Thursday, December 17, 2015

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from "Star Wars"

At the UUCiA on December 13, 2015
NOTE: This post is a slightly adapted excerpt from my December 13, 2015 Sermon, "All I Really Need to Know about Theology I Learned from 'Star Wars'". You can listen to the full sermon here. The picture to the left is from the "story for all ages" skit that we did that Sunday. I am in the Darth Vader costume.

I was just a kid when the original Star Wars movie came out. I was 8 ½-years-old, to be precise. It was my oldest sibling – who was a senior in high school at the time – who convinced our mom to take all of us kids to see it. Believe it or not, I was not enthusiastic, at all. First of all, my generation wasn’t as versed at sitting still in front of a screen; the prospect of sitting still for two hours wasn’t that appealing. The other reason I wasn’t too psyched to go was that, frankly, I wasn’t too wild about my sister’s taste in TV and movies. Her idea of good TV was Lost in Space and My Favorite Martian. I couldn’t imagine sitting through two hours of either of those. But I did tag along reluctantly with my mother and siblings to see Star Wars not long after it was released.

I sat down, daydreaming during the previews about being outside playing baseball. Then, after the previews were over, these words appeared on the screen: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Then the amazing, majestic music of the Star Wars Main Theme! Then, against a backdrop of mostly empty space, words started to scroll from the bottom of the screen to the top, making it look like they were floating off into the great beyond. And darned if they didn’t pull me right along with them like a tractor beam. I was hooked – a little kid, hooked! – by orchestral music and written words. If that isn’t an amazing achievement in cinema, I don’t know what is.

I have seen the original Star Wars movie so many times that I lost count back in, oh, 1978. I know that I saw it in the theaters at least 30 times. My older brother and I would regularly save up our weekly allowance to see it again and again (movies were cheaper then, even adjusted for inflation). More often than not we’d walk down and across the highway to get to the theater – free range kids, and no one called the police!

The special effects in the original Star Wars trilogy were astounding. Whereas the Star Trek Enterprise was so obviously a model that I kind of giggled at it even as a kid, the Star Wars spacecraft were pretty spectacularly convincing. But it wasn’t the special effects that kept me coming back. I kept coming back for what might as well have been, for an 8 ½-year-old, the Greatest Story Ever Told.

I was raised as a humanistic Unitarian Universalist kid by atheist parents, and to be completely honest, I think Star Wars filled some void I was feeling. Yes, I learned the most famous biblical stories in my UU “Sunday School” (as we called it then). But they felt like someone else’s stories to me, at the time. Star Wars felt like my story… my grand tale of fighting the good fight not because you necessarily expect to win, but because it is the right thing to do. And don’t forget magic. I do believe in intellectual integrity and love that aspect of Unitarian Universalism. But there is something – dare I say it? – good for the soul about suspending your disbelief occasionally, even if just for two hours in the dark theater, and feeling connected to things beyond your immediate world and understanding. So I do think that was the deeper appeal for me. The Force. Mystery. Magic. The triumph of good over evil.

In fact, with apologies to Robert Fulghum, all I really need to know I learned from Star Wars. Among other things, I learned:

Do, or do not, there is no try.
Judge by one’s size, do not.
Patience you must have.
Don’t blast the controls before jumping into a trash compactor.
Beware the Dark Side.
Let go of your hate.
Stay on target.
Let the Wookie win.

In the words of Fulghum, “Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.”

There’s even wisdom for the United States of America as the year 2015 comes to a close. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” We would do well to heed these words today. Fear to anger to hate to suffering. This is not the path we want to follow. I also watch the news lately and sometimes think of the words of Senator Naboo in Revenge of the Sith, the final prequel movie, as the Republic is being taken over by dark forces, becoming the Galactic Empire. She says, “So this is how liberty dies – by thunderous applause”. The Dark Side, giving in to fear and base impulses, sometimes seems easier than the Light Side with all of its ambiguities and sometimes thankless work. And when charismatic leaders are promoting fear… anger… hate… we are in danger of letting the dark forces take over, to thunderous applause. It is up to us. Be a Jedi for justice! Don’t give in to hate. Don’t give in to fear. As Yoda said, “luminous beings are we”. May we let our light shine in these times. May the Force be with us. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Flying Our Colors: Black Lives Matter Flag at the UUCiA

On Sunday, November 29, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover put up our Black Lives Matter flag in a brief ceremony during worship. It now flies alongside our rainbow flag. 
 
Today's Andover Townsman has an article on this. You can read that article: Local congregation displays "Black Lives Matter" flag.


