Friday, December 5, 2014

Black Lives Matter

We are in the midst of the Christian season of Advent, a time of expectant waiting for the birth of Jesus celebrated at Christmas. There are many wonderful things about patience and the spiritual discipline of waiting, but one thing that we need not wait for is justice. As Anne Frank put it, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” 

Last night there were historic protests in Boston and in cities around the USA after the failure to indict in the choking death of an unarmed Eric Garner in New York (following so closely after the failure to indict in the shooting death of an unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri). As these massive protests show, many of us are ready to change our country for the better, and we don’t need to wait a single moment longer. This isn’t just a protest; it’s a movement – a movement to end police brutality against African Americans, and ultimately a movement to end institutionalized racism. 

To my regret, I missed last night's action in Boston; I am "down for the count" with sinusitis. I did follow along on social media -- and tweeted and posted about it, aka "clicktivism". I also watched the Boston tree lighting ceremony on TV... there were a LOT more #EnoughIsEnough: We Are The Ones, Justice For Eric Garner protesters than folks who were there for the ceremony. It was surreal to watch the tree lighting ceremony on TV -- watching ridiculous things like the Patriots cheerleaders in sexy Santa suits dancing to "Jingle Bell Rock" -- when this huge protest was happening, and they weren't even mentioning it... when this massive movement is afoot and they just ignored it with "the show must go on" stuff! As if a Christmas tree is more important than racism and police brutality and thousands of people rising up! (On WCVB Channel 5 news, they actually said the protesters "didn't take away from" the tree lighting celebration. Are you kidding?)

I was able to go to the November 25 rally and march in Roxbury, after the Ferguson grand jury decision was announced. That was a big event with a great turn-out, too. But last night's action? Amazing. Even bigger than the November 25 action -- much bigger! Boston was "shut down" with all the protesters. New York City was too. And cities all over this country. It gives me hope. May we be a part of this movement, and stand on the side of love on the right side of history.

If you want to see the reading and sermon from the November 30 service “A Faithful Response to Ferguson”, click here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Another Armistice Day...

Yesterday I participated, yet again, with Veterans For Peace's "Armistice / Veterans Day for Peace" in Boston. (Picture of part of the group marching below...) We had an excellent turnout, including The Leftist Marching Band and folks from the peace community.

Photo by Howard Rotman, November 11, 2014, Boston.
I had the honor of providing the opening "words of peace". I shared the words of UU ministerial colleague Rev. Chris Antal. When he was a chaplain serving in Afghanistan, Rev. Antal shared these words on Veterans Day in 2012. He received an official reprimand for these words...

I shared them because I think they are brave and brilliant, and there's no way I could possibly improve upon them.

A link to Rev. Antal's piece, "A Veterans Day Confession for America", is here.

Veterans Day is always hard for me, as I posted about last year. I am grateful to be able to spend the day with like-minded peace activists.

This year I also discovered the poetry of Karen Skolfield, a 1989 Panama veteran. She was a guest reader, and shared "Backblast Area Clear" and "Army SMART Book: On Being Lost". You can read some of her excellent poetry (including "Army SMART Book: On Being Lost") at this link.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Earned Sick Time is a moral issue...

Go to to learn more!
Many faith-based organizations that I respect are asking people of faith and people of conscience to Vote Yes on 4: Yes to Earned Sick Time. Some of these faith-based organizations are the Merrimack Valley Project, UU Mass Action, and MCAN (among others). I will be joining others from the Merrimack Valley Project (MVP) on election day (Tuesday, November 4) to knock on doors and get out the vote!

I see voting Yes on 4 as the right thing for a Unitarian Universalist to do. It fits in with our Seven Principles; particularly the first principle, "the inherent worth and dignity of every person"; the second principle, "justice, equity and compassion in human relations"; and the fifth principle, "the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large".

I signed on the the MCAN "Faith Statement on Question 4 on Earned Sick Time". Here is the interfaith/ecumenical statement:

"Our faith traditions teach that work is more than a way to make a living; it is a way of being co-creators with God in bringing the world to its fulfillment. It is a way of growing, sharing and enhancing one's own life and that of one's family and community.

"But for many in our Commonwealth, work has been stripped of its dignity. Poverty wages, sparse benefits, and uncertain work hours are just a few of the daily indignities that many face. For them, work not only fails to enhance their lives and their families and communities -- it diminishes them.

"That's why faith communities across Massachusetts are supporting Question 4 on Earned Sick Time as an important moral and family issue. In today's economy, so many are struggling to balance work, family, and life's challenges. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that all families be able to deal with the inevitable reality of a personal health issue, a sick child, or family illness without fear of losing their job or facing other repercussions.

"Yet in Massachusetts, one of the wealthiest states in the country, nearly one out of four workers reporting being fired, punished or harassed for taking a sick day to care for themselves or their ill loved ones. When employers fail to give sick time, they act as if the workers only matter when they are productive. They fail to see that workers are people, created in the image of God, deserving of dignity.

"No person should have to choose between their family or their job. No person should have to go to work sick because they cannot afford to miss a day's pay.

