Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dealing with Trauma

Our community lost a former member and her child in a traumatic and violent way.  What I want to share with our community right now is a little bit about how to recognize if you are experiencing trauma, and what some of the things you can do are.

First of all, you don't have to be close to someone who was killed in order to experience this as a traumatic event in your life.  There are a lot of forms that a trauma response can take.  Sometimes it leads to people questioning God or one's faith-- how can there be a God who lets these things happen?  Sometimes there is anger -- How could somebody do this?  Sometimes the dominant emotion is grief -- How could anybody do this?  Sometimes it's a feeling of guilt -- I should've done something more.  Sometimes we experience things bodily -- sleeplessness, lack of appetite or stress eating, exhaustion, stomach problems, stress dreams or nightmares, and more.  Some people will feel none of these at first, and they may hit later.  A list of things you might experience and some things to do is here, and for children here.  There are a wide range of responses that are "normal" in a situation like this.  People naturally search for meaning -- what could've gone differently, who is to blame.  That's also normal.  But it's not necessarily helpful -- trying to make sense out of senselessness is what keeps our minds going in circles and leads to some of those symptoms of sleeplessness, stress, and more.  Of course, some people deal with trauma by seeking information, and others by shutting details out.  Both are ways we protect ourselves in this time, so be aware that if you're in one style, others may not be.  If one thing you're looking for is information on domestic violence, there's more information here.

The next thing to know is that trauma has a cycle that a community will go through.  At first we will mostly pull together to get through things.  After that, however, there can be division.  Some people may think we're doing too much, and some people not enough.  A good chart for understanding this is here.  In the months to come, what will be most important is that we continue to give each other lots of space and assume goodwill.  And what we need to do personally is each keep a close tab on ourselves and loved ones and reach out for resources when we're having trouble coping. 

The bottom line right now is take care of yourselves.  If you need help, reach out.  And if you see someone else reaching out, give a hand and connect them back to some of the resources.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Moment of Grace: Taking the Long Way In

This week our congregation lost two people who were loved by us -- a mother and son who were former members who were killed in an act of domestic violence. 

Today at the end of an emotional and difficult day, I went to the hospital to visit a member who had been suddenly hospitalized.  (The member is doing okay, but still in some pain.)  I parked near the E.R. and walked in the E.R. doors to avoid being out in the cold, and then walked through the hallway to the main hospital lobby.

There in the hallway were pictures from The Real MEN's Project.  I've seen these pictures before.  Most of them are in the wonderful book, Real Dads, by Dani Meier, the founder, which I got for my husband for Father's Day the year it came out.  But it was different suddenly encountering them in a hallway, and not just because of the bigger size of the photos.  It was different because it was an encounter in a different way with these fathers in our community who have signed a pledge against domestic violence along with their children.  Each picture has the name of the photographer beside it, and at the bottom of the picture there's a pledge of nonviolence signed by the father photographed.  One of my favorites is this one by my friend Tom McMillen-Oakley.  They hang it upside-down, he says.  This is the right-side up view:  That's his daughter's feet in the photo, along with his own.


There are a few other names and faces I recognized once again as I walked around.  On the way back out of the hospital, I stopped again, and this time stopped and looked at each and every photograph, and the men and their children, at the names of the photographers, at those signed pledges over and over again.  And then I sat and just smiled, and cried a little.

What a wonderful, healing balm that walk was.  If you need a moment to cry tears of joy, take a walk to Allegiance Health and walk the long way in.   If you're not local, watch the video.  You don't get to see those signed pledges, but you see the images of these fathers and children:


 It was exactly what I needed to see today.  What a moment of grace that was to take the long way in.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Healthcare.gov and the Small Church

So I spent some time on Healthcare.gov today, the questions being 1) How hard is this, really? and 2) Is there a comparable plan to my employer's healthcare plan (the UUA's Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield) that would cost less money?

Last night I created my user name and password, and then was booted out of the system because it was under maintenance.  Fair enough.

I went back in today.  I had to answer some security questions that prove that I'm me.  It turns out the government has more handy access to facts about myself than I do.  I had to chase down the information of what year my car is. 

Then I had to provide information on the members of my family, including how much money we make, before taxes.  That's complicated.  How do I classify my housing allowance?  I decided to just put it in as income before taxes, even though it won't be taxed.  What about my husband's income?  Well, he's an adjunct professor.  We never know how many classes he'll be given in a given semester.  I decided to just make a wild guess, and give an annual amount, because there's no way to figure out a monthly amount -- all the months are different, depending on where they fall in the semester and how many classes there are.  Then I had to look up how much I pay in student loan interest.  That was fairly easy, but required rebooting my computer, since Excel decided to crash, which is where I needed to go first to get access to that information.

After that break, I came back in the evening and put in some more information.  It was confusing to answer when I might be eligible for insurance in 2014 through my employer when they hadn't asked me yet if I had insurance currently from my employer, but I just said January 1st for 2014.

Finally, the demographic information was complete.  I am not, I was told, eligible for Medicaid.  Then it seemed to pause as if that was the end.  The screen wasn't completely comprehensible as to where I would go next.  But I figured that out, and found out that I had to tell them that we're non-smokers and a couple of other things, and then I could see plans.

