Monday, November 16, 2009
All of which is immensely laudable. Worthy, indeed.
Which is why this is so shocking.
What it boils down to is a threat; if the city grants equal marriage rights, the church will cease providing charitable services.
It's their privilege, of course. But it's morally indefensible. It's using the poor, sick, indigent and orphaned as hostages.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Well, murder is wrong. The murder of Pouillon is a reprehensible act. The fact that I disagree with his views about abortion doesn't change the reprehensibility of his murder.
But the blogosphere on the left didn't just ignore this. It got addressed at DailyKos, where the murder was decried, and decried again when the facts trickled out that it wasn't a politically-unrelated killing. Front-paged, too. I suspect that the news of the killing didn't spread as widely--Pouillon was a relative unknown, while Tiller had a far higher profile and people had been targeting him for a long time. The analogy breaks down, the cases are only loosely similar. I've seen nothing (which may only mean that I've not seen it) suggesting that this killer was associated with pro-choice groups or attended a church or participated in some other group that demonized Pouillon and talked about how good it would be if he were to be dead.
That still doesn't bear on the murder of Pouillon--only on the larger politics and newsworthiness of the case.
Harlan James Drake, Pouillon's murderer, seems to have targeted people he held grudges against--the other person he killed, Mike Fuoss, ran a gravel pit. The police caught up with Drake as he was--the police believe--he was on his way to kill a third individual he had some grudge against.
It's a damned shame. James Pouillon was, from all reports I can find now, steadfast in his beliefs, and equally a gentle, non-violent man.
I think that the case hasn't been addressed much because it's lower profile and murkier; Pouillon was--it appears--killed because the images he protested with offended Drake. That's not an excuse--murdering people because they show pictures that offend isn't tolerable, nor acceptable, explicable, or reasonable. But it's not clear that Drake was on some sort of crusade against anti-abortion protesters. And it's usually an error to leap off into a posting when the facts aren't available or clear. That's the sort of thing people did when McVeigh bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City--started insisting that this must have been an attack by anti-American Muslims....
None of which makes Pouillon's murder any less regrettable.
Just that presumptive politicizing of murders is... highly inflammatory, and socially unwise.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
The mere notion that significant (or at least very noisy, very publicly-attended parts) of a political movement would display utterly hysterical, hide the children (literally) behavior because the president was going to speak to school children is, frankly embarrassing. I'll admit that I've been annoyed, disgusted, shocked, stunned, appalled and revolted by both actions and political performances of the GOP in the last decade. But I have never run to cover the eyes and ears of my now teenaged sons when any politician spoke publicly.
In fact, on occasions I made sure that my sons listened to a speech by George W. Bush, so that they could hear him, and so that we could talk about what he said, what it meant, what it implied... and whether that was objectionable or not.
No sheets were soiled. No hysteria about protecting children from hearing words dripping from demonic lips.
I'm embarrassed for the GOP. I recall having intelligent conversations about policy over the political divide with my grandparents--but I know for certain that they'd have been utterly mortified by the shameful performance by the standard-bearers of their party now. So yellow, so terrified of their own imagined shadows that a speech by a president had to be avoided? The cartoons should be showing an elephant cowering on a tabletop, avoiding a mouse.
Just so... embarrassing.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Saturday, August 08, 2009
A little context and background.
I grew up UU--my parents joined a congregation when I was little, just a couple years after the consolidation. We only were active until I was about 10--and then we moved overseas. So I had the tattoos--but didn't have the LRY experience, and didn't return to formal involvement for almost 30 years. I grew up in a happily agnostic, very Humanist home. Plenty of theist family friends, and extended family--but not at home. The son of a mechanical engineer and rocket scientist... a pretty solidly scientific world view was something I absorbed.
Ministry will be my third career. I've been a writer and editor, and a full-time, at-home father and homeschooling parent (it's so fun to be asked why we homeschool, and to say "for religious reasons," since it usually triggers complete brain meltdown that's fun to watch...). I'm still doing that. I will be at least until I'm done with my M.Div and... I think I might be done before I get into a pulpit.
I'd been a deeply involved member of the congregation for years before my call. I'd been on our search committee--7.5 years ago now--and knew, as well as any lay person's likely to, what professional ministry work demanded, and looked like. I'd never even thought about doing it, nor had any impulse toward it. After all, I knew enough to know better. During search, a number of people had urged the idea on me--but they did the same to my co-chair, and we both felt it was panic; desperation, fear of some outsider. The fact that people liked it when we preached--once, or maybe twice, in a year... well, so what? Once a year's not that hard.... But do it regularly--and all the rest? Crazy.
I also dress pretty casually, given my options. Jeans, t-shirt. I like living in So. Cal, and wasn't looking to find reasons to move. I'm a night owl. Etc.
So... three years ago, I was my last year on the board of trustees. I'd been president, led the congregation though a couple big things, including a major governance revision and shrinking the board down to something sane... and at last, I was out of the presidency. For the first, time, I got to go to General Assembly (Portland, for anyone trying to place this) without feeling like I had to go and attend all sorts of things for the congregation's benefit. This was going to just be going to attend interesting lectures, visit with people... have fun. My beloved agreed to go--leave the kids in the care of our goddaughter--mostly because it was Portland, a city she loves.
We registered... and then dawdled on hotel reservations. Silly of us.
So nothing in the downtown was available, and the hotels for the convention had been full for ages... and our hotel ended up being well out of town, up on the Columbia, near the end of the Yellow Line (blessings on a city with real, working public transportation). Thursday night, we hopped on the train and my sweetheart -- not a night owl -- promptly fell asleep against me. There I was, the only person awake in the entire car, with at least 20 minutes to kill. So I started flipping through the catalog. Since I had come for my own pleasure, I hadn't planned it out. I was deciding what to do... when I felt like it.
