Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More on HRC Clergy Call

Today was lobbying day with the HRC Clergy Call.  We started out with a little lobby training, then each state was assigned an HRC staff person.  We all went to the press conference, and then off to the lobbying visits with our staffer. 

The press conference was at a beautiful spot with the Capitol in the background.  It was, unfortunately, extremely hot and sunny.  The press conference offered no shade, and few of us had worn hats.  Only one seemed to have brought sunscreen, but as she was a UU she offered me some.  (I'm sure she would have happily offered to any denomination, but it was a small tube, so I was grateful to get some.)  We put up umbrellas, but were told it would ruin the pictures.  Since most of the cameras were pointed at the speakers, and we were not behind the speakers but seated in front of them, I opted after a while to go back into the shade.  Clergy can be long-winded at these sorts of things, after all.

Once I was happily back in the shade, I was much more attentive.  And they were wonderful speakers.    The press conference started off with a Buddhist invocation from the Hawaii delegation.  Joe Solmonese of the HRC spoke.  Several heads of various denominations spoke, as well.  Unfortunately UUA President Peter Morales was unable to attend.  He had flown out the day before and had dinner with the UU group gathered there at the UUA Washington Advocacy Office, but he got sick somehow and was unable to be with us for the press conference.  His piece was ably picked up by Taquiena Boston, Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness.

After the press conference ended, my HRC staffer, Tim Mahoney, came to find me.   There were supposed to be three of us lobbying for Michigan, but one UU colleague had things come up and was unable to make it.  The second Michigan person, a non-UU from the Detroit area, had checked into Clergy Call the previous day, but never showed up for the lobbying.  So Tim cancelled the visits with their congressmen, and he and I went to visit Senator Levin, Senator Stabenow, and Congressman Walberg, after a lunch in the cafe of one of the Senate buildings.

Two years ago when I went to the HRC Clergy Call I was surprised to learn that you usually don't get to meet with your representatives.  This year I was prepared for that.  Our schedule said that we would see staffers at my senators' offices, and perhaps meet with Rep. Walberg if his schedule permitted.  It was a very busy day on Capitol Hill, so we didn't see Rep. Walberg, either. 

It was a very friendly visit at Sen. Levin's office with a staff person who was extremely knowledgeable on LGBT issues.  Sen. Levin is co-sponsoring ENDA, one of the pieces of legislation we were there to talk about, as is Sen. Stabenow.  Sen. Stabenow's legislative aide who met with us was very courteous and asked good questions, and that was also a good meeting.  After those two meetings, we dropped off packets at three other congressmen's offices on our way to see Rep. Walberg's staff.  At Walberg's office I stressed the anti-bullying legislation that we were there to talk about.  The staff member agreed that certainly no child ever deserved to be bullied, and so I talked about how children of LGBT parents, children who are LGBT, and children who are perceived to be LGBT are particular targets of bullying.  I talked about how no matter how one felt about LGBT issues, nobody could believe those children deserved violence against them for what they were, or what they were perceived to be.  And I talked about the high suicide rate of LGBT youth, as a direct result of the years of discrimination they face.  It was a cordial meeting where we talked about values and the importance of protecting our children. 

I have to brag a little and say that after each meeting Tim Mahoney, who was wonderful and helpful, told me that I did a great job and hit all the points that we were hoping for out of the event.  And I am thankful for all the people who gave me their stories to take with me to Capitol Hill.  I shared those stories with the staff members I visited with, and stressed their importance, that these letters represent real people in Michigan with stories about how things affect them.

So, after that I skipped the HRC Closing Reception back at their offices, an opted for one cab ride rather than two, and headed back to where I'm staying with a Methodist colleague.  I've got sore feet, but high hopes. 

Opening invocation from the Hawaii delegation.
 Taqueina Boston speaking for the UUs.  You can just see the tip of her head there.

Monday, May 23, 2011

HRC Clergy Call 2011

Right now I'm in Washington, D.C. for the 3rd biannual HRC Clergy Call for Justice and Equality.  There were many wonderful moments today worth talking about, but I want to tell you about some recent poll's results.  HRC just commissioned a new poll to study religious responses to GLBT issues.  The amazing and wonderful results are that people of faith overwhelmingly -- yes, overwhelmingly -- are now in support of LGBT justice issues. I know this may seem hard to believe.  The media keeps showing us the voices of hate and telling us that's the faith perspective.  But the truth is it's not. 