"This fall, we commit to speak to the people in our congregations and communities in support of Question 4. Our faith calls us especially to reach out to those who are unlikely to vote this year because they have lost hope, because they have not found a reason to expect the leaders they elect to make things better for their community. We will pledge to stand with them, to see their problems as our problems, and to help them find the power and hope to get to the polls to vote directly for Earned Sick Time.

"Leadership is not just about whom we elect. Leadership is about us as a people and how we stand in faith together for the good of us all. It's how we demonstrate our love for each other.

"We as faith communities across Massachusetts pledge to assume our mantle of leadership in this moment and demonstrate love for all of God's people."

For some secular encouragement, The Boston Globe also encourages readers to vote Yes on 4. Read their piece here. To quote from the Globe's October 25 editorial: "QUESTION 4 on the November ballot is a sweeping measure that would provide all Massachusetts workers the chance to earn sick leave — in many cases, with pay. If passed, the referendum would put Massachusetts in line with a handful of forward-thinking cities and just two other states, California and Connecticut. The measure is a welcome opportunity for the Commonwealth to lead, and voters should approve it.

"The ballot measure, promoted by labor unions and endorsed by some business groups, hospitals, and economists, would allow workers to earn up to 40 hours per year of sick leave — an hour of leave for every 30 hours they work. This leave could also be used to care for a sick child, spouse, or parent. Workers for companies with 10 or fewer employees would earn unpaid leave; workers for companies with 11 or more employees would be paid for their time off. The measure would apply to part-time workers as well, and would affect nearly one-third of Massachusetts workers — about 900,000 people, many of them in low-wage jobs. It would allow home health care workers to receive the benefit, as well, by classifying them as state employees for the purposes of the law."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Climate Change Summit, and What's Possible

This past Saturday, I went to a wonderful Climate Change Summit organized by UU Mass Action.We heard from Clean Water Action, Mothers Out Front, and 350 Massachusetts. It was a great day to start thinking about what we can do, together.

I had the honor of sharing some closing words. I excerpted words from "What’s Possible," a short film shown at UN Climate Summit in New York this past September. You can watch the film here:

Part of the words I shared from "What's Possible" (written by Scott Z. Burns) were: 

"One day we will wake up to find that the energy that powers the alarm clock
came from the breeze through the trees the night before.
And we will go to work that morning riding the rays of the sun.
It will light our cities and power our businesses.
It will warm our homes and cool our workplaces.
It will reduce sources of conflict, and fuel our economies.
It will connect us all.


We have every reason in the world to act.
We can’t wait until tomorrow.
This is our only home.
You can choose today to make a world of difference."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Church that Celebrates LGBTQ "Coming Out"!

At the UUCiA...
I'm so happy to be part of a congregation that celebrates LGBTQ "coming out"!

Please join us  at the UU Congregation in Andover on Sunday, October 12 at 10:30 a.m. for "A Shout Out for Coming Out!" with guest Debra Fowler. Saturday, October 11, is National LGBTQ Coming Out Day, and this year we celebrate the 26th anniversary of this event. As summarized by The Human Rights Campaign, "Coming out STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other. Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality."

Come celebrate with readings, stories and songs and remember how far we’ve come and be reminded of how much remains to be done. Deb Fowler is a filmmaker and co-creator of “Through Gay Eyes”. She has been teaching English Language Learners at Lowell High School since 2005. Please join us!  Directions here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The People's Climate March... amazing day.

My view of the interfaith group, People's Climate March.
On Sunday, September 21, I had the amazing experience of participating in the People's Climate March in New York City. What a huge crowd! What an incredible day!

I marched with the faith-based contingent, which was huge in and of itself. It was amazingly diverse. Unitarian Universalists were well represented (I went on the UU Mass Action bus to and from), but all traditions were represented. There were Protestant Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans... on and on. It was beautiful to behold. UU lay leader Peter Bowden made a great video of the faith-based contingent, which you can see at this link.

There were different counts of the number of marchers, as always. On the day, the number 310,000 was thrown around, but after the fact the estimate seems to be something like 400,000. Incredible.

Revs. Lara Hoke & Wendy Bell, ready to make noise.
Before the march, the organizers made the request for us to "make some noise". I hadn't played my trumpet in quite a while, but I dusted it off just for the day. My friend (Rev.) Wendy Bell of the Harvard UU Church brought her bagpipes, which she just recently started to learn (she sounded great!). So the 400,000 of us made sure that we were heard, as well as seen. (And now I can attest that, while trumpets are loud, bagpipes are much louder!)

It was heartening for so many people, from so many different backgrounds and perspectives, to come together to let the world leaders know that it is time -- past time -- to take real actions to alleviate global climate change. It was an honor to be a (small) part of that.

For a very quick video summary of the event, click here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Year starts off with Bread & Roses Festival in Lawrence

UUCiA table at the 2014 Bread & Roses Festival
The 2014-2015 "congregational year" for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover (UUCiA) started off with us having a table at the 30th Annual Bread and Roses Festival in Lawrence yesterday.

We had a wonderful time meeting lots of great folks.

