Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rev Sean on GA12, process

Rev. Sean blogs:

Since I was at the meeting where the schedule was created, I want to ask you to think about a few things as you begin to respond:

First, be gentle in your critique. This schedule is the result of a lot of good people working hard together to respond to a wide variety of needs and expectations. We made a very clear decision to privilege the needs of the local community and let THEM tell us what they need. The form the schedule takes reflects that. It’s more about the local community’s needs than our hopes and expectations.

Second, I learned at the meeting that there are not (at this point) a whole lot of ways that 3000-4000 UUs can be truly helpful to the local community. There are many ways that trying to meet OUR need to do something that we recognize as service/witness would tax the local community’s resources. We can’t just descend on them. And the amount of organization and resources that a huge service project would demand would actually be a drain on the limited resources of the very people we hope to serve. Knowing this, we’ve tried hard to find ways that we can use our presence, power, and resources to do things that are truly helpful. This GA will offer many ways to be of service, but they may not look like we may have expected.

Third, (and I’m not sure I know how to say this gently) we have A LOT to learn. The amount of education and preparation is very intentional and is also a response to the local community wanting us to truly understand not just the issues they face, but the history behind those issues. Education is perhaps THE very most powerful thing we can do to help–not only the Arizona migrants–but people back home, who also face the consequences of this history in ways both similar and dissimilar. If we can get thousands of UUs to grapple with the history/theology of the Doctrine of Discovery OR to understand the basics of coalition building and community organizing OR to feel like they can help make a difference with the privilege and power they have…well, we’d have accomplished a lot.

Fourth, there will be a lot of choices built into this GA. People will be able to choose how much service they can do, how much history they want to learn, how many practical “take it home” skills they learn, etc. The “grid” can’t reflect that very well. But what I heard among the very key people at the planning meeting was a deep desire to allow attendees as much flexibility as possible to learn, reflect, and act. All of that, of course, takes place within the constraints of time, space, and available resources.

Truly, I was amazed by the commitment, dedication, realism, and vision of the planners. This GA won’t be perfect. It probably won’t be like you imagine it. But it will be a very heartfelt effort to create something that helps create justice and truly partners with the people who need us in Arizona.

One of our partners in this work, B Loewe , Communications Director at National Day Laborer Organizing Network, started our time together with a reflection on three goals we might share for this experiment we call “Justice GA”:

1. Build power for the local communities by using our resources, privilege, and access (especially to the media) to draw attention to the struggle in Arizona and the deeper inequities and injustices it reveals.

2. Shrink disbelief among our own people and among people throughout this nation who think and say, “I just can’t believe our government would do these things” or “I didn’t know it was so bad.”

3. Enlarge compassion.

He reminded us that we are not expected to do a Justice GA perfectly, but we are committed to doing it in partnership with the people who invited us, with the people who have taken the risk to make it happen, and with each other.

Love Will Guide Us,

–to which I can only respond, so may we be!

(See Rev. Sean's original post; and my echo)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

GA12 Design Statement

General Assembly (GA) 2012 will be a gathering with multiple ways of engaging in justice work for people of all ages. Joining with the people of Arizona, we will worship, witness, learn and work together. We will leave General Assembly grounded in our faith, energized for justice and with resources to bring this work home to our congregations.

Witness and Service
We will partner with communities in Arizona to bring attention to the injustices and human rights abuses they face. Our service will allow all participants to witness in ways that reflect our commitment to justice, equity and compassion for all. We will also do hands-on work with our community partners. Projects will take place in a variety of settings, and include multigenerational teams and accessible venues. Whether you choose to witness for one hour, make signs for people to carry, or spend a day at a project, there will be opportunities for everyone.

Programs and Workshops
We will learn how to build stronger relationships, community partnerships, and movements for justice. We will go in-depth on important justice issues such as colonization, border issues and advocacy. We encourage teams to attend General Assembly in order to share experiences and learn how to continue this work at home.

The Work of Justice
Our business will be grounded in our faith tradition’s commitment to justice. Plenary sessions will be limited to matters essential to the governance of our Association and items that further our justice-making efforts. The exhibit hall will offer justice resources and opportunities to connect with local communities.

Spirit and Community
Filled with joy and boldness, we will sing, we will worship, and we will celebrate together. We will have spiritual support and reflection as we build a just world. Together, we will create a beloved community without borders.

–the above words were created by the GA12 Design Team, and can be found–along with other GA12-related articles–on the GA webpage.

As a member of the GA Planning Committee, I don’t want to get too personal or too far ahead of the curve, but I will publish more material as it is available. I can say that I am really, truly pleased with the way our first planning session went. I believe that everyone will find something to love about GA12 – both traditional “GA junkies” and those who want a genuinely different, justice-centered participatory experience.

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

more dangerous than miracles

Homily preached at the First Unitarian Church of Hobart, Indiana, on 11 September 2011, by the Rev. Mr. Chip Roush

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
–Annie Dillard, from Teaching a Stone to Talk

How many of you have heard of the “Jefferson Bible”? How many own a copy of that Christian New Testament, from which Thomas Jefferson cut out all the miracles, leaving only the life and ethical teachings of Jesus? How many of you think that Jefferson was making the same mistake as the contemporary fundamentalists, taking 2000-year-old Jewish *stories* as literal?

Whether you have ever used the word “miracle” in a sentence or not, how many have had some kind of experience which changed you in a significant way? Me, too. That is the part of Ms. Dillard’s piece with which I agree the most.

