Monday, March 28, 2005

Socially engaged but not political?

I'm going to attempt to extend a theme here that may not be a perfect fit. I have mentioned here my discomfort at both the "spiritual but not religious" concept as well as with supercessionary rhetoric with regards to the relationship between Christianity and contemporary Unitarian Universalism.

I have made some veiled critical references of attempts at
anti-politics previously, but feel some need to respond to at least part of ChaliceChick's strategic suggestions for Unitarian Universalism. She argues "Shift the focus from 'politics' to 'charity work.'"

I felt compelled to reply: "When I give bread to the poor, they call me a saint; but when I ask why people are poor, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife.

We can no more jettison our UU heritage as social reformers than jettison our Christian heritage, even if we are neither Christians nor social justice activists. It too is part of the DNA of Unitarian Universalism.

A number UU's around the age of my parents seem somewhat attached to being something entirely new and detached from the Christian taint of their previous faith. Meanwhile, namy UU's closer to my age want to distance themselves from perceived embarassing excesses of the sixties (sometimes called the Kumbaya factor). Many UU's younger than me but older than my stepson seem to be more hard core in their activism and spirituality, oganizing worship services and getting arrested at the School of the Americas or the WTO.

I asked a question about Tillich earlier on this blog. While there are many ways to do this, I would like to reflect on his concept of "ultimate concern" in this context.

Two Concepts of Religion

Dr. Tillich: I thank you very much. I think we now have in view those principles which are especially important for our discussion. Of course there are many other problems, but I believe these are the most important. Perhaps I may formulate the matter in a slightly different way at one point, since it is so fundamental to the whole seminar.

Behind this system, as has been implied, are two concepts of religion. And this fact is so fundamental that, although we shall need to discuss it more fully, an over-all comment should be made here: If religion is defined as a state of "being grasped by an ultimate concern" — which is also my definition of faith — then we must distinguish this as a universal or large concept from our usual smaller concept of religion which supposes an organized group with its clergy, scriptures, and dogma, by which a set of symbols for the ultimate concern is accepted and cultivated in life and thought. This is religion in the narrower sense of the word, while religion defined as "ultimate concern" is religion in the larger sense of the word. The distinction of the larger concept provides us with a criterion by which to judge the concrete religions included under the smaller, traditional concept. Specific religions are inherently susceptible to criticism which keeps them alive or condemns them to come to an end, if they cannot qualify under the power of this ultimate principle.

I have been influenced by a reading of ultimate concern that looks at ultimate and concern as two components of a whole. (Though I sometimes use the terms ultimacy and intimacy instead of ultimate concern) In Tillich's terms, the ultimate can be thought of in terms of the ontological relationship to the ground of being. This is sometimes referred to as the vertical dimension of faith, the connection to the divine or the relationship to one's own finitude. Concern can be viewed as a horizontal dimension of faith, involved in the present and engaged in the current context.

Tillich uses the words profanization and demonization to describe the distortions of these dimensions. Demonization is the term for when the concrete is mistaken for the ultimate. Tillich describes fascism as demonized nationalism, communism as demonized socialism, scientism as demonized humanism, and the inquisition church as a demonized form of Christianity. Profanization is the mistaking of the ultimate as concrete, such as mistaking the practicices of worship for the object of worship.

Dr. Tillich: When the inner difficulties of the social structure produce dissatisfaction in individuals, revolutionary movements in religion or in politics may develop, as happened when the social and religious structure of the pre-Reformation period failed to satisfy large groups of people. Individuals who are especially sensitive to this situation give expression to dissatisfaction and produce new social or religious forms. That is one way in which the two are related — the internal and the external. It is also possible that the individual may withdraw from the whole social situation in which he lives, and either return to earlier forms that still have power or anticipate something new without giving revolutionary expression to it. These are the people in the New Testament who are called "those who are waiting for the salvation of Israel." They were also called "the quiet ones in the land." That is still another possibility. We may choose. Every period has in itself, because of the whole stream of human history, not only negative elements but also positive ones. We can concentrate on these positive elements in order to find the meaning of life for ourselves in spite of the disintegrating social situation, or we can find that meaning in fighting against the disintegration. If we fight, either we founder because the response is not yet strong enough or we produce some kind of reformation (and there are many reformations in the Christian church, not merely the Protestant one). Or, we may simply become cynical and have a good time, repressing the ultimate question so far as possible. And that is the only completely unproductive possibility.