In addition to offering info about the UUCiA and Unitarian Universalism, we created a wish tree. We folded origami versions of

Friday, August 15, 2014

Racism, Militarization of Police, Solidarity with Ferguson

From (more photos there)
It's hard to know where to begin when attempting to respond to the tragic shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, by police in Ferguson, MO. So many others have already written thoughtful pieces that I would like to link to a sampling of them:

From the New York Times: "In Wake of Clashes, Calls to Demilitarize Police"

From an op-ed in the NYT, written by folks from the Friends Committee on National Legislation: "Get the Military off of Main Street: Ferguson Shows the Risks of Militarized Policing"

From an op-ed in the Huffington Post religion section: "What White People Can Do About the Killing of Black Men in America"

From Bill Moyers/Tom Dispatch: "The Criminalization of Everyday Life"

From Mother Jones: "How Did America's Police Get to Militarized?"

From Bill Moyers/AlterNet: "Not Just Ferguson: 11 Eye-opening Facts about America's Militarized Police Forces"

From The Daily Banter: "Two Americas: Ferguson, Missouri Versus the Bundy Ranch, Nevada"

From The Concourse: "America Is Not for Black People"

From Think Progress: "The Racist Housing Policies that Helped to Fuel Anger in Ferguson"

Really, I could go on and on. Racism -- institutionalized racism -- is nothing new in America. It has been called the "original sin" of the USA. The militarization of police, however, is a relatively new phenomenon. It is alarming. Put institutionalized racism and militarized police together, and it is a formula for tragedy and injustice.

I'll close by sharing a piece in the Huffington Post by (UU minister) Rev. Meg Riley, called "Up to Our Necks"

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A "Just and Lasting Peace"

Quakers at the 2014 St. Pat's Peace Parade in South Boston.
My heart breaks, along with so many others, at the war in Gaza. My heart breaks, and I feel helpless. What can we do? What should we do? There are no easy answers. This is not a new problem.

This past Sunday, I worshipped with the local Quakers, as I sometimes do when I have a Sunday "off". I love the Religious Society of Friends, and feel a strong affinity with them. I suppose the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, because when my father was deciding which religion was for him back in the 50s, he was drawn to both the Unitarians and the Quakers. Ultimately, he became a Unitarian Universalist (after the 1961 merger of the Unitarians and Universalists). But it was a close call! And I totally understand.

There are a few things about the Quakers that I really love. I love that they are a "peace church" with a strong stand against war. I did not always feel this way; I am a Navy veteran, after all. But nowadays, I sometimes find myself wishing that the UUA were a "peace church".

In any case, the Quakers -- and specifically the American Friends Service Committee -- have put an enormous amount of energy into thinking about the issues of war and peace.  I appreciate both the commitment to peace and the thoughtfulness.  At this time, I find it helpful to read the AFSC piece on "Principles for a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis" (linked here). Perhaps you will find it helpful, too.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stop the Pipeline!

Photo I took at the Dracut rally/march today.
Today I went to a "Stop the Pipeline" rally and march in Dracut. Concerned citizens got together to rally against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline that would run through several towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  This was all part of a "rolling march" that has been going across the state.

If you want to learn more about the proposed pipeline, here are some relevant links:

No Fracked Gas in Massachusetts
Mass Plan (PipelineAwarenessNetwork)

Those Blasted Towns 

There will be a "Stop the Pipeline Action Day" in Boston this Wednesday, July 30. Learn more at the event Facebook page.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Friends New Underground Railroad

Picture found here.
There has been so much tragic news lately, with wars and planes crashing or being shot down, and so much more. It is easy to let the news get you down, but it's important to "remember the helpers", as Mr. Rogers would say.

One shining light that I learned about recently are the American Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends) and the "Friends New Underground Railroad", which is helping LGBT Ugandans to reach safety. You can read about their amazing work in this Newsweek article. What an inspirational effort!

I have always loved and admired the Friends/Quakers, and this just reinforces my feelings.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Praying for peace in the Middle East

This is a sad time. I am at a loss for words, so I share those of UU minister Rev. Linda Hansen:

"We pray for the power to see that we are all connected ... and that we ultimately help or harm ourselves in helping or harming one another. Out of this vision, may we have the will and the courage to work for a just and peaceful world in which every individual is treated with dignity."

(This prayer was offered, among others, at an interfaith prayer event in Milwaukee this week. You can read more here.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Mad Men"'s Don Draper: Sympathetic?

I have been binge-watching Mad Men this summer. I'm only a little ashamed, because it really is an amazing show.

If you haven't seen the show and are planning to watch it on Netflix (or some other means) in the future, please stop reading as this post will have spoilers. (And I do recommend watching it!)

Now. Don Draper. The main character of Mad Men.  Is he a sympathetic character, or not?  I've read some other online commentary on the topic (asking if he is "likeable" and such). And I've read actor Jon Hamm's own take (he does not find Don Draper sympathetic). Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course.  As for me, I do find him sympathetic, ultimately, in spite of his many flaws.

So, let's acknowledge some of the flaws. First of all, he assumed the identity of a fellow soldier after an explosion in the Korean War. In the process, he upended the life of the original (or "real") Don Draper's family and his own family of origin too. Also, therefore, he is technically a deserter.

He's a horrible womanizer, throughout the series.

He's fairly ruthless in his work.

He doesn't appear to care about much other than life's creature comforts... he doesn't seem to have much social consciousness, and the 60s is lost on him in many ways.