Some specifics:

When asked "Do you favor protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations?" 70% of all people said yes, and 68% of Christians said yes.

85% of people say their faith leads them to believe in equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

76% of all people and 74% of Christians favor a law to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people or the children of GLBT people against bullying and harassment. 

People also think that when faith leaders condemn GLBT people it does more harm than good. 

When the Christian numbers are broken down, the Catholics are most in support of these things (both practicing and non-practicing), but even the non-denominational Christians, which includes evangelicals, are in favor of these GLBT justice issues. 

These are wonderful results.  Now if we can only get our politicians to hear them tomorrow during our lobbying time.

On Amazon

Just a quick note here to say that the book is now available on Amazon.  And, no, there aren't any used copies yet!  It's cheaper to go through CreateSpace, as described in the last post, and use the coupon.  I get a larger amount, even with the coupon, than I do through Amazon, so it's to my benefit as well.  But if you're determined to use Amazon, if you follow this link, my church gets a percentage through their Amazon Associates account.  And it is a little thrill to see it available through Amazon.  It makes it just a little more real, although I've yet to see the final project in physical form -- my proof has arrived, but I'm out of town.  More on that later.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My new book & the adventures of self-publishing

My new book, An Extremist for Love & Justice, is now available!  It'll be up on Amazon in a day or two, and I'll link to it then, but it's better for me if you go through the publisher (CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing arm): https://www.createspace.com/3593257.  To encourage such, here's a coupon code for $2.00 off -- Q2MVMHDY.

I thought some readers might be curious about the self-publishing process, so I'll write a bit about it here.

Self-publishing has been an interesting process.  I've learned a lot by doing it, one of which is how many typos I make, and another of which is that it always pays to document your sources while you're writing rather than having to go back later and look them all up again.  Being consistent about MLA or Chicago style doesn't hurt, as well. I spent more time straightening out my footnotes than I could possibly imagine.  They're still not perfect, which bugs me, but eventually I just had to move on.

As for self-publishers, I looked into various self-publishing options, including iUniverse, Outskirts, XLibris, Lulu, and CreateSpace.  I heard good things from colleagues about both CreateSpace and Lulu, so those are the ones I looked into more--also they were two of four that were very responsive to providing information to me, iUniverse and XLibris being the others.  Lulu seemed like a good option that I'll consider in the future.  They're one extreme of the options--you provide your own book in PDF form with all the layout done, including page numbers, table of contents, fleurons, and the works. You also have to provide your cover as a completed PDF file with the correct spine width, and bleed margin and so forth.  My graphics capabilities are pretty weak, but they have some templates you can play with, and I created something that I think was every bit as good as what I ended up getting.  They'll give you a free ISBN, you upload your files, and you're basically done.  All that is free.  They make a larger percentage off of each book that's printed, but there are fewer up-front costs.  But you don't get much for that -- the book is available through Lulu, but to make it available elsewhere there are additional fees (although still smaller than other publishers).  Honestly, now that I've gone the other route and seen it all, I can't remember what turned me off of the idea of doing it through Lulu.  I know I wanted the comfort of having it be formatted for me, and felt that a less-do-it-myself approach would yield a more professional result.

Once I ruled out Lulu, I ended up going with CreateSpace, because when I added in what I wanted, all of the others seemed pretty equivalent, and I had a colleague who had a good experience with CreateSpace, and since they're connected to Amazon, I felt that would make things smoother.  I wanted something that would do the interior and cover layout, would provide an ISBN, and which would make it available on Amazon and other booksellers, particularly Borders and Barnes and Noble.  To get all those pieces it seemed to work out to around $500, no matter which publisher I went with.  (For example, iUniverse was $599, but would've included the Kindle file; xLibris was $449 but had extremely limited templates.)  So CreateSpace was as good a pick as any, to my mind.  For $499 they take your file and format it according to one of several templates.  The templates have less flexibility than I would like, but they worked with me to find a reasonable compromise.  Then they took my picture and words and created a cover according to one of several templates again.  They have templates for the front matter of the book (title page, etc.), as well to choose from, and a list of several different fleurons and fonts for the cover and interior.  I thought CreateSpace would give more flexibility here than Lulu, but in the end it was about the same as the one I had created myself on Lulu.  CreateSpace did throw in their distribution services, so it can be available through just about any bookstore in the country to order.  Lulu had the disadvantage of not doing Kindle format, and since I have a new Kindle, I thought I would like to have it in that form.  Unfortunately, the Kindle file is not part of the CreateSpace package.  It's something I can add on or do myself, so I'll probably look into doing that this summer and make it available on Kindle. 

