Friday, May 1, 2015

Baltimore, Freddie Gray, and Marriage Equality

Image from
As I write this, there are so many things of note happening in our country. Two of the things that are very much on my mind are the response to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and the hearings on same sex marriage happening at the Supreme Court.

These are preliminary thoughts, really, as I continue to process it all...

It has been fascinating, and at times disheartening, to see how the protests in Baltimore are being covered in the mainstream media. The focus seems to be on “riots” with looting by the few, rather than on the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters. But though it would be easy to praise the “peaceful protesters” and condemn the “rioters”, I think it is appropriate to pause and take stock.

In a 1966 interview, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I think that we've got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear?” Though King spoke these words almost a half century ago, we can ask the same question today. What are the riots in Baltimore saying? What is America not hearing?

One thing I think the riots are saying is that we should be outraged by police brutality against unarmed persons, disproportionately against unarmed African Americans. I do think people are starting to hear that clear message, and to feel the outrage. However, I worry – based on mainstream media coverage and, to some extent, what I see on social media – that many white Americans are more outraged by riots than by police brutality against unarmed black persons.

This is all in a fascinating juxtaposition with the current Supreme Court case about same sex marriage. There is still plenty of opposition to same sex marriage and to LGTBQ rights, but I don’t see the same sensationalistic coverage. I don’t see – on mainstream media or on social media – the same level of fear and condemnation around this issue, which has come so very far in such a short time. Sure, there are a few people acting like civilization will fall if same sex marriage becomes the law of the land, but the polls show that most Americans are ready for it. Of course, the current face of the LGBTQ movement is very tied in with the “politics of respectability”. Marriage itself is an amazingly mainstream and respectable institution, after all.

It might be tempting to think that “the politics of respectability” is the way to move a cause forward. But though I personally, like King, advocate peaceful protests and not rioting, I cannot fail to notice that riots do speak, and they speak loudly. I saw a graphic on social media that said “Remember: the first Gay Pride was a riot”, referring to the Stonewall riots of June 1969. There is a lesson here, I believe.

The Stonewall riots happened in New York City in response to the LGBTQ community (particularly gay men in this case) being targeted, harassed, and treated violently by police. These were the days when the LGBTQ community could barely dream of same sex marriage becoming legal; this was back when the battle was more basic. The battle was for the right not to be roughed up and arrested for being a “queer”. Back in June of 1969, a group of gay men, transgender persons, and at least one lesbian had simply had enough. The police came in to raid the Stonewall Inn, a popular LGBTQ hangout, but this time those being arrested fought back. This means that members of the LGBTQ community were, in this case, physically fighting officers of the law. It was a “riot”. And yet, many people now consider it to be the single most important event in the modern “gay rights” movement. The “politics of respectability” were a long way off, in those days.

I keep coming back to those words: “If you want peace, work for justice”. This is one lesson of riots. If you don’t like seeing riots – and I can tell you that I personally do not like seeing riots – then work for justice.
My photo from the April 29 Boston rally in support of Baltimore protesters.

Another lesson of riots? People demand –rightly – justice from the “justice system”. When our system of justice fails? Nothing is more likely to trigger rioting. And our justice system fails all too often. Consider that in 2014, according to the ACLU, African Americans made up 29% of Maryland’s population, yet they comprised 69% of those who “died at the hands of police”. Consider also that 1/3 of residents in Maryland state prisons are from the City of Baltimore. (See the article at Consider that African Americans are incarcerated at shocking rates. The rate at which African Americans are imprisoned has even been called “the new Jim Crow”. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), non-Hispanic blacks accounted for about 40% of the total prison and jail population in 2009 – when they were about 12% of the population overall. Also according to the BJS, “one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime”. (See the article at )

In “The Other America”, a speech delivered by Martin Luther King in 1968, just two weeks before his assassination, he said: “… I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view.… But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

The riots in Baltimore are saying just that. Further, as King wrote in his last essay (“A Testament of Hope”, published posthumously): “…. there is no single answer to the plight of the American Negro…. I think that the place to start, however, is in the area of human relations, and especially in the area of community-police relations. This is a sensitive and touchy problem that has rarely been adequately emphasized. Virtually every riot has begun from some police action. If you try to tell the people in most Negro communities that the police are their friends, they just laugh at you. Obviously, something desperately needs to be done to correct this…. In the larger sense, police must cease being occupation troops in the ghetto and start protecting its residents.”