I am happy that we are “flying our colors”. May our true colors shine as vibrantly. May we be worthy of our flags, showing our solidarity in ways that transcend this symbolic gesture.

May it be so.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

UUCiA endorses Citizens for Farm Animal Protection ballot measure

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover became the first religious congregation to endorse the Massachusetts-based Citizens for Farm Animal Protection ballot measure on November 12. Citizens for Farm Animal Protection is a grassroots campaign that has put together a coalition in the Commonwealth that is working to end the cruel confinement of farm animals in cages so small the animals are virtually unable to move. The grassroots campaign has been gathering signatures for a ballot measure that voters would consider in November 2016.

We collected signatures at the congregation after worship services twice this fall. Most of our Sunday worship attenders signed the petition without hesitation, and I didn’t hear anyone speaking against it. On November 12, our Board voted to endorse the measure.

Says Richard Hudak, President of the UUCiA, “The modest protections proposed here are of broad appeal, and of general interest to people wishing to remain humane and healthy. It’s completely in line with our Unitarian Universalist values.”

“Chickens, pigs and cows locked in cages on factory farms need us to be their voice,” says Stephanie Harris, Campaign Director of the Massachusetts-based Citizens for Farm Animal Protection. “Members of UUCiA should feel proud of their public stance in support of this important animal protection ballot measure.”  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

We are people of faith. Let's act like it!

This is my first post since the tragedies in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad. It has been a hard, sad week on many levels. The atrocities committed by the terrorists are truly heart-breaking. Terrorists are lost souls, in my view, who are driven to commit evil acts in their state of despair. The acts are indeed evil and despicable. I find it helpful to think about what could possibly drive human beings to commit such heinous acts. This article ("Nobody Is Born a Terrorist", pointed out to me by a congregant) is a decent place to start thinking about it: link.

But aside from the terrorism, I have been saddened this week by the response of many Americans. The Xenophobia and Islamophobia in response to the tragedies has been sad indeed. Fear never brings out our best selves. It is sad that many are trying to use the terror acts as reason to turn away Syrian refugees who are in desperate need. Have we forgotten that they are trying to escape violence and evil themselves? It is sad that many are driven by fear to consider the kinds of positively anti-American responses that led the USA to send innocent Japanese people (including US citizens) to internment camps during World War II. (No -- I haven't literally heard anyone suggesting internment camps yet, but some of the possible "solutions" hint in that direction.) Many Americans are people of faith; many consider themselves to be good Christians. Well... it's time to start acting like it!

Here are some memes that I saw on social media this week that I did appreciate. Considering the life and ways of Jesus always helps to give me clarity on social justice issues, and these times call on those of us who value his teachings to live them.








Thursday, November 12, 2015

Armistice Day

Robert Funke and Lara Hoke, photo by Howard Rotman.
Yesterday I had the honor of providing the Opening Words at the Smedley D. Butler Brigade of Veterans For Peace's Armistice Day event in Boston.

It was a rainy and blustery day, so it was a truly intrepid group who showed up!

Every year, I struggle with Veterans Day (as I wrote about in this blog post). But it is good to be among fellow veterans who feel much as I do.

When our VFP chapter comes together with all of our flags, we make an impressive sight!

Lara Hoke and Nicole Waybright, photo by Howard Rotman

From the National VFP page:

"Each year, Veterans For Peace chapters across the nation meet in major cities to celebrate and remember the original Armistice Day as was done in 1918, at the end of World War I. On this day, the world came together in realization that war is so horrible we must end it now. We invite all to join us in our effort to celebrate Armistice Day and the idea of ending all war."

To learn more, visit: VFP Armistice Day

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hearing at State House: "Don't Let the Proverbial Fox Guard the Literal Hen House"

I am an advocate for animal welfare and animal rights. I'm on the Board Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry, and I recently became a Faith Outreach volunteer / Faith Ally / Faith Advocate for the Humane Society of the United States.
of the

Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28, there is an important hearing at the Massachusetts State House. See the Facebook event page.  From the FB event page:

"*Please don’t let the proverbial fox guard the literal henhouse*

"We need you to join us in Boston and stand against the attack on MA farm animals on October 28 at 12:30 pm!

"Factory farming lobbyists are trying to push a deceptive bill through the legislature. Their goal is to undermine the ballot measure that would ensure pigs, hens, and calves have enough space to stand up and extend their limbs. Locking animals in cages so small the animals can barely move is cruel and inhumane. Animals need you to join us at the state house to stand up against this attack.

"You won’t need to do anything besides attend the hearing of this dangerous bill. We will be distributing stickers to wear. See you Wednesday!

