Archive for April, 2008

What to write about Rev. Wright

April 30, 2008

The Rev. Wright controversy assumes something about American church goers that is fundamentally wrong: that we are fundamentalists.

“He does not speak for me. He does not speak for the campaign,” Obama says. Yet every time Wright opens his mouth, it’s as if Obama were speaking. That’s how it’s treated in the media. Wright says something. Obama must agree. They MUST agree. Wright was his minister for twenty years! That’s what we’re being told to believe.

Except for one thing.

I don’t agree with my minister. Often.

Do most people?

A while back, I wrote that I was glad Barack Obama was not a Unitarian Universalist. I didn’t think we could take it. We’re not a bumper sticker religion. We’re not afraid of uncertainty and exploring inconsistent or contrary lines of reasoning. We gather, not for our doctrine, but for community. The media would kill us. It wouldn’t be a fair fight.

Obama’s description of his church experience seems very similar to a UU. When Obama speaks about church, he focuses on Trinity United‘s COMMUNITY, not the wisdom of the minister, or the truth of specific doctrine.

From Obama’s “My Spiritual Journey”:

“My work with the pastors and laypeople there deepened my resolve to lead a public life, but it also forced me to confront a dilemma that my mother never fully resolved in her own life: the fact that I had no community or shared traditions in which to ground my most deeply held beliefs. The Christians with whom I worked recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me remained removed, detached, an observer among them. I came to realize that without an unequivocal commitment to a particular community of faith, I would be consigned at some level to always remain apart, free in the way that my mother was free, but also alone in the same ways she was ultimately alone.” -Barack Obama

Listen to his speech in full here:

Obama was a community organizer. The church is a spiritual community. Trinity United offered him “the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change.” As a young political organizer, the church offered him a way to fulfill his dreams, and to help others realize theirs. Obama’s church was a communal experience as much as it was a personal one. Trinity United offered the Black community an outlet to express their frustrations, celebrate their successes, and commune together with love and understanding.

It is my experience that this power of community is exactly what holds together Unitarian Universalist Congregations. Absent the guilt and dogma of other religions, spiritual community may even be the ONLY thing.

*hint to ministers* – intellectual stimulation is not a glue that sticks

Rev. Wright has brought the real pain of today and of so many years ago back to the surface. It is real and it must be dealt with, but Obama was offering the world his vision, his formula for healing and success. Wright is clinging to the fight- the fight that helped him embrace love in the face of hatred. It’s difficult to blame him for his feelings.

But even as Rev. Wright was destroying so much with his words, he had the audacity to quote Proverbs. From the Chicago Sun Times:

“During a question and answer session after his speech, Wright was asked why he waited so long to try to explain himself: “As I said to Bill Moyers — and he also edited this one out — because of my mother’s advice to me. My mother’s advice was being seen all over the — all over the corporate media channels, and it’s a paraphrase of the Book of Proverbs, where it is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. (LThe media was making a fool out of itself because it knew nothing about our tradition.”

I see that you’re suffering, Rev. Wright, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear the unifying words of presidential hopeful Barack Obama. I do not excuse the sins of the past, but I do not want to lay them before us once more.

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UU CREED

I believe in my duty to find the sacred, to chose it for myself, and hold it in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we can share in the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the burden of freedom.

This is the creed of my heart, extended to you, and expressed through this loving institution.

I cried at work today

April 28, 2008

I’ve been tired lately. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve been feeling something building. I’m getting ready for something.

I don’t know what.

I think we’ll all find out soon enough.

But I ran into this old, now classic, Obama “Yes We Can” video.

And it hit me. It just rocked me deep inside.

I know you’ve seen it. But watch it again. You’ll be glad you did. Each word is so very powerfully eloquent, weighted, and yet effortless.

I am ready for a change.

I cried. Not a lot. But it was there.

I held it in.

It’s going to come out some day.

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UU CREED

I believe in my duty to find the sacred, to chose it for myself, and hold it in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we can share the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the burden of freedom.