So I started reading. What might be fun, interesting?
As I flipped pages, I read session titles... and read those that might be appealing. I flipped a page and read So, You're Thinking Of Becoming A UU Minister... -- and heard my own voice, in my head... but very clearly and distinctly (a quite odd experience)... "You know, I could do that, and I'd never have to think about it again."
Now, hearing voices--even your own--is disturbing.
But remember, I was a writer and editor. Words count, and I'm acutely aware of meaning, ambiguity and nuance.
The voice part was disturbing; that was strange... but "again" just threw me into a spin. Again says that something has happened before, and is happening... again. Remember, I had not thought about it. Not considered it. Smiled nicely at anyone crazy enough to suggest it, and moved away quickly from the lunatic.
We arrived at the end of the line and got off the train. I allowed my partner a few minutes walk in cool air--most of the way back to the hotel--before saying anything about the fact that the world had turned upside down and inside out while she'd been sleeping. The conversation went more or less like this;
"Uh, there's this session that I think I... uh... ought to go to..."
"Oh, good." (as in, that's nice.)
"About becoming a minister."
(brief pause--and these words are a verbatim report...)
"Uh, maybe your next wife--because I'm not sure I'm cut out to be a minister's wife."
Oh. Not only was I hearing voices and having incredibly disturbing experiences, I was being told that my life was probably going to get run through the chipper-shredder, just for starters.
She fell asleep easily when we got to the room. I usually have no trouble sleeping--and had trouble falling asleep. I usually find that problems are much more manageable when I sleep on them, too. I woke, and still felt like I had a cinder block in my stomach. My beloved was by now amused. Not sure about this whole minister thing, but entertained to see me so incredibly wound up and off-center.
"I think you should go to that session," she told me, and we headed in to G.A.
Of course, it wasn't that day--it was the next day. So I had a day to squirm on the meathook... and I have no idea what session I attended. I probably have some notes, somewhere--it would be interesting to see what I didn't absorb....
As I came out of the session and up the hall, I spotted her coming out of one room and heading my way--and our minister came out of another, and joined her and the two of them chatted as they came my way. When we met up, it turned out that our minister had skipped breakfast to get to something before G.A. started, and was suffering a blood sugar slide... and so I saw my opportunity; I went into search committee/board member mode and took her to go get an early lunch. We could talk about the annual meeting, the elected officers, the budget... stuff outside of my issue and distress. Yay! My dear smiled at us and went off to whatever she had next on her schedule.
Off we went. And all was well.
Until 10 minutes into the actual meal.
Suddenly, she looked at me and asked "So, are you going to go to seminary, or what?" And fortunately, my mouth was empty, so I didn't do a spit-take. But I think my jaw dropped, and I felt like checking my forehead to see if there was a mark.... (I knew my partner wouldn't have said a word, so it never even crossed my mind.)
So I spilled what was going on--and she was amused. She'd simply been asking, because she'd assumed for years that it was on my mind, that I knew, felt a call... and must be thinking about it. She was surprised I hadn't been and found it funny. So we talked for a few minutes.
And then--thankfully--someone, a stranger, walked up and asked if he could join us. I was off the hook!
Alas, it turned out he was a minister, and that our minister knew him, and knew his story and... so we went back to the conversation, now with a new acquaintance as part of it. Squirm. Mind you, I'm still completely unsure about this--highly dubious, and half-convinced that this insanity will shatter my family, end my marriage and who knows what else. I'm not looking for approval and assurance. I'm looking for the way out. I'm looking to spot--and grab--the brass ring.
Fortunately, a few minutes later, she had a meeting to get to... so she left, I made my apologies, and I fled that nightmare conversation. Now, wandering through the exhibit hall... the seminary booths leered at me. I was pretty sure they hadn't been there before--I'd never seen them at other G.A.s and I hadn't noticed them the previous day. So I left the hall....
I've no idea what the next 24 hours were like, or what I did. All I recall is that after lunch the next day, the session finally was going to happen.
I went. I was the first person in the room. The presenters weren't there, yet. So I left... wandered around... got a drink... came back and was the second person into the room--someone entered just before me, so I couldn't just leave. Slowly people trickled in, avoiding each other's eyes, wincing when they saw--and were seen--by someone they knew. Phrases like "Don't can't tell so-and-so I was here" were heard more than once.
I sat through the session. Unusually, for me, I had nothing to say. No questions. I was listening for the thing that would tell me, "No, I don't have to do this." There were things I heard that might have been killers a couple years before... but not now. Nothing. David Pettee offered--among other things--a description of various categories of calls and call stories; that was the only hopeful thing... I didn't hear mine.
I left at the end, wandered past the exhibits, and somehow collecting packets of information from a number of seminaries.
I happened to run into David the next morning, and mentioned that I'd been at the session, and hadn't heard my call listed. So he asked me to briefly describe it.
"You want the short, sound bite version, right?"
"Well, I'd call it the Alien Call; I didn't know it was there, and all the sudden it ripped its way out of my chest, and looked me in the face."
David recoiled very slightly, though he managed not to look perturbed, and said something like "Well, I think you need to think about that..." and moved on.
So... we went home. I discovered that I was fine--as long as I was busy with something that demanded my attention. Educational work for the kids, fine. Committee and board meetings, great. The only problem was that any time--and every time--that I was alone with myself, "it" leaped into my awareness. Driving. Showering. Doing household chores. Driving home from meetings....
So I capitulated. I started actively looking for a seminary.
And for a moment, I thought that I'd found the brass ring. Remember, I'm a full-time parent. Homeschooling. There aren't any seminaries close by that would knowingly let a UU in classes--maybe on campus. There's one that was suggested in the L.A. basin, but that's a two hour (plus traffic) drive, one way. The notion of leaving two teenaged boys alone from very early Wednesday morning until late Thursday -- their mother's a consultant and frequently travels on business; her work week is very unpredictable much in advance... and that travel is mandatory; it's how we eat... -- didn't seem reasonable.