There are other things, too, but those are some of the most obvious flaws.

Now, his central secret of having assumed another man's identity? Ultimately, I find this oddly sympathetic. He was very young, in shock from an explosion and the terror of battle, and he makes a quick decision. His punishment, really, is having to live with this secret and the stress it produces.  He does, of course, also become close to Anna Draper (the "real" Don Draper's widow) and helps her out.

It's harder for me to overlook the other flaws, really. But we also know that he grew up in a horrible and miserable situation that wounded him deeply. In that sense (and literally I suppose) he is a survivor. And so he has learned to "look out for number one" at all costs. Again, not a pretty picture, but somewhat sympathetic when you know how tough his start in life was.

There are two scenes that stay with me as summing up Don Draper's tragic predicament. One is when Marilyn Monroe dies. In one scene, Don is in the elevator with Peggy, discussing the death and how surprising it was that she was so miserable in spite of outwardly seeming to have it all. The elevator operator says, "Some people hide in plain sight". And that, of course, could be referring to Don Draper himself. If Marilyn Monroe was miserable "hiding in plain sight", surely so is Don Draper. And so I find him sympathetic in part because one of the tragedies of his life is that his first priority is taking care of himself and being successful and comfortable, but in spite of his efforts, he's clearly miserable. (As is noted here, of course, the elevator operator himself is "hiding in plain sight", being an "invisible" African American in a White Man's World.)

The other scene that stays with me is when he reads Frank O'hara's Meditations in an Emergency (pictured here). He sees someone reading it in a bar, asks about it, and the person reading it says something like "you probably wouldn't like it" (probably assuming Don Draper to be square or what have you). Later, we see him reading this very book. And we hear lines from the poem "Mayakovsky" (you can read the poem here): "Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern." We get the sense that perhaps Don Draper feels that beneath it all, his personality is a bit of a catastrophe. He seems outwardly confident, but deep down he's full of self-doubt.

And so, in spite of his flaws, I wish Don Draper well. I want him to stop being miserable and hurting himself and others in the process. I want him to assess where he's "a catastrophe" and work on setting it right.  We've seen hints of his good side (e.g., when he's with Anna Draper, and his daughter Sally and son Bobby; when he's helping Peggy's career, etc.); I want him to bring that out more. Hopefully he'll learn (as Bert Cooper sang in the season 7 "half finale") that "the best things in life are free". I eagerly await the final episodes. I do hope that somehow he can find peace.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Image found here.
Today on Facebook, political economist Robert Reich posted this:

"One of the most enduring American traits is our belief in progress. Even in the direst times – the Great Depression, world wars, the Cold War – polls have shown a majority of us believing the future will be better, we and our families eventually will do better economically, our children will be better off than we are, the nation as a whole will progress, even the world will become a better place. But over the last two decades, that fundamental belief in progress has been shaken. Polls show fewer and fewer optimists, to the point where now a majority no longer believes the future will be better. This is one of the most fundamental changes in American character in history with all sorts of implications for how we act. (For the record, I'm still a strong believer in progress, and I’ll explain why in a future post). How about you? Do you believe the future will be better, and why?"

This is truly worth pondering. I think Reich is correct that optimism has always been an American trait. But there are a few things here that make me want to back up a little. What does "a better future" mean? What does "progress" look like?

If "a better future" means endless economic growth -- children making more money and having more possessions and a bigger home than their parents -- then no, I don't think that's going to happen. But I also don't think that's better.  We've based the American dream on materialism for too long -- on boundless growth and expansion. But it's time for a new American dream... or better yet, a new dream for the world, for all its peoples. Do I believe that we might "progress" to a future based on new and better values than endless material growth (and the environmental degradation that comes with it)? Yes, I do believe that that "better future" is possible.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

UU General Assembly... my own experience

I enjoy writing brief summaries of my UU General Assembly experiences on this blog... In part, posting here helps me share with others. But in part, it helps me to remember! As much as I love GA, you do so many things packed into a few days that it's hard to remember just what you did (and all that happened) when it's over! Blogging here helps me to remember GA better, in addition to sharing my experiences.

What a GA this was, 2014 in Providence! My only regret is that, as a commuter, I didn't have the "total immersion" that I usually have. Still, the things I got to participate in were quite wonderful.

It's always so hard to decide what things to attend at GA -- so many great things are happening at once! In the past, I sometimes went to the beginning part of one workshop, and then walked over to catch the end of a different workshop! I tried to be more kind to myself this year. Here are some highlights of the workshops I attended: I am very glad that I went to "Just Good Food" with Frances Moore Lappe (Diet for a Small Planet), Melanie Joy (Why We Love Dogs & Eat Pigs), Marisa Miller Wolfson, and facilitated by Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh. It was a very good overview of ethical eating, though I wish climate change had been discussed more. What an incredible line-up of speakers! One thing I learned about that I was very glad to be acquainted with is I was left thinking the words of Frances Moore Lappe: "Shift from scarcity mind to ecomind".

