Monday, February 27, 2006

Colbert Report

Did anyone Tivo Monday's Colbert Report on Comedy Central? There was an extended UU joke.

Colbert gets exasperated at a stage hand's explanation of UUism and asks "So do you celebrate Christmas or Hanukah?" and the stage hand answers, "Sure."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

James Luther Adams

From Our Enemy: Angelism (1944)

I would suppose that most of us would say that all of these propositions about human beings are perfectly obvious. We all know that we live in a community and that we have bodies as well as minds. We know that what we learn is learned from experience in the body and in the world of things. We know that though our children are at times assigned by the poets the role of little angels coming from heave, which is their home, trailing clouds of glory, still their bodies need care, their minds need to be developed. We try to show them how to use their eyes, their tongues, their ears, their hands. We do not treat them as though they were pure spirits. We sometimes are even tempted to agree with the Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards, who called them "little vipers."

Indeed, through most of our lives we act on the principle that we are a little lower than the angels. We remember that we are dust, that our physical hunger must be satisfied, and that we must maintain a social order or perish. To some people, however, these concerns seem to be worldly matters. Hence they speak of a spiritual life that is only beyond the material order. Nevertheless, even our so called spiritual life depends on our bodies and requires the resources of the material order. One of the most spiritual things we know is music, but music is heard through the ears, and it requires wood and steel and horsehair and catgut and finger technique. Bach is not simply a synonym for heavenly and angelic sound.

Nevertheless, when we turn to consider our life in society, we find many people who seemingly forget that we are a little lower than the angels. Religion is thought of as being something wholly spiritual and individual, as lifting us to higher levels of apprehension and enjoyment than are possible in the world of things and rites and ceremonies. Sometimes this yearning for spirituality resorts to such extravagance as to claim that religion is something purely inward, that it needs no outward forms or social institutions. Indeed, we are frequently told that outward form only kills religion, that outward forms are mere trappings, that religion is only what we do with our solitariness.

Here again, as well as with music or poetry or architecture, religion must be seen, touched, heard, in order to be expressed or identified. A religion that has nothing to do with the community, that has nothing to do with the body, with the life of the senses, with outward forms of expression, does not exist except in the imagination. Religion must express itself through communal forms, through books, music, the spoken word, spoken prayers, as well as through buildings and sacrificial action. To claim to be religious and also not to be interested in these things is like saying that one is interested in poetry but in no specific poems; it is like saying that one is interested in government but not in legislatures and ballot boxes. There is no such thing as poetry apart from poems; and there is no such thing as government apart from constitutions or courts or police.

The relgioin that is purely spiritual is purely non-existent. We often hear it said that the greatest enemy of religion is materialism. This is by no means true. The greatest enemy of religion is sham spirituality, pure spirituality. It is angelism, an indifference to the needs of the body and especially of the body politic. Indeed, it was precisely the false spirituality of the Russian church which bred the needed materialism of the revolutionists. The German churches tried to be purely spiritual; they got fascism as their reward. One is indeed reminds of Gibbon's dictum that the virtues of the clergy are much more dangerous than their vices. Religion must be realized in particular acts in order to insure its continuing life. With reason, T.S. Eliot has said, "The spirit killeth, the letter giveth life." In short, angelism can kill religion.

I am not especially concerned her to derive a defense of institutional religion from the medieval angelology. The general principles implicit in the human condition have a far reaching application to the whole of our life. The good life must be realized in particular acts in order to exist at all. The angel is already perfect, being only commanded to maintain appropriate status to avoid falling into the pit; in short, to avoid becoming, like Lucifer, a fallen angel.

The point is that human beings must express themselves through the institutions of the community. There is no such thing as a good person as such. He or she will be good only as a good husband or wife, a good health professional, a good lawyer, or legislator, a good citizen. Anyone whose goodness does not take form in the institutions of family, school, church and state is a person is good for nothing. Human virtue and happiness require a local, a communal habitation. We are considerably lower than the angels.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Love and Understanding (What's so funny 'bout peace...)

Love and Understanding (from Ken Patton)

What more have we to give to one another than love and understanding?

We will gather a store of love for our children, and marry love to wisdom, that the needs and thoughts of the child may be known to us.

We will make a world for the gladness of children, bringing to them the conviction of their worth and beauty which their beings crave.

We will gather a store of love for youth, troubled in the rising turbulence of life, to guide them into maturity with less of loneliness and torture.

We will fin useful tasks for their hands, that they may learn to create with clean joy.

We will gather a store of love for parents, for if the homes of the land are stark and brutal, than we are indeed poor.