Fortunately, by this time, she'd decided that I ought to go ahead with this... though she retained real reservations about it, come the day that it became a reality. But going to school, she could handle.
But there wasn't one... and the idea of suggesting that we should pack up the family and move so I could be close to a seminary sounded like insanity.
And then I discovered that Meadville Lombard had a program that would allow me to do most of the study and work at home--I'd just have to go and live in Chicago for about three weeks... in January, each year, for how ever many years it took to complete the degree. That, at least, was something that could be arranged for.
I began to mention it to friends--who all seemed to think it made sense to them... which made me wonder why they were at ease and not surprised, and I was. I called and told my father what I was going to do, and got a solid and affirmative response; he thought it a fine idea. Everyone else seemed to think so--and I was still pretty freaked out.
So I applied and hurried like crazy to make the end of September deadline for everything to be complete, including the interview.
And found myself in Chicago, the next January, walking into an incredibly cold wind--while it was flirting with 80 degrees back home--when I suddenly realized that David Pettee had listed my call's category. It was just one that, having grown up as I did, I didn't connect with, or really have the language for.
I've no idea what to make of it. I've made peace with it. I'm enjoying the work--I'm taking an insane class load (that's official, as expressed by both other students and professors) as a "part-time" student with a family and life here at home. I'm nearly getting solid As... having skated through my B.A. with B- and C+ grades. I'm loading myself up with other, non-academic work, and I'm happy... and productive.
But it's very much a sense of being compelled.
I could have chosen otherwise. But I'll admit that the experience was so unsettling that the idea that it might come back and need to really get my attention was more than enough to persuade me that I didn't want to find out.
"Again" is not something I want. Once was enough.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
So I was rather shocked to find that there was a coalition of people hostile to the change. I'll have to explore (please, feel free to explain your part if you're part of it) those reasons.
Two I've heard that I'll admit that I dismiss is that "they're not broken" (one doesn't only address things that need to be "repaired") and that changing them would create chaos for various R.E. people and somehow violate the wonderful Sources Cantata (which was performed at the PSWD D.A. and is wonderful). Those are crappy reasons for embracing creedalism. If that's where we're going, fine--that should be argued for in public.
One of the arguments I'd put forth for a serious change is that the Principles themselves have started to be treated like a creed by some--hurling some principle at another, citing it as being violated, and accusing the violator of being a bad UU because of it. If that's not creedal thought and behavior, I'm not sure what is.
The words aren't the essence. The essence is what we're about, and to my mind, ought to be expressed and re-expressed regularly so that we avoid mistaking the container for the contents.
The support of nearly half of the voting delegates (tangent: where were the others on such a major issue?) for the change makes clear to me that a change is coming, and soon. Of course, the bylaws forbid it being brought back up for two years. But I suspect that will sorely test our beloved moderator's insight, grace, and good will. Would a proposal to amend only one section of Article II qualify as bringing the same issue up? Given the fervent call (supported by the Youth and Young Adults) for the statement of inclusion in place of the statement on non-discrimination, I would hope to see that change sooner, rather than later.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Berry Street Essay -- awesome. The start as a head fake, and then... Paul Rasor taught us the mathematics of oneness. And the formal response was as powerful.
Opening Plenary -- Gini Courter, as usual, added to her fan base. And they haven't even seen her herd cats in a full plenary session yet. Sinkford spoke movingly--very, very movingly. And yes, he spoke to Iran, too. Not that I have any fantasy that Iran's leaders give a damn what the head of a small religious community in the USA thinks.
Opening worship -- lovely. Wonderful.
What you can see streamed, watch.
A few hours of sleep call...
Friday, June 19, 2009
Reading more of his work, it's easy to find it very relevant.
The Summer (published 1973)
The trustees of the Garden
From the depths of the confine
send the tired passer of the route
a green tinted kiss.
On the wide shoulders of the breeze
slowly dance the seeds of a new fragrance.
And what would it be
The fruit of the grown tree
So that the birds are spared
from the defined lines of the cage?
By Ahmad Shamlou
Translation: Maryam Dilmaghani
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Many titles, one heart.I'm struck by all the titles--terms of address--I bear, or have borne. They serve the needs and lips of others, and I'm fine with all of them.
Many objectives, one task.
All serving hands are these.
Back to work.
Just, as the old joke has it, don't call me late for dinner.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Religious marriage is not a right. Religious communities are not arms of the state. The only marriage that the state acknowledges are civil marriages. Religious marriage is only accepted where it has been performed lawfully--meaning that the marriage license granted by the state has been duly exercised and signed, and delivered to the state. In other words, where a clergy member has acted as an agent of the state. But the same clergy member could perform a marriage ceremony and--bereft of the license--the state will not accept and acknowledge the wedding as legal. The state merely allows a member of the clergy to perform lawful--civil--marriages.
The clergy person is not a state employee.
The clergy person is providing a religious service. And because of the Constitution's First Amendment, this is a highly protected thing.
As a result, no one can oblige the clergy to perform any particular marriage.
Thus the exemption clause in the law legalizing same sex marriage in New Hampshire was utterly redundant. That's not a big deal, really.
Only some people would like to insist that this exemption should be very broad--and permit religious objection to legally justify acts of bigotry that are not religious in character. This, in fact, is urged by Thomas Berg, in The Christian Century, in an article titled Gay Marriage; A threat to religious liberty? What's most disturbing is that Mr. Berg teaches law.
He suggests that florists and photographers, for example, should be able to refuse to serve same sex couples, because of religious objections to same sex marriage. Presumably this extends to caterers and others... which leads to the obvious question; how is this any different from being able to decline to serve blacks or other groups--so long as one avers a sincere religious belief that to do so is contrary to one's religion? Cry race mixing.... He insists that it's somehow different.
