Thursday, September 14, 2017

Long time, no blog!

Well, I have clearly not been blogging like I should. It's been a very eventful time since I last posted! I returned from my sabbatical (which lasted from January 1, 2017 until May 1, 2017). Much of my time was spent catching up with everything from my absence, as well as internalizing what I did myself while I was away. Two post-sabbatical sermons might give you a better sense of things that I haven't had a chance to post here. My first post-sabbatical sermon was "Self-Exile's Return: Reentry from Sabbatical". I also preached about some of my most dramatic sabbatical experiences in "'The Sacred and the Profane': A Trip to India".

The other thing I've been up to is moving my household. We sold our home of 17 years in June and moved to Lowell. We love Lowell! What a great city! Lowell, where have you been all my life?

Andover Vigil for Charlottesville (photo by David Grober)
In the meantime, there has been the never-ending work of fighting for justice, together. You can read about one action in an Andover Townsman article, "Andover Vigil for Charlottesville Brings Community Solidarity".

Meanwhile, we are back to our full worship services at Locke Street on 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. I hope that you will join us sometime soon! It is an amazing community of people.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Westworld and the Bicameral Mind

Earlier in my sabbatical, I was posting a lot here. I think I didn't know what to do with myself when I wasn't working on sermons. But then I got into the swing of not writing so much, and I've been remiss in posting! Sorry about that.

I was just in Washington, D.C. where I saw the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I definitely need to post on that; they were both incredible places and experiences.

In February, I spent three weeks in India -- I am still processing that! And I will post on some of that here later, too.

But today I want to write a short post on something else: Westworld. On my looooooooong flight to India, I watched the first season of Westworld, an HBO original series. Wow, it's incredible! I encourage anyone who has access to watch this series. It's amazingly well done -- far superior to the old movie by the same name, by the way.

There are many profound concepts being explored in Westworld, particularly ideas about consciousness. One of the central ideas explored in the first season is the bicameral mind theory (an idea of Julian Jaynes). I preached about bicameralism a couple of years back. You can listen to the sermon, titled "You Must Be out of Your Mind! Bicameralism and Religion". Westworld explores this concept in such an entertaining way... I can't recommend it more highly.

That's all for now... but I'll be back to catch up!

Monday, January 30, 2017

No Muslim Ban

Yesterday, I joined 25,000 or more people in Copley Square, Boston, to say "No Muslim ban!" CAIR Massachusetts very quickly organized this rally and protest. Here are a few photos and a video I made while there. The Resistance is going to have to be strong and resilient.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was there. So were Sen. Ed Markey, Mayor Walsh, and more. No Gov. Baker, though.
Some signs in Copley...

Faith leaders speak out against the Muslim ban and other hateful anti-immigrant measures.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Women's March on Washington: What an Incredible Day

My mother, sisters, and I by the Hirshhorn Modern Art Museum.
Being on sabbatical, I was able to get to the Women's March on Washington. I got to go with my mother and sisters, which was a great joy. The four of us have marched in Washington before -- mostly for women's reproductive rights -- but it had been a long time.

It's just about impossible to estimate the size of a crowd so large, but it was well over 500,000 people. I saw the figure 680,000 given, which seems closer to me. I really do think it was verging on 1 million. It sure felt that way.

Shepard Fairey art on a poster.
Truly, it was wall-to-wall people. The feeling was one of love and solidarity. I was pleased that there was a nice representation of men in support -- not so many to keep it from feeling like a "women's march", but just the right amount. The ages of participants really ran the spectrum. I was happy to see a good turnout of Millennials. There was some concern before the march that it would be "too white". I can give my impression only... I would say it was disproportionately white for Washington, D.C., but at the same time there was racial diversity. I was happy to see (what seemed to me) more than the usual number of people in wheelchairs at the march and rally.

First we went to the rally and got close enough to the stage to at least have a good view of the screen. (We were standing by the Hirshhorn Modern Art Museum.) After a quick bite for lunch, it was time to join the march down Independence Avenue to the White House. By this point, the crowd was even bigger. It was wall-to-wall people. We were packed like sardines in the street! I was trying to get down to Independence Avenue, but there were blocks keeping us away. We couldn't figure out what was going on. After the fact, we learned that there were too many of us, essentially. The march was far bigger than they had anticipated, so it was effectively stopped. Many people did make their way to the White House, but we didn't get to do it all together as planned.