In 1968, the LGBTQ community probably also would have (in King’s words) laughed at you if you tried to tell them that “the police are their friends”. But things have greatly improved in that regard for the “queer community” (of which I am a part). Today, I pray that the Supreme Court will take LGBTQ rights even further, to the (unimaginable in 1968!) triumph of marriage equality. And I will certainly celebrate when that day comes, hopefully soon.

But I also want to listen to what the riots in Baltimore are telling us: that things desperately need to change, and fast. Lives are at stake. And Black Lives Matter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

If you do one thing this Earth Day...

Today is the 45th Earth Day! Happy Earth Day! I've been celebrating it all month on the UUCiA Facebook page ( with posts from Commit2Respond. You can go see the inspirational words and links to practices and resources.

But really, truly, if you were going to do just ONE thing this Earth Day to help the earth? I'd recommend that you watch Cowspiracy:

And if you watch it today, it's just $1. Click this link to see it! There are all kinds of things you can do to help the earth, but there are some actions that will really make a big difference. Watch and see.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The St. Patrick's Day Parade and Inclusivity...

At the 2014 St. Pat's Peace Parade, run by Veterans For Peace
Since 2011, the Smedley D. Butler Brigade of Veterans For Peace has had its own inclusive parade in honor of St. Patrick's Day. It is the "St. Patrick's Peace Parade". We at Veterans For Peace (VFP) decided to have this parade because the traditional "St. Patrick's Day Parade" in South Boston, run by the "Allied War Veterans Council" (AWVC), has historically not been inclusive. Specifically, it did not allow lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) groups to march. In addition, it has not let VFP march because (as one AWVC member put it) they did not want the word "veteran" associated with the word "peace".

For the past four years, our St. Patrick's Peace Parade has followed the St. Patrick's Day Parade. We have been asked to be a mile behind, and we came after the street sweepers in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, the City of Boston decided that there would not be street sweepers between us. What did the AWVC do? They put "ceremonial street sweepers" at the end of their parade! (Petty, but I have to admit, pretty funny actually.) The wait in between parades has meant that we have had to stand in the rain (2011 -- I missed that one), the heat (2012), and the cold (2013, 2014). The wait is always frustrating. In 2012, we had to wait for hours. It was very hot, and some Peace Parade marchers got dehydrated/exhausted and left before we even got started. (That year, the excessive wait was because the AWVC parade had more marching units than they had originally stated.) In any case, by the time we march, much (most) of the viewing crowd has dispersed. Relatively few see our messages of peace and inclusivity, compared to the numbers who watch the first parade.

This year, in 2015, VFP put in a request to march at noon. We put in our request as soon as we possibly could, and before anyone else could put in a request. The result? Even after repeated attempts at contact, the City of Boston ignored the request. With the ACLU, we decided to sue; and because of the delays in the decision, we ultimately decided to cancel the 2015 St. Patrick's Peace Parade. You can read about this here.

A couple of days before the parade, a press release came out stating that Boston Pride would be marching in the AWVC's St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston. I was quite surprised! As I said in a recent Rainbow Times article, "It’s an important step toward a more inclusive parade, so it was definitely an exciting development and something to celebrate." But I was also sad that Veterans For Peace continues to be excluded from the parade.

Veterans For Peace has worked with Boston Pride for a few years, inviting them to march in our St. Patrick’s Peace Parade since they were not welcome to be in the “main” (AWVC) parade. VFP has marched in the Boston Pride parade in recent years, too, so we’ve had a pretty close working relationship and a mutual respect. I myself am a lesbian. I “came out” as a lesbian right around the time the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston tried to march in the AWVC's St. Patrick’s Day Parade, going all the way to the Supreme Court. Twenty years ago, in June of 1995, I marched in the Boston Pride parade for the first time. It was a big deal for me. I had been active duty in the US Navy from 1990 until 1994, during the early era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Marching in pubic as an out and proud lesbian was a big moment in my life. Instead of living with what felt like a scary secret, I could show my face and be who I was.