But one can support same-sex marriage and acknowledge that there has been bigotry against gays and lesbians without labeling all traditionalist believers as bigots or equating the discriminatory treatment of gays with America's unique legacy of race discrimination, which includes slavery and a bloody Civil War and led to three landmark constitutional amendments. That history has led us to penalize race discrimination in virtually every context, with few conscience exemptions.But one can? The justification for enforcing equal legal rights for black Americans is not that they are entitled to them because hundreds of thousands died in that cause in the Civil War. The justification is that every last one of us has the same fundamental and inviolable rights as every other. The only time that the state gets to weigh rights is where rights conflict.
So, what's protected?
Your thoughts are. Your speech is. You can say what you like--unless it falls into that very narrow category of speech that is legitimately seen as endangering someone else (my right to flap my lips isn't as weighty as your right to not be injured or killed). Your right to practice your religion is. Your right to not practice any particular religion, or any religion at all, is also protected.
But one cannot take one's anti-Catholic opinions and refuse to rent to a Catholic, any more than one can take one's bigoted views and refuse to sell a home to a Jew, or refuse to feed a black family in a restaurant because they're black.
But Berg is suggesting that one ought to be able to refuse to serve gays and lesbians getting married, to refuse to do business with them, because one claims that one has religious objections to same sex marriage. Logically, why would this not also oblige and permit those with such religious views to refuse to serve them at all?
But beyond that, why should one be permitted legally to take one's religious views into the marketplace as grounds for refusing to deal with another party? This requires a good--solid--legal justification, and one that is generalizable, not merely homophobic (just as racist justifications were rejected).
Face it, selling flowers is not a religious service. Neither is taking photographs. Nor is providing food.
The First Amendment bars Congress from establishing religion, and from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
When providing drugs (pharmacy), selling flowers, photographic services, housing and feeding people can be described as a distinctly religious practice, perhaps the Court will need to decide which rights in conflict take precedent. But in the meantime, the notion that there is a religious exemption for non-religious services and providing goods to others is simply nonsense. Wanting to protect one's bigotry doesn't make it constitutional, or legal. And indulging in sophistry to try to suggest it is is shameful.
Monday, June 01, 2009
Justice, of course, is the last thing that happened. What happened was first degree murder. Cold blooded, evil. The planned killing of someone who faced an ongoing ethical challenge and refused to embrace a simplistic answer, of someone who did not demonize those who disagreed with him.
In a church.
During a worship service.
Those who fed and fueled this murder did so, fanning the flames of hate and violence. Radio Rwanda didn't kill Tutsis--but they urged it, encouraged it, and approved of it. It's as much their fault as it was those wielding machetes.
And it's clear that those like O'Reilly and Limbaugh and Operation Rescue and the rest are as culpable in this murder as Radio Rwanda was of genocide.
They've talked about Tiller and provided information about Tiller and demonized him in the most outrageous ways, and to pretend that they didn't think that this could be--would be--the result is nothing but an attempt to delude the rest of us (and themselves).
If there's any justice for Tiller, it will be that people like Randall Terry and Bill O'Reilly have lives where they need someone like Tiller, and don't have him.
As for Tiller's murderer, I hope he gets what McVeigh should have gotten--life in a gray concrete cell; decades of looking in a mirror with the conviction of murderer stamped on them by society--and then to be forgotten.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Those who've wrestled with ethics are aware that it's not a simple or easy topic. Even in the abstract it's slippery. Applied to reality, it seems like the best rule is that if it seems clear cut and obvious, it's probably not.
The challenge of eating ethically means that one's first got to decide what ethical means and includes in this case. And one needs to be wary of the notion that perhaps there's One True Ethical Answer.
My own answer is that ethics means you do the best you can, based on the information available to you when you have to make a decision. "Can" needs to be monitored closely, lest it become an excuse for laziness--it refers to ability, not to feeling like it.
I know others who are engaged with the issue of ethical eating. I have vegan and vegetarian friends and colleagues who either do--or do not--try to push their dietary beliefs. A few may be eating what they are for religious reasons, and others for health reasons, and some simply because they find eating meat icky (my beloved used to work with a vegetarian woman who chain-smoked, lived in a dome house, married a Marine, and disliked vegetables. I don't assume I know why people do most things that they do, usually. Often, our answers are complex and nuanced, even to ourselves). Most do so for ethical reasons.
I know people who eat... according to all kinds of rules. Some who are gluten intolerant, some who are allergic to some food or another (or several). Myself, I've had to give up corn--in any form--because it causes a nasty and painful case of eczema.
Our tradition is to hold a large Thanksgiving for family, friends and a wider circle of people... and that has meant, at times, some serious food labeling so that people know what they can or should eat.
It would be unethical to force or deceive people into eating things that cause them physical harm or distress. That's obvious when it's physical distress, but I think it's generally true as well for emotional distress as well. It's none of my business when a vegetarian decides to lapse and have a small slice of the smoked turkey--but it would be incredibly arrogant, and unethical, for me to intentionally slip them some disguised meat in a dish they thought was "safe."
But there are many more ethical issues to consider. Believing that working conditions should be safe and humane, and that workers should be paid a living wage--as I do--what does that mean when I buy food that's inexpensive? Does that mean that someone is unable to afford shelter and food for himself or herself--and for their family? Is eating that food ethical? Particularly right now, facing a serious economic crisis, we have to face both sides of that equation. Is everyone involved in growing that food, getting the food to the table, and eating it being treated ethically?
It runs both ways.
If I'm buying food that I expect to be safe and organic--or fairly traded--and those assurances are lies, there's clearly an ethical lapse.