So I think I can say that this wasn't too painless.  It was millions of times easier than when I applied for insurance 10 years ago coming here.  I was pregnant at the time (I did have to tell the government that I'm not pregnant right now, but I think that wouldn't have changed my eligibility, I hope, unless to make me more eligible).  I had to get a copy of my marriage certificate from Chicago, because my husband's last name is different.  Chicago momentarily lost it, making me think maybe we weren't really married -- a great thing to tell a pregnant woman going through a move, job change, pregnancy, and stresses about health insurance, by the way.  If it hadn't been the case that my previous insurance had been through my church, I would have not been eligible for any plan we could find in Michigan.  The plan I was on in Massachusetts was a plan that was local to that area, so there was no sense in keeping it.  Finally, we found the one single Blue Care Network plan in Michigan that was forced to take me.  Never mind that they had fired me back in 1993 following a health problem, I was glad to have them.  It took me MONTHS to get this worked out, even with a health insurance agent's help.  She still sends me Christmas cards -- they're always the first to arrive.  I will forever be grateful to her.  And that's a better story than two years prior to that in the enlightened state of Texas where because I was overweight (and hadn't been on an employer's plan) I was only able to get catastrophic coverage. 

MILES easier on Healthcare.gov.   OH SO MUCH easier.  MONTHS easier.  HOLY COW easier.  It took less than 24 hours of total elapsed time, and less than 4 hours of actively working on it time. 

So, what were the options?  My healthcare insurance is, I think, going to cost my church and me $1301 per month next year on the UUA's plan.  It's considered a "gold" plan according to the UUA.  What does healthcare.gov have to offer?  Well, they have no catastrophic plans or platinum plans to offer, and a lot of the others.  But I want a gold plan, as that's what I've become accustomed to, and because of the number of doctor visits, tests, and more that my husband has had in the last couple of years with some big-ticket health problems.  And I'm no spring chicken.  So there are 10 gold plans.  They range from $919.25 per month ($500 deductible, $10K out-of-pocket max, $30 co-pay/$50 specialist) to $1469.88 (0 deductible, $8K out-of-pocket max, $40 primary/$60 specialist).

The UUA plan for 2014 will have an $1600 deductible and family out-of-pocket maximum of $4800.  Our co-pays are $20 primary/$30 specialist. 

Turns out the closest plan to this, "Priority Health MyPriority MyHealth Access Gold 1000," with $2000 deductible and out-of-pocket maximum of $5000 with 20/20 co-pays is $1311 per month.  Other plans go up and down on the various numbers, but the closest ones are all in the same ballpark. So the UUA plan beats it slightly on all parameters, including price, except for the specialist co-pay.

So the good news is that the UUA's plan is very competitive with comparable plans.  And the bad news is that "Obamacare" didn't bring us cheaper, better healthcare.  It actually brought us healthcare for the average small business employee that is going up 9.3% this year along with deductible increases.  So that's sad for me, who had held out hope that while it would get all those uninsured people a better situation it might actually take a load off the small church, as well.  It seems that is not to be the case.

Science Fiction & Thanksgiving

**SPOILER WARNING**

This is what is on my mind this morning, as I come back from a weekend where I went out to the movies twice, once to see Catching Fire and once to see the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special.  There's a common thread that runs through both the recent Doctor Who seasons and the Hunger Games trilogy, and that is the effects of war on the survivors and the ethical struggles before and after making a decision to kill innocents in order to end a war.

It's not really in Catching Fire that this question occurs; it's actually in the next book, Mockingjay.  In it, there are two parts that I'm thinking of -- first, there's the decision by District 13 to bomb children and aid workers to advance the rage against the Capitol.  Here's the description of when Katniss learns about the weapons that will eventually be used in that way:
This is what they’ve been doing. Taking the fundamental ideas behind Gale’s traps and adapting them into weapons against humans. Bombs mostly. It’s less about the mechanics of the traps than the psychology behind them. Booby-trapping an area that provides something essential to survival. A water or food supply. Frightening prey so that a large number flee into a greater destruction. Endangering off-spring in order to draw in the actual desired target, the parent. Luring the victim into what appears to be a safe haven— where death awaits it. At some point, Gale and Beetee left the wilderness behind and focused on more human impulses. Like compassion. A bomb explodes. Time is allowed for people to rush to the aid of the wounded. Then a second, more powerful bomb kills them as well. (Kindle Locations 2381-2387)
Gale and Beetee are contemplating something unthinkable to Katniss:  large-scale killing of innocent people in order to get at a few desired targets.  And then, there's the question posed to Katniss and the other surviving victors by Coin near the end.  President Coin says:
"In fact, many are calling for a complete annihilation of those who held Capitol citizenship. However, in the interest of maintaining a sustainable population, we cannot afford this....  What has been proposed is that in lieu of eliminating the entire Capitol population, we have a final, symbolic Hunger Games, using the children directly related to those who held the most power.” (Locations 4675-4682)
Coin presents these options as if they are the only choices -- mass killing of all Capitol citizens, or a Hunger Games, killing innocent children to satisfy those whose rage calls for complete annihilation.

Katniss is not the person really making these decisions, despite the illusion that the victors get to decide between two false choices, but she is haunted by the decisions she has had to make, and haunted by the knowledge that people she knew and cared for have been involved in these decisions.  It is President Coin who made the decision to kill innocents to stop the war sooner, and to give into the two evil choices of mass annihilation or hunger games to satisfy political unrest after the war has ended.  We don't see in Coin any regret, any awareness of the level of evil.  We only get that through Katniss, who has willingly been her Mockingjay.

In Doctor Who, the Doctor has been haunted for the last several seasons by the decision he made to destroy his home planet of Gallifrey in order to end the Time War.  We haven't known a lot of details about this until recently, and whether or not he thought he made the right decision, only that the decision left him in a world of regret and sorrow.  In the 50th anniversary special, we get to hear him say for the first time that he has counted the number of children he killed, and that his decision was wrong.  Fortunately for a Time Lord, he is able to undo, or, rather, not do that decision.  He makes another choice, and Gallifrey falls no more.  It doesn't erase his centuries of sorrow at what he thought he had done, but it changes the final outcome.