Our chief labor is the building of homes, an dour knowledge will be increased to set the seasons of childhood and parenthood in the ways of goodness.

We will gather a store for the aged, whose days have been stung with our follies and hurts. Our land will be a large home for the elders.

Their strength shall be restored in the vigor of their grandchildren.

Their loneliness shall be forestalled in the companionship of their children, who in their own parenthood have met their fathers and mothers coming toward them across the years.

We will turn our whole persons to the use of love and understanding, for the one without the other is a fumbling hand, and ignorant mercy is a plague of death.

Wisdom must be made the ready implement of love, and love the guide and repairer of knowledge.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Post Chrisitanity? Post Progress Narrative?

In general, I believe that Unitarian Universalism (though in particular I am thinking of pre-consolidation Unitarianism) constructed a post-christian identity based on Humanist Manifesto style supersessionism and the progress narrative. For a variety of reasons, the progress narrative does not really work any more. I don't think anyone has really come up with anything else to fill the vacuum left in its wake.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Friends that can make you feel like a slacker

I was in Berkeley today for class at Starr King School for the Ministry. Walking from the BART station I was reminded of one of my first trips to Berkeley.

It's hard to believe that it was 15 years ago. Several carloads of us had driven up from San Diego to go to a massive peace rally in San Francisco. We had decided to meet up in Berkeley and take the BART train under the bay to San Francisco. This was quite a scene. I remember being on a train with the East Bay Tow Truck Drivers for Peace, Prostitutes for Peace, Balkan Musicians for Peace, and the Bike-Sexuals for Peace.

The march and rally seemed so large coming from the small progressive community in San Diego. It took all day for all the contingents meeting on side streets to work their way down Market Street from the Ferry Building to Civic Center Plaza.

At the end of the day, we piled back on the train to go back across the bay. We had stayed up all night driving up from San Diego and we're all exhausted. A couple friends and I fell asleep and I remember worrying about not waking up in time for our stop.

I had to laugh getting off the train today and thinking about the two women that were with me on that train. One is an attorney and field director for Equality California. The other is the Director of WTO Programs for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

I'm so impressed and I always love to hear about what they are up to next.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ceremonial garments

My three and a half year old boy figured out that he really only sees me in a tie when I give a sermon at church.

The other morning in his pajamas (the all in one with feet kind) he found the little clip on tie that goes with his "big boy clothes" that he thinks of as a school uniform to match the one worn by his sister.

He clipped the blue plaid tie onto his yellow pajamas and announced that he was the minister. He didn't do any readings or lead any hymns but he was very proud of himself.

Is it possible when we blog to the public as avowed Unitarian Universalists we take on a role beyond our normal identities and self interests?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Vocabulary of reverence and solidarity?

I do and I must reverence human nature. Neither the sneers of a worldly skepticism, nor the gorans of a gloomy theology, disturb my faith in its godlike powers and tendencies. I know how it is despised, how it has been oppressed, how civil and religious establishments have for ages conspired to crush it. I know its history. I shut my eyes on one of its weaknesses and crimes. I understand the proffs, by which despotism demonstrates, that man is a wild beast, in want of a master, and only safe in chains. But, injured, trampled on, and scorned as our nature is, I still turn to it with intesnse sympathy and strong hope. The signatures of its origin and its end are impressed too deeply to be ever wholly effaced. I bless it for itskind affections, for its strong and tender love. I honor it for its struggles against oppression, for its growth and progress under the weight of so many chains and prejudices, for its achievements in science and art, and still more for its examples of heroic and saintly virtue. These are marks of a divine origin and the pledges of a celestial inheritance; and I thank God that my own lot is bound up with that of the human race.

William Ellery Channing, "Likeness to God: Discourse at the ordination of the Rev. F.A. Farley," Providence, Rhode Island, 1828.

Beneath the surface glitter of American culture there is a deep inner core, which, I have argued, is ultimately religious: the sacredness of the conscience of every single individual. Nothing I have said tonight takes away from the enormous power for good of that idea. It is responsible for the best in our culture. But, by the very weakness of any idea of human solidarity associated with it in a culture dominated by the dissenting Protestant tradition, it opens the door to the worst in our culture. It easily leads to the idea that humans are nothing but self-interest maximizers, and devil take the hindmost. It is that version that we see all around us. I don't think we can challenge that version until we come to see that the sacredness of the individual depends ultimately on our solidarity with all being, not on the vicissitudes of our private selves. You face in your very denomination the most basic conundrum of American life. If you can solve it you may help lead the larger society out of the wilderness into wich it has wandered.