But for a moment, assume that those involved in growing and transporting the food are getting a decent wage and working conditions. Assume the food is organic. Fairly traded. But it's shipped from around the world to get it to me, consuming a significant amount of fossil fuel and adding to the problem of climate change. Is it ethical for me to buy and eat it? Is it ethical for the grower to ship it to where it can be marketed to me?
My own sense is that it's going to be a very complex ethical calculus to decide what "ethical eating" means. The answers may not be the same for every person, and they may change as one asks the question in different places, and at different times of year.
For my family, our slowly evolving answer has been to look for and buy certain things preferentially. Some years ago, that meant we began to eat more and more organic food. We started to make a point of looking for evidence of fair trade practices. More recently, after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, we got serious about buying locally grown food. Each of those is an ethical choice, and each of them can easily conflict with the others... and with other concerns.
My sister and her family live in Anchorage. Buying locally grown food is very much a seasonal thing for them; winter produce comes from somewhere else, somewhere far away, for them. No matter how much they may decide that eating locally is important... it's unlikely that they'll manage to eat as locally as we might, living here in Southern California. On the other hand... it's easier for them, in some cases, to know that the food that they eat is healthy, and that those involved in getting it to the have a decent life; they live in a smaller community, and the farmers and fisherfolk aren't people far, far away from them.
I'm an omnivore. I'm not horrified by the idea that what I'm eating was a living being. Everything one might eat (other than a number of chemicals that I'd recommend against for various reasons) was a living being, to my way of thinking. The criticism that eating other animals is a result of speciesism never carried much weight for me. Essentially every life form depends on the death of other life forms. That I can empathize and, I believe, understand a dog or cow more easily than I can a tree or a carrot doesn't change the fact that each of them are living beings, and that to eat them (or turn them into animal food or paper or buildings) is still killing another living being. Asserting that it's speciesist to eat animals baffles me. Why is it not equally speciesist to eat plants? They--and we--are all part of real, living species. Each individual life form tries to survive, and each species does too.
So my point is that if any life has the right to survive by consuming any other life form, it's fundamentally ethical, because it's necessary, and as I hold life to be sacred... it has a right to continue to exist. That turns out to be more of a right as a species, since for life to continue, it has to consume other life. There is a fascinating dynamic here, where every creature naturally tries to continue to live--and must eventually die and feed other life--and yet the species are not really concerned with the survival and life of any individual. To the species, what is important is that it, collectively, does well and survives.
Arguably then, those species that we humans have entered into relationships with that are often terms "domesticated" have generally done very well. Wheat, corn, cattle, chickens, dogs and cats--among others--have done very well as species. There are, without question, many, many times more individuals of those species alive and living in more places than there would be if human beings were out of the picture.
Exterminating a species, or a distinct population, is a horror. When talking of human beings, we refer to such things as genocide, and consider it to be one of the ultimate crimes. That we are currently exterminating species of all kinds at rates that nature usually reserves for disasters like hitting the earth with a very large meteor should give us pause. If we're worried about the ethics of our relations with other species... I think we should be worrying far more about those we are driving extinct than those we arrange to be numerous and eat. For me, the extinction of the passenger pigeon and other such creatures have to understood as ethical failings vastly larger than the question of whether eating a steak is ethical.
--oh, needing to write!
The ideas lie there motionless,
Like beached sea lions, sunning themselves.
There, but hardly moving;
Just groaning and bellowing and posturing
--for each other.
What does it take?
Which Muse will tease them
into the water
where they magically change form
Which Muse needs offerings...
(Coffee? Bonbons? A movie, read a book?
Perhaps a walk--I'll do some dishes, scan the mail,
pick a rose... stare out the window at the far off hills)
--something to conjure her fleeting visit...
To tempt behemoths off the beach.
(Wrote this months ago. Must have intended to come back and revise and edit. But as I'd forgotten all about it... I think it's time to just free it.... Posted it, and discovered that blogger interprets posting something written in February, but not posted, as being published in February. So, once again, with feeling.)
My encounters with Alice Cooper's music have been pretty limited--I do recall seeing a film in '72 or '73 that certainly included "School's Out" (a topic perpetually popular with secondary students).
And that's pretty much it (that I'm aware of). My taste for horror is pretty limited, and shock rock left me cold (shock for shock's sake always seemed kind of lame)... and my taste for metal was limited (something that's oddly changed a bit in recent years--I turned my sons onto metal with a fairly obscure Faeroese band, Tyr, that does what I can best describe as Norse folk metal (the idea of Vikings liking heavy metal makes sense to me, at least). Old sagas and epics set to metal rock tunes (mostly), and sung in Faeroese and English).
So when I noticed that a search for "sparks in the dark" showed "sparks in the dark lyrics," I had to go look.
I don't think I ever knew the song. It wasn't the inspiration for the blog's title.
But I'm fond of serendipity.
It's only me and you, babe
is certainly a truth about the relationship of blog(ger) and reader.
When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly, -- as that a sentence must never end with a particle, -- and perceive how implicitly even the learned obey it, I think -- Any fool can make a rule And every fool will mind it. Henry David ThoreauThat's wonderful. Not as well known as Churchill's smackdown;
Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.Any native speaker of English immediately feels the grotesque awkwardness of that. It's English, but it ain't good English. So many of the rules of "proper" English taught in school are nothing but the rules of good Latin and Greek that were imported and applied witlessly by lexicographers who were awed and enamored of the classical tongues of the educated.
Which, of course, is as clever as applying the rules of chess and bridge to football.
Do feel free to post your favorites, I adore these snarky gems.
Saturday, March 07, 2009
Were there a mountain all made of gold,Does that really require any comment? I think that this ought ot be put on a plaque on the desk of every banker, broker... and on a billboard facing the NYSE front door.
doubled that would not be enough
to satisfy a single person:
know this and live accordingly.