In the real world, we don't get to stop time and go back and put Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a pocket universe to protect them.  The Pequot Massacre isn't averted by our sending an arrow through Captain John Mason at the last moment.  Science fiction often lets us off the hook about feeling the full weight of the horror -- our heroes, eventually, make the right choice.  But what science fiction also is letting us do is know that there is a number to be counted for the degree of comfort and safety we hold.  Were we as good as the Doctor, we would hold that number in our heart and know it, and know the decision was wrong.  Of course, were we as good as the Doctor, we wouldn't actually have pushed that button after all. 

I want our world to be more like the Doctor and less like Coin.  But I fear that the opposite is true and our world is much more like the District 13 or even the Capitol, which in the end seem much alike.

It's a sad message I'm taking into Thanksgiving this year.  But after a Sunday of sharing the pulpit with a local Native American friend, talking about the truth and myth of Thanksgiving, this is where I'm at.  Ultimately, I conclude where I did on Sunday, that what I, at least, am feeling now is the need for the holiday time this year not to be so much about giving thanks as truth-telling.  Thanksgiving is becoming, for me, less of a Passover story of exodus, and more of a Yom Kippur, a day of atonement. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Generations and the loss of JFK

The fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is tomorrow. And with this anniversary I'm reminded of what a major moment this was in the history of our country and in the lives of most Americans who were alive and old enough to understand it fifty years ago.  It's one of those moments where people remember where they were and what they were doing when it happened or when they heard.  People remember it as a "Turning Point" where there was a "Loss of Innocence." 

I don't remember it.  I was born after the fall of Camelot.  I was born into a world where the Loss of Innocence had already happened, the Turning Point was past, and we were in the age of cynicism.  I have some sympathy for Steve Friess who wrote an article in Time titled "Five Reasons People Under 50 Are Already Tired of JFK Nostalgia" and Nick Gillespie who wrote in The Daily Beast, "JFK Still Dead, Boomers Still Self-Absorbed."  Those of us younger than the Baby Boomers have been steeped in Boomer nostalgia for as long as we can remember.  And right now we're hitting the 50th anniversary of all those Major Moments.  (And for those of us in Generation X, the only thing worse than Boomer nostalgia is people talking about how Boomers need to make space for a new generation -- the Millennials.  It's particularly annoying to see Boomers cede ground to their own wonderful children, leaving out the forgotten generation between.) 

I'm not as cynical as all that--most of the time.  I do think the Turning Point marks a Loss of Innocence and was a Major Moment, but I do think that it was primarily that for the Boomers.  Our country had had crooked politicians before.  Our country had had war before.  People had seen death and suffering before.  The Loss of Innocence that happened at this shot heard round the world was the Loss of Innocence of the Boomer generation.  This moment is terribly important -- for them.  And that, in and of itself, is worth spending time reflecting upon.  Their grief, their fear, their shattering loss, all of that was very real and very important, then and now. 

I saw how important this death was for my Boomer friends during the first presidential campaign of Barack Obama.  There were so many comparisons being made between Barack Obama and JFK -- youngest presidents, change agents, Caroline Kennedy saying Obama will be "A President Like My Father."  There was such fear that I heard from Boomers of assassination.  It was almost as if someone like Obama, who was being closely associated with Kennedy in many minds, was already marked for assassination.  The fear I heard from some Boomers was very real and very present in their minds.

So, yes, Kennedy's death continues to matter.  And to not understand the impact it had on this large American generation, in particular, is to ignore a large pastoral issue in our country -- a very real grief that continues to need to be honored and understood.

As someone born after the death of JFK (and RFK and MLK, for that matter), the only thing I can relate it to is the fear and shock we (and maybe this is stronger for those of us who are younger) after September 11th, 2001.  September 11th, 2001 is a date that I mark before-and-after.  Before 9/11 we lived in a country that had not had a major attack on our soil in fifty years.  After 9/11 we lived in a culture of fear where many things would be done differently -- the way we travel being the most obvious example.  Before 9/11 we lived in a country where fear of hijacking was minimal, and we would assume hijackers wanted to take the place to a location of their choice.  After 9/11 we understood that the goal was death.  Our heroes became those who managed to crash their plane themselves in the fields, rather than into the terrorists' target.  I know I've had arguments with at least one Boomer over whether or not 9/11 should be memorialized in our culture.  For them, it's not as pivotal a moment.  Their Turning Point had already  happened; 9/11 was awful, but not seminal.  For my generation, however, 9/11 was a Turning Point.  For me, happening at the beginning of my ministry, I feel like it changed my profession, my understanding of the mission and purpose of ministry.  It was a big Turning Point.  But I hadn't lived through JFK.  The biggest cultural moment for me prior to 9/11 was the Challenger explosion. 

These are called "Flashbulb Memories" -- the memories of events that are so strong that we can remember everything about that particular moment.  And unlike all the other 1960s nostalgia we'll be hearing about, JFK's assassination was a Flashbulb Memory moment, as were the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lennon, and the Challenger explosion and September 11th, 2001.

