Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Journey To The Center of UUism

David Bumbaugh has presented -- to several audiences now -- a document that talks about Unitarianism and Universalism, their merger, theological issues in that merger... opportunities missed (or delayed) and, as if that weren't enough, offers an observation and a proposal about views that lie at the very core of Unitarian Universalism.

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:

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.)
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.

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

If You Thought Conservative Thought Was At All Modern...

In the last couple of U.S. elections, there's been a suggestion that the Republican party--firmly in the grip of its conservative wing--wants to build a bridge to the last century (if not the one before it).

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.

cough cough (nudge nudge)

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

Tomorrow... Feb 12...

It's Darwin's birthday (the notorious, mild-mannered Anglican clergyman who wrote books about natural selection).

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.

Texting in Church

Context here. I'm not on LJ, and have no desire to create an account just to comment.

So, texting in church?

Not surprisingly, the immediate reaction is a collective gasp of shock and horror.

Permit me to disagree.

Why? Well...

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

Hate Crime: When it's not even a question...

Sara, over at Orcinus, has already said much of what I wanted to.

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

Water Cascading Over Rocks: Race, Ethnicity, Conversion

Reading Transient and Permanent led me to Monkey Mind before I got there on my own (monkey mind is a place I live, but that's a different story), and as I drafted a comment, I realized it was pretty tangential--attending more to our own open door and not really about that same issue in western Buddhism. And it was getting long, so I brought it here.

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.