Can I just say…

June 23, 2006

…how uncomfortable I am with the fact that almost everyone who waits on me (Starbucks, hotel, convention center) is a person of color? I notice this at every conference I go to and I hate it. Things are still so not fair in this country. And it makes me feel freaking guilty. And angry. And helpless. I overcompensate by being very friendly, which of course is soooo not adequate. Nor is giving extra tips.

And I’m glad UUs are talking about it, but I will be even happier when our denomination is not mostly white, relatively well-off people.

Off to the next plenary. I’m kind of excited to see what happens.


GA Update and Roundup

June 23, 2006

Greetings. I am in the plenary session. These are the sometimes very long meetings where the basic work of the Association gets done….. votes, etc. I am learning how this whole thing works. First, Gini Courter is an awesome moderator. Funny, yet getting down to business and keeping things moving along. Okay. Sorry, that post was not finished up because we got to the voting, etc. in the plenary and I had to pay more attention. Now I am at the UFETA booth. I’ve been to fewer workshops than I had originally planned because between the plenary sessions and working at the UFETA booth, and traveling I’ve been quite exhausted.

ROUNDUP

Some of the more interesting summaries/responses to GA: A straightforward summary from Chris Walton’s at UU World here http://www.uuworld.org/news/ga/

Over at Chalice Chick she writes about what a mess she thinks this morning’s plenary was and how she will probably vote against the final resolution. She also mentions Gini Courter and what an amazing moderator she is. I must second that (again). Here is CC’s post: http://chalicechick.blogspot.com/2006/06/uuaga06-ecological-imbalance-on-global.html I posted a comment that I think this morning was just fine. Democracy is messy. That’s just part of the process.

Yet Another Unitarian Universalist has several posts on GA http://www.danielharper.org/blog/ One of the earlier posts on GA refers to how introverts cope with the massive amount of people and interaction that one encounters at GA. Amen. (Although that is not to say that I don’t like it, it just drains me.) People So Bold! has some short posts on GA and on ministers’ days which precede GA.

CUUMBYA (a self-proclaimed conservative UU blogger) is not happy with the Peacemaking Resolution http://cuumbaya.blogspot.com/2006/06/uua-paints-itself-into-corner.html (neither is CC http://chalicechick.blogspot.com/2006/06/why-i-dont-like-peacemaking-resolution). I’m not in love with it, but I figure it can’t hurt to talk about something and learn more about something. As long as one side or the other doesn’t bulldoze in with their own agenda and get crazy.

Lo-Fi Tribe has not a bad thing to say about GA or UUs. A little rare among our ever-opinionated people. http://www.lofitribe.com/2006/06/22/unitarian-universalist-people/ Yay for positive blogging. I need to do that more too. I do love Unitarian Universalism so. It reminds me of my journal – when things are going well, I feel no need to write that down and “get it out” and process it. When things are less well, I journal to express, process, and think “outloud” — blogging is a tad similar in that it is easy to get worked up about things that don’t go well. Feels less necessary to get worked up about things that go beautifully.

Okay, I’ve run out of time. That’s all for now. I hope to feel up to posting my actual thoughts at some point. Need to eat now :) Elizabeth


Greetings from General Assembly 2006

June 22, 2006

Greeings to my lovely internship congregation, FUUSM, and all other readers. I’m going to try to keep this updated particularly for our church and for any First Parish Cambridge readers, whom I am honored to represent here as a delegate. All is well here, although big groups stress me a little. I’m trying to remember to be Buddha-like, take deep breaths and remember that this is FUN not stressful. But so many people… so many things going on. And, my biggest annoyance, the internet in my hotel room COSTS. Free internet should be mandatory.