Another very good workshop was "When Everything You Thought You Knew Isn't Enough" with Rev. Stefan Jonasson and Rev. Tandi Rogers. They talked about UU growth strategies and learnings. Some highlights for me were Jonasson reminding us to "fail boldly" and "more frequently"; this isn't a time to be timid.  He also told us to "get over" our "obsession with governance and organizational structure". Jonasson and Rogers reminded us that mission matters; "congregations must discern and embrace their distinctive mission"; "our mission is almost always thrust upon us rather than chosen by us"; and "congregations must be aware of their specific context and strive to make their mission relevant in that context". They asked us to consider where we are called to serve with these questions: "what are the three most exciting places in your community?" "What three places break your heart?" and "Is your congregation present in these places? If not, why not? If so, what difference are you making?"

I also attended "#UUsGetSocial: Digging into Facebook, Twitter, and Video-Making/Sharing" with Rev. Dr. Andrew Pakula, Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford, Rev. Dr. Daniel O'Connell, and Peter Bowden. It was reassuring that my Facebook and Twitter skills are actually already strong, but I did learn a few new good tricks of the trade. The Video Making/Sharing is the new area for me, the place where I have the most to learn. This is something I want to work on in the coming year. I did learn that the hashtag most often associated with UU is #hot. Go figure!

I went to a great play created by friends from UU Mass Action: "Be the Change: Activist Worship Theater". The dinner party play was written by the Rev. Steve Wilson. Lots of friends acted it all out. It was a ton of fun! I particularly enjoyed seeing Rev. Hank Peirce play Jesus in a Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit! I would like to try this play at the UUCiA sometime... (I had the special offstage role of calling Rev. Alice Anacheka-Nasemann's cell phone at a certain point early on in the play. That was fun.)

Friday's General Session (formerly known as Plenary) was an exciting one.  We voted on a Congregational Study Action Issue (CSAI), and selected "Escalating Inequality". They were all excellent possible CSAIs, but I think we chose the right one. Saturday's General Session was possibly even more exciting as we delegates voted that the UUA should divest from fossil fuels! (Here I am at the General Session with my "divest" button from the UU Ministry for Earth booth.)

Saturday night's Ware Lecture was given by Sister Simone Campbell, one of the "nuns on a bus". She was really wonderful. I heard her speak once before, at the 2013 UU Mass Action Advocacy Day, but I think her Ware Lecture was even more wonderful.  She spoke about "walking toward trouble", which I think is a great way to frame justice work. She said that when you walk toward trouble, you encounter uncomfortable truths.  But also, when you walk toward trouble, you find hope. (In some ways, this was one of the themes of this GA in general: the need to get out there and engage with the world, something I thought and spoke about a lot this past year... it certainly resonates for me.)  Sr. Simone noted that the first three words of the Constitution are "we the people", and she said that "individualism is an unpatriotic lie".
Sr. Simone Campbell speaks, with P-Bruins banners above.

Quick final thoughts: All in all, this was another great GA, but it went too fast. Sadly, I had to watch the "Service of the Living Tradition" and the "WaterFire" event from livestream at home, because of constraints related to my commute. I saw some old friends, which is always a GA highlight, and I made a few new ones. It was a time, as always, to get a better sense of what the UUA headquarters folks are thinking about, and to learn what exciting things some congregations out there are doing.

A real highlight for me this year was being joined by several members of the UUCiA this weekend at GA! That's the first time I was able to meet up with so many congregants at GA, and it felt just great.

And a bit of nostalgia: Here's a picture of the message board at UU GA this year. At my first GA (1995), message boards were THE thing. There were no cell phones and no texting in those days. If you wanted to connect with someone, you had to leave a note on the boards, alphabetically by last name. You'd walk by the boards compulsively throughout GA, checking for notes. Wow, it was a different time! Last time I went to GA (2012) I put a note on the board for a friend, as a nostalgic joke. Three days later, the note was still there. I had to text her to tell her to check the message board! And there used to be many boards to hold all the messages -- this year, one side of one board was plenty.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

UUMA Ministry Days

Picture from
Yesterday was my first day at "Ministry Days" this year, a couple of days of special worship services and workshops for UU ministers just before the UU General Assembly begins. (Both Ministry Days and GA are in Providence, RI this year.)

I am commuting, because there was a shortage of housing at some point, and because I can commute. Well, I'll make the most of it!

Yesterday was notable for some excellent opening worship, and for a keynote with Marshall Ganz.  Rev. Don Southworth gave the sermon at opening worship. (By the way, if you go to Twitter and look at #ministrydays, you will see some good quotations and commentary.) With help from the Twitter account of Kimberly Debus, I can remember that Rev. Southworth said, "We can't forget that every place we step is holy ground." Indeed.

The keynote from Marshall Ganz was titled "Public Narratives for Transformational Ministry". Ganz is a longtime activist and professor, and he talks a lot about social movements. Among other things, Ganz talked about the importance of storytelling for social movements.  A few things that Ganz said really stayed with me. He said, "You can't learn much from perfect people." Amen to that, and just what I need to hear yesterday! He reminded us that when Moses was selected for his special task, he wondered, "Why me?" because he knew how imperfect he was. Ganz talked about moral authority; what gives moral authority? I think sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that public spokespeople have to be perfect -- or at least without notable flaws or transgressions -- but Ganz's talk reminded me that that's not necessarily what's needed. John Gibb Millspaugh's Twitter account helps me remember that Ganz said "Leadership is 1) taking responsibility 2) to enable others 3) to serve purpose 4) amidst uncertainty." It's about creating solidarity and momentum. It's not about perfection.

