Showing posts from 2012

God's Role in All of This

There has been a lot of talk about God's role in the Newtown, Connecticut shootings.  I have no more (but no less) a direct line to God than anybody else, but these things I know about God.  Others have been saying these things before me, but they bear repeating.
This tragedy in Newtown was not "all part of God's plan," and it didn't happen because "God wanted another little angel."  We as human beings have free will.  The shooter made his decisions to kill children and adults, not God.  We also have free will in how we respond.  Go listen to the early interview with the father of Emilie Parker: "The person that chose to act this way was acting with a God-given right to use his free agency and God can’t take that away ... that’s what he chose to do with it. I’m not mad [at God, I'm assuming]. I have my own agency to use this event to do whatever I can to make sure my wife and daughters are taken care of."  Robert Parker has it absolutel…

Sunday's Prayer

This past Sunday our church had a pageant planned, that we went forward with.  Mindful that it was an intergenerational service, I carefully crafted a prayer that would address the tragedy in Newtown, but without explaining the context to young ears that might not have heard of events yet.  This is what I wrote:

Spirit of Life,
Our hearts are heavy and full, our minds confused and anxious, our spirits burdened and troubled.At times like this, we are grateful to come together in religious community, to hold the hands of those we love, to see the smiles and laughter on the faces of the young, and to recommit ourselves to the work of the world, the task of building love in this community and elsewhere. We take comfort in the circle of community, and in the stories of helpers and heroes.Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers, said, in words that have been shared much recently: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You wil…

Thanks for Teachers

As we hear the stories coming out of Newtown, Connecticut, one of the stories we're hearing is about the heroism of teachers.  The stories are being shared of the teachers who died and how their last actions were to try to save their children, and the teachers who survived and how they ushered their children to safety, keeping them quiet, secure, calm, and safe in closets and bathrooms.

I have a school-aged daughter.  My husband and I made the decision to talk to her about the tragedy in Newtown, because she's old enough that she'll look over and read the headlines or hear someone talking.  We keep news sources around us--a daily newspaper, a weekly news magazine, a news radio station--and she was bound to hear about it somewhere.  Other parents, with different habits or younger children, might effectively shield their children from the news, but we knew we couldn't.  So she knew a little bit about it when we sent her off to school again this morning.  And it was a nor…

Some Sci-Fi Recommendations

I spent last week at the minister's study group, Ohio River Group, that I attend each year (I've missed only once since joining in 2005).  This year's theme was "Space," and during our meeting a growing list of science fiction suggestions was posted by its members on the white board.  What follows here is that list, with my own personal notations when I have any.  For confidentiality's sake, I am not posting either who posted these works, nor some of their own comments about why that went up on our white board.

Robert Sawyer: Starplex, Calculating God, Factoring Humanity, and Flashforward
Of the things on this list that I haven't read, these will be first on my list.

Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake: A Novel, and The Year of the Flood
I've read some of Atwood's works (including The Handmaid's Tale, of course), and would consider myself a fan of hers.  I will be adding these two to my reading list, as I also heard a really interesting re…

On Doing Time

This year the UUA's Common Read book is Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. In it, she chronicles how the prison system has replaced Jim Crow laws as a system of racism and segregation.  It goes far beyond the more widely understood fact that there are differences in sentencing laws to the question of why we have a "war on drugs" to begin with.

For those interested in reading more about the prison system and the problems with it, there are several additional books I could recommend, but I also wanted to recommend a blog of a fellow I know, On Doing Time.  This isn't a slick or professional blog on the subject.  What it is is a first-hand account by a former member of my congregation about his experiences in prison and his thoughts and musings about it after the fact.  In 1999, as a young adult, R.W. VanSumeren, in a period of desperation, robbed a gas station at gunpoint and then a bank.  And he was convicted and served time for armed robbery.  That's what…

