked me again for sharing those stories, and assured me again of his vote.  I'm sure Jay Carmona and the other three have passionate feelings about ENDA that led to their thinking this was an effective course of action.  It's not a perspective that I right now particularly share, despite sympathy with the cause. 

Here's what I think was different about the situation in Arizona.  I believe that the UUs getting arrested did have a purpose that was helpful.  In this case, they were not only protesting the law's going into effect, they were also taking an action that they hoped would be directly beneficial to the people most affected by that law.  The Sheriff had a stated intention of doing a massive sweep on that day for illegal immigrants.  They hoped that by being a nuisance to the police, they would not only get their message across, they would also stop or slow down that sweep.  Was it effective?  I think it was, at least in part.  Yes, the sheriff still arrested plenty of illegal immigrants, but it seems likely that the arrest of so many protesters did temporarily use resources that would've been deployed elsewhere otherwise.  So it can be said that the locking up of these UUs did have at least a small impact on the situation.  As Rev. Colin Bossen writes, "Our acts of civil disobedience Thursday diverted the Maricopa Sheriff’s resources away from several planned raids and delayed, if only briefly, the implementation of the law."

In some ways, what we saw in Arizona may be the use of getting arrested at its most effective, if on a small scale.  That is, often the only gain of getting arrested is media publicity for your cause, but it doesn't change the situation at all other than to change the court of public opinion.  In Arizona, however brief and small, it may have changed individual people's lives.

Good work, friends.  And Jay, I certainly hope I'm wrong and that your getting arrested in Pelosi's office had a positive impact on her, or in other ways furthered your mission. 


When a bunch of UUs recently got arrested while protesting in Arizona (see Standing on the Side of Love or the UUA for more details), I immediately posted on the Facebook pages of those I know, "I'm proud of you."  Meanwhile, over at The Chaliceblog, "Chalicechick" was asking, "I get that people get arrested protesting with differing levels of justification for it. What I don't get is why we're all so proud of ourselves about it. It seems meaningless at best."

It's a good question.  Pride is a mixed bag.  We have pride in things that we feel good about in ourselves or others, things that were hard to achieve, obstacles that were overcome.  And yet we also hear that pride is deadly sin, and pride goeth before a fall. 
I've wondered about other people's misplaced "pride" in different things, and I've seen others wondering at pride I or friends of mine have had over different issues.  For example:  I'm not "proud to be an American."  I see the fact that I am American as an accident of birth that I had no particular part in, and so therefore am not proud of it.  I'm not proud of being in a family that's been in this country almost since the Mayflower, for the same reason.  I am occasionally proud of my country.  I was proud of my country yesterday when I participated in our democracy by voting--proud that we continue to have this right and that most are able to freely exercise it.  

I've heard people ask about pride in relationship to LGBT Pride, where a whole month is devoted to being proud of being a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person.  The White Pride movement often asks the question, "If it's okay to be proud of being gay or being black, why shouldn't we be proud of being white?"  The basic answer to this is that I think the pride isn't really in just being who you are, it's in being who you are when you're being told not to be.  The pride isn't so much in identity as it is in the overcoming of obstacles related to identity.  The pride is being able to be out despite the adversity, to hold your head high when society says you're worthless and believe in your own worth.  White Pride has none of these things.

Pride is the "sinful" sort of pride, to me, when it is about those things we were born with and were out of our control--for me, being American, being white.  If I were born with money and into a family of vast power, pride in those things would be the "sinful" sort of pride.  This sort of pride is the pride where you believe your identity puts you over and better than other people.

Now, back to getting arrested.  I think my having pride in these actions is akin to saying, "I believe in the cause that these people were acting on behalf of, and I'm proud of the fact that they acted in conjunction with their values and didn't back down from their beliefs even though it could cause them real harm."  I'm not really proud in their being arrested, per se, as much as I am them taking the actions and sticking to them that led to their arrests.  And I think one feels pride in the actions of others when one shares a connection--these were people of my faith who did this.  Much like I am proud of my daughter when she accomplishes something.  In this way, being proud of others is connected to pride in oneself.  It's there in the very way we speak of the pride--"I'm proud of my daughter," not something like, "I give to my daughter the pride which she has earned," or even, "I'm proud on behalf of my daughter."  Because the pride is displaced one step away from ourselves, however, and usually for an achievement rather than an identity, it's more of an acceptable form of pride than if I were proud of my daughter for her beauty or how many toys she has.

Furthermore, I don't think I would feel pride in people getting arrested for a cause I didn't believe in, or if I thought the getting arrested was due to people acting in an extreme way during the protest for no sound reason.  Basically, in order to have the pride in somebody getting arrested, you have to believe in the underlying cause and believe that the person was acting in response to values and beliefs that you share, and doing so in a reasonable way.  Reading all the comments at the Chaliceblog, as well as the original post, it's easy to see that the major reason why the pride is in question is because the actions and the motivations for the actions are questionable to people.  And, yes, immigration issues in Arizona are not as clear-cut to many as the voting rights of the 60s.  If I were to say, "I'm proud [as a relative, colleague, or friend] of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the actions he took in Birmingham and his willingness to spend his time in the Birmingham Jail as a result of them," I don't think there would be as much question around it.  History has judged and found MLK to be right in his stance. 

Were the actions of those who got arrested in Arizona both reasonable and even courageous?  Or was it "meaningless at best"?  History will be the judge of this, as well.  Despite the successes of the 60s, one lasting effect has been a sort of jaded view of any actions of protest since them.  Is this sort of protest meaningless and ineffective by its very nature?  Is it only worthwhile if a sizable percentage of the population joins you in it?  It's the very sort of questions we were asking as we went into the General Assembly this year about the efficacy of boycott.  I still believe in these tried-and-true methods of creating social change, even though it's arguable that we see less and less result from social action.  Certainly the Bush years, in my experience of them, were testament to the fact that even if a huge percentage of the population is against your actions, if you have the power you need not listen or care.

Meanwhile, I do feel pride in my colleagues and the people of our faith who went down to Arizona and stood firm in their values--those who were arrested, but also those who weren't.