Saṃyutta Nikāya 1.156
Saturday, February 28, 2009
It would be sad to let that remain something heard by groups here and there (and vigorously discussed by some), and Rev. Bumbaugh views the whole document as something that is "in the public realm, intended to be used to promote whatever discussion seems fruitful." So, I'm taking this excerpt of it and offering it for consideration and discussion, as well as offering some of my own thoughts and comments.
While we proudly proclaim the great diversity among us, every study I have seen of Unitarian Universalists suggests that our diversity rests in a powerfully homogeneous core of shared beliefs and attitudes. Indeed, the studies suggest that at the core we are far less diverse than many other religious groups. Let me suggest to you some of the content of that core:Faith statement? And yet... I find nothing there that I can't agree with or accept. I think that he's managed to sidestep the endless, probably pointless, and generally useless discussions that pit theism and atheism and batter at each other--something that I've come to view as the current Unitarian Universalist version of the (possibly mythical) medieval discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
We believe that the universe in which we live and move and have our being is the expression of an inexorable process that began in eons past, ages beyond our comprehension and has evolved from singularity to multiplicity, from simplicity to complexity, from disorder to order.
We believe that the earth and all who live upon the earth are products of the same process that swirled the galaxies into being, that ignited the stars and orbited the planets through the night sky, that we are expressions of that universal process which has created and formed us out of recycled star dust.
We believe that all living things are members of a single community, all expressions of a planetary process that produced life and sustains it in intricate ways beyond our knowing. We hold the life process itself to be sacred.
We believe that the health of the human venture is inextricably dependent upon the integrity of the rest of the community of living things and upon the integrity of those processes by which life is bodied forth and sustained. Therefore we affirm that we are called to serve the planetary process upon which life depends.
We believe that in this interconnected existence the well-being of one cannot be separated from the well-being of the whole, that ultimately we all spring from the same source and all journey to the same ultimate destiny.
We believe that the universe outside of us and the universe within us is one universe. Because that is so, our efforts, our dreams, our hopes, our ambitions are the dreams, hopes and ambitions of the universe itself. In us, and perhaps elsewhere, the Universe is reaching toward self-awareness, toward self-consciousness.
We believe that our efforts to understand the world and our place within it are an expression of the universe’s deep drive toward meaning. In us, and perhaps elsewhere, the Universe dreams dreams and reaches toward unknown possibilities. We hold as sacred the unquenchable drive to know and to understand.
We believe that the moral impulse that weaves its way through our lives, luring us to practices of justice and mercy and compassion, is threaded through the universe itself and it is this universal longing that finds outlet in our best moments.
We believe that our location within the community of living things places upon us inescapable responsibilities. Life is more than our understanding of it, but the level of our comprehension demands that we act out of conscious concern for the broadest vision of community of we can command and that we seek not our welfare alone, but the welfare of the whole. We are commanded to serve life and serve it to the seven times seventieth generation.
We believe that those least like us, those located on the margins have important contributions to make to the rest of the community of life and that in some curious way, we are all located on the margins.
We believe that all that functions to divide us from each other and from the community of living things is to be resisted in the name of that larger vision of a world everywhere alive, everywhere seeking to incarnate a deep, implicate process that called us into being, that sustains us in being, that transforms us as we cannot transform ourselves, that receives us back to itself when life has used us up. Not knowing the end of that process, nonetheless we trust it, we rest in it, and we serve it.
This faith statement is not a creed. (Perhaps we might attach to it the historic Universalist Freedom Clause: Neither this nor any other form of words will be used among us as a creedal test.)
Is that close enough for it to serve as a faith statement for the movement? If not, why not--and what would have to be changed for it to be... not perfect, but acceptable?
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Proving that American conservatives are pikers, the Catholic Church has returned to indulgences. Oh, they assure people, they're not for sale--that practice has been outlawed by the Church since 1567. But today you can get them for charitable contributions.
While this actually started several years ago, the practice of not-selling indulgences has been pushed into increasing prominence by Pope Benedict. Building bridges back to the Reformation, I guess. Then there's the re-communication of a Holocaust-denying, far-right-wing bishop. At this point, I won't be shocked if Benedict puts some country under interdict in an attempt to muscle its leadership.
What's in the water in Rome?
(hat tip to Rev. Sewell; I missed this bit of lunacy...)
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
It's also Lincoln's birthday (the American president noted particularly for his gaunt looks, top hat, and love of jokes).
For both of them, the 200th. 1809 was a good year, clearly.
(Personally, I'm most appreciative of the fact that on Lincoln's 200th birthday, a black American is president of the United States.)
I have to figure out what to toast those three fact with--but I have 24 hours still to figure it out. I'm open to suggestions.
So, texting in church?
Not surprisingly, the immediate reaction is a collective gasp of shock and horror.
Permit me to disagree.
First, an experience--real one--where a member used her phone to text her husband (who'd stayed home to watch golf, I believe) to tell him to GO GET CLEANED UP AND COME TO THE SECOND SERVICE because he would really, really, really want to hear it. It was nearly the end of the first service and if she'd waited to leave after the service, turn on the phone and call... he'd never have made it.
When a sick teen stays home, this is a way of being able to be "there" for them.
One can't be sure what's being texted, or why. How is this any different--or more distracting--than someone whipping out a pen and scribbling notes? Maybe they're catching words that are incredibly important--or scribbling furious refutations.
Key concerns (in each case, and anything related): it needs to be discreet and quiet. As someone who's been in the pulpit preaching about race issues when a person of color, in the front row, closed her eyes and lay her head down*, there are vastly worse distractions than someone discreetly texting. Trust me, anyone who's feeling "disrespected" because someone is doing something that MIGHT imply distraction is simply too full of concern about the import and significance of what they're saying.