The Work of Ministry

"What do you do the rest of the week?" I was recently asked.  I don't mind the question.  Indeed, I welcome it.  It's a frequent frustration among ministers that, regardless of how hard we work, the perception exists that we really only work on Sunday morning.  I've heard this perception myself from members, visitors, and even staff during my years of ministry.  This perception can exist when we've really had an easy time of it, or on the week when we spent all of Friday and Saturday by a bedside and then got up to give the sermon on Sunday morning.  In fact, often the weeks people think are the hardest for me are actually the easiest, and vice-versa.  For example, I find as it approaches Christmas, my job gets easier.  Nobody wants to schedule extra meetings during this time, and some meetings get cancelled.  While Christmas programs are big productions, a lot of it can be the same from year to year, which requires less research and creativity out of me.  Th…

The Election Sermon

I mentioned to some folks today that it's an old tradition to have an "election sermon," and some of the people I was speaking with had never heard of this tradition, so I thought I'd do a little research and write on it.  It turned out to be a lot more complicated than I thought.  From how I understand what I'm reading, it seems there are two sorts of "election sermons" -- one is a sermon preached just prior to election day, and the other is called an "election sermon" but is preached before government officials but on inauguration day, which was called, confusingly, "election day."  So, for example, this "election day" sermon from 1790 --
-- was preached on "the day of general election," apparently before the newly elected officials.  Likewise, this Gad Hitchcock text from 1774 was preached to the elected officials on "election day."  Similarly, in 1830 Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing preac…

Politics and Preaching

Watching the national political conventions is a great opportunity to study the art of public speaking--the rhetoric and the oration.  There's a lot one can learn about effective public speaking, and thus preaching, by listening to these top-level politicians.  Four years ago, I remember thinking that Barack Obama, love him or hate him, was the greatest orator of our age, and, as I sit down and wait to listen to him tonight, it's a good time to reflect on some of what I've heard in the conventions so far, not from a political standpoint, but from the perspective of public speaking.  Now, I didn't watch much of the RNC.  I haven't actually watched that much of the DNC, either.  So I really only have a few to speak about, so I'll give you my thoughts on those, ranking them low, middle, and high.

The best I've heard...

Michelle Obama

I think Michelle Obama's come a long way as a public speaker in her four years as First Lady.  I remember not being terribly …

Politics and Staying Friends

One of the reasons I created my RevCyn Facebook page was so that I could post about religion and social justice issues without subjecting ALL my Facebook friends, which includes conservative relatives and high school chums, to the full extent of my politics and faith.  I then post such things less from my own account.  One exception, however, is that because I try to draw a fine line between partisan politics and my ministry, and because I see the RevCyn page, and this blog, as an extension of that ministry, I try to refrain from endorsing a candidate here, or making statements about Republican and Democratic candidates that could be seen as an endorsement.  But my personal Facebook account,  however, is where I do feel free to be political, just as I do in my front yard and the bumper of my car.  Thus, as the election draws near, I run into more and more occasions where I risk alienating the conservatives among my Facebook friends.  The liberals among my 754 Facebook friends vastly o…

The New Jim Crow

The new UUA Common Read book for the year is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and I, for one, could not be happier with the choice.  I read this book and preached on it last year after reading a Leonard Pitts article about the book.  The book was revelatory, even for someone who thought she was pretty liberal on this issue.  Two other people who I encouraged to read the book have had the same response.  I was so pleased to have the opportunity to hear her speak this year at General Assembly, and the experience in the room was electric.  She didn't have to say it out loud, even, but the thought that the New Jim Crow applies to the immigration system as well was surely at the front of everyone's mind. I'm looking forward to the Discussion Guide that the UUA will put online in October.  There is a discussion guide written by a UU, but it's the discussion guide to a discussion guide written for Christian churches--a guide of a guide, and, as such, I think is more li…

The War on Women

This blogger has been suffering from writer's block.  The problem is, when I think about opening up a page and writing, there's one thing that's been on my mind to write about.  And when I think about that one thing, I've been so boggled and amazed by what's going on that I can't find a way to write coherently.

So, about this war on women...