This is the creed of my heart, extended to you, and expressed through this loving institution.

It is my hope that this voice will ring through the terrible pundants that are, to quote John Stewart. “hurting America”. Stop.

Open for comments

April 28, 2008

From Politico:

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright said Monday that he will try to change national policy by “coming after” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) if he is elected president.

The pastor also insisted Obama “didn’t denounce” him and “didn’t distance himself” from Wright’s controversial remarks, but “did what politicians do.”

Wright implied Obama still agrees with him by saying: “He had to distance himself, because he’s a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was [portrayed as] anti-American.”

About 12,000 vets attempt suicide yearly

April 25, 2008

To quote the internal emails of Dr. Ira Katz, the VA’s head of Mental Health,

“Shh!”

“…suicide prevention coordinators are identifying 1000 suicide attempts a month among the veterans.”

This sad fact is only one of many to be ignored by our main stream media of late.

Barack Obama has also given attention to a disturbing trend amongst our veteran’s physicians to deliberately misdiagnose veterans with mental health issues as having a pre-existing condition.

According to the St. Louis Dispatch, Sens. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo., and Barack
Obama, D-Ill., have written and inserted into the defense authorization bill a
provision that would make it harder for the Pentagon to discharge thousands of
troops. “They’ve kicked out about 22,000 troops who they say have pre-existing
personality disorders. I don’t believe that,” Bond said in an interview Friday.
“And when you kick them out, they don’t get the assistance they need, they
aren’t entitled to DOD or Veterans Administration care for those problems.”

Obama said the practice is “deeply disturbing” because “it means that those who
have served this country aren’t getting the care they need. …”

Add to this, the fact that McCain will not support the proposed new GI Bill, to help soldiers with education and other benefits to ease them back into society… and we’ve got a spiritually, socially, and economically bankrupt military.

“Support our troops” should involve more than sending them to war.

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A few years ago, when the Iraq war was just warming up, I heard a very moving UU sermon at The Onion regarding the state of the care at a nearby VA Hospital. Stories of negligence regarding mental illness- specifically the loss of one soldier’s friend to suicide after his friend had been repeatedly turned down, sent elsewhere, ignored, and forgotten.

Requests for help regarding mental health should be treated with the same severity and immediacy as the loss of a limb. Lives are literally at stake.

Please check out DiscoverUU blogger, David Pyle at Celestial Lands for some UU military insight.

UU Profile: Mona “Hammer” Shaw took it to Comcast

April 24, 2008

I’m a little late, but I just ran into this story about UU, Mona Shaw and her harrowing hammer story!

Since Comcast is making huge efforts to change the nature of the internet into something more like paid cable television (and has been dubbed one of the Worst Companies Ever) I’m all for raising a little hell!

From Wikipedia:

Mona “The Hammer” Shaw is an elderly Bristow, Virginia resident who rose to national media celebrity in August 2007 when she registered her discontent with Comcast customer service by smashing equipment in her local cable office with a hammer. Some regard her as an American folk hero of consumer and elder rights, while others dismiss her actions as criminal and inappropriate.

From the Washington Post:

This once mild-mannered retired nurse from northern Virginia (a square-dancing Unitarian, no less) got so fed up with Comcast’s lousy customer service that she went down to the local office armed with a claw hammer. Here’s the play-by-by from a Washington Post profile of Shaw:

Shaw storms in the company’s office. BAM! She whacks the keyboard of the customer service rep. BAM! Down goes the monitor. BAM! She totals the telephone. People scatter, scream, cops show up and what does she do? POW! A parting shot to the phone!

Shaw was arrested and earned a $345 fine, along with the admiration of millions.

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Please support Net Neutrality.

Obama and Clinton, the lesson for UU’s

April 24, 2008

When I look at the conflict surrounding Barack and Hillary, I see a problem that is emblematic of UU behavior.

They’re on the same team. They have the same goals, dreams, and even share many of the same methods for achieving them. And yet there are differences. Important ones. Somehow a decision must be made between them. And that decision should always be in service of those same goals and dreams.