Here I am, twenty years later, and everyone who knows me knows that I’m a lesbian. I have been legally married to my wife for more than a decade. And strangely, the South Boston parade reminds me every year that in 21st century Boston, “peace” is a dirtier word than “queer”. I am not welcome to march in the South Boston parade as a member of Veterans For Peace, though I could have marched with Boston Pride if I had so chosen. I don’t know the nature of Boston Pride’s negotiations with the AWVC. Boston Pride invited other LGBTQ organizations to march with them, which is good. As I said in the Rainbow Times article, "Solidarity is very important when doing social justice work. Veterans For Peace was always very clear that we would refuse to march in the 'main' parade unless the LGBTQ community was invited to march as well."

When I went to my first VFP meeting years ago, I was skeptical because the few veterans’ groups I’d ever looked into seemed homophobic. To my surprise and delight, VFP understood that social justice issues intersect, and they were clearly very supportive of full LGBTQ inclusion and rights. Please understand that most members of VFP are heterosexual men. So as a lesbian, I found this moving. It is part of the reason I stayed around and became active with VFP.

As I said in the recent Rainbow Times article, I am happy that Boston Pride marched this year. I trust that they "will work for the inclusion of other LGBTQ groups in the parade, and that they will speak out for VFP to be included as well. I sincerely doubt that OUTVETS and Boston Pride would be marching in the South Boston parade had it not been for the efforts of VFP. I hope that Boston Pride will remember to stand with others who are being left out, still. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 'Until all are free, none are free.' Or, put another way, 'nobody wins unless everybody wins'. I believe that."

Marcher in 2014 St. Pat's Peace Parade, Religious Division.
In the end, I fail to understand why the militaristic AWVC is the group in charge of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the first place. Why should such a small group make the decisions about inclusion for a parade that the City of Boston spends a few hundred thousand dollars to make happen? And as a minister, I fail to understand why St. Patrick has come to be celebrated in such a militaristic way. In the words of St. Patrick, “Killing cannot be with Christ”.

Boston Pride says that they will work to get other groups, including VFP, to be included in the 2016 St. Patrick's Day Parade (the "main" parade). In this Boston Globe article, it is stated that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also wants VFP to be in the parade next year. Let us hope so. We just want our messages of peace to be included. Whether or not the AWVC likes it, many veterans are "associated" with working for peace.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Selma, 50 Years Later.... "You Can't Pretend to Show Up"

Clark Olsen. (Photo: William Woody, Citizen-Times)
This past Sunday, March 8, the UU Congregation in Andover had a special "Selma Sunday" service, marking the 50 years that have passed since the dramatic events in Selma, Alabama, eventually led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

You can listen to my homily here. The title ("You Can't Pretend to Show Up") comes from a piece written by UUA President Peter Morales.

As part of the service, we watched the eight-minute "op doc" from the New York Times. I highly encourage watching it now, if you haven't seen it. It is an interview with Rev. Clark Olsen (pictured to the left), describing his own experience in Selma. It is very moving. You can watch the brief documentary at this link.

The bottom line is that Black Lives Matter. And it is very important that all of us -- whatever our racial or ethnic identity -- are part of this movement.

If you are so moved, you can make a gift to the James Reeb Fund for Multicultural Ministries and Leadership.
MLK during Selma march (Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)
At the end of the third (and complete) march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 25, 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a 30-minute speech. You can listen to it here.

May we continue to march for justice.


By the way, I do recommend seeing the new Selma movie. It is very well done.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Of leaks and light...

(This is slightly modified from a piece that originally appeared as my March "Plumb Line" column at the UUCiA

There are so many things to write about… I’m excited (yes, plumb excited!) for the upcoming Jazz Concert at the UUCiA on March 28. I’m excited about the upcoming St. Patrick’s Peace Parade – hopefully on March 15.