Now, I can appreciate and respect a pro-life position.  It's theologically consistent, and has a clear and hard line: life begins at conception, and so abortion is murder.  Unless the life of the woman is at stake, so that it's one life vs. another, or unless the fetus is not viable, murder cannot be justified.  That makes sense to me as a stance to take.  I don't agree, but I respect it.  I understand that what the Republicansare trying to express is, in part, the perspective that while rape is horrible and wrong, it doesn't change that abortion is horrible and wrong. 

But there are whole other levels goin…

Brave -- The First Princess Tale Good for Mothers

I took my daughter to see Brave this week, and really loved it.  As I reflected on what I loved so much, I realized that this was almost the first "princess movie" I had seen with a positive (and living) mother figure.  The movie is the first animated movie I've seen with my daughter which is really a mother/daughter movie.  There are good father/son movies - Up! is an example of a father-stand-in and boy movie.  How to Train Your Dragon and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs both figure heroes who have strained relationships with fathers who don't understand them which get resolved through the events of the movie.  If you look to animal characters, you quickly see a strong father/son relationship in The Lion King and Finding Nemo.  But stories that tell about mother/daughter relationships are exceedingly rare in the animated film category.  First of all, as has been pointed out, this is Pixar's first animated film with a female star.  But there are plenty of Disn…

No Mas Muertes

I bought this pendant from a booth in the exhibit hall at General Assembly today.  This year the exhibit hall is different, in that they've invited some local groups to come and share their wares.  This pendant benefits the Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (Home of Hope and Peace), which provides food for children, adult education classes, and children's camps.  The Hogar Women's Cooperative makes these medallions.  One of the artists was kind enough to tell me the story.  I had her tell it to me twice on two different days (and bought a pendant each time), through an interpreter, to get some of the details, although I'm sure I've lost some of them already.  The second time I asked about the process of making the medallions, which I was told on the first day is a two day process.  After hearing all the many steps it takes to make these, I can see why it takes so long.  It was really complicated, and I couldn't possibly repeat the information, unfortunately.  I thanked…

Tent City

I'm outside "tent city" in Phoenix with about 2000 Unitarian Universalists and allies.   It is 99 degrees now that it is night time, down from 109 today.  In tent city, people who are rounded up for deportation are imprisoned out in this heat without  relief.  We are told that they can hear us in the tent city, as we chant and sing and cheer.It is wonderful to have the UCC president (his title is different but I don't have it handy) with us tonight and telling us the UCC is with us in this fight.

GA Off the Grid

In the last two years, I've known some ministers who attend GA without attending GA.  That is, they come to the city of the General Assembly, but don't register for General Assembly.  In doing so, they save registration costs, but are still able to have lunch and dinner meetings with colleagues, or churches, if they're in search, or meet with denominational committees if necessary.  There are a few GA events that are open to the public, as well -- Sunday morning worship, and the Service of the Living Tradition, and the exhibit hall on Sunday.  This year there are even more, since any person can attend the witness events that are held outside of the convention center, and that includes more events this year.

There are always good UU events to be found outside of the General Assembly programming, too, and this year I find myself, although registered for GA, interested in attending more of it.  One high-profile example is an event hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Service …

The New Jim Crow

Yesterday I went to hear Michelle Alexander speak about her book, The New Jim Crow.  I also went to a follow-up session with the author of a UU study guide. Sadly, Alexander.had time for only two or three questions, and I was about eighth in line.I think to read this book, no matter how progressive already, is to have a great awakening--at least it was for me.And hearing her speak here in Arizona, it became clear to me that our immigration system is also part of the new Jim Crow.  It is so similar in effect on a people to our prison system.

Study/Action Issues & Vaginas

Tomorrow we vote on what Study/Action issue to adopt for 2012-2016, and I haven't made up my mind yet which one I'm voting for.  I talked with a proponent of "CSAI 1 - Climate Action and Adaptation Plans: Why Greenhouse Gases and their Effects Matter to Us" today, who points out that if we don't save the earth, none of these other issues will matter.  Well, yeah.  That's a point.  And he also points out that some of the other issues are related to this one, particularly "CSAI 2 - Families, Population, and the Environment."  I've also seen that a lot of people I know are walking around wearing anti-slavery buttons and that there seems to be a lot of support for "CSAI 5 - Ending Slavery."  The advocate for CSAI 1 asked me, "Well, what is your congregation engaged in?"  We're engaged in all these issues to some extent.  Our JXN Community Forum series has often engaged in environmental issues.  Our members are individually in…

