Tuesday, August 31, 2010

why us, why now.

Beck's rally was the "Waterworld of white self-pity," according to Christopher Hitchens' column at slate.com. He compares the U.S. "Tea Parties" to the nativist movements in most European countries, and wonders what kind of politicians will rise to lead such a movement here. Hitchens is generally anti-religious, so he must rely on politics; I think we'll need *both* political and religious leaders--including and especially Unitarian Universalists--to guide us toward a more unified future.

Hitchens writes, "In a rather curious and confused way, some white people are starting almost to think like a minority, even like a persecuted one. What does it take to believe that Christianity is an endangered religion in America or that the name of Jesus is insufficiently spoken or appreciated? Who wakes up believing that there is no appreciation for our veterans and our armed forces and that without a noisy speech from Sarah Palin, their sacrifice would be scorned? It's not unfair to say that such grievances are purely and simply imaginary, which in turn leads one to ask what the real ones can be. The clue, surely, is furnished by the remainder of the speeches, which deny racial feeling so monotonously and vehemently as to draw attention."

He concludes, "almost every European country has seen the emergence of populist parties that call upon nativism and give vent to the idea that the majority population now feels itself unwelcome in its own country. The ugliness of Islamic fundamentalism in particular has given energy and direction to such movements. It will be astonishing if the United States is not faced, in the very near future, with a similar phenomenon. Quite a lot will depend on what kind of politicians emerge to put themselves at the head of it. Saturday's rally was quite largely confined to expressions of pathos and insecurity, voiced in a sickly and pious tone. The emotions that underlay it, however, may not be uttered that way indefinitely."

Economic fears are combining with racial and religious prejudices to create a volatile mix. People are frustrated and angry. Too many politicians think they can stir those emotions just enough to get elected, and too many news organizations think they can keep it simmering enough to keep their ratings (and therefore advertising rates) up. I fear that such short-sighted approaches will only lead to violence and bloodshed. Divisions and us-them thinking will only exacerbate the situation; we need to foster unity, understanding and compassion. This is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, and UUs are uniquely poised to address it. May the challenge bring out the best in us.

Friday, August 27, 2010

bonfire of freedom

As a compassionate counter to "Burn a Qu'ran Day," let us hold bonfires of our own, and use the light to read by--perhaps a peaceful passage from the Qu'ran--and use the heat to cook hotdogs and tofu dogs and create a sense of community.

I borrow this idea from the Rev. Dr. Brent Smith, who wrote, "I hope many of you will not just fashion a momentary response but institutionalize through ritual a value of spiritual freedom: the combination of education, literacy, books, and the free exchange of ideas as foundational to freedom, especially spiritual freedom even more than political liberty. Borrowing from Hope Church in Tulsa in the 1990's, I worked with All Souls Community Church here in Grand Rapids to devise and institute a 'Freedom to Read' bonfire/picnic in partnership with the local public library's banned books weekend, usually the last week in September or so. We would gather for an evening picnic and every year include readings from books that have been banned, beginning with the Bible. If the congregation continues this ritual I would hope someone would recognize the importance of beginning it this year with the Quran. Children would bring banned children's books and would read to the adults around the campfire (there are so very many banned children's books!) We would also regularly include favorite books of local banners and burners."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

48 into 1070

Many of those arrested at the Phoenix protests have had their day in court. Most UUs protesting the inherent racism in the anti-immigrant SB 1070 have been sentenced to community service. (I don't know if non-UUs got different sentences; it is at least plausible. That's for another post).

Some of us donated money toward the bail fund, to help the protestors get out of jail; might we not also stand in solidarity by doing some community service together? What if our congregations pledged to perform 48 hours of work (including education) around immigrant rights in their local community? What if we, as human beings, worked for 48 hours over the next few months to form real relationships with immigrants and immigrants' rights organizations around us?

At the very least, could each congregation pledge 48 hours of work between now and our "Justice GA" in Phoenix in June, 2012? My last year of college, I finally learned that doing the reading *before* class made the class much richer, and more enjoyable. If we do some learning prior to GA'12, if we get to know the specifics of immigrants' issues in our local communities, then we may learn more and teach each other more and reach out with deeper compassion when we gather in Phoenix.

So may we be.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

OSU-UM unscheduled?

