Sunday, January 30, 2005

Benevolent Rage

Reading: by the Rev. Rebecca Parker, President, Starr King School for the Ministry

Your gifts—whatever you discover them to be—
can be used to bless or curse the world.

The mind’s power,
The strength of the hands,
The reaches of the heart,
The gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting

Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
Bind up wounds,
Welcome the stranger,
Praise what is sacred,
Do the work of justice
Or offer love.

Any of these can draw down the prison door,
Hoard bread,
Abandon the poor,
Obscure what is holy,
Comply with injustice
Or withhold love.

You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?

Choose to bless the world.

The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
To search for the sources of power and grace;
Native wisdom, healing, and liberation.

More, the choice will draw you into community,
The endeavor shared,
The heritage passed on,
The companionship of struggle,
The importance of keeping faith,

The life of ritual and praise,
The comfort of human friendship,
The company of earth
The chorus of life welcoming you.

None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility waiting.

The choice to bless the world is more than act of will,
A moving forward into the world
With the intention to do good.

It is an act of recognition,
A confession of surprise,
A grateful acknowledgment
That in the midst of a broken world
Unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.

There is an embrace of kindness,

That encompasses all life,
Even yours.

And while there is injustice, anesthetization, or evil
There moves a holy disturbance,
A benevolent rage,
A revolutionary love
Protesting, urging insisting

That which is sacred will not be defiled.

Those who bless the world live their life
As a gesture of thanks
For this beauty
And this rage.

I grabbed this from a service online at the First Parish UU Church in Chelmsford, MA by Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero. It reminded me of a feeling that I must commit in the next month to opposing Alberto Gonzales for Attorniey General and organizing opposition to the war in Iraq as its anniversary approaches.

Here is how Rev. Spero finishes her sermon:

It is a tough task to say "yes", to bless the world in the face such brokenness and fear and even horror. How can we have any effect? I believe we can by seeing how we bless the world in large and small ways everyday, by connecting the way we live our lives with our faith. We do this by raising our children to be thoughtful and compassionate beings; by taking part in a walk to raise money a just cause; by working to save some of the wilderness for conservation or finding homes for orphaned dogs; by creating gardens as sacred spaces; by organizing food drives for the Open Pantry and gift packages for U.S. soldiers overseas; by coming here and participating fully and enthusiastically in the life of this community of faith…These are just some of the ways I know that the members here, including our newest members, have chosen to bless the world. And all of us gathered here are here because at some level, as religious liberals, we trust that we can bless the world through the living of our lives.

I believe ultimately that this is what is means to be a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, to be a religious liberal in a Unitarian Universalist context: to commit to choosing to use our gifts to bless the world, this messy, broken, beautiful world, with the hope and the faith that together, we can make a difference, that, together, we can discern that still small voice that calls us to say yes, yes, I will. Amidst the shouting and the violence of our times, people want to hear the message of a hopeful faith. We need to stand up and counted as people of faith so the people who need us can see we are here.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Quick Question (especially for UU Christians)

Over the weekend I hope to have something more substantial to offer, but right now a question about Paul Tillich. I had a Systematic Theology professor ask me "Why do the unitarians like Tillich so much? He is very trinitarian in his christology."
How do people feel about Tillich?

I tend to gravitate towards his notion of sin as separation and some of his ideas about the relationship between faith and reason. How about you?

I know that ChaliceChick mentions Tillich in serveral of her posts. (Thanks for the link on CoffeeHour and hopefully that means I might get a comment here)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

UU in King George's War

Ok, even if no one else in the UU blogosphere says so, I will admit that I am checking my mail and RSS every few minutes to make sure I hear from the Virginia UU in King George's War. If any of the 3 people who have read this so far don't know, this is the blog of a UU Marine serving in Iraq who would like to attend the same seminary as me when he gets back.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Inherent worth and dignity indeed

Armando at DailyKos has authored a call that has been endorsed by a large number of bloggers. If you covenant to promote and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people (or if you love your neighbor as yourself) you might feel compelled to join in and say No to Gonzalez

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint."

Oppressed UUs

I suppose I enjoy a good semi-theological cat fight as much as the next person, but the current fracas at Philocrites and LiveJournal highlights a real problem in so many UU communities.