A New Era in Ethics -- Finally

The UU Ministers Association voted today to pass new language for a year of study. This language would change our code of professional ethics from language that basically outlawed specific actions to a much simpler and straight-forward "19 words."  The new language reads: "I will not engage in sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person I serve professionally."Previously, the guidelines forbade sexual relationships with people one counsels, interns, married congregants, staff, minors, and, if married, anyone one serves professionally except one's partner.The new language passed by a majority this year and must pass by two-thirds next year.  (This, incidentally, means it is harder to change the UUMA code of conduct than it is to change the state of Michigan's constitution--which is certainly more a problem for Michigan.)I voted for this, although I was torn, as I have known colleagues who have met their spouse in their cong…

Doing the Work of Social Justice

The thought shared today in ministry days is that doing social justice without having the models and training is like doing the work of religious education without renaissance modules and trained religious education professionals.We do have models and structures out there that we can tap into, though.  In Michigan we have the Michigan UU Social Justice Network (MUUSJN), which recently brought a workshop on healthcare to Jackson.  We can network with other local (non-UU) congregations, and with other Michigan UU churches.  We need something like what we had in Jackson with the Jackson Interfaith Peacekeepers, but with a broader social justice platform.I think one of the questions is: What do we want from our faith?  Are we looking for our religion to be a place from which we do social justice?  If so, let's start working on putting the structures in place to do that ministry.

The Importance of Friendship

When I was a child, I went to a UU church that was a larger-sized church for a church in our movement.  The church religious education program was large enough to have paid staff, and a different classroom for every two grade levels through 7th grade, an eight-grade class of its own for coming of age, and an active high school group.  But a church that size often comes in a larger metro area, as was the case with Birmingham Unitarian Church in Bloomfield Hills, MI.  And so, in my school, I was one of only a small hand-full of families with Unitarian Universalist children in our school district of Ferndale, and in my grade there was only one other UU.  I was lucky--I think my two sisters had no other UUs in their grade in our school.  When I got to High School as a freshman, there were still the two of us UUs in a graduating class of over 300, and three UUs that I knew of in the school, although I later found that there were two sisters who went to another one of the metro area UU chur…

Apparently Breasts Are Provacative

This week's Time Magazine cover of a woman breast-feeding her 3-year-old son sure has a lot of people talking.  My own feelings about the Time cover are conflicted.  On one hand, I think Time is making an important point, and the controversy surrounding it is ridiculous.  I vigorously defend the following ideas:
Breast-feeding is normal and healthy.  Breast-feeding is normal and healthy for toddlers, including 3-year-olds like this one.Breast-feeding is normal and healthy for boys, not just girls!It is okay and normal to be a sexy woman and also breast-feed your child.  Women can be both mothers and sexual beings at the same time.There is nothing wrong with breast-feeding standing up, either! This cover does not show anything inherently sexual or abnormal or unhealthy.  The fact that so many people have looked at this cover and had an immediate negative reaction is about the ways we have hypersexualized women in this society, and see breasts, in particular, as only sexual.  It is …

I Speak for the Trees - Earth Day Sermon

Several people asked me if I would post my sermon from this past Sunday online.  I post it with some reluctance, because I think it won't hold up on paper as well.  It's a performance piece -- part of what made it so well received, I believe, came from the surprise of it, and the novelty of having the entire sermon in verse.  Once you have a chance to think about the fact that rhymed "lightbulbs" with "entitled" -- a rhyme so slanted it falls over -- you might think twice about my poetic ability.  And the meter is certainly a bit forced in multiple locations.  Actually, it's just completely uneven throughout.  But it was great fun to do, and something I've been wanting to try for a long time.  It's hard work to write an entire sermon in verse, because it is such a long piece when written that way.  I found that I had to write much more than I usually write in prose, because the rhyme and meter keep me reading it at a pretty good clip.  What I&#…