The annual Ohio State – Michigan game may no longer be the final game of the Big Ten season–-may, in fact, not happen at all in many years, according to Dan Wetzel’s column on rivals.com. One of the best things about college football is the pageantry and tradition, and if this happens, they are missing with a 103-year tradition. Five generations have thrilled to the final Saturday in November. I have officiated at weddings where that game figured prominently in the toasts offered to the bride and groom.

I am not dogmatic about never changing anything–the move to 11, now 12, teams in the “Big Ten,” and the institution of a conference championship are okay. But *please* do not mess with the OSU-Michigan game--keep them in the same division, so they play every year.

Go Buckeyes!

Monday, August 23, 2010

we are the revolution

“We cannot wait for the...times to change that we may change with them, for the revolution to come and carry us round in its new course. No more will the evolutionary forces of nature propel us in their groping way through the next critical point into a new state of Being. From now on, if we are to have any future, we must create that future ourselves. We ourselves are the future and we are the revolution.”

--so said Dr. Beatrice Bruteau, in a 2002 article reprinted here. Bruteau studies Vedanta, Catholicism and the natural sciences.

She writes, "the universe will either go forward into the creation of higher level unities, or else it will eventually fall back into the dispersed homogeneity of maximal entropy. It all depends on what we choose to do."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

liberal racism

Tim Wise writes that racism manifests in U.S. liberals mostly through an unwillingness to note race as an important part of life in this country. Some folks on the right use race to divide us; Wise thinks we must name and combat racism widely in order to unite us.

He writes:
"liberals and those on the left...contribute to systemic racial inequity...through four primary mechanisms. The first is a well-intended but destructive form of colorblindness. The second is an equally destructive colormuteness...

The third mechanism [is] the favoring of white perspectives over those of people of color, the co-optation of black and brown suffering to score political points, and the unwillingness to engage race and racism even when they are central to the issue being addressed.

And fourth, left activists often marginalize people of color by operating from a framework of extreme class reductionism, which holds that the 'real' issue is class, not race."

Class and race are *both* issues, and neither is reducible to the other.

Wise concludes, "To ignore the unique deprivations of racism (as with sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc) so as to forward a white-friendly...analysis is inherently marginalizing to the lived experience of black and brown folks in the United States. And what’s more, to ignore racism is to actually weaken the struggle for class unity and economic transformation. Research on this matter is crystal clear: it is in large measure due to racism — and the desire of working class whites to maintain a sense of superiority over workers of color, as a “psychological wage” when real wages and benefits have proven inadequate — that has divided the working class. It is this holding onto the status conferred by whiteness, as a form of “alternate property” (to paraphrase UCLA Law Professor, Cheryl Harris), which has undermined the ability of white and of-color working people to engage in solidarity across racial lines. Unless we discuss the way in which racism and racial inequity weakens our bonds of attachment, we will never be able to forward a truly progressive, let alone radical politics."

Thanks, Clyde.

Monday, August 16, 2010

parka culture

Trying to inform worship in our "UU culture" with practices and aesthetics from other cultures is like exchanging a white parka for a colored parka, when I want to dance naked in the summer sun. A point of religion is to liberate ourselves and each other from the received and imposed identities that diminish our full humanity.

Of course, liberation can be a slow process. When you've worn a green parka all your life, a shift to an orange one, or to a green windbreaker, can be a significant step.

Perhaps it would be more fruitful, instead of debating "orange vs. green" or "full-sleeved cf. vest," if we addressed why we wear protective gear at all, and how our gear constricts us even as it shields us.

There are people in our congregations who are not aware they are wearing a parka, and who cannot or will not see that others are wearing them, too. There are many who only wear the coat their family made them. There are some people who have a whole closetful of sweaters, vests, jackets, cloaks, anoraks, hoods, hats and scarves, in a rainbow of colors. There are frequent sunbathers, and heliophobes (those who are sensitive to sunlight); there are those who took off their parka once, only to be badly burned. How can we help (most) all of our cousins to turn their faces to the sun?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Watching The Big Bang Theory on TV can be a spiritual experience, at least according to Chuck Lorre, the show's creator.