So, Gen X and Millennial friends, we need to get over our cynicism and stop rolling our eyeballs.  This nostalgia and sharing of 50th anniversaries is going to go on for a while.  Probably it'll go until 2019, as we mark the anniversaries of the peace movement, the civil rights movement, etc.  We've got the anniversaries of the assassinations of Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. yet to come. But what we need to do is cut through the surface level, the media level, that we'll be hearing about, and talk to people about what this moment really meant to them, how it changed them, why they continue to focus on it, what it's deeper meaning is.  We need to get past the nostalgia and into the real work of the grief and fear, and the way it continues to shape our country.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ender's Game

I was once a big Orson Scott Card fan.  The number of Orson Scott Card books I own may still outnumber any single other author on the dozens of bookshelves in my home.  I read his works voraciously in college and in my early 20s.  I read the Ender saga, the Alvin Maker series, the Homecoing Saga, and assorted other books and short stories of his.  I recently re-read Ender's Game and still enjoyed it.  At some point in reading his books, however, I suddenly stopped, because I felt like I was reading the same story over and over again -- the same boy messiah saving the human race -- and I disagreed with the theology underpinning it.  But I enjoyed all those stories of his up until that time.  I still do, when I read them.  I recently re-read Ender's Game and found myself wanting to read them all over again, or start reading the later books in the series that I never read, or the Shadow Saga.

But between the time I was the big Orson Scott Card fan and now, I learned a lot about Orson Scott Card's politics, politics I find much more dangerous and objectionable that the issue of his messiah figures.  Orson Scott Card has been very outspoken against same-sex marriage and LGBT people in general, as well as saying some really negative things about President Obama, comparing him to Hitler.  Card was on the board of an organization devoted to opposing same-sex marriage in California. In an op-ed he wrote:
What these dictator-judges do not seem to understand is that their authority extends only as far as people choose to obey them.
How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.
So now Ender's Game is a movie, opening this week, and the old Orson Scott Card fan in me really wants to see it, and the activist in me wants to boycott it.  And there are people calling for a boycott

As I read the arguments against boycott from LGBT-friendly sources, I find many of them full of fallacies.  For example, one writer says:
But I have decided I will go see it in the spirit in which I still read Dickens and Shakespeare, dig into Norse mythology, listen to Wagner.
 The problem with this argument is that Wagner isn't currently able to help promote Nazism by our listening to him now.  Orson Scott Card, however, is still actively campaigning.  Another argument states:
In a world where ethical consumerism is sometimes the best way to get our point across, art is a murky zone. Did you watch Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, or perhaps the queer film Bitter Moon, by director Roman Polanski, the man who raped a 13-year-old? From Mel Gibson, whose hideous anti-Semitic and sexist diatribes are now legendary, to Chris Brown, Cee-Lo Green, O.J. Simpson, Charlie Sheen, Axl Rose, Alec Baldwin, Donna Summer, 50 Cent, Amanda Bynes, and many more, people have committed crimes that range from uttering slurs to rape, battery, and murder.
 Well, actually I've avoided giving any money to Roman Polanski by not seeing any of his films in the theater.  And once I learned of Mel Gibson's anti-semitism I've avoided seeing him in the theater.  Basically, when an artist starts promoting hate, I do try to avoid paying money for that artist's works. 

The best argument for seeing Ender's Game is the argument put forward by the filmmakers and Harrison Ford that says their film is made by a lot of pro-LGBT people and has pro-LGBT themes, and they're going to do a benefit for the LGBT community.  Furthermore, some are saying that no money is going to Orson Scott Card directly from the film, as he sold the rights years ago. 

But a successful Ender's Game does benefit Orson Scott Card, as it will encourage the film industry to make more of his books, particularly those in the Ender Saga, into films.  And Card will make money from those films, as well.  There's just no way that a successful Ender's Game would not be a positive for Orson Scott Card's bottom line.

However, I'm sympathetic to the outreach of Lionsgate to the LGBT community and the way they're distancing the film from Card's views.  And that prompts me to offer a compromise to myself: If I go see Ender's Game, then I will give the amount of my ticket price directly to an organization working for same-sex marriage or liberal politics to offset the gain in Card's pocket, much like offsetting a carbon footprint.  The question, then, however, is whether I continue to do so for any future Card movies, since I arguably contributed to the success that made those films possible, and I would have to say yes.  My hope, however, is by the time another movie got made, we will have won this fight.

So that's my solution for now, although I haven't tossed it past my husband yet, who is also leaning towards an Ender boycott.  Let me know what you all think out there.  How are you handling the question of Ender's Game, if it's a work you, too, enjoyed in the past?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

SUUSI SciFi and Fantasy Recommendations

I had a great time at SUUSI this year leading a workshop on Science Fiction and Fantasy and Religion.  One favorite part of the class was the great reading/viewing list we generated.  I hesitate to some degree to share it with those who weren't part of the class.  On the other hand, it's such a great list of works that others may find engaging.  Please be mindful that this is partly a result of where our particular conversation wandered.  The categories that are short are usually so because they are categories we didn't get to, so they just have my starter items in them.  And yes, there are a couple of things slipped in there that you might not consider SF/Fantasy, but which were a part of our discussion.

Science Fiction and Fantasy and Religion Works
SUUSI 2013
Workshop #152 – Cynthia Landrum

The Nature of God

Avatar (Film)
The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents – Octavia Butler
The Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
Contact – Carl Sagan
Star Trek (TV Series and Films)
Stargate SG-1 and Other Stargate Series and Film (TV Series and Film)
Deathbird Stories – Harlan Ellison
Doctor Who (TV Series)
A Fire Upon the Deep – Vernor Vinge
Various Works - Charles DeLint
The God Engines – John Scalzi

Creation

2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clark
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The Narnia Series – C.S. Lewis
Calculating God – Russell J. Sawyer
Various Works - Charles DeLint

Messiahs and Prophets Real and False (The Chosen One)


