The UUA Presidential Election and The Point of Our Faith

June 3, 2009

Well, it is a rare case when I read the always thoughtful and usually (self-proclaimed) conservative UU blog of Joel Monka and agree with it. I learn a lot, but at the end of most posts I am thinking, “Wow, I so don’t agree with that.” But, his most recent post on the UUA Presidential Election has really helped to clarify a lot for me. Interestingly, his post is titled “Something Clicked,” and it helped something click for me. I shall explain.

For the few short years that I have been giving sermons (and blogging), I return to one theme over and over. You know, they say that each preacher has one sermon that he or she preaches over and over in different forms and this is SO true for me. In large part, it is because it is the struggle of my life.

The gist of my sermon that I give repeatedly in different forms is that we (and I very much include myself in this) don’t live out the values that we proclaim in our own lives. We say we believe x, y and z, but our actions don’t often enough reflect this when it gets really hard. My sermons are not so much about “do better” (although that is part of it) but more “how do we come to terms with this?” since, by my estimation, we are (I am) never going to do THAT much better at living out our values. Part of this is that we must necessarily focus our energies of love and justice at the expense of letting other injustices stand. We cannot do it all – we cannot save the world. How do we learn to live with this, and choose how and where to put our energy? (I won’t expand on this, but if you want to read my writing about this you can go here, here or here.)

Back to Joel’s post, he quotes UUA Trustee Linda Laskowski in her post about why she supports Rev. Morales for UUA President. She writes,

I believe we do offer much to a hurting world, and through working with like-minded individuals and alliances can be part of “saving” it — and in the process save ourselves and this faith we love.

Joel argues that this is backwards. He writes,

Religion isn’t about changing the world; it’s about changing the man in the mirror- if you can save him, the world will follow.

Gender exclusive language aside, I think this is what I am often getting at in my sermons and blog posts. It helps me clarify to me how I understand Unitarian Universalist faith, and also helps clarify to me an underlying current I was working against in my sermons and blog posts: that somehow the world needs what we have to offer it. Rather, I would like to reorient our reflection to how WE come up short far too much and it isn’t a matter of “fixing” ourselves and our world, but that we need to be more honest and real about coming to terms with the fact that we are not ever able to fully live up to our values.

While I tend not to be a fan of the idea of original sin, or talk of sin in general, I hear Joel’s point about how it might make sense to focus on living our lives better – dealing with/coming to terms with our weaknesses, imperfections, and brokenness (that some might call sin) – rather than always looking “out there” in the world and thinking WE can save THEM or IT. It reminds me of charismatic ministers that think they have so much to offer the world and their church that they don’t deal with their own life and end up making huge public, damaging blunders because they thought the good they do in the world/church somehow makes up for not doing such a good job in their own lives.

I often feel so frustrated at the sense that we (Unitarian Universalists) somehow have what the world needs – like, somehow Christianity or Islam or Buddhism isn’t cutting it. For me, it is that Unitarian Universalism is where I need to be. And I welcome others in joining me and my fellow Unitarian Universalists in the journey to try to do the hard work of love and justice. This is where I am, but it isn’t because other religions somehow aren’t good enough. I could digress on this, but, bringing it back to Joel’s post and the post by UUA Trustee Linda Laskowski about endorsing Peter Morales, I can see how this relates to Morales’s take on things and the tone and approach he may bring to our association. In the sermon announcing his candidacy, (click here for a pdf of the sermon) he said:

We live in a new world, a world in which once isolated religious traditions are in constant contact. We desperately need new religion for a new world. The old religions lead to tribalism, violence, suspicion, hatred, and oppression. We need a religion that transcends divisions, religion that unites enemies, religion that points to a new future that includes everyone.

While I have no doubt that he did not intend any harm by this statement, I really feel rubbed the wrong way by the idea that “we need a new religion for a new world” (which is, apparently, Unitarian Universalism) and that the “old religions” (by which he seems to mean Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) lead to tribalism, violence, suspicion, hatred, and oppression. Like somehow we’re going to get it right whereas others just don’t have what it takes. He writes

Today Judaism, Islam and Christianity, especially the more conservative parts of them, have become what they first opposed: narrow, rigid and reactionary. They look back and seek to recapture a fantasy of the past instead of embracing a vision for the future.

Aside from the fact that I am not really sure that all three of these religion “first opposed” narrowness, rigidity, and being reactionary, I feel very uncomfortable with the idea that we are what the world needs – at all – and especially over and against “old religions.”