Many of Lorre's shows end with a "Vanity Card" with a short editorial. Vanity Card #263 read:

"ME: I believe that watching tonight's show might constitute a spiritual experience.
YOU: That's a pretty bold statement. How do you figure?
ME: Glad you asked. Since the concept of past and future is entirely man-made (ask any other living creature about past and future and all you'll get is a dumb, non-comprehending stare), then it follows that if there is a god, a unifying spirit of the universe, be it 'intelligent' or simply a pervasively unifying quantum particle sort of deal, then the present, 'the constantly unfolding now,' is the only possible place it can exist. Which brings me to my bold assertion: If you laughed at any time during tonight's show, you had to be paying attention. If you were paying attention it means you were, for that moment, in 'the now' -- the same place as the previously mentioned pervasive, unifying quantum particle we, as a species, enjoy worshipping and committing genocide over. Ergo, you had a spiritual experience.
YOU: Assuming you're right, so what?
ME: So what?! This is huge! If a simple sitcom can lead to communion with the eternal, then I can make a case for my work having religious significance. Next step... The Church of Chuckology and a tax break! Ooh, maybe even a sleepy little burg in Florida I can call my own."

Aside from a couple objections (using religion for personal gain, which is the core of the joke, IMHO; and the fact that some animals do have a sense of past/future--which does not detract from his argument), I agree with Mr. Lorre. An awareness of "the constantly unfolding now" *is* the point of much spirituality. "Paying attention" to a TV show may not be quite the same as full awareness of the ever-evolving Now, but it might be a step in that direction. Perhaps The Big Bang Theory can open us to a whole new universe of deeper, fuller awareness.

All of Lorre's Vanity Cards (even the censored ones) can be found in his archive.

exposing yourself online?

The government can access cellphone calls, emails, old search engine queries, and GPS records (where did you go last weekend?), according to this ACLU quiz. Outdated privacy laws protect none of the above information. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is working to update such laws. In the meantime, be careful what you do on Facebook, or where you take your cellphone, or what you type into a search engine, or...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Jose's history lesson

Jose’ Ballester changes the frame of the "immigration crisis” and offers some U.S. history--and some book and movie suggestions:

Following some of George Lakoff’s suggestion might we not reframe the issues? Is there an immigration crisis in Arizona and New Mexico? Depends on who is defining the crisis. The white non-Hispanic population of Arizona is only 58.4% of the population while the Hispanics of all races are 31% and growing. In addition there is a sizable population of Navajo and Apache so there is a crises that the white non-Hispanic population will soon no longer be a majority.

In New Mexico the Hispanic population is 45%; of these 83% are native born and 17% are born in another country. Clearly the crisis of the white non-Hispanics in New Mexico is more immediate than in Arizona.

Change the frame to the early 1800's. Much of the Southwest is still part of Mexico. Arizona has roughly 1,000 Mexicans but the largest populations are the indigenous tribes. The United States under president Polk invades Mexico under the pretense of defending Texas that Mexico still considered a rebellious Mexican state. In reality the war was a result of territorial expansion fervor. To end the war Mexico cedes the Southwest territory and California to the United States. So we see the United States as occupying territory that was taken by force and the locals who were guaranteed their rights, Hispanic and Native, have lost those rights through violations of treaties and agreements by the United States. Looking further back we see that in a letter dated June 30, 1828 General Manuel Mier Y Teran warns Mexican president Guadalupe Victoria that the growing numbers of immigrants from the United States of America would soon disrupt the territory of Tejas (Texas), “It would cause you the same chagrin that it has caused me to see the opinion that is held of our nation by these foreign colonists, since, with the exception of some few who have journeyed to our capital, they know no other Mexicans than the inhabitants here. . . Thus, I tell myself that it could not be otherwise than that from such a state of affairs should arise an antagonism between the Mexicans and foreigners, which is not the least of the smoldering fires which I have discovered. Therefore, I am warning you to take timely measures.” Of particular concern was the immigrant’s ignoring the Mexican law prohibiting slavery.

Looking further back we see that when Spain ceded the Louisiana territory to Napoleon it was with the restriction that France would not sell or surrender the land to the United States. Further back we see General Andrew Jackson invading the Spanish colony of La Florida and claiming it for the United States of America. So there is a crisis in that the United States of America is occupying lands it took through aggression or illegal purchase. (Not to start another thread but is that not the reason some people have condemned Israel for the occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights?)

Change the frame. There are complaints that immigrants are flooding into the United States and they should be returned to where they came from. Why are they coming to the United States? Could it be that the United States is responsible for destroying the economic means of the immigrants? Did diverting the waters of the Colorado River for irrigation; green lawns and providing potable water to the growing populations in the Southwest and Southern California destroy the farmland in Mexico? Did the importation of surplus US corn to be sold in Mexico ruin the agriculture economy of Mexico? Did NAFTA permit US Corporations to set-up factories in Mexico that are filled with cheap labor and do those same factories turn the surrounding areas into toxic wastes? Are there drug cartels in Mexico that threaten the government, commit unspeakable crimes and cross the USA/Mexico boarder to commit crimes? Who is buying the drugs that fuel these cartels? There is a crisis in that one nation is being slowly killed by another nation.