Internal, external, ultimate, concern. I feel it is essential to hold these in dynamic tension and expand on both dimensions of our faith. We do need to take care to avoid demonization and profanization. We must not overly focus on any particular political party, structure, or issue to avoid demonization. ChaliceChick's idea of sticking to charity work is not entirely wrong as a suggestion in this direction. But I take from Camara that we must do more than just treat the symptoms and must address causes.

If we are to build a land where we bind up the broken and the captives go free, we must sometims work on a scale larger than individuals. We must address structurs and we must create what James Luther Adams calls "mediating structures" that confront the structures of injustice. George Lakey, in his book, Powerful Peacemaking:Strategies for a Living Revolution, says that progressives have this problem of always focusing on the immediate crisis or the eventual utopia. He argues that we must aim somewhere in between. JLA's view of liberal religious communities as mediating structures gives us a model to play just this role.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Same Sex Schiavo

As awful as the spectacle around Terri Schiavo's end of life has become, imagine the situation for a same sex couple.

My kids and I were walking to the Muni (subway/streetcar system) after the anti-war march in San Francisco. Walking down Market Street, we came upon a large ad for an exhibit of wedding photos from San Francisco's same sex marriages. As it happened, one of the two women in the picture was an old activist friend of mine from college. Ironically enough, we had gone to a peace march that ended at the same place at Civic Center during the first Gulf War. A large group of us had stayed up all night driving from San Diego to San Francisco and we all walked back to the subway and slept on the ride back to Berkeley where we had met others and left some vehicles.

I sent her an email just to share the coincidence. She is very involved in Marriage Equality CA, and was somewhat apologetic about being out of town to work on marriage equality issues and missing the demonstration.

The Schiavo situation should remind us that marriage equality is a fundamental life and death struggle for dignity. It is all one struggle. We all come from one place and will eventually return.(Call it God or call it entropy or call it the ground of being or what have you) And anything that attempts to divide us, or opppress some of us, violates all that is whole or holy. It is our birthright that we deserve to live with dignity and to die with dignity. And we all have a role to play in making a world where this is so.

Act Up. Fight Back. Never be silent again.
"The more I use my voice, the less it matters that I am afraid" Audre Lorde

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Faith Voices for the Common Good

Dear Friend,

On March 30th, Faith Voices for the Common Good ( is organizing a million voice 'write in' for people of faith concerned about ending the war in Iraq. Details are below and at If you are in sympathy, please join this effort and pass the word on to others ASAP through your congregation or other networks of which you are a part.

The tide of violence needs to turn. We need to do everything we can to pull for a life-giving and life-saving approach to issues of justice, democracy and peace.

I hope you'll join me in the effort on March 30th. It will require two hours of your time on-line at a time slot of your choosing, anytime between 6:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. This is not just signing a petition -- it is working together with others to reflect on the issues and build consensus through an exchange of ideas using new educational technology. If you can't give the time, see for other simple ways you can help.

Starr King School for the Ministry is a member of Faith Voices for the Common Good ( in keeping with our priority "to renew the public vocation of ministers and congregations." This effort will give you a chance to experience a new way we can use the internet to build community and raise our voices.

In peace and gratitude,
Rebecca Parker
President and Professor of Theology
Starr King School for the Ministry

online for two hours to create a declaration against
the Iraq War called Peace Not Poverty!

This is not a petition, but is your opportunity to
speak out yourself. Participation is open to anyone
with an internet accessible computer, anywhere in the
world. REGISTER BEFORE 7 pm EST March 27 at, where you will find details
and a schedule of appointment times. Tell all your
friends to join you!