I loved the banner parade especially the music. We sang a few songs and I was reminded of a certain music director’s statement about UUs being God’ frozen people. I wanted to lift my hands and dance around or at least sway to some of the music (I mean, there was a Jazz band) but stayed semi-frozen myself so as not to look like a weirdo. I feel like we need to bring in some Baptists or Pentecostals to train us on how to truly WORSHIP – God, or the divine, or humanity, or the earth or something because our “worship” doesn’t seem very heartfelt (although I KNOW that it is). I just miss and love so much feeling the music and feeling the spirit. But not to complain. It was a WONDERFUL ceremony. At least three times the people talking said something and I just couldn’t help but say amen (quietly) and shake my head. Much of what was said was stuff I could really relate to and say “Yes! This is my home! These are my people!” although I had a very sad feeling too that so many people were missing. People who don’t yet feel welcome or connected to our tradition. Like the woman from St. Louis whom I spoke with on the train. She was so friendly and kind to me. Just chatting away and happy to answer any of my questions about the area. But would she feel comfortable here? Not yet. And I want to make a faith that would make her feel comfortable.

I went to the opening ceremony (that’s where the pictures are from) and spent an hour at the UFETA booth where I’m selling my mom’s stoles to help raise $ for UFETA (and for my mom – UFETA gets a % of the profits). As a delegate, my time is pretty cramped so there will not be long updates (I know – you must be crushed).

Okay, off to meetings. I’m sorry but I don’t have time to spellcheck this so if there are mistakes, my apologies.

Oh, one more thing. I love it in one of the reports that gives the demographics for people who work for the UUA, there are varies ethnicities listed and male, female, and other. I just love it that I have a denomination that lists other right next to male and female with no need for explanation.

And they all said…………. Amen.

Look at those stoles. Beautiful. Yay Mom!


Thank you Reese Witherspoon

June 21, 2006

I know it is a sad day when this picture of Reese Witherspoon makes me happy (ignore the bottom one – I couldn’t detach them). She looks, well, not starved or sickly which seems to be so rare these days for famous women. I hope bodies like this come back into style or even maybe bodies like the painting below. I hate to think of all the girls and women who think they are big or too big or not little enough because they aren’t a size 1. Yay for Venus and Reese.


Selfish Reasons to be a Vegetarian – Let Us Count the Ways

June 20, 2006

My best friend from college writes to me in an email:

Okay, EG, for class I am going to do a persuasive speech on meat reduction. I want to find some ways to appeal directly to people’s self interest, not their generosity. Any chance you can put this question on the blog and see what comes up?

 

Example of self interest: being a vegetarian will save you money because tofu is cheaper.

Okay meat-reducers and vegetarians out there, what are the selfish arguments for people to be vegetarian or reduce meat and animal products? Extra points if you have citations or statistics.


Christianity Without Christ? Another Response.

June 16, 2006

So, I read It’s All One Thing‘s response to an April 2005 post on Making Chutney and so I went over and read Making Chutney’s original post and got, I think, the most annoyed that I have ever been in my days of reading UU blogs. Not at Making Chutney (I mean I don’t even know him), but at the particular post and the way that it was written (so self-assured). I started to post a very long comment, but instead thought I would not usurp his comments section with my semi-rant (which I really try to keep to a minimum) and instead take it over to my own little blog and post. So here is his post and below is my response. Deep breaths, Elizabeth. Just calm down. (An area close to my heart….)

 

Rick Heller recently posted the first of four responses to Bishop John Shelby Spong’s “12 Theses Of Nontheistic Christianity.” Read through them and tell me if you agree:

Someone who (dis)believes what Spong (dis)believes is no longer a Christian. As I wrote in the comments to Rick’s post, if you don’t believe that Jesus is “the Christ,” then you are not a “Christian.” Period. You can play with “Christ” up to a point, but there are only so many shade of meaning you can attach to that word and still get away with it.

Why are so many people who no longer believe what Christians believe so desperate to still call themselves a Christian? Courage, my friends, is a virtue. Play with the language however you like. But if calling Jesus things like “Christ,” “Messiah,” “Son of God,” and “Savior” doesn’t resonate for you, you are at best a heretical Christian. At least own up to that much. Grandma and your childhood Sunday School teacher may not like it, but it’s true nonetheless.