The Narnia Series – C.S. Lewis
The Matrix Series (Film)
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
Dune – Frank Herbert
Star Trek (TV Series and Films)
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
Dark Tower Series – Stephen King
The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents – Octavia Butler
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series)
The Hero’s Journey – Joseph Campbell
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Grimm (TV Series)
The Black Cauldron and The Chronicles of Prydain Series- Lloyd Alexander
Heroes (TV Series)

Good and Evil (The Force)

Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
The Wrinkle in Time Series – Madeleine L’Engle
Star Wars Series (Film)
The Golden Compass and the His Dark Materials Series– Philip Pullman
The Matrix Series (Film)
Doctor Who (TV Series)
The Lord of the Rings Series and other works – J.R.R. Tolkein
Various Works – Terry Brooks
Various Works – Terry Goodkind
The Black Cauldron and The Chronicles of Prydain Series- Lloyd Alexander
The Wheel of Time Series – Robert Jordan
Grimm (TV Series)
Stargate SG-1 and Other Stargate Series and Film (TV Series and Film)
Once Upon a Time (TV Series)
Farscape (TV Series)
Goblins (Web Comic)
Dungeons and Dragons (Role Playing Game and Books)
Steel Rose – Kara Dalkey
So You Want to Be a Wizard – Diane Duane
Person of Interest (TV Series)
Dexter (TV Series)

Lilith

True Blood (TV Series) and Sookie Stackhouse series – Charlaine Harris
Lilith’s Brood Series – Octavia Butler
The Narnia Series – C.S. Lewis

Belief & Faith

Star Trek (TV Series and Films)
Contact – Carl Sagan
The Matrix Series (Film)

Afterlife

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series)
Battlestar Galactica (TV Series)
The Narnia Series – C.S. Lewis
Riverworld Series РPhilip Jos̩ Farmer

Apocalypse (Dystopia)

The Matrix Series (Film)
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents – Octavia Butler
Always Coming Home – Ursula K. LeGuin

Ethics (The Prime Directive)

I, Robot & Various Works – Isaac Asimov
The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents – Octavia Butler
Babylon 5 (TV Series)
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Star Trek (TV Series and Films)
Stargate SG-1 and Other Stargate Series and Film (TV Series and Film)
Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clark
Time Machine – H.G. Wells
With Folded Hands – Jack Williamson
Wall-E (Film)
World War Z – Max Brooks
Warm Bodies (Film)
1984 – George Orwell
Shaun of the Dead (Film)
We – Eugene Zamiatin
The Sparrow and Children of God – Maria Doria Russell
Anthony York, Immortal –Andre Norton

Free Will and Fate (Time Travel and Prophecy)

The Matrix Series (Film)
1984 – George Orwell
Gattaca (Film)
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
12 Monkeys (Film)
Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clark
Doctor Who (TV Series)
Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
11/22/63 – Stephen King
Groundhog Day (Film)
Lost (TV Series)

Post-911 Themes and Just War

Battlestar Galactica (TV Series)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling
Enterprise (TV Series)
Doctor Who (TV Series)
Ender’s Game, Xenocide, and Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card
Little Brother – Cory Doctorow

Social Justice

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Avatar (Film)
Planet of the Apes (Film)
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series)
Star Trek (TV Series and Films)
The Maze Runner – James Dashner
Torchwood (TV Series)
The Gate to Women’s Country – Sheri S. Tepper
Various Works - Mercedes Lackey

Agency of Children

A Fistful of Sky – Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Star Trek (TV Series and Films)
Babylon 5 (TV Series)
Doctor Who (TV Series)
Torchwood (TV Series)
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Various Works - Patricia C. Wrede
Various Works - Mercedes Lackey

Mind, Self, and Soul (Do Androids Dream)

The Golden Compass and the His Dark Materials Series– Philip Pullman
Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
I, Robot & Various Works – Isaac Asimov
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Bladerunner (Film) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
Battlestar Galactica (TV Series)

Humanism

Star Trek (TV Series and Films)
Doctor Who (TV Series)

Inherent Worth and Dignity

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Star Wars Series (Film)
Gattaca (Film)

Interdependence
Avatar (Film)
The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K. LeGuin
Ender’s Game, Xenocide, and Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card
Pern Series and Petaybee Series – Anne McCaffrey
Lost (TV Series)
Day After Tomorrow (Film)
Revolution (TV Series)
Waterworld (Film)
The Postman (Film) and The Postman – David Brin
Book of Eli (Film)
Various Works - Mercedes Lackey

Some Additional Works with Religious Themes Mentioned in Class

American Gods and Sandman Series - Neil Gaiman
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. LeGuin
A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
Various Works - Philip Jose Farmer
Various Works - Arthur C. Clark
The Lathe of Heaven and The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. LeGuin
Various Works - Anne McCaffrey
The Darkover Series – Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Vorkosigan Saga and Various Works – Lois McMaster Bujold
The Dazzle of Day – Molly Glass
Twilight Zone and Various Works – Rod Serling
Various Works - Stanislaw Lem
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Tales of Alvin Maker Series – Orson Scott Card

Friday, July 19, 2013

Blogging for Beginners

I'm leading a workshop at SUUSI this year on "Blogging for Beginners."  My mom (herself a former director for on-line learning for a university) pointed out to me that I should have handouts of my PowerPoint slides for the participants.  Handouts for a class about blogging?  That's so low-tech!  But I was trying to decide, indeed, how to share these -- whether to upload the file and share the URL or to e-mail them, or what.  Finally, I thought, "Why not just blog them?  The class is about blogging, after all!"  I remembered that I had found a way to do this once with some web-based application.  Turns out it's even easier now than it was before.

If you're not in the workshop, keep in mind that these are just slides for some basic information and URLs that I thought might be helpful.  It's not everything we'll cover.