A sermon is a conversation of sorts--in which the preacher is invited in... and doesn't hear the other half (the critical part!) of what goes on. You've worked like hell to organize the message you're preaching and you have to assume that people will hear that... in their own ways. Sometimes, something triggers in the mind that you could never imagine--like the fact that someone forgot to get cat food, or pick up milk--or medicine--and being able to text that to someone else to deal with means that it's dealt with and the listener, now unburdened, can come back to attend to what's being spoken about.
If people are coming to church and texting--and keep coming back--I'll assume that they're getting what they need. I'm really not hung up about whether it looks respectful to someone who isn't paying attention to what I'm saying because they're worrying about whether that person texting is being disrespectful. I'd rather that people attend as best they can, as they need to for themselves. But then, I'd rather have people there, even if not dressed "for church," too.
* -- As it turns out, she finds watching a sermon highly distracting; caught up in that, she doesn't hear it as well. So, caught by what I was saying--and agreeing--she shut the world out to be able to focus.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Adkisson, who murdered two people--and tried to murder more, and wanted to die a martyr to his cause--has been sentenced to rot in prison for the rest of his life, without parole, and without even a shadow of a hint of remorse.
I'd call that justice.
I came to a final parting of the ways with the death penalty back during the trial of Timothy McVeigh. It's not that he didn't deserve it; hell, if anyone has, he did. But executing him gave him the way out that he wanted. He didn't have to wake up for decades and face himself in a mirror, the man who backed a truckload of explosives up to a building with a bunch of children in it. That's what anti-government, anti-liberal, conservative "heroes" look like in America; people who blow up buildings full of kids and shoot up churches with kids performing on stage.
More than once, I've seen people urge that such scum should be executed--publicly. I've seen the demands for proof that it was really a hate crime, and insistence that this wasn't what "real" conservatives do.
Well, Adkisson's letter makes it clear. He wrote one page under the header "Know This If Nothing Else," and his first statement is that this was a hate crime. He acted out of hate, and reading the letter it's clear where the ideas and wording of that hate came from--straight off of right wing talk radio. So let's call that what it is--hate radio, just like Radio Rwanda was; urging hatred of liberals. Too strong, you think? Nah. We have expressions from Michael Reagan that he'll pay for the bullets of anyone who shoots a liberal, and Goldberg about taking a baseball bat to people who criticize him, Buchanan and others. How much clearer does it need to be than an offer to pay the costs of committing the murder of the people you're preaching hatred against?
Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Savage, Reagan, Goldberg, Hannity, Coulter... hatemongers, inciters of murder--who proclaim their deep religious ties and are embraced by right wing religionists.
But a little more about Adkisson and his letter, since it's a spotlight into the dank hole that he and McVeigh (and others) crawl out of. It states it's a hate crime, that it was a political protest (that, incidentally, make it terrorism--by definition), and that it was symbolic (the people he shot at and killed were surrogates for the Supreme Court Justices and politicians who he really wanted to kill--the folks that hate radio fulminates against and that right wing religion has been praying to see die.
Still think Radio Rwanda is an analogy too far? You're wrong. Radio Rwanda called for people to go and kill the cockroaches--and Tutus were massacred. Adkisson's been listening to American Hate Radio--and what he heard is what he wrote, that liberals are a pest like termites, and should be killed.
There's nothing there to compromise with. Nothing to be bipartisan with.
Free speech? Sure. But that doesn't mean that it's entitled to consequence-free broadcasting; the airwaves belong to The People, and are to be used in the public interest. Urging hatred of other people, urging their murder--that's not in the public interest.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
This past week, in class, David Bumbaugh posed a question to us.
Are we an ethnic church?
The reaction in that class of 20 suggests that something important got touched.
He observed that our growth patterns are classically more along the lines of ethnic churches--Unitarian churches, in particular, were planted where "our people" had already gone (St. Louis, San Francisco, Portland, San Diego...) in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and then the Fellowship movement just drips of it; planting small churches where enough of "our people" existed to maybe make a go of it (with astonishing effect, too).
Clearly not in the sense of that various sects from various lands that come to North America and form themselves around their ethnic identity. A lesson that I took early from anti-racism work is that "white" isn't really an ethnicity; it lacks most of the features of that--which helps explain, I think, why Anonymous Dudley's guest speaker said she'd have to give too much up. At this point in time, we're largely a white church, and someone out of an ethnic church tradition can see and feel how much they'd lose--even if the faith they'd move into offers so much that they admire and feel drawn to.
And yet, I think that Bumbaugh's question nags at me because I suspect that while we're not yet very aware of it--and in many ways it's still somewhat inchoate to us--we're in the process of creating an ethnicity. We have begun to see our people--to know them when we see them and hear them, and sometimes to know them as "ours" even before they know of us. Hell, it's an ethnicity of people who are mostly adopted into it; native born UUs are fairly rare.
But if that identity is so tenuous for us, and we are so wary of it, perhaps many coming in who already have an ethnic identity don't see it and feel it--or at least not as an adequate alternative for them. Where's the food, music, culture?
Or is that an illusion?
We have tended to see culture as something that others have, most of us in this movement (tribe?) and we've tended to view it as a static thing. Japanese culture or Zulu culture or Lakotah culture or German culture... those things are frozen. The modern world erodes them (and it does, that's not a complete falsehood), and what exists of them now isn't really their culture (wrong! Culture is a living thing, or it's dead. I think this is part of what's so difficult and challenging about cultural appropriation/misappropriation--cultures have always adopted thigns from each other and mutated them...).
Few of us have only one culture. Most of us in some way live at the intersections of various cultures; deeper in some, shallower or more on the surface of others... and in the end, my culture is mine alone, because no one quite shares all the pieces of culture that I do, in the same way. But we still see that there are loosely (or not so loosely) definable boundaries. Groups do exist.