 

My response:

I know that you posted this in April of last year (apparently) but I can’t help responding having seen it referred to on another blog. I am really shocked that you could think that you or anyone else could have such a monopoly on what being a Christian is and you can just state it so succinctly as if there aren’t centuries of debate on this irresolvable issue. You write about people “who no longer believe what Christians believe,” as if this is some sort of set of beliefs that everyone just KNOWS. As if there is some list of criteria of beliefs that one must been in order to be in the club. First, the term Christian was not even used until at least the second century. It was a term that likely began as a derogatory term, not a term developed by Jesus-followers themselves. The question as to when groups began to either be identified or identify themselves as “Christian” or when it makes sense to begin to call groups “Christian” continues to be a highly disputed point. Thus, if the earliest followers of Jesus weren’t understanding themselves as “Christians” and this only came up later, it is pretty hard to talk about the etymological meaning of the term to be its “real” and most basic meaning (as you write about “Christ” as central to what “Christians” apparently must believe). You can read more about the development of Christian identity(and how and when it began to distinguish itself from Judaism) in Gabriele Boccaccini, “History of Judaism: Its Periods in Antiquity,” in J. Neusner (ed.), Judaism in Late Antiquity 2 Historical Syntheses, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1995: 279-302 and in Judith Lieu’s excellent book on identity in early Christianity in Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World. For more on Christian identity formation, particularly as it relates to the term Christian, see Lieu, 1-26, 240-241, 250-259.

Your comment on people being “at best” a “heretical” Christian “if calling Jesus things like “Christ,” “Messiah,” “Son of God,” and “Savior” doesn’t resonate for” them so much reduces the possibilities for the ways that Christianity can be understood as a religious identity or practice of faith. So-called heretical Christians did not just show up in the early centuries after Jesus’ death and say “Well, we know what real Christianity is all about, but we have a different take on it so we would like to be the heretical Christians.” Oh no. The religious movement that has come to be known as Christianity has been diverse from its earliest moments. There have always been multiple, diverse, interpretations as to what being a follower of Jesus or part of the Jesus movement or a Christian means. Eventually, in the midst of all this diversity, some groups won out and started calling themselves “real” Christianity and they started calling all those that did not agree with them heretical Christians (and killing them). But just because one group announced that they had the right interpretation and right practices and killed those who were not on board does not mean that everyone else must resign and say, “Well, okay, you guys win. I guess our reading of the Gospel of Thomas is just wrong. We’ll be the heretics.” No no, double no. (That is unless you believe that God ordained some Christians to be “right” and others to be “wrong” in which case I suppose an arguement could be made for heresy, although I don’t think an argument can be made that shows that there was or is some sort of divine force granting some Christians “rightness” while others are wrong. Of course some Christians would disagree, but I’ve yet to see convincing proof of their position.)

I’m terribly afraid that this situation is one of the U.S. American Christian right somehow convincing Making Chutney, along with a bunch of other people that THEY have the monopoly on saying what being Christian means – that is, one must think that Jesus was the Christ, a Messiah, (literal) son of God and a Savior in order for it to be “real” Christianity. I think it is key to realize that people who don’t believe these things and still call themselves Christians are not new age weirdos who just woke up one morning and came up with crazy ideas or “desperate” people with out the “courage” to let go of their old tradition. There is a lloooong history of the Jesus tradition being understood in diverse, and contradicting ways. I think as liberal religious people of faith, in particular, we need to be sensitive to the varying ways that people make sense of their religious identity. To somehow imply that some people who understand themselves as Christians aren’t “real” Christians and are “at best” heretical Christians, seems both disrespectful and inattentive to the development of what we today call Christianity.

I suggest What is Gnostism? by Karen King and Redescribing Christian Origins edited by Ron Cameron and Merrill P Miller as helpful in understanding the diverse array of Christianities that developed in the wake of Jesus’ death. The Gospel of Thomas also helps shed some light on what some early versions of Christianity looked like that did not eventually “make the cut” into orthodoxy and did not understand Jesus as the ressurected savior of the world.

Please excuse the ranting nature of this post. I mean no disrespect, but just feel quite strongly about this and feel as though it is essential to respond strongly against the idea that some people can somehow own what it really means to be a Christian. If we let this go, then we cede the ability to define Christianity to the more conservative (if not right-wing) branches of the faith and, I believe, do an injustice to the messages attributed to Jesus and those messages and themes traditionally claimed by more liberal Christians.