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

We Don't Stand for Stand Your Ground

In the wake of the verdict about the Trayvon Martin case, there are a lot of protests going on, and petitions calling for a civil rights case against George Zimmerman. 

With all honesty, I think that George Zimmerman is innocent under the law.  And what we need to do now is channel this energy, this passion, and change those bad laws, state by state.

Michigan is a "Stand Your Ground" state.  There have been rallies and protests going on in Detroit.  What we need to do is get this base mobilized to change these laws.  The Stand Your Ground laws perpetuate and exacerbate an already large problem of racial bias in our sentencing.  In states with Stand Your Ground laws, a new study has shown that whites who kill blacks are more likely to be found to be acting in self-defense than any other racial combination.  It's true in all states, but more so in Stand Your Ground states.

The studies aren't as thorough as they could be -- they don't compare home-invasion with non-home-invasion cases, for example. 

Even if Stand Your Ground doesn't perpetuate racism, it's still a bad law, however.  What we've basically been slowly instituting in this country is a system of shoot first and ask questions later; a system of bring a gun to a fist fight; and a system where guilt and innocence is decided by who is the fastest, quickest draw in the West, North, or South (not so much the East, which has fewer states with these laws).  In this system, the innocent person is the one with the gun.  The innocent person is the last person standing.

In this system we have, George Zimmerman was the innocent person -- he was the scared person with the gun, and the gun is the decider. 

We need to create a culture wherein it is not only acceptable, but better, to walk away from a fight.  We need to teach people to run away if they have the option of running away.  Stand Your Ground is a law that says even if you have the option of running away, you have the option to stay and take a life instead.  That's a bad decision.  It's a bad law.  Lethal force by civilians should always be left for where there's no alternative.  It shouldn't be a choice.

But we have the power to repeal these laws.  It'll take effort.  It will take a movement.  But I believe it can be done in Florida, and it can be done here.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest

Yesterday at UU Planet, Peter Bowden wrote about how some churches were guilty of ignoring the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.  He said, "If it is Summer, that’s no excuse.   CLERGY, if you serve a congregation you are responsible for making sure this happens while you’re on Summer vacation."

I don't have a plan for how such things will be handled when I'm on vacation or study leave.  I was fortunate to be up and hear the news.  And, upon hearing it, decided that I needed to go to church, and after a little delay, realized that I needed to do something to address the verdict in the worship service, even though the worship service wasn't my responsibility directly that way.  Bowden is right, that it's always our responsibility, even when on summer vacation (or study leave).  We are responsible for the worship of the congregation, even when we're on leave.

There's a question about where to draw the line in terms of current events that need to be responded to.  It's there somewhere between 9/11, where obviously one does, and the smallest news event you can think of on the other side, where it's not a necessity.  The Trayvon Martin case is somewhere between 9/11 and nothing big, surely.  Perhaps some could make the case that for their congregation, it wasn't a necessity.  But you never know who may come through your doors looking for answers or comfort or to give voice to their anger.  I know it was the right thing for many in my congregation that I did show up on a study leave week to lead the congregation in prayer.

Here is, roughly, what I said, as I reconstruct it from my notes I made before the service:

Today many of us may have come here with the recent news of the not guilty verdict in the case of George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin.  We may be experiencing a wide variety of emotions in relationship to the news.  We may be angry, or sorrowful. Some of us may feel relieved, or even glad.  Some of us may simply feel confused.

We have a justice system in our country where the burden of proof is on the prosecution.  This may well be a case of self-defense. 

But we also have a cultural system in this country where a young Black man is assumed to be a threat.

This may be justice for George Zimmerman.

And yet, at the same time, there is no justice today for Trayvon Martin's death, and a young man has still died who should have had a safe walk home.

It is for him today that I ask a time of silence, reflection, prayer, or thought as we listen to "Ella's Song" by Sweet Honey in the Rock.


Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.

Blessed be, and Amen.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Last Straw and the #Truth

It seems I still have more to say on this issue, so those who are tired of it already may want to just close this post now and avoid the next few.  I promise to move on to another subject soon, but having NOT written about this for ten years of ministry, I've built up a list of things to say.  And it seems that there is a segment of people who have been yearning for someone to write about this. 

So what was the straw, the final thing that made me break my silence?  I think it was the "fat-shaming professor," Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico, who tweeted, "Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth."

For the record, having written an M.A. thesis, a D.Min. thesis, and something over 300 sermons, I'm pretty sure that's not the #truth.  But I was raised by a fat man with a Ed.D.  He always told me what the hardest thing about finishing a dissertation was, and it wasn't his weight, it was having his daughter born during the dissertation writing.  I know a bit about what it takes to finish a dissertation--I was born into that legacy.

It's not that I was so angry over what Prof. Geoffrey Miller said, though.  Actually, it was a relief to have somebody say it so starkly, when usually it's never said aloud to our faces.  The #truth was finally out in the open, and the #truth was that fat prejudice does keep us from getting jobs.  And it's not because our fat makes us unable to get the job done, it's because of prejudice.  But it gave me the opportunity to talk about the fact that this kind of prejudice is common for us, and does affect us, and in ways that are not fair and have nothing to do with our ability. 

In ministry, I've known all along that while weight doesn't really affect my ability to do my job, it affected my ability to get a job.  I was told this by people in positions where they would know.  I have no doubt that past and present settlement directors would agree that fat ministers have a harder time getting asked to interview.  And they would tell you this in very kind ways -- they're not to blame, and I certainly don't blame them for the situation, and I'm appreciative when they see the situation.  And I'm not trying to say that other people don't have prejudice against them, or that this struggle is harder than other struggles.  I do say that many isms we are confronting openly, and this one we're not.  Whether that makes it harder, I can't say, I can only say that it makes it more hidden, which is what I'm trying now to do something about.