Robert Bellah, UUA General Assembly, Rochester, New York, 1998. (as quoted in Rev. Dr. Gordon B. McKeeman's 2004 Starr King President's Lecture at UUA GA 2004 in Long Beach, California.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Eschatological Reservations

Sharon Welch

The memories of the middle class often hinder the move from critique to action. Shaped by memories of conquest in the name of the common good (settling the West, the growth of technology, economic affluence, the military power of the U. S. during and after World War II), many middle-class people are paralyzed when we see that our work against the dangerous costs of this legacy of conquest does not have the same amount of immediate success. Given this disparity, the lack of control and precision in work for justice seems almost irresponsible. If control is the norm, then responsible action for justice is a contradiction in terms. American culture relegates such concerns to the young and the terminally idealistic. Responsibility is equated with action that is more likely to succeed, thus identifying responsibility with action that is by definition supportive of the status quo.
Memories of military and economic victories serve as a barrier to work for liberation. Any strategy may be criticized as woefully inadequate when it cannot ensure long-lasting, thorough change. The members of a study group at Harvard, for example, argued against disarmament because of its failure to provide guaranteed results:

Disarmament would not necessarily ensure a state's position in the international contest between states. It would not necessarily ensure a state's security. Nor would disarmament guarantee that the funds saved from weapons would necessarily be devoted to raising the living standards of poor peoples.

According to these strategists, it is not enough for an act, such as disarmament to be an ingredient in a larger process - i.e., releasing money that could be spent in other ways.
The search for guarantees, and for single solutions, is often paralyzing. Taking as the norm of power the ability of the political and economic establishment to meet its goals, middle-class activists often become trapped in cultured despair. They are well aware of the costs of systems of injustice, but find it impossible to act against them because no definitive solutions are in sight. The memories of the middle class are all too often enervating and deceptive: deceptive in their accounts of cultural victory without victims, enervating in their emphasis on the failure of "utopian ideals."

While a denial of the fragility of our political strategies and structures is undoubtedly dangerous, the evasion of the resiliency of our work for justice is equally devastating. Sole attention to the failures in history can blind us to the partial successes; the realization that more is yet to be done masks the fact that some good has been obtained.

Theologians have examined the relationship between continued human fault and the power of divine presence in terms of the concept of eschatology and the eschatological reservation. (13) The eschatological reservation is the reminder that all of our good works are partial. Though inspired and guided by God, they cannot be directly identified as the work of God, nor identified as the kingdom of God.
A search for only absolute victory leads to "faith and hope in something metahistorical and a disgusted turning away from real-life history."

I don't have time to really give this the time it deserves today. But I think Welch nails in when she talks about what hinders the move from critique to action. Too often, we like to critique but keep our hands clean. It reminds me a lot of a Rosemary Bray McNatt article in the UU World:

I have come to the painful realization that we sometimes conflate our dreams of the Beloved Community with the difficult and grueling work that might lead to its achievement. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that “one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified as a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.” It isn’t hard to notice that power without love surrounds us in this country today. But think too of the extent to which we live our lives amid expressions of love without political power. Think of the countless acts of mercy with which each of us may have aligned ourselves: We work with Habitat for Humanity, we volunteer at shelters and mentor children, we testify before hostile legislators unwilling to extend human rights to the whole human family; we lobby for an end to punitive drug laws that target people of color; we do a thousand things in an effort to make our love visible. And yet, if we had power, real political power, would not the hungry already be fed, those children already joyful? Would not Habitat be out of business and our legislators obsessed with supporting human dignity rather than denying it? Would not captives of every variety already be freed? If we had real power, is it not possible that our work would already be done?

King continues to challenge us: “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Life imitates art?

My 3 year old has started at a new preschool and is having some trouble with adjusting to a bigger school. He really likes the school and the teacher but is a little shy about all the kids he does not know. He's been acting clingy when I drop him off.

Today he was a little bit less hesitant but he ran back to me as I was heading out the door. I walked him back to his teacher and sang "Go Now In Peace" and he really liked it. Both of our little ones love to scream out "You may go" when we get to the end of the song.

It's nice to think that church ritual and routine is a big enough part of his life that it is comforting to him. It has been said that no one would ever ask to have the principles and purposes read to them on their death bed. But I know I have soothed my kids with the hymns that they know. (Spirit of Life; Come, Come Whoever You Are; Go Now In Peace; and We'll Build A Land (which they think of as the sisters and brothers song)).