As a student of the Occupy movement, I was interested to hear Ganz's quick take on OWS during the Questions and Answers.  Ganz says that the Occupy movement did a great service to the country because it named what was (is) happening. (I agree with this: I think OWS was, in then end, an important intervention for America, as a sign said.) He went on to say that OWS was "a tactic in search of a strategy, and a moment in search of a movement." How well said! And this is pretty much the conclusion I've come to in the past two months of watching the attempt to "re-engage" OWS and OB; it was a moment... A magic moment in time. Somehow, it has to become a movement, and that hasn't quite happened yet.  Ganz concluded that OWS did some real good, but it didn't go far enough.

Today, so far, I watched the 25/50 Worship Service (most of it) on livestream. As a reminder,  the 25/50 service honors those UU ministers who were ordained 25 years ago and 50 years ago. Each of these cohorts elects from among its members one person to deliver a homily at this service. These sermons are consistently excellent, and moving. Unfortunately, I missed Rev. Victoria Safford's talk; I heard it was excellent. I'll have to watch/read it later! I did hear Rev. Judith Walker-Rigg's sermon, and I loved it. She is the first woman (I just learned) to give the 50 year reflection! So much there to take in and savor... As the UUMA Twitter account helps me remember, she said that "a very rich ministry with 50 people can include all the magic that anybody needs". So true! She did a wonderful job of spelling out the mysteries of ministry, and how hard it can be to find "measurable outcomes". As she put it, "Whatever you think you're doing (in ministry), you will never really know." And as Joanna Fontaine Crawford's Twitter account helps me remember, Rev. Walker-Riggs said, "Life is not measured by the number of times you breathe; it is measured by the times it leaves you breathless."

Next came the Berry Street Lecture (again, I followed remotely).  As a reminder, the Berry Street Lecture is the longest-running lecture series in the United States. (Read a short history of this lecture series here.) This year, the speaker was Rev. Lindi Ramsden. Her title was "A Changing Climate for Ministry".  I was wondering if Ramsden would talk in general about the changing 21st century world for ministry, or if she would literally be talking about climate change and what it means for ministry. It turns out, she was mostly talking about the latter.  Her talk started by talking about what global climate change will mean for us, all of us. She shifted later into talking about the importance of social justice work in general. In light of climate change, all social justice work is crucial -- not just because it's the "right" thing, but because it is, in fact, the practical thing. Doing this work isn't really a choice; it's a necessity. (I hope to link to the transcript of Ramsden's talk when it's available.)

Wednesday ended with the Opening Ceremony, always a joyful occasion. Jim Key (new UUA moderator) did a very nice job in his first Opening Ceremony ever!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Why the conspiracy theories?

This past November marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I've read a few books about the assassination, and watched a few movies about it, and have been a small-time JFK assassination student. I was surprised, actually, that there wasn't more of a fuss to mark the 50th anniversary. After all, there is still so much we don't know. But it seemed that the anniversary came and went with minimal fanfare, all things considered.
I don't know what to think about the assassination of JFK. I personally believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the primary shooter -- and possibly the only shooter. On the other hand, it's quite possible that it was a conspiracy at least in the basic sense of the definition; that some person other than Oswald had some level of involvement or knowledge. Was the mob involved? Rogue intelligence agents? Cuba? Who knows. There are certainly many weird elements to the story, from the botched autopsy to the untimely deaths of certain persons of interest -- including the irrefutably weird (if not downright suspicious) murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby. Will we ever know the truth?

One thing I don't understand is why a half a century after the assassination, the government still hasn't released all the information about it. What could they possibly be hiding, 50 years -- a half century! -- later? 

And that's the problem. The government keeps secrets, and it makes some citizens very suspicious. I think the secrecy is at the heart of many of the conspiracy theories in this country. 

After the JFK anniversary came and went, I found myself looking into (in a small-time way) some of the other conspiracy theories that are out there. Conspiracy theories about 9/11, about alien incidents (Roswell and Area 51 and more), and all kinds of conspiracy theories about various presidents. Some of the writings and videos made are mesmerizing in their intensity.  Some of them are nothing short of bizarre. But I didn't poke into these things to judge their accuracy. I was really more interested in the general phenomenon. After all, it seems like there are more conspiracy theories than ever, and there's a conspiracy theory now for every major news story. Every single one! 

I know that the secrecy of the government makes some folks suspicious, and I understand that. There is something unnerving about the fact that our government knows so much about us and yet keeps so much from us. The NSA and other agencies have done some things (like spying on citizens) that tend to make us wary (I wrote some about this at this earlier post.)

But what makes various conspiracy theories so appealing? 

I read this article, which suggests that, in part, "Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness." They are, as I suspected, also a result of the cynicism about the government and "the system". I do believe that if the government were more transparent, and if people felt more empowered, conspiracy theories would cease to be so prevalent.

I read another article, which says, "Conspiracy chatter was once dismissed as mental illness. But the prevalence of such belief, documented in surveys, has forced scholars to take it more seriously. Conspiracy theory psychology is becoming an empirical field with a broader mission: to understand why so many people embrace this way of interpreting history. As you’d expect, distrust turns out to be an important factor." 