This "Write-In" is part of a multi-organizational plan
to build what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
called the "Beloved Community" (details of all events
at The Write-In will use
Synanim, a unique technology that enables groups to
work collaboratively and create a synthesized
consensus online in a few hours.

On April 4, the Peace Not Poverty declaration will be
read by the consensus leader at the "Beyond Iraq"
interfaith service in Riverside Church in New York.
This televised event will mark the anniversary of
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech against the Vietnam
War in 1967.

The over 30 co-sponsors include:
Unitarian Universalist Association
National Council of Churches
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Faithful America
Faith Voices for the Common Good
Pax Christi USA
Gold Star Families for Peace
Tikkun Community
Shalom Center
Sikh World Council-America Region
Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq
Baptist Peace Fellowship
Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Clergy and Laity Network

Monday, March 21, 2005

Good day at church

Is was a good Sunday at church this weekend. The sermon was based on this sermon by Jane Rzepka of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. At an RE meeting we discussed activities based around Randy Hammer's "">Everyone A Butterfly: Forty Sermons for Children.

When I was doing the dishes I was listening to mp3's and heard some stuff I like. First, a recommendation for Evan Greer who I first heard about from his post on the UU Livejournal community.

I also got reminded of a Dar Williams song I hadn't listened to in a long time.

The Christians and the Pagans:

Amber called her uncle, said "We're up here for the holiday,
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay."
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree,
He watched his song hang candy canes all made with red dye number three.
He told his niece, "Its Christmas Eve, I know our life is not your style,"
She said, "Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and its been awhile,"

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch,
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, "Is it try that youre a wtich?"
His mom jumped up and said, "The pies are burning," and she hit the kitchen,
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, "Its true, your cousins not a Christian,"
"But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share,
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere,"

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And where does magic come from? I think magics in the learning,
Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning.

When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, "Really, no, dont bother."
Ambers uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father.
He thought about his brother, how they hadnt spoken in a year,
He thought hed call him up and say, "Its Christmas and your daughters here."
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, so his own son tug his sleeve, saying,
"Can I be a Pagan?" Dad said, "Well discuss it when they leave."

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

War...What is it good for?

This should be my last polemical piece for a little while. Again I will open myself up to claims of Blue State Idolatry. This weekend I am going to be participating in an anti-war protest marking the anniversary of the Iraq War. Rev. Tom and Crystal Clear are welcome to disagree, as are my friends in the military.

I'd say most of my congregation is vaguely supportive, but no one else will be going to the demonstration in San Francisco. I don't believe that anyone from seminary will be participating either. Sometimes I think the real UU political position is "Shut up, vote for the democrats, and send a check to NPR." I know there are some UUs online who would like to see a return to the AUA's condemnation of pacifists during World War I.

I'm sure some of the Bay Area (Are Bay Area UU's Bay Arians?) congregations will have a contingent. I am going to meet early at the US Labor Against War Rally at Mission High School. If I find the UU banner that was at earlier demonstrations I will march with them as well.

I really do not believe that all UUs need to agree with me about the Iraq War and the so called Global War on Terror. I do feel that UUs who do agree with me are obliged to do more than vote every 2-4 years and send sternly worded emails and occasional paper letters. A wise man once taught me, the only sanction of a governed populace is the threat of becomng ungovernable. I refer the reader to reading #579 in SLT: "Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing up the ground...Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will."

Theologically, loving your neighbor as yourself sometimes requires brutal honesty about the involvement of one's own government in the world. Given the historical record, for me, it violates the greatest of these commandments to give this government the benefit of the doubt. By their deeds ye shall know them. So my light will not be hidden under a bushel this weekend.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Kate Cooper Austin: From Universalist to Anarchist Feminist Pioneer

Kate Cooper was born into a Universalist and spiritualist family of strong women. While she was not affiliated with a Universalist church after childhood, many of her ideas anticipate contemporary Unitarian Universalist thinking on gender and social justice. Much as Margaret Fuller is still recognized in the “pantheon” of notable Unitarians and Universalists as a transcendentalist (see for example the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography), Kate Cooper Austin’s anarchism and feminism are logical developments from her Universalist roots, even if she maintained no connection to institutional Universalism.