 


Progressive Strategy, or Thinking About How to Make World that Will Not Go Up in Flames Soon

June 16, 2006

While all UUs are certainly not politically progressive, I think it is fair to say that a bunch of us are. Thus, I imagine there are some of you out there interested in the sort of work my partner does with the Progressive Strategy Studies Project http://progressive-strategy.blogspot.com/. W. keeps me updated on what is going on out there as progressives fantasize, er, I mean think about the possibility of progressive politics being a viable movement (that does positive good, rather than simply mitigate harm) before the earth and all its people go up in flames, either literally or figuratively. The PSSP seeks to contribute to the construction of an effective grand strategy for building progressive power in the United States. I think it is key that here progressive means “left” and not center-left or center or almost-Republican-only-not-quite. W. recently pointed out a lovely and wonderful quote by Robert Reich to me that really touches upon this:

If you want to be a malleable politician, you campaign from the center. But if you want to be a leader, you define the center. You don’t rely on polls to tell you where to go. At best, polls tell you where people are, and it’s pointless to lead people to where they already are. The essence of political leadership is focusing the public’s attention on the hard issues that most would rather avoid or dismiss. We know the problems that need fixing. Centrism is bogus. There’s no well-defined consistent political center in America. (from Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America)

It seems like the future of progressive politics in general lies in the possibility of actual leaders who are willing to speak truth to power and not get all political-strategied out by people saying “Oooo, don’t be too radical. Don’t say anything that will scare X demographic or turn off Y group.” And then you get people like Kerry and Gore coming off as wishy-washy stiff nothings and we have G.W. Bush as our president. As the German saying goes, “Now you have your salad.”

That said, leadership toward more progressive (or at least less disastrous?) policy in the U.S. is not going to happen overnight. Leadership involves more than being good from the podium. We need to work at the grassroots level, talking to people about the reality of their lives. People are poor. Struggling. Have no health insurance. No safety net. There must be some way to work with this reality and help folks understand that it does not HAVE to be like this. I was always impressed with the way that Campus Crusade for Christ and like organizations managed to recruit LOTS of people to Jesus through kind, thoughtful, cheerful, outreach. There must be a way to do that sort of outreach, only not to (as Crusaders would say) to win over hearts for Jesus, but rather to win over people’s hearts to voting and leaning political toward leaders, parties, and policies that are in their own self-interest (health care, safety net, etc.), rather than guided by hot-button issues like abortion, GLBT issues, terrorism, etc.

So, the PSSP is in the progress of collecting and maping contemporary strategic thinking of the American left, in hopes of revealing strategic gaps or contradictions that can be pointed out and addressed. The project focuses on actual strategy. It cracks me up to read some “strategy” pieces that W. shows me where the strategy is something like “Win elections” or “get universal health care approved” or “convince people Republicans are bad.” These, my friends, are not strategies. For more on progressive strategy, visit the blog for the PSSP at http://progressive-strategy.blogspot.com/.
written by one of the most brilliant, savvy, smart, and cute political scientist out there (who also, ahem, happens to be my partner).

Peace out my fellow journeyers.


The Most Beautiful Stoles Ever… (made by my mom)

June 16, 2006

After making me a stole for my Christmas present, my mom decided to venture into the stole making business. Personally, I think she has a calling as a liturgical garment maker.  Update: These sold long ago and my mom is on a bit of hiatus from her stole making business but I didn’t want to take these beautiful pictures down. These beauties will be on sale at the UFETA book for $250 each during GA. You can come by and buy them (some of the proceeds benefit UFETA) or just look at them and wish that your mom could make you these sorts of stoles. I am half-tempted to encourage you to not buy them, then I can wear them and they can be sample pieces. She also makes custom stoles and cheap easy beautiful yet simple stoles for those on a lower budget, like, um, seminarians. Enjoy!

 


A Congregationally Based Movement? On Community Ministry and the Work of Our Faith in the World

June 16, 2006

Long long ago, a curious, excited, idealistic, and somewhat-wounded undergraduate student was three years into her studies. She had registered for a religion course her first year at school because, as a lowly first year student, she could not get into any of the courses she wanted to take. But, in the beautiful world of finding-yourself-undergraduate land, this was just the way that many found their calling. And so, between the pages of Hittite-Suzerain treaties and in a large lecture hall filled with works on eschatology, a scholar-of-religion-to-be was born.

