The General Assembly Boycott of Arizona

May 13, 2010

Sometimes I hesitate to write about Unitarian Universalist political stuff. This is for a couple reasons that deserve at least a line or two each that I feel compelled to outline as semi-disclaimers. First concern is offending people who are much more emotionally involved and perhaps much more informed and wise than I am about these things. I saw this with my, I thought, somewhat mild post on the UUA presidential election last year. I eventually had to close comments because I just couldn’t moderate all the strong feelings, misunderstandings, and purposeful misconstrual of others’ opinions.  I guess that is my way of trying to bring the tenor of the post down. These are just some ideas.

Also, I sometimes hesitate to write about these things because it could reinforce the idea that these sorts of questions are the real questions of life – that our little internal UUA decisions are somehow what we should really fret about. I know I know that politics is of course deeply connected to spirituality and prophetic work and so on. I just fear that there is a tendency of us Unitarian Universalist to somehow think advocacy work in and of itself is the work of the church and to take ourselves extremely seriously when it comes to our political stances and in terms of sort of impact our decisions have on the world.*

So, like with my last post, I did spend quite the time in preamble here. Anyway, if you are still reading, for whatever reason, even given my caveats, I still somehow feel compelled to write about the potential boycott of Arizona and switching of the GA location

Well, lets be honest. It isn’t like I “somehow” feel compelled to write about this. Really, I am compelled to write it because the potential $615,000 cost (in penalty fees) of boycotting Arizona seems like it might not be the best use of that much money. I think of this in the context that I owe a lot in student loans from getting my M. Div. And I am not some crazy anomaly. I know many-a ministers and future ministers who easily owe as much or more than me. I am not suggesting that $615,000 should go to pay off student loans for ministers or ministerial candidates, but rather that it behooves us to consider the very high cost of becoming a minister when we are considering the use of Unitarian Universalist resources now and in the future.

The second reason I feel compelled to write about this is that our congregation is in the middle of canvas (i.e. yearly pledge drive) and our minister is retiring and so we are, at the same time, looking for an interim minister and thinking about the period to come when we search for a settled minister.  How we will ever manage to pay a decent wage to our future ministers is not a minor issue. It is very serious and we are struggling with it. We vastly underpay our current minister for going over and above the call of ministry, including no health insurance. We are struggling to get pledges to meet our current budget which involves no pay increase for an interim minister. Part of the struggle is (as imagine is the case at a lot of places) that people simply don’t give enough to cover the cost of what it takes to run a church and rely on big givers and “the regulars” to step up. This said, it is also very much because people are trying to pay for houses, live on a fixed income, pay for college, pay off debt, and just sort of cobble enough together to make it. I do not know for sure, but I image that our per capita income is on the low end of most New England Unitarian Universalist congregations. I am not really suggesting that the $615,000 that we might raise to cover the cost of this boycott should be use to pay ministerial salaries or support struggling churches, but rather just to highlight how much money $615,000 is and the various other very pressing financial needs Unitarian Universalism faces.

(See also Boy in the Bands on what $615,000 could buy (or really he does $1.3 million which takes into account the desire of the board to raise an “equal or greater amount” to support public witness efforts in Arizona). And see also the UU World article which notes that “it is unclear how the resolution would raise this money—or the ‘equal or greater amount’ it also pledges to raise to support public witness efforts in Arizona—without cutting funding for other UUA programs and services.”)

So, given these two things that are quite present on my mind, coupled with the fact that many people who want to be ministers can’t even begin to afford school and other costs of ministry, I just can’t get my head around spending $615,000 to boycott Arizona. Not because I am somehow against the boycott of Arizona in general, and not because I don’t think that the law is just terrible in so many ways, but because I’m not sure that that would be $615,000 spent in the best way. That is more than half a million dollars. I wonder if we could somehow do very important work by holding GA in Arizona? How could our presence there be a move of solidarity with people there who are working for equality, justice, and the daily struggle for life and love and bread?

Via the UU World article, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister at the Phoenix church notes:

One of the things that religious groups bring and UUs would bring is a moral voice, an ability to engage around social justice advocacy. There is value that UUs bring that’s beyond financial, that’s something other groups don’t bring in terms of morally and politically engaging with what’s going on in Arizona.

There is that. Or, in the end, if we actually could raise $615,000 to support immigrants and civil rights in AZ, why not give it to some organization in Arizona that would likely put it to much better use than cancellation fees which, I imagine, ultimately end up with corporations?

I get that it is important and seems very prophetic to join a big boycott against such an obviously terrible terrible and unjust law. I have no doubt that the intentions of most if not all who believe we should boycott come from a place of compassion for those who will suffer because of this law and a hope for justice – a hope to bring about change.