I am not endorsing a candidate in the election. For me, this isn’t about Peter Morales, but rather about how we envision our faith: are we Unitarian Universalists because it is the context in which we can connect with the divine, become the people we want to be, serve humbly, doing the hard work of love and justice or, are we Unitarian Universalists because we think it is the best religion for our time – because it is what the world needs – what they need. Of course, for me it is the former. Unitarian Universalism is what I need. I think when it becomes the latter we fall prey to the very better-than-thou-ness of other religions who think that they have “it” and others don’t – one of the qualities that so many Unitarian Universalists do not appreciate from other faiths.

I think if we are so worried about growing and being “the religion for our time” we lose sight of the forest for the trees. We are not saving the world. We are not in a contest for the best or fastest growing faith. We fail so often to live up to our visions of our own best selves. Rather, I hope that before we go about telling other people that they need what we have, we take the time to attend to ourselves, our congregations, our hearts, our lives. I think when we do this, we will create healthy congregations and a healthy association that will draw in others who wish to join us on the path.

(Just to clarify, I am not suggesting that we somehow descend into deep navel-gazing. The point is that the outreach work of love and justice grows out of coming to terms with our own lives and grows out of community and spiritual practices that we do in our congregations. It is not the point of our congregations or faith, but some of the the fruit of it.)

Edit: I just want to be really clear here that I am not endorsing – or somehow campaigning against – a particular candidate for the UUA Presidential election. I just don’t know enough about each of them to feel like I can make a good decision – I have been too caught up in pregnancy, birth and raising our new sweet baby to give this election the attention it deserves. There are a lot of issues at hand – many angles to consider – and this is just one of them. For all I know, I have totally misread Morales’s overall thrust and vision – this is just a little sliver of a big and complex picture. If you are going to be voting or endorsing, I encourage you to do  more reading at many different sources and talk to others you trust about this. Peace, E


The Rick Warren Bru-ha-ha

December 20, 2008

I am of two minds on the Rick Warren matter.

My first reaction is to say, “Look, I don’t like the guy either. I don’t agree with his theology. I don’t agree with his politics. But it isn’t like he was chosen to be the minister-in-chief or something. He is giving an invocation. I know it has a lot of symbolic meaning, but it doesn’t have any practical consequences in and of itself. It is a gesture of the president elect to say, ‘I am not a president only to progressives or to liberals, but a president to the whole country.’ And, there are big parts of the country that can identify with Rev. Rick Warren. And, as conservative evangelical pastors go, he is one of the less offensive ones who has at least made some overtures toward changing the tone of the rhetoric. My hope is that it is a gesture that will soften the hearts of those who would tend to be more opposed to Obama and his policies. It will not solve many problems, but it is a gesture of unity, which people are always talking about. You know, one country, working out our differences and that sort of thing. By saying all of this, I don’t mean to say that I don’t understand why people don’t like it. Heck, I don’t like it either. But I see it as a strategic move that may help in the long run with things that matter more than who gives the invocation at the inauguration.” (It is of course another matter whether there should be invocations and benedictions at inaugurations anyway.)

That said, it occurred to me how often discrimination against women or the GLBTQ community can often be chalked up to theology, while few people will stand for discrimination against ethnic minorities chalked up to theology. I try to imagine if someone gave the invocation that said that they still supported slavery based on theology. Or that women should obey thier husbands based on theology (heck, Warren may agree with the second of those statements). What would it mean to have someone give the invocation as a gesture of unity and goodwill who was known to support legalized discrimination against women – that they should get paid less, that rape should be less of a crime, that they should not have inheritance rights? Hmm. No matter how symbolic or strategic that would be, I would be feeling really unhappy about this. So then I started rethinking what I said above.

And now I just don’t know. The thing is, so many of these difficult issues are totally intrackable. “We” dig in our heals. “They” dig in their heels. We write on our blogs about why we are right. We affirm each other at our churches about why we are right. We are smug. We know whose side God is on. And where does this get us? What is the way forward toward better understanding each other, finding common ground to work on together, even, dare I say it, finding areas where compromise makes sense. I am not talking about any particular issue, but rather all of these very intense social and political issues that are so close to our hearts – all of our hearts – and where it seems so difficult to move forward.

I’m guessing having Rick Warren give the invocation at the inauguration isn’t the answer. But I wish we could come up with a better one that just insisting on how right and just we are and getting offended and indignant. Not that I am somehow immune to this. I do it to. But there must be a better way…


On the question: Can you be a person of faith and a feminist?

December 16, 2008

Wow. There is a post over at www.feministing.com, a third-wave feminist blog which I tend to really like (although the style is not always exactly my style), titled Can you love God and feminism? I was a little shocked by the title, but thought that perhaps it was simply meant to be provocative.