In time, this intellectual interest in religion began to fuse with personal interest in religion and spirituality. The young woman had found a lot of love and healing in Christianity, even if she had also found a lot of pain and fundamentalist judgment. Even in all that creepy, way-too-cheerful Jesus-saturated blah blah, she was also able to find a peace. A connection. She was able to help make sense of things that did not make sense. Part of her interest in religion in an academic sense was the amazing and exciting ways that people all throughout time had managed to do that sense-making, too, in their own creative ways. It was beautiful and amazing. It left her hungry for more.

The young student, only one year away from graduating with a liberal arts degree in religion and political science realized that she needed to figure out her next step. A little voice in her head said, “Did you ever think of becoming a minister?” The young woman laughed. Ha ha ha. A minister. Wouldn’t the family find that interesting-ish/weird/curious. She told that little voice to be silent — perhaps facing life-after-undergraduate school was making her brain say and think funny things. Minister. Ha. Double ha.

But, time came and went, and the little voice stayed. As the young woman thought more, she was able to envision the possibility of a ministry that was not about preaching on a pulpit and being in a church and with a congregation, things that were fine for some people, but not really a place that tugged on her heartstrings. Rather, she felt the presence of the divine on the streets and in the mountains and in the “out there” beyond church walls. She loved being in the mountains of Appalachia, learning about the ways that they did their sense making. She loved being with the people that didn’t usually go to church as they did religion in their own non-church way – breaking beans on the porch, talking about things. Communing over french fries and soda, loud souped up cars clunking by. She liked being with the people who weren’t always welcome in church. In living rooms. At the hospital. In everyday life. Fumbling along in some difficult yet holy and sacred and beautiful way to make sense of a world that was not just. Maybe, the little voice and she discussed in the way that people discuss things with voices in their head, just maybe there was a way to be a minister, to be present to people in a journey of making sense of the world, that didn’t involve being a church-minister. Maybe. She thought.

She made an appointment to talk to a liberal Episcopalian priest in the DC area. She asked, “So is it necessary to actually believe everything the Episcopal church says is true? Do you have to believe in Jesus as God, and Savior of the world sort of thing, or can you sort of pick and choose, or use Christianity as one among many frameworks for making sense of the world?” The young woman could not imagine that the minister would say that you really had to believe that all the stories were true as in capital-T True. But, the minister did tell her just that in the most solemn and how-could-you-even-ask-that way. You couldn’t just think that it was a nice idea. You had to think it was real. Real. Real-Jesus-raised-up-from-death sort of way. And so that was that. The Episcopalians seemed like the only hope for a church where she could fit in and that would maybe consider making her a not-in-a-church-minister. So she told that voice to hush. There was no ordination for her. She would just have to free-lance it somehow. She knew she liked to study religion and so she applied to the schools where she thought the best feminist theology stuff would be taking place. One of those places happened to be Harvard Divinity School.

Come to find out, she had missed a church that might take her. All over New England and Harvard Div. School there were the Unitarian Universalists. She and her partner visited a church because they had seen a quote outside a UU church that said “unquestioned answers are more dangerous than unanswered questions.” Time passed. Classes passed. She met other students in this UU church. She and her partner joined a UU congregation. The little voice had grown, was not so little anymore, and was jumping up and down in her head saying “We’ve found it! We’ve found it! Sign up for this! Yay!” But she went slowly, trying to calm down her voice. There was a community ministry option in this church that would let you be a not-in-a-church minister. You didn’t have to say things you didn’t believe or stick to a particular framework for making sense of the world. You could draw from various traditions, centered in the seven principles. This might fit, she told herself.

And, in many ways, it did fit. But, yet, she heard from several people that Unitarian Universalism was a congregationally-based movement. Hmmm. Would she fit in a congregationally-based movement if she wanted to be a non-congregationally based minister (horrors of all horrors!)? She was happy to affiliate with a church, to be a member of a church, but that could never be the center of her ministry. She found out that even though she didn’t plan to ever be a parish minister, she was required to do a parish internship. Another time,  Unitarian Univeralist minister was telling a story about how someone once said, “Oh, I’m a Unitarian Universalist at heart, but I don’t belong to a church,” to which the minister replied that you MUST belong to a church (or the Church of the Larger Fellowship) to be a Unitarian Universalist. Hmm.