Kate Cooper Austin wrote very little of an autobiographical nature. The recollections of one of her daughter’s and Emma Goldman’s recollection of two visits in late October 1897 and September 1899 (which she unfortunately conflates into one visit in her autobiography) provide the bulk of what is known about her personal life. She was an avid correspondent who wrote to all the leading anarchist and feminist thinkers of her time, but very few of her letters are extant for study. Howard S. Miller’s "Kate Austin: A Feminist-Anarchist on the Farmer's Last Frontier," is the sole academic paper to explore her contributions in detail. The only other paper that briefly explorers her thought is Blaine McKinley’s "Anarchist Jeremiads: American Anarchists and American History."

Her social location as poor, rural, anarchist, feminist woman must play some role in her relative obscurity in modern times, in spite of her almost 200 published articles (and potentially dozens more in publications which exist in no archives). Her social class and rural location are fairly typical demographics for Universalists of her era. Her association with free thought and free love movements however maker her a difficult subject for quasi-official Universalist histories. Such histories tend to do their best to quickly move past the admission that some Universalists of the time were lost to spiritualism and free love. Despite the high regard of many anarchist comrades, her rurality and again her work on issues of sexuality made her marginal even amongst many anarchists. Her anarchism and rural isolation also keep her marginal to typical women’s histories. Miller describes her situation in these terms: “Her devotion to libery made her an anarchist; her hostility to patriarchy made her a feminist. She was too much the former to join the organized women’s movements of her day, and too much the latter to ally with mainline political anarchists- most of them men- whose devotion to liberty often stopped short of women’s liberation.” In mainstream terms, Kate Cooper Austin might be considered a heretic’s heretic’s heretic. Even absent her politics and childhood religion (and adult nonreligion), her gender, class and geography all conspire to erase her voice from contemporary visions of the late 19th and early 20th century Midwest. Miller argues, “She lived and voiced a strain of grassroots feminist anarchism far more widespread than later generations would suppose. Her example was a reminder that the ‘little house on the prarie’ could as well be a nursery of rebellion as a cradle of traditional family values. Indeed, a whole population of agin Free-Soilers, homegrown socialists, assertive infidels, determined feminists, passionate free-lovers, and committed terrorists stalked the Middle Border in the Gilded Age. In this contentious cultural landscape, village atheism and undercalss rebellion were the mirror-image twins of bourgeois piety and conventional deportment.”

Monday, March 14, 2005

America? Freedom in this land of the free?

Joseph from RadicalHapa asks, What is American? Two literary examples come to mind, and even though I may be accused of Blue State Idolatry I thought I would share them here. I do this with some trepidation, as the passages may highlight how I do and do not fit in the liberal camp. Of course maybe Scott or ChaliceChick will make fun of me and more people will read my blog.

First, from Tony Kushner's Angels in America:

Belize: You know what your problem is, Louis? Your problem is that you are so full of piping hot crap that the mention of your name draws flies. Just to set the record straight: I love Prior but was never in love with him. I have a man, uptown, and have since long before I first laid my eyes on the sorry-ass sight of you. But you didn’t know cause you never bothered to ask. Up in the air, just like that angel, too far off the earth to pick out the details. Louis and his big ideas. Big ideas are all you love. America is what Louis loves. Well I hate America, Louis. I hate this country. It’s just big ideas, and stories, and people dying, and people like you. The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word 'free' to a note so high nobody can reach it. That was deliberate. Nothing on earth sounds less like freedom to me. You come to room 1013 over at the hospital, I'll show you America. Terminal, crazy and mean. I live in America, Louis, that’s hard enough, I don’t have to love it. You do that. Everybody’s got to love something.