"Please plan to allow plenty of time for parking, getting through security, and navigating the building.

"The hearing is currently scheduled to be in Hearing Room B-1 at the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday, October 28 from 1-5 pm. You can attend the hearing for the duration or only a few hours. Please join this Facebook page and RSVP to Matt at mdominguez@humanesociety.org. If you need help day-of, please text Matt at 202-746-3803.

"For more information on this bill, visit: citizensforfarmanimals.com/factoryfarmlobby

"To take action, visit: https://secure.humanesociety.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=7064

"For a full list of the bills being heard on Wednesday at 1 pm, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Events/EventDetail?eventId=2295&eventDataSource=Hearings"


Hope to see you at the State house!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Tomorrow, Sunday, October 11 is National Coming Out Day! Happy Coming Out to LGBTQI folks everywhere!

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover had its National Coming Out Sunday a week early, on October 4, with a wonderful guest speaker, seminarian Renee Manning. Hear her moving sermon "Universal Love" at this link.

The UUCiA has been a Welcoming Congregation since 1994 -- 21 years! You can read about our celebration of hitting 20 years as a Welcoming Congregation from last year's post on this blog here.

Be who you are. You are beautiful.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

100 Women, 100 Miles: Dignity for Immigrants



The vigil outside of the York County Detention Center
Last Tuesday, September 15, I had the great honor of participating in the opening vigil and first leg of the “100 Women, 100 Miles” pilgrimage from a detention center in York, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. and the visit of Pope Francis. I was there with the organizations We Belong Together, PICO, Juntos, National Domestic Workers Alliance and others aiming to share the stories of migrant women. The vigil and pilgrimage are meant to echo the Pope’s message for migrant dignity and to lift up the hardships immigrant women and their families face in this country. The pilgrimage, which ended yesterday September 23 in Washington, D.C., included clergy and people of faith (including UUs and Standing on the Side of Love folks) who believe that compassion for immigrants is a core aspect of their respective religious traditions.
Lara Hoke, Guillermina Castellanos, & Wendy Von Courter from UU Marblehead at the lunch break.

We have many immigrants in the Merrimack Valley, and of course Lawrence is known as ‘Immigrant City’. I’m thrilled that the City of Lawrence recently passed ordinances that are compassionate toward immigrants (“Safe Driving” and “Lawrence Trust” ordinances). I hope Andover and the rest of the Merrimack Valley will follow suit. And I hope that this ‘100 Women, 100 Miles’ pilgrimage has drawn more people’s attention to the plight of immigrants, and to their humanity.

Walking in York, PA (photo from We Belong Together FB page).
It was a privilege to be a small part of of the 100 Women, 100 Miles pilgrimage – to participate in the opening vigil and to walk with these brave women on the first day of the pilgrimage. I grew up not far from York, Pennsylvania, and being at the first part of the vigil, starting at the detention center in York, had special personal meaning for me. It was incredible to hear parts of the amazing stories of the immigrant women who were walking. I am in awe of their courage and determination.

Pope Francis is giving a strong message of dignity for the migrant peoples of the world. It makes sense that Pope Francis would preach this message of love, compassion, and welcoming for migrants.  Some have noted that the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are in many ways the story of wandering, migrant people. And hospitality and kindness to strangers is one of the primary virtues held up in these scriptures as well. 

This past Sunday, September 20, I preached on this topic ("'We Belong Together': Immigration and Love without Borders"). You can listen to that (live) recording at this link


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

UUCiA tabling at the Bread & Roses Heritage Festival

UUCiA table yesterday. I'm in the middle. Photo by Richard Hudak, UUCiA President.
Members and friends of the UUCiA had a great time tabling at the Bread and Roses Heritage Festival in Lawrence yesterday! We always see lots of friends from Merrimack Valley People for Peace and other local community and activist organizations, which is great fun. I saw some of my buddies from the Smedley D. Butler Brigade of Veterans For Peace. I saw friends I met at Occupy Boston and from lots of local activism. It was a great day!

As last year, we met lots of Unitarian Universalists from near and far. UUs from Haverhill, North Parish, Reading, Groton, Arlington Street Church, Brookline, Cambridge and more came to say hello. Such a treat!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reduce Farm Cruelty in Massachusetts

Recently, I had a letter to the editor published in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. It is below as an image, or go to this link (and scroll down to find it). In November 2016, citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will be able to vote "yes" and bring some basic decency to factory farming. It's the very least we can do. The Letter:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Solidarity...