We spent a lot of time at this spot, unable to move!
I loved the signs and the chants. [I didn't take very many pictures; I was trying to just be in the moment. In addition to the handful of photos posted here (which I did take), I will give links to photo pages below in this post.] Some of the signs were poignant; some were pointed; some were light and fun. I thought it hit a nice balance. Likewise with the chants. There were some chants that I have heard before (e.g., call -- "Tell me what democracy looks like" -- response "This is what democracy looks like"; call -- "When women's/blacks'/immigrants'/Muslims'/etc. rights are under attack, what do we do?" response -- "Stand up, fight back!")... and there were some silly chants that were new to me (e.g., "We need a leader, not a creepy Tweeter!")

This sign just made us laugh.
Before the march, there was some talk about whether the pink pussy hats were a good idea or not. With hindsight, to me at least, it seems obvious that they were a good idea. They show up very well in the aerial photos and are quite striking. It was nice to have a visual for our palpable solidarity.

It was an incredible experience, any way you look at it. One of my colleagues has said that there is nowhere on earth she would rather have been that day, and I feel the same way.

So now what? How do we harness this incredible thing that has happened -- not just the 680,000 (or more) people marching in Washington, D.C., but the incredible millions of Women's Marchers all over the country and world? How do we turn the march into a movement?

Luckily, the Women's March organizers have thought of this, and are going to try to help and move that along too. You can see their "10 Actions in 100 Days Page".

Finally we did make it to the White House, but not all together.
We are not alone.
We are in this together.
And we have each other's backs.


Friday, January 20, 2017

On this day.... fighting fear, committing to loving resistance

Photo from this page.
Today, I take hope from all the good people out there who are committed to loving resistance.

I love this art (left) by Shepard Fairey. The caption is "We the people are greater than fear."

Today I am in solidarity with all of those in marginalized groups who are feeling afraid. I own that, as a lesbian, I am one of them. But I know we will be greater than our fear.

I have been concerned lately that we seem to be living in a "post truth" era. It seems that we have become too lazy for critical thinking, and that scares me too. But I know we're better than that.

A colleague recently shared this on Facebook, and I will leave my thoughts today with this:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Going to the Women's March on Washington

This Saturday, I will be heading to participate in the Women's March on Washington. Because I'm on sabbatical, I'm able to make the trip to D.C. I will be going with some of my family members who live closer to D.C. than I do.

Last I knew, quite a few of the congregants from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover were planning to attend the march in Boston, which should also be quite large.

Here's hoping that this is the beginning of some meaningful solidarity in loving resistance to racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant attitudes, and more.

The United States of America of the 21st century has such promise. Now is the time to make sure that it is our dreams, and not our nightmares, that become a reality.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Excited about the forming Merrimack Valley SURJ

One of the great things happening while I'm on sabbatical is that the congregation (UUCiA) is starting to get involved in the locally-forming chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice). Here you can find the Merrimack Valley chapter of SURJ page.

SURJ is "a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. We work to connect people across the country while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice organizing efforts. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills and political analysis to act for change.

"Our focus is on working with white people who are already in motion. While in many activist circles there can be a culture of shame and blame, we want to bring as many white people into taking action for racial justice as possible. We envision a society where we struggle together with love, for justice, human dignity and a sustainable world."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sabbatical musings on what [fill in the blank]s believe

The Monolith from "2001"
There's something that's been gnawing at me for a while. Namely, it's that way we have of saying, "Christians believe..." and "vegans believe..." and "democratic socialists think that..." Why do we pretend that various groups are monolithic in their beliefs? They simply aren't.

I know that there's a human tendency (need?) to put things into categories to make it easier to wrap our heads around them. And we have to start with some assumptions to have a conversation about any group. But we end up (in my opinion) making far too many assumptions.

