Sunday, August 30, 2009

questionBox: God and stress positions

"What happened to Unitarianism since Emerson? Why can’t we use the word ‘God’?" was one submission to the Question Box sermon.

It is true that both Universalism and Unitarianism are grounded in Christianity, which is itself grounded in Judaism.

And, both Judaism and Christianity, and atheism and every other system of thought known to humankind have been used to justify harm done to other people. Because Christianity is the largest tradition, a great deal of harm has been done in its name. It is understandable that some people still flinch from Christian words and symbols.

A pilot who was shot down, captured and tortured in Vietnam tells a story about one of the ways he was tortured. Tied into what the “interrogators” at Abu Ghraib might call a “stress position,” his limbs would quickly ache, then cramp, then burn in agony.

Once, when he was tied into a stress position, then left there to suffer over night, a Vietnamese guard came later to loosen the ropes. The guard came back in the morning, to tighten them again before the other captors returned.

Months later, when the pilot was standing alone in the prison yard, that same guard came by. The guard stopped and with his sandal, scratched a cross in the dirt. They gazed at it in silence, then the guard rubbed it out and walked on.

If I had been the pilot, I don’t think I would have told the man who did me such a kindness that the system that prompted his action was also used to justify many cruelties.

Nor do I think I would have cared if the guard had scraped a Buddhist wheel, or a Hindu Om or an atheistic “zero” in the dirt. We humans use many different systems to encourage us to do good works.

Today, our whole world is in a stress position. With global climate change, the threat of nuclear war, droughts and famines and disease and a financial meltdown of historic proportions, we need help from anybody who is willing. I don’t care what symbol they want to scratch in the dirt, or put in their windows, or tattoo on their skin, if it helps them see the need in our planet, and encourages them to help, I celebrate it.

We offer an hour or so each week to reconnect with worth and meaning. For a few minutes of that hour, we clear a space and allow ourselves to open to that which is larger than ourselves, that which we find compelling and nourishing, using whatever names and symbols we each find helpful.

And that is why we become members of this congregation—-to demonstrate our commitment to the ongoing work of saving the world, of evolving us forward into a more truthful, more good, more beautiful planet.

So may we be.

[the tortured pilot was John McCain--see "This I Believe," Allison & Gediman, eds. (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), p.156-158]

Friday, August 21, 2009

meditation, difficulty, bliss...

"Eating the food I’d initially disdained ranked up there with above-average sex. I’m not exaggerating by much. When I first got there, I didn’t understand why some people were closing their eyes while eating. By the end of the retreat, I was closing mine. The better to focus on the source of my ecstasy. I wasn’t just living in the moment — I was luxuriating in it," writes Robert Wright in the NYTimes. He continues:

"This Friday I’m heading up to rural Massachusetts in hopes of getting born again — again. Six years ago, in the same locale, I attended my first and only silent meditation retreat. It was just about the most amazing experience of my life...I came away from that week feeling I had found a new kind of happiness, deeper than the kind I’d always pursued."

Wright also compares his retreat experience to being imprisoned. It is difficult, but the rewards can be spectacular. He concludes:

"At the end of my first retreat, still reeling from that Thursday-night experience, I told one of the meditation teachers about it. He nodded casually, as if the insight I’d had was one of the standard stops on the path to enlightenment — but far from the end of the path. Through truly intensive meditation, he said, the transformation of your view of your mind — and your view of your mind’s relationship to reality, and your view of reality itself — can go much deeper than I’d gone."

Someday I hope to have the spiritual fortitude to undertake such a retreat.

Friday, August 14, 2009

my aching back

A little over a week ago, I herniated a disk in my lower back. My wife, Becky, who is a Physical Therapist, explains that a disk is like a jelly donut: the jelly in the middle can be squished out toward the rim of the donut, or squeezed into the middle. When it is near the rim of the donut, it presses against a nerve, and the back (and leg, and...) experiences pain. When the jelly is squeezed back into the middle of the donut, it does not press on the nerve, and the pain goes away. Activities that squish the jelly to the center: laying on the stomach and pressing up with the arms. Activities that force jelly to the pain-producing rim: sitting at a computer, sitting in a meeting, driving somewhere... It is possible to sit correctly, with a "neutral spine," so the jelly is not squished to the rim, but virtually every chair I occupy (and especially the car) makes it difficult.

Fortunately, a congregant runs a pain clinic. This afternoon, I will visit his office, and use a vibroacoustic chair to relieve the pain. I hope that helps, and I still need to work on *not* squishing the jelly when I sit...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

reform reality

“Obamacare requires euthanasia for seniors” is just one of the ridiculous myths being circulated to short-circuit healthcare reform in our United States. Political opportunists on all sides of the political spectrum, and big companies that fear reform, are seeking to gain at we, the people’s expense.

Jim Wallis (author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It) writes, “I’ve had enough of the misinformation and, frankly, misleading statements coming from those who oppose the transformation of a health system that currently renders the best health care to the wealthiest, depletes the savings of solidly middle-class Americans, and leaves 46 million people with no health-care coverage at all. We don’t have to fall victim to the naysayers – those seeking to prop up the status quo and sustain the profits of the massive insurance corporations. Business as usual is not what we’re about. It’s not what change is about. It’s certainly not what people of good will from all faiths, who embrace the Golden Rule and seek the common ground of justice and fairness, are about.”

Wallis and his friends at Sojourner magazine have created a guide to answering the questions—-both legitimate and outlandish—-about healthcare reform.

The White House has put up its own “reality check” website.

This is not about politics, it is not about conservative vs. liberal, it’s about doing the morally right thing, and offering better health care to more people. Please share the above resources with your families, coworkers, congregations, neighbors, et al.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"straightening" can cause harm

"The American Psychological Association concluded Wednesday that there is little evidence that efforts to change a person's sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual are effective," according to a 138-page report mentioned on

"The group's Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation reached its conclusion after its review of 87 studies conducted between 1960 and 2007 and finding 'serious methodological problems' in the vast majority of them. Those few studies that did have 'high-quality' evidence 'show that enduring change to an individual's sexual orientation is uncommon,' it said."

"The report cited evidence that efforts to switch a person's sexual orientation through aversive treatments might cause harm, including loss of sexual feeling, suicidality, depression and anxiety."

Unfortunately, we know that mere facts are rarely able to overcome emotional prejudices. Still, this is important for people who *do* pay attention to peer-reviewed scientific studies.

I wish a sense of peace and wholeness to all those who undertook, thought about, or had inflicted on them, such interventions to change their orientation.