The young woman wondered if our congregations make places for everyone who might be a Unitarian Universalist at heart. She thought of the young men she mentored in the inner city; the Appalachian families she knew; those who had been wounded by a church experience; those whose souls did not fit well with committee work.

The young woman thought of Buddhism, and loving-kindness as a part of Buddhist practice, and thought that while there are many who belong to Buddhist communities or sanghas, there are also lots of Buddhists who do not belong to an official faith community. Isn’t it possible to be Unitarian Universalist in our everyday lives, without belonging to an official congregation or the CLF? Must we be a congregationally based movement or can our congregations be just one part of our movement? Does it make sense to use parish ministry as the primary paradigm by which to train and teach our ministers, or would it not make sense to envision new ways of being ministers that does not follow a congregational/parish framework? What would a cadre of real actual equal-to-parish ministers who were not PARISH ministers look like if they were to meet the needs of the hurting and seeking people in this world who don’t want to or can’t or don’t fit in a congregational setting? What might we be able to do outside a congregational setting that we can’t do within one?

The young woman loves her new religious home. She loves Unitarian Universalism, its ministers, its congregants, its songs (well, many of them), and sermons. But she has great hopes for a Unitarian Universalism that has room for all those who are UUs “at heart” and don’t fit into congregations or who are able to give and get in rich and valuable ways outside of parishes. She thinks of approaches to living out Unitarian Universalist faith in the world that make space for new sorts of communities, new visions of religious practice, new ways of doing justice and loving that are big enough and flexible enough for all beings and ways of being.


A Slower and Simpler Life (?)

June 13, 2006

We had an adult education class at our church this year called Living Simply and Sustainably. It was a big hit because everyone seemed to need to find ways to live simply and sustainably, while at the same time not be so preoccupied and overwhelmed with it all. You want to live simply, so you wash and dry clothes rather than let them hang dry. Faster, simpler, yet less sustainable. You want to get back in touch with slow eating and simple foods, so you try cooking, which ends up taking 2 hours a night to make, eat, cleanup. More simple in a way. More complex in a way. So many trade-offs. I feel like “I’m really quite busy” is the mantra of my life and I hate it. I get sooo annoyed with those people that run around “Oh, I’m so busy! Oh! I have so much to do.” Yet, when I make my lists (I love making lists) of everything I would like to get to, it seems like if I only do the starred things on my list (that is the MOST important) I never really get to the other stuff like finishing painting the living room (it is half-green, half-dirty-white), selling books I no longer want, knitting, writing for fun (not for class), or things like getting my lost credit card replaced or cooking (instead of eating out or getting pre-made stuff…). And, I might note, I do not have children. I really don’t see how anyone finds time to take care of children AND work AND have a life. Granted, I think a lot of parents might say that the children are their lives, but geesh — you have to have time to at least clean, which I really struggle with even with our four kitties. I’m not complaining, but rather just thinking about how this happens. I don’t do lots of extra curricular stuff. I do not have lots of hobbies or friends to keep me busy. We take care of foster kittens which is the only “optional” thing that I think we could cut. Other stuff — work, minimal reading, keeping up with email, cleaning at least sometimes before it gets utterly gross, eating — can really not go. W. and I sometimes wonder if we are doing something wrong. I don’t want an immaculate house, or lots of stuff or money. Just a minimally clean house, things that don’t fall apart, decent food (a can of soup will not cut it for me like it will for W.) Others struggle with this? Do you have ideas about how to deal with this? How can we make our lives slower, simpler, richer, less rushed? I feel like it is almost a cliched question, but still quite pertinent. A seminarian friend of mine started taking a day of rest, a real Sabbath, last year and she spoke very highly of it. That could be a possibility. W. told me today to just get used to it, be at peace with it, go one step at a time and accept it as a part of life. True to some extent, but to another, I just don’t like it that this happens. There must be a way to stop it. Or not…..