Thursday, April 28, 2011

Unitarian connections to royal wedding

Kate Middleton has Unitarian roots. The soon-to-be Princess comes from a “long line of Unitarians,” according to a British Unitarian website. Although her parents and both sets of grandparents identify as Anglican, her family tree includes James Martineau, Unitarian theologian and hymn writer, and his sister, Harriet Martineau, journalist and champion of women’s rights.

Many in the U.S.A. decry* the interest in tomorrow’s royal wedding, when Ms. Middleton will marry Prince William. I am not here to defend the monarchy, but I do appreciate the importance of symbolism and ritual. I can see some value in all of the pomp and circumstance. On the other hand, I am not officiating their wedding–I don’t have to deal with all the intricate details and the worldwide scrutiny.

I do wish them all the best. Every wedding is an opportunity to honor the power of Love in the world, to be reminded of its work in our life, as we see it demonstrated in those getting married. May their life together be richly blessed, and their days be good and long upon the earth.

(thanks to Facebook posts by Eric Posa and Aaron White for the link to the Unitarian page, with almost-Princess Catherine’s family tree)

* For those who claim that the wedding is a waste of 80 million dollars, and are glad that the USA has no royalty or class system, Laura Flanders reminds us that “the top one percent of wealthiest Americans own 34 percent of the country’s wealth and enjoyed 80 percent of the total increase in wealth here between 1980 and 2005.” She writes, “Why not just give them palaces? At least we could keep them open for tours.”

Original post, with links, at So May We Be.

Monday, April 25, 2011

luddite luncheon

We may never wait for a server to bring the check for our meal again, if E La Carte’s “Presto” device catches on. A glorified, toughened-up iPad with a credit card reader included, the Presto could sit on a restaurant table, take your order at the exact moment you are ready, and email your receipt to you. Human servers would still be used to deliver the food, and if you have a really, really complicated order (beyond a simple “dressing on the side”). The Presto could even include games to play, and convenient methods for splitting the check, according to Annie Lowrey’s article.

I love gadgets–-but I love actual human interaction more. One of my great pleasures is to be recognized by the greeters and servers at my local haunts. I feel a glow when they remember my “usual.” Somehow, it would not be the same knowing that the Presto was simply executing an SQL command to retrieve my order history from its databanks. I am glad to see pictures of my favorite servers’ families, to hear their stories, and to occasionally offer sympathy at life’s vicissitudes. I enjoy relating.

I haven’t yet mentioned the privacy issues, nor the fact that we need *more* jobs like this, not fewer.

I half-remember a quotation about the point of life is not to make it faster… I don’t want life to become more difficult, necessarily, but given a choice between “more convenient” and “more rich” I will choose richness. There will always be places for gadgets; let us hope there will also be a place for people.

(full post, with links, at So May We Be)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meadville to remain independent, in Chicago

Meadville Lombard will *not* combine with Andover Newton–it will remain an independent seminary, somewhere in Chicago. According to their press release, Meadville is in a stronger financial position than previously predicted; and they could not guarantee that a merger would result in a stronger position. Also, the two schools could not agree on a governance model, so the transition teams will not be recommending a consolidation, to the Board of either institution. Meadville’s commitment to its educational model, and its commitment to remaining a Unitarian Universalist seminary, were also cited as reasons for the decision.

I wish Andover and all the ANTS folks the best; and I am frankly thrilled that Meadville is strong enough to remain independent and in Chicago. I am still on my path to retire from parish ministry in a decade or so, then teach homiletics (or history, or any job they’ll give me) at the Meadville Theological School at Lombard College.

I honor President Lee Barker, President Carter, and all of the people who worked so hard on this difficult decision.

Original post, with links, at So May We Be.

Easter opening words

All stories are true—and some of them actually happened.
The story that Jesus was resurrected,
that he was seen walking around,
and heard speaking,
after the Romans had executed him,
may not have actually happened,
but it *is* a true reflection
of our human desire for more life.

The story also reflects
our true need for transformation in other ways.
Many of us want to change our lives,
to be *different* in the world.
Many of us want to be stronger, or kinder,
or more disciplined or more daring.

Whatever transformation we seek,
Easter morning reminds us that it is possible.
For the next sixty minutes, and for the rest of our lives,
may we realize the transformation inside us.

So May We Be.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter equals winning?

NorthRidge church thinks using Charlie Sheen’s “winning” phrase makes them relevant and hip; I think they are merely pouring old wine into new wineskins.

The nondenominational NorthRidge Church has several billboards that read “NorthRidge + Easter = ‘winning!’” One church member says, if the ad campaign ”gets people’s attention and …draws them to Christ, then they worked,” according to a local news story.

The church’s Senior Pastor, Brad Powell, goes further. He blogged, “I think it’s absolutely essential that those of us who know Christ, the only valid path to ‘winning’, share Him with people who want it so badly but have lost their way…Yes, it sounds crazy. And, some people will probably be offended…(something that happened to Jesus a lot.)”

Generally speaking, when you compare yourself to Jesus, you are probably on the wrong path. Also, when you use an addict who has admitted to assaulting his wife as a come-on to your Easter service, you might want to re-think things.