This NPR story points out that believing in conspiracies isn't as "fringe-y" as you might think. As the story puts it, "It turns out the consistent predictor of such beliefs is something that you might almost call an All-American attitude -- a belief in individualism, distrust of authority. And together those things translate into a desire to avoid being controlled by large secret forces." In other words, research suggests that certain American attitudes actually give us a propensity to be conspiracy theorists. 

I don't really have a conclusion for this post. I'm not sure what my small-time study of conspiracy theories really shows, other than many Americans distrust their government, and authority, and secrecy. Which perhaps is a cautionary tale... for all of us.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Spiritual Spring Cleaning

The UUCiA's "summertime" quilt.
Back in May, I had a "Question Box" Sunday -- a Unitarian Universalist tradition where the congregants submit questions for the minister to answer. One of these questions was so beautifully constructed that I wanted to flesh it out in its own sermon (I might do this with some of the other questions, too, this fall). Here was the question:

“In Ecclesiastes, 3:6, it says ‘[There is] a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away.’ [NIV] This is the season of spring cleaning. Keeping is easy but throwing away can be hard. Is there something that has been lingering about that we, as a community or as individuals, should consider throwing away or giving up so that we have the space (physically, emotionally, or spiritually) for something new? What should we consider discarding?”
Good question, right? On June 15, I attempted to answer it. You can listen to my sermon at this link.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Culture of Violence, continued... animal cruelty

In my last post here, I spoke of our culture of violence. It was in the context of the tragic stabbings and shootings near the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The "big picture" question of our culture of violence goes far beyond the US epidemic of gun violence, and far beyond even misogynistic violence against women.

I saw the graphic above at the Engaging Peace website. It's a pretty good overview, in my opinion, of the many layers and levels of violence you can find in our culture. I plan to post more about this as the year goes on.

Today I'm thinking about animal cruelty.

Sixteen years ago, I became a vegetarian (with a lapse into pescatarianism). For a month now, I've been eating as a vegan, removing all animal products from my diet -- including eggs and dairy. This is always a process; I still have some leather shoes, and as part of my process I will move away from wearing animal products over time.

Part of our culture of violence is "othering" -- it's failing to see the oneness of life on earth. This is something we do with animals; we see them as "less than", and treat them accordingly. I believe we will live in a better world when we begin to treat non-human animals with compassion. And not everyone is aware of it, but the vast majority of the meat that people consume comes from factory farms. And factory farms are rife with appalling cruelty toward animals. (In addition, factory farming creates an enormous amount of global warming gasses.)

Today, I went to a Humane Society rally against cruel farming practices. These rallies are happening all over Massachusetts, but I went to the one in Dracut. I am sharing here a few photos from this rally.

To the left, a "human gestation crate" gives a picture of what gestation crates for pigs are like (click on the picture to see it larger). You can watch a Humane Society video that shows and explains the issues with gestation crates at this link.

Today's rally was specifically about ending the cruel confinement of farm animals in Massachusetts. Gestation crates for pigs are one of the very cruel practices. Another cruel practice is the use of battery cages for hens.
To the right is a picture of a battery cage (again, click on the picture to see it larger). These are not very big at all. It would be a little cramped for one hen, and very cramped for three hens.  Sadly, ten to thirteen hens are sometimes found in these cages. You can watch a Humane Society video that shows and explains the issues with battery crates at this link.

The rally was also about prohibiting veal crates for baby cows. You can read about some of the issues with veal crates at this link.

Want to take action? You can support H1456/S741 here in Massachusetts. You can call or write your state representative/senator.

One easy way to get started is to visit this link. There's a petition here to start you on your way.

Another great way to take action is to eat less meat and animal products, or perhaps even to stop eating meat and animal products.  As Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the book Eating Animals, tells us, “50 billion animals are factory-farmed every year.  It’s the number one cause of global warming, it’s responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than everything else put together and the UN has said it's one of the top two or three causes of every single environmental problem on the planet.” (See this link for more.) It is a new level of cruelty and pollution and offense to nature.  So people of our modern times are faced with a new reality.  As Foer puts it in Eating Animals, “We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, ‘What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?’”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What does the UCSB tragedy tell us?

Last Friday night, there was a horrible tragedy near the University of California, Santa Barbara. Lives were senselessly and tragically lost at the hands of one young man. I prefer not to use his name, because I'm tired of turning mass murderers into celebrities.

Another tragic mass murder in the United States of America.

Like many people, my first thoughts were of mental illness and gun control. If only we had better mental healthcare -- if only we had better gun control -- surely such tragedies couldn't happen. That's where my mind went first.

It's been pointed out, as the week has gone on and we've learned more, that the murderer in this case purchased his guns legally, and that he was getting lots of mental healthcare. The murderer came from a family with money, and he was getting more (and more expensive) mental healthcare than most citizens could hope for when struggling with mental illness. What does that mean?

And of course, we can ask (and should ask, I believe) if there were gun control provisions that stopped someone with mental illness from purchasing guns, would that have prevented this tragedy? In addition to shooting several people, resulting in three deaths and other injuries, the murderer also stabbed three people to death. Guns are not the only murder weapons, though undoubtedly they make mass killings more likely.