The CreateSpace process took more time than I thought it would after uploading the files in early April to today when I could finally approve the physical proof (and that's without actually getting my proof copy in the mail yet--I approved it sight unseen).  There were several steps along the way where I was unclear what would handle next and how long it would take.  But in the end they were very responsive to my calls, and I'm happy with the final result.  I would recommend them for a first-time self-publisher, based on my experience so far.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Five Smooth Stones

    My colleague Tony Lorenzen recently wrote a blog post on James Luther Adams' "Five Smooth Stones."  As a refresher, even though I know many of you can rattle them off the top of your head, James Luther Adams was a Unitarian and UU theologian and professor at Meadville Lombard Theological School.  He wrote an essay on the five smooth stones of religious liberalism.  The "smooth stones" metaphor comes from the story of David & Goliath, wherein David used 5 smooth stones in his slingshot and killed the mighty Goliath.  JLA's Smooth Stones are:
    • "Religious liberalism depends on the principle that 'revelation' is continuous."
    • "All relations between persons ought ideally to rest on mutual, free consent and not on coercion."
    • "Religious liberalism affirms the moral obligation to direct one's effort toward the establishment of a just and loving community. It is this which makes the role of the prophet central and indispensable in liberalism."
    • "[W]e deny the immaculate conception of virtue and affirm the necessity of social incarnation." 
    • "[L]iberalism holds that the resources (divine and human) that are available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism."
    Tony neatly sums these up in his blog post with one word each.  My summary is a bit longer.

    The first smooth stone tells us that there is no one religious truth that has already been told and that is handed down in one particular sacred text.  Revelation can happen at any time, and is still happening.  The second talks about democratic principles and freedom -- particularly important as JLA wrote this in response to experiencing the rise of fascism in Europe.  The third tells us that we have a prophetic faith and we are all prophets -- we must all be voices for the social good, for the betterment of society.  Fourth, good is created by us here and now, not something that is done just by God.  The third and fourth stones are very linked.  And lastly, that we have the resources to affect change, and so therefore we should have hope. 

    I refer to the five smooth stones often and had actually used the 5 smooth stones in the sermon that I had already written that I'll be preaching this Sunday.  I'd been thinking on the 5 smooth stones the past couple of weeks for no particular reason except that I've been working on our program for Ohio River Group next year on "The Future of Liberalism," and one of our reading items might be the 5 Smooth Stones.  This got me thinking--If I were writing the 5 Smooth Stones now, what would the Smooth Stones be?

    I don't have my answer yet, except that Tony is exactly right when he says what's missing from the five smooth stones is love.  That would be my first smooth stone -- a radical universal love that embraces all people.  I love all of JLA's smooth stones, and think they're all vital now, but maybe I would combine the third and fourth to make that space for love and call it a day.  But there may be something I'm not thinking about right now that is more vital for us to talk about in what distinguishes liberal religion.  I'm still thinking on it.

    So I'm still working on my five smooth stones.  Meanwhile, what are yours?

    Happy Birthday UUA!

    The merger of the Unitarian and the Universalist denominations took place 50 years ago -- the official date was May 15, 1961.  So, of course, I started thinking about my experiences at the merger.  But, wait!  I wasn't born yet!

    That's right, one of the neat things that we can celebrate is that there are generations now of people who are Unitarian Universalists from childhood on, some even with ten years or more in the ministry, who were raised in, influenced by, and in turn influenced themselves this new association that was created 50 years ago.

    Many argued then that without this merger, Universalism would die.  I look around me here, and I really believe that.  At the time of merger, there were three little rural Universalist churches between ten and fifteen miles from Jackson.  My church, a small rural Universalist church, joined the new UUA, and it's still going strong.  The Universalist church in Horton, MI did not join the UUA, but eventually became Congregationalist.  There's a church and a congregation thriving there, but no Universalist church.  The Concord, Michigan church, the furthest from Jackson at 14 miles, floundered for a while and then went out of existence.  They still have special programs there every year, such as a Christmas concert or service, but there is no longer a worshipping Universalist body.  There is no church there, even though there's a church building there. 