A couple examples from my own life about being fat and trying to get a call to a congregation may serve to illustrate.

During my seminary years, I was in a room with a bunch of seminarians and a minister who was with us because he was looking around for a new associate minister.  I was soon to graduate, and looking for just such a job.  And yet, no matter how many times I tried to inject myself into the conversation, I couldn't get this minister's attention.  I felt invisible.  We all feel invisible at times, but I was told later by another colleague that this wasn't a big surprise in this case, and that it was likely about weight.  I didn't put the weight interpretation on it initially; my initial interpretation was that this guy was just a jerk.  The weight interpretation was given to me later by a person who was in a position to know.

Another example: In a pre-candidating weekend, I was asked to preach at a neutral pulpit in a mid-sized church.  The search committee of the small church I was pre-candidating for said to me, "Your pulpit presence is so large.  Do you think that could work in a smaller church?"  Now, mind you, I've now been preaching successfully in small churches for over a decade.  The comment was, at first, baffling.  Should I have been somehow more meek in the pulpit?  Made eye contact with fewer people?  Gestured as if the room was smaller?  But then it seemed a clear interpretation emerged.  I do think that this comment was not so much about size of the congregation as it was about size of the minister.  Usually it's not a problem--in any size church--for the minister to hold the attention of the entire congregation during the sermon.

All of these little things could not be about weight.  They could be about other issues.  That congregation could have been looking for a meek pulpit presence.  Any one incident can be picked apart and explained by other reasoning.  I've heard African-American ministers tell me that this is something that happens to them often, that they'll tell about an incident of racism, and the white listeners will want to pick apart the incident and analyze it and get to decide for themselves whether or not it was an incident of racism, rather than just accept the experience of the teller.  I can't prove to you these were about size.  I can't prove that size was a factor in any of the congregations that chose not to interview me, either.  I just know that overall fat ministers have a harder time in settlement than average.  That's the #truth.

In our society, everyone is judged on their looks.  And ministry, for all that we are a liberal denomination, is a field where the image is part of the job process.  There's a degree to which looking particularly "ministerial" is an asset in this profession, and not looking like the image of a minister is a detriment.  And "fat" is not part of what people's internal image when they think "minister."  This is not the only trait people carry on their bodies that has this struggle, to be sure.  But it's one we're not confronting actively.  It's not a part of the "Beyond Categorical Thinking" discussion, to my knowledge (although it's been so long, I could be entirely wrong here).  I've never seen a workshop or discussion where people were working on getting over their fat prejudice in the process of hiring a minister.

The fat-shaming professor has been rebuked.  The school has said it's not their policy.  Academics everywhere are distancing themselves from him and from his opinion.  And yet it is the #truth that sometimes we still need not apply, because we will not be chosen.

The other side of this, and it would be remiss of me not to say this, is that sometimes a congregation doesn't let weight stop them from picking a good minister.  While I've never had a congregation where weight wasn't raised as an issue with me at all, in my current congregation the times have been few and far between.  This congregation I'm in treats me like my ministry is valued, and I really can't say enough what a great group of people they are.  I feel like here there's a clear understanding that my worth as minister isn't measured by the scale on my floor.  #truth

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Big Issue Simplified

A lot gets projected onto fat people.  And a lot gets projected onto people when they talk about fat.  So here's the nutshell version of what I was trying to say in my last post:
  1. Be nicer to fat people.  Shaming people is not nice. 
  2. Shaming fat people is also not productive and helpful.  Truly.  Not.  Helpful.
  3. Judge not.  Period.   Really.  Stop judging other people. 
  4. Let go of some of the stereotypes you associate with fatness.  Like many stereotypes, you can find examples where they seem true, but they aren't always true.  Particularly look at your assumptions about willpower and laziness, but there are others you should challenge and let go of, as well.
  5. Fat is complicated, and varied, so avoid assuming that everyone can be fixed by your personal favorite simple solution or that your personal diagnosis or experience fits everyone, whether it is "diet and exercise," "calories in vs. calories out," "emotional eating," "addiction," or "willpower."  Even if you're someone who has struggled with this issue, don't assume that everyone's struggle is like your struggle. And if you haven't struggled with it, don't assume that because you  haven't found it a struggle that it is a simple issue. 
  6. You may think that what needs to change is the other person's fat.  They might need to change, but that's their decision and their business, not yours.  What you need to change is how you treat people, if you're not treating them with kindness and understanding.  In other words, what I said in #1.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Big Issue

I’ve preached and blogged on a number of justice-related subjects over the dozen years that I’ve been in ministry. I’ve written about feminism, racism, classism, and homophobia. I’ve written about immigration and war and reproductive freedom and prison reform. I’ve written about religious intolerance and all sorts of types of bigotry. But there’s one issue I’ve always avoided writing about. I used it as a one-sentence illustration of a different issue once, but only, I think, once.