I think we're afraid of setting out our boundary stones, afraid that we can't move them (sotto voce: again!). I think in a sense that we've taken (and in many cases grown) the key values of North American society as touchstones of faith, which is why it feels so attractive to people--peace, life, order, liberty, happiness, good government. It's part of why they have trouble seeing it as a faith--don't almost all of us hold those values? Well, yes, most of us do. You're standing inside the doors.
Do you want claim this?
See Emma Lazarus's poem for a moment as a religious claim
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Look at the names of the statue that poem refers to; originally named Liberty Enlightening the World, most commonly just known as The Statue of Liberty, and re-named Mother of Exiles by Lazarus.
I think I'll end this rambling thought here.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
And now Pete Seeger, bless him, has publicly restored those lyrics to the public consciousness (I've not looked to see how many delicate flowers wilted and died because of it).
So here's what I'm trying to figure out in words;
Why is it that so many people are so deeply touched by that act?
Just reading that it happened got to me. I hadn't read the article, hadn't seen video. I just had seen enough words to tell me what had happened--and I could fill in the rest. I knew... and was choked up. My wife tells me that when she heard it, she was in tears. Many others have written about it and remarked on it.
It's such a small and curious thing--and yet such a large and numinous one. Why?
(Which my Buddhist friends, and Lewis Carroll--jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today--would both remind us is never. But that's another discussion.)
A CNN poll today shows that two thirds of black Americans reported that Martin Luther King Jr's vision for race relations in America has been fulfilled--and that just under a majority of whites feel the same. Perhaps that's more or less the Obama electorate; most blacks and almost a majority of whites. More or less, because black Americans voted for him overwhelmingly--which means that a significant number of blacks who did vote for him don't think that King's vision has been fulfilled. On the flip side, it means that an appreciable number of white Americans who didn't vote for him do feel that King's vision has been fulfilled.
I've no evidence, but my gut-feel is that the black/white dichotomy of this poll is explicable in this manner; roughly 70% of Obama supporters think King's vision's been met. (That, given the scant report of the poll, would be a hair over 30% of all whites, given that 43% of whites voted for him.)
That would give us the number of blacks who do, and it would provide a majority of the whites who agree. The rest, you ask, who are those white people who agree then? Those are whites who would like to believe so--and in most cases probably wanted to believe so--or would have asserted so--before Obama ran for the presidency. Perhaps even before he ran for the Senate.
This has been a thought experiment in how what may look like a coalition may not be; how fractured alliances may really be--and how a poll may tell you something that it really should not.
Ok, so if that's correct... then black Americans are roughly twice as likely to agree that King's vision's been met as whites of a moderate to liberal bent (I'm labeling, and I'm aware of it) are. Or maybe those aren't really whites of a more liberal bent. Or perhaps we're ever so slightly more aware of shadows that still lie over King's vision on the white side of things.
Interracial dating and marriage is more common, but there's still a not-uncommon twitch at first about it. That's actually true for both sides of the color line. But I think the motivations are, on average, slightly different. I think that whites are -- again, on average -- more able and willing to see beyond skin tone to character and the quality of one's heart than they were. But one still hears stories of kids whose parent takes them aside to have a word about this. And, gloriously, one hears more stories of the kid calling the parent on the inconsistency of that word with what those parents have taught those kids for years.
I think we're getting there.
I think there's been great progress.
But I don't think tomorrow came. I don't think we, as a nation, yet judge each other simply on our hearts and characters.
King walked so Obama could run. And yes, Obama won, and that was an amazing, historic moment. Progress indeed. The fact that a black American will sit behind the desk in the Oval Office on Lincoln's 200th birthday is a truly significant thing. The fact that a vast, staggering number of us--of all shades and ethnic origins--think that Obama can, and should make a huge difference for this nation on issues that are real and tangible, that's significant.
But his race was still an issue. His skin tone had to be addressed. It had to be walked around at times and skillfully handled.
There's a tale reported during the election of someone door knocking in Pennsylvania, asking who the residents of one home were voting for, and the answer came back "We're voting for the nigger." I think that captures this limnal moment we're in. We, as a nation, are starting to be able to judge hearts and characters--but we still see skin color, and it still carries assumptions, judgments, fears and prejudices.
That should be no great surprise. Real change comes slow; damnably slow and frustratingly slow. Oliver Wendell Holmes observed "We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribes." I think we in America are starting to give up on some of those tribal tattoos--and taking up new ones, for good and ill. But many of us still have the old ones, or scars from painfuly excising them--ghosts of tattoos that haunt us.
Tomorrow isn't here yet. But maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow's jam promises to have a rich and wonderful flavor.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
That we may grind ourselves to flour
To make dough
Leavened by imagination
Flavored by the salt of our sweat--and blood and tears--
Rising (some things cannot be hurried much)
(Surely this will burn us, let us out!)
Glorious to the eye
Ourselves, each other
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Contemplating the curious habit of claiming iconic figures who were (or may have been) Unitarian or Universalist (or UU, even) as a way of claiming legitimacy, which seems to serve as a device for not really having to actually know much at all about those figures as real people both worthy and painfully human, brilliant and flawed. Jefferson, the apostle of freedom--and slave-owner (oh, wait, not a marble saint, so don't claim him any longer?), or ... oh hell, there's a long list.
Fine, hero-worship. That's fine, and even useful. But know your heroes as human. Iconoclastic, fine too--but while you're pillorying others for their failings and imperfections, watch your hypocrisy level (just where were all your clothes made, and by whom; what were they paid and what were their working conditions? There are more slaves today than 150 years ago; "ours" labor out of sight...)
Can we manage to make useful pots from all our feet of clay? Watching everyone walk on the potsherds is both painful and so very old and tiresome.
A life spent stacking stones for a great temple
may be as virtuous as
One spent [farming / feeding -- image indecipherable/words obscured]
A life spent stacking souls for God
may be as sinful as
One spent in war, counting bodies of the slain.