I disagree with several other assumptions she seems to make. That we might wake a sleeping god, or that such a deity might then take offense—both of those concepts concern me. If the word “god” is to have any meaning at all, in my life, it is roughly synonymous with the evolving spirit of Life, awake and present everywhere, always active, and always developing toward more inter-connections, and more interdependence among us co-evolving forms of existence.

Nevertheless, I think I take her meaning. She is writing against the common beliefs that god is primarily a gentle, relentlessly positive, source of comfort. That image is at the center of Longfellow’s words. As the choir just sang, “As torrents in summer, Half dried in their channels, Suddenly rise, though the Sky is still cloudless, For rain has been falling Far off at their fountains[…] So hearts that are fainting Grow full to o’erflowing, And they that behold it Marvel, and know not That God at their fountains Far off has been raining!”

We in the 21st century are quite used to water flowing, without the benefit of rain. We may take modern plumbing for granted, but evidently Longfellow was still aware of aqueducts that brought water from far away.

And while it is true, that even in the midst of grief or anger, some unexpected thing can occur to refill our hearts with joy-—and some will refer to such a thing as God’s handiwork-—well, that kind of soothing comfort is not the only phenomenon that comes to us without our expectation.

Just as the sound of waves can delight us, and the feel of cool water on our face can soothe us, even as water is necessary to sustain life, so can it also be hugely powerful. Hurricanes can bring devastation in minutes, and the steady trickle of water can quietly wear away even the strongest rock.

The Mystery, that some of us refer to as “God,” can be every bit as dangerous as it can be comforting.

But the danger is not that some angry, bearded deity will appear in the sanctuary on some random Sunday morning and smite us—-the real danger is in the ideas that get expressed here, on the *majority* of Sunday mornings and on Tuesday evenings, as the Zen group meets, and at other times…

Hard hats and life preservers will not shield us from ideas that change us, from concepts that consume us, from new understandings that compel us to live our lives differently.

That is the danger: that we will hear something in this beautiful sanctuary which will *not* comfort us nor make it okay to remain complacent, but which will require us to *be* different people.

Researcher Carol Gilligan studied how people change their opinions. She learned that people do not always change their minds, as they age, but if they do, it is virtually *always* toward including more people. We all start out selfish; and many learn to consider the needs or opinions of a few; and *some* of us learn to take into account the needs of all. Gilligan also discovered, that, unless there is some kind of brain damage, once a person has evolved to the next level, then she or he will never go back. They will always take into account the needs of a wider circle of beings.

So, one of the reasons that we all come to church is to seek healing and support; and that is good; that is one of the things we do here. And sometimes we also find challenge, and change-—and often, that change will become permanent. Some idea we encounter here may transform us, to the point that we are never the same again.

Thomas Jefferson cut all the miracle stories out of his bible, but the truly radical idea-—from the teachings of Jesus, and from virtually all other sacred texts—-the radical idea that we should treat every person as if se were holy, is just as compelling, and every bit as likely to “draw us out to where we can never return.”

So may we be!

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

Friday, September 09, 2011

prayer for 9/11+10

We note the tenth anniversary
of the attacks on the World Trade Center;
we note the significant changes—
in our country and the world—
since then;
w desire peace, and safety,
and appropriate cooperation,
among all peoples,
of all beliefs, in all nations;

we desire that this anniversary
provide an opportunity
to rededicate ourselves
to co-creating a world
in which people of many differences
can encounter one another
not in fear,
but in gladness
and recognition
that we are ultimately more alike
than we are distinct;

we desire to acknowledge boundaries,
and to cross them carefully,
with respect and authenticity—
to find,
and celebrate
the ocean of wholeness
in which our islands of selfhood
float and fight.

So may we be.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Labor Day: Our Scrap of Time

If we are a captive of our scrap of time,
we can still influence eternity
by remembering
that we are the conscience of the universe,
and acting with that understanding.

We can—and must—
seek truth,
create beauty
and embody goodness.
We can *both*
work individually, to advance and thrive,
and work collectively,
to create strength and maintain balance.

It may only be a small scrap of time
that we are given,
but if we organize,
we can do remarkable things, together.

So may we be.

(full Labor Day sermon, from which the above comes, at So May We Be)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

9/11 for all ages

My sister plans to explain the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks using the story of the Grinch. When talking with children (most of whom were not yet born on September 11, 2001), she wanted to be as honest as possible, without frightening them. Her insight: use the Dr. Seuss story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. She’ll ask them if they know who the Grinch is, and ask them about what he stole from the Whos in Whoville (gifts, decorations, musical instruments, food), then ask what the Whos did. Rather than crying, or crumpling in defeat, the Whos gathered in a circle and sang. The spirit of the holiday was not in the gifts, it was in their hearts. Then she’ll draw the parallel: some angry people attacked the World Trade Center, expecting the citizens of the US to crumple in defeat–but we gathered in solidarity and helped each other, expressing the spirit in our hearts. Her church will light candles in memoriam, and the children will be invited to “light” electric tea lights.

It is not a perfect parallel. The US *did* gather in solidarity for a while, but many then turned their rage on innocent Muslim-Americans. And we did start a war on an uninvolved nation… Nevertheless, for young children, this does seem like a decent way of talking about a tragic event, and the positive ways that some of us responded to it.

Thanks, Kathy.

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