Easter is about transformation, about dying to one way of life and beginning a new path. Had Mr. Sheen experienced such a transformation, he might be a good candidate for an Easter message. Since he is still on tour, bragging about his hard-partying lifestyle, he serves as only the “before” example. And aren’t there plenty of us who know the “before” already? We need the “after.”

Quoting a phrase from pop culture does not make a church relevant. Speaking to the issues of today, helping people find meaning and purpose in the confusion of the 21st century–finding a way to live into the “after”–that makes a church relevant.

Pastor Powell probably believes that he is doing that; he blogs, “Church can and should be authentic – a place where people can genuinely get to know God and His truth, move past their failures and experience the hope and promises of God.” But the “truth” that he teaches is the same old harmful message that we humans are inherently sinful, and the only thing we can/must do is believe in Jesus–and if our life is not going right, we are not believing strongly enough. In my understanding, this is *not* “winning.”

Especially at Easter time, I want to hear a message of transformation. I need validation that modern life is difficult; I need to be challenged to risk being changed; I need a community that will seek transformation together; and I need some proof that positive change can and does occur, all around us.

When lives are actually being changed–inside and outside the church walls–then cutting-edge ad campaigns are not necessary. If we are offering real experiences of “the hope and promise of God” (however you translate that), our spiritually famished human cousins will find us. Easter is not about advertising; it is not about “winning.” Easter is about awakening to the potential within us and embodying that hope as deeply and as frequently as possible.

So may we be.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

quotes for Seder meal

Some quotations to ponder while eating our Passover Seder meal:

There’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us, too. I can feel the suffering of millions—and yet, if I look into the heavens, I think it will come out all right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out. (Diary of Anne Frank, Amsterdam, 1944)

My thinking had been opened wide in Mecca. I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole. (El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”)

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people…I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity. (Nelson Mandela)

No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature. (His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1989)

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together (Lila Watson & an Australian Aboriginal Group)

But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order. (Gustavo Gutiérrez, “The Power of the Poor in History”)

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed? (bell hooks)

Instead of standing on the shore and proving to ourselves that the ocean cannot carry us, let us venture on its waters just to see. (Pierre Tielhard de Chardin)

blogging again!

IE9 did a number on my blogging here (as with others, evidently). Thanks to advice from The Real Blogger, I updated to using the newer editor, and that has worked. Joy!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

modern plagues for a modern Seder

Ancient and Modern Plagues
(adapted from Rabbi Chava Bahle, Rev. Dr. Mark Belletini & Reb Seth Castleman)

Dam, the river turned to blood
the blood of devastating wars, choking the lifesprings that could nurture the world

Tzfardeyah, frogs
the extinction of many species – as many as 30,000 per year, rivaling the Great Extinctions of the past

Kinim, lice
the horror of great poverty

Arov, wild beasts
humans acting like beasts, animal passions inflamed in a hyper-sexualized world

Dever, blight
healing and health available on the basis of wealth

Sh’hin, boils
additives in our food, unnaturally fattening cows and unhealthfully fattening us

Barad, hail
soot and chemicals from factories and cars vomited into the sky, returning as acid rain & smog

Arbeh, locusts
six million foreclosures—our wealth being consumed by banks which pay NO income tax

Hosheh, night instead of day
long before the plagues, the Egyptians had trouble seeing what was going on around them—they refused to see the humanity of the slaves around them. We, too, often choose to not see. We ignore the exploitation of domestic workers. We scoop up cheap consumer goods without asking by whom they are made, in what conditions. We close our eyes to the tens of millions of people living in conditions of slavery in our world today (from Rabbis for Human Rights, North America)

Makat B’horot, death of the first-born
our children’s future hangs in the balance

Mars Curiosity

NASA has unveiled its newest Mars Rover. The Curiosity is slated for launch this November. After a ten-month trip, it will search for signs of life and perform other experiments–ideally for two years. According to a CNN story, the name “Curiosity” came from a student in Kansas, Clara Ma, who won a trip to JPL and the opportunity to sign the bottom of the rover.

I am still not totally finished grieving the intrepid Phoenix, but this helps. Go Curiosity!

(original post, with picture and links)

Monday, April 04, 2011


Like pruning inactive members from our rolls, should we remove disconnected congregations from our Association? In a lively conversation at our Heartland District Assembly, one of us suggested that we should rescind the charter of any congregation that has neither paid any dues nor sent any members to a District or General Assembly over the last five years. This is not intended to be a punishment, but rather a way of strengthening our Association, and encouraging real engagement between congregations (Alice Blair Wesley is not the only person who believes in lateral accountability, or the “communion of congregations”). Because it is not a punishment, it would not be an immediate event–a deadline could be set, a few years hence, and significant efforts made to reach out to (and assist) those churches, fellowships and societies who have become somewhat estranged.

Others among us were not convinced that our less-connected fellows should be removed from our Association. At least one thought that removing them from the “find a congregation near you” app would be sufficient. After all, if we haven’t had any real contact for a while, is it ethical for us to send a stranger there?

...See the rest of the post, with links, at So May We Be.