In the end, the seeming enormity of difference between Barack and Hillary are very small compared to the glaring contrast between them and John McCain, their Republican opponent.

And here’s the lesson: in-fighting can be a horrible OR wonderful thing. If done correctly, a clearer vision is formed. Followers are MORE resolved toward the goals and dreams of the candidate. If done incorrectly, a great amount of energy is wasted in distraction and destruction. Ideas are traded in for accusations. We lose focus while the other side plows on.

Ego, loyalty, and self-righteousness can tear UU congregations (and political parties) apart.  We are better served if ALL focus remains on our unifying goals and dreams. There is a time for self-analysis and self-improvement. It can even be a destructive process- cut the fat!

But lose the vision and you lose your identity.

Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Let us all reflect on our own lives and hope this battle between the good and the better will be resolved quickly. I fear we are losing sight of the vision.

Footnote:

I’m not losing sight of the vision! Many links have been fixed on DiscoverUU. Many more improvements have yet to happen. Google AdWords has started carrying a few DiscoverUU ads.

I still need and cannot afford a webmaster. I still need to get my butt out there and speak to congregations to offer them the vision and solicit their funds.

Sick again, oh and it’s Earth Day

April 22, 2008

Well, we’re all up and down aren’t we?  This is another down time. It might happen a lot with Crohn’s. Bear with me.

Driving to work today (Earth Day), I heard that Los Angeles supposedly declared this a ‘Car Free Day’.

To whom did they declare this to? How did they get the word out? I actually CARE about these things, am CAPABLE of getting to work without my car, and STILL didn’t get the memo.

There’s a parade/ demonstration, so they shut down Wilshire Blvd. next to my apartment. I suppose it wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t been driving.

But I was. Cause I’m sick.
*grumble*

Feeling better.

April 21, 2008

The nice thing about Crohn’s disease is that I can operate normally most of the time. I have to watch my diet and I have occasional pain, but that doesn’t stop me from achieving my dreams (or doing the dishes-unfortunately).

The Dali Lama says the secret to happiness is identifying what you really want to do with your day, and then celebrating if you did it, or bemoaning if you didn’t.

Here’s to gettin’ stuff done!

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UU CREED

I believe in the duty to find the sacred, to chose it for myself, and hold it in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we share the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the burden of freedom.

This is the creed of my heart, extended to you.

UU’s should consider a name change- Pt 2

April 18, 2008

There were some great responses to my last blog post (click here), so I thought I’d continue the discussion.

Among the comments I thought most constructive were suggestions to make the CHURCH name descriptive of the congregation, followed by “a Unitarian Universalist congregation”.

At least two of our very successful churches have informally adopted branding like this- All Soul’s Church in NYC and Neighborhood Church in Pasadena

By and large, our congregations are named First Parish this or First Unitarian that. IT’s a heady and unattractive way to start a names. What’s more, it gives the public an inaccurate perception of the importance of theological obedience within the church.

On the lighter side, those names are still LESS intimidating than the MOUTHFUL provided by the First Universalist Church of Hardwick Preservation Trust, or even my home church, the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society, or “The Onion”. The emerging congregation, Utah Valley UU Fellowship, is also in need of something a little more inviting than the whole back end of the alphabet. Com on you guys at UVUUF !!!

:>

I say this with love. Really!

I KNOW these are kind people with an important message. That’s why I care. But we need to do better people. We’ve got a message that people need to hear. A message that American and world heroes espouse. A message that people have been killed for saying, when it’s spoke well. Comparatively, we’re falling all over ourselves.

Fun names like Old Ship Church and The Onion are cute and great when spoken from the lips of the membership, but they certainly make us seem like a fringe religion when printed on letterhead.

Attending a bake sale at The Onion? A Halloween service at the Old Ship Church? I’m having some fun here.

The point.