    Without the merger, we might have died.  With it, we have generations of Unitarian Universalists to spread our saving message -- our Universalist message of love and acceptance.  All that, and Unitarianism, too.  What a deal we got.  Happy Birthday, UUA!

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    On the Death of Osama bin Laden

    Sunday night as I was watching television after a long day, I, like much of the nation, heard that there was going to be an upcoming announcement from President Obama.  An unplanned late-Sunday-evening announcement from the President is clearly unusual.  My immediate thought was that something horrible had happened--horrible, that is, for citizens of the United States and its military.  So it was with some joy and relief that I learned that instead of our soldiers or civilians being dead, it was Osama bin Laden.  I admit to some immediate partisan joy that this had happened under this particular president's watch.  And I shared in some joking about the timing of the president interrupting Celebrity Apprentice.  I admit to some joy at him being removed from a position of continued threat, and some relief that this was news of success for our country. 

    These are my first reactions, my gut reactions.  They do not necessarily represent my best reactions or religious reactions, and that's the point that I want to make today.  I understand why people want to go out and be with other people in the streets and celebrate.  It is a natural reaction after a long period of cultural grief that we pin on this man, Osama bin Laden. 

    But at the same time I felt immediate sorrow that this hunt for Osama bin Laden, our figurehead for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, had ended with a killing.  I wished immediately that we had captured this man alive rather than taking another life.  I am not a pacifist, although I do believe that war always represents a failure, and I am also against the death penalty.  To me, this killing, although it was done in a combat situation, it seems, represented a failure on our part to some degree, as well as, of course, the enormous political success of having finally captured this man our government and military was looking for for so long.  I don't say "failure" to blame the military--I think it was a failure on Osama bin Laden's part that led to this outcome, for the most part.  He chose a path of hatred and violence, and I grieve that he chose this path up until the end.  But every death that ends in violence is also to some extent a failure on the parts of everyone involved, including us, the American people. 

    I think our best reaction, as a people, is not to celebrate, but to mourn.  A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that's been making the rounds illustrates the sentiment:
    Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence and toughness multiples toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.
    (Note that many of the versions being shared have a sentence tacked on the beginning that was not King's, but the rest of the statement--all of that quoted above--was his.  Jessica Dovey, Facebook user and English teacher apparently wrote the now oft-quoted sentence, "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.")  One of the quickest ways we justify rejoicing at Osama bin Laden's death is by dehumanizing him, by making him pure evil, almost the devil himself.  That's the response I heard from friends and acquaintances as the discussion launched from one Facebook friend's post to another: "He was evil."  Once we make him evil, he becomes less than human, and we can respond with pure hate and pure rejoicing at his death. 

    There have been a lot of good articles about the Christian response to Osama bin Laden's death.  A Vatican spokesperson said, "In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."

    Emotions are high about this.  When my colleague James Ford used the word "glad," he got some apparently heated responses including one suggesting he could no longer teach the Buddhadharma.  On the other hand, I've seen some pretty heated responses to some friends suggesting that gladness is the wrong approach.  We're quick to chastise each other on both sides.  I can't condemn anyone for a feeling of gladness--I experienced that same lifting of spirit myself, instinctively.  (And it appears Ford wasn't talking about gladness at death--read his own words for an explanation.)  What I can come back to is to say that feeling gladness at the death of Osama bin Laden is not my best self, nor my religious self.  It does not reflect my values nor my theology.

    What is the Unitarian Universalist response to this man's death?  We have no set creed, but freedom of religion, so of course there is no one set response.   But in our religious tradition we also know that we believe people are not inherently evil.  Our Universalist heritage reminds us that no one is damned forever.  And so I experience sorrow that we were not able to find the good in Osama bin Laden and that he chose a path of violence and death, and that we followed, chasing him on that path, and being on it ourselves.  Our principles, while not a creed, also serve as a touchstone in times like this.  The remind us of the inherent worth and dignity of every human being--every single one.  So at times like this, when it is easy to fill up with hatred, I remind myself of the inherent worth and dignity of anyone that I might want to call "enemy."  I look, too, to the principle that we strive for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.  There are many quick to say that Osama bin Laden's death is "justice served."  Perhaps it is -- although, I think justice is better done by a court than by a bullet.  But it is not "compassion served," certainly.  Can we feel compassion for Osama bin Laden, individually or as a people?  What would that look like?  I'm not there yet.  I don't feel compassion for him.  But I think I would be better for trying to.