Change the frame. Immigration quotas have traditionally favored immigration from northern Europe and have been temporarily altered when industry has needed cheap labor and restrictions have been imposed when that cheap labor has demanded reforms. Throughout the history of the United States laws have been adopted that subjugated individuals from groups not part of the dominant ethnic groups or that unduly favor one ethnic group over another. I always wondered why during World War II Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps but not German Americans? There is a crisis in ethnic prejudice that might turn into apartheid or ethnic cleansing.

If there is an immigrant crisis it is not just in Arizona or New Mexico, it is in the entire United States of America. The immigrants from northern Europe and their allies that have been transformed in the American “smelting” pot are behaving like barbarians in their treatment of all others. The crisis is that the American public is gullible enough to accept a false frame and delusional enough that they think reason and righteousness will win in the end.

While I commend the UUA and the UU activists who have finally taken-up the cause of human rights for immigrants and other minority groups; I am fearful that we might go the route of the Social Gospel and depend on our own actions, experiences and thoughts to inform us. And then when that fails we would turn to scholarly texts written by those not part of the impacted groups. And finally when all that fails we would turn to a select few supposedly from the impacted who fit our definition of “scholar” or “expert.” I am fearful that we will forget the words of the Bishops from the 1968 conference in Medellín that concluded that the oppressed people by themselves cannot enact effective reform nor can effective reform be enacted without them.

So as a suggestion, I would recommend that congregations obtain and view the film Letters From the Other Side and I would recommend the book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez; and Crossing With the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail by Ferguson, Price and Parks. And lastly familiarize yourself with the work of our Tucson UU Congregation.

And just for the record, both of my parents were born in Puerto Rico after the Jones–Shafroth Act (1917), which means they were natural born American citizens (since Puerto Rico was and still is a part of the United States of America.) I was born in New York City in1951; all of my grandparents moved to Puerto Rico when it was still a colony of Spain. So that means that none of us were ever immigrants.

Jose Ballester

Friday, August 06, 2010

we light this chalice as a beacon

UUs are being touted as a shining example of 21st century social organizing, according to Kim Bobo's article in religion dispatches online magazine.

"Although most faith bodies and denominations have very strong statements on immigration reform, those same denominations did not activate people. With one glaring exception—the Unitarian Universalist Association," writes Bobo.

In an in-depth look at the recent protest in Arizona, she writes, "Let’s look at what the UUA did and analyze what lessons others in the faith community, particularly in judicatory leadership, might learn from the UUA’s example." Bobo lists seven components:
1) Engage leadership
2) Link to principles and history
3) Assign staff and resources for planning
4) Coordinate with local coalitions
5) Be visual
6) Use social media
7) Ask for personal engagement and sacrifice

It is a strength of our liberal heritage that we question and challenge our beliefs and actions. It is good that we debate our decisions--and it is good to act, especially when it helps the people who asked for our support.

It doesn't hurt that it improves our visibility and respect within the progressive community:

"Given the significance of the immigration crisis, the religious community’s values around welcoming immigrants and the substantial role immigrants play in congregations throughout the nation, one would expect that denominations would be leading in every action around the nation. Unfortunately, the formal denominational leadership has not played the role it could and should. Luckily, the Unitarian Universalist Association offered an example in Arizona of what can and should occur. Let’s hope others will 'go and do likewise.'”

via Colin

Thursday, August 05, 2010

facts, love over h8

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license," wrote Judge Vaughn R. Walker, in his decision yesterday. He continued, "the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."

The 138-page document includes many "findings of fact," which is important because, as Dahlia Lithwick writes, "appellate courts must defer far more to a judge's findings of fact than conclusions of law." Among those facts:

"Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions."

"The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent."

This last is particularly important, because that is the issue that finally caused the original Proposition 8 to pass in California. According to David Fleischer's article in the Los Angeles Times, the tipping point was white liberal parents changing their vote out of fear that their children might be "indoctrinated" into "turning gay" through exposure to same-sex marriages.