Everyone seems to claim the title of least appreciated or most oppressed UU out group. In this thread it is youth, in the argument above it is the atheists. Sometimes it is the Christians. I know it is the same for pagans but I do not have a good link for their grievances online. (Somehow using the word grievance makes me wonder if we should just have one grand Festivus, air our grievances and try feats of strength)

This is not to deny the legitimacy of anyone's grievances. Liberal religioin is harder to do well than liberal politics. It is important to remember that tolerance literally/denotatively means "to bear with repugnance." We must aspire to do better than that. Especially in these cases where it does not cost us much.

I believe that UUA President Sinkford is actually making a step in the right direction with the "Vocabulary of Reverence" effort he is making. When the initial news stories occurred, I googled David Bumbaugh at Meadville-Lombard and he sent me a copy of one of his papers on "A Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence." I found it personally meaningful and have used his work in a couple sermons.

I am by no means a lifetime UU. My experience with the UUA is entirely defined by Bill Sinkford's presidency. LIke many enthusiastic UU converts, I read A Chosen Faith and in spite of my dogmatic materialist atheism I fell in love with Buehrens and Church (like all good converts should :)) I did not feel particularly threated or offended in the way that Rieux does. Some people do make a religion out of anti-religion and I have never seen it be a healthy experience for them. I once met a cult deprogrammer who made a religion out of being against cults. I found that he and his colleagues had made their own cult of anti-cultists.

For all the complaints people make about John Buehrens, I do at least feel compelled to mention that he was nothing but supportive of my line of questioning and even followed up my questions with emails when he taught a short class I attended. I find him uncomfortably dogmatic occasionally, and I have some real differences with Rev. Dr. Church on the political implications of his doctrine of evil and sin.

If I knew how blogger worked, I would put up a poll that asks which marginalized UU subgroup is yours. Maybe you are young. Maybe you are single. Maybe you have a different theology. Maybe your congregation does a bad job of including people with young children. Maybe your congregation does a bad job of including people without children. Maybe you can't make it to church anymore and are lonely.

I think these very real feelings of exclusion interfere with people taking other issues of inclusion more seriously. How can we do a better job of accepting one another and encouraging each other to grow? I'll admit that a lot of the congregations I know avoid the words church, worship and sermon.The would never sing the word G-d in hymn #413 Go Now In Peace when the children leave. So for now, I am an atheist but I will caucus with the Christians and Pagans and see what I can do in my congregation to increase everyone's sense of acceptance.I know that some people in other places will need to be on the opposite mission.

Just for the record, the UU subidentity I will claim is left wing political activist. And by this I mean left of the Democratic party and more oriented towards Infoshop and Indymedia than DailyKos or Kevin Drum. When I write overtly as a UU I will be criticized for being too political and confusing liberal politics with liberal religion. I've found it a lot easier to develop a sense of myself as religious than as a liberal. As a "self-styled radical" my concerns may be fairly predictable. We really do need to more intelligently address systems of oppression with our UU culture, especially race and class.

I know Rogi has in the past made a good case for the experience of low income UUs. I have also seen some spirited defense of UU antiracism/antiopression work at FUUSE.

We need to get our house in order so that we can live up to the meaning of our message.

Crosseyed and painless

Below is an email I wrote in reply to another UU who was frustrated with other UUs who fall for "crackpot" ideas and apparently fail to use their logical faculties and take The DaVinci Code seriously. In my community, I see a lot of people using reason or logic as a club to make claims to ultimate truth. I'm reminded of a Talking Heads lyric: "Facts all come with points of view, facts don't do what I want them to."

My half of an email reply follows:

I come from a perspective very similar to you and as a process of exploration I would ask you this: To what extent does your resort to logic, reason or rationality reproduce this dynamic? The interplay of reason and faith are the core of our shared tradition. For me, I always try to remember that reason is an imprecise tool and never as definitive as it seems. To some extent, all theories are crackpot theories, some just better fit the evidence available to any particular observer at a particular time. But the position of the observer matters.

Truth is like catching an eel. Swift, undulating, slippery. And when we catch it and try to own it it dies. Very few truths are static because the world is not static.

I'm back in school and am just learning the hermeneutics and church history to really criticize the flaws in The DaVinci code. But you will find that I choose not too. The people I know who find meaning in the book have latched on to something meaningful and perhaps something true about the place of the feminine in the divine, and about the possibility of immanence.

In atheist language, the spark which divides that which is a live from that which is not alive (and makes organisms more than the sum of their parts) plays a part in all living things and is recapitulated in the "feminine" capacity to give birth to new life.

I am slowly learning to appreciate when people find meaningful truths in things that might seem silly, illogical or otherwise frivolous to me.