The point is that I have a hard time believing that a liberal, smart, young couple looking for the right environment to raise their new child…

-an environment free of the theology and bigotry they grew up with…

-that the FIRST place they will turn to will be some place called The First Parish Church of Unitarian Univeralists or some ridiculous place called The Onion. I love that I ended up there, but never would have if my wife had not grown up UU.

Side note: (I love the kind folks at The Onion! REALLY! I kid because I love. Oh, I love!)

With the UUA determined to remove their focus from the individual level and focus on congregations, I feel congregations should ALSO focus on themselves. What are they putting out into the world? How are they affecting people as a unit? What

Part of my fear about why this hasn’t been an issue in the past, is that it’s NOT an issue. People AREN’T encountering this. They’re NOT talking about their church to others, so it’s a non-issue.

What’s in a name?

Everything.

What reaction do you get when you tell people the name of your church? Do their eyes glaze over? Does it suck the wind out of them? Do they lose the ability to speak?

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Finally, I’ll keep banging my drum for the adoption of a UU Creed.

A creed is defined as a “a statement or confession of belief ” or a “a brief authoritative formula of religious belief”. There’s nothing inherently wrong with declaring one’s beliefs. And finding common ground is essential for UU’s to thrive. My vision of a UU creed is an authoritative declaration of spiritual freedom and open-mindedness.

Our congregations are already operating under the principles of this creed in the form of the Seven Principles.

I’m trying to make the move toward a universally accepted statement of personal belief UU’s can share in a declarative and affirmational way. I’ve made a couple of small changes below from previous posts.

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UU CREED

I believe in my duty to find the sacred, to chose it for myself, and hold it in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we can share the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the burden of freedom.

This is the creed of my heart, extended to you, and expressed through this loving institution.

UU’s should consider a name change

April 17, 2008

Yesterday I was asked by a delightful young lady to attend her church, the “Evangelical Orthodox Church”.

“Oh, I don’t think I’d like that,” I said.

“No really,” she smiled back. “It’s not like that.”

“I’m not exactly into the Evangelical thing. Or the Orthodoxy for that matter… How do those two things even mix?”

“No, really, you don’t have to be an Evangelical, really! I’m not, and I go! And the Orthodox thing comes from some obscure history of the church. No one even pays attention to that stuff anymore.”

I shuffled my feat.

“Really?” I said. “Then what’s it like?”

“It’s a very welcoming environment. I’m sure you’d like it. We’ve got a bunch of people just like you.”

I stopped. “Like me? What do you mean?”

She tossed her hair back and laughed. “You know. Free thinkers. People who aren’t afraid to ask questions.”

“Well, thank you. But… it’s still a Christian church, right? I’m not a Christian, per se.”

“See, that’s what I’m telling you. You don’t have to be a Christian either. It’s a pretty magical place. You’d really have to come to the service to get a feel for what I’m talking about.”

“Gotcha. You know? Now that you’ve told me more about it, that actually sounds a lot like my church.”

“You go to church?” she said.

“Yeah. Shocked?”

“A little.”

I pointed. “It’s the Unitarian Universalist Church up there on the hill.”

“The what?”

“The Unitarian Universalist Church. You should come.”

“Oh.” She paused.

“Oh?” I said.

“I don’t think I’d like that.”

Is it just me? Does anyone else feel like we’re one of the most inappropriately named religions? The only religion that has NO THEOLOGY is named with TWO THEOLOGICAL TERMS. I find it extremely prohibitive when introducing the religion to others, and feel almost zero connection to the terms when attending services. What’s more, as one reads quotes from famous UU’s, one finds that we’re connected- not so much by a theology, but- by a chain of independent thinkers and social organizers.

Any suggestions for a name that would be more descriptive of the American UU movement?

It’s gonna sound cheesy, but here goes:

Institution of Spiritual Discovery?

Free Church?

Church of Open Minds?

Come on, you guys can do better. Whatcha’ got?

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I believe in the duty to find the sacred, to chose for myself, and hold in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we can share the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the responsibilities of freedom.

This is the creed of my heart, extended to you, and expressed through this loving institution.