Second, is Langston Hughes, Theme for English B:

The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you---
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me---who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white---
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me---
although you're older---and white---
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

Nursing Ethics

From the 6th Edition of Potter and Perry's Fundamentals of Nursing, Unit IV, Chapter 21 Ethics and Values, Review Questions (p. 403)

7. Successful ethical discussion depends on people who have a clear sense of personal values. When many people share the same values it may be possible to identify a philosophy of utilitarianism, which proposes that:

1. The value of people is determined solely by leaders in the Unitarian Church.
2. The decision to perform a liver transplant depends on a measure of the moral life that the client has led so far.
3. The best way to determine the solution to an ethical dilemna is to refer the case to the attending physician.
4. The value of of something is determined by its usefulness to society.

I don't really know what ot say about this. I know I was influenced by Peter Singer's application of preference utilitarianism when I became a vegetarian in college. My partner and I both got a good laugh out of this, though.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


We find sometimes a delight in the beauty & happiness of our children that makes the heart too big for the body.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1848.

It's all well and good to talk about religion and spirituality, but the rubber hits the road when you are up in the middle in the night with a sick child. Fortunately, in this case I just mean your garden variety fever childhood illness, not anything truly serious.

For her unfortunately it is something larger. It's been a couple days now, and she really wants to know when she will be better and why she gets sick. Partly, this is because she has been blessed wih being very healthy. This appears to be her first ear infection, at the age of 5 (5 3/4 as she likes to say). Her little brother (and even her teenage brother) get sick pretty regularly, but not her.

She is starting to ask questions about god. She is learning elements of a pretty standard old man in the sky theology from her teacher at the Buddhist elementary. It's all well and good to talk about the ground of being and creatureliness, or even inherent worth and dignity, but what does Unitarian Universalism say to a disoriented, feverish child at two in the morning?

Maybe there is no theology in the whirlwind and all our words are proverbs of ashes and all our defenses are defenses of clay. The best we can do is be as reassuring as possible.

I know this is what is implied by "inherent worth and diginity" and part of the hope in Romans 8. But that makes it even more complicated.

Monday, March 07, 2005


I think Jess's Journal raises the Christian/Post-Christian/Non-Christian issue in a much more accessible way than I did. Check it out. Like he did here, Fausto filled in with some substantive comments too.

Friday, March 04, 2005

My most recent response to "Spiritual, but not religious"

I am not a big fan of this whole religion is bad, spirituality is good point of view. Like many things it is an issue of social location.

Where I live, lots of upper middle class people buy spiritual products, read spiritual books and go on spiritual retreats, effectively insulating themselves from the struggles of most people in the world. They do not want to hear about current events, poverty or other problems because they are too busy being spiritual.

Sometimes, as a way of mixing up people's expectations I say "I am religious but not spiritual." Ultimately, I am a rationalist and don't really believe in supernatural dualism. In as much as religion is ethics, dedication and committment while spirituality is private individual experiences(which are oten mixed up with products and services that people purchase) I will often choose religion over spirituality. I will choose making a difference over mysticism any day.

Of course it is actually more complicated than this. WIthout spirituality, religion can decay into meaningless ritual (or a meaningless activism of gestures for that matter). I like to call it the knowledge of the spritiual fact of human solidarity versus the fiction of nations, races, classes and creeds. (even UUs tend to have difficulty with the nations part of this) All of us, human and nonhuman animals and all things come from the same source. This knowledge permeates and serves to inform all that we do. If this knowledge does not serve to bind us back together (look at the prefix re and the stem lig in the word religion) spirituality becomes just as shallow as meaningless ritual

What ever makes you feel whole, I support. But whatever helps you take your wholeness to the task of helping others be whole, I support even more.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Sinkford on Beliefnet list of Most Influential Black Spiritual Leaders

Who is the 12 person listed in Beliefnet's list of Most Influential Black Spiritual Leaders?

The Rev. William G. Sinkford
Sinkford The Rev. William G. Sinkford is the first African American to head the Unitarian Universalist Association, a largely white, liberal denomination. This Boston-based minister has been a particularly vocal proponent of legalizing gay marriage, a position that is in keeping with his organization’s historical support of same-sex couples and their families.