Um, I think it was actually serious. And even if it wasn’t meant to be serious, many readers are taking it that way. The post is about a very conservative brand of Christianity that is very sexist, and then somehow asks, from that, if feminism and loving God are somehow incommensurable. I think the author of the post does not really think this, but also has not thought out (well-enough) the implications of her framing. It leaves open the door for the worst framings of Christians and feminists… Christians who must somehow be incapable of valuing equality and the full humanity of all people, or feminists who are somehow incapable of connecting with or unwilling or uninterested in the divine. I feel like to ask, “Can you love God and love feminism?” is like asking, “Can you love men and be a feminist?” Or “Are all feminists feminazis?” It is just a bad way to frame the question that doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the issues or people involved.

As someone whose job and studies as a doctoral student and, you know, like my entire life calling, is, in many ways, at the intersection of feminism and faith, reading many of the comments was like a huge punch in the stomach. I suppose it is good. A good reality check. A good time to reach out to people. A good encouragement to post more about this on my own blog.

I encourage those of you who are are feminists of faith to include your voices in the comments over at the post on feministing. You have to register once in order to comment, but it only takes a second. There are so many posters on there who have clearly been convinced by more conservative parts of religion, particularly Christianity, that the patriarchal versions of Christianity are somehow all there is of it. There are likewise rather naive framings of Paul and Jesus and the bible as all totally feminist friendly. Oh, is there outreach work to be done. What surprises me so much is so many self-identified feminist posters who are so dismissive of the experiences of people who are feminists and people of faith. Like just totally excluding them as valid, dismissing them as “duped” or tricked or just wrong. How very unfeminist.

One question that someone posted that perhaps readers here could help with is: Does anyone have suggestions on where to get your feminist Christian fix? I’ve been trying to find some sort of blog or magazine or anything, and I know there’s a lot of academic work out there, but is there anything a bit more…I don’t know, enjoyable to consume?

Sadly (I need to remedy this) I am much more familiar with the academic work, and not more popular stuff. Anyone have any ideas?


Don’t you bet this is a fun church to attend?

September 4, 2008

Church Sign: Kissing Girl Leads To Hell

The Associated Press reports that “a church in the Columbus [Ohio] area is turning heads with its public spin on the pop song I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. (For more on the song, including the lyrics, you can see my old post on it.)

A sign outside Havens Corners Church in suburban Blacklick has the lyrics from the song’s chorus, “I kissed a girl and I liked it” — and adds, “Then I went to hell.” … Church pastor the Rev. Dave Allison said the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin, so the sign is intended as a loving warning to teens.

Yeah, that seems really loving to me. And I bet it is super-effective too. I sure won’t be kissing any girls now that I have read that on a church sign and I bet all the teenage girls in the area won’t be either. Good thing we have been warned!


House or Buddha?

June 7, 2008

I’ve spent a lot of the last three or five years of my life trying to be more compassionate, more understanding, more mindful, calmer, kinder, more loving, and really pressuring encouraging my partner to do all of this too. I was sort of an obnoxious know-it-all teenager (yes, more so than your average teen) and this started declining after, one morning at church in college, I had an epiphany that I didn’t have to be this intense, that it actually was not good for me, and that the world did not need my intense drama, debate, provoking and proclamations in order to keep moving along and that I might be happier and make more progress toward my goals in life (liberal political stuff, justice, and all that) if I was nice to people instead of lecturing them. (Not that it is terribly relevant here, but my 180 turn toward gentleness and avoidance of conflict probably also had something to do with rejecting a conflict-ridden household growing up, but that is another post). So, I got all into unconditional love, forgiveness, and this ended up morphing into more Buddhist-ish formulations once I finally decided (I think) that I really can’t be a Christian even if I really really want to.

And now enter Gregory House M.D., mean doctor who is cynical, jaded, rude, super-smart, and probably pretty sad, and lonely. I LOVE THIS SHOW. Unreasonably. At first, I thought I loved it like I liked E.R. Interesting relationships, medical drama. And there are things to solve (sort of like Law & Order only medical and less predicable). Or maybe I just liked it because I don’t have a T.V. and it was a show I had seen a few times and sort of got hooked because I really wasn’t watching much else.

But this is not the case. I am drawn to this show. My spirit is drawn to it. I cannot tell if I want to be more like House (more confident, strong, uncaring about what others think about me, super-insightful, more selfish). Or if I want to rescue House (just like I wanted to rescue Will in Good Will Hunting or Joey in fourth grade, or Levi in ninth grade, etc.). Or both. Maybe it is just fun to live vicariously through someone who is pretty much never wrong, and is cold and calculating, but really soft on the inside.

Why post this on my blog, you say? Because it raises actual questions for me about how we might live our lives. I have started but not finished two other posts on this topic that have something to do with how nice is too nice and how mindful and meditative can you be before you are just dull? The Dalai Lama and Thich Naht Hahn are great, but how Buddha-ish do I want to be or should/can I (we) be and how House-ish should we (I) be, just calling people out on things, and not entertaining their mush and drama? Is part of being a good minister (or just human) sometimes not saying, “Oh, and how does that feel to you?” and instead just being like, “Seriously, you need to just get over that.” How much is all my compassion and love and la la la so others will like me and feel cared for by me, and how much of it is really that that is what they truly need?