This is also an exciting week on the multi-religious calendar. The Jewish holiday Purim begins at sundown on Wednesday, March 4 (as I type this, actually). The Lantern Festival (celebrated in China and in Taoism) is Thursday, March 5. The Hindu holiday Holi is Friday, March 6. And we are also in the Christian season of Lent. What rich traditions!

But today I find myself thinking of something more mundane: leaks. In part, that’s because there was
a leak in the minister’s study on February 22. Thanks to our Property Committee, that was quickly resolved. But I’ve heard from other friends and colleagues who had leaks in their studies/offices, and I know many folks have been dealing with this in your homes.

I’m in the habit (thanks to my dangerous dabbling in the writings of Carl Jung) of thinking in terms of synchronicity and the collective unconscious. So when lots of folks I know are having leaks, I wonder: What could it mean? I don’t literally think the universe (or God/Goddess or Tao) is trying to send a message, but I do feel spiritually compelled to look for meaning.

One thing that comes to mind are all the messages about water in the Tao Te Ching, as we discussed on Sunday, February 22. Water is indeed powerful. As it says at Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching, “The greatest good is like water.  It flows even to the lowliest places where no one chooses to be and so it is very close to the Tao”.  Or as the late martial artist Bruce Lee once said, “…. be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water…  you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put [water] in a teapot and it becomes the teapot…. Be water, my friend.” Are these leaks telling us to “go with the flow”, so to speak?

Maybe. But that doesn’t feel quite right. Too many folks are having a really hard and demoralizing
time with this winter weather for that meaning to seem exactly right.

I think it’s more basic. What causes a leak? A crack or a hole causes a leak. I think the message is, many of us are feeling worn out and “leaky” after a very rough February. There is good news, though. Our Unitarian forebear Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “There is a crack in everything God has made.” Emerson’s quotation reminds me of even better words by songwriter Leonard Cohen: Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

So, friends, we might be feeling leaky and cracked, but that’s how the light gets in. The light is coming! Hang in there.

And that, of course, reminds me of something else: “spring forward” your clocks Saturday night when you go to bed. Daylight Savings Time is here; can Spring be far behind?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Super Bowl and Souper Bowl of Caring

Brady's locker, with Ganesh (photo found here).
Okay, I'll just cut to the chase here. I'm a huge New England Patriots fan. What a Super Bowl that was, huh? Unbelievable.

I was interested to learn that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has Ganesh in his locker ("remover of obstacles" from the Hindu tradition). Who knew?

But as much as I enjoy watching football, at the end of the day, it's just a game. The Super Bowl is the most watched television show in the United States, but that doesn't make it the most important thing happening, of course. One of the most important things happening is that there are people right here in this country who need some help getting by. That's why the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover participated in the Souper Bowl of Caring on February 1.

According to the website, this was the 25th anniversary of the Souper Bowl of Caring, which was created in 1990 when a simple prayer (“even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat”) inspired a youth-led movement to fight hunger. Since then, millions of dollars have been raised for soup kitchens, food banks and other charities in communities across the USA.
The UUCiA collection went to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, which (according to the website) has been transporting, storing and distributing food to disadvantaged members of the community since 1991. 

Considering that we decided to do this only days before the Super Bowl, our collection was pretty successful! We'll have to do it again next year, perhaps with an earlier start!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Catching up... Carnism

I have been remiss in posting lately. I apologize. I want to write something about Black History Month, and "30 Days of Love", and even the Patriots winning the Super Bowl! But right now, I just want to share a video: "Beyond Carnism and toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices". It's a TEDx talk by Melanie Joy, who explains the psychology behind eating some animals, but not others.  It is about 19 minutes long, 2 minutes of which are difficult to watch because they "make the unseen, seen". (You can forward through that if you need to; it is hard to watch.) This TED talk explains the ideology of carnism. People tend to think that vegans and vegetarians have a certain ideology or belief system that keeps them from eating meat, and that is true. But as this talk explains, those who eat meat are also operating with a certain ideology/belief system. I don't expect that you will watch this and become a vegan or vegetarian overnight; I don't assume anything about your reaction to it. I just ask that (if you are willing) you watch the video and think about it.