Today, there will be an Interfaith Memorial Service in memory of the "Mother Emanuel Nine" lost in Charleston, South Carolina. It will be at 4 p.m. at Bethel AME in Lowell. Here's the flyer:

I will be there to mourn with many others from the wider community. Please join us if you can.

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On August 9, there was a community vigil on the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson; the vigil was held at North Parish in North Andover with many folks from various congregations in the area in attendance. Below is a picture of some of us from the UUCiA (I am to the right). It was good to be with so many others from the wider community to witness that Black Lives Matter. More photos can be seen at this link. This vigil was "held in solidarity with Standing on the Side of Love/ The Movement for Black Lives/ Ferguson National Response Network/ and ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬, which ... asked for vigils to be held all over the country on this anniversary, to protest police brutality and remember victims of the past year."

Silent Vigil at North Parish marking the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
In addition to solidarity with the movement for black lives, August has been a chance to be in solidarity with the immigrant community. On August 11, there was a hearing at Lawrence City Hall to vote on a Lawrence Trust Ordinance as well as a Lawrence Safe Driving ordinance, both of which help increase safety for immigrants (as well as non immigrants!) in the community. Many came together to advocate for these measures. Happily, both passed! Below is a picture of Pastor Victor Jarvis testifying passionately at Lawrence City Hall.

Pastor Victor Jarvis (of Dios Iglesia Ebenezer Lawrence and MVP) testifies at Lawrence City Hall.

Much gratitude for the organizations that helped to make this happen, including the Merrimack Valley Project (MVP); Centro Presente; ACT Lawrence; UU Mass Action... Here are two articles on the hearing and outcome: the article from the Boston Globe here; the article from the Lawrence Eagle Tribune here.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Upcoming Events: The Movement for Black Lives

There are two upcoming events that are an opportunity to show solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives. The first one is this Sunday, and the second is the following Sunday:

There will be a silent vigil this Sunday (August 9) at 5:00 pm at North Parish of North Andover (190 Academy Rd, North Andover) "in response to a call by the Ferguson National Response Network and the Movement for Black Lives for concerned Americans to hold local vigils on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Feguson, MO." If you would like to participate, you can bring along your own sign -- or you can borrow one when you get there. After the vigil, there is a Concert on the Common (a Dixieland jazz band) if you want to bring along a picnic dinner and socialize, etc.

The second event is an Interfaith Memorial Service that will be held at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Lowell, MA (75 Grand Street, Lowell) on Sunday, August 16, at 4:00 pm. The service will be in honor and loving memory of the "Mother Emanuel Nine," the AME parishioners who were murdered in Charleston, SC.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

More "Faith Week" Events for SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover



For the past week or so, the Board of Directors and Social Justice Committee have been considering the UU General Assembly's “Action of Immediate Witness” on racial justice, which can be found here: http://www.uuworld.org/articles/blm-rally-general-assembly.

We are participating in the “Faith Week” of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ); learn more at http://showingupforracialjustice.org. Faith Week is July 12-18. This past Sunday, July 12, the lay worship leader shared the recent statement of Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association. (You can read his statement here: http://www.uua.org/news/press-release/statement-african-american-church-burnings)

As a second early step, Lara set up a UUCiA fundraising page for the Rebuild the Churches fund. If you would like to learn more, and if you would like to make a donation, please visit: https://cccathedralstl.dntly.com/fundraiser/5302#/


For another early step, I ordered “Black Lives Matter” bumper stickers (see photo). They have the UUA's Standing onthe Side of Love logo in the background. I am giving them to the first folks that ask. (There are a few 5"x5", and more 3"x3".) I just asks that if you take one, you actually display it somewhere that it might be seen (e.g., your car if you have one, your lap top if you have one, your day/time calendar if you have one, etc.).

This Friday at 7 p.m., as suggested by SURJ, we will be showing the film “Fruitvale Station”.  See the Facebook event page at this link. As always, it will be free. Please bring your own lawn chair (or other portable chair) for extra comfort. The movie is based on the story of Oscar Grant. From a New York Times article: “In the early hours of Jan. 1, 2009, Oscar Grant III, unarmed and lying face down on a subway platform in Oakland, Calif., was shot in the back by a white Bay Area
Rapid Transit police officer. The incident, captured on video by onlookers, incited protest, unrest and arguments similar to those that would swirl around the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida a few years later. The deaths of these and other African-American young men (Mr. Grant was 22) touch some of the rawest nerves in the body politic and raise thorny and apparently intractable issues of law and order, violence and race.” This film won "best movie" at the Sundance Film Festival. The film showing will be followed by a brief group discussion. Please join us.