There are some prejudices that most of our society knows are wrong. Most people in our society know that racism is wrong, although there is still plenty of racism out there. And then there are issues that as a society we’re divided on, like homophobia, but where the liberal circles I’m in have a clear understanding that it’s wrong. But there are some prejudices that are still deemed completely acceptable. Those can be hard to write about, harder to speak up about, and hardest to confront when they’re clearly your issue to deal with. For the dozen years I’ve been in ministry, and all the years in the pews before that, I’ve never once heard a sermon on this issue. A Google search on “Unitarian sermon” plus various wordings of this issue turns up nothing. It's mentioned about once on the UUA's website.  I’ve only once (maybe twice) heard a colleague say that they were speaking about this issue. I’ve never read a UU blog post on this issue. And it’s only in the last six months or so that I’ve seen some individual Facebook posts by a handful of people indicating that they’re aware of this issue and sympathetic. And I’ve seen more than that which were outright insulting and negative. I was once told that there were only a handful of “issues” that ministers have that made it difficult for them to get jobs, and this was among them; the others were being transgender and being physically disabled. It’s an issue that’s come up as a complaint about me in almost every church I’ve been the minister at.

So I’m finally coming out of the fat closet today. You knew I was in there, anyway, because I carry this issue on my body. But I don’t talk about it, I don’t do advocacy work about it, and I don’t write about it or preach about it. And I’m starting to change that.

First of all, I want to say this: shaming is bad. It is wrong to shame people. People shame fat people all the time, and they seem to feel good and virtuous about it. The argument is that “Fat is unhealthy. My shaming them will help them to stop this unhealthy behavior.” Without even addressing the “fat is unhealthy” statement, this is wrong on two other levels: shaming does not help people. And even if shaming someone did change that person’s behavior, that does not justify the shaming. The shaming is still wrong. Your fat jokes are not justified by your “concern” for my health. Period.

Don't think fat shaming exists?  Heck, people not only do it, and justify it, they even recommend it.  And the result of all the fat jokes and insults has not been a thinner America.  The result is people who feel hurt, wounded, devalued, and debased.  The result is depression and self-loathing.  And do you know what a major side-effect of depression and self-loathing is?  Weight gain.  Your shame does not help the problem; it compounds it.

Secondly, people stereotype fat people with a lot of other assumptions unfairly. Fat people are considered lazy, first of all, and lacking willpower. Here’s a great example from a University of New Mexico professor who tweeted: “Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.”

The science of weight loss is rapidly attacking the “willpower” myth. Fat people do not lack willpower. Lack of willpower is not why we are fat, and, even if it was, it wouldn’t mean that this lack of willpower occurred anywhere else in our life.

As for lazy, there are numerous other explanations for why fat people don’t exercise, when it is true, which it often isn't. Often there are other physical problems that have led to weight gain, and sometimes these also make exercise difficult. In my case, for example, I broke my leg very badly one year and then the next year broke my back. Since these two bad breaks, most forms of exercise became very painful. An hour of an exercise that taxed my back would be followed by two days laying on my back unable to move from back pain. And then as the weight has gone on, those problems have been compounded.  People assume I have trouble walking and with my back because I'm fat.  The fat has not made it easier, but the causality is actually reversed.  I gained weight because I have trouble walking and with my back.

Beyond other existing physical problems, fat people are hampered by the fact that a lot of gym equipment isn’t well-suited for our bodies. And then, there’s the shaming. Yes, it comes back to that again.  Ever been a fat person at a gym? Ever seen one? Did people stare? Did they laugh or snicker? Did people turn their heads in disgust? Were they outright rude? I’ve heard all these things and more from fat friends about their trips to the gym. Do you want to go somewhere where you are laughed at and insulted and made to feel like crap? Would you consider avoiding such a place? Again, people justify their fat shaming as acceptable because a fat person is unhealthy. Yet when a fat person does make an attempt to exercise, the shaming doubles.

And if you think the scorn heaped upon the fat person at the gym is bad, just imagine the fat person who has the nerve to fly on an airplane. 

The truth is, fat is a complex issue that we’re only beginning to understand scientifically. Only 15% of diets are successful right now. We’re learning that the body works to put back on weight after it has lost it. Once your body has lost weight, it learns to use calories much more efficiently, in the attempt to put back on the weight. A person who has never dieted can consume more calories to maintain weight than a person who has dieted. We’re also learning that there are dozens of genetic variations associated with body size. We’re learning that our bodies’ response to artificial sweeteners is much more complex than the “zero calories” they were sold to us as being.  The moral here is that even when fat people have been trying to make a healthy switch, it's not always as simple as it seems.  Fat is a complex issue, and dieting is more complex than simply "calories in, calories out."

I think every fat person in this society has felt the pain of thousands of microaggressions.  We get them every time we open a magazine or turn on the television to find another "hilarious" TV show making yet another fat joke.  This is liveable -- we live with it constantly.  But what needs to change is how we respond to individuals in our lives -- our parents, children, siblings, relatives, friends, coworkers.  What needs to change is how we respond in our liberal religious communities as well.  So far, my experience of our response has been that we see fat people among us as an "issue" to be addressed, and the mode for addressing it is to complain or shame.  How could our response be different?

When I was a new minister, a complaint came to my committee on ministry, and the complaint was that I was fat.  I think there were some surrounding words about how this would make the congregation look bad, because there were negative stereotypes about fat people.  "There are positive stereotypes, too," I responded.  "What are they?" I was asked, as I recall.  I talked about how fat people are seen as "jolly" (i.e. Santa), as goddess-like (when female), as friendly and approachable.  Fat people being seen as asexual could even been a benefit in the ministry, arguably.  All of these "positive" stereotypes are still stereotypes and no more real than the negative ones, of course.  But mostly, I said, in seeing a fat minister, other fat people might see themselves as welcomed, as valued, and as acceptable to our community. 

That's the vision I hold out -- fat people could walk into your sanctuary and know instantly that they are welcomed in your church.  What would it take to make that a reality?  What signals might be sending the opposite message?  How can they be addressed?  It's time for more Unitarian Universalists to take up this question -- to preach it, to teach it, and to live it.