Sometimes people ask me things like, "Do vegans think it's wrong to wear leather shoes that they've owned for ten years, pre-dating the time they became a vegan?" There's no way I can give a straight-forward answer to that. Some vegans would say, pitch them now and buy vegan shoes! Some vegans would wear them until they became unwearable and then replace them with vegan shoes. And on and on.

Or people will say, "Christians believe that same sex marriage is wrong." Nope. Nowhere near that simple. Lots of Christians are fine with it and support it. But even the statement, "Christians believe that Jesus Christ resurrected, in the flesh, from the dead" is not true. Some believe that literally, and some metaphorically, and some Christians simply don't find that to be a crucial part of the story because they're more focused on what Jesus did and said before he died.

On and on. We could do this for any group.

I wonder what could make us stop talking about groups in such overly-simplistic generalities...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sabbatical fortune

This was in my fortune cookie tonight. "Real is all a vision. You have to see it for yourself."

I like that.

Day ten of sabbatical was stressful. I spent two hours in a panic trying to find my passport. I always put it in a specific drawer in the house. But today it wasn't there. I tore that bureau apart looking for it, went through all kinds of bags and drawers where I couldn't really imagine it was -- but it had to be somewhere! I kept coming back to the drawer. Emptied it completely. Couldn't find it. Looked all through the sofa, my car... Every place where I have anything. Went back to the usual drawer. Pulled it out of the bureau completely. Pulled out all the other bureau drawers. Looked at the bottom where I found some ancient papers that had fallen back there, but still no passport. Looked through my file drawers in my room. No passport. Went back to the usual drawer. Among all the papers, there was one box, an old Microsoft Office software box. Shook it in frustration. Discs flew out... and, my passport. Yes, it was in the usual drawer. How it wedged into that box, I don't know. But it really is always in the last place you look! (ba dum dum tsh! That was a joke. But a true story.)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sabbatical musings on religion with help from Bart Simpson?

Religion is such a fascinating phenomenon, really.

There's a quote by Bart Simpson that has stayed with me since I heard it. The way I remember it, there's a dispute about what is Christianity (Catholicism? Protestantism? etc.). And Bart says, "Easy on the zeal, Churchos… I've got something to say. Don't you get it? It's all Christianity, people! The little stupid differences are nothing next to the big stupid similarities!"

There are endless fights about religion. There are the fights within religious traditions (among denominations or sects) about what is orthodox and what is the essence and what are the rules, etc. And then there are fights between religions. And some days I want to paraphrase Bart Simpson with "Easy on the zeal, religious fanatics… I've got something to say. Don't you get it? It's all religion, people! The little stupid differences are nothing next to the big stupid similarities!"

Osho wrote and talked a lot about religion -- about every religion as being inherently limited. He wanted to replace religion with something like religiosity. There's a part of me that is sympathetic with this. But then again, specific religions bring us specific gifts. Maybe a better paraphrasing of Bart Simpson would be, "Lighten up, seekers… I've got something to say. Don't you get it? It's all religion, people! The little beautiful and idiosyncratic differences are nothing next to the big beautiful similarities!"

Another thing I've been pondering on sabbatical is, what is a "cult"? It's one of those words that people love to throw around. And you can find checklists about the characteristics of a cult, of course. But most of it is relative. Yesterday's cult (for instance, early Christianity) is today's huge, respectable world religion. And many of the cult checklists would turn any "Utopian community" into cult status. But is that always fair? If a group is asking for total control over your life -- including your unquestioning obedience -- that's obviously a problem. But it's possible -- I believe -- that a beautiful Utopian community might asking for you to share money and possessions. Wasn't Jesus asking for that, really? To leave it all behind and come along on a quest to bring the realm of God/heaven here on earth?

Just pondering, here on day nine of sabbatical.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Eight days of sabbatical a week?

Guru Ram Das Gurdwara in Millis this morning.
Eight days in! I'm feeling a little more in sabbatical mode today. Perhaps because I knew that my congregation would have to make a decision about having a service with the snow (they did have one), and I wasn't part of that decision.

I continue to study Punjabi. My Instant Immersion program froze, though, so I'm not sure what to do about that. I listened to my Pimsleur CDs instead.