I will continue to do more research on this by watching as many House episodes as I possibly can. I will report back.


Thoughts and Pictures From Ohio

May 26, 2008

I’ve been in Ohio for a week visiting my parents on their farm (which they don’t actually farm), going to Arcanum Old Fashion Days where I used to run around every May with my best friend Katie chasing boys and trying to be cool, visiting the young men I mentor and their beautiful families, working at The Kettering Foundation, and thinking about and trying not to stress over my upcoming Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy Interview on June 2.

I loved the the country, the green, how slow life is, how easy it is to drive, how much space there is to prance around in my parents’ yard, how there are barns to explore if I want to, how you can smell the grass, how police and farmers always wave to you when you pass them on the road, how there are no jack hammers outside your window in the morning, and how I know all the streets and back roads and even how I know people at the grocery store even if I don’t really want to talk to them, introvert that I am.

I loved visiting my parents and being and adult and it being okay to extrapolate myself from family dynamics that you can’t extrapolate yourself from when you are 17.

I like how I can have a bon fire in the back yard and make smoores if the mood strikes.

I love how each tree is a tree I climbed, or how the barns are hideouts we made and adventures we had searching for secret passage ways and evidence of a crime we could solve (like Nancy Drew). Each back road all with their names that only seemed strange once college friends visited and told me so (Hogpath or Schnorf-Jones or Otterbein-Ithica or Dull Rd.) is a story, or a memory, or a home I used to visit of a childhood friend, or where so-and-so lived who married so-and-so.

All the memories are not good. But they are mine and taken together they are the first 17 years of my life. Corn stalks, and woods, and barns, and school mates, and religion and all of it. They are rich and dark and funny and sad and happy and complex. Like our lives.

I love the religious signs and radio stations, in a weird sort of way. I forgot how much more religious Ohio is than Massachusetts. I have documented some of them for you (along with other lovely pictures). My dream would be to make a book documenting this sort of thing, except that several of them have already been written/photographed.

*

This is an awesome looking coffee house in Arcanum (population 2,000). You know coffeehouses are main stream when Arcanum gets one.

This is my parents house from the back yard.

And this is the hole in the wall where the raccoons broke in through the attic, down into the walls and into the extra room upstairs. There are some legendary stories involving raccoons in our attic, a hand gun, my dad, an attacking Mama raccoon, and eight year old Elizabeth, but that, I shall save for another post.

This is Sugar Boy. He graciously allows my parents to live with him and feed him and attend to his every whim.

Their sister Priscilla did not want her picture taken until she looses a few pounds. She currently weighs 18 pounds.

This is Pablo, our foster kitten. Just before we left for Ohio, we lost his brother Logan and sister Maria – the first two kittens we have ever lost. Very hard. Especially for Wolfgang who doesn’t really believe in any sort of kitten afterlife. They were just too young to be away from their Mama (who apparently abandoned them, or was unable to attend to them for some reason) and they just couldn’t pull through. We almost lost Pablo, but he is doing quiet well now.

He is considering taking up blogging about his near-death experience and being abandoned by his mom. Either a blog or a memoir. He isn’t quite sure yet. Since he is only six weeks old, he figures he has a little time to decide.

That’s all from Ohio. And Somerville. For now.


Be an Advice Columnist for a Day

January 13, 2008

Dan Savage writes a sex-advice column. This is not an endorsement or non-endorsement of that column, but a call to wise ministers and seminarians everywhere who have read the UUMA guidelines, the MFC reading list (including Sex in the Parish), and have possibly even taken the sexual ethics seminar at Andover Newton that I plan on going to tomorrow morning assuming we are not all blizzarded in.

Savage says he is stumped by a range of questions from readers, one of which is this one:

There’s this new pastor at the church I visit. She’s gorgeous, an athlete, and can read ancient Greek. I’ve managed to get her to lunch twice, despite her schedule, and I spelled out my interest explicitly. She seemed receptive, posited that dating someone in her new congregation could possibly cause issues, but may go hiking with me this weekend. So what’s the protocol for dating a smokin’-hot priestess?

Not Very Good Xian

Savage says: I don’t have answers for these folks. If you do, gentle readers, send ’em in and we’ll run the mother of all Savage Love web extras sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Write him at mail@savagelove.net. Since you can’t write to this young minister and tell her the potential dangers that come with dating someone in your congregation and lack of setting clear boundaries with congregants, what can you at least tell the guy? Does it matter that he “visits” the church? An opportunity to educate the public on healthy ministerial relationships!