We know that emotion can be more powerful than intellect, so Judge Walker's reliance on facts and rationality is only part of the long-term solution. Let us continue to share stories of long-term commitment and tales of the negative consequences of unjust laws/behaviors. That will provide emotional support for this struggle.

Facts do help inform emotions, over time, and the trend is toward acceptance. According to many polls, a slim majority opposes same-sex marriage, but a significant majority approves of some legal recognition (either civil unions or marriage). And this CBS News/New York Times report finds "Support for same sex marriage is now at its highest point since CBS News starting asking about it in 2004."

For now, let us celebr8

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Melissa's witness

Dehumanizing abuses and rampant racism--that's what the Rev. Ms. Melissa Carvill-Ziemer found in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail, as she reports in her FaceBook post, "First Thoughts from AZ". I repeat it here with her permission:

My deep gratitude goes out to everyone who has been part of our efforts here in AZ. I sing praises to Puente and the Catalyst Project and the Ruckus Society and the Standing on the Side of Love team. I sing songs of joy for the members of the local UU congregations who provided so much support, for the UUs from across the country who came here to be a part of this witness, and for the UUs everywhere who have been with us in spirit these last long and intense days. I offer special songs of gratitude to my partner Ellen who has managed tech support for me while caring for our foster children, our family members, especially Ellen's mother Ellie who traveled to OH to help Ellen and my family members who have been driving me all around Phoenix, and the members of my congregation for their support.

Participating in the civil disobedience action in front of the Wells Fargo building on Thursday, I felt completely grounded in the values of our faith. In the beginning we chanted loudly proclaiming our support for human rights for all. In time the chanting gave way to song and then songs and then finally to one song which we sang over and over and over agian. "When I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out love." I could see and hear the UUs on the support team standing on the sidewalk behind the curtain of police singing with us, sending us love.

As I was being loaded into the police van wearing my clerical collar and with my hands cuffed behind my back, I coud hear another chant erupt on the side. "Arrest Arpaio, not the clergy!" Later as I sat in the jail awaiting booking I met the man who was responsible for leading that chant. Miguel (not his real name) asked me to tell his story. He came to be part of the support team in Phoenix. He was not intending to get arrested. He stood on the sidewalk chanting and cheering while those of us in the Wells Fargo intersection action were arrested. Once the last person was taken away he ran over to the 4th Street jail to cheer those involved in the action there. The police issued an order for people to disperse and before he could move he was grabbed by several officers. They held him hard and directed him toward the jail entrance. He was hurting so he started yelling loudly "I am not resisting arrest" over and over again. They told him that he was and once they got into the jail builidng and out of the eye of the cameras and the crowds, they threw him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly in the ribs while one of the officers yelled racial epithets at him.

By contrast, when I was arrested, the officers could not have been more courteous. They gave us warnings over a period of time. Before they began arrests, they told us they understood we had a point to make and they wanted us to understand they had a job to do, but if we complied they would try to be gentle and orderly in the process. What is the difference? Granted we were arrested by diffeent authorities, but it seems obvious to me that I was the beneficiary of white privilege while Miguel was the victim of racism.

During our long night in the county jail we talked with many women in the general prison population. Over and over we heard stories of racism leading to arrest and subsequent mistreatment by the police. We even witnessed some of that mistreatment with our own eyes. We saw prisoners being denied their medications even when they pled for the drugs they needed. We saw a woman attacked by a gaurd when she swore at an officer in frustration. We exprienced their tactics of marching people from cell to cell every few hours in what seems a stategy of disorienting, intimidating and fatiguing the prisoners.

There is no denying that jail is a mean place. The cells are cold, brightly lit cement tanks which are clearly designed to be as uncomfortable as possible. The place is dirty. The food is bad. But those of us who were arrested in the protest were keenly aware that we were there by choice and that our confiement was temporary. We had the benefit of support from our fellow protestors. We knew there were people outside rallying and praying for us and that lawyers were working on our defense. We knew we would soon be returning to our families, our jobs and our ordinary lives. We sang together and told jokes to pass the time. In the morning we prayed. Holding hands we offered a prayer of gratitude for every single person who dares, in whatever way they are able, to take a stand on the side of love. And we offered a prayer of humility, knowing that Latinos/Latinas and other people of color would continue to targeted with increasing vigilance here in AZ after we all go home.

Our actions here in AZ were imporant. I believe we made a difference. But the work must continue. With faith we will stay strong. Together we will keep on bending the moral arc of the universe a little bit more towards justice. Si se puede!

In faith,