Thursday evening I went to a service in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Guru Gobind Singh at the Milford Gurdwara Sahib. This morning, the Miflord Gurdwara was in Millis to worship with the Guru Ram Das Gurdwara folks, so that's where I went. First time there. Lovely grounds.

I've had lots of good quality time with my dog, so that's been nice!

Otherwise, it still feels a little strange, this sabbatical thing. I'm sure I just need more time...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sabbatical: same as it ever was?

It's seven days in on my sabbatical. Why do I feel as busy as ever? I think this must be what happens to retired people... they always say they're as busy as when they were working. It's truly a strange thing how we fill up our time. Or it fills us up. Or, time just always is. And being retired or on sabbatical doesn't change that. At all.

A colleague of mine told me that one of her main learnings from sabbatical was "wherever you go, there you are." And this seems to be a related phenomenon. Somehow in my mind, my ministry (or "job") fills up my life in so many ways -- my time, my "head space", and more. And it does. Yet I'm learning that when I'm away from that role, not as much changes as one might think.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

On the fourth day of sabbatical...

Success! I completed the first part of the Punjabi program through Instant Immersion. Like a kid, I printed out the first certificate and put it on the refrigerator with magnets. Gold star!

I must say that today's Instant Immersion lesson is much harder. Somehow I went from basic vocabulary to long phrases and sentences. So I'm not loving day two. I feel like I missed something.

I finished reading Culture Shock! India by Gitanjali Kolanad. It's a good overview book. Interestingly, I feel like she gives one of the best succinct summaries of early Sikhism I've ever seen. She writes: "Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of Sikhism, after three days of silent meditation, revealed, 'There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim.'

"Sikhism began as a spiritual, monotheistic and ethical faith which called God simply ikk, meaning 'one'. But that message existed already in the philosophy of the Upanishads. What was new was Guru Nanak's concurrent awareness of the diseases of society, and his concern to find an effective cure. Although Guru Nanak may have been influenced by the bhakti saints and Sufi mystics, his message of love, faith, and equality arose out of his own upright nature; he neither denied any religion nor mixed together opposing faiths. Rather, he rejected the division of people by reason of caste or religion and provided a way for his followers to break down those barriers....

"Guru Nanak has been called the first Marxist, for the religion he founded is egalitarian. All men and women had equal status, and all could become priests. All decisions used to be made by the whole congregation in an open forum. Everyone was called Sardar (leader), so everyone was elevated to the same position. Even now, the priests and management of the temple are elected, everyone eats together in the community kitchen, and social and political actions are not separate from spiritual life." (Gitanjali Kolanad, Culture Shock! India, Marshall Cavandish Editions, 2012, pp. 33-35).

This is why I sometimes describe myself (in part) as "Nanakpanthi" (or "Nanak Panthi"), meaning that I aspire to follow the path of Nanak. (It is a term that a non-Sikh can claim without necessarily misappropriating.) I suppose in a similar way it feels more correct to call myself a "Jesus Freak" to suggest that I aspire to follow the teachings of Jesus, rather than to apply the term "Christian" to myself, as "Christian" has come to represent (for many) a particular set of creeds to which I do not subscribe. In each case, I very much admire the founder (Guru Nanak) or central figure (Jesus) even if I am not a Sikh nor a traditional "Christian" in the sense of the Nicene Creed and other "orthodox" theologies.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sabbatical starts!

Some of the books I'm reading at the start of sabbatical.... Click the photo to see it bigger.

My four month sabbatical began on January 1, 2017. So far (just three days in), I'm just decompressing. I've been playing a lot of music, just as I hoped I would. I've mostly played trumpet, but I've played some guitar, bass, and harmonium too. I'm hoping to throw sitar into the mix soon. (It's all very amateurish, but I'm having fun!)

The other thing is lots of reading. Pictured are some of the books that will start me off.

Oh, and I'm studying Punjabi. I want to study Spanish, too, but Punjabi is the first order of business for January. I'm using "Total Immersion" for Punjabi; it's similar to Rosetta Stone, but Rosetta Stone doesn't offer Punjabi. So there!

So that's the initial report from Sabbatical Land. Stay tuned!