Yet, I think the minister in Rev. Frederick-Gray has a good point:

I understand the reasons to support the boycott and even support some of those reasons myself… The groups calling for boycotts want to create an immediate financial impact and pressure on the state of Arizona, yet it is unclear if canceling GA in two years brings that kind of immediate financial impact.

Given the lack of clarity about the impact this will have, I just wonder with the relatively few resources available, if there is not perhaps a better use of half a million dollars? Is it a prudent and responsible use of our limited resources? Is there better way to use our energies to be in solidarity with Arizonans who are struggling for justice and to be in solidarity with undocumented people who live and work in the United States?

*One could also surmise that someone takes themselves too seriously when their blog posts on relatively minor topics are very long and detailed. That is to say, I know this post got too long. I will try to be clearer and shorter in the future. Darn it. How does that always happen?

Communion with the Little One

May 10, 2010

So, I was never really one of those moms who was like, “And, the second I saw him and held him in my arms, everything changed. My whole life was different and new and I would do anything for my baby.” This is not to say that I did not love my little cuddle bug A LOT when he was born. I did. I was thrilled to have him and I still am. But, for me, I was pretty much the same person before he was born as after he was born, except with an adorable baby and sleeping much less.

I am also not a mom that is totally awed by all the amazingly wonderful and brilliant things my baby does. Yes, he is really quite cute. And seems to be a bright little bee. But I am pretty low key about him and his magic. I think in a pretty good and healthy way.

I say all of this for two reasons. First, because sometimes I feel like maybe a sucky mom because I don’t run around saying how wonderful life has been since he has been born and how it has changed everything and the sun rises and sets differently and all. I think there is this cult of motherhood that tells women that you have to just love your child and have him or her change your world and it will be immediate and like magic. I think this sets people up to feel pretty terrible when they are in month number six (or in my case, 14) of not sleeping through the night and all of a sudden your house is chaos all the time and you only see your partner in passing while one of you is changing a diaper and the other is… oh, I don’t know… studying for her general exams in October. Anyway, so on Mother’s Day when everyone is crooning about how magic mothers are and how much they love mothers and flowers and roses and all of that, I guess for whatever reason I felt inspired to bring it down a notch for all those moms out there who sometimes wonder if they are doing it right even though the fireworks of love and peace and perfect joy didn’t/don’t go off like they “should.”

The second reason I wrote about all of this is so that the next thing I am about to say about my little toddler boy doesn’t sound like the ultimately cheeziness. That is, it isn’t my style to go around crooning about the boy, so when I say something like how he taught me a really profound lesson, it doesn’t get lumped into the pile of 101 profound and beautiful things my baby did THIS MORNING.

Geez. I did too much lead up to this. I do this in my papers too. I go on and on in the intro setting everything up and then I have two and half sentences of substance to say.

Anyway, our boy loves to drink out of glasses. Sippy cups are okay, but he really prefers to drink either water or apple juice out of the big glasses that are obviously too big for a one year old. But we’re pretty flexible, so we do it even though it often means that when he is done he pulls the glass away pretty fast and the juice or water gets on him or us.

And he has taken to insisting on sharing his drinks, and then tonight, his strawberries. He is insistent – he takes a drink, and then puts the cup to mine or my partner’s mouth in a very insistent way and we take a drink and then he takes another drink. He mushes the strawberries up between his fingers and sort of shoves one in into my mouth, with such a pleased look on his face, and then squishes one up and puts it in his mouth. And somehow this led me to “get” communion in a way I never have before. Regular readers of this blog know I have a highly ambivalent relationship with Christianity and can never decide really if I am Christian or not. And for some reason I have always loved communion – there was something that was so special about it – like this thread that went back throughout my life and childhood and then back throughout time. It felt like a very connecting sort of ritual. Like I was part of something really special. Yet, for the last few years, I never take part because I just feel like I can’t do it until I know more where I stand. This has been sad for me.

Yet, somehow through sharing my apple juice and strawberries with my boy – I got something. This idea of table fellowship. Communion not as some ritual that we do in church – that marks us as in or out – but as joyful sharing of nourishment, in communion with each other. It is an intimate thing to feed and give a drink to someone else. This is why the bread and wine is not sat out on a table for each person to go up and get themselves, but we give it to each other.

I think with a lot of things, the meaning of a moment can’t quite come through so well in words. The sweet smell of my little boy and his juice. His pre-linguistic self knowing that there is something important about me taking a drink and then him and then me and then him. The clear joy and satisfaction he gets from making sure that we are sharing – that we are a team, that in many ways we are one.

It helped me better understand why I am so drawn to communion and miss it so much. Yes, yes, I know there is that whole bread/body, wine/blood thing. But that is for another post. For now, I will commune with my little one, and appreciate what he has to teach me about life and love and faith.


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