I'm in favor of better gun control laws -- meaning more strict ones. And of course I'm in favor of people having easier access to better healthcare, including mental healthcare. And while these two things (and maybe these two things together) could only help the situation, I can't honestly say that I believe it would prevent tragedies like the one that happened on Friday night.

I think the issues go much deeper.

One of my colleagues (Rev. Victoria Weinstein) wrote a post that this latest tragedy makes evident the rape culture in the United States. You can read her thought-provoking post here: "Rape Culture and the Myth of the Random Psycho".

Another colleague (Rev. Tom Schade) wrote a post about the narrative of the "mental disturbance" of misogyny being disrupted; perhaps it's not a mental disturbance but an "ideology". You can read his thought-provoking post here: "Re-Mapping the Ideological Landscape".

Rape culture and misogyny are a huge part of what's behind this tragedy. And it is completely appropriate, and even crucial, that this discussion continues and goes deeper.

I would also note, as some have pointed out, that in spite of the breath-taking misogyny of Friday's murderer, several of his victims were in fact young men. In fact, more men were murdered on Friday night than women. This isn't to minimize the misogyny of the murderer, nor to say that the rape culture isn't part of the tragedy; these were still central to the tragedy.

But I would also name the culture of violence in the United States. The rape culture is a part of that larger culture of violence, so it's not either/or. It's both. When are we going to get serious about naming and changing this? When will the United States of America say enough is enough? When will we get serious about addressing our culture of violence? I will write more on this later.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"I always feel like somebody's watchin' me"

If you're a child of the 80s as I am, you probably remember the song "(I Always Feel Like) Somebody's Watching Me", by Rockwell. It's possibly best known for the backup vocals, which were by the ultimate 80s megastar Michael Jackson. As a bonus (or punishment), here's a video reminder:

You're welcome.

On a more serious note, the current era of never-ending surveillance means that, whether you feel like it or not, you really are always being watched. I attempted to preach on this topic earlier this "church year" in a sermon entitled "Someone to Watch over Me: Spirituality of the Surveillance State". You can listen to the sermon at this link.

Daniel Ellsberg with local Veterans For Peace folks, photo by Maurice Morales
This past Monday, May 12, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraising dinner for the ACLU of Massachusetts. It honored three whistleblowers: Thomas Drake, Cathy Harris, and Daniel Ellsberg. I attended with others from Veterans From Peace. Here is a picture of many of us from the local chapter of VFP with Daniel Ellsberg (He is at the top left corner of the flag; I'm kneeling in the lower right of the photo). Ellsberg the original "national security whistleblower" is a former Marine and a friend of the Smedley D. Butler Brigade of VFP.

Of course, Ellsberg is best known for "The Pentagon Papers"; this was published by Beacon Press (of the Unitarian Universalist Association) when others feared to publish it. So Ellsberg is a friend of the UUA, too! In 2007, he was part of a presentation about government secrecy at the UU General Assembly (along with Amy Goodman, Sen. Mike Gravel, and Rev. Robert West); you can read about it and see a video at this link.

It offends me that my government has so many secrets, and yet it feels it has the right to know all of my private affairs.  It offends me that my government has been keeping secret how much surveillance it has been doing on ordinary US citizens. It offends me that my government is spying on its citizens as though we are a threat just by our living and breathing.

On Monday night, it was thought-provoking to hear from Drake, Harris, and Ellsberg. How brave one must be to be a whistleblower! Truly, it turns one's life inside out and upside down, never to be the same again. Whatever your opinion of these and other whistleblowers, it is hard to deny that they believe what they're doing is right. They are willing to give up life as they've known it to expose corruption and dangerous secrets.

The surprise of the night was a greeting by Edward Snowden, who currently has temporary asylum in Russia after exposing surveillance secrets of the NSA. Below is a video of his greeting; the part that gets cut off in the beginning is a joke he made about being sorry that he couldn't join us in Boston as he was having trouble with travel arrangements.

I do believe that it is my duty as a Unitarian Universalist – or even just as someone trying to be a good citizen – to be counter-cultural when it comes to living in fear and accepting surveillance as the supposed price we must pay for security. We can fight docile acceptance; we can try not to give in too easily to the intrusions. As I closed my sermon (mentioned earlier), "For those who believe in God, there are far more sophisticated versions of theology than 'God is watching, so act right.' And for those of us who want to be good citizens and good human beings, there are more sophisticated and important reasons to act morally than the knowledge that we are under surveillance. I don’t know whether it’s in our 'best interests to act as if God were there'; but I do know that it’s in our best interests not to let our government get away with playing God."

Friday, April 25, 2014

Easter... "Resurrecting the Way of Jesus"

This past Sunday was Easter, and my sermon was very much inspired by and based on Robin Meyers' book, The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.

I titled my sermon "Resurrecting the Way of Jesus".

The reading that I shared before the sermon was straight out of the book, and it focused on Matthew 13:33, "Heaven's imperial rule is like leaven that a woman took and concealed in three measures of flour until it was all leavened." According to Meyers, this "may be the most subversive parable in the New Testament".

The sermon itself builds on this, in a way.  You can listen to my sermon at this link.